As of mid-2001 the Office of Naval Research was considering construction of a Littoral Combat Ship with a displacement of 500 to 600 tons. The LCS would have a draft of about three meters, an operational range of 4,000 nautical miles, and a maximum speed of 50-60 knots. The cost per ship might be at least $90 million.
The Streetfighter would be a smaller, very fast ship (part of the more general Streetfighter concept), that could compete successfully with the enemy for control of coasts and littoral waters. These ships are envisioned as costing less than 10% as much as current Battle Force ships, while comprising more than 25% of the total number of surface combatants [that is at least 25 but no more than 50 units].
The President of the Naval War College, Admiral Art Cebrowski, and others such as Capt. Wayne P. Hughes, have advocated the deployment of larger numbers of smaller ships to operate in "harm's way" in littoral waters. Cebrowski and Hughes talk of "tactical instability," where a navy is unwilling to risk its ships because the fleet is constituted principally of small numbers of expensive ships. They propose "re-balancing the fleet" by supplementing the currently planned large surface combatants with the procurement of smaller ships.
Navy leaders state that to put the Navy's warfighting environment in perspective, four navies must be considered: the "Navy of History;" "Today's Navy," the current operating force; "Tomorrow's Navy," the programmed Navy that is being acquired today for use tomorrow; and the "Navy after Next," which will follow the programmed Navy. Since the end of the Cold War, the Navy has focused most of its attention on maintaining today's Navy, due to the continuing demands of peacetime overseas presence and near-term readiness. Meanwhile, the focus of the programmed Navy has been on influencing events ashore through littoral operations. But there is increasing concern that the Navy after next might again be challenged to maintain its maritime supremacy against a near-peer in some of the world's oceans. Achieving a properly focused, appropriately balanced and affordable force structure, with adequate capabilities and flexibility for the full spectrum of possible maritime challenges the nation could face in the next decades, remains a formidable challenge for the sea services' planners.
With the Navy unable to find the resources to build all of the large ships it states it needs, it could invest instead in smaller, but very capable Streetfighters. Using a smaller ship for the presence missions that help avoid conflict is a potentially efficient and effective way to reduce the probability of conflict. The US Navy may not need an entire carrier battle group or even a single guided missile cruiser to do maritime interdiction and sanctions enforcement. A smaller Streetfighter-type ship could conduct operations such as enforcing the Iraqi oil embargo, and thus free up larger and more capable ships and their large crews for their intended blue-water duties.
Because each Streetfighter would be a relatively simple design, the cost to acquire and operate would be low. The loss of any one ship would cost much less combat power than the loss of one of today's ships. Because they would be oceangoing vessels, these ships could perform the presence missions that may be difficult to sustain in competition with other operations. They could be effective at securing the littorals, clearing mines, eliminating threats to larger ships, and preparing landing areas to get Marines and their supplies on and off the beach.
These ships are enabled by evolving hullform technologies such as are in use today in the commercial ferry sector. The Australian Navy's HMAS Jervis Bay, a catamaran, is cited as an example of such a ship. HMAS Jervis Bay is utilised to transport troops and their vehicles as part of Australia's amphibious lift capability. HMAS Jervis Bay is one of a series of high speed ships built by Hobart shipbuilder International Catamarans Australia (INCAT) and is the first vessel of her type to be operated by any navy worldwide. In her role as a fast sea-lift ship, Jervis Bay can transport up to 500 fully equipped troops, together with their vehicles and equipment, to ranges of up to 1000 nautical miles at speeds of more than 40 knots. The boat's maximum range is approximately 1,500 nautical miles, at speeds of more than 40 knots, and the four diesel engines --7,080 kilowatts each -- can drive the catamaran up to speeds of 45 knots. In contrast, the fastest US Navy amphibious ship can reach only 24 knots. Under charter by the Royal Australian Navy, Jervis Bay is used to trial and evaluate the suitability of high-speed, multi-hull technology for future maritime projects.
Modular designs could allow swapping of guns, missile or torpedo launchers, helicopter platforms, or combinations thereof. Such ships needn't be on the cutting edge of maritime or weapons technology. Many countries already use advanced multi-hull designs with good seakeeping and shallow draft. The Streetfighter could share technology with ships under development for the Coast Guard's Deepwater Project.
Navatek Ships, a subsidiary of Pacific Marine & Supply Co., Ltd., in Honolulu, is a world leader in the design and construction of high-tech ships, particularly SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) vessels and their faster and more fuel-efficient Slice and Midfoil variants. In April 2001 the Honolulu ship engineering firm Pacific Marine was awarded a $6.3 million Navy contract to demonstrate a new experimental hull attached to the Navy's 160-foot, 340-ton surface effect ship [SES]. This craft, designed in the early 1980s as an experimental patrol and support ship, was mothballed until the Navy donated it to Pacific Marine.
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