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Think Defence Thinks Littoral

June 16, 2010

A Platform Supply Vessel is designed to support offshore oil platforms. Photo author Agnitio Navicula

I see all navies as reaching the climax in deciding what type of fleet is needed for current and future threats. Obviously the pre-9/11 (or 7/7) plans of giant expeditionary groups, guarded by high tech missile destroyers and nuclear attack submarines is falling into chaos because of the immense cost of deploying traditional style warships. Increasingly in question too is the notion that a handful of very capable warships can contend with the myriad problems of sea power brought on by increasing nationalism and fanaticism stemming from the Third World as well as Asia.

The UK website Think Defence has some fascinating and quite logical solutions which its own navy would do well to take heed, faced as it is with impending dramatic cuts in an upcoming Defense Review. The proposals are stemmed to equip the mighty Royal Navy to better handle the littorals, obviously the area of influence for modern sea problems. First off, is the suggestion that a new class of missile destroyers seem to be vying with America’s own littoral combat ship for the title. “world’s most expensive patrol boat”:

I give you the Type 45, a design with plenty of potential but falling short of the superlatives heaped on it because of a lack of cash. It should have CEC, a larger and location diverse silo fit and a proper CIWS, but there is just no money for them and likely will not be.

Think Defence rightly sees what some over here in the states are noticing, Captain Jerry Hendricks and his Influence Squadrons for example, that the future of war at sea will be a few large but many small and inexpensive hull-forms.

In a previous post I suggested collapsing C1 and C2 into a single design based on the Type 45 hull form to squeeze out maximum cost savings by enforcing commonality. My proposal was to have a smaller number overall but to make the resultant design, extremely capable, supplementing that smaller core with a larger number of C3’s. Pegging the Type 45 and Type 26 at six each creates a small but highly effective central core around which we can then surround with larger numbers of much cheaper designs to create a resilient and ‘good enough’ force for missions other than high intensity combat.

The idea being to return fleixiblity and choice to the naval warfighter:

In a ‘hot war’ we would need every ounce of capability offered by a fully specced up Type 45 or Type 26 and we must not lose sight of that but the old saying that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, is particularly relevant here and we don’t have enough hammers either!

The following comment does a naval reformer’s heart glad:

The Royal Navy needs hulls in the water and to do that it needs low cost hulls and a healthy dose of pragmatism.

Something else we always say, that naval planners should not order the most grandiose platforms, grossly underestimate costs, then hope for the politicians to bail them out when they run into trouble. As Think Defence contends as well, navies must learn to live within realisitic budgets, and constantly building ships for worse case scenarios, while more frequent and relevent threats go underfundeded must cease. The politicos can’t save us if we don’t help ourselves.

This type of vessel might be called a minor warship or naval auxiliary but we should not get too hung up on names, its a vessel for today’s operations.

And what are those curent threats? The website lits several including “Patrol, presence and diplomacy, Mine countermeasures, Piracy and smuggling interdiction, Special Forces and intelligence support, Survey, Disaster response, Aviation training, Light maintenance and repair, and Non combatant evacuation.”  None of which require the use of billion-dollar destroyers or frigates, though a few of the latter might be needed occasionaly for the rare hot war or crisis, and could be deployed as needed. Just not often and not our only option.

The following then, are a list of requirements for this future C3 littoral vessel:

  • Speed should be modest at best “instead of fast and sexy, I favour slow and frumpy”.
  • A commercial type hull, rugged and sturdy such as the offshore Platform Supply Vessel (PSV). “they are cheap to buy and even cheaper to operate.”
  • Low cost-“£20 million for a small Rolls Royce UT755 to £60 million for the largest designs.”
  • Fair size “a class of vessels built around a roomy medium sized platform supply vessel with an open equipment architecture that decouples the means of transport from the payload.”
  • Long range-from 10,000 to 20,000 nautical miles
  • Specifications-“100m length, 20m breadth with a draught between 6m and 8m and a deadweight between 4,000 and 5,000 tonnes.”

*****

My Take

I think the author here is on the right rack. It is extremely gratifying to see some in the UK, whose alliance we treasure, taking some thoughts born here and elsewhere and applying such to their future naval plans. I don’t think it heresy that navies should return to thinking of warships costing in the tens of millions pounds or dollars, as opposed to fewer billion-pound/dollar warships misused in extreme low tech warfare. This also holds true to the idea of littoral warfare, where increasingly we see large warships at risk from anti-access weapons-mines, cruise missiles, suicide boats, etc, readily available on the open arms market.

I would hope the planners might also reconsider the use of smaller warships, like the Clyde class mentioned, which also possess other advantages than low cost. Small ships are more maneuverable, able to contend with the small attack boat threat that is increasingly the norm in shallow waters, from speed boat navies like Iran. They are also stealthier given their low profile, and the shallow draft gives them essential performance in such waters.

Also a reduced hull will avoid the temptation that naval architects consistently divulge in, very expensive add-ons while under construction, in the false hope that capability can duplicate numbers and reduce costs. It very seldom works since we are now suffering the fallout of having the incredible shrinking navy, even as ships are supposedly more able than ever. While we say that the modestly capable corvettes and patrol vessels often give more service than their low cost promises, far too often our hyper-expensive large warships give far too less service than their price-tag justifies, and is happening with the Type 45 and the LCS.

So instead of having a small force of very capable warships, here is a larger navy more capable over-all, designed for myriad threats, not just some future Saddam Hussein who will let our exquisite battleships sail their coastlines unimpeded. Here also is the antidote for declining Western navies, whose budget plans far outstrip funding realities, with ever more complicated war vessels they can no longer afford, and really no longer need for most operations at sea. This is a proposal with much merit.

*****

River class patrol vessel. Author George Hutchinson

27 Comments leave one →
  1. Hudson permalink
    June 19, 2010 12:24 am

    Scott B. said:

    “I am not aware of any source suggesting that USS Jarrett even tried to engage one of the Silkworms with her Phalanx and that the 20mm rounds that hit USS Missouri actually missed their intended target.”

    If USS Jarrett was not even trying to engage one of the Silkworms, as you say, then what was she aiming at with her Phalanx gun? What was the intended target? And if the 20mm rounds that hit USS Missouri did not actually miss their intended target, as you say, then logically, wouldn’t one assume that the intended target of USS Jarrett was the USS Missouri? In which case, one could conclude that not only did Phalanx fail to protect the proud battleship, but intentionally damaged it. Which I doubt was what actually happened.

  2. D. E. Reddick permalink
    June 18, 2010 7:36 pm

    Ask Mike Colombaro in his thread about the videos, since he’s the one who found them (scroll down to the comments section and just ask him how he came across them and whether they might -not- be what they appear to be).

    Jun 10, 2010
    Ineffectiveness of ultimate defense against well determined swarms attacks ?
    The following 2 videos are quite amazing …

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

  3. Scott B. permalink
    June 18, 2010 7:32 pm

    Hudson said : “Phalanx failed to protect the ‘Mighty Mo.’ In fact, Phalanx fire from a nearby U.S. ship missed the target and bounced off the Missouri. It was a Brit missile from a Brit ship that stopped at least one Silkworm missile.”

    I’d be delighted to examine whatever source you may have that would support your suggestion that Phalanx actually failed to protect USS Missouri.

    To the best of my knowledge :

    1) None of the Silkworm missiles came close enough to USS Missouri for any of the CIWS mounts on Mighty Mo’ to try to engage. The second Silkworm missile (the one shot down by HMS Gloucester) was briefly engaged and fired upon by the Missouri’s 5″ guns near the end of their maximum effective range (i.e. 10,000+ yards).

    2) I am not aware of any source suggesting that USS Jarrett even tried to engage one of the Silkworms with her Phalanx and that the 20mm rounds that hit USS Missouri actually missed their intended target.

    3) One of the 20mm rounds fired by USS Jarrett actually penetrated through a 3/8″ thick exterior bulkhead and continued inwards through a guest berthing room above the famous “surrender deck” to finish its course into the ocean. Another one struck the ship on the forward funnel passing completely through it. A couple more (or maybe three) indeed bounced off some exterior bulkheads.

  4. Hudson permalink
    June 18, 2010 5:52 pm

    Re the Missouri in ’91:

    Phalanx failed to protect the ‘Mighty Mo.’ In fact, Phalanx fire from a nearby U.S. ship missed the target and bounced off the Missouri. It was a Brit missile from a Brit ship that stopped at least one Silkworm missile.

    Re the videos:

    One video clearly showed (to me) the effectiveness of a guided missile and medium caliber gunfire destroying the drone target vessel–the same types of weapons carried on a corvette or patrol boat or larger ship, for that matter. These are certainly not the only weapons that could be brought to bear effectively against swarming small speedboats. I’ve also mentioned helo gunships. As to the veracity of the videos–does anyone have evidence they are fakes?

    I don’t think the Iranians are 10ft tall. I don’t think we’re 10ft tall either if we ignore certain threats.

  5. Scott B. permalink
    June 18, 2010 2:50 pm

    Doomlord said : “Not suitable for defeating RPGs fired from RIBs, either. Also, Sea Dart’s hit rate in combat has been well under 15%.”

    I find it amusing that :

    1) You may used Sea Dart as some kind of benchmark when this missile is about to be phased out.

    2) You assume that the 10-foot Iranian giant may be able to achieve an RPG hit from RIB and take it for granted that it’s impossible for a WARship to eradicate the RPG shooter before he even gets into a very hypothetical firing position.

    You guys should really stop pretending that the mighty 10-foot Iranian giant possesses extraordinary skills that allows him to succeed where the American warfighter would fail miserably.

  6. Scott B. permalink
    June 18, 2010 2:23 pm

    Doomlord said : “The Iraqis had few anti-ship missiles. If they had, firing more than one Silkworm might have been disastrous.”

    Back in 1991, the Iraqi fired TWO Silkworm missiles at USS Missouri , and this didn’t produce the kind of disastrous results you’re talking about.

  7. Scott B. permalink
    June 18, 2010 2:08 pm

    Doomlord said : “No comparison to recent swarming small-boat war games as played by the USN and the Iranians respectively in 2005 and 2010. Those both indicated bloodbaths for larger vessels.”

    I don’t take the Iranian propaganda at face value.

    I’d be interested to examine whatever infos you may have regarding the 2005 wargames supposedly played by the USN.

    Meanwhile, there’s not much substance to discuss in these vague statements.

  8. Scott B. permalink
    June 18, 2010 2:04 pm

    Doomlord said : “Machine guns, manpads, anti-tank missiles, and grenade launchers are cheap. There is no reason at all why a smallish 1000 ton corvette (or mothership) won’t make an excellent, stable firing platform for many such weapons if combating swarming boats – not least because you can have more of such wonderfully cheap vessels than frigates or destroyers. (Those are high-end platforms with weapons unsuited to tackling swarm tactics, as D.E. Reddick’s video proved admirably.”

    At the risk of repeating myself again and again, I find it amusing that you guys :

    1) take the footage posted by Reddick at face value and proclaim that it proves high-end platforms cannot defend themselves against the mighty swarm boats manned by the 10-foot Iranian giant.

    2) and in the very same speech, proclaim that the mythical corvette fitted with the exact same weapons would be the only appropriate countermeasure to this kind of threat.

    This contradiction is all the more funny when one considers that, no matter how reformers despise platform-centric attributes, the larger WARship will ALWAYS provide a BETTER firing platform than the smaller (war)ship.

    The bottom line is such statements as *the best defense against small warships is another small warship* are 100% about IDEOLOGY and 0% about REAL LIFE.

    What the reformers fail to realize is that REAL LIFE trumps IDEOLOGY, and the price to pay when ignoring this most basic fact of life is pretty high when it comes to warfare in general.

  9. Hudson permalink
    June 18, 2010 11:54 am

    Al L.

    I watched both videos once before posting. Upon the review of the second, I see the missile hit the boat or very nearly so, the camera is disturbed, and several large caliber shells hit near the boat or where the boat would have been, as you say. From that, I would conclude that both gun and missile would be effective in that situation.

    I take the videos at face value. The “Phalanx” video did not appear to have been edited, though I suppose that is possible. Overall, I would favor the missile over the gun to stop a small boat. The Navy seems to think so too, as they appear to be replacing Phalanx with the Sea RAM missile system, using Phalanx technology, for both air and surface targets. I should think a good small boat to have on our side in a swarm attack shootout would mount a 76/57mm gun + 21 shot RAM system. Crew served weapons on the deck would be the least reliable weapon at anything beyond a few hundred meters or so, IMHO.

  10. Al L. permalink
    June 18, 2010 12:39 am

    Hudson said:
    “which failed to stop any of the drones, except one…”

    You don’t know that, I don’t know that, no one on this blog knows that. What we do know is that it appears none of the drones was stopped during the truncated run of these videos. The video could have been edited to cut out the kill shots.

    It’s also interesting that both of the gunfire vids feature Phalanx, a weapon know for years to be marginal for surface defense. Its a last ditch weapon. Neither vid shows the weapons developed and deployed for these situations: the 5in shotshell, mk38 mod2, the 57mm Bofors.

    “except one, I think, to 76mm gunfire after a Sea Sparrow near miss.”

    Look at the video! A missile (maybe a Sparrow) most definitely stops that boat, spins it around and busts it up. THEN some gunfire airbursts tens of yards in front of the boat (probably where it would have been if the missile didn’t hit it)

  11. Hudson permalink
    June 17, 2010 5:53 pm

    Accepting the estimates of the range of the gunnery exercise videos over first impressions, the results are much more acceptable or understandable. Still, the results don’t encourage confidence in small-medium caliber gunfire to stop small boats from damaging or sinking much larger ships.

    The Iranians have a variety of small gun/missile/torpedo boats in considerable numbers that could hit our ships within the range of their weapons, outside the range of the gunfire in the videos, which failed to stop any of the drones, except one, I think, to 76mm gunfire after a Sea Sparrow near miss.

    As we have surmised here before, a combined arms attack against our ships in the Persian Gulf could result in seriou losses on our side, without massive air support and pre-emptive strikes.

    Sobering stuff.

  12. Chuck Hill permalink
    June 17, 2010 4:35 pm

    It appears likely that the Iranian Boghammars could be equipped to launch at least one Soviet era 400 mm ASW torpedo. These may have an anti-surface capability already; if not, it shouldn’t be too hard to modify them for that purpose. Even a few torpedo carriers mixed in among the swarm, indistinguishable from the others, would seriously complicate defense since it would probably mean the defender would have to destroy or turn them back before they got within 10,000 yards of their target.

    If hostilities are already in progress, assuming the defender is on the target, that would require destroying a lot of targets with gun(s) 57mm or larger or pretty sophisticated missiles. Even the Hellfire missile doesn’t reach that far.

    If it is in the pre-shooting phase it would be virtually impossible to determine hostile intent before they got a firing solution.

    Makes an attack helo loaded with small guided missiles look like a really good idea.

  13. D. E. Reddick permalink
    June 17, 2010 1:32 pm

    At the risk of repeating myself from an earlier thread, 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. He is the one who recognized those videos and their content.

    And, I do wonder what the recently introduced 127 mm / 5 inch canister or shotshell developed by the USN would have done in one of these situations, as it was developed to counter such small craft.

  14. Chuck Hill permalink
    June 17, 2010 1:03 pm

    I figured the ranges on the phalanx exercise by the time between the gun firing and the shells splashing and it appears to have started at 3,000 yards (pretty close to your 2500 meters) and ended at 1,000 yards.

    The DDGs exercise included ranges of over 7,200 yards (visible on the readout) down to a little as 1,000 yards.

  15. Al L. permalink
    June 17, 2010 12:52 pm

    Doomlord said:

    “as D.E. Reddick’s video proved admirably.”

    I don’t think those videos prove much. Count the time between fire and splash on the Bertholf vid and the range starts at about 2.5 kilometers. Thats a bit more than the 1.5 kilometer effective range most sources list for the Phalanx. The ship does have a 57mm.

    The second video looks like the ranges are even farther out: 4000+ yds

    Both are well over the 1000 yd max range of the RPGs those small boats might carry and even over the useful range of a Javelin (if anyone could ever figure out how to fire one from a small bouncing boat)

  16. Chuck Hill permalink
    June 17, 2010 12:36 pm

    On another blog, http://cgblog.org/2010/06/13/guns-vs-the-swarm/comment-page-1/#comment-6977, an interesting question came up.

    Could the Iranian Boghammars (the boats in the swarm) be equipped with torpedoes? The answer appears to be yes. Such weapons could render the effectiveness of heavy machine guns against them mute since they could be launched beyond gun range.

    Boghammars are relatively small, so I went back to my books to find out if torpedoes had ever been carried by anything that small, and they have. In WWI the British used a 45 ft 5 ton boat they called a Coastal Motor Boat (CMB), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coastal_Motor_Boat, to launch 18″ (457 mm) torpedoes that, at about 1500 pounds, would have been bigger that the adaptations of 500 pound 12.75 inch (324 mm) torpedoes that I had suggested might be used by the Coast Guard as ship stoppers. Iranians have had access to both 324 mm European and American torpedoes and presumably the slightly larger 400 mm Soviet torpedoes. They almost certainly have the technology to make acoustic or wake homing torpedoes that could be carried by these boats.

    The British WWI CMBs launched their torpedoes over the stern. They would line up the boat on the target, slide the torpedo down a shut tail first, and then side step to get out of the way of the torpedo.

    So far the favorite Boghammar weapon seems to be the 107 mm multiple rocket launcher which seems more flash than a real threat.

    If they were equipped with torpedoes, it would be another reason why using helos rather than boats or ships against them is probably a good idea, provided the helicopters can engage from outside man portable SAM range.

  17. Doomlord permalink
    June 17, 2010 1:58 am

    Scott B –

    Regarding the Bubiyan Turkey Shoot:

    Unrealistic assessment. No comparison to recent swarming small-boat war games as played by the USN and the Iranians respectively in 2005 and 2010. Those both indicated bloodbaths for larger vessels. And ultimately, if small boats didn’t work, we’d never have used PT boats and torpedo boat destroyers in past conflicts.

    In 1991:

    The Iraqi C4I had been degraded by weeks of intense bombing. No shore-based radar, no battle net.

    The Iraqi ships were massively outnumbered by Coalition assets. They were hardly a ‘swarm’. The Coalition was swarming.

    The Iraqis had few anti-ship missiles. If they had, firing more than one Silkworm might have been disastrous. Sea Dart fires 2 missiles at a time, and can’t manage complex, multiple engagements. (The fastest Sea Dart fire rate in the Falklands was 6 in 2 minutes – not suitable for defeating high-intensity volleys of incoming missiles, and unable to prevent Exocet hits from sinking the CVN-sized Atlantic Conveyor.) Not suitable for defeating RPGs fired from RIBs, either. Also, Sea Dart’s hit rate in combat has been well under 15%. The first-shot, first-hit kill in the Gulf in ’91 was unusual.

    The Iraqi tactics were desperate. Madly fleeing enemies have been cut-down by pursuing forces since the Bronze Age.

    Regarding Corvettes:

    Machine guns, manpads, anti-tank missiles, and grenade launchers are cheap. There is no reason at all why a smallish 1000 ton corvette (or mothership) won’t make an excellent, stable firing platform for many such weapons if combating swarming boats – not least because you can have more of such wonderfully cheap vessels than frigates or destroyers. (Those are high-end platforms with weapons unsuited to tackling swarm tactics, as D.E. Reddick’s video proved admirably. Plus, being large, they can only be in one place at a time.) A corvette or mothership fleet can be distributed, robust, cheap, and capable of crossing oceans if it has fleet auxiliaries. It is a suitable opponent for small boats, and indeed it is capable of carrying armored RIBs and raiders itself.

    Regarding helicopters or UAVs:

    I know you like helicopters, but do consider – they cost $15 to 60 million a copy. A dozen boats, armored against 50 cal (at least) can be bought for that.

    And UAVs are just as expensive. An unarmed, small Schiebel Camcopter costs more than $500,000 when coupled with a control station.

    Global Hawk costs many millions.

    Scan Eagle is too small to carry useful armaments.

    Cheap and plentiful have their virtues, especially when one faces an opponent with a fraction of the budgetary or productive capacities of the USA, such as IRAN, North Korea, and so on.

  18. Scott B. permalink
    June 16, 2010 5:40 pm

    Think Defence said : ” If you need to go inshore send very small vessels like RHIB or embarked fast patrol vessels”

    Or a helo (UAV ?)…

    The case is crystal clear :

    1) On the one hand, the mythical 1,000-ton corvette is FAR TOO BIG : TOO BIG for inshore duties as you mentioned, TOO BIG to offer any meaningful cost advantage,…

    2) On the other hand, the mythical 1,000-ton corvette is FAR TOO SMALL : TOO SMALL to act as a *mothership*, TOO SMALL to support helo ops effectively, TOO SMALL to be able to self-deploy,…

    What you get with the mythical 1,000-ton corvette is not even another JACK OF ALL TRADES, MASTER OF NONE. What you get with the mythical 1,000-ton corvette is the WORSE OF BOTH WORLDS.

    The mythical 1,000-ton corvette is nothing more than yet ANOTHER SOLUTION LOOKING FOR A PROBLEM.

  19. June 16, 2010 5:05 pm

    Scott B, yes I favour a large hull based on an existing design. Everything I settled on was about keeping costs as low as reasonably possible. Funnily enough, I didn’t see draught as a key design driver, if you need a large vessel to go that far inshore when draught actually makes a difference then I think you have big problems. If you need to go inshore send very small vessels like RHIB or embarked fast patrol vessels

  20. Scott B. permalink
    June 16, 2010 3:17 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “They are also stealthier given their low profile, and the shallow draft gives them essential performance in such waters.”

    1) On the subject of shallow draft, there’s (at least) one post elsewhere desparately awaiting for your input.

    Furthermore, as explained elsewhere, a mythical corvette like the Russian Steregushchiy has a draft of 26 feet under the sonar dome, versus 20.5 feet for a giant blue water battleship like the Danish ABSALON.

    2) There is much more to stealth than a mere radar signature, and it is arguably easier to incorporate stealth features (thermal, radar, acoustic,… ) into a larger hull.

    While the lower profile of the smaller ship doesn’t necessarily translate into a reduced signature, it almost inevitably guarantees a MUCH DEGRADED sensor performance, as demonstrated by the abject failure of the Iraqi FACs during the infamous Bubiyan Turkey Shoot.

  21. Scott B. permalink
    June 16, 2010 3:00 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Small ships are more maneuverable, able to contend with the small attack boat threat that is increasingly the norm in shallow waters, from speed boat navies like Iran.”

    1) It’s not clear what *small ships* and *maneuvrability* refer to (it might be useful at some point to define these terms more explicitely, e.g. provide some specification for the mythical corvette).

    Meanwhile, here is something for you to ponder :

    The Iowa-class battleships (FLD ~ 57,540 tons) had a tactical diameter of 814 yards @ 30 knots, whereas the much smaller Fletcher-class destroyers (FLD ~ 3,005 tons) had a tactical diameter of 950 yards @ 30 knots.

    2) As discussed in today’s LCS thread, a small (war)ship will offer a MUCH POORER shooting performance than a larger WARship using the exact same weapons (e.g. .50″, 20mm, 25mm).

    Again, how such degraded performance might be translate into a greater ability to contend with the small attack boat threat is really hard to understand…

  22. Scott B. permalink
    June 16, 2010 1:40 pm

    Think Defence said : “The only key difference between you approach and mine (I think) is that I favour a large hull over a small one that gives acres of space for mission modules”

    It takes a lot of courage and wisdom for a reformer to THINK BIG rather than small, but, at the end of the day, that’s the only way to go, the only one that might produce meaningful alternatives.

  23. June 16, 2010 12:22 pm

    Yes Jed, as I was thinking about the close inshore stuff with the proceeding 3 or 4 posts I just lumped this one in for convenience. Much of its time would be spent offshore

  24. Jed permalink
    June 16, 2010 12:20 pm

    T45 has nothing to do with the littoral arguments per se, its not our version of the LCS, its our version of the Burke DDG, but I admit its expensive, but I would not even say too expensive, as long as everything worked. At the moment thought the primary source of that expense, the PAAMS anti-air system does not actually work as required, thus providing really (!) low value for money :-(

    By the way, anti-piracy, maritime policing and showing the flag are NOT exclusive to the littoral, but also take place on the high seas, so littoral does not nesc. mean small, and small does not nesc. mean cheap ! The Hunt class, fibre-glass MCMV’s I served on were very, very expensive pound (or $) per tonne !!

  25. June 16, 2010 12:18 pm

    Thanks for the comments mike. The only key difference between you approach and mine (I think) is that I favour a large hull over a small one that gives acres of space for mission modules. it is the payload, as decoupled from their means of transport, that gives it its capability and flexibility.

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