Debating Defence and Naval Policy (XXVI)

The corvette analogy is correct, but only insofar as the corvette goes. The long-range escort of that day was the sloop, with the aforementioned USCG cutter having even better endurance due to their innovative turbo-electric propulsion systems. Both sloops and cutters had cruiser-like endurance on far less displacement and were, in fact, designed to be part of two-armed team for distant operations of all sorts, both expeditionary and sovereignty.

The Halcyon-class minesweeping sloops had nearly double the range of the Flower-class corvettes on the same fuel capacity and the Lake-class cutters had an extra 1,000 miles of range but carried an extra 100 tons of fuel. The Secretary-class cutters were best of all, capable of 12,300 nm at 11 knots on 572 tons of fuel, or about 6,000 more miles than a Canadian River-class destroyer on about 100 more tons of fuel but at a slightly slower cruising speed. All classes of sloops were vastly better seakeepers than either corvettes or destroyers.

It is a myth that it is not possible to achieve either good endurance or seakindliness in ships of about 250-275 feet length and 1,250-1,500 tons displacement. History has many examples of such vessels but they are overlooked by both historians and military experts. They should not be overlooked on either account.

The vast amount of internal capacity used in superior warships for high-powered engines, long-range weapons and sensors, and magazines for long-range weapons are all unnecessary in a simple ship, which puts this reserve capacity to good use for fuel tanks, extra accommodations, and utility working/storage spaces. Ships designed for lower top speeds had more ample hulls that have better internal capacity and better seakeeping performance in bad weather. These are, and have always been, the ways that the simple ship achieves the endurance to form part of the two-armed high-endurance force structure. Therefore, the desire for uniform high speed, big guns, and sophisticated sensors should be ruthlessly countered by requirements staffs and ship designers when considering simple ships. Otherwise, we end up with this staggering bill for the one-size-fits-all ships, which are, in fact, an operational liability in the joint operating environment we see overseas and in our own areas of national responsibility.”

The other key factor is operational logistics, which allows the liberal use of speed to achieve tactical advantage without concern for fuel consumption; normally a huge concern. Support ships are both an operational and a tactical force multiplier and any move to deprive a maritime force of its source of ready fuel supply should be resisted with the utmost energy. Likewise, other forms of sustainment are important, but not nearly so critical as fuel.