In a recent post, we discussed the Chinese multiple launch rocket (MLR) frigate for fire support (see, "Chinese Fire Support Frigate"). The main point of the post was that the Chinese were willing to experiment. They took a retiring frigate and converted it to a prototype to try out a concept. Whether the concept is deemed a success or not is irrelevant. The point is that they prototyped the concept and were able to operationally evaluate it.
Contrast this with the US Navy’s near absence of prototyping and related practice of early retiring ships and getting no further use out of them.
When was the last time the Navy built/converted a ship into a prototype? The last example I can recall was the “conversion” of the USS Ponce to a mine countermeasures mothership and that wasn’t really a conversion, just more of a temporary change in assignment/mission.
I’m sure the Navy will tell us that prototypes are too expensive to build. They’re one of a kind and we just can’t afford to build one-of-a-kind vessels. Well, we can’t afford to build one-of-a-kind vessels after the Navy gets through gold-plating them, that’s for sure! But, why don’t we use retiring ships as prototypes? The ship is already built and paid for and conversions, no matter how extensive, are hugely cheaper than new ships. Why not get some further good use out of retiring ships?
Here’s a list of possible worthwhile prototypes that could be constructed on existing or retired/retiring ships. These prototype conversions could be done today.
- Convert a retired amphibious ship (the
Tarawaclass comes to mind) to a UAV carrier.
- Convert a Zumwalt to a laser/rail gun ship since it no longer has a useful gun.
- Convert a retired Perry FFG to a dedicated, specialized, shallow water ASW vessel. Load it with shallow water optimized equipment and try out shallow water ASW tactics.
- Convert a retired amphibious ship to an ASW hunter-killer mothership to explore the tactics of shallow water hunting of submarines.
- Convert a Cyclone PC to a small missile boat and find out whether we can successfully and usefully operate the type.
- Convert an LCS (how about LCS-1 or -2 since
neither is considered deployable) to an armed intel/surveillance ship for
use in the
South China Seaand off NKorea.
- Convert an LCS (again, LCS-1/2) to a fire support ship with MLRS launchers.
- Convert an old, smaller amphibious LSD-41/49 to a large caliber naval gun support ship with, perhaps, three dual mount 8” guns.
- Convert an amphibious LSD-41/49 to a mine countermeasures mothership.
- Convert a retired amphibious ship to an LCS tender to support a deployed LCS squadron.
Understand that these conversions would not result in perfect, optimized fighting machines. They would be prototypes intended to study the main concept. If the concept proved out then an optimized version could be designed and built.
For example, a
Tarawa class UAV carrier conversion might be vastly oversized for the function
but who cares? If the concept of a UAV
carrier proved out then an appropriately sized UAV carrier could be designed
What I’m saying is, don’t bother writing a comment telling me how one of these conversions isn’t perfect for the role. They’re converted prototypes – none of them are perfect for the role! They’re just intended to demonstrate a concept.
There’s my list. What conversion prototypes would you like to see?