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The Supercharger at Sea

June 15, 2010

A carrier can be a type of supercharger for a surface squadron.

In designing the future fleet, naval planners are faced with the following two major roadblocks:

  • Fully capable multimission warships are becoming harder to afford in adequate numbers, especially when even low end frigates now price closer to the billion-dollar mark.
  • Low end warships which would address the numbers issue, lack the capability and endurance expected in Western warship design.

There is a way for the two to meet however, with the high low mix making it possible to build an adequate fleet, without compromising capability. Numbers are important, as Congressman and Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton reminded us recently:

“Numbers make a difference, presence makes a big difference… just an American ship in the area makes a big difference.”

Following the cost trends, it is obvious we are getting fewer of the traditional platforms such as carriers, destroyers, frigates, submarines, and amphibious ships. Instead of bucking this trend, navies should embrace the change, and allow their battlefleet to wither, but not too fast. Then they should complement the larger, more capable, but fewer hulls with cheaper ships built off the shelf. By operating the two in conjunction, both high and low, each would enhance the ability of the other, one with the desired numbers for adequate sea control, the other with the capability desired in modern ships. How this latter works, is the more expensive legacy ships will act to “supercharge” the less capable ships by its presence, as I wrote a while back:

The mothership would act as the supercharger for an Influence Squadron. By its mere presence it would transform a force of ships adequate for presence but not much else, into a fleet to be reckoned with for low intensity combat situations. The mothership would load helicopters allowing the corvettes to become a lethal ASW hunting group. If the ships are equipped with SAM like the ESSM or Sea Wolf, then the larger ship would engage over the horizon radar (Aegis?) dominating the immediate air space…

For most operations at sea, experience in the last decade which will likely continue, even expand into the new, point to low tech anti-insurgency operations on the sea. These will include anti-piracy, showing the flag, anti-narcotics, anti-arms smuggling, disaster relief, etc. For these missions plus sustained presence dealing with the population of the sea, large surface battleships are so much over-kill, and since even multi-mission frigates have priced themselves out of range for adequate numbers, then low cost patrol ships, corvettes, and cutters are more than adequate for these missions. They will return numbers to the fleet, while countering the forces of anarchy at sea. If something more is needed for the occasional “hot” war, in most instances a carrier strike group may not be needed. Instead of “send in the carrier” it will be “send a mothership!” to supercharge vessels already present.

Speaking of Aegis, this world’s most advanced radar, command and control suite would be the ultimate supercharger. Imagine a squadron of low end corvettes with missiles such as Sea Sparrow or perhaps even more capable Standards operating off an enemy coastline, on routine patrol. A sudden crisis might call for the deployment of a single Aegis combatant, then suddenly the patrol squadron becomes a powerful surface action group where the mothership takes control of the lesser capable vessels missiles as well as its own. This is way to have adequate numbers to maintain control, but still have the capability desired from the fewer but still needed Aegis warships. Here is what I wrote in a previous article on this same subject:

By taking the expensive radar system out of existing vessels, the Navy could build warships drastically cheaper and in greater numbers. Taking away much of the top superstructure of a warship would also make them naturally stealthy. During times of peace, or in low threat areas against pirates or smuggler, such ships would be adequate in their “floating barge” role where today we use our costly and technically wondrous Aegis ships, wasting their superior abilities in a very sundry function. In times of war or crisis, the Aegis Mothership would deploy, super-charging the squadron defenses by the proven abilities of the most sophisticated radar, command, control, and communications system ever devised. A true “plug and play” warship!

Finally, the supercharger might some day control a fleet of drone destroyers:

Five American warships pass through the Strait of Malacca toward the Indian Ocean, on a mission in support of a ally who is threatened by the ally of an unfriendly Asian power. In appearance, there is little difference in size or design, save that only a single one of the US missile destroyers are manned. This vessel, acting as mothership and utilizing advanced Aegis arrays embedded in its smooth deck, has complete control of the steering and if need be the weaponry of the other four.

The cuts are coming anyway, which always happens after every major conflict as war-weary nations seek to economize, focusing on domestic issues. Here is a way for navies to not only survive the change, but also thrive, without compromising their current unmatched superiority in conventional warships, which some have alluded as being over-kill. So with fewer number of Blue Water warships, we would still need the desired presence, and here is where the low end, less capable vessels can stand in for the high end ships.

*****

25 Comments leave one →
  1. Jed permalink
    June 16, 2010 9:20 am

    ooops, I forgot to mention the Absalon’s capacious hangers, which are sized for 2 x AW101 sized helicopters, so whether its 2 Merlin’s or SH60’s, 2 Lynxes, or even 4 x MQ8 FireScout, you can get a lot of MG’s and rockets airborne too (yes I know, servicability means the full amount might not always be available when you need them…..)

  2. Jed permalink
    June 16, 2010 9:18 am

    Carl – on Absalon versus small boats:

    To go right back to Carl’s earlier comments, the Absalon class are a “mother” ship, they can carry 2 x Combat Boat 90E plus 4 x RHIBS.

    Now I don’t think the Danes (which call this smaller version of the CB90 a “Rescue Boat”) have armed the CB90E, but it is easily big enough to carry a RWS with a .50 MG.

    The anti-piracy episode on the Discovery Channel which followed the Absalon showed them using 7.62mm MG armed RHIBS, the ship can carry four as standard.

    I am sure additional RHIBS, if not additional CP90E could be carried on the flex deck, and launched via the stern ramp, if 6 is not enough for you.

    As for using Harpoons against small boats, the Danes use a containerized weapons system, it would be easy to swap out the Harpoons for something more appropriate, be that 2 more 35mm Millenium guns, 2 x 76mm, more ESSM’s etc etc…… Personally I would like to see 2 x AMOS twin 120mm mortar turrets, with a high rate of fire and air-bursting sub-munitions from ‘cargo’ rounds, I think they could pretty much mess up the small boat swarms…

  3. B.Smitty permalink
    June 16, 2010 8:47 am

    Mike said, “I think, like fixed wing air, modern helos are so capable, you don’t need quite as many.

    Seems as though most modern navies disagree with you Mike. Do you have any evidence this is actually the case?

    If anything, modern helo advancements have just kept pace with advancements in submarine technology.

  4. Scott B. permalink
    June 16, 2010 8:45 am

    Mike Burleson said : ” The small vessels sonar would be a better substitute “

    Unless you go for VDS / TAS only, the sonar dome is going to significantly increase the navigational draft of the mythical corvette, and may actually produce a (war)ship with a much greater draft than something bigger like the ABSALON, which was said to be *a little big for the shallow water*.

    Take for instance the mythical Steregushyi which was discussed not so long ago on the blog : 26 feet under the sonar dome for the mythical Russian corvette vs 20.5 feet for an ABSALON.

  5. Scott B. permalink
    June 16, 2010 8:30 am

    B. Smitty said : “I’d rather risk a $30 million helicopter in a hover than risk a $300+ million corvette close to an SSK.”

    Not to mention that with the mythical corvette option favored by Mike B. over the ASW helicopter, you’d put at least 10 times more people at risk !!!

  6. June 16, 2010 3:57 am

    Chuck the Japanese gave me the idea of having a few helicopter equipped ships, and very many none aviation vessels to keep numbers in the fleet. At least, this is how they operated in the 1960s and 70s until recently. I think, like fixed wing air, modern helos are so capable, you don’t need quite as many. The need to place expensive aircraft and their support facilities on every warship has brought an unreasonable demand on ships cost and specifications that just isn’t necessary all the time and is detrimental to cost and numbers.

    Smitty, concerning helos versus corvettes, I don’t think its a matter of “either, or”. You need both.

    Concerning carrier survivability, the father they stand away from shore the less effective they become. Who will fight in the littorals?

  7. Chuck Hill permalink
    June 15, 2010 8:48 pm

    Mike, I liked the fact that you have the Japanese Hyuga DDH in the foreground of your lead photo. I really admire the way the Japanese have built their fleet.

    They did not go so far as to centralize all aircraft on a single ship and give the rest none, but they have leaned in the direction you suggest. While they call all their surface warships destroyers or destroyer escorts, they make a wide range of different classes with different strengths for different environments. Some with area AAW capability, most without. Some with helicopter hangers, but many without, and quite a few with not even a helo deck.

    They have four “Escort Forces”, eight ship, deep water hunter-killer groups consisting of a DDH, 2xDDGs, 5DDs (some of which would certainly be classed as FFs in other navies). Most but not all have helo facilities.

    They also, have five district forces that protect their ports and are expected to work with shore based Air ASW forces and enjoy the protection of shore based AAW so they can be built relatively small concentrating on their ASW capabilities. In some cases the less capable, but still useful, destroyers are removed from the Escort forces to this type of duty.

    Consequently the Japanese have almost 50 destroyer types. With the drop in the size of the US fleet, it is likely that the Japanese will have more destroyer types in the Pacific that the US, if don’t already.

    The US can’t seem to see that there may be some cases where they could use ships that don’t have full AAW and Air ASW capabilities.

  8. B.Smitty permalink
    June 15, 2010 6:40 pm

    Mike said, “ Or more likely, use the helo’s surveillance abilities and spread out your small warships in a picket line, networked to the mothership via the aircraft. The small vessels sonar would be a better substitute than using sonobouys with the aircraft in a vulnerable hover.

    I’d rather risk a $30 million helicopter in a hover than risk a $300+ million corvette close to an SSK.

  9. B.Smitty permalink
    June 15, 2010 6:36 pm

    Mike said, “Someone please tell the supercarrier advocates this, who do it all the time!

    Yes we do. However as I also pointed out, fixed-wing carriers can stand off much further, improving their survivability.

  10. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 15, 2010 5:52 pm

    Very good discussion guys. Sorry I weigh in late!

    Carl wrote “BTW, the Danes are cursing the day they under-estimated the costs of building Absalon. The sticker price is nowhere near the real cost.”

    I have to admit to being sincerely interested in this source myself, if you have the time.

    Hudson wrote “Today, its sole permanent ship on station is the USS Mount Whitney, a c&c ship with one helicopter. ”

    The Whitney plus 6-10 corvettes & OPVs, maybe some Brown Water craft like CB-90s or even a handful of Cyclone PCs, would be a significant presence. The Swift or Sea Fighter should be there too. Time to bring the littoral ships out of exile.

    Smitty pointed at that “helicopters like the H-60 are limited to around a 100nm patrol radius from their mothership ”

    A fair argument and I think the lilypad idea for the corvettes might come into play. Or more likely, use the helo’s surveillance abilities and spread out your small warships in a picket line, networked to the mothership via the aircraft. The small vessels sonar would be a better substitute than using sonobouys with the aircraft in a vulnerable hover.

    My favorite was “concentrating all of your aviation on one ship means if you lose it, you lose all of your aviation. ”

    Someone please tell the supercarrier advocates this, who do it all the time!

  11. Hudson permalink
    June 15, 2010 2:24 pm

    I’m guessing that the Rising Sun on the Hyuga helicopter carrier pictured above was photo-enhanced as to color.

  12. B.Smitty permalink
    June 15, 2010 11:58 am

    Concentrating helicopters on the “Supercharger” mothership has some drawbacks.

    First, helicopters like the H-60 are limited to around a 100nm patrol radius from their mothership (depending on loiter time desired). So unless your smaller vessels can “lillypad” refuel the helicopters, your squadron will be area constrained by the reach of the helicopters.

    Second, concentrating all of your aviation on one ship means if you lose it, you lose all of your aviation. This is more critical for helo carriers than fixed-wing carriers as the aforementioned range issue forces the helo carrier to remain closer to the operating area. A fixed-wing carrier can stand off further, reducing its vulnerability.

    Third, by concentrating your aviation on a carrier, you reduce your aviation deployment flexibility. The carrier can’t be everywhere. And one thing you hear over and over is the helo is the most useful piece of kit on the ship.

    I see helicopter carrier aviation as a powerful supplement to organic surface combatant aviation, but not a replacement for it.

  13. Chris Stefan permalink
    June 15, 2010 11:36 am

    Speaking of shallow water small boats the Finnish Hamina class FAC look impressive:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamina_class_missile_boat

  14. D. E. Reddick permalink
    June 15, 2010 11:32 am

    I would just like to make one correction. It was Mike Colombaro at his blog “Combat Fleet Of The World” who pointed out the multiple, repeated failures of several weapons systems to disable or destroy small, fast, darting drone boats.

  15. Chris Stefan permalink
    June 15, 2010 11:18 am

    Even if the Absalon is more expensive than it’s sticker price might lead one to believe it certainly is cheaper and more capable than the LCS.

    The Absalon could act as a mothership and C4I for a squadron of smaller vessels. Of course there still is the issue of how to get the smaller vessels in-theater. They’d either have to self-deploy or use another ship for transit such as a semi-submersible, in which case you have to ask why not make the other ship the “mothership”?

    Something the size of the Absalon could carry a couple of riverine craft though, which might be useful in the right circumstances.

  16. Hudson permalink
    June 15, 2010 10:48 am

    The influence squadron that wasn’t.

    According to my reading, there was no U.S. naval presence in the Mediterranean at the time of the Israeli intercept of the Turkish
    “peace boat” that erupted in lethal violence. Historically, the Sixth Fleet has been a strong presence in the Mediterranean as late at 2003, when 40 ships were mustered in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

    Today, its sole permanent ship on station is the USS Mount Whitney, a c&c ship with one helicopter. Now, emboldened by the relative success of the “peace” flotilla, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has “volunteered” to escort more “peace pilgrims” to break the naval blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza after the Hamas takeover.

    So, the U.S. must decide if it wants to re-establish a naval presence in the face of Iran’s poking its nose into the Mediterranean. Of course, naval memories go back to the savage 1967 Isreali air and sea attack on the USS Liberty, an intelligence ship, that resulted in the loss of 34 crewmen and crippled the ship, in what was supposedly an accidental attack. The Israelis paid up, and we should support them, IMHO, even if they can be a dangerous ally. They are not as dangerous as their enemies.

    The enemy of my enemies is my friend.

  17. June 15, 2010 10:46 am

    Interesting Mike, it allows you to ratchet up the posture incrementally

    If the smaller vessels were equipped with data links and their own basic sensors, it allows the combined force to act as a multi sensor network, thus the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.

    A greater number of basic vessels allows the core/high end to do its job more effectively, concentrating on what it does best.

    I think we all know the future of at sea situational awareness is a distributed sensor network, the more nodes you have the greater coverage and resistance to battle damage.

    A swarm of sensors, each connected to a smaller number of queens

  18. B.Smitty permalink
    June 15, 2010 9:36 am

    Carl,

    The videos shown on that site were of 20mm Phalanx tests, not 35mm AHEAD. I don’t see how you can say the later is ineffective by watching videos of the former.

    Absalon also carries ESSMs, a 5″ gun and two helicopters. All of which have anti-boat capability.

    Ivar Huitfeldt carries a pair of 76mm guns, in addition to a 35mm Millenium gun. 57/76mms could be retrofitted to Absalon, if necessary.

    This video shows what a Sea Sparrow plus 76mm can do to a small boat.

    Don’t think I’d want to try to get within RPG range.

    Carl said, “BTW, the Danes are cursing the day they under-estimated the costs of building Absalon. The sticker price is nowhere near the real cost.

    Can you point to any public information on this?

  19. Scott B. permalink
    June 15, 2010 9:28 am

    Carl said : “Shallow water is wherever the shore based speedboats and raiders run rings around Absalon and slap it silly”

    Thanks a lot for your enlighting clarification of what the *shallow water thingy* means for you. Very useful and informative indeed.

    Now, if you don’t mind, I’d really love to see Mike’s answers to these questions.

    After all, it’s not like I’ve been waiting since October 2009, is it ?

    AIGF of course ;-)

  20. Scott B. permalink
    June 15, 2010 9:21 am

    Carl said : “BTW, the Danes are cursing the day they under-estimated the costs of building Absalon. The sticker price is nowhere near the real cost.”

    And your evidence is ???

  21. Scott B. permalink
    June 15, 2010 9:21 am

    Carl said : “As D. E. Reddick so memorably showed, it’s almost impossible to stop the small boats with the kind of loadout Absalon carries.”

    1) I don’t think any of the guns shown in the footage was a 35mm Millennium gun.

    2) I don’t think any of the guns shown in the footage used PABMs like the 35mm Millennium gun does.

  22. Carl permalink
    June 15, 2010 8:56 am

    Shallow water is wherever the shore based speedboats and raiders run rings around Absalon and slap it silly. Let’s see it tackle those with bb-gun 35mm ahead ammo and Harpoons. And its cute little gun. Absalon has nice big, slab sides to catch all the RPGs and anti-tank missiles.

    As D. E. Reddick so memorably showed, it’s almost impossible to stop the small boats with the kind of loadout Absalon carries.

    http://combatfleetoftheworld.blogspot.com/2010/06/ineffectiveness-of-ultimate-defense.html

    You need a small, cheap, zippy boat to fight another small, cheap, zippy boat. Real cheap, not Absalon cheap.

    BTW, the Danes are cursing the day they under-estimated the costs of building Absalon. The sticker price is nowhere near the real cost.

  23. Scott B. permalink
    June 15, 2010 8:34 am

    Mike Burleson said : “A little big for the shallow water Scott”

    Your original blog entry makes no mention of the *shallow water* thingy, so I had not realized this was THE deal breaker in your mind.

    And now that you’ve mentioned the *shallow water* thingy, what can I do but ask a couple of favorite questions of mine (which have not received any answer so far) :

    1) What sort of shallow waters are you talking about, i.e. how deep in feet / meters ?

    2) What would be the corresponding maximum navigational draft of the vessel you envision ?

    Because, in the absence of a clear answer to these questions, I still don’t know what the *shallow water thingy* is supposed to mean precisely…

  24. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 15, 2010 8:08 am

    A little big for the shallow water Scott, but I’ll keep them in mind for other missions. Certainly a bargain.

  25. Scott B. permalink
    June 15, 2010 6:20 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Then they should complement the larger, more capable, but fewer hulls with cheaper ships built off the shelf.”

    Cheap ? Off the Shelf ?

    Sounds like an ABSALON and/or an IVAR HUITFELDT !!!

    Getting there, Mike, getting there… ;-))

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