August 30, 2014
China can build whatever it wants on its islands in the South China Sea, a senior Chinese official said on Monday, rejecting proposals ahead of a key regional meeting to freeze any activity that may raise tensions in disputed waters there.
Above is the Chicom outpost on the manmade island that was once Kennan Reef, part of Scarborough Shoals in the Philippines.This is just one of several reefs the Chinese are building outposts on.
Since the Chinese consider these to be new Chinese territory, they claim the 200 mile EEZ around them, which is most problematic for the Philippines as Scarborough Shoal is not just claimed by the Philippines, it is well within the Philippines' EEZ, only 150 miles from Luzon and has been part of the Philippines since the Spanish organized the islands against the Sulu jihadists in the 1500s. When, after the US annexed the islands, the Philippinoes voted for and were granted independence from the US, Scarborough shoal was explicitly included by the US in the deal.
March 16, 2014
Some years ago the Chinese set up a military outpost on and laid claim to "Mischief Reef', a tiny coral outcropping in the Spratley islands off the coast of one of the main Philippine islands (Palawan).
China then cartographically stuck it's tounge out at all its southern neighbors claiming pretty much the entire South China Sea and in particular the Spratelys are Chinese territory.
The Philippines, which is not exactly a world power, could not evict the squatters without risking war and so responded by setting up an outpost on another of the rocks to confirm their sovereignty. The outpost is the Philippine transport ship Sierra Madre which has been grounded on Aungin reef and is the Phillipinel government administrative office for the Spratelys.
The ship is now classified as a government building and is staffed mainly with marines to prevent the Chinese from running the Philippines off from their own island and assert that the islands are not relinquished.
Well, while everyone was distracted by stuff happening elsewhere, the Chinese blockaded the island and PLA warships drove off Philippine ships bringing supplies.
The Philippine Air Force is now air dropping supplies. All this comes just as the US and the Philippines are getting ready to conduct joint exercises in Palawan.
June 25, 2013
I gather that "Operation Senkaku" is a new model line.
I note that this kit does not show up on their English language website.
August 16, 2009
Eaglespeak has been covering the mystery of the MV Arctic Sea for several days now.
Cliffs Notes version: The Moter Vessel Arctic Sea, a Maltese ship with a Russian crew was siezed by pirates posing as marine police in the...BALTIC SEA. After transiting into the Atlantic all the vessels transponders wee shut off...no one knows where the ship is. Though there have been at least 2 reported sightings one just last night, both are a bit sketchy at best.
July 31, 2009
Now I'm a Goldwater Republican and as our statesmen go Senator (and General) Goldwater is a better choice than most, but....no.
We need to end this now.
One of the most irritating and downright offensive military developments in the last few decades has been the habit of naming United States capital ships after politicians. This is reminiscent of the former Soviet Union and corrupt third world nations. With the possible exception of George Washington himself, we really do not need to be naming our fighting ships after elected officials. Frankly, I'd find an alpha numeric system preferable to this.
Carriers, were initially to be given names of famous battles and previous Naval vessels with especially distinguished careers. With this in mind there is a counter proposal for the naming of CVN 79 and it is an august name indeed....
Few ships have been as pivotal to world history as the Enterprise of 1775 as that vessels actions on Lake Champlain may well have changed the course of the Revolutionary War. The seventh ship to bear that name was, for several months during the Pacific War, the ONLY allied carrier in the Pacific. Holding the line against nigh impossible odds, the "Big E" won 20 out of a possible 21 battle stars and was absolutely pivotal in winning that terrible war. The eighth ship graced with that name is still in service. The first nuclear carrier in the world, her record of movements reads like the history of the US Navy after 1961. Now approaching her 50th year, Enterprise the oldest ship in the fleet by a wide margin, and is due to retire before CVN79 is commissioned. There are few more appropriate names for a US Navy warship.
Whereas the namesake ENTERPRISE has been proudly borne by two combat aircraft carriers of the United States Navy; Whereas the first USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6) (seventh ship to bear this name) and her embarked airwing and crew gallantly fought in every major battle in the Pacific during World War Two, including the signatory battle at Midway when vastly outnumbered by the ships and planes of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Combined Fleet, ENTERPRISE, with YORKTOWN and HORNET struck a mortal blow, sinking four enemy aircraft carriers and turning the tide of the war in the Pacific; Whereas the same ENTERPRISE concluded that war as the most decorated warship in the United States Navy with 20 battle stars, a Presidential Unit Citation, a British Admiralty Pennant, Navy Unit Commendation, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, and Task Force 16 Citation among many other accolades; Whereas the second United States Navy aircraft carrier to be named ENTERPRISE (CVAN/CVN-65) was the first such ship of her class in the world to be nuclear powered; Whereas that ENTERPRISE, the eighth ship to bear that name in the United States Navy is concluding a half-century of service to this nation and has honorably served in every theater of operations from leading the naval quarantine off Cuba in 1962 to conducting the first strikes following the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11th, 2001; Be It Resolved That the next nuclear aircraft carrier to be constructed (CVN-79) should bear the name USS ENTERPRISE in recognition and honor of the fighting men and women of the United States navy who have sailed in her namesakes through the centuries. We The Undersigned: Call upon the Congress of the United States to remand H. CON. RES. 83 and replace it with a resolution supporting the naming of CVN-79 or the next nuclear aircraft carrier to be constructed, the USS ENTERPRISE. Call upon the Secretary of the Navy to support this petition of the tax-paying people of these United States and name the next nuclear aircraft carrier to be constructed the USS ENTERPRISE
Steeljaw Scribe has got the ball rolling on this, you can keep it rolling by signing here.
May 27, 2009
Early this morning, suspected pirates attacked a Greek Bulk Carrier in the Gulf of Aden. The pirates fired upon the ship with small arms and RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade). A distress call was picked up by the EU NAVFOR Swedish warship HSwMS MALMO which immediately proceeded to the area.
HSwMS MALMO made visual contact with the attacking skiff and fired warning shots and flares. The skiff stopped after pursuit and was boarded by a VPD (Vessel Protection Detachment). Weapons, GPS equipment, grappling hooks and barrels of fuel were found on board the skiff. 7 suspected pirates were captured and are at present being held for further investigation........
The Swedes have stationed two Stockholm class corvettes in the area since last year. The tiny vessels are supported by a tender.
Displacement: 335 tons full load
Dimensions: 50.5 x 7.5 x 2 meters/165.7 x 24.6 x 6.6 feet
Propulsion: 3 shafts; 2 cruise diesels, 4190 bhp, 20 knots; 1 boost gas turbine, 6,000 shp, 32 knots
Radar: Sea Giraffe 50HC air/surf search
Sonar: SS304 Spira hull mounted, TSM 2642 MF VDS
Fire Control: 9LV 300 missile control
EW: EWS-095 intercept, Philax decoy RL
Armament: 8 RBS-15 SSM, 1 57mm/70cal DP, 1 40 mm AA, 2 21 inch torpedo tubes, 4 LLS-920 ASW RL
The fact that a tender supported vessel of this size is meeting success on the other side of the world goes a long way to validating some of Admiral Cebrowski's Streetfighter concepts.
A slightly larger vessel able to be fitted with with ASROC or ( perhaps more realistically) and some light AAA weapons like Evolved Seasparrow or RAM might very well be a good fit for the USN.
With their heavy weapons removed they would be fairly cheap to operate in "warm war" operations like this but they might be quickly fitted with their variable depth sonar and ASW weapons (presumably attended to by reservists) so they would act as sub chasers in a hot war Such a vessel would be much closer to the original "Streetfighter" concept than the LCS it eventually evolved into.
RDNS Skaden of the Flyvefisken class
Vessels able to act as tenders for these vessels already exist. Some of the 'gator navy' amphibious vessels could be modifid to do so and most could provide helicopters as well.
It certainly beats ending up with 200 or fewer ships...
March 30, 2009
A group of Somali Pirates attacked a tanker off the horn of Africa several hours ago. This would be sad but not remarkable as the piracy in the area has been bad for years and exploded in the last few months. However the tanker they attempted to board was the FGS Spessart, a German Navy supply ship.
The German sailors returned fire and pursued the skiff while also calling in for support. Several naval ships — including a Greek and a Dutch frigate, a Spanish warship and the USS Boxer — sped to the area while a Spanish marine aircraft and two U.S. Marine Cobra helicopters joined the pursuit.
Five hours later, Greek sailors reached the pirate skiff, boarded it and seized the seven suspects and their weapons, including assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, the Greek navy said. The suspects were disarmed and transferred for questioning to the German frigate Rheinland-Pfalz where they remain Monday, pending a decision on whether they will be legally prosecuted, Christensen said.
Wasp, meet sledgehammer.
(Hat Tip: Information Dissemination)
March 22, 2009
That is the damage to the sail of USS Hartford from here recent collision with USS New Orleans. There is a good discussion of this that includes informed opinion over at Bubbleheads place.
Scuttlebutt over there is that the submarine rolled over 80 degrees.
That is one tough boat.
We need ships, lots of ships in a decade or less but given the economy we are likely to have have very little money
Given the high tempo 'medical diplomacy' operations pioneered by the Bush administration as well as the need to respond to disasters such as typhoons, volcanoes, plagues and tsunamis at least some of the vessels we build ought to have some sort of cargo capacity and a larger than average medical facility.
A converted or redesigned merchant design would seem to be the logical choice but if these are to replace the FFGs then it is important to ensure that such a vessel be capable of providing something in the event of a hot war other than terrible ways for bluejackets to die.
The challenges of modern warfare mean that an electronics fit is needed of course so such a ship will bear no relation in cost to whatever merchant ship it is designed from, but it might cost something akin to a modern corvette.
Lets take a standard American containership design, the Philidelphia 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. 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.
It might be less threatening as well. Note that while such a vessel would not be a hospital ship, and would therefore be targetable by law, most people we are likely to lock horns with are unpersuaded by appeals to human decency anyway. Forward of the hospital area, even 2-400 containers would be an impressive ammount of relief supplies in peacetime and still leave room for 16-32 VLS cells for ESSM. 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 along the lines of this....
These would probably not able to be procured in the same numbers that 600 ton corvettes might but they could ad a considerable complementary capability to the low end of the hi/lo mix.
At any rate it may bear considering. Any thoughts?
UPDATE: In the comments James Rummel takes the time to comment at length about the idea and makes some lucid points but also indicates that I may have been unclear about as few things.
These are not replacemtnts for our cruisers and destroyers, but a low end complement. If they replace anything they might best replace part of the production run of the LCS vessels....
IF they can be procured more economically and IF they would be a net improvement in capability . These are indeed big "IFs".
There are certainly all sorts of issues with this concept both political and practical. However, I am of the opinion that, if built, these would be warships with peacetime duties similar to a 19th century gunboat but with much greater utility to assist the main force.
Mr Rummel makes another comment that deserves mention.
You suggest that this is only a temporary change until economic conditions improve. But anyone interested in military procurement will tell you in a heartbeat that it would be almost impossible to get Congress to pony up for actual, very expensive warships after a decade of building cheaper cargo ships. Once the change is made, there is no going back.
This is a very real concern.
It is probably one reason the navy doesn't build some smaller carriers to increase survivability through numbers. This was tried in the 70s ant the congress made it plain that it would ONLY buy the smaller carriers and not increase numbers...thereby gutting the navy but giving the impression that congress was providing modern ships.
It does not always work out that way though.
In the 1880's the UKs shipbuilding program was terribly screwed up, with problems that included cost overruns, excessively long build times, ships massively over budget as well as overdue, quality control issues, problems integrating new technologies and simple corruption (sound familiar?). The response was to, for a time, order only second line vessels such as gunboats and auxiliaries as well as a few experimental technology test beds such as experimental high speed craft (the torpedo boats).
These were often ordered outside the usual defense procurement clique.
In the meantime the procurement system was overhauled, investment was made in physical plant improvements at the shipyards and the procurement system was reformed, Concurrently, a determination of what sort of vessels were needed was made. Then rational, attainable requirements for the various types of vessels were drawn up that matched the then current technologies, the national strategy of the time as well as the gamut of potential scenarios.
After several years of building gunboats and finishing the dubious vessels that were already ordered, the Royal Navy began building ships under the Naval Defence Act. William Whites design team produced the finest ships that had been built up to that time and for nearly two decades, every subsequent class was an improvement on their design predecessor in some way.
So while the pitfall Mr Rummel points out is very real, it can in fact be avoided if care is taken and the legislature acts in good faith...another very big "IF".
March 18, 2009
February 22, 2009
This has been a point of interest on this blog off and on for some time, but the circumstances we are in and the challenges we face have both changed for the worse in the last month.
While I think the Bush administration gets a bit of a bum rap on many things, one area where they certainly did not cover themselves in glory is in the realm of military procurement, particularly on the shipbuilding front. Focused on the various awful conundrums and unpalatable choices the administration was presented with, they chose to leave the shipbuilding policies virtually rudderless in shoalwaters for 8 years, with the predictable result that the surface shipbuilding program is now on the rocks.
This is exacerbated by the fact that the US is in a rapidly deepening financial crisis. With the US having the worst January since the Panic of '96 (That's 1896 btw). Whatever optimism about a short recovery period there may have been dashed...just as we are now saddled with an ill-conceived orgy of spending that will stretch our budget terribly, the challenges facing the current administration in this area are considerable. Money is tight, so tight that the repairs to a cruiser after a recent grounding may affect the preventive maintenance of many other ships.
But wait! There's more! The development of the EMALS catapult system is reportedly in doubt this actually jeopardizes the whole carrier program right now. Other new ships are massively over budget and riddled with quality control problems. The congress wants to saddle the Navy with insanely expensive nuclear escorts that not only cannot be built in any numbers in the best of times, but are problematic from public relations and diplomatic standpoint, as they have a difficult time doing goodwill port calls as they will likely attract luddite green protesters like flies.
All this adds up to the fact that the most vexing questions facing the military may well be not what ought we to be buying...but what can we afford?
We may have to cease carrier procurement for a decade if the 25% defense budget cut desired by many in congress is passed. Hell, destroyers may be off the table too (though that is not as big an issue near term as we have quite a few first class underage units).
Minesweeping, antisubmarine warfare, inshore work, antipiracy operations as well as various subsidiary duties are currently slated to be performed by the Littoral Combat Ships. These ships are designed to be fast, and are fitted to take a mission pack dedicated to whatever mission the ship is assigned at any one time. This was intended to make them cheap enough that a large number (70+) could be bought.
Unfortunately, the new kit cost a lot to develop and the hulls, designed for speeds approaching 50 knots (!?) require very high levels of skill to manufacture. One result is that they cost 450 million apiece with the modules to provide their "teeth" still under development (all that innovative cost-savings doesn't come cheap). They are interesting vessels, not without utility, but they are probably too expensive to acquire in the numbers needed.
Those numbers are not entirely clear but they are fairly large, as all of these procurement calamities coincide with a vast expansion of the number of submarines being operated by nations more or less unfriendly to the US, plus a worldwide increase in piracy as well as an international situation which places a premium on soft power efforts such as disaster relief, "showing the flag" and operations like Continuing Promise and Pacific Partnership....the high tempo humanitarian/diplomacy operations pioneered by the Bush administration .
All of this requires a large number of ships...just as our budget is busted. With many of our vessels at the end of their lives, speed is also of the essence, so it is probably not a good idea to start designing a vessel from scratch or fitting it with groundbreaking technologies.
There seem to be two schools of though amongst navy types as to what sort of vessel we need.
One school advocates something akin to a small frigate, another, a fast attack craft 5-600 tons.
A proposal like the latter (inexplicably called Streetfighter) was the genesis of the Littoral Combat Ship, which, as mentioned, grew in both size and expense.What the FAC/Corvette advocates there fore are proposing is to do the LCS program again, but apply the lessons learned to get it right this time. The benefits perceived are as follows...
To be affordable in numbers, any vessel of this size will likely have to be given a rather more austere fit of weapons and sensors....which it is argued, should be fine for peacetime gunboat duties. If a helicopter hangar is not considered a necessity (a dubious notion IMHO) there have been numerous FAC designs from various countries over the years.
Italy in particular produced a family of light attack and patrol craft for export in the 70's and 80s of which the Ecuadoran Esmereldas , the high end of the series, is probably the most well known.
The ones presented here were never built but are included because all three are fairly austere but potentially useful.
The rather precarious helicopter deck in the third design could just as easily be filled with ISO containers full of, relief supplies,some of the minesweeping or ASW modules intended for the LCS or....hospitals.
These are all 25-30 year old designs but still give a ballpark idea of what can be done on 5-600 tons.
The problem with this is that these 5-600 ton designs seem lightly equipped in comparison with their counterparts, particularly their Ecuadoran half sisters. This line of reasoning can lead to diminishing returns.
The temptation to add "stuff" is strong. AAA missiles are nice to have and some sort of antiship punch seems silly not to include. Also, a helicopter hangar is high on the want list. This line of thought can easily bring us to what is probably the most extensively equipped FAC design right now, the French Combattante BR 70 and BR71 (article in French but also see here).
Finally, putting all these systems on a small hull is unlikely to involve any significant cost savings over a frigate sized vessel. The hull is the cheapest part of a warship. The missiles, fire control, C4I, ECM and ECCM systems all cost a lot and getting them to work on a small hull is problematic due both to having antennae mounted close together and the fact that a small hull pitches more. There are certain navies whose needs are met by such a tight design particularly if they use (like Sweden does) armored docking facilities, but for us, especially given the forced financial parsimony we face its probably better to go with a frigate sized vessel perhaps acting as a "leader"to carry helicopters and more elaborate systems.
One option is to modernize the remaining Oliver Hazzard Perry class, perhaps along the lines of the Australian's upgrade. This is potentially troublesome as the Perry's have been run very hard and likely have microcracks and other difficult to repair wear and tear. Also, the Australian upgrade has not been without problems, but at least the lessons have been learned. If an upgrade and refurbishment can be done cheaply then the vessels could have their life extended a decade or so which might get us over the financial hump. Reinstalling the MK 13 launcher would give the ability to 40 or so land attack versions of Harpoon and ESSM would take care of the AAA requirement.
As for new build frigates any such construction must have economies ferociously enforced as was done with the Perry (FFG7) class. Happily, there is actually a US design that is viewed favorably and while it has had some minor problems these have already been found out and are being fixed*. The Coast Guards National Security Cutter is extraordinarily seaworthy, reasonably fast and has very good helicopter facilities. It is lightly armed but there appears to be a space reserved for a VLS or something behind the 57mm gun....Put a VLS nest there. A 16 cell unit would look to be the maximum. That gives you 32 ESSM and 8 ASROC or 64 ESSM. As for sensors, on the high end, fit SPY1-K (an austere export version of AEGIS). Bolt on HARPOON or PENGUIN to taste.
Fit a towed array sonar in the area used for boat handling aft or modify it to a working deck for handling various mission kits and supplying the aforementioned little gunboats.
Fit as hull sonar a development of the same sets on the old FFG7's or refurbished FFG7 sets.
You then have a low end but still capable replacement for the FFG7s with more capability than they ever had.
And they'd be prettier too...even if they were grey.
Another even less expensive option for frigate/corvette sized vessels is to have the Navy involved in the design of the more austere **Offshore Patrol Cutters and, perhaps, subsidize their cost the way they did the old 110' cutters, possibly buying more than 25 of them. This might involve adding some shops and underway replenishment capability to tend smaller cutters and the modern version of the gunboats mentioned above. Pirate fighting as well as many 'short of war' activities are a good fit for the Coast Guard (as has been mentioned here before).
Having the operational replacements for the Perrys current duties manned by the USCG would free their rather large crews for less subsidiary duties and ensure that bare bones Offshore Patrol Vessels not be counted on the navy list as full frigates or destroyers as some congresscritter would be tempted to do.
There are larger systemic issues involving the expense of getting things built in US shipyards that range from the cost-plus contracting system to limited competetion. These are topics for another post, but one potential benefit of the small 5-800 ton vessels is that they might be built in many more shipyards, thereby encouraging some competition and further cost savings.
There is a lot of stuff we can't afford in the near future, but if we avoid letting the best be the enemy of the good we can likely muddle through this period without loosing to much capability.
At least I hope so....
*The 2 main issues that the cutters have had both were rather overblown and I am ashamed to admit that I fell for the hype.As I understand it now, the issues stemmed from the fact that the Coast Guard changed the requirements after construction had started. First they went to a multi crew arangement so the cutter could stay at sea much more often....which consequently increased wear and tear and reduced maintenance time. This meant that the fairly extreme 30 year lifespan might not be achievable with the original design. Subsequent cutters are being built with reinforced scantlings and the lead ship will be refitted in due course. The ship is currently sound structurally...the newer ones will be better. The other issue involves the fact that TEMPEST grade electronics were fitted to a vessel not initially designed for it. Bertolf's comm systems are as good or better than any other cutter save perhaps the ex navy PC's. Subsequent vessels will be built to TEMPEST standards. There is more on that here....money quote
TEMPEST is the most overrated problem in modern defense spending history, and it isn't close... and the facts prove it.
** A post from last year on the OPC is here.
January 23, 2009
CDR Salamander has fine overview as well as the after action report of the second battle of Savo Island where Washington sent the IJNS Kirishima to the bottom.
Go read the whole thing and add CDR Salamander to your link list.
December 28, 2008
Since the removal of the ASW equipment from cutters in the early '90s, Coasties new method for dealing with pesky submarines is, apparently...
...to tackle them.
Hat tip: EagleSpeak
November 03, 2008
Typically for him, it's also a dangerously sensible one, read the whole thing
Taking fast offshore workboats and crewboats and arming them as auxiliaries is a very reasonable idea. The vessels would serve the sort of niche the Royal Navy envisioned for the old Flower class corvettes of WW1. The broad cargo deck of the type of vessel he illustrates could handle secveral daughter craft or carry containerized disaster relief supplies.
As many of them are designed for oil rig supply and pollution response, they might make good cost effective tenders for the USCG too.....
August 28, 2008
....navigating... not so much it would seem...
080826-N-6031Q-001 PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 16, 2008 ) The amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) successfully completes its first of three shock trials events off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David R. Quillen/Released)
Original link here
July 28, 2008
It would strain belief if not for the pictures.
July 02, 2008
No injuries are reported, and there is no word who, if anyone, was at fault.
(The news is calling the cutter a buoy tender, but, while they do sometimes do buoy work, the 140's are icebreaking tugs.)
UPDATE! Elsewhere the USCG was saving people as usual.
June 30, 2008
dealing with the situation.
Here is a proven solution....
For extra credit, who can identify the ship?
June 14, 2008
Great video from Popular Mechanics, with really lukewarm narration here.
June 05, 2008
Assuming the ROE are not absolutely retarded, I'm betting on the Vikings.
UPDATE: Galhran ( who has been blogging up a storm lately) beat me to this and has a more in depth analysis. (His commenter's beat me to the obvious as well. )
June 01, 2008
May 12, 2008
April 02, 2008
The crews of Healy and the Polar rollers had best make for the paint locker stat!
The article linked in CDR. Salamander piece is quit interesting and brings up a pressing issue facing the USCG.
What to do about the big icebreakers.
The Coast Guard is down to 3 polar capable icebreakers of which only the two Polar Class are really up to dealing with Antarctic conditions.
Designed during the cold war to be readily upgradeable to combat icebreakers for use clearing paths for allied ships in the arctic,the Polar Star class has given sterling service as research ships and tenders supporting the US presence in Antarctica. Even with the many advances in icebreaker design since their commissioning the Polar Rollers have impressive stats. However, while still an excellent design they are very old. More that 30 years of traveling to the antipodes to smash into freshwater ice that has been hardening for eons has taken its toll. Both the vessels are nearing the end of their useful lives.
Designed without any defence considerations and optimized for research, the Healy is a larger vessel with a smaller powerplant and predictably is not as good at crunching centuries old freshwater ice ice as the two older vessels. The ship is, however, capable of "getting by" in Antarctica and is quite adequate for Arctic operations. The ship is an outstanding research vessel.
With the Polar class on their last legs and the Healy really a research ship there has been talk of washing the Coast Guards hands of the whole (expensive) operation and adding Healy to the National Science Foundations Laurence M.Gould and Nathaniel B. Palmer.
This would involve finding a contractor to operate her as the NSF doesn't actually man those icebreakers.
As tempting as this might sound, icebreakers are not just science ships.Icebreaking is a Coast Guard function by statute. Antarctic support is as well and there are other issues that need addressing....
For instance, Healy is seeing a LOT of use, not just hauling scientists around and providing sefvices for the North slope, but simultaneously showing the flag as the US, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia compete to explore the rapidly thawing arctic ocean and lay claim to navigation rights and resource deposits in their overlapping claims. This is an important area on national interest and the CG being a military, but also with civil responsibilities and expertise is probably the best positioned to deal with this.
It gets worse. The arctic is, as mentioned above, becoming far more busy. This means more people that need saving from icy waters, polar bears and killer whales. While Many SAR functions can be done by aircraft, (airships might be a good fit here) nothing compares with the carrying capacity of a big ship. Additionally as commerce increases the Coast Guards statutory icebreaking responsibilities become more important to northern Alaska.
Pollution response in the delicate northern environment may need vessels with large skimming capacity and an incinerator for burning skimmed oil. While contractors handle most spill response today in accordance with federal law, the CG has a responsibility to be ready to respond if the contractor drops the ball, or if, unusual circumstances overwhelm the contractor (as does happen).
This doesn't even get into the Antarctic responsibilities the CG has (the US recently had to contract with the Russians for the use of Krassin) or the fact that sealift, both humanitarian and strategic (and, occasionally, sea control) can on occasion benefit from having an ability to break ice.
The National Academies agree and published this piece in 2006 recommending the construction of 2 full capability icebreakers to replace the Polar class. This is a minimalist approach IMHO. Two and 3/4 icebreakers arent going to cut it. Icebreakers require a lot of yard time (they deliberately run into ice after all).
I have no idea what the cycle times and maintenance requirements for these vessels are but six seems like a good number.
I arrive at this number by the scientific method of looking at the total number of National Security Lemons planned and subtracting the number built or too far along to terminate which is two. The problems with the class seem to be less with the design than with contractor quality control, but they are quite expensive vessels.
Reorder the remaining NSC's as icebreakers.
The NSC's cost as much as the entire defense budget of Ecuador.
The proposed Offshore Patrol Cutters are roughly the size of the current Hamilton class...(which are very successful as high endurance cutters after all). 6 If a total of 33 cruising cutters is needed then order 33 OPC's and start building them in the very near future. There are plenty of decent designs for OPV's on the market and I suspect that the requirements for the NSC are rather gold plated. In another rant I mentioned that....
Something as expensive as the LCS is silly. A 45 knot warship with a full ECM suite is not needed for this. Indeed the USCG requires rather heavier scantlings and shell plating to survive in the worst sea states. It should also be lightly ice strengthened.
What is needed is an updated version of the 378 foot cutters seen above. Swap the gas turbines for diesels trading speed for fuel economy. 24-27 knots is really enough if the ship has a helicopter and pursuit boats. This sounds very close to the actual characteristics of the new Offshore Patrol Cutters.
Given the cost of the Bertholf class it seems entirely possible that an upgraded commercial icebreaker design could be bought at little or no net loss.
We need icebreakers and we're wearing ours out.
More on this from a Canadian perspective here.
March 06, 2008
Given that the size and capabilities of the proposed OPC seem very close to the current high endurance cutters of the Hamilton class, this seems quite logical to me. If costs are held down and If the lessons learned from the Bertholf fiasco are applied, then this is probably the best course. Brickmuppet Blog is on the record as being in favor of procuring a larger number of more austere vessels for the Coast Guard, as opposed to gold plated vessels like the NSC. In the Navy such a policy will likely lead to inferior deathtrap warships…In the Coast Guard it fits our primary peacetime and warm war functions perfectly. The USCG doesn't really need a full electronics suite, let alone AEGIS, after all, these are offshore patrol vessels.
I find this to be encouraging news.
UPDATE: Grammar fixed....
January 04, 2008
This program has had several problems ranging from the lead ship being damaged by Hurricane Katrina to nigh unbelievable cost overruns to serious design issues. However many of the problems have reportedly been corrected and those lessons are to be well applied to the later ships of the class. I sincerely hope this is the case.
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