An issue of Proceedings has a short article by Dr. William Stearman in which he proposes a new Navy warship based on a super tanker with a 250,000 long-ton, full load displacement, 1075 ft in length, 170 ft beam, and 80 ft draft (1). Stearman’s proposed vessel is, in turn, based on a comment he quotes from Kenneth S. Brower, as follows.
“Very large supertanker hulls, that are well designed, approach being unsinkable. I would bury a FFG/DDG combat system somewhere inside these vital hidden areas with advanced armor and would trade speed for survivability and reduced cost …”
The article goes on to describe some of the benefits of such a large ship
- Greatly reduced vulnerability to under keel torpedo or mine explosions due to reduced likelihood of hull girder failure
- Side structure with alternating layers of water and steel bulkheads would likely defeat even shaped charge missile warheads
The author then proceeds to describe a do-everything version of this ship which includes almost everything that has ever been installed or proposed for a naval vessel: a flight deck for MV-22, F-35B, helos, etc., 5” guns, 8”-12”+ guns, VLS, amphibious craft, and a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) – all in one ship!
Let’s set the do-everything ship aside as fantasy and instead contemplate the much simpler concept of a frigate/destroyer based on a very large commercial hull. There is, actually, something to be said for such a ship.
The immensely large hull, if built to commercial standards and patterned after a tanker, would, indeed, be very, very difficult to sink. The example of the mining of the SS Bridgeton in 1987 and the almost complete lack of relevant impact and damage from the explosion attest to the inherent resilience of large tankers.
The idea of embedding the actual combat elements deep inside the ship’s internals and protected by additional localized armor, offer the possibility of a ship that could absorb immense amounts of damage and still continue to operate.
The flaw in this is that the sensors and actual weapons would have to be exposed and would be as susceptible to destruction and subsequent mission kill as any other ship.
In addition, the sheer size and non-stealthy nature of the ship would make it the equivalent of a beacon, proclaiming its location. An enemy would have no trouble finding this ship – sinking it, however, would be a challenge.
Taking the discussion a bit further, even if we didn’t want to actually build a tanker-frigate, we might want to consider modifying warship designs to incorporate some scaled down aspects of the design of a commercial supertanker such as the alternating water/bulkhead sides, increased beam and draft, etc., if those modifications can gain us significant survivability.
I’m not necessarily advocating this approach – a naval architect/engineer would have to evaluate the concept – but it’s interesting and worth a few moments of thought especially given the flimsy nature of today’s warships.
(1)Naval Institute Proceedings, “Revolutionary New Ship For The Navy?”, Dr. William Stearman, Aug 2017, p. 87