A couple decades ago, the US Navy began building billion-dollar Aegis super-ships. The idea was sold that the sophisticated Aegis computerized radar would link all ships in a battle group to optimize firepower.
Eventually, the Navy built enough Aegis ships for all its battle groups, but insisted that two Aegis ships were needed per battle group in case one ship broke down or suffered damage.
Unfortunately, the US Navy now buys nothing but expensive Aegis ships, while complaining to Congress that it needs
more surface combatants.
As the Navy decommissions the last of its frigates (FFG-7s), only Aegis
cruisers and destroyers will remain to conduct basic naval missions like drug interdiction,
search and rescue, coastal reconnaissance, special anti-terrorist operations, and blockades.
Devoting large sophisticated ships with 322 crewmen for simple missions is a tremendous waste of resources.
These expensive ships are too valuable to risk for most missions close to shore or in
confined areas like the Persian Gulf. The obvious solution is to build smaller, inexpensive
This has been advocated for many years by a former naval officer, Dr. James George, at the
Hudson Institute. The Navy may spend a decade "designing" a new frigate, and it would probably end up with a huge billion-dollar "frigate".
However, the Navy still
needs a coastal warship, so the best option is to begin immediate procurement of a modern ship already in service, the Israeli Eilat Class (Sa’ar 5).
Although this 1227 ton, 260-foot ship is called a "corvette", its weaponry and 33 knot speed
are comparable to a frigate.
It has a stealthy design, sonar, torpedoes, missile launchers, a gun mount, and a
helicopter hanger large enough for a Navy H-60 helicopter. The Navy could
greatly increase this frigate's lethality by adding the US Army's new EFOG missile system to strike small craft and targets
The Sa’ar 5 only requires a crew of 71, costs far less to
buy, support, and operate. Its smaller size makes it more difficult to
target and its smaller draft allows it to operate in shallow waters. These
three "Israeli" ships are built by Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi in
1995, the same location where the current Aegis destroyers are made.
As a result, politicians should have no objections to building three Sa'ar
frigates each year in place of one fewer Aegis DD-51 destroyer. The
Navy would not need billions of dollars to develop and test these
frigates, it could simply place an order this year for a Sa'ar design fitted
with current Navy communications systems.
The Navy’s current plan for building four
DDG-51s will result in a surface combatant fleet of 120 expensive destroyers by 2030.
If three Sa’ar 5 frigates were added and one destroyer removed from each year's budget,
the Navy could have
90 Aegis destroyers and 90 frigates instead. This fleet of 180 surface
combatants would provide
more flexibility and keep
operational tempo at reasonable levels. This is a politically neutral option since the same amount of money would go to
Ingalls shipyard. Purchases of an economical high-tech frigate by the U.S. Navy will also open the door for foreign military sales.
Click this link for more Sa'ar
Carlton Meyer editor@G2mil.com
I remembered a report from a design study conducted by Team 1992 of the Naval
Postgraduate School - Total Ship Systems Engineering on how a future Frigate for
the US Navy should look like. They named it Regional Deterrence Ship. It can be
found here: http://web.nps.navy.mil/~me/tsse/files/1992.htm
The Ship features a flexible VLS that can be equipped with a variety of weapons
- from NSSM over ESSM up to, depending on VLS version, Tomahawk, ATACMS or a
mulipack version of the new Affordable Weapon AW. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/munitions/aw.htm
The ship has a powerful hard-kill self-defense suite, featuring two Phalanx and
two RAM launcher. With a few adjustments, this could be the basis for an
effective and affordable warship. Perhaps two of these ships could be bought at
the price of an Arleigh Burke class missile destroyer, but I'm no expert on
costs, so that's just my wild guess. However, even this sort of ship might
be a little to large for the tasks awaiting a navy in the littorals.
Second, the german Navy, as a result of it's focus on littoral warfare during
the Cold War, it was tasked in defeating an attempted amphibious operation of
the Warsaw Pact, has extensive expertise in this field. The conditions in
the Baltic were unique: A rough sea, difficult water conditions, small confined
waters - and little went undetected there and attack was expected - that for
example resulted in the german Navy adopting combat capable minesweepers, with a
relatively heavy defensive armament for their type: The SM-343 class, built,
uniquely, of amagnetic steel. These ships were built to operate in harms way,
and built to survive, they had about the same sensor suite as Germanys S-134 A
class fast attack boats. Building them of steel not only allowed speedy
and cost efficient production but also easier combat damage repair. As
losses were expected, they built a large number of small units, with a good
punch. Because their bases could be overrun, they relied on largely sea based
After the end of the cold war the german Navy shifted focus on out-of area
operations, and designed a new corvette sized vessel, the K-130, to replace (or,
you never know in these days of budged cuts here, to complement fast attack
boats). It carries the swedish RBS-15 Mk.3 antiship missile (200km range/ a new,
german-swedish seeker with imaging IR and a sophisticated Radar seeker and
sophisticated swedish mission planning system). They are also to be equipped
with the Polyphem fibre-optic guided missile and can lay mines. They carry the
proven 76 mm Oto Melara gun (thus, they lack a NSFS capability), and have a
potent self defense suite with 2 RAM launchers and 2 MLG-27 27mm autocannons.
They also have a speedboat for boarding missions. The K-130 is pretty much
a no-frills warship: Simple, good endurance, moderate speed, good seakeeping,
good sensor platform, a helopad, low operating costs, effective yet cheap
stealth measures. They are excellently suited for non glorious everyday tasks
like embargo control, or other sea control missions.
Usually, fast attack boats swarm out at high speed and, in concert, sprint and
drift and hide, using radar, ESM and data link to create a situation pic of
their area of operation. The K-130 concept uses drones rather than ship sensors
to provide the situation picture and targeting datam, as well as the later
battle damage assessment. That allows to build a larger platform that has
the endurance, more comfortable crew quarters (a necessity when deployed for a
longer period - on fast attack boats they are offboard, on the tender) and
heavier punch that fast attack boats lack.
As a result of that, the drone component is the critical component, much less a
"force multiplier" rather than an "enabler" for the K-130.
Without them the K-130 would be unable to make a good use of its long range
missiles. More on the K-130 here: http://www.blohmvoss.com/e/info/presse_18072000.html
Decision on drone type has yet to be made. Originally the ships were to get the
Dornier SEAMOS drone, but that program is either running just very slow or
totally cancelled. The RQ-4 is another choice, just like the Bell Eagle Eye, and
in case the US Navy or the Coast Guard would employ them, the german Navy could
jump on board, or get an off the shelve solution like the Cl.327 (my favorite:
small, relatively cheap, flexible ... expendable and suitable for use over land
as well). The current US concepts for Sea Archer and Corasir and others
all aim on a much higher speed, a feat that will certainly drive up unit costs.
More on these projects here: http://web.nps.navy.mil/~me/tsse/files/projects.htm
A slower platform, would be considerably cheaper, and offer lower operating
costs, probably without significant loss in operational flexibility and
effectiveness, and perhaps, more units. Basing could be novel too: Forward based
ships, say in Qatar, and rotating crews, two per ship, flew in from their home
base in the US to relieve the crews after a period of time. Info on the
LCS here: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/streetfighter.htm
The refocusing of the US Navy also runs under the program name "Streetfighter".
The dispute about very capable large ships only or a high-low mix isn't new. It
has popped up here and there in the past, the FFG-7 Perry class is the result of
such an approach - the low solution to complement the larger ships like Aegis
Cruisers and Spruance class destroyers. The difference is just that atm,
in absence of a submarine threat and a major enemy navy the US Navy very much
focuses on power projection, therefor the LCS/ Streetfighter program(s).
One brief view on that: http://www.msnbc.com/news/546846.asp?cp1=1
One major aspect was to restore the ability of the US Navy to accept losses:
"The President of the Naval War College, Admiral Art Cebrowski, and others
such as Capt. Wayne P. Hughes, have advocated the deployment of larger numbers
of smaller ships to operate in "harm's way" in littoral waters.
Cebrowski and Hughes talk of "tactical instability," where a navy is
unwilling to risk its ships because the fleet is constituted principally of
small numbers of expensive ships. They propose "re-balancing the
fleet" by supplementing the currently planned large surface combatants with
the procurement of smaller ships." One other candidate ship I forgot
is the swedish Visby class (offered to the US Navy by a US lead contractor),
depicted here: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/visby.htm
Modern, more reliable technology will further reduce the need for dock
overhaul and allow for longer deployed periods overseas. Thanks to their size
the ships could also deploy on their own keel, and don't have to rely on dock
transports for deployment. Adopting a flexible and affordable smaller platform
like the K-130 with a bigger 12,7mm gun, or the Saar 5 class you proposed, would
allow a cost efficient solution for the current US capability gap: to show the
flag in hostile waters or to protect and defend a passing naval combat group
close to the shore or in a bottleneck or NSFS for Marines - with a with a
platform that can survive in the dangerous environment close to a hostile coast,
and that is expendable in worst case because it is built in large numbers and