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Frigates have a fighting weight of between seven and eight million pounds and, though they can hit like heavyweights, the Falklands Conflict confirmed that they also have glass jaws. Why, then, not look into building million-pound seaplanes—a million pounds?— that would have all the punch of a frigate and almost none of her vulnerability?
Task forces centered around large carriers are coming under increased attack from critics of traditional naval policy, and the demonstrated vulnerability of both surface fleets in the Falklands War has reinforced many of their arguments. According to these critics, advanced sensor systems make fleets immense arrays of large objects operating slowly on a two-dimensional surface, virtually as easy to detect as cities and airfields. Massive, coordinated subsurface and air attacks make fleets only marginally more difficult to destroy than fixed land installations. When conducting shore operations in a confined area, as the British were in San Carlos Waters, fleet vulnerability is even greater. Outmaneuvered by the threat of a submarine force, as the Argentines were throughout the conflict, the fleet becomes a liability—a helpless but expensive giant. Hence, critics of the traditional policy have concluded that reliance on the largehulled surface ship should be reduced and that new naval designs should be developed. But what would replace the large surface vessel?
Questions without obvious answers invite piecemeal or fatalistic solutions. On the piecemeal side, marginal improvements in ship speeds and handling characteristics are possible. But these qualitative improvements usually entail great expense, loss of range, and other trade-off costs, such as the use of aluminum alloy superstructures and the abandonment of armor plating. Such limited improvements have limited effects. Consequently, quantitative improvements are embraced, and the defense of the surface fleet is achieved by increasing its size. Protecting the fleet by increasing its size reveals the anomaly present in the very existence of the surface fleet. The larger the fleet, the safer it is. But then the fleet is easier to locate, more costly to build and maintain, and more restricted in the waters it can patrol. Moreover, its defense becomes vital, effectively undermining the fleet’s standing as an offensive weapon and sabotaging its ability to perform expected missions. Indeed, conditions today make it imperative that carrier task forces expend more of their energies protecting their own integrity than projecting power against an enemy.
However, the most serious criticism aimed at the large carrier battle group stems from the possibility that the traditionalists’ claims of its near impregnability may, ironically, be true. Traditionalists assure us that elaborate electronic countermeasures, Aegis and Phalanx systems, and
an adequate air umbrella make attacking the properly con figured fleet costly and uncertain. When confronted wit a surface fleet so superior that it cannot be attacked conven tionally with any guarantee of success, an enemy may believe the use of atomic weapons is appropriate lor an attack. In that event, the surface fleet, far from having averted war, will have contributed to the destabilization o the nuclear peace. - In
We need not pursue piecemeal or fatalistic policies, that approach, the arsenal dictates the policy, which is n only wrong in theory, but foolish when we are dea mg with an arsenal which is highly vulnerable in the ir place. Rather, we should develop a military techno ogy that will accomplish the goals set for the Navy by nationa policy. Naval policy has three primary goals: to dere U. S. and allied territory through deterrence, to deten U. S. and allied deterrent forces, and to maintain and e fend the integrity of the sea-lanes. In addition, there more limited goals for naval powers: to attack, if neCva| sary, an enemy’s territory or forces and to establish na presence. t
A surface fleet cannot achieve any of these goals exe P that of naval presence better than submarines or a'rcra^n Our deterrent is hidden in the depths of the sea. Pr?te£1a„ of that deterrent is vested in submarine and air antisu m fine warfare (ASW). Attack submarines and airplanes w neutralize any threat to the sea-lanes. Attacking ene ^ territory from surface ships invites the ships’ destructi Submarines, cruise missiles, or aircraft would more n fulfill this mission. Only flag-showing exercises are effective when performed by surface units. But flag s ing is challenging an enemy, forcing him to retreat some threatened action. Our own challenge, there must be unassailable. Bluffing could lead to the very c flict it was designed to avoid. ,,
We need to rethink the basics on which our strateg ’ tactics, and weapon systems are based. First, we 'l^s) recognize the effect that precision guided missiles (P have on naval warfare. PGMs are so fast and so ae that the only way to survive them or avoid serious da is to stay clear of them. This means, in offensive J® ’ that the standoff capability of the PGM must be ful^ ploited. Resources should be poured into weapons tna the fighting, not the platforms from which the weapons launched. But, in any case, the platforms from whic PGMs are launched should be as far away from the en j as possible, as small and difficult to find as possible- as easy to move as possible . p
The ideal platform would be fast, cheap, and trie should move at about 250 knots, travel anywhere ’ns world from the continental limits of the United *■ (CONUS) and return without refueling, loiter in its aIT ^ operations for some time, and carry a significant P3/ 0f If the ideal vehicle were readily adaptable to a varie y ^ missions—e.g., fighting ship, cargo vessel, tanker^^ troopship—so much the better. This vessel could Pr<’ je a complete revolution in naval warfare, offer incrc ^ opportunities for maneuver, surprise, deception, a tack, and would threaten the very survival of the sur fleet as currently configured.
Ve course- no such vessel exists. A variant of a proven se , however; is available and could meet all the re- thermentS established. We call this vessel Thetis, after AchTCCk goddess who rose from the sea and gave birth to is a ' £S’the fastest and fiercest of fighting Greeks. Thetis deD]Seaplane- Once popular commercially and universally disa°^ed ^ major navies, the seaplane has now virtually “fi ?Peared fr°m tbe world’s fleets. Although it is not a give 'T8 S^*p’ d may be an ‘deai weapons platform, The n types op niissiles and warheads now deployed, the v/ ^eapons have proven themselves at the expense of In th e^l€^ and At/anr/c Conveyer in the Falklands War. “fi ,ese encounters, the inherent disadvantages of the men-'1"18 Sh'P Were dem°nstrated. Moving in two diin sdS1°hS anCi exPosed’ they were easy to locate. Limited ons tn ’tkey Were unahle t0 escape. Outclassed in weap- ’ they were quickly destroyed.
based3*5*3065 ^ave severaI advantages over ships and land- have • aircraPt- Moving in three dimensions, seaplanes face 3 m°re v°Iuminous space in which to hide than sur- SearchefSeiS d°' Altering at will the venue in which the their °r dlem occurs’ seaplanes pose unique problems to
times^ surPace vessel, yet able to extend their patrol seapianar bey°nd that of land- or carrier-based aircraft,
their occurs, seaplanes pose unique problems to
fields60601’68, While Iand‘based planes, tied to their air’ are m°re predictable in their evasive actions. Faster houbl JCS Can Cruise over vast exPanses of space, reach f°re.sP°ts quickly, and loiter to show the flag or wait seapi 6lr °PP°nent to commit himself. Easily dispersed, desPrane^ W0Ldd be elusive targets that would have to be by ny®d Individually, rather than collectively attacked c ear weapons. Moreover, seaplanes can project
power in exactly the same manner as ships or conventional planes, since the weapons launched from the platform would be identical.
Seaplanes can also perform certain missions better than surface ships and land-based air. For instance, seaplanes can lay mines more efficiently than ships because of their speed. They could perform the ASW mission better than land-based airplanes, because they can settle on the surface, loiter, and then leap quickly to new locations for further investigation. Seaplanes could be employed by a rapid deployment force, as well. Attacking from widely dispersed and distant seadromes and having the ability to move in three rather than two dimensions, seaplanes should prove more survivable than landing craft. Like helicopters, but with greater ranges, seaplanes give attacking forces the ability to land behind and beside the enemy instead of merely in front of him, greatly enhancing the advantage of the attacking force. Seaplanes can attack from several directions simultaneously with little warning, inland as well as on coastal beaches. Protecting against such an assault would be a defender’s nightmare, and a greater number of the attacking troops should survive the beachhead battle. Since seaplanes can land on rivers, canals, or reservoirs, an assault force would not waste its cargo space trucking in construction materials to build airfields. Moreover, the defender would be unable to stall an assault by cratering runways or flight decks.
The seaplane in question would have to be a very large airplane—in excess of one million pounds. Granted, the size is awesome, but it is similar to that being discussed for the next generation of transport aircraft. And size can frequently benefit seaplanes, while it robs land planes of some of their efficiency. Large land planes can operate from a decreasing number of the world’s airfields, which are inviting targets. Tons of steel, concrete, gravel, and water are needed to construct base facilities for'land planes; therefore, constructing airfields for large, land- based aircraft during military operations is next to impossible. Assuming ground facilities already exist, the battering they would receive from intense military use suggests that most transport space would be filled with materials for the repair of runways and taxiways. Seaplanes, in contrast, use nature’s bounty, and there are thousands of miles of waterways available. Essentially indestructible, oblivious to wear and tear, and easier to defend, the use of waterways or seadromes makes for more efficient, safer, and more adaptable basing than do ground facilities.
The large size of Thetis is beneficial in other ways as well. Traditionally, seaplanes have been disadvantaged because of their hulls. The need to land on water produced large frontal areas and hydrodynamic hulls, which increased drag. But once airplanes weigh more than 500,000 pounds, the frontal configurations required are no different in sea or land planes. Moreover, improved hull designs in the mid-1950s produced aerodynamically sophisticated afterbodies in some seaplanes that were actually superior to those used in land-based aircraft.
Another consequence of large size arises when landing gear for land-based aircraft is considered. Again, tradition gave the advantage to land planes. Retractable landing
gear made land planes faster; in seaplanes, the added weight needed to strengthen hulls for water landings reduced payloads and ranges. In very large airplanes, however, the engineering needed to maintain the structural integrity of the airframe produces bodies sufficiently strong to land on water. Land planes, in contrast, must carry landing gear. Landing gear can be of two types, both ot which extract high costs in operational efficiency. Low pressure landing gear is relatively light but consumes so much space, often in critical areas, that volume is lost to accommodate it. High pressure tires consume less space, but the pressure delivered on the impact of landing is so great that the airframe must be strengthened to absorb it. Adding strength means adding weight, which reduces ranges and payloads. Hence, water operational aircraft, by design, offer superior payload capacities and flexibility.
The increase in size being recommended here attacks another classic liability of seaplanes, namely, their restricted sphere of operations. Doubling the size of seaplanes, however, also doubles the size of waves in which they can operate and increases the area of sea surface available to them. Thirty years ago, seaplanes could operate in 80% of the world’s oceans, 80% of the time. With the one-million-pound airplane, nearly all the oceans would be available even more of the time. Of course, there will always be seas too heavy for seaplanes. But there are seas too heavy for frigates, destroyers, and cruisers as well. In addition, there are innumerable waters adjacent to crisis-prone areas of the world too perilous for the deployment of aircraft carriers. The advantage of the seaplane is that it can fly in any weather, loiter at a safe distance, otter only an expendable target, move its base when necessary, and still remain a threat to the area of operations.
Although essentially a multimission platform, the warmaking role of Thetis is best considered analogous to that of a frigate. A navy of frigates might not sound appealing
Proceedings / June
to the Pentagon, but there are advantages to a very large number of small-scaled units. Although seaplanes ar^ glamorous fighting ladies, they may be a technically s solution to the problems facing a surface fleet.
Cheaper but more numerous than surface ships, t would offer more officers an opportunity for comm . The economies of scale could be translated into econ benefits for crews. Higher pay would make the _er
competitive with the private sector. Similarly, a c launchpad makes more funds available for practice ti of the PGMs. There is no more certain way to invite un_ ter than to send inexperienced personnel to war wit ^ tested weapons. Development costs for Thetis cou^ shared with commercial interests. Thetis would o ideal airframe for the future exploitation of air especially to Third World countries where port tacn are inadequate. • 0f
The seaplane frigate would be equipped with a m ASW, an airborne surveillance system (ASS), and P projection weapons. The craft could carry severe a ^ missiles, too. Its major armaments would include ASW torpedoes, one ASW tactical nuclear weapon, approximately ten Tomahawks. With four Phoenix ^ two Sidewinder missiles added for self-defense, t e weapons payload would be about 47,000 pounds, nr ^ the seaplane as deadly a ship as a destroyer or cruise ^ be sure, destroyers and cruisers carry more weapon > much of their weaponry is defensive, and most ot rounds are in reload. Consequently, our seaplane actually fire as much at an enemy before returning as a surface ship could before being hit or losing c° a Most important, Thetis could launch her missiles r greater standoff range than either a cruiser or. Lmiles the Harpoons of which must be brought to within 6U , of their targets. In the air, traveling at ten times the sp ^ of a surface ship, attacking from any direction, an a _ shoot from 350-600 miles away, Thetis proves quite ^ gerous. With a properly designed, large aircraft, 47,000 pounds of weapons on board leaves ample ter- for radar, fire control equipment, and electronic co ^ measures. As these instruments get lighter in welgu]d more compact in size as technology develops, there s also be sufficient flexibility in the airframe to keep ei cal gear at the state-of-the-art level for several y ^ Close-to-the-deck seaplanes would be difficult to l Je Equipped with over-the-horizon radar, they should t> ^.f to locate surface ships in sufficient time to discharge ^ weapons before being detected. Protected by “ieIfatiy speed, and distance, available ECM should g heighten the survivability of seaplanes. -ca\
Large seaplanes capable of minelaying, ASW, v -0ll insertion, surface control, supply, and power pr°JL jes. would have to be wing-in-ground (WIG) effect ven6d WIG vehicles take advantage of the cushion of air ^ by a wing moving close to the ground. The cushion provides lift allowing energy to be expended almost e sively for lateral movement. Thus, WIG vehic, tj0na* greatly expanded ranges, unmatchable by con ven
Although the WIG vehicle can travel distances c
oby6 WUh th°Se °f surface shiPs at greater speed, it is Sea'?US^ s^ower ft*an fighter or bomber aircraft, lautf v 6S’ however’ would not be fighters but weapons- So ,C 'n^ P^at^orms- The launching platform need not be P isncated if its missiles are. The gain in speed over
coulT ShlpS’ thou8h’is a great advantage. WIG vehicles coult maneuver quickly enough to elude hunters and Sea | evade enemy radar by remaining low. Conversely, be v^neS' abiIity to attack surface vessels quickly would and f Uable' In addition, as a result of their small crews °w costs, these vehicles could be dispersed over wide areas of space, maximizing their offensive capabilities. They need not concentrate for mutual defense; their primary defense lies in their being hard to find.
Thetis could be configured in several possible formats. The newest alternative is the wing ship, a surface vehicle operating on a cushion of air. Size and speed can be developed easily in this design, but the vehicle is limited to operating very close to the sea surface. Domier’s design for a WIG-RAM is more attactive, for it gives the craft the ability to reach higher altitudes. But the best design would be similar to that developed by NASA around 1960 called
By Robert W. Fausel
Sea Mistress in Distress
Ctl,nRs / June 198,
terv ret.Urn v's't to a 25-year-old concept of heavy mili- ra i ,ai^ 'ft seems timely with the current emphasis on a SonePloyment force. The turning point and the swan beh& ° heavy> water-based aircraft was 1958, so it
j°®ves us to recall that era.
Pass fte *957, tbe Assoc>ution of the U. S. Army had proce on a set °f objectives for 1958. One was the a Urement sufficient long-range, heavy airlift with n°t j^j^eed Priority for the Army. This initiative was
Her6 reciuirernent f°r heavy airlift able to land any- tevp6^11 w°rid without special preparation has lurido t Cen met' tbe ^ea Mistress could have nal f. anywhere regardless of the lack of fixed termi- >nto 3C'| es' Only the Sea Mistress could have gone ■no ffn, Come out a combat theater without remover161 from the theater.
l957-!sxCa ^istress concept, a child of the period of Part f ’ Was based on state-of-art technology that was b°mb t*1C ^Ca ^aster’ a long-range Navy minelayer/ caliy T -^be was a feasible follow-on and was specifi- f°rces Coigned f°r the transport of Army fighting PanyS A16 C0ldd transport a complete infantry com- and aWltb ad its combat equipment, including trucks in the ni0ntb s worth of supplies, to any combat theater strate .World. She could be refueled from submarines, ers ,glCal|y P^ced underwater fuel caches, aerial tank-
Th Xed bases-
f°rcce,lack °f aircraft to handle a rapid deployment ing effUUSed tbe Army to redesign equipment, sacrific- by Cct'veness in combat for the ability to be airlifted 'nate ^Stlng aircraft. The Army also was forced to elim- heavvSre imP°riant hardware because it was too guns w°u an airiift operation. For example, assault of tan)^ ltb°ut heavy armor plates were employed instead ing j(sS' ^be fighting unit was compromised by decreas- Alth Wei^1 *n order to niake it air transportable. f°r tra °Ugb ,^ea Mistress met the Army requirements c°ncemSPOrt'n^ eclu'Pment without compromise, the Senato v'3'’ droPPccl m favor of land-based transports. Mistrer, tuart Symington of Missouri believed the Sea HoWe^S concept was champion for military airlift. er’ he never took sides in the controversy between water-based and land-based airlift. He believed those requirements should be decided by the Department of Defense.
In a special news conference in Washington on 27 August 1957, Guy Mallery, project engineer on the Sea Mistress concept, reviewed various requirements of the military. He noted that as early as 1946, a Marine Corps board convened by the Commandant of the Marine Corps recommended development of a combination of large flying boats and helicopters, citing the need for a wide dispersion of our attack forces and for a rapid concentration of landing forces by means other than small boats or amphibians.
Mallery also quoted Lieutenant General James Gavin, speaking before Congress in the spring of 1951 about the operation he commanded in World War II that went into Sicily. “We took in 3,000 paratroops to engage everything we met, and it was a lot, and we left a lot of them buried there. I wish we had a better airlift and could have done it quicker and more decisively with less battle casualties.”
On 17 May 1957, the Army Chief of Transportation declared in a speech in Baltimore, “We are interested in waterborne aircraft because we operate in areas where no runways or hangars are available. Waterborne aircraft land where the Lord has provided for us, and these runways cannot be destroyed.”
Thus, after years of study by many military experts, requirements were formulated but not by the agencies responsible for research, development, and procurement of either transport aircraft or seaplanes for military use.
During the mid-1950s, major aircraft industries were trying to adapt transport designs to meet Army requirements. The C-119 Flying Boxcar was phasing out and the C-130 Hercules was coming forward. Douglas, Lockheed, and Boeing were pushing land-based transports. None of these had seaplane experience equal to that of Martin.
The Martin Mars was a large seaplane first put on the drawing board in 1937, just 20 years before the Sea Mistress. With a gross weight of approximately 144,000 pounds, the Mars had about a third of the