Corvettes Versus Midget Subs
The Inevitable, Mythical Corvette
This ongoing proposal for small warships is instigated by recurring problems which keep revealing itself to the surface navy. Now that we see an increasing rise in the threat of so-called midget submarines, as in the sinking of South Korean warship Cheonan, it is also an attempt to avert fostering yet another mission off on the world’s most powerful and most expensive surface combatant, the Arleigh Burke destroyer. Sadly, the $2 billion Burke has become the Navy’s workhorse, with its few frigates and patrol craft aging rapidly and the littoral combat ship unlikely to enter service in significant numbers for another decade, if then.
Here is the need–I have mentioned North Korea which deploys over 30 midget submarines. There is also the home-built drug subs designed by the South American cartels, which recently the Royal Navy sent a lone guided missile destroyer, HMS Manchester, to contend with. Here is the story from the UK Telegraph titled “Royal Navy launches anti-sub war against drug cartels“:
More than 1,400 tonnes of the drug is smuggled across the Atlantic every year but despite a sixfold increase in interceptions only 3 per cent (43 tonnes) was seized last year.
It is estimated that 20 tonnes of cocaine is enough to “kill every school child and pensioner in the UK”
But with counter-narcotics currently the third priority after hurricane relief and military training (Rear Admiral Mark Anderson, commander of Fleet operations) admitted it could be “in the national interest to run a ruler over it again.”
Cuts to the Navy have forced it to have a presence in the Caribbean for only six months of the year.
“We need some presence to push the problem ever harder into Caribbean traffickers,” the officer said.
If cuts have reduced the RN’s presence in the Caribbean, then obviously she needs more ships, and these should certainly be less expensive than the Falklands War era HMS Manchester. Again like the American Burke you are sending an advanced warship, vitally needed elsewhere, so much overkill battling homemade warships, vessels less than 1/20 the size of a destroyer and a fraction of the cost. Strategypage reveals more of the unique craft, also known as semi-submersibles:
It’s estimated that about 75 of these subs are being built in northwest Colombia each year, and sent on one way trips north. Each of these boats carries a four man crew and about seven tons of cocaine…
Between 2000 and 2007, 23 of these boats were spotted. But last year, nearly 70 were seen or captured. Many of the captures are the result of intelligence information at the source, not air and naval patrols out there just looking for them…Despite increased efforts, it’s believed that less than ten percent of these subs have been caught.
The antisubmarine corvette, in contrast to the stretched thin and overworked missile battleships, should be less well armed but very adequate for the mission entailed. No helicopter would be necessary since it will operate in conjunction with other aviation ships (or even long-range planes and UAVs which have greater staying power and endurance than helos), but it does need sonar and sub-killing torpedoes. The key would be to make them affordable enough to acquire in numbers and perform the presence part which a handful of billion-dollar destroyers and frigates can never do.
Since midget subs are silent, deadly hunters, as we see in the Cheonan sinking, it needs a silent, deadly counter. Earlier, New Wars posted an idea from Carlton Meyer for just such a craft, the Diesel/Electric Corvette:
Surprisingly, no navy has constructed a DE ship that can switch to quiet electric propulsion when hunting submarines. This does not require the development of new technology, DE engines already exist on submarines. A small ship is best for submarine hunting as they are quieter, harder to see on the surface, more maneuverable, and a smaller target for submarines. While cruising slowly on electric power, a DE ship will produce no heat for detection at night or in poor daytime weather, which submarines may detect with infrared periscopes. A DE corvette is an ideal size for a sub hunter, with a displacement of less than 1000 tons…
Instead of wasting a single high value asset such as a destroyer, frigate, or even the $700 million LCS, numerous ASW corvettes will swarm once the target is identified. If an aerial threat is considered imminent, then here is where a nearby anti-air warship, even a corvette so armed would prove handy to defend the force, but only in small numbers.
For replacing ships which are harder to build, increasingly impossible to acquire in adequate numbers, small warships like the corvette seem the right fit. With prices starting at $50 million each, you could afford a whole fleet of corvettes for the price of a single Burke. As we noted you don’t have to give up this high value asset, only diverting it to functions more suitable to its immense capability. With increased numbers in the fleet, instead of a token, almost symbolic-only response to emerging threats of Third World navies, you could have a real impact and return of presence.