We discussed the need for ships capable of independent operations but what, exactly, does that entail? For starters, it does not mean a ship capable of taking on an entire war on its own, fighting off hundreds of aircraft, swatting down endless volleys of missiles, countering swarms of submarines, and spreading democracy all the while. No, not that. Instead, it means a ship that can conduct vital missions, during war and peace, just short of carrier group levels of capability.
For this, we need a ship capable of a reasonable degree of self-defense, a potent enough offensive capability to give an enemy pause, enhanced survivability, and the ability to maintain a widespread tactical picture using only its own organic assets. Clearly, such a ship would be large, capable, and expensive. There’s a time for cost cutting and cost/capability tradeoffs in ship design but this is not that. This is a ship that will be expensive and must not be compromised. The ship will be a cruiser in size and capability (the Navy will probably designate it a corvette in keeping with modern designation trends!).
War time missions would include strike, anti-shipping, ASuW, harbor/base attack, and the like.
Peace time missions would include freedom of navigation, high risk intelligence collection, enemy ship monitoring, and “territorial dispute resolution”. Examples would be shadowing the various new Chinese ships, discouraging N. Korean missile shoots in international waters, “disputing” fraudulent Chinese territorial grab attempts, and providing high visibility presence off
Now, what, specifically, does such a ship look like? It would start with these characteristics.
- Enhanced stealth – as hard to find and target as possible
- Extensive heavy armoring – take a hit and keep fighting
- Burke level AAW
- Tomahawk (or its replacement) strike
- Multiple 8” guns – peacetime missions, especially, may wind up being up close and personal
- Extensive anti-ship weaponry (Harpoon/LRASM plus short range Penguin-ish missiles)
- Significant UAV capability
There are two key points regarding the list. The first, is the absence of ASW. This is not a ship intended to go play tag with submarines. That is best left to cheaper, purpose designed vessels. The ASW capability would be limited to self-defense, hence, a couple of helos, a hull mounted sonar, ASROC, and towed decoys.
The second key point is the UAV capability. For a ship operating independently, situational awareness is critical and the independent ship will largely have to rely on its own abilities. Thus, a robust UAV surveillance capability is mandatory – a poor man’s Hawkeye, in a sense. The ship would have to carry dozens of UAVs and be able to operate them independent of helo operations; in other words, a dedicated UAV flight deck.
This ship offers serious combat capability and greatly enhances naval options in a time of diminishing overall availability.