LCS Alternative Weekly
LCS Alternative-No Name Boats
A couple firsts for the weekly post–We lead with the LCS Alternative, and this particular warship substitute is no longer in existence, save in a museum! I am speaking of the Fairmiles, the tiny motor launches classified only by number, designed by Fairmile Marine in Britain, used by the Royal Navy, Canada, and the USN. Here is Lorna Inness at the Chronicle Herald with the fascinating details:
When the first convoys to Britain sailed from Halifax in September 1939, it was clear that more escort ships would be required as merchant ships headed out across the Atlantic where German U-boats roamed in increasing numbers. In the rush of a stepped-up building program to turn out warships, even small shipyards used to constructing fishing boats and pleasure craft became involved. Corvettes were one answer but there was still a role for something smaller, yet effective, something that could be built quickly without tying up for months the yards needed for larger warships.
Across the Atlantic, in Cobham, Surrey, Noel Macklin, a former naval officer, had designed a small vessel that was speedy (its design borrowed to some extent from a destroyer’s hull), and parts of which could be prefabricated and shipped for assembly to small shipyards. Macklin called his company, established in 1939, Fairmile Marine, from which the little ships took their name.
The rest being history. Over 650 were built during the war. 80 Fairmiles were constructed in Canada by some 13 shipyards. Interesting is her wood construction, hardly unique for the times, it would be deemed unthinkable today. The argument often goes that thin-skinned warships, mostly today constructed of aluminum, are considered too light and cheap for modern war. Yet, in the midst of full scale global conflict, many warships were constructed of a material which was readily available and cheap, but also thinly protected, and easily more flammable than aluminum. The decks of aircraft carriers were built mainly of wood, and other all-wooden warcraft including PT Boats, and minesweepers, also used in the construction of modern Mine Countermeasures Ships into the 21st Century.
Here are the specs for the Type B version used by Canada:
- Length-34 meters
- Beam- 5 to 6 meters
- Draft-1.47 meters
- Displacement-85 tons
- Speed-20 knots
- Range-1500 miles at 12 knts
- Crew-16 at least
- Armament- 1 x 3-pdr Mk I gun
1 x twin 0.303 in machine guns
12 depth charges
Comparing these to modern high end frigates, they might appear wanting. This would be like comparing apples to oranges though, since the two should complement, not so much replace. As the large and capable frigates, with their amazing weaponry, some with Aegis, plus long range helos and UAVs, are becoming the motherships we need, they can no longer provide us with the numbers required for global patrolling. This is why the pirates are able to distract the few large warships in the Gulf, while the hijacking and holding for ransom of merchant ships goes on unimpeded. In fact it is expanding.
The small boats then would be required to work alongside the new frigate motherships, filling in these gaps, working in conjunction with the larger vessels’ high powered sonar, radar, and airborne assets. The small picket patrols would keep suicide threats away from the Bigger Ships, but also perform essential seizures and boardings, plus presence in littoral waters which a 5000-10,000 ton guided missile warship isn’t required. They would act as the “cop on the beat” of the sealanes. As Lorna pointed out in the article concerning the Fairmiles:
They could take the place of larger warships that were still too few in numbers for the tasks demanded of them.
A final point to consider–today we are essentially using the world’s most powerful and expensive warships, our guided missile cruisers, destroyers, and frigates plus giant amphibs against a far less capable foe, pirates and smugglers in speedboats, than the wood constructed Fairmiles faced. These light and tiny craft would be maligned by today’s battleship focused navies, yet they once faced a dire threat to civilization in their day, the Nazi-manned U-boats of the vaunted Kriegsmarine, and won.
UAVs versus Helos
This is good commentary on the future of vertical warfare at sea. From Strategypage:
Recently, a U.S. Navy frigate, operating in the eastern Pacific, used its MQ-8B helicopter UAV to detect a high speed cocaine smuggling boat. After tracking the smuggler for three hours, the fast boat halted alongside a fishing boat and refueled. A Coast Guard boarding team, from the frigate, then closed in and made arrests. They seized 60 kg (132 pounds) of cocaine, and witnessed the smugglers tossing another 200 kg (440 pounds) overboard. A manned helicopter would not have had the endurance to carry out this kind of operation.
Too good for the Navy to ignore, who has initially led, then fallen behind the deployment and use of unmanned vehicles. It is a cost efficient and practical way to deploy naval air at sea, with manned helos and fast jet programs sagging, producing fewer, too exquisite platforms. I love the following line, concerning LCS:
The MQ-8B was originally developed for use on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), and was due to enter service last year. But the LCS is behind schedule and the Fire Scout isn’t, so the navy assigned the Fire Scout to other ships.
Proving you don’t need smart platforms to deploy the smart weapons so prevalent in modern warfare. The Navy has yet to see this change, which could potentially save the amazing shrinking fleet.
Here is something which caught yours truly by surprise. Apparently the USN is still in the small warship business, with plans for cooperating with Baltic navies on a new fast attack craft design. This story is from the Finnish daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat in English:
Finland, Germany, and the United States have launched a joint research project in the design of surface battle vessels. This will be the first time that the Finnish Navy will work together with the US Navy on both an exchange of information and naval research.
Finland is supplying two small missile boats for the experiments:
Two missile boats that have been taken out of commission, the Turku and the Helsinki are to be used in the experiments.
The aluminum hulls of the vessels are seen to provide an exceptionally good opportunity to study questions of structural aging and the effects of weapons.
“The Turku will be used in technical experiments measuring how a vessel reacts to stimulation by various explosives and arms”, says Commodore Pekka Kannari of the Finnish Naval Research Institute.
In practice, the researchers will measure what kind of an effect depth charges and other explosives will have on the vessel’s hull.
To me, this sounds like some of the same anti-IED experiments the land forces use in designing their new armored vehicles. Very curious that the navies are thinking of the threat from small underwater explosives, with most interest in the cruise missile attacks on warship the past several decades. But more USN ships have been harmed by mines than missiles in the same time period.
Taiwan Joins Speedboat Craze
Apparently Iran isn’t the only navy who thinks a speedboat can sink a carrier. From an AFP story, Defense News reveals “Taiwan Displays Plans For Missile-Carrying Corvette”
A computerized graphic of the 1,000-ton “carrier killer,” which has so far been kept secret from the public, has gone on display at Taipei’s military museum, run by the defense ministry.
The vessel will be capable of cruising at speeds of up to 34 miles (55 kilometers) per hour and boast technologies helping it to evade radar detection, the Taipei-based Apple Daily reported, citing military officials.
The Taiwanese Navy hopes to arm the corvette with Taiwan’s home-grown Hsiungfeng III supersonic ship-to-ship missile, according to the report.
I think this is a much better way to go than trying to match the Reds in numbers, or even surpassing them in the quality of Blue Water warships. Sink a carrier? I’m not sure, but require the Mainland to expend exorbitant resources to counter small missile boats, you betcha!
So Much for “Littoral” Ships
The headline from Defense Daily (subscr. only) says it all:
Which is what they wanted all along, another Blue Water aircraft carrier escort to replace the Perry class frigates, with a secondary mission sailing close to shore. Further proof they have little understanding or interest in controlling the Brown/Green Water environment. Has the Navy conceded the narrow waters to the speedboat navies, which the costly and fast LCS Freedom is designed to run away from if attacked?
Several of you sent me this link on the GAO Report titled “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs” . The following is from the section discussing the LCS Module packages:
The Navy has accepted delivery of two partially capable MCM mission packages; however, the program has delayed the procurement of the fiscal year 2009-funded package due to technical issues and the resulting operational test delays. Four MCM systems—the Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV), Unmanned Sweep System (USS), Organic Airborne and Surface Influence Sweep (OASIS), and Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System (RAMICS)—have not yet been demonstrated in a realistic environment, and two others—the Airborne LaserMine Detection System (ALMDS) and Remote Minehunting System (RMS)—cannot meet system requirements. ALMDS has been unable to meet its mine detection requirements at its maximum depth or its mine detection and classification requirements at surface depths. RMS demonstrated poor system reliability, availability, and maintainability in a September 2008 operational assessment, and program officials report the system is currently undergoing a series of tests to try to improve its reliability. Program officials also reported that the cable used to tow certain airborne MCM systems had to be redesigned following test failures with two systems.
The Navy accepted delivery of one partially capable SUW mission package in July 2008. This package included two engineering development models for the 30 mm gun, but did not include the Non-Line-of- Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS) launcher or missiles. Integration of the gun with LCS 1 was completed in January 2009. The gun module design appears stable with 100 percent of its drawings released to manufacturing. According to program officials, NLOS-LS was tested in August 2009, but was unable to fire due to a malfunctioning sensor and battery connector. The program expects delivery of the second SUW mission package in March 2010. It will include the 30 mm gun module and the NLOS-LS launcher, but no missiles.
The Navy accepted delivery of one partially capable ASW mission package in September 2008, but plans to reconfigure the content of future packages before procuring additional quantities. According to Navy officials, recent warfighting analyses showed that the baseline ASW package did not provide sufficient capability to meet the range of threats. The current package will undergo developmental testing and the results will inform future configuration decisions. The first package underwent end-to-end testing in April 2009 and will undergo developmental testing in fiscal year 2010. During the 2009 end-to-end test, the Navy found that the USV and its associated sensors will require reliability and interface improvements to support sustained undersea warfare.
Without her mission modules, LCS is basically the world’s most expensive patrol boat, underarmed and over-sized as she is.
A Lonely Combat Ship?
For the fourth time the USS Freedom LCS-1 has been involved in the take-down of drug runners in the Carib. Story from Philip Ewing at Navy Times:
The littoral combat ship Freedom nabbed its fourth group of suspected drug-runners March 31 after its helicopter stopped the smugglers’ speedboat with sniper shots, the Navy announced Monday.
Freedom’s sailors and Coast Guardsmen recovered almost a ton of cocaine and arrested four men in the interdiction in the Eastern Pacific, according to an announcement by Naval Surface Forces. There was no explanation why it had taken almost two weeks to release the news…
The March 31 seizure brings Freedom’s total haul to about five tons of cocaine in the shipments it has stopped since sailing Feb. 16 from Naval Station Mayport, Fla.
What I get from this is Freedom becoming a top drug-buster as opposed to the premature “pirate buster” title she received from the Press. Maybe that too eventually, the point being these ships will be kept quite busy, because you can’t buy enough of them. With this first vessel pricing at $637 million each, and future vessels hardly less, they will be forced into multiple deployments and consistent action, because the fleet is so small.
The problem isn’t that Freedom isn’t needed or useful, but the fact that she is and will remain a small class of warships in a very big pond. Needed for this anti-narcotics mission, she will also have to hunt pirates, escort carriers, hunt submarines, escort amphibious ships, clear mines, show the flag, and so on. Her 40 crewmen have their work cut out for them. Godspeed, they’ll need it.