Think Defence Thinks Littoral
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.”
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.