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Subject: Aviation Cruisers.
Charles99    11/5/2007 12:52:08 AM
First of all, this is not a suggestion for a small carrier to replace our current CVN's. There is no better way to get large numbers of aircraft, and keep them up regularly then the big deck carrier, whatever it's future incarnations will look like. I think that's a big part of hte problem in debates on smaller ships with aviation capability-- overblown comments on how they can "replace" a CVN. They can't. But, it is true that airpower, both in the form of helicopters and the proliferating numbers of UAVs and UCAVS is becoming both more common and more organic to surface warships, and that modern weapons, such as VLS missiles and stealthly gun turrents have the advantage of eliminating a lot of the old clutter that interfered with air operatoins. So, is there room for an air capable cruiser in the future, a ship that dedicates a health percentage of deckspace/hanger space to being able to operate a larger number of aircraft then current surface ships can, while *not* being seen in the same light as an aircraft carrier (most notably, not being considered for the kinds of strike and presence missions that smply require more in the way of magazine space and fuel bunkerage then a cruiser sized ship could carry). It seems to me there is some use for this for the following reasons. 1. combined with the growing use of "Flex deck" style space, it provides a greater amount of mission flexiblity. Disaster relief, anti-piracy and blockade duty all benefit from having more helicopters/UAV's available, and the ship could be quickly tailored for them. 2. Long range observation. There's a space betwwen the big carrier born AEW aircraft and smaller UAV's in service that might be filled by a larger UAV V/STOL on an aviation cruiser. It might be completmented by UCAVs, but I'm not certain about that, as that starts to get inot mission slop territory. OTH, before too many years we'll have the sort of hypersonic missiles that could be used to back up such UAV's, eliminating the need for arming them in the first place. 3. Amphibious landing. Definately a secondary mission, the German F125's frigate provision for a small unit might indicate a ship that could embarck a hundred or so soldiers and their aircraft might be of use for the sorts of things that are too small for a Wasp-- or happen when it's not around. There might be others, but I'll leave it open-- is there room for the idea of an aviatoin capable cruiser, so long as we steer well clear of the shibboleth that it will "replace the big deck carrier", or otherwise carry out the missions that the CVN remains the best platform for.
 
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Dimitri       11/7/2007 6:47:15 PM
Look up the Japanese DDHs. I believe they carry something like 3-4 Seahawks (or similar) and have 2 gun turrets up forward. They may have point defence missiles, torps and CIWS, not sure. It wouldn't be too difficult to switch one gun turret for 8 Harpoon, or a VLS cell I shouldn't think. That should make it a more rounded combatant, although I suspect you may want to ditch even that space in favour of flight orientated stuff or troop carriage space.
 
However, what about role:
 
1. If you're looking for flexibility and ability to re-role, capital ships are the way forward. Carrier to amphib, amphib to carrier can all be done - each may not be 100% in the other's role, but it can be done. And a S E Asian navy (perhaps Taiwan?) I believe has ordered a flattop that is neither designated a carrier or amphib - it is such a hybrid it is just to be used as whichever is required!
 
On a smaller scale than this, I'd argue that LCS is envisaged as re-roleable, and many auxiliaries have the level of flexibility you imagine, without the pricy/valuable combination of sensors, systems, weapons and lots of crew that your combatant would have. More than enough for anti piracy, military aid to the civil power, and flying the flag when a capital ship can't be about. Indeed I'd like to think existing frigates and destroyers should have an inherent level of flexibility and train for roles outside of air defence/ASW - and these ships are far more likely to 'be around' or close to hand to respond to an emerging crisis than a limited number of specialist ships.
 
2. An intermediate AEW asset between UAVs and Hawkeye already exists - helicopter-borne systems. Why go for a massive Osprey type aircraft when helos such as the RN Sea King ASAC Mk7 are already in service, and link compatible. I imagine you'd want to graft the systems onto a Seahawk to make things simpler for your aircraft maintainers.
 
If you really did introduce an AEW tiltrotor would it not replace Hawkeye rather than supplement it? Yes a tiltrotor will go faster, further and probably higher than a helo for longer too, but thats what Hawkeye is for, right? If you want a more local more available version of AEW go for a helo, and also avoid the massive size of the Osprey!
 
3. Hmm small unopposed amphibious landings probably are achievable from an 'aviation cruiser' as anything more would take an assault ship/commando carrier to pull off... but if you are going for small unopposed landings why not use an existing FF/DDG? They already have a helo to act as taxi, and I'm sure they can find the additional space for a platoon or two when push comes to shove, even if that means dossing down in storerooms, hot-bunking or whatever else.
 
The LCS will be built with troop deployment as a modular option so thats an additional string to your bow.
 
Also, are you planning to get close inshore to support these notional troops with a bit of NGS action? If you are, you're putting an awfully valuable asset into a damned vulnerable spot. You'd be better off taking a smaller gunboat/FAC for that... In which case you have a group deployment, and can probably replace your cruiser with any helo-capable hull... or seeing as you'd probably only try putting this few men ashore in a relatively low threat environment anyway, would you deploy them directly from the FAC instead, making the cruiser surplus to requirements? Questions questions eh! This, I thought, was US policy, what with the Cyclone class PC boats.
 
Just some thoughts...
 
 
 
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dwightlooi       11/7/2007 7:01:44 PM
A more interesting idea will be a destroyer class ship (Burke sized or thereabouts) with hangar space for say two F-35Bs, two helos and maybe a few UAVs.

And it is plausible that you can launch F-35Bs them without a runway and/or a ski jump, but rather a beefed up version of WWII style cruiser seaplane catapults. You hoist the aircraft on the thin, shoot it off the deck with an EM sledge or rocket assist or both. The plane lands vertically on the standard helipad.

 
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Dimitri       11/7/2007 7:19:12 PM
If it was capable of carrying such a flight, I doubt it'd be destroyer sized. Or everything would be given over to air facilities, leaving v little in the way of other systems necessary for a combatant.
 
So in effect it'd be a tiny aircraft carrier. It'd require an escort, surely. Or you could scale up to approx 15000 tons I'd think.
 
But what role would such a force fulfil, what missions would it undertake? You can't maintain CAP with 2 fighters, so you must have strike in mind, in which case you may as well use TLAM/Harpoon, with less through-life cost and risk of getting your aircrew shot down.
 
Combatant-armed 'aviation cruisers' haven't really built since the Sovs gave up the ghost, and they weren't exactly always renowned for the most rational designs... the exception would be Japanese DDHs, the reason for them being a political aversion to carrier building and the imperialist connotations of power projection - bad PR... Maybe there is a good reason why no sane/non-politically-constrained naval force hasn't built these ships...
 
Remember that forces are a means to an end, and the maintenance of forces is not an end in itself - especially as budgets are directed towards land forces for the current campaigns.
 
 
 
 
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Charles99       11/7/2007 8:14:30 PM
"A more interesting idea will be a destroyer class ship (Burke sized or thereabouts) with hangar space for say two F-35Bs, two helos and maybe a few UAVs.

And it is plausible that you can launch F-35Bs them without a runway and/or a ski jump, but rather a beefed up version of WWII style cruiser seaplane catapults. You hoist the aircraft on the thin, shoot it off the deck with an EM sledge or rocket assist or both. The plane lands vertically on the standard helipad."

The problem with such a ship is that it really can't do much of anything-- two F-35 Bs are fairly useless for much i nteh way of any combat use-- not enough to make an effective strike and not enough support on the ship to keep them in the ari long enough to do the job. It'd be better to put that effort towards a large missile farm.
 but that's the mission slop I was afraid of-- an aviation cruiser would almost never carry strike aircraft like that (or more likely never).  It just wouldn't be big enough to support them and would be wasted money and space.  UAV's and helicopters or V/STOL utility aicraft would be more useufl and more supportable.


  As for the LCS, I have to say that my biggest problem with it is that we seem to be planning for hte current/last war and the USN has never really had that much luck with the "Low" part of  the High-Low Mix.
 
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Herald1234    try rocket launching two Sparkys off a Burke sized ship.   11/7/2007 8:28:27 PM
Just try.
 
 
Herald
 
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Dimitri       11/7/2007 8:44:07 PM
Concur - carrying fixed wing makes it a de facto aircraft carrier, with aspirations to aircraft carrier like roles - you can't use STOVL fighters for AEW, ASW or any number of other helo related tasks. You won't be able to maintain a CAP, and that leaves you with strike against maritime or land targets - in which case use missiles!
 
If you want to go the carrier route, the generally excepted minimum size for a carrier is that of the Invincible class. It makes very little sense fielding anything larger. Hence 'aviation cruisers', if they ever did exist to fulfil a valid role, were a lot more about fielding more helos for ASW in a convoy escort setting, than any sort of power projection.
 
The only conceivable employment of fixed wing on escorts I can see is unmanned - the use of a UAV as a form of extending your sensor coverage - loitering high with a radar and datalink for extended periods of time. The only conceivable use of armed fixed wing from escorts would be if you gave this UAV an AShM on the off-chance it might detect surface shipping.
 
Seriously though, what role would this aviation cruiser fulfil? It risks being too large and unwieldy to make a decent combatant, but carrying too few aircraft (or perhaps the wrong type) to make it a decent air-capable ship.
 
Looking at the 3 originally-stated roles, if you want flexibility thats available from existing escorts, capital ships and auxiliaries, as well as a new crop of 'modular/tailorable' warships. If you want an intermediate level of AEW go with AEW helos such as Sea King ASAC7, or perhaps a UAV mounted radar. If you want amphibious landing you probably want something either a lot smaller, more gunboat-like and cheaper than a cruiser-flattop, or a full-on large-displacement LPD/LPH/CV/auxiliary, or other options - submarine, parachute, existing FF/DDGs at a push.
 
If you want small carriers, get something in the range of the Invincibles, or if you want to carry out strike from an escort, the Arleigh Burkes and Ticos have TLAM, and there are additionally a lot of other assets in the national arsenal that can do that for you.
 
About the only role I can see an aviation cruiser fulfilling is that of providing a lot of air-based ASW. Now surely LCS fills this role, as would any number of other helo-capable ships from a CVS, auxiliaries, through an LPH. The problem with this is, I didn't realise that any first world navies were ranking convoy protection as highly important at the moment. Thats the only scenario I can really think of that'd warrant such a ship - for everything else you already have dedicated air, surface and subsurface ASW units, and you'll soon have multiple helos from the LCS.
 
So what mission would this fulfil? Certain ship types may catch your eye but its unlikely battleships and seaplane carriers will ever make a comeback either and such is life - just because something 'looks good' or 'sounds cool' doesn't mean it'd find application or make sense in the real world. The way to do this, is to define the role and then design the solution, not to decide on a ship and then have to search for some justification for building it.
 
 
 
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Dimitri       11/7/2007 8:46:18 PM
Ahh in para 2 of my last, should've read that it makes little sense fielding any carrier SMALLER than an Invincible, my bad!
 
 
 
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B.Smitty       11/8/2007 9:32:13 AM
I'm not a big fan of an aviation cruiser, per se, but I do think the idea of a pure, small-deck carrier deserves a look.

ASW, MIW and small-boat ASuW can benefit greatly from a large number of helicopters and UAVs. 

An aviation ship could have the flexibility to carry a large number of small helicopters for combating small boat swarms, or a smaller number of EH101 and MH-53s for minesweeping and minehunting and long-ranged ASW.  

It could act as an MCS(X), replacing the Inchon.  

Large helicopters offer significant advantages for minesweeping (IIRC, a single MH-53E is the equivalent of 5 CH-60S's towing OASIS in terms of area coverage.  I imagine an MH-53K would have an even higher ratio)

Properly configured, it could carry fixed and rotary wing UAVs as well.  Fixed-wing UAVs can fly at higher altitudes and have longer endurance than rotary-wing UAVs, permitting greater sensor coverage.   

In a pinch, or if deployed independently from a CVBG, it could also carry F-35Bs or Harriers, as other's have said - more of a nice to have feature than a requirement IMHO.

Consolidating rotary aviation aboard a single ship rather than distributed amongst surface warships has long term maintenance benefits, as spares and support personnel can be pooled.  On the flip side, consolidation puts all your eggs in one basket.  A large aviation ship might carry more aviation fuel and munitions than an equivalent aviation package split amongst surface combantants.  On the other hand, it may have to rely on longer-ranged helicopters to cover the same area as distributed aviation.

Lastly, ASW and MIW capabilities are moving towards deploying remote UUV, USV and semi-fixed sensor fields.  Currently, much of the thinking revolves around deploying these systems from LCS or another warship.  But this could require the LCS to get relatively close to threat systems.  Plus deployment can only be at the speed of the ship. 

Instead, one could envision repackaging systems such as AN/WLD-1, Sea Predator and Spartan as sling or internal payloads for CH-53Ks or other large helicopters.  A helicopter could deploy one or more unmanned systems at 100+kts, return to the aviation ship at 160kts, get another and deploy it, until the field is complete.  This could greatly speed setting up a sensor field over deployment via ship.  It would also provide greater standoff for the ship.  In theory, the helicopter could even refuel these unmanned systems, giving them near indefinite endurance.

I'm not sure what the optimal size of such an aviation ship would be.  It makes some sense to base it on an existing hull to reduce development costs.  The obvious choice for the USN would be to base it on the LPD-17.  This would give you a 20-30000 ton aviation ship with up to 30 helicopters. 

The price of such a ship might drive one towards a smaller vessel that could be bought in larger numbers.  However I think for such a ship to shine, it needs to retain the ability to deploy a useful number of H-53s.  This would constrain the minimum size. 


 
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Charles99       11/9/2007 1:03:22 AM
Well the idea of an aviation support ship is definately a good one. 

 My thing is that we're becoming more and more focused on the future use of UAV's and UCAV's, and it seems to be a good idea to A. have other places to put them then on big deck carriers (because as much as possible they should be preserved for the assets that can only fly OFF their decks) and B. A general avaiation support design makes sense because as yet we really don't know what form the future aviation assets are going to take, and a ship with a larger aviation capability is more likely to be flexible enough to accept changes.  (I recall one suggestion, a very nice suggestio for a ship that was designed to handle UCAV's, all sorts of automated handling systems, that largely ran aground on the fact that every UAV he proposed was a "notational model" and there was no guarentee that the final real designs would be anything close to compatible with such a design. 

 
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B.Smitty       11/9/2007 9:57:21 AM
I agree.  An aviation support ship should be designed to operate advanced naval UAVs and UCAVs, perhaps even with a scaled down EMALS/JPALS.  However since these projects are notional (at best), such a ship could still provide significant rotary and STOVL aviation capabilities in situations where we don't need a full-blown CVBG or ESG (e.g. Global Fleet Station, GWOT and counter-piracy deployments).

If it's large enough, and we go forward with a common-hulled, nuclear CGN(X), perhaps this aviation ship could even be nuclear powered.  This would have obvious logistics advantages for long-term deployments.   Of course it would jack up the price dramatically.
 
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