The Supercharger at Sea
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.