LCS Alternative Weekly
More calls for the return of the Q-Ship, this time from a US naval officer–Lieutenant James Drennan, in the July Proceedings:
The concept of disguising warships as merchants is nothing new. Decoys, called Q-Ships, were used by Britain in World War I, and later by the United States in World War II, to combat the German U-boat threat in the Atlantic. While their success against U-boats was limited because the subs had the capability and intent to sink them, their potential for combating piracy is undeniable. If conventional warships can attract four pirate attacks in just over a year, imagine what they could accomplish if they appeared as defenseless container ships. Like moths that are burned by the flame that attracts them, pirates, who are often difficult to locate, can be drawn out into the open and neutralized.
By refitting USNS or Military Sealift Command ships (or simply using actual merchant hulls), we can bait pirates into attack, giving commanding officers clear authority to use lethal force in self-defense. The very existence of these decoy vessels can act as a deterrent, particularly after a few pirates have been “burned” by the deception. Pirates may be a little more hesitant to attack a container ship if they know it might be filled with highly trained Marines with guns instead of valuable cargo. Decoy vessels can also provide useful surveillance capabilities, since they would blend seamlessly into regular merchant traffic. They can observe the vast majority of pirate activity that occurs far from any gray-hulled warship.
Here’s hoping the pirates haven’t updated their subscription to Proceedings! Otherwise an interesting concept. New Wars previously posted on this subject:
On several occasions the pirates have mistaken navy support vessels like amphibious ships for helpless freighters, to their everlasting regret. The Royal Navy consistently uses their Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships as patrol vessels, mainly out of necessity from their shrinking resources, but they have proved surprisingly ideal for the mission. A while back I made a reference to modern Q ships, after reading this article from Marine News…
Frigates versus Motherships
Lewis Page in a March post at the UK Register reveals why a merchant auxiliary vessel, essentially a mothership, would be more effective than a modern frigate in most roles, while being cheaper to build and operate:
In general, in a hypothetical battle between a Type 26 combat ship and an unarmed enemy merchant ship carrying several helicopters to the 26’s single one, the merchant ship will probably win as it can keep aircraft flying round the clock. The merchant ship can also do a better job at hunting subs, for the same reason.
The Type 26s will “support land operations”, the navy says. By this they mean it will be able to carry a small number of troops, and its helicopter – though usually it will be one designed primarily for antisubmarine work – will be able to fly over land. The ship will also be able to bombard targets ashore with its medium-calibre gun turret.
Again, though, a fleet auxiliary merchantman comes out ahead. It can carry many more troops, plus vehicles and supplies for them and several helicopters to the frigate’s one. Inshore gun bombardment isn’t a big deal: the frigate makes a superb target for any enemy shore-based batteries, which are likely to significantly outrange and out-punch it if they exist, and furthermore it has only enough shells for about ten minutes’ firing.
Here comes the cheaper part, in a fleet desperately seeking savings:
All in all, for just about any job likely or unlikely, a fleet auxiliary with a helicopter deck and aircraft suited to the task would be better, as well as being much cheaper…a fleet auxiliary actually can support operations ashore usefully, too, unlike a frigate.
Back then, I posted the following argument against building frigates for patrol work:
Because you have a vessel almost as expensive as modern guided missile warships, which are high end battleforce ships, except they are armed no better than foreign corvettes or offshore patrol vessels. Which sounds more logical, to build a few very expensive and potentially vulnerable vessels, arm them like small patrol vessels, then use them like coast guard cutters, or buy a great many patrol vessels at less cost? But the all-battleship navy can’t think in these sensible terms.
The conclusion of all this is:
- Frigates are too expensive for use as low end escorts, their traditional role.
- They are not very efficient in the use and support of helicopters, their primary weapon.
- You can’t afford enough of them to make up for their lack of capability.
Stealthy Cyclone PC
The Navy’s 14th Cyclone-class coastal patrol ship (PC)–launched by Bollinger Shipyards–is the last of its class to be built, but is by no means the least. The Tornado, launched long after her sister ships were delivered to the Navy, features significant structural and electronic upgrades…
The Tornado’s changes to the original Cyclone structural design decrease the ship’s radar signature. The hull also was extended nine feet to accommodate a ramp for the launch and recovery of naval special warfare boats. The 360-ton ship is equipped with an integrated bridge command-and-control system, a satellite-navigation system, a forward-looking infrared system, and a surface-search radar with collision-avoidance functions. The Tornado’s weapons suite includes one 25mm MK38 chain gun, one 25mm Mk96 gun, two .50-caliber M2 and one M60 7.62mm machine guns, one 40mm Mk19 grenade launcher, and a Stinger surface-to-air missile station.
To think the Navy had a template here for constructing just the type littoral vessel for operations in the Gulf, against terrorist smugglers and pirates, yet it chose to waste an entire decade on a flawed frigate design, which has yet to reap the benefits of its huge cost. As the Army learned with its Stryker vehicles from the same era as the PC’s, one day the Navy may actually understand that to get hulls in the water you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just give us sound workable designs. Going into its third decade of service, the Cyclones have been quietly performing the littoral combat ship function without the laurels and hardly near the funding.
India’s LCS in the Water
India is building a balanced fleet of Blue Water vessels plus ships for coastal protection. Here is a report from Strategypage detailing a new class of 10 x 600 ton fast patrol boats:
Armament consists of a 30mm autocannon in a turret, two 12.7mm machine-guns and some shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles. The crew of 49 live and work in air conditioned compartments. Each ship costs about $11 million, which is a very good price for a 48.9 meter/152 foot long coast guard vessel. India needs ships like this, because it has 7,500 kilometers of coastline to keep watch over.
That’s great but only 10 to patrol a 7500 km coastline? I hope they have help! Here are the specs for the Car Nicobar Water Jet Fast Attack Craft (WJFAC):
- Length-48.9 m
- Draft-4 m
- Displacement-600 tons
- Speed-35 knots
- Range-2000 miles @ 12-14 knots
- Armament-1 x CRN-91 30 mm
2 x 12.7 mm HMGs
Corvette’s in, Frigates out
Commenter Moahunter at the Defence Talk Forum echoes New Wars’ call for Canada to rethink its decision to replace its aging Halifax frigates with like vessels:
I missed this post, going back through the thread, it got me reading a bit on the Type 26 and some of the criticisms of it, which are also relevant to the initial concept of this thread and along the same lines of the suggestions being made regarding the Canadian navy by some critics. That being, that maybe frigates are obsolete, and that it is better to build a small navy around smaller corvette size vessels with some very simple larger support ships?
…So, Canada would build perhaps:
– 36 specialized OPV’s / corvettes, half of them ice strengthened. None of them helicopter capable.
– 6 Motherships – simple helicopter / UAV platforms / supply ships, with command and perhaps cruise missile capability.
Is that the way a modern / medium sized Navy should go?
Instead of cutbacks, you would get increases, in size and capabilities. As was pointed out in the previous post, a fairly small general purpose frigate in unable to carry as many capable helicopters as a larger mothership, and you don’t need such large vessels so close to shore to use their guns since shallow water corvettes are already so armed and also with missile too.
It’s a Mystery to Me
One of our sharp-eyed readers noticed a strange discrepancy in a Wall Street Journal article, on the planned LCS buy. D.E. Reddick wrote:
War News Update just pointed to this Wall Street Journal article and its really, really interesting graphic with especial reference to the LCS program. It’s right there in yellow and black (NOTE the NUMBERS). Just where did that last number originate from???
Littoral Combat Ship
Number Needed 55
Purchases Planned 66
Just as quick, Scott responded:
Straight from the latest 30-year Shipbuilding Plan, page 20 :
“The Navy intends to continue procurement of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and, allowing for their 25-year service life, plans to build to its inventory total of 55 by FY 2035. A total of 66 of these ships will be procured over the 30-year period; including 17 replacements for those retiring at the end of their planned service life during this period.”
Scott also pointed to a little-covered but major event:
Who will be the loser? I am thinking the Navy, on this deal!