“Build a Corvette with a Hornet’s Sting” –USNI

Coast Guard Cutter John F. McCormick (WPC 1121) crew transits through the San Francisco Bay, Saturday, March 4, 2017, during their voyage to homeport in Ketchikan, Alaska. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Loumania Stewart

The US Naval Institute has a short post that proposes a new type of combatant, and it could potentially be based on the Webber class Fast Response Cutter, or as it is referred to in the post, the Sentinel class.

The author suggests some relatively straight forward upgrades for dealing with low-end (swarming) threats, but the heart of the proposal is to think about arming and equipping them much like the FA-18 Hornet including link 16, cooperative engagement capability, and electronic warfare equipment.

“To create the best system, get past the question of the hull; start with weapons and sensors and ask what they can do. A good starting place might be, “Can we accomplish anti-surface warfare (ASuW) if we put Super Hornet capabilities onto a patrol boat?” … the boat should employ a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) such as the Boeing RQ-21 Blackjack to give it extended sensing for independent operations. “

All the basic weapons upgrades suggested and a UAS are probably feasible without making serious changes to the Webber class’s basic configuration. The next step up is going to require some compromises.

The author suggests a four-cell Mk-57 vertical-launch system (VLS) which would weigh about 20 tons. This would likely replace the 8 meter over the horizon boat on the stern. That is a lot of weight to be positioned that far aft, but there are alternatives. Inclined deck launchers using the MK41 VLS system have been proposed and would be lighter. Dedicated launchers for Harpoon and particularly NSM would be a lot lighter. All these missiles are shorter than the over the horizon boat.

The Naval Strike Missile certainly seems the most likely since in has been chosen for the Navy’s small combatants, including all LCSs. Because of its smaller size it might be possible to carry more missiles than would be possible with the larger weapons.

Keep in mind that the Navy is going to have to replace it Cyclone class patrol craft. the oldest of the thirteen is now over 25 years old.

It the Navy chose to replace the Cyclone class with modified Webber class, while the over the horizon boat is certainly useful, they could find a lot of potential alternative uses for the stern ramp other than a place for missile launchers including:

  • Support for unmanned surface and sub-surface system that might conduct Mine  Counter Measures (MCM) and possibly other missions.
  • Transporting and deploying a Swimmer Delivery Vehicle for SEAL Team operations
  • Sonar systems for coastal Anti-Submarine Warfare in conjunction with installation of torpedo tubes as suggested earlier.

In reading over the comments on the USNI post there was a good question, forgive me for paraphrasing,

Since the price is about the same why not just buy strike aircraft? The aircraft can get there, release its weapons, return, rearm and strike again.

All true, but total costs are not the same. The aircraft operating and support cost are much higher, including the aircraft carrier, big deck amphib, or airfield it operates from.

A patrol craft has can remain on station much longer than an aircraft.

A group of patrol craft can be spread out in ways a group of aircraft tied to its base afloat or ashore cannot.

Yes, these patrol craft would be easy to kill, but they can only be killed one at a time, and may not be that easy to find. On the other hand, if an anti-ship cruise missile hits a carrier, it may still kill more people than the crew of a patrol craft and when it leaves the theater for months to have the damage repaired, she also takes those 70 or so $100M airplanes with her. If the carrier is sunk, we may lose not only a 7-12 billion dollar carrier, but also the 70 or so $100M aircraft aboard are likely to go down with it. The actual survivability of small warships is usually understated, not because they can take a hit, but because they are usually never hit at all, while the survivability of large warships is overstated, because there is always a huge effort to find, fix, and destroy them. Also the opportunity costs when large ships are taken out of the fight for repairs is often over looked.

Patrol craft are the Naval equivalent of boots on the ground. They see things those flying at 25,000 feet cannot. You don’t try to fight a land war without infantry. You can’t fight a naval war without the small boys.

24 thoughts on ““Build a Corvette with a Hornet’s Sting” –USNI

  1. Haven’t the Ruskies been placing rather large cruise missiles on corvettes to get around some treaties? I think some of them are so small they can navigate the Russian canal system.

    It’s all very well talking about making a small boat like F/A18 but the advantage the plane has speed. It can come and go very quickly. The helicopter made the FPB in the 60s.

    Sensors are getting better and better. Another 10 to 20 years and there will be no hiding, anywhere. We are headed for a distributed system of weapons and sensors the traditional platform is going to disappear. The only reason to go to sea will be police / coastguard work because there will be need to talk face to face. I think that will go too once we have a human analogue to do boardings. And the same perhaps for amphibious warfare too.

  2. Lockheed has a Single Cell launcher based on the Mk41. A Webber could be stretched 2m fore and 4m amidships to give it 3 cells at about 12000 lbs (ballpark guesstimate). That’s sufficient for 12 quad packed ESSM for defensive AAW.
    The Webber wasn’t designed with space for it, but ships as small it have also been fitted with 57mm guns.

    • There are lots of smaller craft with 76mm guns. Adding Man Portable Air Defense in the form of Stinger would be relatively easy, but it would not help much against cruise missiles, but it could work against helicopters and low flying aircraft.

    • The issue with VLS is NOT deck length it is Hull Depth. One has to have a hull large enough to install VLS – IN as well as reloads and support equipment..
      ESSM on topside mount would work

      • Yes Lee, I realize that, and I thought the author did too. That is why I assumed an inclined launch system, that would eliminate the hull depth requirement and spread the load over a larger area.

        Can’t really see the Navy putting Tomahawk or even LRASM or Harpoon on these if they are only going to put NSM on the LCSs.

      • I forgot to add that BAE has an Adaptable Launch System which is inclined, on deck mounted, and can fire more than one missile system.

  3. As I mentioned to someone a couple days ago, I think what the author really wants is something more along the lines of an Ambassador/Ezzat-class missile boat/corvette. Maybe even something like the ROC Tuo Chiang-class. He just doesn’t realize it yet.
    The Sentinel/Webber is a nice policing boat. Trying slap on anti-ship missile to make it into a light combatant is a fool’s errand.
    Sure, you could add some vertical or pedestal launched Spike/Hellfire/Brimstone/JAGM, maybe upgun the Mk38 to add some more punch to it’s firepower. But, beyond that you’re probably going to start taxing the vessels design, and going to need serious modification.
    You state that a NSM weighs ~900 lbs. Sure. But an NSM in it’s launch canister is roughly 2,000 lbs. A deck mounted 4-pack `8,600 lbs. Plus, as you stated, you lose the ability to carry/launch a small boat. The author’s suggested 4-cell Mk-57 modification is ludicrous.
    The Navy has little interest in small combatants. The leadership was practically whipped into line to grudgingly accept the 115-130 meter ~3.000 ton “little” LCS. I just can’t see “Big Navy” even considering replacing the Cyclones with a cobbled together compromised Sentinel/Webber modification.

  4. Looking at Navies around the world, it seems the LCS is a corvette-sized ship. Webbers are not corvettes…

    Perhaps I’m behind-the-times, but I still cannot get past the logic that capability = displacement. Want strike-range in two or three domains of warfare (Air, Surface, and Sub-surface)? Better order a 10,000+ ton ship. Call that what you want, but to me, it’s a cruiser (which is why Arliegh Burkes are cruisers to me). Want a ship able to defend and escort merchant-type vessels (lower-speed, good ASW, mediocre ASuW and AAW, some anti-AShM ability)? That will be about 4000 tons, and, again, call it what you want, but to me, that’s a frigate. Want a high-speed escort/independent operations type ship? That will run 6000-6500 tons, and I’ll call it a destroyer.

    Electronics and missiles have definitely changed things, but there is still a weight ratio to capability aspect. There are newer, lighter systems to build a frigate with capability in all three domains, but it will be a limited capability vs. a Ticonderoga or Arleigh Burke, thus the lighter weight is limiting sensors, payload, range, or other capability. A corvette is a smaller Frigate; less sea-keeping, less firepower, less capability all-around. I don’t see what that would gain for the USN. The LCSes have been a failure. If we need a patrol ship, the OPC is ideal, and it has potential to become a corvette, but I’m not sure where a corvette fits in USN operations? A ship in a high-threat environment should fit my definition of a destroyer. If interdiction is the task at hand, a patrol boat is all that’s needed. Something in-between does neither job well…

    • I see the Webber filling the role of Sub Chaser/Gunboat. While the OPC fills the role of Coastal Defense Frigate/FFL. And of course the NSC could the role of FF. Do I see the Webber filing a corvettes role?….No. Too small. If we wanted to build a cheap corvette with muscles we would need a ship in the size range of the Famous class of cutters. If not a little bit bigger. Otherrwise you’ll be repeating the same type of mistakes of the LCS IMHO.
      Just my $0.02.

    • Bill, I agree that a Webber is not large enough to be considered a Corvette, but then I didn’t write the article. To my mind they start about 500 tons and go up considerably. All the ship types have grown in size. I’m certain 3000 tons could qualify and maybe up to 4,000 tons.

      Today a frigate can do things early guided missile cruisers could not do, like engaging more aircraft simultaneously and doing it at longer ranges.

      There is no doubt still a correlation between size and capability but the capability for a given size is expanding all the time.

      We need to look at how these vessels might work with other units. It may not need great long range sensors if it is networked with an airborne radar. Several might work in concert with a frigate or destroyer so that we have more shooters. The range of a particular missile is the same no matter what platform it launches from.

      He wasn’t really talking about a corvette, but if you need patrol boats for a bit more you can make them more lethal. As I noted on the USNI page, I don’t expect they would build more than about 30. There are the 13 Cyclones that need replacing. Might need a similar number operating in 7th Fleet area, Some more for training and experimentation.

      • Perhaps things have changed but I thought the plan was for the LCSs to replace the Cyclones. Has the Navy given up on that idea?

      • Malph, yes I remember seeing the original number of 56 LCS explained as replacing the existing MCM ships, the Cyclone class, and the remaining frigates. Does not seem that has worked out.

    • The USN has shown that once one gets below Frigate (WWII Destroyer) size, the USN doesn’t really want or like them and frequently doesn’t know how, or want, to utilize them, as anything other than a single-purpose ship. In WWII the USN had dozens and dozens of “tiny ships”: DEs, DERs, SCs, PGMs, PGs, and so on. They were all low-utility. ecsuse they were so small they couldn’t do much more than one mission well. As soon as the war was over, most were given away or scrapped. The LCS program only got the traction it did because the mission modules made them “multi-role” ships, and their size made them cheap. Once the mission packages performance went down and price went up, and operational issues became clear, they cut back the numbers… This whole concept (and I hope you didn’t think my initial post above was aimed at you, Chuck, it, and this one, is aimed at the concept, which keeps getting brought up with small twists) is a bad one…

      • WWII destroyers were a lot smaller than what passes for frigates now. The first of the “big destroyers,” the Fletcher class were only 2,500 tons full load, not a lot bigger than a 270, and smaller than a 378.

        What we are really talking about here is replacing the Cyclone class PCs, which are the busiest vessels in the USN fleet. They have proven very useful. Then given that you are going to have them in the fleet, can they also participate in the distributed lethality concept. I think they could, but the places they will work are limited, but critical, and they will have to network with other assets for targeting and possibly their defense.

        The Navy does not seem to look at ships as elements in a total mutually supporting fleet. They seem to see each ship as a stand alone do everything unit. The Japanese fleet is an example of how to build not just individual ships, but squadrons of ships that work together.

      • True on the WWII ships, but keep in mind, even early destroyers, were seen as multi-role ships (AAW, ASuW, and ASW), because the simpler technology of that age made 5″ guns, torpedoes, and sonar/depth charges all available on such a light hull. As the technology has gotten heavier, so have the ships (at least at the low end, cruisers are similar weight-wise).

        The PCs are busy, because of interdiction duties. Adding distributed lethality, in the form of an AShM, is certainly do-able, but the Navy won’t. It’s just like the OT boats of WWII – small vessel with big sting. It’s a very workable concept, within it’s limits, but now, as then, the brass will not accept it, until it is proven itself in action. Meanwhile, with PCs being in hotspots like the Persian Gulf, putting a NSM on them, just makes them susceptable to capture and exploitation by the Iranians.

      • Bill, don’t really think there is much chance of the Iranians capturing a PC. The boats they did capture were only about 50 feet long.

        PTs might have a better reputation now if they had had decent torpedoes in 1942.

  5. yea, that mission module thing worked out wicked well. I think, obviously don’t know, but bet dimes to doughnuts the navy will try to pack way more multi mission into the new frigates. i’m sure that will work out. sorry if pessimistic but would hardly be the first time. what should be a simple ship will not be.

  6. did I miss something and I am not a bridge rat but aren’t the nsc and the 154s supposedly equipt with the most modern communications we have? at least I’ve seen that repeatedly in all the propaganda. shouldn’t we already have link 16?

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