A GUEST POST FROM IXION
Recently when discussing in comments one of those who opposes the patrol ship idea asked the question: -
Apart from Anti Piracy what are these things for?
It is a good question and deserves consideration, and if (like me), one is a proponent of such ships one as to be prepared to answer.
After all, I have joked about the army missing the threat of the Third shock army, or the Navy missing Red banner Northern fleet. I could be accused missing the Somali Pirates!
Considerations of the design of the ship.
- Well we have talked about Endurance and Bay class types. Some factors driving increases in size are: -
- A well dock. I think it needs one. It brings with it duel functionality, (see below), and a flexibility about craft carried that makes it worth the extra cost.
- Sea keeping. One of the things that I remain convinced of, is that a lot of ‘Littoral’ is in fact open Ocean. A lot of coast lines of Africa and South America etc are open top the Atlantic/Pacific/Indian oceans waves will be big, winds high currents strong.
- Range/endurance. There is little point in having a ship designed to patrol the oceans cheaply if it has to be followed around by a support train.
- Capacity for air wing. Whether it carries it ordinarily or not, it should be able to handle, park, and support up to 4 EH101 and couple of small choppers and RPVs.
Sensors, I suggest as basic as can be got away with but still sufficent to track targets both on air and sea properly and defend itself. So as high in the air as possible.
Factors driving a reduction in size.
- Cost. Steel maybe cheap and air free, but steel still costs, and pipe runs, cabling etc, all costs do go up bigger engines and all that.
- Usability. Particularly port facilities, really the smaller the better, as not all ports are, panamax size. The thin really should be able to manoeuvre well as it may get close to the shore.
Factors driving up cost.
- Construction. Personally for this ship I think SOLAS classifications sufficient with a rather better bulkhead division, and upgrade fire fighting.
- General sophistication
- Machinery wise AZIPODS are now proven technology. They should be adopted along with commercial engineering plant.
- Sensors. There should be a sufficient radar/ FLIR, and Elint capability to track and follow targets, and defend itself.
- Weapons. I would prefer guns alone, Perhaps goalkeeper. But I remain convinced anything in The RN that calls itself a ship, should have a full real 360 degree effecting CIWS, if that means RAM or other missiles then ok. (BTW that includes RFA) A few cells of Aster 15 if you want to push it. It is not a warship but it should be able to deal with someone taking a ‘pot shot’ at it.
Factors driving down costs
- Commercial equipment should be used wherever possible
- Commercial yards should build the ship even if that means abroad.
So Where Does That Leave Us?
- I don’t think that any ship worth having in that role can be ‘done’ for less than 12,000 tons. I also thing that once you get past say 22,000 tons it gets a bit silly and the cost benefits go wrong.
- The Point class is I understand a better sea boat than the Bay class, so I an suggesting something like Bay with greater draft and a better hull for rough weather. Or a Point with well deck. I do realise that putting a well deck on the end of a point is not simply a wielding job!
- Hanger facilities mean a large superstructure. But remember the helicopters / RPVs are at least in part the key to this. Perhaps only 1 or 2 carried for a routine deploymen, Up to 4- 6 depending on size for specific tasks.
- A good sized ‘Flex deck’ will be needed for all TD’s containers.
Secondly Sensors/ weapons: -
- A good commercial communications fit with military grade secure satcom and data links, should be fitted.
- Radar etc perhaps of the same grade as the Holland Class integrated mast?
- Weapons as discussed full ciws, some soft kill capability, and some rail mounted miniguns / 50 cal.
- With the well deck comes the real flexibility akin to the air wing. CB90/ mine warfare kit/ patrol boats/ landing craft, can all go in.
OK big question:-
What Is It For?
It is there to provide a ‘presence’.
WTF does that mean?
Consider the following:-
- It’s what we did in Lebanon, Libya, and France/ Spain (when we had to get all those holiday makers home). 3 essential, high profile operations. We sent ships to ‘get our people out’
- It includes such mundane jobs as oceanographic surveying.
- It includes intelligence gathering. Electronic monitoring, and a perfect base for ‘them’/ secret squirrels/special forces. If you fancy such dramatics.
- It flies the flag. Good will visits etc. Carrier junkies have fantasized about the business deals that will be done around the captain’s table. Well the patrol ships should have conference facilities as well as the odd table. If WASAWPYK, then one thing that says it louder than a lot of far more deadly stuff like having SSBNs, is having a ship on the scene.
- It offers genuine disaster relieve capabilities. Once a year at least nature shows us whose boss, and these ships are the perfect immediate response to earthquakes/tsunamis/volcanos. And hurricanes. Again boosting prestige.
- Finally it will do the anti piracy/law enforcement/ anti smuggling.
So that’s what it is for.
What Else Can It Do Well Enough to Earn a Place in a War Fighting Fleet?
After all the real criticism of this idea is, when the chocolate mousse substitute hits the rotating ventilation device, and we have to retake the nameless isles what can they do? After all we can use a T26 to do the patrol stuff (not as well), what use are these things when we need a T26?
What we are talking about is in reality not far from a modified LSD. With more thought given to Seakeeping, Air wing, armament and sensors, and less on actual ship to shore heavy transport capability. So point one, they will have the emergency carrying capacity similar to a Bay for amphibious operations. With better air wing 2 or 3 could they do some of the job of An Ocean?
In short although not purpose designed they would add real capability to amphibious warfare
- They would make a good Casualty receiving ships so that’s Argus covered.
- I suspect with careful design they could cover the leaf class as supply vessels for single t26/t45 on longer range deployments.
- But what about other more ‘fighty’ roles? How about as well as supplying food and stores, partnering t 26 on heavy anti sub work offering extra helicopter and maintenance capacity to the T26 in effect a force multiplier for them.
- What about mine hunting from CB90’s and helicopters? Anti SSK work using choppers and UAV’s?
- Against some enemies such as those likely to use swarm attacks by sacrificial speed boats (our friends the Iranians for example). Such ships might do better than a conventional frigate!
What about numbers well you pay your beer tokens and take your choice. I have too say in reality I can’t see one costing much less than £250 mill. So say half the real world price of a t26. Maybe a little more. So what if we went with 8 full fat t26 and 8 of these ships.
‘Forward deployed’ that is enough to put one in the Windies, one in the Med, one in the Atlantic and one off Arabia in the Indian ocean.
But they are ships and can be moved around to fit.
So just some thoughts and questions.