Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Auxiliary Cruisers

Modular inserts for our Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) made me think of creating logistics support ships from civilian ships to support allied ships. It seemed like a logical force multiplier for the thousand ship fleet concept where we leverage allied navies to work with ours to create the effect of a thousand American warships.

On further thought, why does this concept have to be limited to support ships? I've read that for cost-savings and because of the reduction in shipyards focused on warships, we are using civilian standards for some warships. Why not revive the idea of auxiliary cruisers?

Once, civilian ships could be drafted with guns bolted to the decks and Navy crews put on board. They were useful for scouting or patrol work. They provided numbers that the active Navy could not provide. They couldn't fight first class enemies, but they provided needed services.

To create auxiliary cruisers, we could build and stockpile modules in shipping containers that include missiles (SAMs and SSMs) and fire control as well as modules with gun turrets for smaller weapons, 57mm or smaller. Other modules could support helicopters or UAVs. Other modules would contain the command and communications gear to plug the ship into the Navy network. Naval reservists could be assigned to these modules and could train with them during peacetime.

In war, the modules could be attached to the decks of conscripted civilian ships and create instant warships. If plugged into the Navy's network, they'd contribute tremendous offensive power at low cost. In this case, they'd be a tremendous asset compared to the traditional auxiliary cruisers. And with our current fleet of few but high quality ships, the lack of numbers means we simply can't go everywhere we need to or must use a ship with more capability than needed because nothing else is available. Auxiliary cruisers would provide the numbers we need in war.

It used to be quite common to use civilian ships in wartime. Are we at the point where we can resurrect this concept for generating firepower and numbers of hulls quickly? Do we really need allies to have a thousand ship fleet?

UPDATE: See page 50 ("The AFRICOM Queen") for my fleshed out published idea focused on using the concept to make modularized auxiliary cruisers as power projection platforms for ground forces.