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However, we have NOT invested wisely into container ships and have opted for RO-RO ships and the resultant break-bulk "tent cities" in the back of trucks that do not protect our troops. Maersk has proposed converting an S-class container ship into a SOF Commando Carrier for $1.3 BILLION.
For far less than this cost, we could convert a RO-RO ship into a Commando Carrier AND GET THE NLMB to go inside it.
See the article at the bottom of this page on the Maersk proposal.
British have already done it: Container Ship Conversion to Aircraft Carrier
Future and Specials
In the late 1960s the U.S. Navy had conceived the "Arapaho" programme, under which a container ship would be modified to permit testing of its suitability to operate special mission helicopters. The aim at that time was to allow a significant proportion of wartime convoy escort and sealane protection tasks to be performed by such ships, manned by USN reservists. The Arapaho concept involved an LPD-size flight deck 200 feet (61m) long and 64 feet (19.5m) wide, and a 4,000 sq ft (372m²) hangar large enough to accommodate four Sea King [amphibious] helicopters. The complete installation weighed 900 tons, and could be installed on a container vessel in less than 18 hours.
In 1982 such an installation was emplaced on the 18,000-ton Export Leander, and 178 helicopters landings and take-offs were performed. In the following year the Arapaho equipment was leased by McDonnell and installed by Camel Laird at Birkenhead on the 27,900-ton MV Astronomer (subsequently renamed RFA Reliant) for tests in the South Atlantic.
In efforts to exploit the sales potential of the Sea Harrier, which rested largely on its ability to operate from small, inexpensive ships, British Aerospace proposed the installation of ski-jump decks on commercial vessels, and the ‘Skyhook’ concept that would allow such aircraft to operate in the VTOL mode from ships without any form of aircraft deck.
‘Skyhook’ was invented by Heinz Erwin Frick (a BAe test pilot of Swiss descent) and the corresponding specification No.2104014 was filed with the British Patent office in 1982. Frick had been struck by the ease with which a Sea Harrier can be hovered with great precision, regardless of wind variations. It occurred to him that if this hovering accuracy could be combined with a space-stabilised ‘Skyhook’ on a ship, then it could provide the means for the aircraft to recover to a highly mobile deck. If the design of the ship precluded the use of a ski-jump take-off, then the aircraft could depart from the ‘Skyhook’, although its warload radius performance would then be much more limited.
The concept required very little modification to the aircraft itself – simply a hoisting point above the centre of the gravity and possibly some local strengthening. If the operator wanted to refuel the aircraft while suspended from the "Skyhook", this would require modification of the fuel system, but it would still represent a minor expense. The major development task would be the advanced technology crane, presumably with an inertial platform in its base sending commands to a fast-acting hydraulic system that would keep the head of the crane moving linearly through space.
The computations for the crane system were based on the RN’s 4,250-ton Sheffield class of destroyers, and the design allowed for sea state 6, to give uninterrupted operations in the North Atlantic for 97% of the time. Using a special form of display attached to the crane head to assist the pilot to hover accurately, it was concluded that the aircraft could easily be placed within the ‘capture envelope’ of the "Skyhook". Engagement was to be performed by a robot system, scanning IR-absorbent patches bonded to the upper surface of the aircraft around the pick-up probe, and moving the hook accordingly. An IR engagement-control system was proposed in order that the aircraft could be illuminated in night recoveries without affecting the pilot’s night vision.
Despite the very limited warload-radius performance available from the "Skyhook" launch (which would be less restricted in the case of an AV-8B), the concept undoubtedly has some potential in the context of convoy protection and in providing an outer defensive perimeter by making use of radar picket ships around a conventional carrier. However, BAe estimated in the mid-1980s that the system would cost around $12 million to develop. The company also insisted on acting as prime contractor for "Skyhook", rather than granting a licence (eg, to a company in Japan, where the concept might have special attractions). In the event, UK-MoD showed no great interest and BAe was unwilling to invest its own funds in the project, so "Skyhook" has been filed away, at least for the present.
After the idea of SCADS BAe also came up with the SkyHook idea. The initial idea saw BAe propose two ships, one in their patent application (www.google.com/patents?vid=USPAT4523729&id=IcEyAAAAEBAJ&pg=PP2&dq=heinz+frick) and one used in publicity brochures.
Both relied on SkyHook for take-off and landing, probably not too practical.
However, VT designed a "proper" ship around the concept and this featured a skeletal ski-jump atop the supersturcture for take-off. This increased payload, with recovery via SkyHook. Aircraft were stowed in a hangar with lateral doors for entry/exit, SkyHook being used to move aircraft to the launch position.
2x 25mm Sea Dragon CIWS, 1 medium gun, plus 16 x VLS missiles for defence.
5,200 tons diplacement, 416 feet 8in OA
45,000 shp = 26kts
5 x Sea Harriers, one helo.
The idea was to use the ship as a "forward base", allowing greater endurance in CAP patrols, with the aircraft returning to a large carrier for major maintenance. In other words, a naval version of the Harrier's land-based use of forward operating strips.
Argus aviation support ship
Displacement: 28,480 tons full load
Dimensions: 536.8 x 100.5 x 27 feet/163.6 x 30.6 x 8.2 meters
Extreme Dimensions: 567.6 x 100.5 x 27 feet/172.8 x 30.6 x 8.2 meters
Propulsion: Diesel-electric, 2 Lindholmen-Pielstick 18PC2.5 V400 diesels, 2 electric motors, 2 shafts, 23,400 hp, 19 knots
Crew: 79 civilian, 28 military, 137 training, 750 troops in emergency (994 total)
Armament: 2 single 30mm AA, 2 single 20mm AA
Aircraft: up to 18 V/STOL and helicopters
Concept/Program: A RO/RO & container ship converted to replace Engadine in the helicopter training support role. Also supports Harrier training, and the ship's large size allows her to act as a transport, emergency "spare deck" or auxiliary carrier, and general-purpose auxiliary. A second conversion was considered but cancelled in 1984. This ship had operated as an emergency aircraft transport during the Falklands crisis, prior to being taken over for this role.
Design/Conversion: Large superstructure forward with a long clear deck aft. Small superstructure on the starboard side, aft, simulates destroyer/frigate superstructure for training purposes.
Operational: Operates primarily as a training ship, both for landing training and by carrying ASW helicopters out to deep-sea training areas. In wartime can act as an aircraft ferry and/or an auxiliary carrier and/or as an assualt ship; has also operated as a hospital ship. The ship's transport and "spare deck" roles are no longer significant due to the availability of purpose-built transports (RO/ROs) and Ocean as a "spare deck".
Departure from Service/Disposal: The project that became HMS Ocean was originally meant as a replacement for this ship. Immediate replacement now seems unlikely, since the new ship evolved into an amphibious assault ship. The future of Argus is uncertain, but a replacement will probably be sought in the near future, as this ship is excessively large and expensive to serve purely as a training ship.
Argus A135 Photos: [Prior to conversion - M/V Contender Bezant], [Argus as completed].
Laid down ????, launched 1981, completed as cargo ship 1981. Chartered for Falklands service 5/82; returned postwar. Purchased by RN 2 March 1984, converted at Harland & Wolff 4/1984 to 3 March 1988. Commissioned 1 June 1988 but immediately went into post-trial refit 17 July 1989 to 3 Oct 1989, fully in service 10/1989.
Deployed to Persian Gulf early 1990's as hospital ship and as an aircraft transport.
STOVL Jet Aircraft can also operate from as-is RO-RO ships with diminished payloads due to vertical take-offs
A gyrene, Major Andrew Shorter writes in the 2003 Naval Institute Proceedings magazine: "STOVL JSFs Put Teeth in Sea Basing"
"While a modern aircraft carrier can employ the STOVL JSF, we must examine new complementary designs that more fully would support the Sea Basing concept rather than merely providing platform space for short-term surge capability. By expanding the number of platforms available, maximum operational flexibility is attained. Because of the cost of a new ship, designing one with multiple capabilities should be a prerequisite. A suitable cost-efficient family of vessels focused on the objective capability of Sea Basing might be found with the combination of an aircraft carrier or amphibious-warfare ship and a maritime prepositioned ship. The CNO is convinced there is 'unique and powerful' potential for maritime prepositioned ships once they are unloaded.
One ship design agent, Naval Sea Systems Command/Advanced Marine Enterprises, has designed several such unique ships. Cost was the principal design driver, but current and evolving technology were leveraged to develop these designs to meet the maritime prepositioned group's Sea Basing capability. One design incorporates the facilities of a maritime prepositioned ship, including cranes and a roll-on/roll-off ramp, along with the helicopter capability of an amphibious assault ship (general purpose), albeit with fewer operational spots. The aviation-capable design has a dedicated flight deck designed for helicopters and STOVL aircraft, which gives the impression of an aircraft carrier. However, most of the below-deck spaces are dedicated to roll-on/roll-off and cube cargo, along with aviation fuel and ordnance. This concept capitalizes on the AIAA finding that 'V/STOL can provide equal or better [mission] performance with many less aircraft.'
Fewer aircraft require less hangar space, fewer maintenance and support personnel, and for STOVLs, fewer ship systems to support them and a much smaller air department. STOVLs require 30% less deck space for operations, which leads to increased operating efficiencies.20 Those efficiencies allow generation of more sorties given equal mission performance. For example, STOVL aircraft can generate 30% more sorties than CTOL aircraft for targets out to 400 nautical miles, and 15% more for ranges to 700 nautical miles.21 The affordable combination of multiple missions within one hull design can become a reality based on our emerging technology.
Although Sea Basing may be seen as a transformational concept, and the notion of using cargo ships as aircraft carriers while allowing Air Force pilots to fly from them seems to support transformation, there is a historical precedent. During the 1982 Falklands campaign, Great Britain executed a version of Sea Basing to support Operation Corporate and its retaking of the islands. It did not do this in answer to any new doctrinal concept, but of necessity. Operation Corporate highlights the two topics important to the STOVL JSF's support to Sea Basing. The first is the use of non-purpose-built ships as aircraft carriers. The Atlantic Conveyor, a commercial container ship, was pressed into service as a transport for Harriers, helicopters, spare parts, fuel, ordnance, supplies, and equipment. The converted ship originally was not intended to launch operational missions, but it had two operational deck spots, one of which was manned by an armed Sea Harrier during transit from Ascension Island to the task force. Although there was no operational employment of the fighters from the Atlantic Conveyor, the V/STOL aircraft remains the only type of fighter aircraft that can, and did, self-deploy and redeploy to and from that type of vessel.
The second topic has been incorporated as part of Great Britain's strategy for projecting combat power. This concept involves using the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a member of the deployable sea-based air arm. (The concept is still in use today under the title "Joint Force Harrier.") The RAF's early adoption of V/STOL aircraft was the critical element that allowed it to espouse this idea. V/STOL aircraft negate the greatest danger of fixed-wing shipboard operations—the speed at which the aircraft approaches the ship when landing—and can use normal land-based confined-area landing techniques to safely land on any suitably sized deck at sea. The RAF pilots proved this point as many of them executed their first shipboard landings, embarking on board the two aircraft carriers of the task force en route to the South Atlantic. By supplementing its task force with container vessels and transporting V/STOL strike-fighter aircraft, operationally manned by squadrons from two different services, the United Kingdom provided an unprecedented, unforeseen, highly flexible power projection and sustainment capability."
Here, the U.S. military "re-invents" the container ship aircraft carrier at a $1 BILLION cost!
54 RUSI DEFENCE SYSTEMS SUMMER 2004
Stephen Carmel is senior vice president of Maersk Line Ltd, in Norfolk, USA. In this article he looks at the requirement to provide the flexibility and agility that is needed to project power in the changed environment of today, and the Sea Basing option that could provide it in a timeframe suited to a world of quickly changing threats.
The environment in which military operations must take place is changing’ is an oft-repeated phrase. This statement is only half correct: the environment has already changed and the new environment is now defined by change itself. The Cold War paradigms and the relative order they imposed on international conflict no longer apply. Who the enemies and allies are is no longer always clear. The rise of non-state belligerent groups, the drift towards shifting tactical goal alignment versus strategic alliance, and the increasing subordination of international co-operation to narrow national agendas all lead directly to the need to rethink how power projection is accomplished. The need to project power and effect a change in behaviour on an enemy in whatever form he takes, anywhere in the world, without the need for co-operative regional allies, has become central to military planning. Events in Iraq, Haiti and Africa are just the most recent examples of this requirement. Sea Basing, as envisioned by the US Navy’s Sea Power 21 strategy, is how that objective will be met.
The Sea Base is not a place or type of ship, but an operational construct, a system of systems assembled to respond to a dynamic, unpredictable, asymmetric threat. It is a grouping of capabilities that is not just flexible, but adaptive. In fact, adaptability is a core competency of the Sea Base. This adaptability will impose new requirements on the platforms that make up the Sea Base. Responding to these requirements successfully requires challenging the dogma surrounding ship design and development, and associated procurement policies.
Platform Adaptability v. Flexibility
Maersk Line Limited (MLL) has been involved in the design of Sea Basing solutions for several years and the approach they have developed emphasizes both flexibility and adaptability on several levels. The distinction made between flexibility and adaptability is important. A platform is flexible when it can satisfy a variety of potential mission requirements with a given set of capabilities, with some missions being addressed better than others; whereas adaptability is the ability to alter the package of organic mission capabilities to respond in an effective and focused way to a different threat environment or mission requirement. The MLL core Sea Base concept, the Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), was developed in conjunction with the US Army to support Special Forces Operations without shore-based support, using a concept born out of the US experience in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Based on a converted Maersk S-class container vessel – among the largest container vessels in the world – the ship is 1140 ft long, has a beam of 140 ft, and has a range of 15,000 nm at 25 knots. It is designed to carry 1000 troops, provide hangar space for a specific mix of 28 Army helicopters with intermediate maintenance capabilities, and stores space to support the troops in combat for 45 days. The flight deck is large enough for 15 spots for H-47 Chinook helicopters ready-to-fly.
Motion stability for flight operations exceeds that provided by traditional amphibious platforms. Mission flexibility is achieved by providing aviation systems suitable for both Army and USN/USMC aircraft, including both JP5 and JP8 fueling capability, large freshwater wash-down capability needed by Army aircraft, and the ability to darken the ship completely for Army night flight operations, as well as light the deck for traditional USN night operations. In addition, the vessel is capable of supporting AV-8 and JSF-STOVL flight operations, making it an ideal platform for refueling and rearming these aircraft. As designed, the vessel also can accommodate 12 USMC V-22 Osprey aircraft both in terms of spots on deck and stowage below deck in the hangar. In a transport mode, the vessel is capable of carrying 72 USMC H-46 Sea Knight helicopters below deck in the hanger and 144 HMMWV vehicles in the cargo area in addition to the troop compliment. The vessel also has cargo storage, selective discharge capability, and motion-compensated off-load capability in sea state 4.
The flexibility of this platform is apparent. As previously noted flexibility alone is no longer sufficient – the new-generation Sea Base assets must be adaptive. AFSB adaptability is achieved through 90,000 sq ft of reconfigurable mission space which is available for accepting mission modules and which can quickly alter the fundamental mission of the vessel. For example, that space could accept an expeditionary hospital. The aircraft and alongside transfer capability, coupled with the large hospital and berthing space, allow the vessel to be quickly adapted to a highly capable casualty evacuation and treatment platform. Alternatively, the mission space could be used for a Deployable Joint Command and Control (DJC2) system. In this mode the platform could quickly be adapted to fill the role of a Joint command and control vessel. Using the mission space for expanded stores and spare parts storage will allow the vessel to adapt to the role of an aviation maintenance support vessel similar to the US Navy’s T-AVB vessels. These adaptations could be made quickly, and without the need for complex shipyard assistance. Therefore they can be made in remote locations, almost ‘on the fly’. There is also sufficient space on the vessel for several additional 90,000 sq ft blocks of reconfigurable space if required.
Adaptability in Design
The ability to respond quickly to a changing environment also requires adaptability in design. MLL’s design philosophy is to design modular capabilities blocks, which can be assembled in different configurations to provide a vessel with different mission orientations. For example, the AFSB discussed above has a more USMC-focused variation which is obtained simply by adding additional types of capabilities blocks, or increasing the number of a specific capabilities block.
The major advantage to this approach is that design is accomplished much quicker with capabilities blocks of proven design. The USMC-focused variation emphasizes V-22 and AV-8 operations, has a ramp from the cargo deck, and has a piece of organic lighertage to act as a landing spot for the ramp for off-load in the stream, thereby enhancing the ability to act as a connector in intra-theatre lift. Current MLL research for this variation is focused on a safe and secure method of providing a connector to LCACs in a sea state 4. MLL has already done considerable research, simulation, and modelling of the relative motions between the AFSB hull and a catamaran hull form of the HSV/TSV type. The marine corps variation also has berthing for up to 5000 troops achieved by additional berthing modules. This variation of AFSB is highly suited for force closure and reconstitute/redeploy as well as sustainment roles.
MLL has also developed a logistics variation designed to be a connector between the Sea Base and the supply pipeline established to support it. The Sea Base / black bottom interface is the specific focus of this vessel, the design of which is based on AFSB capabilities blocks.
The MLL concepts described above are all based on converting existing container ships. This approach to platform acquisition has several distinct advantages that should not be overlooked. The greatest advantage is that the capability can be put to sea substantially faster than the traditional design and build process. Vessels procured in this fashion are also normally less expensive by several orders of magnitude. Vessel conversions should not be viewed as competition to, or a replacement of, purpose build vessels, but as an excellent way to obtain interim capability: conversion vessels allow fleet commanders to get the capability ultimately intended for new built vessels, but in a very quick, costeffective way, while the concept of operations can be developed and refined using vessels that provide a very close proxy for the ultimate vessel. Thus, when it comes time for the government to write a cheque for a ship costing $1.3 bn, the design concepts have been tested and will achieve mission requirements. Conversions make excellent proof-of-concept and spiral-development platforms.
As noted at the start, the new landscape is one of continual change, whilst the traditional design-and-build process produces ships in a development time frame measured in decades. The current process simply does not effectively support acquisition of capabilities in time frames that are relevant in the new threat environment. Proper programme execution of the conversion process overcomes this problem.
The dynamic and unpredictable nature of the world, in which we find ourselves, dictates a more flexible and adaptive response capability than was required in the past. Sea Basing is a major aspect of that increased focus on flexibility and adaptability, the requirements of which ripple back to the platforms that make up the Sea Base. In order to respond to those requirements, new concepts in vessel design, such as modular capabilities blocks, need to be perfected; new capabilities, such as LCAC connectors, need to be developed; and vessels need to be built with the ability to adapt quickly to different roles and missions without robust industrial support. Lastly, the methods used to acquire capabilities, especially in the near term, must be reevaluated to ensure capabilities are put to sea in a time frame relevant to quickly changing threats. It is important to remember that, while we focus on our ability to adapt to a changing enemy, the enemy is working just as hard to adapt to what we do. The new Darwinian landscape does not favour the biggest or strongest, but rather the most successful at rapid adaptation.