A Ship for All Seasons or the Return of the Auxiliary Cruiser

A guest post from Gareth…

There has been much discussion on these pages about the size and roles of the Royal Navy, with I believe a general consensus that there is a deficit in hull numbers required for the many tasks asked of the fleet, and to maintain the UK ‘s influence in the world. I believe I have come across a concept, actually a number of related concepts, which not only helps with the numbers game but may also add new roles and capabilities for our armed forces and improve the influence we are able to exert globally.

These are some of the roles the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary perform in “peace-time”:

Another role I wish to add to the list is Medical Diplomacy.

I believe these roles may be performed by a containership, suitably modified to become a modern version of the auxiliary cruiser.

The major difference between the old and new Auxiliary Cruiser concept is the where’s the old one was intended to boost fleet numbers in wartime, the new is intended to boost fleet numbers in so called peace time, performing the duties outlined above. That does not mean the vessels couldn’t perform these and other roles during war-time, as is explored below. Although I have been considering this idea for some time, as usual people have also had similar ideas and are better at presenting them so this post will consist of an examination of the different ideas I’ve come across with some of my own observations and ideas thrown in.

Modularised Auxiliary Cruisers with stand-alone containers/modules.

 “We have many objectives at sea. Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers could provide the numbers we need to achieve our maritime objectives. The tyranny of numbers matters to the United States Navy.”

I believe that statement goes double, if not triple, for the Royal Navy.

“The system modules for Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers would have to be self-contained because they would not be installed on a ship designed to incorporate the modules”.

This is the difference with Think Defence’s own ideas below, and why I call it a basic concept, although as you can see the concept is quite thought-out.

“We would build Containerized Modules using shipping containers that include missiles (surface-to-air and surface-to-surface) as well as modules with gun turrets for smaller weapons, up to 57mm. Other modules could support helicopters for anti-submarine (ASW), mine counter measures (MCM), or anti-ship missiles, as well as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV) and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV). Still others would contain power supplies and the command and communications systems to plug a ship into the Navy network.”

“Containerized Modules would be the building blocks for Mission Packages installed on a container ship’s deck to create a Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser tailored for the specific mission. One or more Mission Packages would be fixed to the deck of a container ship and connected to each other for power and communications.” (Links and emphasis added by me.)

It isn’t just Americans thinking along these lines, as the link below shows.

Versatile Modular System TM

Both the concepts above highlight that stand-alone modules are “Hull borne, not hull dependent”. CDR Atkinson envisages three types of vessels using them; the containership, the fast Catamaran “Ferry”, and the heavy-lift vessel. TD looked at the FLO-FLO/barge combo for the OMAR requirement here. For an example of a more active role for the barges, read this interesting history:


The uses of weapon, accommodation and logistic support modules in such circumstances are obvious.

So you chose the most suitable “mission package(s)” and the most suitable hull; Catamaran for speed, containership “Cruiser” for range/size, and the barge for (semi-)permanent presence.

For the sake of simplicity I will concentrate on the option of containerships but it should be bared in mind that different platforms can carry the modules, including possibly RO-RO vessels, and of course being intermodal containers they can be transported by air and used on land.

Think Defence – SIMMS concept.

I will not spend too much time discussing this concept, because it’s already been covered it in some detail. The obvious points to highlight are TD’s evolution of the module idea from stand-alone to plug in to a “service keel”, providing them with power, water, waste removal, etc. This of course adds to the individual modules capability and a “service keel” could be built in to part of a containership (many already have connections to power refrigerated containers) or a barge. It could be possible to have either two types of modules (stand-alone and serviced) or one that could be adapted to both. Inter-changeability would also go some way to allowing both concepts (Auxiliary cruiser and SIMMS) to be pursued.

Brickmuppet’s modern Flower class sloop for medical diplomacy.

 “Let’s take a standard American containership design, the Philadelphia Class, and assume the aft deck is used for helicopter operation and the aft holds are used as a flex deck for small craft and Littoral combat ship modules (or TD’s serviced modules – Gareth). The holds forward of the bridge have ample room for containers that can contain everything from food to hospital or war supplies. I’d use the midships below decks space (where pitching would be minimized ) for a big hospital and a secondary helipad (if only to directly service the hospital). This would not have the capability of the Mercy or Comfort but it could conceivably approach that of the LHAs and could do a LOT of good on mercy missions.”

“The large helideck would give a decent helicopter borne ASW and possibly even minesweeping capability in wartime especially if during a major war something like SCADS or the old ARAPAHO concept were put into place…” Here we come to two points; possible war –time roles and another possible evolution of the concept, using what I’m calling Pre-Manufactured Units or PMU’s.

Two of the concepts – Modular Auxiliary Cruiser and Versatile Modular Ship™ – envisage the vessels performing their roles during war-time. I am more cautious and view them as being more on the security level of Think Defence’s spectrum of “Fightiness”™, being part of the “lo” part of a Hi-lo mix. The advantages of the containership for these roles are they are designed for long range cruising, are resilient (some have double-hulls), relatively cheap, and spacious. They do have downsides; there may be issues with damage control, they only have one propeller, etc. However, the main weaknesses of old Auxiliary Cruisers – lack of both armour and a centralised command/fire-control centre – do not apply to warships today or is solved by the modular container system. The other defects may also be mitigated during the design/build phase of purpose built ships, although probably increasing the cost. However, a more aggressive role cannot be ruled out; I shall discuss it below.

Although I do not believe the future Auxiliary Cruiser to be a battleship, the auxiliary cruiser can perform support roles in a time of war.

Possible war-time roles I envisage are:

They would be able to perform these roles due to modules larger than a shipping container. These PMU’s would range from helicopter landing pads and hangars to hospital modules like RFA Argus’s, although I separate them in to above deck and cargo hold categories. The SCADS concept is probably the most well-known example, combining ISO containers, modularised weapon systems and other structures to turn a containership into a small aircraft carrier, a modern version of the MAC.

* I should stress here I am putting this idea forward for helicopters and possibly other VTOL aircraft; however, it doesn’t take much imagination to see the flexible basing capability offered by  STOVL  combing with modular containers/PMU’s in a modern version of the SCADS idea.

Modules creating a large flight deck with hangar/flex deck beneath are possible above decks while hospital and accommodation “blocks” could slip in to the cargo bays. Perhaps a RAS module(s) could be built with fuel below decks and RAS equipment above? A more aggressive “block” could be a VLS module; it might allow larger than usual missiles as well as the standard VLS systems. Obviously, the more complicated and complex the PMU’s (and the Modular containers) become the more expensive they are. For that reason, and to avoid creating unnecessary opposition from the “battleship” supporters, I believe the war-time roles of the Auxiliary Cruisers should be of a support role.

The ultimate example of the use of PMU’s is the AFSB:

Maesrk AFSB S-class conversion concept.

Although based upon a very large containership the AFSB concept above could, I believe, be scaled down and turn the containership into a modest “carrier of large objects”. It also indicates what other roles the Auxiliary Cruiser could perform in war-time. There is obviously some collation between some of the peace and war-time roles, for example Medical diplomacy and PCRS, ASS and Escort carrier. The use of PMU’s would not be limited to war-time.


Modularising the mission equipment and separating it from the carrying platform not only enables a more flexible, versatile response but allows you to spread the cost of purchasing the platform and capabilities, even of making gradual upgrades easier, helping the budget.

The modern modular auxiliary cruiser would not only relieve pressure on the escort and support fleet but even enhance the capabilities and global influence of the UK government. It would also be a physical manifestation of joined up government and the new National Security Council.

The RFA is the obvious “owner” of the hulls but different departments may pay for different modules/capabilities; DfID may be willing to purchase Humanitarian Assistance, Disaster Relief, and clinic modules while the Navy purchases the military/security mission packages.

There are a number of ownership options – government ownership, lease, or simply traditional STUFT. The stand-alone and even serviced modules to a lesser extent can in theory be operated from any containership but the larger, more complex PMU’s such as above deck flight deck/hangar below and cargo hold Hospital module would require a standardised fitting. Personally I would like to see a RFA fleet of about eight medium sized containerships (3,000 TEU, roughly 30,000 tons displacement), with enough modular container mission packages for up to 16 ships, the rest being leased or STUFT’ed in an emergency.

The basic concept would be easy to trail – the MOD could lease a containership, shoe-horn some old weapons/sensors/equipment in to ISO containers, throw in a helicopter, and send to the Horn of Africa to hunt pirates. The Malaysian navy have already done something similar. DARPA appears to be thinking along these lines but as usual they want to go a little further.

Using different mission packages and the various PMU’S one ship could be performing medical diplomacy tours around the coast of Africa coast whilst another is used for aviation training. Others could be conducting MSO off the Horn of Africa, or patrolling the Caribbean with US Coast Guard modules, a modular field hospital and a large amount of emergency supplies, or conducting diplomatic, show the flag visits around SE Asia. Perhaps they could even be used as cargo vessels and earn a little profit along the way. Hmmm… Government sanctioned trading, armed merchantmen, fighting pirates… perhaps I should have called them something else

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Think Defence
March 6, 2012 12:36 pm

Good stuff Gareth, some cracking links

I like the idea of modularising payloads, even though there are one or two downsides.

Interesting that there exists no common standard, NATO or otherwise, for payload module connectivity

steve taylor
March 6, 2012 12:43 pm


Twin propellers (plus bow thrusters) will give you options in smaller ports. For all this talk of modularity and containers I think the modern fast ferry would be a better route take over container vessels.

March 6, 2012 1:16 pm


Sounds like a great Idea; however it will never happen. It is not fast pointy or sexy. The

‘We could have another t26 for the price of one of these crowd’

Will be out in force; explaining how a T26 could do all this, and fight proper wars. Square jawed sons of Nelson will fight to the death against it.

On a more practical note I suggest STUFT unrealistic, as finding the right kind of hull size for a particular job in time might be difficult. I would suggest a point class type solution more realistic.

steve taylor
March 6, 2012 1:31 pm

Or this……


South Africa’s new Antarctic research vessel. Twin screw only does 14kts. Cost £90m. But stretched and given slightly bigger engines would be useful.

steve taylor
March 6, 2012 1:33 pm

Better…….. :)

March 6, 2012 2:23 pm

Pick your preferred hull, container or ro-ro ferry, doesn’t matter as long as it’s “commercial” and thus cheap. RFA run it, fund it from DfID, and for god sake don’t call it a “cruiser” whatever you do.

If you really want it to have a war role, base it on the Dutch JSS / Karel Doorman, with radar, CIWS and soft-kill / countermeasures dispensers.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 6, 2012 2:28 pm

We quite arguably do need more ships to cover all the tasks that the government wishes to lay upon the navy; and I don’t think we should be concerned about routinely filling some tasks with auxillaries only.

It’s just a shame that we don’t make more use of what we already have. The Royal Navy seems to struggle to deliver frigates and destroyers for basic tasks, but we were quick to sell off RFA Largs Bay; and the very capable RFA Fort Austin with its huge helicopter hangar and two spot flight deck has been doing bugger all since 2009. Both those ships would be more than capable of carrying out the anti-piracy mission, for example.

March 6, 2012 4:14 pm

In general, I’d tend to agree that a larger number of cheaper hulls for low-end missions is important.

However, I worry about modular designs that attempt to create a platform that can switch between a wide variety of more complex missions beyond basic presence, security, and relief missions. I’m skeptical of the ability of our defense industrial base to produce a vessel capable of competently executing more complex traditional combat missions (ASuW, ASW, MCM, etc.) in an affordable, modular way. In the end, it ends up sounding a lot like the LCS program, and (whatever you think of the LCS program) I think we can all agree that there is no reason to re-make that particular wheel.

On the other hand, if we’re talking about a vessel that is designed primarily to perform humanitarian, presence, and security missions, then I’m not sure what a modular vessel brings to the table that a traditional long-range patrol boat does not. Lower-end missions are far more about people and skills than weapons and gear – the necessary equipment for accomplishing basic sea control missions in a relatively permissive environment ought to be able to be incorporated into a vessel without requiring the inclusion of modular systems.

March 6, 2012 5:17 pm

The problem with the LCS seems to be that they’re simply confused about the strategic concept – it’s meant to be a low-intensity littoral thing, and also the forward screening network for the whole of the US Navy, it’s meant to be relatively light and dependent on “networking” (i.e. air support) but it’s also meant to operate way in front of the carrier group, it’s (as they say) a dessert topping and a floor wax but it comes in an artifically intelligent robot styled by Apple.

As a result, it’s meant to do MCM and ASW and security patrol and intelligence gathering, all things that need lots of persistence, but it’s also meant to do 40 knots and be tiny, so it needs to meet an AOR every five minutes to fill up – are they going to deploy their fleet tankers ahead of the warships?

as for the modules, perhaps they should just have bought the Danish ones because it’s the same kit inside them!

steve taylor
March 6, 2012 6:20 pm

@ Gareth Jones

For open ocean work you can separate the hull from the mission. But the closer you get to land then ship handling has to be a consideration. Especially when these ships will be working out of less developed or smaller ports. That is why I said fast ferry over container ship as starting point.

March 6, 2012 6:30 pm

Fort Austin was laid up without crew as an economy measure, replacing Fort Victoria at extended readiness. With Fort George having decommissioned for disposal, Fort Austin is being ‘regenerated’ (major refit/SLEP) at Cammell Laird.

Fort Victoria is currently carrying out the counter-piracy mission and has been for some time.

March 6, 2012 6:59 pm

@Gareth – I agree that both MSO and humanitarian aid are valuable missions for any naval force, especially one with global responsibilities. I just wonder whether persistent MSO and large-scale humanitarian assistance are really the best missions to combine on a single platform.

Since large-scale humanitarian missions are likely to remain a low-volume endeavor relative to the total force size, it seems that it’d be easier to build a larger number of smaller vessels aimed at MSO, presence, and small-scale humanitarian operations and a smaller number of larger vessels aimed at larger-scale humanitarian operations, which could then focus full-time on these sorts of missions. Although some modularity then might aid the large humanitarian vessels in conducting a variety of missions (medical, food, power, etc.), it still might be easier (given the commonality of equipment across these missions) just to build large multipurpose humanitarian aid vessel.

March 6, 2012 7:39 pm

Which as suggested recently on another thread could have an alternative wartime role as an Amphib

>it still might be easier (given the commonality of >equipment across these missions) just to build >large multipurpose humanitarian aid vessel.

steve taylor
March 6, 2012 7:58 pm

Weren’t the earlier Forts a bit expensive in terms of maintenance?

@ Gareth J


March 6, 2012 8:19 pm

@Peter – In general, I think it would be hard to argue against maximal flexibility in naval procurement; certainly, any large naval platform would probably have some war-time use in logistics, amphibious operations, etc. (the key is making sure that this flexibility does not come at the expense of significantly driving up the ship’s cost).

However, even if a relatively cheap large humanitarian ship had a limited role in a war-time scenario, it would still serve to boost war-time readiness by allowing vessels (specifically, the crews) that actually are capable of performing wartime roles to spend their peace-time preparing for war, rather than performing important but time-consuming humanitarian relief operations. Thus, I’d probably seek to procure a cheap, high-volume humanitarian aid vessel more as a replacement for amphibs in certain peace-time missions rather than a supplement to them in certain war-time missions.

March 6, 2012 8:41 pm


New Forts are the expensive ones. 40% of the 16 ship maintenance budget swallowed by two ships.

steve taylor
March 6, 2012 8:51 pm

@ Anixtu

Wow. That’s a lot.

March 6, 2012 9:17 pm


I am on side with you mostly. I see the way forward generally in military matters as COTS technology.

Off road vehicles,
Wheeled armoured vehicles,
Transport and support aircraft,
Ship hulls and machinery
Etc etc

Including commercial containers across the board.

It’s just that I am not convinced that ARAPAHO style interchangeability is actually that useful.
For the basis of ease of manufacture, instillation removal and repair and maintenance, great. In practice people like the Danes (flex 300) and the many interchangeable modular bodyworks on trucks have tended to stay on the same vehicle / vessel throughout it’s life. IT has significantly reduced costs and increased availability, but not a lot of swapping around has been done.

So I do support your idea, but I just see a class of say 8, 30,000 ton vessels being pretty much permanently rolled one way or another.

steve taylor
March 6, 2012 9:42 pm

The other thing about containers in container ships is that are designed to be access onboard. Containers are away of managing broken stowage as much as being intermodal. You would have to design a special ship where containers could be access. I suppose ideally that would look like, or actually be a RORO. That is why a lot of stuff the RFA handles is done in pallet sized loads.

steve taylor
March 6, 2012 9:52 pm

re: RFA and pallets

Apart from RASing and VERTREPing. I know what I meant…….

March 6, 2012 11:06 pm

Gareth, great article. I’m very much in favour of the auxiliary LHP / escort carrier – with the CVFs taking the lion share of the budget having additional platforms to launch helicopters / UAVs is key.

Aussie Johnno
Aussie Johnno
March 7, 2012 1:20 am

One from left field, we have been considering how the good guys may us merchant auxillaries. How much value could the otherside get out of merchant hulls.
Consider the following, there is likely action brewing up between Iran and the West. That action will certainly involve attempts at disrupting shipping between the gulf and user nations. At the moment swarms of small vessels and mining seem to be he flavour of the month.
What if the black hats were to equip a number of small non descript, flag of convenience container ships with say 4 120mm field guns built into containers and several twin 23mm AA guns concealed on the superstructure and deploy them well clear of the Gulf. How hard would they be to counter.
P.S. The aim of the vessels would not be to sink vessels`but to disable them, set them on fire, kill as many of the crew as possible as move on..

March 7, 2012 3:47 am

AJ, don’t think those Q-ships would last long. The main reason pirates are so hard to counter is because of the small size of their ships, once they seize a cargo vessel, it becomes easily tracked from orbit, there are usually other reasons why the vessel isn’t targetted by heavy ordinance (i.e hostages and the need to get the ship back intact). In fact, most container ships are tracked to the pirate home port.

An auxillary cruiser built on a merchant hull works, until they hit their 1st target. After that, they become target practice.

Aussie Johnno
Aussie Johnno
March 7, 2012 6:02 am

Observer, a lot of merchant ships have a GPS transponder so you can follow their progress in real time, something to do with IMO rules to stop far eastern pirates who were making entire ships and cargo’s vanish. However, if the aim was disruption it comes down to how many VLCC’s could you leave imobilises and burning before you get caught. It could seem like a good investment if you don’t have other options.
Just remember how many western warships were tied down by the Gulf tanker wars of 20 years ago and we have considerably fewer ships now.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 7, 2012 6:35 am

All vessels greater than 500 tonnes on an International voyage must display their data on AIS, position, course, speed, LPC, NPOC, name, owner etc. Vessels that do not tend to stick out.

March 7, 2012 9:03 am

True, but it is easy to complicate the picture by transmitting false AIS data.

steve taylor
March 7, 2012 10:02 am

@ Gareth J

Great link. I am just working through the problem with you. A serious logistical effort though requires sophisticated systems (ie forklift trucks or as I would call them counterbalance) to handle cargo. And space to operate those machines in too.

March 7, 2012 2:40 pm

I don’t know if many people here already saw this, but RAND just put out a pretty good piece on Maritime Irregular Warfare that covers a lot of the missions that this sort of vessel might undertake:


I’ve only had time to read the opening Summary, thus far, but it looks like an interesting read.

March 7, 2012 5:43 pm

Following on from Gareth, how about disaster support, with a sneaky second use for STUFT amphibious ops: modify the stern ramps of UK merchant RO-RO’s to accept an add on attachment to allow LCU/PASCAT to dock at low sea states?

March 7, 2012 9:57 pm

Personally, I wouldn’t go for a container ship, too immobile, and also just not ideally suited for multi-role use. They are pretty huge (even scaled down), and there are better options if you want a truly flexible ship.

I would be tempted to go for the JHSV path, i.e. one of the wonderful Austal designs. These have the speed to get in and out fast, plenty of space internally for most roles, yet are still cheap. They are ideal for MCM roles, humanitarian aid, and a multitude of other roles.

The benefit is that by using this sort of hull, they could dock almost anywhere, and with their built in ramp, could offload via landing craft as well. In contrast, the container ship would be restricted to fewer ports, and ironically could be less flexible due to its size.

For modules, I am a real fan of the Standard Flex modules, and would love to see the RN adopting these. By taking this route, we could finally build the sort of RN holy grail, i.e. a cheap warship to be bought in numbers, but one which can be rapidly turned into a highly capable ship in minimal time.

steve taylor
March 7, 2012 10:17 pm

@ Ed said “I would be tempted to go for the JHSV path, i.e. one of the wonderful Austal designs. These have the speed to get in and out fast,”

No. A conventional hull is better. They don’t carry much. And are vomit comets.


They have their uses. But I think Gareth J will want a go anywhere at any time ship. But these aluminium ferries aren’t go anywhere any time vessels.

Doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting or bad ships.

March 7, 2012 10:43 pm

Well I’d start with the fort replacements. 4 large stores ships like the fort 1s with a 4 a/c helo capability and hospital added. You could use 4 Rfa jshv to support these 4 larger vessels for disaster relief emergency evac and fast transit. These could be tied to a more mobile fwd deployed far east troops or carribean disaster relief and patrol. When you move to the mcm fleet and patrol vessels it in my view becomes more problematic. Can the mine hunting gear be put in non specialist hulls the us are having big problems doing it. But having some capability ISo containered between these boats and the mission bay in type 26 possibly. These small vessels should stay in the navy gd command development. The bigger the vessel close to shore the more defensive capability it needs

March 8, 2012 2:55 pm

@Gareth – Although I find sea-basing concepts interesting from a technical perspective, I think your “modules on land” concept is probably more sound from a strategic perspective. In general, I think, sea-basing is going to prove a lot more expensive than just finding a local land base for your operations. Therefore, in my mind, sea-basing needs to find some justification for its greater cost than traditional land bases.

As far as I’ve heard, the basic justifications for the cost of sea-basing are three-fold:
1) Sea-basing allows us to have a ready base of operations in regions where the infrastructure is too limited to support our operational plan.
2) Sea-basing allows us to have a reduced logistical footprint in regions where political sensitivities limit our basing options.
3) Sea-basing allows us to have a secure base in regions where hostile actors will seek to disrupt our logistical operations.

I think these are all potentially good justifications in theory, but in practice I still wonder whether the added cost of sea-basing is worth it. How many operations do we envision undertaking in regions that lack the logistical facilities to support even modest humanitarian efforts, especially in an increasingly-globalized world economy? How many operations do we envision undertaking in regions where the political footprint of a humanitarian mission is unacceptable? Again, I think these justifications could be made, but they probably first require a return to bigger strategic questions about what missions the combined force is expected to perform in the service of national strategy, and where. (As a side note: I think that the US military’s recent push to expand basing options in the Western Pacific – Australia, Singapore, the Philippines, etc. – reflects a realization that cultivating traditional land bases is probably more effective than attempting to procure a full-on sea-basing option).

On the other hand, if the desire is to deploy ISO containers tailored for humanitarian aid missions to temporary or permanent bases in foreign territories, then one might not even need to procure one’s own ships – the deployment of the containers to their operating location, at least, could probably be handled more easily by private contractors.

March 8, 2012 3:26 pm


The Pacific Rim bases are not American bases, but borrowed facilities. This avoids the unpleasentness of a US base in the area. After the Tailhook scandal, the Okinawan rape incident, the playing up of American bad behaviour pre-Subic Bay closure and the report of the wild party in Iraq?/Afganistan? ‘s US Embassy (I know, PMCs, but the US hired them), the Americans are seen as not someone you want staying in your neighbourhood.

March 8, 2012 3:55 pm

Anyone seen the pics of the Chinese Type-71 LPD yet? It really looks sleek, and the carrying capacity is on the high side. For US$300M. Of course, buying Chinese has it’s problems too. Like different standard measure. But still, that is how I’d like an LPD to look like.

March 8, 2012 3:57 pm

Hi Observer,

Singapore selling off its old LPDs and getting the ‘160s’ for the proceeds (well, not quite) to replace them?

March 8, 2012 4:36 pm

Still looks ugly though :)

And it’s not the proceeds, it’s the bloody USD 12 billion budget.

I’m starting to think rumours of a serious increase in naval strength is true, been a lot of recruitment posters going up.

From what I heard, and it’s starting to fit:

12 LO interceptors (think gunboats with 76mm)
12 LO OPVs (8 AShMs, 76mm, 1 helo)
Trade 2 LSTs for 2 “160” LHDs (total of 2LSTs/2LHDs)

On the Air Force side, 4x new AAR tankers and possible Viper upgrades to the F-16s.

Makes me wonder if they’re worried about something… or someone…

On the other hand, it could be an indirect attempt to counter China, if all these new toys are coming online, the old stuff has to go somewhere, right? I have a sneaky suspicion Philipines or Vietnam could suddenly “find the money” for some refitted second hand ships. “No, definately NOT an attempt to supply arms against China, just massive coincidence that we had to get rid of old stuff, just when you were getting clingy about the Spratleys, no siree!!”…I suspect some leaning on people in ASEAN meetings.

March 8, 2012 4:53 pm

Damn, I went off topic…

LDHs might be a good piece of kit to do modules on, they have the volume and the deckspace if something has to be set up on deck. The most useful I can think of would be a sea control ship, the welldock to launch USVs, with radar/sonar, 0.5cal gun and a torpedo, the topdeck for helos and UAVs. Given enough modular control stations, a single ship can patrol quite a large area effectively from ships and subs, limited only by how many USV/Stations you can pack in. Aircraft would be a worry though.

March 8, 2012 4:58 pm

Add ski jump and fly Harriers off it. You could call it a ‘through decks’ cruiser :-)

>Aircraft would be a worry though.

March 8, 2012 5:03 pm

Now I’m going to have to worry if the enemy aircraft is going to be the bigger threat or my own. :P

Actually, that is workable, ala “escort carriers” WWII. Aircraft takes up a hell lot of space for fuel and parts and ammo though. So I guess it’s the age old problem of tradeoffs. Aircraft for USVs.

March 8, 2012 5:20 pm

Hi Observer,

No leaning required! ”…I suspect some leaning on people in ASEAN meetings.”

And check out the 20 CB90s Malaysia is using; the LCSs and everything that is modelled after them don’t get everywhere where the baddies hide, or the pirates escape to

March 8, 2012 5:35 pm

@Gareth – From an operational perspective, I think that a smaller, modular sea-basing/mothership concept, drawing on available civilian barge vessels, would have a lot to recommend it. From a strategic perspective, however, the specific cost of actually procuring and maintaining this capability would need to be weighed against the marginal utility it provides versus possibly cheaper land-based alternatives. I don’t really have the specific data to say one way or another, though if one’s assumption is that, as the world economy continues to develop and globalize, more and more suitable port facilities will be available even in previously-remote regions (which I recognize is a big assumption), then it would seem that the marginal utility of even relatively cost-efficient sea-basing is likely to fall in the coming decades.

@Observer – Mea culpa; “bases” can be such a politically-loaded term. From a practical standpoint, however, I still think that the recent proliferation of US operating locations ;) throughout the Western Pacific is indicative of a shift on the part of the US military away from the idea of “sea-basing” towards a renewed appreciation of a land-based logistical support infrastructure.

March 9, 2012 6:10 am

Hi Adun,

Absolutely right “shift on the part of the US military away from the idea of “sea-basing” towards a renewed appreciation of a land-based logistical support infrastructure.”
– despite a lot of brain power going into the concepts, the fleet for sea-basing has not materialised (operational trials don’t count)

March 9, 2012 7:28 am

Hi Gareth,

There is a feature on globalsecurity.org that traces your project (includes some costings, as a ball park answer to your question) from the planning guidelines (in 1994!) to the present day
– in wishful thinking, the German Navy 2025 includes some (what does *our* Force 2020 not include!)

March 9, 2012 12:46 pm

“- despite a lot of brain power going into the concepts, the fleet for sea-basing has not materialised (operational trials don’t count)”


Three MLPs to be built, the Ro/Ro-vessels are already there and new ones will be added.

In the current form, MLPs are just a ship-shore-connectors. In the original concept, they had accomodations for up to four LCACs. I guess the USN-top-brass downrated the design to avoid competition to their LPD-program.

“In general, I think, sea-basing is going to prove a lot more expensive than just finding a local land base for your operations.”

Errm, if you set seabase == humanitarian aid, that may be true. But ro/ro-vessels will deliver combat vehicles, so the sea base has a complementary amphibious role. And here are major cost- and time-advantages.

March 9, 2012 1:01 pm

I’m against Ro-Ros for amphibious assaults. Sometimes, you simply can’t get enough of a draft to get the ship right up to land. Using landing craft is much more flexible and opens more potential landing areas for your beachhead. And one thing that was noticed in the aftermath of the Boxing Day Tsunami was the inability of LSTs to close in with beaches due to clogged debris. Landing craft had to be the first in with construction vehicles to clear the beach.

March 10, 2012 9:45 am

“I’m against Ro-Ros for amphibious assaults.”

You are against beaching LSTs, not against ROROs. LSDs, LPDs, LPHs, LHDs, etc. are all ROROs to some extent.

In the MLP concept straightforward ROROs (of the strategic sealift variety) discharge across the MLP into landing craft.

steve taylor
March 10, 2012 9:56 am

@ Observer

RO-RO is a layout not a specific type of ship.

March 10, 2012 10:03 am

That is true Anixtu, all of those ships are RO-RO for jetty/pier loading convenience. To be more precise, I’m against Ro-Ro being the only way to offload vehicles and troops, as sometimes, you simply can’t beach the LST due to sea depth.

If you’re discharging to Landing Ships which will then launch to shore, that isn’t RO-RO is it?

March 10, 2012 10:11 am


It’s not a layout, it’s a function. Even if you laid out a container vessel with a Ro-ro floorplan, it’s useless without the front bay doors. The design of doors in front allows the ship to beach and disgorge it’s cargo directly across the sand, which is one of it’s functions.

Provided the damn LST can reach the shore 1st. Didn’t you read the 2nd part where I mentioned LST?

March 10, 2012 10:22 am

Hi Observer, It “discharging to Landing Ships which will then launch to shore, that isn’t RO-RO is it?” is
– but unfortunately in three stages: transoceanic (big) ship, the ones now under construction (done at sea!)and landing craft. So three roll-ons, three roll-offs
– that’s why I initially made the comment about a lot of brainpower having been applied, but only “half-baked” results coming out

That’s the good old USA, UK & France are starting to move from LCTs to http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?168153-New-Landing-Craft-for-the-Royal-Marine-Commandos
to overcome the other problem you pointed to
– it is of course the French who have theirs already up and running

March 10, 2012 10:34 am

“Even if you laid out a container vessel with a Ro-ro floorplan, it’s useless without the front bay doors. The design of doors in front allows the ship to beach and disgorge it’s cargo directly across the sand, which is one of it’s functions.”

If you believe that bow doors and beaching are part of the definition of “RORO” you have invented your own usage. To everyone else it means the ship has ramps that allow vehicles to drive from shore to ship and vice-versa, but usually from a quayside or linkspan in harbour, not over a beach.

I say again, you are against LSTs and beaching, not against ROROs. Most navies have moved away from LSTs.

steve taylor
March 10, 2012 10:35 am

@ Observer

A Dutch roll-on, roll off landing craft,

A British roll-on, roll off small ferry,

A British roll on, roll off freight ferry. Note to be a roll on, roll off ship you don’t have to have bow doors…….

A Bob Hope class a MSC large RO-RO,

March 10, 2012 10:46 am


Full sentence please.

“I’m against Ro-ro in AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULTS”?

And I’m not against beaching the LST. If you can do it. It’s called limitation of function.

March 10, 2012 11:02 am


“If you’re discharging to Landing Ships which will then launch to shore, that isn’t RO-RO is it?”

Of course it is! Unless the vehicles move under their own power i.e. without cranes, it’s definitely a roll-off.

The MLP is a ship-shore connector. Either it is bound by mexeflote-type piers to the beach, or it operates offshore as a LCAC-hub. Call them Mulberry light. In either scenario, the Ro/ro-vessel stays alongside, unloads its cargo until it’s empty => next one.

The MLP itself was first designed to embark the LCACs. If that would materialize, I cannot think of one advantage a well-deck has, especially if the size of the landing craft is larger/taller or smaller than LCAC. Build the Flo/flo vessel out of a container vessel,

March 10, 2012 11:11 am

Hi McZ,

LCACs were standardised on the landing craft dimensions right from from the beginning, to do one or the other according to need and availability.
– in the informative link you provided, it says that LCACs were eliminated from the requirement. That can’t be? Perhaps their availability or operating cost was judged to be the constraint, and the design went for bare-essentials

March 10, 2012 11:11 am

“Full sentence please.

“I’m against Ro-ro in AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULTS”?”

LPD launching LCU is a RORO (or two) conducting an amphibious assault. Review your understanding and usage of RORO.

March 10, 2012 5:08 pm

Hey McZ,

The US Navy is moving forward with its MLPs (for now), but the scope of the program has been drastically scaled back in the last couple of years. So while the US Navy hasn’t given up entirely on its sea-basing idea, I would still maintain that the initial sea-basing vision (which to my understanding saw sea-basing as a possible alternative to a network of land bases) has been significantly reduced in favor of maintaining a larger number of land facilities around the world.

On the bigger point of having a vessel that is capable of performing multiple functions (logistics, amphib, humanitarian, etc.), I think recent experiences have demonstrated that multi-role vessels have limitations in their ability to actually achieve similar efficiency at lower costs. In fact, one of the primary reasons that we’re even discussing an auxiliary cruiser concept is because our current surface warfare assets are over-taxed in the number of missions they are expected to perform. Even if your hardware allows you to perform multiple missions, the real limitation on which missions you can perform *well* will remain the training and skills of the crews aboard the vessels. The key problem today is that the physical and human capital of our major surface combatants spends too much time handing out humanitarian aid and hunting pirates in dingys (laudable missions though these may be) rather than preparing for actual combat operations, to the detriment of our actual war-fighting potential.

Which brings me back to my original concerns about multi-role ships and sea-basing: what, from a strategic perspective, does a vessel with sea-basing capability provide? If we really want a more robust amphibious capability (Ro-ro or otherwise), why not just make more vessels designed primarily for amphibious operations and save ourselves the added costs (whatever they may be) of equipping the ships for a sea-basing mission?

March 12, 2012 3:48 pm

The requirement to embark (=constant accomodation of) LCACs has been removed, not the LCAC-lanes to handle them. The LCACs were once designed to fit into the old Anchorage-class LSDs. On an MLP, there are no such size-constraints.

A larger number of land-facilities? Where is the evidence? With Okinawa and Manama being firmly under pressure, all we see is a new base in Northern Australia. My bet is, that we will see the US position in WestPac erode in the next 5-10 years. That has something to do with the appeasement impetus in Japan, Korea and any other neighbour of China getting stronger the higher the economical ties get.

“Which brings me back to my original concerns about multi-role ships and sea-basing: what, from a strategic perspective, does a vessel with sea-basing capability provide? If we really want a more robust amphibious capability (Ro-ro or otherwise), why not just make more vessels designed primarily for amphibious operations and save ourselves the added costs (whatever they may be) of equipping the ships for a sea-basing mission?”

If you ask this from a UK standpoint, then it’s easy: we have neither a seabasing strategy nor any plans to develop one. We also do not have the prespositioning vessels the MSC has. So it’s a rather theoretical question.

For the US, it makes sense.

Their last lot of LPDs is costing in the region of $1.4b a pop, with high building times. With the current program and with current budget, there is zero chance to keep well-deck-force above 20 vessels in the medium run. The seabase is composed out of developed (and in most occasion in service) civilian technology to make optimal military use out of them. For the cost of one LPD, you get a MLP and 5 T-AKRs (see http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/takr-300.htm). This excludes the possibility to charter additional civilian ro/ro-capacity.

Operationally, the USN has the problem, that many of their vehicles come in with so-called prepositioning vessels, acronym T-AKR. There is currently no possibility to unload those vessels off-the coast in any manner, as the last mexeflote-type barges have been removed from service with the last LST of the Newport-class. As such, ‘seabasing’ is not a novel concept, it is rather a renewed, more comprehensive approach.

The questions the ‘seabase’ as the original concept answers are: Why is it necessary to have in fact two amphibious fleets, one for assault and one for bringing in reinforcements. How can we cut better make use of existing cargo-capacity? How can we deploy vehicles from these cargo-vessels more rapidly, without creating new capacity holes in other theatres?

“In fact, one of the primary reasons that we’re even discussing an auxiliary cruiser concept is because our current surface warfare assets are over-taxed in the number of missions they are expected to perform.”

The reason we are discussing this is the fact that we are using RN vessels for Coast Guard and OXFAM tasks, while not having a Coast guard or being OXFAM, and definitely not wanting to throw financial ressources on that problem. This leads to the ‘design’ of ‘multi-role OXFAM-combatants’, having cargo-capacity, which is IMO constantly confused with deck-space for modular military kit.

This is where I disagree. When there is a fighting task, there should be a fighter, regardless if the organization is called RN or HM Coast Guard. When there is cargo needed, then I observe there is more capacity required than all of those designs offer.

The question of escort-numbers I have answered a few months ago in my T27-concept. I notice, that the latest T26-designs are looking like a SIGMA on steroids. Let’s hope, they keep the prices down to get the numbers we need.

March 12, 2012 4:20 pm

Hi McZ,

I love it! “multi-role OXFAM-combatants”

And thanks for the LCAC bit, them being maintenance-iintensive and the maintenance would need to be done around them, as opposed to LCU/LCT not being maintenance intensive, and if any needed, can be carried out within them… so simplifies the “mothership” design

March 12, 2012 5:47 pm

Regards – “why have two amphibious fleets, one for beaches and the other for reinforce”

Not arguing against you logic regarding seabasing and it’s applicability to the rn, but don’t we have the point class for precisely the latter role?

3cdo to take a port and a second brigade to offload from the ro-ro’s……

steve taylor
March 12, 2012 6:24 pm


As one LCAC equal 4 LCU I have wild ideas about adding a superstructure to a vessel like this and having waves of fast landing craft hitting beach. If one of those new fangled fast LCU cost twice as much as conventional LCU (£3million) for the price of a Jungly Merlin you could buy 3.

What the UK needs is a ship that came some way between a Point Class and USN Bob HOPE. In some ways the Karel Doormens fit that role with the added bonus of a dock. What would an armoured brigade need about 3,000 lane metres? So for about £1.2billion (4 ships, 3 available and 1 in refit) the RFA could lift a brigade anywhere.

March 12, 2012 7:20 pm

@McZ – Thanks for the response!

“A larger number of land-facilities? Where is the evidence?”

On the specific point of US operating locations in the Western Pacific: I do not share the opinion that US bases in Japan or South Korea are on the way out due to some implicit tendency on the part of the Japanese or South Korean governments towards appeasement of China. In point of fact, the last several years have seen much closer defense cooperation between the US and its Western Pacific allies, largely driven (as far as I can see) by regional fears of China’s growing power. Balancing, rather than bandwagon-ing, seems to be the general rule. As for the US’s recent move towards proliferation of operating locations:





“Operationally, the USN has the problem, that many of their vehicles come in with so-called prepositioning vessels, acronym T-AKR. There is currently no possibility to unload those vessels off-the coast in any manner…”

I agree that having the ability to off-load T-AKR and other Ro-ro vessels off-shore would be valuable in certain circumstances. In an ideal world, the US/UK/other allies would have enough funding to maintain a robust sea-basing capability. However, T-AKR and similar vessels can also be off-loaded in ports if such ports are available. In an imperfect world in which procurement funds are scarce, I would argue that major amphibious capability (LHD/LPD) is a much more valuable resource than sea-basing, because the increasing number of viable port infrastructure diminishes sea-basing’s marginal value even as more sophisticated anti-access threats place a premium on forcible-entry capabilities.

“This is where I disagree. When there is a fighting task, there should be a fighter, regardless if the organization is called RN or HM Coast Guard. When there is cargo needed, then I observe there is more capacity required than all of those designs offer.”

On the point about MSO-capable vessels, if I understand what you’re saying correctly, I think we actually agree. Trying to create a vessel that can conduct both MSO and high-volume humanitarian aid is probably a poor combination of missions. Better to have a larger number of cheaper MSO vessels to accomplish security-oriented missions and either procure dedicated humanitarian aid vessels or contract out delivering humanitarian aid on a case-by-case basis.

March 12, 2012 7:50 pm

“What would an armoured brigade need about 3,000 lane metres?”

I don’t know what an armoured brigade amounts to, but I’ve got a figure for 3 Cdo Bde in front of me. Does an armoured brigade have a LOT fewer vehicles and a MUCH smaller logistics footprint?

March 12, 2012 8:16 pm

An armoured brigade is thousand or more vehicles. At 10 meters each, that’s more than 10.000 lane meters.
I recall reading somewhere that you need 3 to 4 of those large T-AKR’s to ship the equipment of a US armoured/mechanised brigade.

steve taylor
March 12, 2012 8:45 pm

My bad I meant battalion. :)

steve taylor
March 12, 2012 8:46 pm

@ Anixtu

Thanks for the attitude. :)

March 12, 2012 9:55 pm

Not attitude, I really have no idea what an armoured brigade amounts to. 3CdoBde could have lots of extra small units and extra logs and double the LIMS of an armoured brigade for all I know. Emphasis was just because I had to be vague about the difference between your proposal and the figure in front of me because of the source.

steve taylor
March 12, 2012 10:18 pm

I apologise.

March 13, 2012 1:29 pm

Yes, a port is handy to unload a T-AKR. At least if…
– it is deep enough
– it is secured
– it is accessible (mines!)

I also cannot see the ‘waste’ here. The T-AKRs/ Point-class is already there. Only the MLPs are additional vessels, enabling a task force to off-load on any beach in the world. They come in for $900m for three vessels. You will not get a single San-Antonio-Dock from that money.

In tight times, it’s the LSD/LPD-fleet that has to qualifiy for the expenditure, not the current sensible steps towards seabasing. You will notice, that I excluded LHDs.

Basically, the resulting question is: if the seabase can connect cargo-capacity to a well deck, for what do you think would we need an LPD?

Re. the land-bases accounts: Guam and Singapore are already US bases, the Philippine option is highly uncertain, so only Northern Australia counts up to date. If they want to have a base to contain China I wonder why they don’t use Taiwans East Coast. Short term diplomatic fall-out? Yes! Long-term stabilizing effect? Tremendous!

March 13, 2012 2:00 pm

@McZ –

I think an LPD vs. MLP debate probably takes us beyond the scope of the original post. In any event, the sea-basing concept being explored by the US Navy is motivated (as you note) primarily by a desire to have ready port facilities in the event of more high-intensity contingencies (hostile fires, mines, etc.). If such a capability could be achieved for a reasonable cost (as you suggest for a few MLPs), I would certainly agree that it could be worth while (though I would still worry about the survivability of an anchored MLP in a war-time environment, compared to a more mobile LPD). For a capability that is aimed primarily at MSO/humanitarian operations, though, I think that sea-basing is likely to be overkill.

March 14, 2012 5:27 pm

Overkill? In my world, a $1.5b LPD – operated as a simple vehicle-carrier, having a company of 350 men and women – is overkill.

Btw, when you look at the MLPs deck layout, don’t you think that tripling the concurrent LCAC-handling capacity is worth it alone?

March 14, 2012 6:40 pm

RE: “when you look at the MLPs deck layout, don’t you think that tripling the concurrent LCAC-handling capacity is worth it alone?”
– only three stations? It did not look like much (as for speed); Are these ships dedicated to getting stuff to an already established beach head? The off-loading is bound to be very slow, and if it is over-the-horizon, even with LCACs the transit times will add to it even more

March 14, 2012 10:50 pm

I like the graphic of “crew” vs “survivors” for different sizes of OPV.

Presumably the bigger the craft the more of the crew are likely to survive the voyage? :-)

steve taylor
March 15, 2012 6:15 pm

@ Gareth J

Thanks for those.

I posted this link in the Open Thread Sea, Air, Land a day or so back,


steve taylor
March 15, 2012 6:20 pm

@ Gareth J

From your link these are interesting too,


steve taylor
March 15, 2012 6:24 pm
steve taylor
March 15, 2012 7:34 pm

Reminds me of…….

March 16, 2012 1:14 pm

@McZ – Certainly, I think that a dedicated sea-basing capability is “overkill” if *all* that you are trying to do is provide humanitarian aid.

For high-volume ship-to-shore transfer of military equipment (in the absence of a useable port facility), an MLP would certainly be very useful. However, as ACC suggested, MLPs (and sea-basing in general) are primarily useful for moving stuff ashore to an established beachhead in a relatively permissive maritime environment. At this, I do not deny, they will excel. I’d simply prefer a platform that has more utility in more active amphibious assaults or less permissive operating environments.

Also potentially of interest: a USNI guest post about the utility of “medical diplomacy” and its naval aspect:


As you might tell from the title of the post, LCDR Pugh is not a fan of naval medical diplomacy. However, he raises some interesting metrics for measuring the fiscal costs of naval humanitarian aid. I just wish he’d mentioned the human and material opportunity costs of using CVN/LHDs for humanitarian operations.

March 16, 2012 1:33 pm

How fast can you move a seabase to another area of interest once a region is pacified?

And at the risk of sounding naughty, how survivable is your “container ships linked up into a base” to things like torpedos and bombs?