The evolving role of warships in the 21st century navy



One need only witness the grandeur of the Royal Navy Carrier Strike Group led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to recognize that there is a renewed international interest in the projection of maritime power, and that warships are the heart of it.

The UK, as an island nation, has long emphasized sea power and the projection of expeditionary power. It is also a country which has several overseas territories and which is highly dependent on international trade and the free movement of goods via sea routes.

But a recent change in the threat environment dating back to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea has prompted NATO allies who had spent the past ten to fifteen years to focus on counter operations. insurgency and counterterrorism to focus again on territorial defense threats abroad. There is also a growing awareness of the rise of China, which has made big investments in naval capabilities with the People’s Liberation Army Navy increasing in size and sophistication.

According to RAND Europe research manager James Black, while in the past the answer would have been driven by numbers and tonnage, the focus is starting to shift.

“There is always a political focus on numbers, especially in the United States, but nowadays more and more people are thinking more about systems and effects, including ships or unmanned vessels – small or large, in water or in flight or underwater – as part of a larger system of systems, ”says Black.

Black adds that automating a significant proportion of activities that currently depend on personnel would significantly reduce the cost of naval operations and increase efficiency, potentially allowing for a larger force.

Unmanned assets

The United States Navy is clearly behind this, having recently committed $ 374 million in research and development funding for Large Unmanned Armed Surface Vessels (LUSVs), which, up to 300 feet in length, are said to be the same size as the frigates.

“The United States is in a position to have a highly equipped and capable navy, but it is in a recapitalization race,” says Black. “It has different classes of ships, some of which are older and will need to be renewed in the next ten to twenty years.

“At the same time, it has the ambition to increase the size of the fleet to 355 vessels. They probably don’t currently plan to count unmanned rigs in the total, but they are aware that unmanned assets could allow them to increase overall mass. This is not only in terms of the number of ships, but also things like the missile tubes, which is important because when some of the submarines are out of service you are potentially faced with a reduction in the number of missile tubes. missiles.

Black explains that an unmanned replacement could take the form of a large, floating missile tube magazine, outfitted with command-and-control software and sensors, providing additional firepower.
“Likewise, if you have small unmanned ships that are potentially armed; they can support a traditional armed and manned ship that serves as a mother ship for various smaller autonomous systems, ”he adds. “They can also access sensing nodes within this system, so you can help your crew resources survive and keep people a little further away and out of harm’s way.”

System of systems

Over the next ten to twenty years, Black predicts a new tendency to view ships more as part of a system of systems, which will lead Marines less to wonder whether they want to design a single warship or sub- sailor and more on what capabilities they need to deliver and how they fit into other areas.
“We see that the United States Marine Corps is thinking more and more about how they can’t just fight from sea to land, as is traditionally their role when relying on amphibious operations from large platforms at sea, ”says Black.

“They move in and out of land and sea, working in small, nimble groups, deploying to islands, then firing anti-ship missiles to eliminate enemy resources at sea. Fighting from land to land. sea; reverse this dynamic.

The system of systems approach will further blur boundaries by allowing a crewed vessel to work with unmanned surface, submarine or aerial resources. This is reflected in the modern design of the frigates with mission bays from which to deploy them.

“Marines can also reconfigure a ship in a potentially short enough time for different types of missions,” Black adds. “It can be as simple as an ISO standard container that can hold an unmanned ship, electronic warfare equipment, or disaster relief equipment, and you can swap them inside and out.”

Containerized assets also provide navies with the ability to easily reconfigure civilian ships. This not only provides additional capabilities, but could operate in a part of the world where a discreet, unobservable, and potentially denialed ship would be preferable to a declared warship.

Other factors influencing the design of modern warships include survivability in terms of armor and defensive measures and the ability to deploy in terms of operating time away from port and autonomously.

“Part of that also has to do with not only the design of the warship, but also things like how you equip the ships,” says Black. “Do you leave a ship somewhere in a certain part of the world and rotate multiple crews through that ship rather than bringing it back to port to re-equip?” ”

In this situation, unmanned assets provide new opportunities for moving people, equipment, food and stores on and off ships. This further increases deployment time, maximizing time at sea and minimizing time spent in port.

Barriers to adoption

Black concludes by cautioning that while there is a lot of potential in the technology and the navies are investing a lot in it, there are also barriers to implementing this technology.

“If you look at the US Navy and its funding for the LUSV program, Congress has been skeptical and withheld a lot of the money. This made the US Navy think “that a large unmanned system is a solution to our problems.” It’s not just about fancy stuff like jamming and cyber, but also things like will the ship move fast enough to keep up with the rest of your fleet, or is it going to slow the speed down. rest ? Black said.

“No one knows exactly what the navies will look like ten or twenty years from now. A lot of companies will try to sell a vision, but I don’t think there’s a clear agreement on how it’s going to work, and most of the challenges are more about things like culture and doctrine, organization. and procurement – the human side of things, the social side of things – rather than technology.

“The challenges that naval engineers and architects face are tough, but I think the challenges they face. policymakers – who find out how they get these things through traditional, slow procurement processes where they buy a ship every 15 years – I think that’s almost the hardest issue.



Comments are closed.