Wednesday, March 22, 2017

From the Department of Cheaper War Fighting: "A Ship that Still Isn't a Frigate" - byThink Defence

A while ago, Think Defence took on the task of thinking through what sorts of uses could be made of ships built for trade by an armed force that wanted to save its multi-billion dollar real warship hulls for doing what they were meant to do - patrolling the sea against threats from submarines and things like that.

Think Defence expanded on an idea I proposed in The Department of Cheaper Pirate FIghting with an interesting post titled A Ship that Still Isn't a Frigate:
One of the first multi part series on Think Defence was called a Ship
that is not a Frigate, so called because it was a few thoughts on how the Royal Navy could create a class of vessels that could operate in the area between the RFA logistics support vessel and the frigate or destroyer, specifically on a range of non-war-like tasks.

Taking inspiration from Mark Tempest I expanded the concept from re-purposing surplus offshore supply vessels and creating a larger, more flexible ship, utilising an offshore construction vessel as a base.

Since then, and before, I have written about the general concept a few times so this is a continuation and consolidation of those various blog posts and longer series.

The reason I called it ‘not a frigate’ because it was not intended to be a frigate on the cheap, or a surrogate frigate, and to emphasise the point so that people would not get carried away by adding medium calibre guns and cruise missiles.

The reason this article is notionally called ‘still not a frigate’ is because that still stands.

If one wants a Frigate (light or global) ask those nice chaps at BAE or BMT to design and build one for you.

So why bother, the simple point, the whole raison d’ĂȘtre for this, is one of cost, trying to squeeze the maximum utility from the smallest pot of cash. A class of ships that fulfils a plethora of roles that are less than high intensity combat, and might use some notional future budget for an Argus and Diligence replacement, and perhaps with a nod to future mine countermeasures and survey budgets.
Yes! Despite the crazy English spelling, TD has it exactly right. If you need more ships, figure out which missions are best performed by "not a frigates" and get going on building a force of such vessels to take on things like . . .piracy patrols, or the the list TD suggests:
- Training and Defence Engagement
- Salvage, Repair and Firefighting
- Medical support
- Experimentation and Systems Development
- Survey
- Mine Countermeasures
- Ship to Shore Logistics Support
- Maritime and Littoral Security
- Special Forces Support
- Disaster Relief
- Submarine Rescue
- Aviation Support
The U.S. Navy already has a number of normally unarmed vessels it uses for some of these purposes. You can see the list at the Military Sealift Command site.

Now, what, as I have suggested before we alter the equation by adding some armament? By placing hard-charging young officers out there in command of the modern equivalent of armed schooners? Let them get their feet wet in command.

Why? Let me refer you to an article in the March 2017 U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, "Too Many SWOs per Ship which points out that too many of our
surface officer youngsters are going to waste because they have too few opportunities to do the one fun thing about being a surface warfare officer - driving ships:
Inequalities in experience are exacerbated by the sheer numbers of division officers assigned to surface combatants. An afloat SWO training program seeks to enhance the baseline knowledge learned during the Basic Division Officer Course and help ensigns to achieve their SWO qualification. Nothing is more important to the quality of those qualifications than watch-standing experience, particularly during special evolutions. Given a finite number of special evolutions, large wardrooms result in fewer watchbill assignments per officer. Watchbills either become bloated with under-instruction watch standers—often to the detriment of the watch team’s overall cohesion—or junior officers simply are not given more than a handful of opportunities to directly participate in special evolutions.
Solution? More, cheaper ships doing real missions that can fully engage the hearts and minds of our future admirals. On smaller ships, experience comes at you fast.

Give them "Not a Frigates."


  1. The concept of having an OPV to perform the missions you list apparently has gone unheeded by the OPNAV staff? The USN has Yet to establish a lightly armed or unarmed USS ship type. No type, no procurement simple as that.

    OTOH MSC which has been chartering OSV oil industry type ships for decades and has Already come up with a new type. It is MSV Maritime Support Vessel. There are charter parties nee contacts for several already in use.
    The issue of being unarmed is a legal one. USN lawyers (not sure where E1 stands?) dictate that no USNS nor MSC chartered ship shall have installed weapons or conduct offensive operations. Those criteria make the ship procurement for a USS, which is too expensive, and tada not a USN typed ship class!

    AS to an OSV type ship being a nice LT command sure but, why train and pay naval officers, when MSC already has professional, certified merchant mariners to do those "minor" ship jobs?

    1. 1. They should be commissioned and armed naval ships of the line for both legal and political reasons;
      2. Officers and crew need to be regular Navy because of #1 and because our junior SWOs need to have ships on which to learn their trade. We have too few small ships for that.

    2. USS ship type could be an Armed Naval Auxiliary? But again Nothing seen in budget for a new USS type. Yes regular navy crews = USS, but under MSC, there are two tenders and two command ships which are USS with hybrid crews of both sailors and mariners. To be accurate one tender is hybrid and one is all USS as a test comparison.
      There is no reason why the Navy could not or should not buy small limited combat ships other than perceptions and proclivities of the OPNAV staff. Ask them why not?

  2. Anonymous1:34 PM

    Administration and paper work not the high point of a SWO day? Utter heresy, why driving the ship pales before the joys of being mess treasurer.
    My own, heavily prejudiced opinion, is that the Navy really lost a splendid SWO incubator when the decision was made to dismantle the surface mine force. Plus having a division of minesweepers in just about every major port provided a great pool of trained reservists for surge operations.
    I really like the idea of employing the Swift type rig service boats to cover these missions: The large decks provide plenty of space for van/cargo container modules to host aerostats, sensors, C4I facilities, various weapons suites, helipads for drones and manned rotary wing and various brown water assets. The Coast Guard has already employed this concept for escorting vessels in and out of port and it has worked well. I would not, however, champion the LCS plug and play approach. Crews, to be really effective, have to be cohesive and perform their mission operations, together.
    While I don’t discount MSC, most of these missions would ultimately be “going in harm’s way” which is outside the proper scope of CIVMARs, even though they end up there, sometimes.

    1. I beleive E1 was talking of much large oil industry ship types such as OSV, PSCV, OSCV, MSCV and the like?

    2. P.S. CIVMAR crewed ships have been going in harms way since 1950. There are no mission restrictions.

  3. Thanks for the link sir, owe you a beer :)