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Merchant Aircraft Carriers for the 21st Century?

Grey Havoc

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A Quick and Cheap Power Projection Alternative for Japan

by KYLE MIZOKAMI on Jan 26, 2012 • 4:53 pm



Helicopters and air-cushioned landing craft ferry troops and equipment ashore in a computer-generated conceptual image of an afloat forward staging base. The AFSB concept provides an afloat platform for in-theater military operations and enhances the U.S. military’s force projection capability.



Over at the USNI Blog, Galrahn posted a link to a marketing article by the shipping company Maersk Line. Galrahn calls it “A Potential Plan B for Seabasing“. The article discusses converting Maersk commercial container ships into Afloat Forward Staging Bases, complete with everything from a 14 V-22 Osprey-capable flight deck to the ability to load LCACs at sea. Watch the video, it’s really interesting.

This may be a “Plan B” for the U.S. Navy, but it’s also a compelling “Plan A” for other countries, in this case the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces. A converted shipping vessel would plug a lot of holes in Japan’s limited power-projection capability. The ships would still have a fundamentally defensive function, and would accommodate the following roles:


•Support of amphibious operations. Japan has a need for dedicated amphibious ships, particularly in
the Senkaku Islands. A ship like this could provide command and control and act as mother ship to
a number of smaller ships, particularly Joint High Speed Vehicle-type ships. Another vessel would
have to carry LCACs into theater, but that’s where the Osumi-class LSTs come in.

•Disaster relief. A 1,140 foot ship with a 140 foot beam could pack a lot of disaster relief supplies.
Build in extra water desalination, electricity generation, and an extensive medical suite on par with
the Wasp-class amphibious ships and you’d have a capable platform for responding to natural disasters
of the 3/11 variety.

•Sea control. Due to their size, most of the islands in the Senkaku chain are incapable of basing
warplanes, meaning that air power has to be projected from Okinawa and the mainland. This could be
a compelling and affordable first step for Japan in the direction of fixed-wing naval aviation. Modifying
the Hyuga-class helicopter destroyers for fixed-wing is not a good solution: American big-deck
amphibious ships such as Wasp and Makin Island can only accommodate 13-15 F-35Bs in a sea control
mission. Hyuga and her sister ship Ise are only half as large in displacement, with a flight deck 50
meters shorter than the Wasp-class, which doesn’t bode as well for F-35 accommodations. Afloat
Forward Staging Base has lots of flight deck.


Such a ship would be very useful in defending Japan’s far-flung archipelago, carrying a small F-35 complement, ground troops, transport helicopters, medical services, command and control–the whole package, or some mix of it. Offload the helicopters to Hyuga to increase deck space for F-35s. Even better, have more than one AFSB.

There are downsides. Having the bridge 2/3 of the way down the flight deck is not ideal for aircraft, especially fixed-wing. A converted shipping vessel is not built to take damage the way purpose-built naval vessels are. The ship would need to be strongly defended. But you can’t have everything.

Can’t buy a big amphibious vessel outright? The Diet can’t decide to fund a disaster relief ship? Don’t have $8-13 billion dollars to fund a supercarrier? AFSB can sort of do all of these things, for less money! It’s not a perfect solution to everything, but it’s a far more affordable one.

http://newpacificinstitute.org/jsw/?p=9830
 

bigvlada

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That's not a new idea, it was widely used in WW2. On the other hand, having a naval aviation is expensive and I do not know how many countries have the need for aircraft carriers, real or converted ones.
 

phil gollin

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.

See the "Arapaho" (? spelling ?) project.

This was for a container ship with a flightdeck on top of a layer of containers with containers forming a shelter which also contained portable equipment needed to service and maintain the helicopters.

--------------------------

Edit :-

See, for instance ;

http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1983/1983%20-%201072.html

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=itUDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA144&lpg=PA144&dq=arapaho+container+ship&source=bl&ots=WJKpEYvmfa&sig=eruWzg556eaGrlggfH1Kx9SSVyE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=IMUjT4GILOWm0QWmq7HOCg&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=arapaho%20container%20ship&f=false

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/arapaho.htm

.
 

Evil Flower

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Wouldn't this be almost as expensive as building a proper carrier? Just because you have an existing hull to modify doesn't mean all the infrastructure needed by a naval air wing goes away.
 

blackstar

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Evil Flower said:
Wouldn't this be almost as expensive as building a proper carrier? Just because you have an existing hull to modify doesn't mean all the infrastructure needed by a naval air wing goes away.

No, it should cost less. I think the concept was that they would do less maintenance onboard. They wouldn't fully support an air wing and would have to rely much more on other assets. The ship would primarily be intended for temporary operations. Less cost, but much less capability.
 

Grey Havoc

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Think of it as a floating Forward Operating Location, with a few more frills.
 

Graham1973

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I've got a book with photos of an 'Arapaho-lite' conversion that was carried out for the Falklands war, but the war finished before the conversion was complete.

I'll see if I can scan the pictures tonight and post them.
 

Sea Skimmer

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That video must be less then recent since it shows the older lavish concept for Mobile Landing Platform, 2009 I'd guess is the date. Also this idea works well until the ship catches on fire or is otherwise threatened in any way at which point it becomes a massive and very costly loss. Too much fuel, ammo and equipment alongside too many men.
 

Graham1973

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The three photographs attached are of the Astronomer, the last of four merchant ships converted to aircraft ferries by the Royal Navy during the Falklands War (The others were Atlantic Conveyor (Sunk), Atlantic Causeway, Contender Bezant (Later converted to RFA Argus)).

The Astronomers conversion was initiated after the sinking of the Atlantic Conveyor and lasted from the 31st of May to the 7th of June 1982. The war ended before she reached the combat area. Armament fitted included:

20mm Oerlikon
2x Chaff launchers
1x Unifoxer decoy

The attached photographs were all sourced from "Merchant Ships at War: The Falklands Experience" by Cap. John Villar (Conway Maritime Press, 1984). Interestingly the book indicates that Astronomer was also considered for a conversion similar to the one carried out on the Contender Bezant.

The Photographs are:

1. Astronomer under conversion
2. Astronomer at sea after conversion
3. Aircraft refuelling arrangements
 

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JFC Fuller

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Graham1973,

Thanks for posting. My understanding is that Astronomer became RFA Reliant and was fitted with the Arapaho/SCADS system but that proved totally inadequate and the ship was decommissioned in May 1986 (purely from memory though so please correct me if I am wrong!). This is the first I have heard of an Argus style reconstruction being proposed for her, could elaborate (if the book you mention has any further detail) whether such a conversion was proposed in addition to Argus or instead of that ship?
 

Graham1973

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sealordlawrence said:
Graham1973,

Thanks for posting. My understanding is that Astronomer became RFA Reliant and was fitted with the Arapaho/SCADS system but that proved totally inadequate and the ship was decommissioned in May 1986 (purely from memory though so please correct me if I am wrong!). This is the first I have heard of an Argus style reconstruction being proposed for her, could elaborate (if the book you mention has any further detail) whether such a conversion was proposed in addition to Argus or instead of that ship?

Your information leads me to believe I may have misread the relevant statement which I'll quote below in full:

It is thus most significant that the Navy has taken up Astronomer again for conversion to a helicopter ship using parts of the Arapaho project equipment to help them.

Capt. Roger Villar, Merchant Ships at War: The Falklands Experience, Conway Marine Press, 1984, pg 88

I think now that it may refer to the more limited conversion you describe. See also the flightglobal link in the post by Phil Gollin
 

blackstar

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I vaguely remember that one of the suggestions that came out of the Falklands experience was the need to modularize some self-defense weapons systems like Phalanx or later Goalkeeper, so that they could be rapidly deployed. The weapon and control system would all be put on a standard shipping container so that it could be easily placed on a container ship converted for this purpose. I don't know if this idea ever got anywhere, however.
 

Grey Havoc

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blackstar said:
I vaguely remember that one of the suggestions that came out of the Falklands experience was the need to modularize some self-defense weapons systems like Phalanx or later Goalkeeper, so that they could be rapidly deployed. The weapon and control system would all be put on a standard shipping container so that it could be easily placed on a container ship converted for this purpose. I don't know if this idea ever got anywhere, however.

A containerised version of the 'lightweight Seawolf' i.e. GWS 26 Mod 2 (Seacat derived launcher, 4 rounds, fire control Marconi Radar 805SW?) was developed for container ships, but the Cold War ended before production could start (mostly political delays as I understand it), also killing GWS 26 Mod 2 itself (originally intended to be fitted initially on seven vessels, the three Invincible class aircraft carriers and four Type 42 Batch 3 destroyers).

Vickers also developed a containerised Seawolf system using a rapid reload two round launcher especially for merchantmen in the early 1980's, called the Seawolf/VM40

From the Sea Wolf and Sea Dart: Unbuilt Derivatives and Cancelled Applications thread, the GWS 26 Mod 2 lightweight launcher (left) and Seawolf/VM40 launcher (right):

 

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The Brooklands museum has a large scale model of a container ship ('MV Container Defence', made by BAe Kingston) with a SCADS system including the four-round launcher posted by Grey Havoc.

(sorry for the photo quality, I've got better detail shots but the overall ones are hindered by the display case)
 

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Bgray

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I wouldn't like these to ever be in a combat situation-- but something like that, especially if it could be quickly modified to the flight design, woudl be excellent for disaster relief operations.
 

bigvlada

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I wouldn't like these to ever be in a combat situation-- but something like that, especially if it could be quickly modified to the flight design, woudl be excellent for disaster relief operations.
Oh, that is a nice idea. The world could have used something like that in Haiti. Helicopter carrier and emergency hospital, plus some sort of accomodation, at least for children.
 

Hobbes

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A bulk carrier would need a complete rebuild to carry containers, and ships that large can only enter a few ports.

A container ship is more flexible: you can change its cargo at any container port, to tailor the ship for whatever event you're responding to.
 

Grey Havoc

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•Support of amphibious operations. Japan has a need for dedicated amphibious ships, particularly in
the Senkaku Islands. A ship like this could provide command and control and act as mother ship to
a number of smaller ships, particularly Joint High Speed Vehicle-type ships. Another vessel would
have to carry LCACs into theater, but that’s where the Osumi-class LSTs come in.

With the way things are going in that area right now, the idea of Japan funding an AFSB, possibly as a JCG rather than MSDF operated platform, is likely to get more traction.
 

PMN1

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Hobbes said:
A bulk carrier would need a complete rebuild to carry containers, and ships that large can only enter a few ports.

A container ship is more flexible: you can change its cargo at any container port, to tailor the ship for whatever event you're responding to.

You can get bulk container hybrids - Conbulkers with either holds that can take bulk or containers or alternating holds for bulk only and containers only.

http://isship.de/content/view/31/66/

The example above has machinery that would get in the way of a flight deck but there were designs that were gearless and relied on shore cranes for loading and unloading.
 
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What about the French approach? That is, simply building your amphib to cheaper commercial standards with commercial machinery.
 

PMN1

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How about the latest generation of Ro-Ro's such as the MV Tonsberg



Nice potential hanger there where the heavy plant machinery is carried....give the basic design a deckedge lift or two that doesn't cut into the cargo capacity but folds up out of the way in peacetime and you could have a nice emergency carrier for helicopters of if you are being really adventurous you could have the basic design with its superstructure to one side.........

Specs of the Tonsberg - as you can see some of the decks are hoistable so you could get quite a good hanger height

http://www.wilhelmsenasa.com/aboutus/ourbusiness/thefleet/Pages/Tonsberg.aspx

http://www.wilhelmsenasa.com/media/pressreleases/Pages/WilhWilhelmsenlaunchesnextgenerationcargovessel.aspx

http://www.ship-technology.com/projects/mv-tonsberg-roro-vessel/
 

shedofdread

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I'm no naval architect but are vessels like this stable enough to be aircraft carriers? The [apparent] ratio of mass above the water line to that below doesn't suggest they are. Or am I missing something? If I was designing such a thing, I wouldn't want to rely on artificial stabilisation to conduct flight ops - what happens when that fails (for whatever reason)?
 

PMN1

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shedofdread said:
I'm no naval architect but are vessels like this stable enough to be aircraft carriers? The [apparent] ratio of mass above the water line to that below doesn't suggest they are. Or am I missing something? If I was designing such a thing, I wouldn't want to rely on artificial stabilisation to conduct flight ops - what happens when that fails (for whatever reason)?

Cougar Ace listed at 60 degrees and survived - the key is keeping the water out so how much freeboard the 'hanger deck' has is going to be important. Be interesting to see what freeboard there is for US carriers with deck edge lift, IIRC the rebult Midways were very low in the water.

Also be interesting to see if the 'hanger deck' could be moved up a bit and still keep the stability and commercial use - use of hoistable decks could increase the ehadroom available.
 

pathology_doc

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It's no replacement for even a through-deck cruiser, but Harrier or VTOL-capable-F-35 pilots out of weapons and low on fuel might appreciate somewhere they could touch down, rearm, refuel and make a hop back to a more permanent base (or a tanker aircraft in friendlier skies). Yeah, I know, vertical takeoff eats massively into weapon load and range, but surely it's better than ditching.
 

Sea Skimmer

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F-35B isn't required by the program to have a vertical takeoff capability at all. Obviously it should be possible if a landing is, and max thrust is supposed to be about 40,000lb against about ~32,500lb empty weight. Say 6000lb of fuel and 2,000lb thrust margin to actually move the plane would be enough to get you at least several hundred miles, but this means it isn't going to be a well tested feature. Shouldn't matter though since any improvised carrier with a deck big and strong enough for an F-35B will probably have enough space for a short takeoff roll. That's why they didn't bother making VTOL a requirement, unlike Harrier which really was supposed to rise off tennis courts to engage the godless communist invaders. Lack of VTOL would only be an issue if you landed on a ships helicopter pad, and that is unlikely to be an option because of other limitations. And heck , if you did land and couldn't get back in the air maybe the ship could just carry the fighter home? At 100 million it would be worth it unless you had to push it over the side to save a helo crew from ditching.
 

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One of the biggest concerns with these concepts is that they are "black hulls" vice "grey hulls". I am told by my Navy friends that this is shorthand for "not stressed for combat" versus "designed for combat". I am way out of my lane here but I recall a plethoria of reasons for this being not worth the risk of so many personnel and expensive equipment. Minimal damage control, inadequate fire fighting (Atlantic Conveyor?), inadequate redundancy in a multitude of marine warfare requirements. I seem to recall concern about them becoming "missile magnets" that would consume alot of protective barrier. Then there is the issue of who crews the darn thing and how many combatants are you willing to drop off the books to run them.
I would agree that as a platform for Humanitarian Assistance and Non-Combatant Evacuation it would be handy.
 

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BAe SCADS (Shipbourne Containerised Air Defence System) brochure found on ebay.

Source:
http://www.ebay.com/itm/BAe-SCADS-Shipbourne-containerised-air-defence-system-Brochure-c1980s-/140892222749?pt=UK_Collectables_Militaria_LE&hash=item20cdd4b51d
 

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Rickshaw

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I wonder why they decided to put all the aviation fuel in that location? Not that there would be much difference but I'd have thought forward, away from the bridge and machinery spaces would have been a better place.
 

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Most likely because the aircraft would be fueled directly over that part of the ship when spotted prior to takeoff, and the container concept makes long plumbing runs undesirable in terms of installation time. Moving the fuel forward would also place it closer to the proposed weapons storage area. In the end I don't think it would make much difference how you did it. A ship like this will burn like mad if hit.
 

kcran567

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Kadija_Man said:
Grey Havoc said:

Can't quite see how they can save any money on that, if they impose all the USN requirements. Simply putting it all into a commercial hull means you end up with a warship that isn't significantly cheaper but a lot more vulnerable.


If it isn't significantly cheaper then you are right. But if it is, it might be a good idea. When was the last time a US carrier took a hit in conflict for example, when is wasn't in port ie the Yemen boat attack. carriers are well defended and if they did take a hit from a modern missile would a hardened hull fare any better or would it also be out of commission afterwards as well?
 

Rickshaw

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Carriers are vulnerable, all ships are. The difference between a commercial hull and a naval hull is the degree of compartmentalisation which is built in. If you ship takes a hit, if it isn't structurally strong and heavily compartmentalised, it will either break the ship's back or cause excessive flooding to the point where it can't be stopped from sinking.

I would suggest that this is a case of "penny wise, pound foolish". As HMS Sheffield demonstrated - once the accountants determine naval design, corners get cut and those corners are invariably what help a ship survive. Sheffield was stuffed full of flammable material and its cable-ways weren't designed to prevent the spread of fire. Its pumps had IIRC only one intake - which of course when the pipe to it was damaged, prevented them from pumping water. I'd be worried the USN is making the same mistakes and that will cost lives.

BTW, this proposal isn't for a carrier, per se. It is for an amphibious warfare ship, with a flight-deck. LHDs aren't as well protected as carriers in the middle of task groups. Again, drawing on the Falklands example - the Sir Galahad and Sir Tristam suffered heavily when they were pushed forward to undertake an opportune landing. They were built to naval standards.
 

Grey Havoc

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Grey Havoc said:
•Support of amphibious operations. Japan has a need for dedicated amphibious ships, particularly in
the Senkaku Islands. A ship like this could provide command and control and act as mother ship to
a number of smaller ships, particularly Joint High Speed Vehicle-type ships. Another vessel would
have to carry LCACs into theater, but that’s where the Osumi-class LSTs come in.

With the way things are going in that area right now, the idea of Japan funding an AFSB, possibly as a JCG rather than MSDF operated platform, is likely to get more traction.

I meant to post this earlier, but it may now be in the process of being overtaken by events.
 

kcran567

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If this does get the green light, hopefully they will learn from past mistakes and build in more redundancy and harden key areas where needed. I'm sure that these factors are being considered. It is an interesting idea to say the least.
 

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