Eaglespeak, our favorite sea-lawyer, jumps into Corvette Week at CIMSEC with some thoughts.
As former Under Secretary of the Navy Bob Work emphasized during his recent appearance on MIDRATS, the Littoral Combat Ship is such a truck–a vehicle for delivering unmanned weapons system.
This post is meant to take that concept and cheapen it.
What is a corvette? Something smaller than frigate but larger than a patrol boat, I guess. The LCS in either of its variants is large at about 380 feet in length and displacing 2800 tons. A Gearing-class destroyer from post WWII measured in 390 feet and 3400 tons. The Perry-class frigates are over 440 feet and 4100 tons.
Seems we have a lot of size and space to play with.
It occurs to me that we need to take the thinking that developed the WWII escort aircraft carrier (CVE) and model it down to a ship that is a “drone” carrier (and by “drone” I mean unmanned vessels of any type- surface, subsurface and aerial) – like the LCS only in the smaller economy version.
After all, if the real weapons systems toted by the LCS are its drones, then virtually any vessel capable of lowering said drones into the water or into the air and hosting their command and control system can be a “drone carrier,” too. Such a ship becomes a “mother ship” for the drones.
Are drone carriers are really “war ships?” Remember, “payload over platform.”
We’ve long felt that the Navy could use Platform Support Vessels for any of a number of roles. PSVs, designed to support offshore oil drilling platforms such as those in the Gulf of Mexico or the North Sea, are something like the pick-up trucks of the maritime world. Relatively small, sturdy ships, their ability to carry a wide variety of loads is their true utility. PSVs typically have large tanks for carrying various liquid cargoes for the platforms, and a large open work deck that can either carry containerized cargo, drilling equipment, or any manner of general cargo. They’re also typically equipped with robust cargo handling equipment.
As Eaglespeak argues, relatively inexpensive second hand PSVs could serve as the motherships for offboard payloads such as Mine Counter Measures (MCM). In fact, this would be a very good fit for them.
PSVs could also serve as tenders for other small, forward deployed warships, either our own, or those of partner nations. Repair and maintenance facilities could be containerized and placed aboard, tailored to the specific ships supported. They would also provide logistical support for fuel, fresh water, food and ammunition to any supported flotilla.
If we were to embrace an substantially more involved modification of a PSV, we could even see one used to provide hangar and maintenance for helicopter detachments in support of MCM, Anti-Surface Warfare, or Anti-Submarine Warfare. Fitting a towed tactical sonar array for deeper water ASW in conjunction with embarked helicopters should not prove too daunting.
With good seakeeping and long endurance, PSVs could be fitted with light self defense weapons, a robust small boat capability and provide high endurance on-station assets in waters plagued by piracy such as off the coast of Somalia or near Singapore.
To be sure, PSVs are not warships. But the US Navy has a long history of adapting merchant vessels to fulfill auxiliary roles. Quite a few Liberty ships were commissioned into the Navy not as transports or cargo ships, but modified as repair vessels, and even as experimental minesweeping ships.
Any such low cost answer to the challenge of providing sufficient numbers of ships for the fleet would need to recognize that these ships would not be suitable for placement in the line of battle. Nor could they operate without support from other fleet assets or land based assets. But the purpose of such ships would be to free the high value assets of the Navy to fulfill their primary functions, while still enabling the Navy to execute the full range of missions in areas of maritime interest.