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.
“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.
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.
“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:
- Escort Carrier (Sorry, sorry – “Flight Deck Auxiliary Escort Cruiser.”*)
- Depot ship
- Primary Casualty Receiving Ship
- Auxiliary L.P.H.
- Auxiliary logistics ship
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:
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…