We saw in the last post that the
Tarawa (LHA-1) class amphibious ships were retired early at just 30 years of service and with no real justification. All right, let’s set that aspect aside. Given that the class was retired, the next logical question is could any further worthwhile use have been gotten from the class even in another role? Well, here’s a few possibilities.
LCS Mothership. The LCS is going to be operated in squadrons (maybe – the Navy still isn’t sure what it’s going to do with the LCS!) which, given the concept of off-board maintenance for the LCS, just cries out for a mothership as the anchor for a group of ships. The
Tarawa mothership can provide the centralized, off-board maintenance support the LCS’s need, as well as providing refueling, rearming, reprovisioning, centralized command and control, and additional aviation support that would enhance the effectiveness of the LCS’s. With no embarked Marines to support, the Tarawa should be able to operate with greatly reduced crews.
ASW/MCM Mothership. The main platform in both ASW and MCM appears to be helos, at least until the magic remote unmanned vehicles pan out, and what better vessel to host helos than a former amphibious ship.
Littoral Combat Ship. What are the attributes that the Navy claims make for an effective littoral combat ship? They include extensive helo support and large flight decks, the ability to launch and recover remote unmanned vehicles, and sufficient weaponry to fight small boat swarms. The Navy also claims that stealth and speed are necessary but the speed requirement has already been pretty well debunked and stealth is a debatable characteristic, at least for the ASW and MCM missions. The Tarawas have the requisite characteristics in spades, other than stealth. A single Tarawa operating a couple of dozen helos and with the capacity to launch and control dozens of remote, unmanned vehicles would be many times more effective than even a squadron of LCS’s. Additional guns could be added to deal with small craft in the ASuW role.
Afloat Forward Staging Base. This has already been done, just not with a
Tarawa. If AFSBs are a useful asset, the Tarawas are ready made and already paid for. They simply need a relatively minor conversion. Again, the crew requirements ought to be greatly reduced.
I can go on but you get the idea. I leave it to you to come up with other uses. You’ll note that these conversions would generally require only modest upgrades or conversions and would result in reduced crew sizes.
Normally, I would end the post at this point but I’m going to go a step further. The post discussions have been disappointing of late. People are fixating on trivial, ancillary details rather than the larger themes presented in the posts. I’m going to attempt to improve the quality of discussion by explicitly pointing out what the larger themes are and challenge you to think and dig a bit deeper.
I have no problem with someone offering an amplifying thought about one of the uses I’ve proposed but that’s not really the point of the post. The main theme is the Navy’s tendency to retire usable ships early without giving any consideration to alternate uses even if the ship is no longer suitable for its original purpose. Combine this with the budget challenges facing the Navy and the dwindling size of the fleet and the overarching question is why can’t the Navy extract additional useful service out of older ships, ESPECIALLY CONSIDERING THAT THEY’RE ALREADY PAID FOR? How do we justify the policy of early retirement of ship classes that can still provide useful service? How does the Navy reconcile their stated desire for a larger fleet with their demonstrated policy of early retirements coupled with, generally, numerically smaller replacement classes?