Sunday, April 27, 2014


Here’s a bit of news from the LNG World News website (1) that ought to have some bearing on Navy planning during a time of severely constrained budgets.  Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, Inc., and Crowley Maritime Corporation have contracted to build four product tankers with options for four more.  The contract value for the first four tankers is $500M or $125M each.

The ships are 50,000 dwt and incorporate numerous fuel efficiency features, flexible cargo capability, and the latest regulatory requirements according to the article.

What’s the relevance to the Navy?  In previous posts and comments, we’ve discussed that many of the Navy’s cargo and personnel transport needs could be met with commercial ships as opposed to amphibious ships or other specialized military vessels.  Further, we’ve noted that modified commercial ships could possibly be used for offshore basing of Army aviation units, SOF operations, MCM motherships, LCS motherships, and a host of other functions.  When one looks at the price of the base ship and considers the functionality they could provide, this seems like a very viable option.  Of course, the required functionality might increase the cost somewhat but none of these functions are that exotic and expensive and certainly would come nowhere near the multi-billion dollar costs for new amphibious ships.

We’ve already seen a bit of this occurring with the MLP builds.  The use of commercial vessels should be expanded.

As a side note, the LCS was originally built to largely commercial standards and even now is being built to semi-commercial standards.  One can’t help but wonder how a 50,000 dwt ship can be built for $125M while the 3,000 ton LCS base hull without government furnished equipment, weapons, sensors, electronics, and modules costs $350M - $400M.


  1. Just as a point of order, you need to look up the definition of deadweight tonnage. The 50000 tons you refer to is the cargo capacity of the ship, not "50000 tons empty". I would expect the lightship weight (the actual weight of structure and equipment of the ship) to be about 10000 tons at most.

    You might also want to ponder the difference in outfit (equipment) between your tanker and your LCS. Your tanker is in essence an empty steel box, with a big diesel engine back aft with associated equipment, all concentrated in the same area, some single cabin accommodation for 20 people tops, your bridge and that's it. There will be some cargo pipework and pumps serving the cargo section, but that's only of the order of 1500m of large bore pipework. In essence the proportion of the ship where people are expected to live and work is sub-15% .

    Compare and contrast with your LCS where pretty much all spaces will be inhabited to some degree or other and where the outfit content, power generation & distribution, HVAC, main broadcast, firefighting systems, alarms and control systems and many more are ship wide. All in a relatively small ship, which I can assure you from personal experience is time consuming and expensive to access and install.

    The "commercial standards" you refer to are also rather different for a relatively slow cargo carrier, compared to a lightweight high-speed ship.

    1. NaB, good point about the weights. Thanks for the clarification!

      Yes, of course there's a difference in the fit of an LCS and a tanker, however, there's still a huge difference in the cost relative to the size even allowing for different fits. The point is that the Navy could obtain non-combat general purpose vessels for far less than they currently pay by using commercial vessels adapted to secondary roles.

    2. NaB, I've edited the post to incorporate your comment. Thanks!

  2. The other thing you'll want to consider is that when you start putting lots of people on the ship, the rules change - literally. Comparing purpose built amphibs, which are designed to carry thousands of people and have significant survivability features built into them, is very different to looking at a bulk cargo carrier and then adding "stuff". The design and build rules for that cargo carrier will not be applicable to your conversion - they will change with significant added cost.