Tag Archives: ship design

Why The Moskva-Class Helicopter Cruiser Is Not the Best Naval Design for the Drone Era

By Benjamin Claremont

In a recent article titled “Is the Moskva-Class Helicopter Cruiser the Best Naval Design for the Drone Era?” author Przemysław Ziemacki proposed that the Moskva-class cruiser would be a useful model for future surface combatants. He writes, “A ship design inspired by this cruiser would have both enough space for stand-off weapons and for an air wing composed of vertical lift drones and helicopters.”1 These ships would have a large battery of universal Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) to carry long range anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air missiles. The anti-ship missiles would replace fixed-wing manned aircraft for strike and Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), while surface-to-air missiles would provide air defense. Early warning would be provided by radar equipped helicopters or tilt-rotor aircraft, while vertical take-off UAVs would provide target acquisition for the long range missiles. A self-sufficient platform such as “a vessel inspired by the Moskva-class helicopter carrier and upgraded with stealth lines seems to be a ready solution for distributed lethality and stand-off tactics.” The article concludes that inclusion of this type of vessel in the US Navy would make “the whole fleet architecture both less vulnerable and more diversified.”

The article’s foundation rests on three principles: aircraft carriers are, or will soon be, too vulnerable for certain roles; manned naval aviation will be replaced by shipboard stand-off weapons; and drones have fundamentally changed warfare. From these principles the article proposes a more self-sufficient aviation cruiser would be less vulnerable in enemy Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) zones and able to effect “sea denial” over a large area of ocean, becoming an agile and survivable tool of distributed lethality, rather than “a valuable sitting duck.”2 Both the foundational principles and the resulting proposal are flawed.

The article names itself after the Moskva-class. They were the largest helicopter cruisers, but like all helicopter cruisers, were a failure. They were single-purpose ships with inflexible weapons, too small an air group, too small a flight deck, and awful seakeeping that magnified the other problems. Their planned role of hunting American ballistic missile submarines before they could launch was made obsolete before Moskva was commissioned: There were simply too many American submarines hiding in too large an area of ocean to hunt them down successfully.

The article’s ‘Modern Moskva’ proposal avoids the design’s technical failures but does not address the fundamental flaws that doomed all helicopter cruisers. Surface combatants such as cruisers, destroyers and frigates need deck space for missiles, radars, and guns. Aviation ships need deck space for aircraft. Fixed-wing aircraft are more efficient than rotary-wing, and conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) – particularly with catapults and arresting gear – more efficient than vertical take-off and landing (VTOL). Trying to make one hull be both an aviation vessel and a surface combatant results in a ship that is larger and more expensive than a surface combatant, but wholly worse at operating aircraft than a carrier.

Consequently, helicopter cruisers were a rare and fleeting type of surface combatant around the world. Only six of these ungainly hybrids were ever commissioned: France built one, Italy three, the Soviet Union two. The Japanese built four smaller helicopter destroyers (DDH).3 In every case the follow-on designs to these helicopter ships were dedicated aircraft carriers: the Soviet Kiev-class, Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi-class*, and Japanese Hyuga-class. France’s Marine Nationale chose not to replace Jeanne d’Arc after her 2010 retirement.

Moskva-class, Mikhail Kukhtarev, 07/28/1970 (the pennant number 846 implies this is Moskva in 1974, the photo may be misdated)

The Moskva-class was a striking symbol of Soviet Naval Power. These vessels epitomize the aesthetic of mid-Cold War warship with a panoply of twin arm launchers, multiple-barrel anti-submarine rocket-mortars and a forest of antennae sprouting from every surface save the huge flight deck aft. They are also poorly understood in the West. The Soviets were never satisfied with the design, cancelling production after the first two ships in favor of dedicated separate aircraft carriers and anti-submarine cruisers, the 6 Kiev and Tblisi-class carriers and 17 Kara and Kresta-II-class ASW cruisers in particular.4

The Moskva-class, known to the Soviets as the Проект 1123 “Кондор” Противолодочная Крейсера [Пр.1123 ПКР], (Project 1123 “Condor” Anti-Submarine Cruiser/Pr.1123 PKR) was conceived in the late 1950s. Two ships, Moskva and Leningrad, were laid down between 1962 and 1965, entering service in late 1967 and mid 1969 respectively. The Moskva-class was conceived as anti-submarine cruisers, designed to hunt down enemy SSBN and SSN as part of offensive anti-submarine groups at long ranges from the USSR.5 The primary mission of these groups was to sink American ballistic missile submarines, the 41 for Freedom, before they could launch.6

USS George Washington (SSBN-598), lead boat of the 41 For Freedom (Photo via Naval History and Heritage Command)

The requirements were set at 14 helicopters to enable 24/7 ASW helicopter coverage, and a large number of surface to air missiles for self-protection. The resulting ships were armed with (from bow to stern):7

  • 2x 12 barrel RBU-6000 213mm ASW rocket-mortars
    • 96 Depth Bombs total, 48 per mount
  • 1x Twin Arm SUW-N-1 (RPK-1) Rocket-Thrown Nuclear Depth Bomb system
    • 8 FRAS-1 (Free Rocket Anti Submarine) carried
  • 2x twin-arm launchers for SA-N-3 GOBLET (M-11 Shtorm)
    • 48 SAM per mount, 96 total
  • 2x twin 57mm gun mounts, en echelon
  • 2x 140mm ECM/Decoy launchers (mounted en echelon opposite the 57mm guns)
  • 2x quintuple 533mm torpedo mounts amidships
    • One per side, 10 weapons carried total
Primary organic weapons of the Moskva-class warship Leningrad. Click to expand. (Image from airbase.ru, modified by author.)

This concept and armament made sense in 1958, when submarine-launched ballistic missiles had short ranges and SSBNs would have to approach the Soviet coast.8 In 1964 the USN introduced the new Polaris A-3 missile, which extended ranges to almost 3,000 miles.9 By the commissioning of Moskva in December 1967, all 41 for Freedom boats were in commission, with 23 of those boats carrying the Polaris A-3.10 The increased range of Polaris A-3 meant that US SSBNs could hit targets as deep in the USSR as Volgograd from patrol areas west of the British Isles, far beyond the reach of Soviet ASW forces.11 The Project 1123 was obsolete in its designed mission before the ships took to sea, as they could never find and destroy so many submarines spread over such a large area before the SSBNs could launch their far-ranging missiles.

Leningrad sensor fit. Click to expand. (Attribution on image, edited by author)

The defining feature of the Moskva-class was the compliment of 14 helicopters kept in two hangars, one at deck level for two Ka-25 (NATO codename: HORMONE) and a larger one below the flight deck for 12 more of the Kamovs. The greatest limitation of this hangar and flight deck arrangement was the relative inefficiency compared to a traditional full-deck carrier. There was only space on the flight deck to launch or recover four aircraft at any one time. This was sufficient for the design requirements, which were based around maintaining a smaller number of aircraft round-the-clock. However, the limited space prevents efficient surging of the air group, and the low freeboard forced central elevators, rather than more efficient deck edge designs. The Soviet Navy found the aviation facilities of the Moskva-class limited and insufficient for its role.12 The third ship in the class was to be built to a differing specification, Project 1123.3, 2000 tons heavier, 12m longer and focused on improving the ship’s air defenses and aviation facilities.13 Project 1123.3 was cancelled before being laid down and focus shifted to the more promising Project 1143, the four ship Kiev-class aircraft carriers.

Leningrad showing her typical seakeeping in 1969. (forums.airbase.ru)

Among the chief reasons for the cancellation of all further development of the Moskva-class was the design’s terrible seakeeping. The very fine bow pounded in rough seas, shipping an enormous amount of water over the bow.14 On sea trials in 1970, Moskva went through a storm with a sea state of 6, meaning 4-6m (13-20ft) wave height calm-to-crest. For the duration of the storm the navigation bridge 23m (75 ft) above the waterline was constantly flooded.15

A Moskva in drydock awaiting scrapping, showing the rounded lines aft. (forums.airbase.ru)

The Moskva-class also had a broad, shallow, round-sided cross-section aft. This caused issues with roll stability in all but moderate seas. This meant that flight operations could be conducted only up to a sea-state of 5, or 2.5-4m (8-13 ft) waves, especially when combined with the excessive pounding in waves.16 In addition, the class shipped so much water over the bow that the weapons suite was inoperable in heavy seas and prone to damage at sea state 6.17 The Moskva-class failed to meet the requirements for seakeeping set by the Soviet Navy.18 It could not effectively fight in bad weather, a fatal flaw for ships designed to hunt enemy submarines in the North Atlantic.

Moskva in the North Atlantic. Pennant number indicates 1970 or 1978 (forums.airbase.ru)

Project 1123 stands among the worst ship classes put to sea during the Cold War. The Moskva-class had too few aircraft, too small a flight deck, poorly laid out weapons, shockingly bad seakeeping, and was generally unsuitable for operation in regions with rough seas or frequent storms, despite being designed for the North Atlantic. They were not significantly modernized while in service and were scrapped quickly after the Soviet Union collapsed. Many knew the Moskva-class cruisers were bad ships when they were in service. The Soviets cancelled not only further construction of the class, but further development of the design before the second ship of the class, Leningrad, had commissioned.19 In place of Project 1123 the Soviets built Project 1143, the Kiev-class, an eminently more sensible, seaworthy, and efficient ship with a full-length flight deck which saw serial production and extensive development.20

Part II: Whither the Helicopter Cruiser?

Having explored the development and history of the Moskva-class helicopter cruiser, let’s examine the proposed ‘Modern Moskva’. The goal of the ‘Modern Moskva’ is to have a self-contained ship with drones, helicopters, stand-off anti-ship and strike weapons, and robust air defenses.21 The original article calls this a helicopter cruiser (CGH), helicopter carrier (CVH), or helicopter destroyer (DDH). This article will describe it as an aviation surface combatant (ASC), which better reflects the variety of possible sizes and configurations of ship. The original article then explains that such a self-contained ship accompanied by a handful of small ASW frigates (FF) would be the ideal tool for expendable and survivable distributed lethality to carry out sea denial in the anti-access/area denial zones of America’s most plausible enemies.22 Both the design and operational use concept are flawed, and will be examined in sequence.

The argument made in favor of aviation surface combatants in the article rests on three fundamental principles: that the threat of anti-shipping weapons to carriers has increased, that naval aircraft will be supplanted by long-range missiles, and that unmanned and autonomous systems have fundamentally changed naval warfare. These foundational assertions are false.

The threat of anti-ship weapons has increased over time, in absolute terms. Missile ranges have increased, seekers have become more precise, and targeting systems have proliferated, but the threat to aircraft carriers has not increased in relative terms. As the threat to aircraft carriers has increased, shifting from conventional aircraft to both manned (Kamikaze) and unmanned anti-ship missiles, the carrier’s defenses have also become more powerful. The Aegis Combat System and NIFC-CA combine the sensors and weapons of an entire naval task force, including its aircraft, into one single coherent system. Modern navies are also transitioning towards fielding fully fire-and-forget missiles, such as RIM-174 ERAM, RIM-66 SM-2 Active, 9M96, 9M317M, Aster 15/30, and others. Navies are also moving towards quad-packed active homing missiles for point defense, such as RIM-162 E/F/G ESSM Block 2, CAMM and CAMM-ER, or 9M100. These two developments radically increase the density of naval air defenses, pushing the saturation limit of a naval task force’s air defenses higher than ever before.

USS Sullivans, Carney, Roosevelt, and Hue City conduct a coordinated launch of SM-2MR as part of a VANDALEX, 12/1/2003 (US Navy Photo)

The article is correct that anti-ship weapons have become more capable, but the defenses against such weapons have also benefited from technological advances. The aircraft carrier is no more threatened today than has been the case historically. That is not to say that aircraft carriers are not threatened in the modern era, but that they always have been threatened.

The article claims that naval fixed-wing aircraft will soon be supplanted in their roles as stand-off strike and attack roles by long range missiles. While it is true that modern missiles can strike targets at very long ranges, naval aircraft will always be able to strike farther. Naval aviation can do so by taking the same missiles as are found on ships and carrying them several hundred miles before launch. For example, an American aviation surface combatant as proposed in the article would carry 32 AGM-158C LRASM in VLS, and fire them to an estimated 500 nautical miles. A maritime strike package with 12 F-18E Super Hornets could carry 48 LRASM to 300 nautical miles, and then launch them to a target another 500 miles distant, delivering 150% of the weapons to 160% the distance.23 Unlike VLS-based fires, which must retreat to reload, carrier-based aircraft can re-arm and re-attack in short order. The mobility, capacity, and persistence of aircraft make it unlikely that naval aviation will be replaced by long range missiles.

AGM-158C LRASM flight test (NAVAIR photo)

Finally, the article claims that there is an ‘unmanned revolution’ which has fundamentally changed naval combat. This point has some merit, but is overstated. Unmanned systems typically increase the efficiency of assets, most often by making them more persistent or less expensive. However, this is not a revolution in naval warfare. There have been many technological developments in naval history that were called revolutionary. Other than strategic nuclear weapons the changes were, instead, evolutionary. Though they introduced new methods, new domains, or increased the mobility and tempo of naval warfare, these were evolutionary changes. Even with modern advanced technology, the strategy of naval warfare still largely resembles that of the age of sail. As Admiral Spruance said:

“I can see plenty of changes in weapons, methods, and procedures in naval warfare brought about by technical developments, but I can see no change in the future role of our Navy from what it has been for ages past for the Navy of a dominant sea power—to gain and exercise the control of the sea that its country requires to win the war, and to prevent its opponent from using the sea for its purposes. This will continue so long as geography makes the United States an insular power and so long as the surface of the sea remains the great highway connecting the nations of the world.”24

Control or command of the sea is the ability to regulate military and civilian transit of the sea.25 This is the object of sea services. Unmanned and autonomous systems enhance the capability of forces to command the sea, but they do not change the principles of naval strategy.

Sea Hunter USVs sortie for Unmanned Battle Problem 21 (UxS IBP-21) with USS Monsoor DDG-1001 astern. (Photo 210420-N-EA818-1177, April 20, 2021, MC2 Thomas Gooley via DVIDS/RELEASED)

Having examined the underlying assumptions of the article, we must now examine how these ships are proposed to be used. The concept is that task groups of “two of the proposed helicopter carriers and at least 3 ASW frigates… would be most effective… [in] the South-West Pacific Ocean and the triangle of the Norwegian Sea, the Greenland Sea and the Barents Sea.”26 These waters are said to be so covered by enemy anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities that “traditional air-sea battle tactics” are too dangerous, requiring these helicopter cruisers groups to change the risk calculus.

The article’s use case for the aviation surface combatant has three interlocking assertions. First is that China and Russia will use A2/AD. A2/AD refers to “approaches that seek to prevent US forces from gaining or using access to overseas bases or critical locations such as ports and airfields while denying US forces the ability to maneuver within striking distance of [the enemy’s] territory.”27 Next, that A2/AD represents a novel and greater threat to naval forces which prevents typical naval tactics and operations, therefore new tactics and platforms are needed. Finally, that aviation cruisers leading frigates into these A2/AD zones for various purposes are the novel tactic and platform to solve A2/AD.

The article is flawed on all three counts. Despite the popularity of A2/AD in Western literature, it does not actually correlate to Russian or Chinese concepts for naval warfare. Even if A2/AD did exist as is proposed, it does not represent a relatively greater threat to naval task forces than that historically posed by peer enemy forces in wartime. Finally, even if it did exist and was the threat it is alleged to be, the solution to the problem would not be helicopter cruiser groups.

Launch of SS-C-5 STOOGE (3K55 Bastion) coastal missile system. (Photo via Alexander Karpenko)

A2/AD is a term which evolved in the PLA watching community and has been applied to the Russians.28 Indeed, there is no originally Russian term for A2/AD because it does not fit within the Russian strategic concept.29 Russian thinking centers around overlapping and complimentary strategic operations designed “not to deny specific domains, but rather to destroy the adversary’s ability to function as a military system.”30 While there has been a spirited back-and-forth discussion of the capabilities of Russian A2/AD systems, these center around “whether Russian sticks are 4-feet long or 12-feet long and if they are as pointy as they look or somewhat blunter.”31 By ignoring the reality of how the Russian military plans to use their forces and equipment this narrative loses the forest for the trees.

The term A2/AD comes from PLA watching, perhaps it is more appropriate to the PLAN’s strategy? Not particularly. The Chinese concept is a strategy called Near Seas Defense, “a regional, defensive strategy concerned with ensuring China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”32 Defensive refers to the goals, not the methods used. The PLAN’s concept of operations stresses offensive and preemptive action to control war initiation.33 Near Seas Defense has been mixed with the complimentary Far Seas Protection to produce A2/AD.34 As with the Russian example, the actual strategy, operational art and tactics of the PLA have been subsumed into circles on a map.

If A2/AD existed as more than a buzzword it would not necessarily pose a new or greater threat to aircraft carriers than existed historically. The Royal Navy in the Mediterranean and the US Navy off Okinawa and the Japanese Home Islands during the Second World War experienced threats as dangerous as A2/AD. The constrained waters in the Mediterranean, especially around Malta, kept Royal Navy forces under threat of very persistent air attack at almost all times. At Okinawa and off the Home Islands, the Japanese could launch multi-hundred plane Kamikaze raids against exposed US forces thousands of miles from a friendly anchorage. These raids were the impetus for Operation Bumblebee, which became Talos, Tartar and Terrier and eventually the Standard Missiles and Aegis Combat System.35 The US Navy has been aware of and striving to meet this challenge for nearly a century, just under different names.

Since 1945, the defense has required:

  • Well-positioned early warning assets, such as radar picket ships or aircraft,
  • Effective fighter control,
  • Large numbers of carrier-based fighters relative to incoming launchers (shoot the archer) and weapons (shoot the arrow),
  • Heavily-layered air defenses on large numbers of escorts and the carriers themselves. In the Second World War, these included 5”/38, 40mm, and 20mm anti-aircraft guns. Today, these include SM-2ER/SM-6, SM-2MR, ESSM, RAM, Phalanx, Nulka and SRBOC.
  • Well-built ships with trained and motivated crews, skilled in fighting their ship and in damage control.

This methodology does not wholly prevent ships being lost or damaged: There is no such thing as a perfect defense. What it does do is optimize the air defenses of a task force for depth, mass, flexibility, and redundancy.

Aviation cruiser groups are not the appropriate solution to the A2/AD problem. The cruiser groups proposed have far less air defense than the US Navy’s Dual Carrier Strike Groups (DCSG), the current concept to push into “A2/AD” areas.36 The paper implies that these aviation surface combatants would be smaller targets and would not be attacked as much, but if they were attacked, they would be expendable. However, the enemy decides what targets are worth attacking with what strength, not one’s own side. If a carrier strike group with 48 strike fighters, 5 E-2D AEW&C aircraft to maintain 24/7 coverage, escorts with 500 VLS cells, and the better part of two dozen ASW helicopters is too vulnerable to enter the A2/AD Zone, why would two aviation cruisers and five ASW frigates with 200-350 VLS cells, some drones and 4 AEW helicopters be able to survive against a similar onslaught?37 If a carrier cannot survive the A2/AD area, deploying less capable aviation surface combatants would be wasting the lives of the sailors aboard. The rotary-wing AEW assets proposed are too limited in number and capability to provide anything approaching the constant and long-range coverage the USN feels is necessary.38 Even if A2/AD existed as the threat it is alleged to be, the proper response would not be to build helicopter cruisers and send them into harm’s way with a small ASW escort force. The appropriate response would be to build large numbers of competent escorts to reinforce the carrier task forces, such as the Flight 3 Burke-class or the forthcoming DDG(X).

Conclusion: Neither Fish Nor Fowl

The Moskva-class represented the largest and most obvious failure of the helicopter cruiser concept. Their weapons were inflexible and their air group too small, compounded by horrible seakeeping. Beyond the failings of the design itself, their doctrinal role was made obsolete before the first ship commissioned. While the proposed ‘Modern Moskva’ avoids these failings, the concept does not address the problems which doomed all helicopter cruisers. Efficiently operating large numbers of aircraft requires as much flight deck as possible. Surface combatants require deck space for weapons and sensors. Trying to combine the two requirements yields a ship that does neither well. A ‘Modern Moskva’ finds itself in a position of being larger and more expensive than a normal surface combatant, but wholly worse than a carrier at flight operations.

If the aircraft are necessary and supercarriers unavailable, then a light carrier (CVL) is a better solution. Specifically, this light carrier should be of conventional CATOBAR design with two catapults capable of operating two squadrons of strike fighters, an electronic attack squadron and an ASW helicopter squadron, plus detachments of MQ-25 and E-2D. In addition to the previously mentioned increased anti-shipping and land attack strike radius, the CVL’s fixed wing air group can fight the outer air battle, the modern descendant of the WWII-era “Big Blue Blanket,” and do so in excess of 550 nautical miles from the carrier.39 A task group with a single CVL and escorts could exercise command of the sea over a far greater area than a helicopter cruiser group, and do so with greater flexibility, persistence, survivability, and combat power. The range of carrier aircraft allows the carrier to stay outside of the purported A2/AD bubbles and launch full-capability combined arms Alpha strikes against targets from the relative safety of the Philippine or Norwegian Seas.

USS Midway, CV-41, with CVW-5 embarked, 1987. The modern CVL could approach Midway in displacement and deck area. (U.S. Navy Photo/Released)

The world is becoming less stable. Russia and China are both militarily aggressive and respectively revanchist and expansionist. They are skilled, intelligent and capable competitors who should not be underestimated as potential adversaries. American and Allied forces must be ready and willing to innovate both in the methods and tools of warfare. Rote memorization, mirror imaging and stereotyping the enemy lead to calamity, as at the Battle of Tassafaronga. It is important to remember that these potential enemies are just as determined, just as intelligent, and just as driven as Western naval professionals. These potential enemies will not behave in accordance with facile models and clever buzzwords, nor will they use their weapons per the expectations of Western analysts. They have developed their own strategies to win the wars they think are likely, and the tactics, equipment and operational art to carry out their concepts.

English speaking defense analysis tends to obsess over technology, but war is decided by strategy, and strategy is a historical field.40 We must not forget that “The good historian is like the giant of a fairy tale. He knows that wherever he catches the scent of human flesh, there his quarry lies.”41 Historical context focuses on the human element of warfare: the persistent question of how to use the weapons and forces available to achieve the political goals of the conflict. By removing history, and with it strategy, operational art, and tactics, proposals often drift toward past failed concepts mixed with the buzzword du jour. War has only become faster and more lethal over time. The stakes in a conflict with the probable enemy will be higher than any war the US has fought since the Second World War. Novelty and creativity are necessary and should be lauded, but they must be balanced with historical context, strategic vision, and a candid and realistic understanding of potential adversaries.

Benjamin Claremont is a Strategic Studies MLitt student at the University of St Andrews School of International Relations. His dissertation, Peeking at the Other Side of the Fence: Lessons Learned in Threat Analysis from the US Military’s Efforts to Understand the Soviet Military During the Cold War, explored the impact of changing sources, analytical methodologies, and distribution schemes on US Army and US Navy threat analysis of the Soviet Military, how this impacted policy and strategy, and what this can teach in a renewed era of great power competition. He received his MA (Honours) in Modern History from the University of St. Andrews. He is interested in Strategy, Operational Art, Naval Warfare, and Soviet/Russian Military Science.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

*Correction: The Italian carrier was of the Giuseppe Garibaldi class, not the Vittorio Veneto class as originally stated.


1. Przemysław Ziemacki, Is the Moskva-Class Helicopter Cruiser the Best Naval Design for the Drone Era?, CIMSEC, 7/9/2021, https://cimsec.org/is-the-moskva-class-helicopter-cruiser-the-best-naval-design-for-the-drone-era/

2. Ziemacki, Moskva Class for the Drone Era. All quotations in this and the preceding paragraph are from Mr. Ziemacki’s article.

3. The French Jeanne d’Arc, the Italian Andrea Doria, Caio Duilio, and Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Soviet Moskva and Leningrad, and the Japanese Haruna, Hiei, Shirane and Kurama.

4. Yuri Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, 2010, МОРКНИГА, p. 79, 98 The Tblisi class became the Kuznetsov class after 1991.

5. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 18

6. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 17

7. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 22,

8. USN Strategic Systems Programs, FBM Weapon System 101: The Missiles, https://www.ssp.navy.mil/fb101/themissiles.html#I

9. USN Strategic Systems Programs, FBM Weapon System 101: The Missiles, https://www.ssp.navy.mil/fb101/themissiles.html#I

10. The first to be built with Polaris A-3 was USS Daniel Webster, SSBN-626. In addition, the 10 SSBN-627 boats and 12 SSBN-640 boats all carried 16 Polaris A-3 each for a total of over 350 missiles.

11. Determined using Missilemap by Alex Wellerstein, https://nuclearsecrecy.com/missilemap/

12. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 28

13. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 28

14. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 28

15. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 28

16. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 28

17. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 28

18. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 28

19. Work was halted on Pr.11233 in 1968, Leningrad commissioned on June 22nd, 1969.

20. Yuri Apalkov, Ударные Корабли, МОРКНИГА, p. 4-6

21. Ziemacki, Moskva Class for the Drone Era.

22. Ziemacki, Moskva Class for the Drone Era.

23. Xavier Vavasseur, Next Generation Anti-Ship Missile Achieves Operational Capability with Super Hornets, USNI News, 12/19/2019 https://news.usni.org/2019/12/19/next-generation-anti-ship-missile-achieves-operational-capability-with-super-hornets

24. Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, quoted in Naval Doctrine Publication 1: Naval Warfare (2020), P. 0 accessible at: https://cimsec.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/NDP1_April2020.pdf

25. Julian Corbett, Some Principles of Naval Strategy, p. 103-4

26. Ziemacki, Moskva Class for the Drone Era.

27. Chris Dougherty, Moving Beyond A2/AD, CNAS, 12/3/2020, https://www.cnas.org/publications/commentary/moving-beyond-a2-ad (clarification in brackets added)

28. Michael Kofman, It’s Time to Talk about A2/AD: Rethinking the Russian Military Challenge, War on the Rocks, 9/5/2019, https://warontherocks.com/2019/09/its-time-to-talk-about-a2-ad-rethinking-the-russian-military-challenge/

29. Kofman, It’s Time to Talk about A2/AD. The Russian term is a translation of the English

30. Kofman, It’s Time to Talk about A2/AD

31. Kofman, It’s Time to Talk about A2/AD

32. Rice, Jennifer and Robb, Erik, “China Maritime Report No. 13: The Origins of “Near Seas Defense and Far Seas Protection”” (2021). CMSI China Maritime Reports, p. 1

33. Rice and Robb, CMSI #13, p. 7

34. For more on the interactions between Near Seas Defense and Far Seas Protection see RADM Michael McDevitt, USN (Ret.), Becoming a Great “Maritime Power”: A Chinese Dream, CNA, June 2016, https://www.cna.org/cna_files/pdf/IRM-2016-U-013646.pdf

35. The technical advisor for Bumblebee, 3T, Typhon, and Aegis was the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, who also developed the VT fuse. https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA229872.pdf

36. USS Theodore Roosevelt Public Affairs, Theodore Roosevelt, Nimitz Carrier Strike Groups conduct dual carrier operations, 2/8/2021, https://www.cpf.navy.mil/news.aspx/130807

37. A nominal CSG has 1x CG-47 and 4x DDG-79; CGH group has 2x 96 Cell CGH and 5x ASW LCS or 5x FFG-62

38. This is due to the payload, fuel efficiency, speed and altitude limitations inherent to rotary wing or tilt-rotor aircraft compared to fixed wing turboprops.

39. Based on estimated combat radius of c. 500 nautical miles for the F-18E, plus 50 nautical miles for the AIM-120D.

40. Hew Strachan, ‘Strategy in the Twenty-First Century’, in Strachan, Hew, ed., The Changing Character of War, (Oxford, 2011) p. 503; A.T. Mahan, The Influence of Seapower on History, (Boston, 1918) p. 7, 226-7; Julian Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, (London, 1911) p. 9, Vigor, ‘The Function of Soviet Military History’, in AFD-101028-004 Transformation in Soviet and Russian Military History: Proceedings of the Twelfth Military History Symposium, 1986 p. 123-124; Andrian Danilevich, reviewing M. A. Gareev M. V. Frunze, Military Theorist, quoted in Chris Donnelly, Red Banner: The Soviet Military System in Peace and War, p. 200

41. Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft, (New York, 1953), p. 26

Featured Image: April 1, 1990—A port beam view of the Soviet Moskva class helicopter cruiser Leningrad underway. (U.S. Navy photo by PH3 (Ac) Stephen L. Batiz)

Call for Articles: What Should the U.S. Navy’s Next Future Surface Combatant Be?

By Dmitry Filipoff

Articles Due: July 5, 2017
Week Dates: July 10-July 14, 2017

Article Length: 1000-3000 words 
Submit to: Nextwar@cimsec.org

The U.S. Navy is in the conceptual phases of determining what the next Future Surface Combatant (FSC) family of warships could be. The FSC will include “a large, small and unmanned surface combatant that will go through the acquisition process with each other and an ‘integrated combat system’ to tie them together.” These ship classes will provide an opportunity to field systems that reflect a vision of future war at sea and decide what the surface force will contribute to the fight.

The challenges are myriad and complex. Emerging technology has opened up numerous avenues of latent capability, from unmanned systems to directed energy, from integrated power to adaptive electronic warfare. New technology could result in evolving tactics and concepts of operation that change the way ships fight individually and within the joint force. Additionally, ships expected to serve for decades must have attributes that facilitate the iterative fielding of greater lethality over the course of their service life. All of these factors lend competing pressures toward defining requirements. 

These ships are critical to the surface Navy’s future, especially because of the challenges and setbacks faced by the two major surface combatant programs of the current generation. The Littoral Combat Ships and Zumwalt-class destroyers are now poised to shape the conversation of what tomorrow’s warships will and will not be and how to go about procuring them. Authors are encouraged to not only envision future roles and capabilities for the FSC family of warships, but to also contemplate the major lessons learned from recent ship design challenges and how to better field the next generation of surface combatants. 

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org

Featured Image: Deck house lifted onto USS Michael Monsoor , trhe 2nd Zumwalt class destroyer, on November 14, 2014. (General Dynamics Bath Iron Works)

Integrated Masts -The Next Generation Design for Naval Masts

This article originally featured on Defencyclopedia and is republished with permission. It may be read in its original form here


The best position for a sensor on a ship, is on top of the highest mast. Multiple sensors mean multiple antennas; hence ending up close together. Such an arrangement requires the need to switch one system off before another one can be used. As all sensor systems are installed separately on the ship, and then subsequently integrated and tested, they add considerably to the time and cost required for building a naval vessel.With recent development of integrated masts for warships, gone are the dozens of antennas and sensors found on practically every flat topside surface of a modern naval vessel.

These integrated masts allow the exploitation of modern materials and technology to improve sensor performance and coverage with pre-outfitting, leading to reduced cost of construction due to reduced time overruns. This article, by Commander Nitin Agarwala, who is now a contributing author for Defencyclopedia, explores the developments in integrated mast design for integration of electronic warfare (EW),communication and Radar and their future in warship construction.


How does an antenna become designated for use in navigation, weapon fire control, communications, electronic countermeasures or for any other reason, and ultimately installed on board a Naval surface ship? The answer should be, it’s part of the antenna design procedure. Though the answer is simple, the process is not. There was a time, when this design procedure, referred to as dart-boarding, was based on an educated guess for the most feasible layout of the antennas, followed by experimental verification.

kashinThe multiple mast and cluttered antenna layout on a 1970’s era Soviet Kashin class destroyer

As the reliance on electronic systems such as communications, radar,navigation, gunfire control, friend-or-foe identification, electronic countermeasures, and aircraft operations increased, one realized that complex, intricate below-decks electronic equipment was virtually useless unless matched with satisfactory antenna performance. Hence former methods of antenna design and topside arrangements were no longer adequate and dart-boarding disappeared – to be replaced by careful scientific planning. These electronic systems divided the shipboard antennas into three broad groups.

  • Omni-directional antennas – used mainly for communications, air navigation, and passive reception. These satisfy the need of ships and aircraft to maneuver independently of each other and fixed radio stations.
  • Directional antennas – used for transmitting and receiving spatially concentrated energy in one direction at a time. These are used for radar, gunfire control, and satellite communication to obtain information about or from remote objects.
  • Directional antennas – used to determine bearing of incident radiation; and is used primarily for direction finding navigation and Electronic Countermeasures (ECM).

For an operational naval platform, the basic minimum required sensors are communication antennas from HF to UHF, navigation radar, surveillance radar, IFF, Fire Control Radar, ESM, jammers, electro-optical sensor systems and missile up-links.Providing these large number and variety of distinct services on the antenna in the extremely restricted space presents many very-difficult and different problems which do not arise in other technical disciplines.

Clustering of so many antennas in so little space,plus the necessity for simultaneous emission and reception together with the undesirable, but unavoidable, electromagnetic coupling to, and re-radiation from, a host of other shipboard metal objects, results in a most trying system integration problem for the ship. Strenuous efforts must be made to reach a compromise with all competing topside subsystems so as to provide the least degradation in overall performance.


To meet the requirement of these sensors, the Naval Architects have hence used

  • Pole masts
  • Tripod masts
  • Lattice masts
  • MACK (Mast-Stack) masts
  • Enclosed masts
  • Solid masts
Lattice masts
Mack ( Mast + Smokestack)
pole masts
Pole masts
Tripod mast
USSArthurWRadfordDD-968Enclosed mast

The various types of masts have been a result of changing requirement of the navies and the developing technology used over the years. Of all these masts, a plated mast, even with a higher weight than a lattice mast, is preferred in most cases due to its advantages of lower radar cross-section, improved through life maintenance (due to enclosed structure), lesser vibration and ability to handle larger weight of modern equipment.

File:HMAS Perth (FFH 157) CEAFAR phased array radars.jpg
Note the blackening of the area around the radars on the mast

The design of the mast however is not limited to just the placement of thesensors.The mast design has a direct bearing on the design of the vessel itself as its weight will impact the stability performance, air resistance will impact the ships speed and the arrangement of the antennae will affect the top side electromagnetic environment and RADHAZ (radiation hazard).

When designing, one needs to structurally integrate the mast to the ship to ensure strength due to both static and dynamic loads (whipping loads due to hull slamming, air resistance, shock), provide access, power and cooling air and study the effect of the heat plume from the exhausts/funnel impinging on the antennae. The picture of HMAS Perth shows the effect of proximity of the smokestack to the masts on the ship.


Conventional warship masts are plagued with a variety of downsides which include large amounts of steel making the ship topside heavy resulting into weight penalty, expensive maintenance due to exposed sensors, wooding as a result of sensor / mast interactions, electromagnetic induction due to spurious reflections and poor screening and impingement in return causing a high radar signature. This has led to designers looking at alternatives.

Accordingly in recent years, there has been a significant interest in the concept of composite masts, with a variety of designs being developed. These designs aim to house sensors and antenna within the protection of the mast and use frequency sensitive shielding to allow the sensors to “see” through the mast panel structure thus offering an improved signature and arc of coverage. Such major initiatives are:

                                 A photo of the enclosed hexagonal mast on the USS Radford


  • The Advanced Enclosed Mast/Sensor (AEM/S) system designed by the US and initiated in 1995 is a hexagonal (used onboard USS Radford DD-968) or an octagonal (used onboard U.S.S. San AntonioLPD-17) structure. It encloses the existing radar and other sensitive equipment,protecting them from the environment thereby reducing maintenance requirements. The lower half of the AEM/S system serves to hold up the top half. The case of the lower half is balsa. An electromagnetic (EM) shield compartment that uses reflecting metallic shielding is included in a portion of the lower half of the mast to meet design requirements. The top half contains a tailored sandwich composite material made up of a foam core, with frequency selective material, as well as structural laminate skins.
An illustration showing the construction of the mast
Octagonal Advanced Enclosed Mast/Sensor on USS San Antonio
  • The Advanced Technology Mast (ATM) designed by the UK, comprises of a steel substructure clad in advanced fibre reinforced plastic  (FRP) composite panels,which incorporate radar-absorbing layers. Sensors are installed in interchangeable modules mounted within the cladding. The philosophy of the mast is intended to support future surface warship designs and retrofit to existing ships. The sensors and radio equipment are completely enclosed in the radar reflective mast structures. The masts look like unstayed pole masts with very large rectangular cross-sections, tapering from the base to the top.
A close-up of the Advanced Technology Mast

HMS Ark Royal was fitted with the Advanced Technology Mast

The Integrated mast (I-MAST) designed by Netherlands, is a completely different design approach from the traditional sensor layout. This mast type integrates the sensors into the structure itself. One central mast structure houses the radar, optronic, and communication sensors and antennas as well as all cabinets and peripherals. The Integrated Mast concept improves the undesirable situation of having to equip a ship with sensors and antenna after she has been completed in full. In the I-Mast, the mast and the equipment are built and tested while the ship is under construction. When the ship is ready, the mast is put on the ship as a turnkey system. It has a comparatively simple interface to the ship’s power supply, cooling water supply, combat system, and mechanical deck structure, making installation a plug and play operation.

HNLMS Friesland, a patrol ship of the Netherlands Navy has the I-mast 500 integrated mast

The mast itself is a fully air tight module forming part of the ship’s citadel, providing environmental protection against shock, blast, vibration, solar radiation,temperature, uptake efflux, electromagnetic radiation and chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons. An external load-bearing steel structure has been adopted to facilitate the integration of different types of sensors and communications, with equipment arranged over four deck levels (a top deck,upper antenna deck, lower antenna deck and an equipment deck. A shielded duct or “backbone” routes cabling and cooling circuitry up through the centre of the mast to serve individual equipment.

All processing cabinets are sited on the equipment deck. This is also the floor of the mast module and the interface to the ship platform through a single crew entry hatch and two cable entry panels fitted port and starboard. Services routed through these panels comprise water, air, own-ship data, power supplies, monitoring and control, dual communication, video and combat system buses, and auxiliary interfaces

Thales_I-Mast_webA cut-out shows the sensor layout in the i-Mast
Imast_1_zps331cef3dAn illustration showing the various types of sensors present on the i-Mast 500


All radars and antennas in an I-Mast not only have a full 360° field of view; they are also developed so as to operate simultaneously without interfering each other.Theseradars are non-rotating, four-faced active phased array radars, which in itself is a major performance enhancement. As the four faces operate simultaneously, the radars achieve four times the time on target achieved by a rotating radar. The surface surveillance radar (Seastar) was developed especially for this purpose and it is capable of detecting and tracking small objects (e.g. divers’ head) between the waves,contributing enormously to situational awareness in littoral environments. The details of the sensors as fitted in an I-Mast are as under:

  • SeaMaster 400 (also called SMILE) is a non-rotating S-band radar with four faces for air and surface surveillance. It is derived from the proven SMART and APAR radar systems. SM400’s unique concept of multi-beam volume search with four active scanning faces ensures the simultaneous performance of all operational tasks at a high update rate and very low false alarm rate. SM400 also provides helicopter direction and approach capabilities and has three fire control channels. The system’s high number of parallel transmit and receive channels provide a high degree of redundancy.
seamasterSeamaster S-band radar
  • Seawatcher (also called SEASTAR) is a four face non-rotating active phased array X-band radar for naval surface surveillance. The high resolution system automatically detects and tracks asymmetric threats and very small objects such as mines, periscopes. Seawatcher can also be used for helicopter guidance.
seastarSeawatcher X-band radar
  • Gatekeeper is a 360° panoramic electro-optical surveillance and alerter system based on IR/TV technology. Designed to counter emerging asymmetric threats down to small boats and swimmers, Gatekeeper increases short-range situational awareness in littoral environments.
gatekeeper - CopyGatekeeper
satcom - CopySATCOM antenna dome
cgiA CGI shows the sensors of the I-mast operating together without any blockage of signals
  • The Integrated Communication Antenna System (ICAS) facilitates the use of standard VHF / UHF communications equipment, is fitted with Link 16 integration, provides excellent transmit/receive isolation, offers estate for auxiliary antennas such as GSM/GPS and is designed for future growth.
IFFCylindrical IFF array
  • The non-rotating Identification Friend or Foe (NR IFF) uses a cylindrical array fitted to the top of the structure. It is designed to operate with standard interrogator/transponder systems. It is optimized for operation with a non-rotating primary radar.


Littoral environments are extremely complex given the high density of natural and man-made clutter, crowded commercial air and sea lanes, vehicle traffic along the coastline, and the effects of anomalous propagation on sensor performance. To further complicate the problem, recent years have seen the emergence of an increasingly“asymmetric” threat set (unmanned air vehicles, fast inshore attack craft, gliders, dinghies, swimmers and mines) that are intrinsically difficult to detect in high clutter backgrounds. To resolve such issues the concept of an integrated mast incorporating the principal surveillance sensors and communication systems has evolved.

By resolving the electromagnetic conflicts and line-of-sight obstructions inherent to traditional topside antenna arrangements, the integrated mast aims at delivering an unobstructed field of view, reduced cross section; ease of electromagnetic friction and to simplify shipboard integration. This in return provides a significant benefit in terms of improved operational performance and availability, shorter shipbuilding time, reduced maintenance requirements and significant savings in below-deck volume.

In an integrated mast various antennae are integrated within the design of the mast itself along with the electronic equipment to be “integrated” in the mast as a single unit. The result is a mast which is a structurally self-supporting module. The integrated mast with its technology of integrated sensor concept delivers huge advantages which are:

  • Better operational performance
  • Higher operational availability due to maintenance possible in the protected, sheltered environment of the Mast, meaning that it is no longer necessary to wait for repairs until weather conditions are safe enough
  • Reduced ship-building time
  • Reduced maintenance requirements due to non-rotating radars
  • Enormous savings in below-deck space
  • Reduced signature / increased arc of coverage
  • Reduced costs (i) Lower sensor costs due to improved environment(ii) Cheaper maintenance due to lack of corrosion, no re-painting and modular approach
  • Reduced topside weight / improved stability
  • Reduced EMI – RAM covered decks
  • Potential for quick role changes – flexibility, upgradeability


Various advanced Mast designs have been produced in the recent past which have been discussed in this paper. All of them have been tested for their structural performance against both environmental and shock loads. One can say with confidence that today the concept of “integrated mast” has become a reality from just a technology demonstration project. Though it is definitely a product which shall become an integral part of the future ship design, however many issues such as the impact of the integrated mast on ship design need to be studied in detail.

One needs to also study issues such as material selection for the mast, access arrangements and structural integration and stability as key aspects among many. Finally the integrated mast designers themselves will continue to be challenged by how to design a mast or series of masts that offer a solution that is sufficiently flexible for fit to a variety of vessel sizes and satisfy differing customer requirements.

Edited by N.R.P


Commander (Dr) Nitin Agarwala, a serving Indian Naval Officer commissioned in 1993, is a Naval Architect from Cochin University of Science and Technology and an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and Kharagpur. The officer has experienced the various facets of a warship as a user, inspector and a maintainer. He is now a part of the design team of naval warships. He has published over 26 papers in various conferences, and journals of national and international repute. His areas of interest are Wave structure interaction problems, Acoustic structure interaction problems, Hydroelasticity related ship structure problems, Corrosion problems associated with ships.

Protecting the Exclusive Ecconomic Zone – Part II

Feature Picture: LÉ Samuel Beckett the latest OPV of the Irish Naval Service (Trilogy Corporate Site 2014)

Geographical and Oceanographical Factors

When designing OPVs the core question a nation will need to ask itself is how big in terms of area, where the EEZ is (i.e. Northern waters, or Equatorial waters), how far is it that area from the nation’s bases and how much is the EEZ worth.  Vessels which are required to operate in stormy or icy waters (i.e. those operated by Denmark) will need to be as structurally strong and survivable as possible, with a high freeboard to help with large waves, as well as having as much of their equipment internalised as can be, and all equipment that can’t be internalised made easy to clear of ice. In contrast vessels which are to operate in warmer areas (i.e. to an extent France) will need enhanced cooling systems, not only to keep the personnel at a workable temperature, but also the computers and machines. A vessel which could find itself in both situations equally (i.e. those operated by Australia or Britain), will of course need both attributes; it is very difficult to retrofit sufficient cooling into a small ship built to be strong, equally it is very difficult to strength a ship that is not built to be strong. Simply put, a lot of thought needs to be placed at the very beginning of the conception and design process with OPVs as to what is needed, what is wanted and what is best to make sure: because there is not the space available to do much rectifying at a later date.

  8Figure 8. Denmark’s EEZ, total area of 2,551,238km2 encompasses a large area of North Atlantic and the Arctic[i]
9Figure 9. France’s EEZ totals in at 11,035,000km2 and is spread all around the world[ii]
10Figure 10. Australia’s EEZ, total area of about 8,505,348km2 that straddles the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, whilst encompassing a large chunk of Antarctica[iii]


Supplementary Missions

OPVs, especially those deployed to patrol distant territories or honour commitments to allies, will often be the nation they represent first responders to natural disasters; therefore building a measure of preparation into the design, i.e. storage space for medical supplies, power tools, tents and portable water purification equipment would be of advantage. This is a situation where a nation has the opportunity to engage in a win-win scenario; they help another nation (nations are not altruistic but they do like to look good and earn favours), they get to build a closer relationship with the nation experiencing the disaster and that nation gets some help. Much the same can be said for an OPV’s role in Search and Rescue operations, most nations have some form of lifeboat organisation – whether it is part of the government, independent or a mix differs from nation to nation. OPVs are of course not lifeboats, but if they are present then they can again be crucial first responders, especially in the case of mid-ocean emergencies. There is though a war (or at least combat) orientated mission, which has been highlighted by the events of October 2014 in Sweden; anti-submarine warfare, or ASW[iv].

11Figure 11. HDMS Ejnar Mikkelsen a Knud Rasmussen class OPV of the Danish Navy[v]

Now it is reasonable to pose the question ‘how useful could a vessel without a sonar (with the exception of the Danish Knud Rasmussen class[vi] which take advantage of stanflex technology[vii] to acquire one) or torpedoes be to an ASW operation, after all it isn’t a frigate?’ In fact OPVs, even those being proposed in this paper are not even corvettes (being closest in armament to a gunboats), do have something to offer ASW operations, especially those with the ability to support helicopters and operate UAVs. Helicopters have become the cornerstone of ASW operations; whilst Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft and ships with towed sonar arrays are very capable assets which really do make a difference: a legacy of the Cold War has been an almost dominance of helicopters in the practice of ASW[viii]. Helicopters of course make use of sonar buoys and dipping sonar to locate enemy submarines, such equipment could also be transferred in time to suitably capable UAVs – some of which are already in operation[ix]. This is in many ways an argument for building in flexible spaces into ship designs, as the one thing that can’t be easily added into a ship is space, yet it is space which serves best to future proof it.

It’s not only ships though that need to be future proofed, so do crews and commanders. Small ships, like OPVs, offer almost unique opportunities for navies to test out commanders at junior ranks with a fair amount of responsibility; at a far lower risk than if the achieve higher rank and untested make their mistakes when in command of far more expensive vessels.  Furthermore, a naval commander will often find themselves acting in a diplomatic capacity[x] a fact which has been highlighted by Julian Corbett as well as other authors[xi] throughout the years. Therefore Command of an OPV, especially when despatched to the edges of an EEZ or to patrol distant territories will provide young officers a plethora of opportunities to develop their skills and gain vital experience in this role. The reason that OPVs are unique in this regard is because the other small vessel type, the mine countermeasure vessel (MCMV), is becoming more and more specialised – even as the equipment becomes more containerised and dependent upon unmanned vehicles (although divers retain a vital role in the work); meaning that command of such vessels acting in that role itself requires more and more specialised knowledge.

Possible Missions

“The unassailable political lessons of the Falklands are that disregarding a threat does not make it disappear”

James Cable[xii]

The same can be said for ships, and most definitely for OPVs – disregarding, or down playing the likelihood of circumstances that will require their capabilities doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Even in this work, there are possible missions which OPVs could be used for, beyond those it has discussed. For example, with a suitable CIWS, and dual-purpose deck gun these vessels could make a very much needed war time point defence assets for MCMVs, auxiliaries, ships taken up from trade[xiii] and amphibious ships (including landing craft). In a time of shrinking forces, these are not frigate or destroyer replacements, but they would be able to help; they are able to be the ‘quantity’. Which leads to another scenario for the future. That OPVs cease to exist as they are now, and that nations begin to pursue something more similar to where the Danish model has already gone.

Under this scenario the future is a ship of ~2400tons, with a range of 6-7,000nmi, and which in its basic OPV form is armed with probably either a 57mm or 76mm deck gun[xiv], a CIWS and two single 20mm or 30mm mounts, would carry a rotary UAV and have the ability to deploy and recover boats from a ramp. However, by making use of a system similar to that of the Stanflex modular system, can be quickly modified with additional modules[xv] to make it an MCMV, Oceanography vessel or Point Defence ship (with addition of self-sufficient surface to air missiles which don’t require specialist radar, like the C-Dome is reported to be[xvi]) as required by operation. Although to maintain those skills and to meet ongoing operational commitments some vessels would have to be virtually permanently tasked as the former two; with other ships taking over as required by maintenance. This is because as said above the work of MCMV vessels is particularly specialised, and requires a lot of practice to keep at the level it’s required for war time. Oceanography is of course and ongoing commitment, requiring its own cadre of specialised staff, and equipment, which are easier to leave in place as long as possible so they can ‘bed down’. This all though is not to mean that there are not significant requirements for British Patrol vessels, as Figure 12 (below) highlights; the British EEZ is very expansive.

12Figure 12. Britain’s EEZ incorporates an area over 6,805,586km2, and whilst world encompassing is concentrated in the Atlantic[xvii]

In the case of the Royal Navy which is currently upgrading its forces to seven River Class OPV’s, operates eight each of the Hunt and Sandown class MCMVs, two Echo Class multi-purpose survey vessels, representing a force of twenty-five ships. Now if all those ships were of the same design, then instead of it being seven OPVs, sixteen MCMVs and two survey vessels, it would be a pool of twenty five vessels (with operational cost savings from streamlining training and maintenance that could be twenty-eight, or even more should Britain continue its focus on reserves and decide to give the Royal Naval Reserve proper ships again[xviii]) that could be orientated as required by circumstance.

Now this is nothing new, the RN’s MCMVs already often do secondary duty as OPVs, and in fact the scenario outlined is to an extent (common hulls), what the Mine Countermeasures, Hydrography and Patrol Vessel (MCHPV) program envisaged[xix]. Unfortunately, and despite the publication of the Black Swan sloop Concept[xx], when the opportunity came to order three more ships for the OPV role – it was not this program which was sourced, but the existing River Class[xxi], suggesting that it has at least been put back if not having been sacrificed for the time being on the altar of the Type 26 Frigate. What is worse is actually the base design of the River class, with its proven track record, adaptability and RN operational experience, would actually (on the face of it) make the perfect base pattern for the MCHPV to be built from.  Britain though would not be the only nation which could benefit from such a design, so could other nations such as Japan, South Africa, India, Australia and Canada.

All those nations are nations which are building themselves up in the maritime sense, they have to really, as the world has got more complex and sources of danger have diversified the necessity to protect what is theirs has grown. For the Japanese who have a strong escort force they would be most likely less interested in the point-defence adaptability, but considering their ‘peacetime’ problems of East China Sea EEZ patrol and probable war time issues with mines an adaptable force could prove a very workable and cost effective solution. For Australia and Canada with such vast areas to cover in such hostile seas then the more OPVs the better, more importantly with their relatively small force sizes, some second tier fighting ships might well be an attractive foundation on which to grow operational capabilities. India which has for a long time prided itself on being the strongest Asian naval power, is now facing challenges and a future where there are now easy strategic choices or even black & white decisions – making procurement of a flexible asset of the form of OPV/specialist duty vessel a more practical methodology of future proofing.

This is though beginning to sound similar to a ship design which has dominated American procurement discussion in recent years, the Littoral Combat Ship or LCS[xxii]. This was billed as the go everywhere, do everything low level combatant. Which has become its millstone, because it was supposed to be a jack of all trades it is good at none. Everything was designed from scratch, tailor made to fit this new class of warship. Unfortunately that design included a fixation on stealth, primarily because of the ‘Littoral’, meaning close to shore, in its name. The important difference between the LCS, OPVs and even what is being proposed is that the latter two vessel types are not supposed to do everything. The whole way through this work a constant refrain has been, ‘not a frigate’; OPVs do not need to be stealthy to the extent of the LCS, they do no need multiple hangars or even custom equipment – because that level of equipment is not needed by their mission set. Everything that an OPV needs, even the adaptable ship proposed in this section, is procurable ‘off the shelf’ – theoretically offering governments the opportunity to keep very tight control of the costs because they are known in advance. Even with all its capability the LCS has because of its failure to be able to do everything, had its procurement cut short and the USN are now looking for a frigate. One of the options for which is actually an upgraded version of the Coast Guards National Security Cutter[xxiii].

13Figure 13. the Austral’s Independence class LCS, the second of the two designs, its trimaran hull form and distinctive menacing stealth design has already made it a feature of cinema, but also make it cost wise firmly in the frigate classification, despite its limited weaponry[xxiv].
14Figure 14. Russian Steregushchiy class corvette[xxv], the Russian equivalent of the LCS, it bristles with weapons and is not really adaptable: these vessels (like the Chinese Type 056) are most definitely small warships rather than a patrol vessel.


“…the greatest value of the Navy will be found in events that fail to occur because of its influence”

Prof. Colin Gray[xxvi]

As has hopefully been shown these words of Prof Gray could be the watchwords for OPVs.  Whether in terms of design or employment, the mission of such a vessel is to prevent events from happening through their own presence, and through the influence that being present gives a nation.

At the beginning of this work a very simple question was asked, ‘What do OPVs need to be able to do, to do what they do?’, the answer unfortunately is not so simple. The first part of the question though that needs to be answered is actually the second. This is because what a ship does is ultimately the crucial overarching idea which must dictate their design. In theory the OPVs overarching design idea is to be able to maintain their nation’s EEZ through patrolling, and maximise their nation’s security in general through presence. The trouble is that, whilst put like that it sounds like a two plus two sum scenario, the reality as has been discussed is far more complex. There are reasons that the Nigerian OPV version of the Chinese corvette displaces 300tons more; to start with it is operating primarily in the South Atlantic rather than the more gentle waters of the Pacific, beyond this is the fact that whereas the corvettes can call in support of larger ships – the Nigerian navy hasn’t yet reached that point. This serves as an example as to why it’s so difficult to compare one nations OPV to another’s, as every nation has unique needs, and  an its own global perspective which will impact upon what they think they need, therefore what they build.

This complexity then feeds into the first part of the question, for if a vessel is conceived to carry out a primarily fishery protection role then it’s armament beyond machine guns becomes rather unnecessary; if however it is likely to be facing off with other nations warships – then perhaps it needs to be more corvette/small frigate, less OPV. The trick for any nation will be in getting the balance right, because getting it wrong will be far more expensive in lives and treasure. To get it right though then a nation must first properly gauge the threat that its ships will likely face, and just as importantly what level of support they are likely to receive – for a ship that will be on its own and only receive support under the best of circumstance must by necessity be more self-sufficient than one for which possibly overwhelming firepower, medical support or stores are just a beep away.

OPV are because of all this a very revealing class of vessel to watch, by this it’s meant that a nation’s choices will demonstrate much about what their intentions are. The longer the endurance of an OPV the more a nation would seem to be intent on achieving constant presence within their EEZ. This though is not answering the question, the answer to the question is that once a nation has decided what it needs to do, and what it wants to do then it must equip its OPVs accordingly; but they can’t go too far wrong if that OPV is equipped with UAVs, a decent deck gun, a CIWS, the appropriate sensors and possibly most importantly the ability to rapidly deploy and recover boats. Everything beyond that is up to the nation involved.

Dr. Alexander Clarke is our friend from the Phoenix Think Tank in the United Kingdom and host of the East-Atlantic edition of Sea Control. 


[i]            (Wikipedia 2014, Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) 2009)

[ii]           (Wikipedia 2014, Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) 2009)

[iii]           (Wikipedia 2014, Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) 2009)

[iv]           (Marzal 2014)

[v]           (www.prismdefence.com 2010)

[vi]           (CASR 2008, naval-technology.com 2014)

[vii]          (Seaforces.org 2014) – this is a brilliant system which allows for a whole range of mission modules to be changed in and out re-rolling a ship in a matter of hours; advantages of this system include reducing maintenance & upgrade costs – by being able to carry out the work inside at a pace dictated by the work, not by the need to get the ship back to sea.  The problem with it are that whilst it is really a better version of ‘fitted for not with’ (a famous phrase attached to many RN vessels), as the ships can be fitted very quickly, a small ship will always be restricted to being a general specialist rather a general purpose ship. That though is really not that big a bug to bear.

[viii]         (Holmes 2014, USN 2014)

[ix]           (Clarke, August 2013 Notes: Possibilities of Future RN AEW 2013, Clarke, August 2013 Notes: UAVs = Cruise Missiles = UAVs… what does the future look like for Navies? 2013)

[x]           (Clarke, August 2013 Thoughts: Naval Diplomacy – from the Amerigo Vespucci to a Royal Yacht 2013)

[xi]           (J. S. Corbett 1911, Lord Chatfield 1942, Cable, Gunboat Diplomacy 1919-1979, Political Applications of Limited Naval Force 1981, Mahan 1987)

[xii]          (Cable, Britain’s Naval Future 1983, xiii-xiv)

[xiii]         Which have been a part of warfare forever, and have been a core part of war time planning for many years – as best displayed in the work the USN did on War Plan Orange (Miller 1991, 86-99)

[xiv]         In the case of the UK which seems to have enforced a no new gun policy, then there would seem to be a perfect opportunity for some inter-service collaboration, the new army 40mm gun would seem ripe for a sea going conversion, and whilst not being much better than the 30mm option, it would provide a better than nothing increase whilst not requiring a new gun.

[xv]          Optimum number would probably be two – four, depending upon whether the CIWS and Deck Gun were also modular installations or were traditionally emplaced.

[xvi]         (Eshel 2014)

[xvii]         (Wikipedia 2014, Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) 2009)

[xviii]        Yes this may look a little ‘pie in the sky’ in the light of recent decisions, but considering even a cursory glance at what this force is required to do includes:

  • Provide presence/maritime security patrols in the Caribbean, Gibraltar and the Falklands; the only one that a standing OPV presence is maintained at the moment is the Falkland’s, with the Caribbean being covered by a Bay class auxiliary, and Gibraltar having something only when it’s passing through.
  • Fishery Protection/Counter Terrorism patrol of the UK; the OPVs are constant alert for this, whilst Scotland maintains its own Fishery Protection vessels, they don’t do counter terrorism.
  • MCMV patrols in the Middle East, Faslane for the Strategic Deterrent, Portsmouth for the Carriers and Plymouth for the Amphibious Task Group; possibly the most overworked vessels in the fleet, with
  • Survey Ships are often either doing or doing the equivalent of around the world voyages in order to maintain up-to-date maps of the oceans beneath the waves to support ASW and submarine operations.

When that is considered, alongside the fact that many of these commitments requiring multiple ships, it could make anyone wonder how the RN manages it with a force of just 25 vessels – which are not ‘interchangeable’ as those proposed would be.

[xix]         (naval-technology.com 2012)

[xx]          (Ministry of Defence 2012)

[xxi]         (Navy News 2014)

[xxii]         (Defence Industry Daily Staff 2014)

[xxiii]        (Axe 2014)

[xxiv]        (Defence Industry Daily Staff 2014)

[xxv]         (naval-technology.com 2014)

[xxvi]        (Royal Navy 2014)




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