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Subject: Fairly Radical But....
Yimmy    4/28/2007 2:11:14 PM
Given the expense of operating destroyer and frigate escorts, and (arguably) the main role of naval power being to provide a presence on foreign shores in amphibious sea-lift operations in support of army forces conducting expeditions - could we create a surge fleet capacity consisting of civilian cargo ships and ferries taken from trade? Given the reduced manning requirements to operate civilian shipping compared to warships (of course with a resulting lack of damage control etc), and the availability of moderm "bolt on" weapons and "fitted for but not with", would it be possible to train a cadre of sailors, buy many of these bolt on weapons, and then in time of need take ships as needed? The sailors trained by the RN, could be lent out to civilian shipping, to save money when not called-up to service. While we could fill out a properly conditioned hangar with numerous Sea-RAM, Phalanx, Harpoon and Stingray mounts. I know it is common practice already to hire civilian shipping to move much of our heavy assets, so it isn't really too much of an extension. They wouldn't be suitable for the front-line as it were, but it would provide a great surge armed merchantman capacity. Possible?
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Iano_returns       4/30/2007 7:47:51 AM
STUFT (Ships Taken Up From Trade) have always been a capability, economics don't allow a nation to build huge numbers of troop transports and train crews for them to have them sitting next to the wall.
For the initial landing there are LPHs and LPDs such as OCEAN and ALBION, for follow-on there are RFAs such as the LSLs and now the new LSD(A)s. Then there are leased vessels like the Point class Ro-ro ships and STUFT.
You could never propose ships as you describe for the initial landing operations. They would be unsuited to the operational environment and their crews, being effectively leased out to the merchant service most of the time, would be equally unsuited, and unable to provide the numbers required for endurance during extended periods of Defence Watches, or for Damage Control. Thats why we have proper warships such as OCEAN and the ALBION class for this. To be honest, I would not even want the up-rated merchant ships in the second wave when some risk still exists (leave that to the RFA LSLs and LSD(A)s etc - while they are not warships they are at least trained to operate under hazardous conditions).
Leased vessels like the Points and STUFT play a role after this - probably when you have secured a deepwater port, or have freed-up landing craft/have lighterage available to transfer stores/forces ashore from a STUFT at anchor. In this case the threat to the shipping should be lower and escorts should be detailed to protect the shipping - why the Harpoon armed merchantman cruiser concept? Why Stingray when you are probably taking your STUFT into waters that submarines cannot get into, and have forces in the area to provide ASW protection?
Merchant vessels should have a liability to being taken up by HM Government in the case of war and crises - I am not sure of the legal system in place at the moment. But the RN training merchant seamen as a matter of course? Unlikely, it would eat into both the merchant owners profits and the RNs resources.
How about this? When a ship is earmarked for STUFT duties a RN liaison party is sent aboard - an officer or two to see that the ship acts in accordance with the taskgroup intent and to assist with watchkeeping duties in the higher-threat-level environment, a number of OMs to operate short range defensive gunnery and a few WE types to maintain the weaponry and associated systems. Armaments are fitted to pre-determined spots on the upperdeck to allow self protection - 20 and 30mm's, GPMGs, miniguns, shoulder-launched SAMs that are held in reserve for just this purpose. Fit standalone countermeasures that can be operated with the minimum of host-vessel infrastructure required. Don't limit it to just abovewater, fit a towed torpedo decoy if the ships signature can be replicated by the equipment in use and it doesn't interfere with the prop/rudder set-up. Fit a comms system whereby the ship can receive operational information to keep it appraised of the situation - if they can fit Blue Force Tracker in a soft-skinned vehicle how hard can it be? Pass a law that British-flagged merchant ships have suitable sites on the upperdeck reserved for the fitting of defensive weaponry and countermeasures, and have excess capacity in their lifeboats (got to accomodate the extra RN personnel). The RN liaison party bolster numbers available for damage control, and exercise/train the merchant seamen during the journey to wherever, so that standards are as high as possible.
This is mostly what we have already done. STUFT ships in the Falklands were even outfitted with helicopter pads to operate their own aircraft. Harriers have landed on container ships, although as a last resort when the fuel is running low. The RNR has a branch dedicated to cooperating with the merchant service. We already use STUFT, we augment their crews with RN personnel and even arm them. A few improvements/additions could be made to the system I should imagine, as they could with anything, but it is certainly no huge capability gap.
Another poster (perhaps on the What is Sea Power for? thread) discussed the possibility of CIWS/point defence weapons being mounted in a shipping container that is simply loaded onto the merchantman in question, giving it self-protection easily. That could prove interesting, if it can be made to work on the various different types of merchantman layout you might expect to press into service.
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VGNTMH    Converted Merchant Ships   4/30/2007 8:41:12 PM
 I think that Yimmy’s idea has lots of merit. I also think that using STUFT ships for some Naval tasks is becoming more and more possible with several technological advances. And I envisage the roles of these STUFT ships not primarily being amphibious, but other tasks such as ASW and MCM.

Containerized Equipment

Firstly, containerized equipment such as:

·         VL missiles
·         Radars

·         Phalanx or Sea RAM mountings

·         Combat systems


Now allow for much easier merchant ship conversion.


Platform for other Vehicles

The second trend in favour of using merchant ships is the growth in importance of helicopters, UAVs, and even USVs for Naval tasks. ASW, MCM, and many surveillance tasks can now be (best) done by off ship platforms. And these off ship platforms can be deployed just as easily from converted merchant ships than frigates, maybe even more easily!


Here are some examples of uses I see for converted merchant ships:

·         A container ship helicopter carrier for ASW, MCM, and thus SLOC protection. (And even air defense if F-35Bs are available!)

·         A high speed catamaran or trimaran converted to a ASW helicopter carrier. After all, the preferred USN littoral ASW platform is rapidly becoming a HSV with the new ASW helicopters (S-70Rs?).

·         A high speed catamaran or trimaran converted to a UAV and helicopter capable offshore patrol helicopter carrier.

·         Air defense ship with containerized fixed CEAFAR placed high on stacked containers, containerized VL SAMs, a containerized converted GBAD combat system, and JLENS.

·         Cruise missile arsenal ship (well maybe not such as good idea …..)

·         A mixed container, RORO, and barge/lighter carrier converted into almost perfect amphibious ship!

 Building Ships Designed for Conversion

Also remember that nothing stops ships being pre designed for conversion.

For instance, a container ship could be pre designed and pre built with:

·         A very low forward bridge superstructure

·         A very low aft funnel superstructure

·         Its hull divided into 16-24 water tight compartments

Ready for quick conversion to a helicopter CVE using:

·         Two rows of containers

·         Prefabricated flat top and lifts

·         Containerized aircraft maintenance equipment

Building ships pre designed for conversion is not new. E.g. the Imperial Japanese Navy carriers Zuiho and Shoho, designed as fast submarine tenders and tankers with the intent to convert them to light carriers. Which in fact happened.

Damage Resistance and Robustness

One thing which could alleviate the worries of merchant ships not being built to Naval standards damage control wise would be to use stacked containers filled with water or kevlar as armour and others filled with something buoyant in the hull. After all, British Q shi

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kirby1       4/30/2007 9:04:00 PM
While not a suitable sub to a full out warship, Such a system would be an effective option for smaller navies. A decently large container ship can act as a small helo carrier. Fishing boats and the like have always been good for covert operations and signals intelligence.
I see two paths for your idea, modularization, and modification.
Modularization would involve building packages, (Such as shipping containers,) and in the event of war placing them on freindly civilian ships. Modularization could prove difficult however, all ships are at least vaguely different. Problems may arise with antennaes and weapons being able to clear deck obstacles such as cranes and superstructures. Even temporary quartering could provide troublesome if the host ship can't provide the necessary water and electrical/fuel needs of your containerized systems. I imagine that any such systems will be more then slightly buggy, and a few tricky incidents will occur. There is also the fact that you have to find a way to get your modules to your ships. You either have to call them back into port to get the modules installed, (Difficulty depends on how far out they are, their current cargo, and your dock facilities) or you have to move the modules out to them via heavy helicopter or ship. (quick, but extremely challenging, and if you can afford a decent fleet of heavy lift helicopters, you could probably afford a few corvettes or missile boats.)
The next option is to modify vessels to cross from civilian to military purposes with little or no modification. This would be alot easier with a nationalized fleet of ships. For example, when the nationalized line says they are ordering the construction of a small fleet of large ferry boats, write in a request that the boats also be able to carry X amount of certain sized armored vehicles as well. When the nationalized fleet buys a cruise ship, add some extra comm masts and some extra space for electronics to be installed. In the event of war, the ferry gets turned over to the navy, who uses it as a RORO transport. The cruiseliner becomes a command center and troop transport. The nationalized line gives you the leeway necessary to write in all the required redtape to take over the fleet in the line of war, the military pays for the added costs of any military modifications (Such as making the ferry just a little wider and a little heavier incase it ever needs to handle APCs) In the event of war you already have your playbook sitting there, everyone knows what to do. Theres no negotiating with captains and companies to take over thier ships. Some small quick mods will have to be performed. Weapons will have to be taken aboard, additional computers and comm systems will have to be hooked up and powered up, but your military crews will know what they're working with, the ships will come already modded to handle the work your giving them, and everything you need will already be sitting there just waiting to be plugged up and used. Training can be scheduled in for your navy teams. Two or three times a year, they come to the ship, plug in thier hardware, and practice going to war.
Its not a replacement for a genuine navy with purpose built warships, but it is a good way to get some extra numbers up and reduce overall fleet expenditures.
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smitty237       4/30/2007 11:33:36 PM
I'm not much of a naval guy at all, but this sounds a lot like what the United States did with its Merchant Marine force during WWII.  Of course they didn't have the sophisticated anti-ship missiles or electronics, but many of them were armed to defend themselves.  More than a few Merchant Marine sailors were decorated for valor in combat, and I think even one, maybe more, was awarded the Medal of Honor.  In theory this crosses the lines between combatants and non-combatants, but as both world wars and the War on Terror has shown us, non-combatants can easily find themselves in the crosshairs if the enemy considers them a legitimate target.  Perhaps they should be given the ability to defend themselves. 
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andyf    hmmm   5/1/2007 11:15:58 AM
you do of course realise that these containerised ciws etc would be just dandy for transporting in to a beachhead as defensive posts?
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