From a post to DAVIDWEBER.NET forums on 5/25/2011

Return of the frigate as a combat-effective unit

    The return of the frigate… not!

    On the surface, the reintroduction of the frigate into the Honorverse might seem to have quite a few things going for it. In fact, it doesn't have much to recommend it for any serious naval power.

    A LAC actually has as much or more firepower than a frigate, because it saves the mass and volume penalties of a hyper generator and alpha nodes. From a combat perspective, something like a Shrike is simply a much more capable platform on a ton-for-ton basis. From a strategic perspective, a Shrike's lack of independent interstellar movement capability is, obviously, a significant limitation on the type, and the only area in which a frigate would have an edge over the LAC. Now, I realize that people are assuming that "tonnage creep" is going to result in the tonnage for the "frigate" classification increasing much the same way the Roland-class "destroyers" have crept upward. The problem is that the destroyer is the smallest practical hyper-capable combatant because it is the smallest platform which provides independent hyper capability and a sufficient margin of tonnage for a useful suite of weapons. That hasn't changed; what's changed is that the proliferation of advanced missiles and drones has changed the systems mix necessary for a "useful suite of weapons," and the increase in the size of the weapons carried has driven up mass and volume requirements. That is, the Roland, despite the fact that it's the size of an old light cruiser, is actually about the smallest hyper-capable platform with a worthwhile weapons load in an era of MDMs. You simply aren't going to be able to load enough Mark 16s into a frigate to give it anything like a worthwhile throw weight. Remember the sacrifices which have already been made to shoehorn the Mark 16 into the Roland, including the automation which cuts down on available manpower (and survivability) and the dangerously vulnerable concentration of its launch capability.

    Frigates might have some utility for lesser naval powers who propose to pursue a policy of commerce warfare, since it would allow them to project raiding forces at interstellar without CLACs. The problem becomes that the nature of the beast means that when opposed to an adversary of equivalent tech capabilities, those frigates are generally going to be substantially outgunned by local system defense craft, since those system defense craft will probably be either destroyers or larger (if hyper-capable) or more heavily armed LACs (if not hyper-capable). Frigates are going to be largely useless for convoy escort against any regular navy's commerce-raiders and will probably find themselves hard-pressed against anyone's "privateers," although they would probably have a deterrent effect against common garden-variety chicken-stealing pirates. It would be more effective in the long term, however, to provide light armament for the merchantmen themselves.

    As the technological and tactical innovations of the RMN and the Republican Navy spread through the rest of the galaxy's fleets, it's far more likely that the combination of LACs and CLACs will be much more attractive than the resumption of frigate construction. Current Manticoran fleet exercises and tactical analysis suggest that even destroyer types as large and robust as the Roland-class may well largely disappear from battle fleet formations. They will continue to have utility as independently deployable hyper-capable units, but there are indications even there that the destroyer will be supplanted in that role by the cruiser and that the destroyer's screening functions will be taken over by LACs transported in company with heavier combatants aboard attached CLACs. That, in fact, is already becoming Manticoran practice, and many Manticoran naval theorists point out that the primary reason for the Rolands' existence is the RMN's monopoly on the Mark 16. Once that monopoly is breached, they argue, the Roland will no longer be a survivable proposition in the face of larger units with more ammunition capacity and greater defensive strength (i.e., properly designed cruisers). Those theorists are projecting something closer to the 300,000-ton range for an MDM-era "light cruiser" which would be required to take over the independent "show the flag," picket, and hyper-capable convoy escort roles. Some of those same theorists are arguing that the best approach to convoy escort may actually be the construction of freighters with "spliced in" modules capable of transporting and servicing two or three LACs. Such armed merchantmen integrated into and scattered through convoys would provide reasonably adequate convoy defense anywhere except in the middle of a gravity wave, where the LACs would be unable to operate. It would not be a perfect solution, of course, but the analysts who support it argue that it would be the most cost-effective use of resources.

    At any rate, there is general agreement among both Manticoran and Havenite strategists that the reintroduction of the frigate into their orders of battle would not be cost-effective and would actually require a substantially larger investment in manpower (as well as numbers of hulls) to project the same amount of combat power over interstellar distances as compared to the LAC/CLAC combination or larger hyper-capable combatants. They're willing to concede that the independent hyper capability of the frigate makes it more flexible than the LAC, but the weaknesses of the type (especially assuming equality of technology) make it combat ineffective, despite its theoretical advantages and flexibility.

    Frigates are neither militarily survivable nor economically or logistically defensible, nor do they fill any pressing strategic niche which cannot be filled more effectively and more efficiently by other types. That conclusion isn't a case of my simply saying "because I don't like frigates there won't be any frigates," but rather the result of analyzing the tactical, strategic, and technological realities which have been established to date in the Honorverse.

    Building a frigate with comparable endurance, hyper capability, etc., is going to cost between 70% and 80% as much as building a DD. That right there makes the FG a piss-poor deal for any serious navy. Assume a price of $100,000 for a DD (obviously I'm just picking a nice, even number that lends itself to easy manipulation), then the FG is going to cost you around $75,000. Or, put another way, for $200,000, I can buy two full-capability DDs or 2.6 FGs. On the face of it, the FGs like a good deal, since I get three platforms (almost) instead of two. But I have to crew all the ships, and the crew size of the FG is going to be basically identical to that of a DD, and I have to provide essentially the same logistical support to each of the ships. That means the frigates' operational costs are going to be 30% higher than the DDs' costs, and operational costs will be a much larger percentage of the ships' total lifecycle costs. (Of course, given the FGs' much more limited life expectancy in combat [see next paragraph], I may recoup some of those costs by virtue of the fact that so many of them will be eliminated before they run up much in the way of operational costs.)

    Not only will the frigates actually cost more over their lifetimes and put a larger drain on my manpower supplies, but they give me bupkus for combat power. The FG has less combat capability than a LAC which masses somewhere around a third as much, costs less than half as much, is stealthier, requires less than 10% of the FG's personnel costs, and accelerates a lot more rapidly. The frigate is as non-survivable as the LAC in terms of combat damage, yet represents a bigger sensor signature and a far easier targeting solution. The only advantage a FG has over a LAC is internal, onboard hyper capability. That's it, all she wrote, and that "advantage" is grossly inadequate to offset the economic, logistic, and manpower disadvantages of the type. And then there's the fact that the FG also has effectively zero magazine space for the plethora of drones and remote platforms which are becoming the norm for DDs and larger combatants, of which, more anon.

    If a navy were forced to choose between FGs and no hyper-capable combat capability at all, then the frigate type might make some sense. However, if FGs are the best you can build, then you shouldn't be building a navy in the first place, because the first real navy you piss off is going to turn you into orbital debris.

    I think part of the problem is that people are looking at the current technological advantages of the Star Empire and its allies and figuring that frigates built with those advantages are going to be combat capable vis-à-vis larger, technologically inferior types. It may be that the combat effectiveness of Manticoran LACs is one of the reasons for this thinking. The truth is, however, that while a FG built with current Manticoran technology is much nastier than anyone else's frigates, it's still inferior in combat capability to a destroyer even if the DD is built to, say, old-style Solarian or even Silesian tech standards. Manty EW/ECM could be a game changer in that equation, if we're going to be fair, but that only makes the FG more survivable; it does far less in terms of augmenting the FG's offensive power. A FG can't mount the long-range missiles which make the Roland survivable against even larger types. It can't carry worthwhile numbers of drones and remote platforms. Its sidewalls are weaker than those of a Shrike-class LAC, and its energy armament is pathetic. Its on-board sensor suite is certainly no better than that of a Shrike, and is proportionately poorer, since the FG gives away more sensor signature than the LAC, thus reducing the range at which it can detect without being detected. It's basically a "warship" best suited to serve as a target drone for its betters… and that's assuming the Manties retain their tech advantage over their adversaries.

    However, one thing the Manties understand perfectly well (having learned it the hard way), but which I think readers tend to forget, is that any technological advantage is transitory. Manticore is currently building certain specialized types whose combat effectiveness depends on technology which is currently the monopoly of Manticore and her allies. At the present time, that technology gives those specialized types an overwhelming tactical advantage. In the fullness of time, when other navies begin to acquire that technology, those specialized types will become the bare minimum for an effective unit in their tonnage ranges, and their survivability will be enormously reduced.

    The 300,000-ton type the Royal Manticoran Navy is looking at as a notional ship is viewed by most Manticoran theorists as a light cruiser, not a heavy cruiser, but there's another group which argues that basically 300,000 tons is going to become the floor for an effective destroyer design in the fullness of time. It bases that statement on the role definition of the type, not its tonnage. Something similar happened to the United States Navy following World War II when it attempted to build a new escort vessel with the volume and tonnage to support the increasingly sophisticated sonar systems and weapons designed to meet the new submarine threat. The systems' displacement and volume requirements pushed "destroyer" design into the development of the Norfolk-class, which drove displacement up from the 2,182 tons of the Gearing-class to almost 6,000 (actually a tad larger than the WW II Atlanta-class light cruisers), at close to twice the cost… and resulted in a ship which was less effective as a generalist because of its need to concentrate on a single role. In essence, the changing weapons/technology mix drove up platform size, as well as increasing the cost and complexity of the technology itself, to a level at which the United States simply couldn't afford to buy the type in the numbers it would have required, and Norfolk became a one-off test bed rather than the lead ship of a new class of 'destroyer.'

    In the case of the Honorverse, the changing technology is Manticore's improved missiles and drones, all of which require physical magazine space. That makes magazine volume the determinative factor on combat endurance. Even if your ship were invulnerable to enemy fire, it would have to possess the ability to damage the enemy to be combat-effective, and that's why the Roland is the smallest possible combat-effective platform in an era of multi-drive and dual-drive missiles. It may or may not be survivable once the other side has the same range capability; the jury is still out on that one, but the Star Empire is betting that it will not be survivable once an opponent can match its ability to project combat power to comparable ranges.

    The FG is already non-survivable in combat, even against an opponent equipped solely with single-drive missiles. There are limits to the amount of "strap-on" armament you can fit onto a frigate-sized hull, and it would be difficult to provide a frigate-sized vessel with the fire control equipment to allow it to truly take advantage of the reach of the Mark 16 even if they could mount large numbers of external pods. It wouldn't be impossible, but it would definitely drive the cost of the ship up into that "80% of a DD" range bracket for a ship which would be good for perhaps one or two light salvos of missiles and which would be significantly less survivable. So from a combat perspective, there is no sane argument which would waste precious shipyard, maintenance, and manpower resources on that weak a unit.

    A Roland carries 240 Mark 16s and 800 counter missiles internally and mounts 12 Mark 16 launchers and twenty counter-missile tubes. A radically upsized "Mark 16 FG" would carry perhaps 6 launchers and perhaps 70 Mark 16s, backed up by a maximum of 400 (and probably closer to 300) counter missiles and 12 counter-missile tubes. (The Mark 16 cannot be fired from the sort of box launchers older LACs and FGs carried, and no LAC-style 'revolver' launcher capable of handling them is currently in prospect.) Fire control capability would be roughly proportional; that is, the FG would have no more than half the fire control capability of the DD, and probably less. The DD has 20 salvos onboard; the FG has 11.7, each of which is only half as heavy as the DD's. The DD could probably mount external pods at a 2-to-1 ratio compared to the FG (this is a WAG; I haven't actually tried to work it out, but I think it's probably overstating the ratio in the FG's favor). Even if those ships had the same number of pods mounted externally, however, the FG, with its weaker fire control, would not be able to control salvos as big as those the DD could control, which is going to have pronounced… negative consequences for penetrating enemy defenses. And the DD is going to be more survivable than the FG simply because it's bigger, although "survivable" is a purely relative term in an era of MDMs.

    Suppose we create a very crude formula for evaluating the combat capability of the types that would be something like this:

    (missile tubes X # of salvos per tube) + ([CM tubes X # CM per tube]/4)

    The Roland would be:

   

(12 X 20) + ([20 X 40]/4) = 240+200 = 440

    The notional frigate would be:

   

(6 X 11.7) + ([12 X 29]/4) = 70 + 87 = 157

    [Note that this "formula" is probably actually skewed in favor of the FG, since it doesn't consider stealthiness or general EW and ECM of the larger and generally more capable DD. Nor does it include point defense clusters, where, once again, the larger ship would simply have more of them.]

    Take my cost of $100,000 for a DD and $75,000 for a FG. Buy five Rolands for $500,000, and you get a combat value of 2,200. Spend the same $500,000 on FGs, and you get 6.6 hulls and a combat value of 1,036. It gives you 32% more hulls (i.e., 1/3 more potential deployment coverage) but only 47% of the combat value, even assuming you deploy all of them to the same spot, which rather undercuts the argument that it gives you more coverage.

    The combat differential between the FG and a LAC is probably going to be narrower than the differential between the FG and the DD, although it's a bit harder to quantify because of the LAC's EW superiority, nimbleness, and relatively small target size. The cost differential between the FG and the LAC is going to be even greater, however, and will actually favor the more effective combat vessel, since the LAC doesn't need the hyper generator and alpha nodes of a hyper-capable vessel. This is not the sort of equation which is going to endear the procurement officer proposing the frigate buy to BuShips. And please note that this assumes equality of fire control, equality of sensors, and equality of EW and ECM capabilities, all of which would require the FG to pay exactly the same amount in terms of construction, maintenance, and manning expenses.

    So the FG which costs 70% or 80% (let's call it 75% to split the difference) as much as the DD provides only 35.7% as much combat power. I would expect the actual relative combat value of the ship to be even lower than this number would indicate, but I think it demonstrates where we're headed in the combat arena. The FG could carry a heavier (or at least more numerous) load out of single-drive missiles for use against shorter ranged opponents if the decision was made to build a bigger SDM-armed version, but so could a Roland designed around SDMs, and a naval designer or force planner who designs against the minimum possible threat should be shot.

    Now, quite a bit of the argument being put forward in favor of the FG seems to completely ignore combat value. Or, rather, it argues that the only things you're actually going to use the FG for are (a) deterring piracy and anti-commerce warfare, (b) the equivalent of chasing Somali pirates in speedboats as a subset of (a), or (c) recon missions. I still fail to see how this can become an argument in favor of building FGs.

    (a) and (b): Pirates, Speedboats, & System Defense

    LACs can't get into hyper on their own, but they can readily limpet onto the ships they're escorting or be carried aboard CLACs, so that's a straw argument against them. Once they do get into hyper, they require a lot fewer warm bodies than FGs for the same combat power, they cost less, and they are faster and more maneuverable. True, they can't enter a gravity wave… but combat practically never takes place in a gravity wave in the first place, People! If it did, ship design would be radically different. There's no reason for fleets to ever fight one another in a grav-wave ' control of a specific spot in hyper-space is about as useful as teats on a boar hog ' and convoy actions practically never take place in a gravity wave, either, for the simple reason that it's extraordinarily difficult to intercept a convoy (or anything else mobile) anywhere in hyper-space. Pirate attacks almost always take place in normal-space after the target has dropped out of hyper, and that usually means the attack is going to take place inside or just barely outside the hyper limit of a star. Attacks on convoys or individual ships in hyper usually require the resources of a genuine navy (in other words, they constitute commerce raiding by an opponent with a genuine deep-space combat capability, which includes an intel capability to help predict convoy routes and sailing dates) and one hell of a lot of luck. I believe that in the entire Honorverse to date, we've seen two attacks on ships/convoys actually in hyper (as opposed to simulations of such attacks), and only one of them (the attack in which Helen Zilwicki's mother was killed in The Short Victorious War) was in a grav wave where a FG could have operated and a LAC wouldn't have been able to.

    Are we seriously going to suggest that a navy would design and build an entire class of frigates to deal with the 1-in-10,000 opportunity of beating off a chicken-thief Somali-in-a-speedboat caliber pirate in a gravity wave? I'm sorry, but a BuShips analyst would hurt himself laughing at the very notion. It makes enormously more sense to take an existing, demonstrably combat-worthy type which is already in series production and costs a lot less and attach a handful of them to each convoy. If you anticipate something that a half-dozen LACs can't deal with, then you should be sending along a Saganami-C… or maybe, I don't know, a Roland, instead.

    The same thing holds true for combat in the vicinity of a star system, and why should you be fighting anywhere except in the vicinity of a star system? If your opposition wants to come inside the hyper limit to get at the worthwhile real estate in the star system (which is the only reason he's interested in the system in the first place), then he has to come into an environment in which the fact that he has hyper capability isn't going to help him very much, either. I suppose one could posit a vast horde of FGs micro-jumping around the perimeter of a star's hyper limit in order to draw the defending LACs out of position, but that's not going to happen in real life. If you're going project a serious attack on a star system, then you're going to need something better than FGs to do the job, and if anyone anticipates a serious attack on a star system, he's going to either cover the critical zones with enough LACs that he doesn't have to try to respond to your shifting axes of attack or else he's going to send along a genuine hyper-capable battle force of his own. Heck, for that matter the proliferation of MDM pods with extended stand-by endurance is going to greatly simplify system defense by giving the defender the reach to nail threats well short of the inner-system even if he has no mobile units at all of his own.

    (c) The recon mission:

    And, finally, there's the notion that you can send FGs off to recon distant star systyems, or even use them to make scouting micro-jumps in and around star systems in search of spider-drive "submarines." The only point of that argument that makes any sense at all is the "sub-hunting" aspect, and even in that case the argument that FGs would be more effective than DDs is weak, at best.

    The critical factor in the reach of a scouting platform, using current Manticoran technology, is the number of remote platforms it can deploy, monitor, and control, and a FG can simply carry far fewer platforms than a DD. If the FG cost, say, 30% of the cost of a DD and could carry half as many sensors, then it would be a better deal than the DD. In fact, however, the FG costs around 75% as much as the DD (to build; remember, the operational costs are virtually identical) and carries significantly less than half as many sensors. The additional "reach" of the DD, if only because of its advantage in platforms, is enormously greater than anything the FG brings to the table. Which doesn't even consider the fact that more and more of the RMN's long-range sensor missions are being carried out by independently deployed recon platforms with FTL capability. All-up Ghost Rider platforms are large; the number of them which could be carried by a FG would be even lower than for other RDs, and no one has to physically go and "sit on top of" a Ghost Rider platform in order to monitor its take. In theory, I suppose, one could argue that a massive force of frigates which could explode outward in all directions using its hyper capability could be used to establish a perimeter of Ghost Riders very quickly, even if each of them carried only a single platform. That is, they would radiate out from a central position, drop their platforms, and then immediately hyper back out, leaving the platforms to be monitored by heavier vessels inside the protected sphere. Personally, I think it would still make more sense to do the same mission with a lower number of DDs… since the number of DDs present would be only 25% lower for the same expenditure of building capacity and a lower expenditure in manpower and maintenance costs, but I suppose the theoretical advantages of the larger number of frigates ought to be granted.

    But if you're going to talk about using FGs to do run-in-and-run-out recon runs, whether for 'subs' in the approaches to your own system or for other star systems entirely, why bother to use frigates? If you're going to think in terms of fighting your way in and/or out against light enemy forces, then you want to send something which would actually be combat effective ' i.e., not a frigate. If you're going to argue in favor of stealthiness and getting in and out without a fight, why arm the recon vessel at all? A FG is not going to survive combat with anything except, possibly, another FG or a LAC, no matter what you do. (Note that this is assuming equality of technology for both attacker and defender, which has been kind of the point of my entire discussion.) So instead of piddling away the resources to build an effectively useless combat capability into the vessel, build a completely unarmed drone tender whose sole function will be to hyper into the vicinity of a star system, deploy its Ghost Rider platforms, then hyper back out, wait for the platforms to complete their preprogrammed runs, hyper back in to rendezvous with and recover them (or at least their data), and then go home. Or deploy the Ghost Rider platforms and sit in space a safe distance away from anybody else while you monitor their take FTL, and run away the instant you see anything coming at you. That specialist design might actually make sense, especially if you used some of the tonnage which wouldn't be used up by non-effective offensive power to build in even better stealth and general EW. Think of it as something like the EP-3 Orion but with stealth capability and make sure it isn't armed as a way to encourage the crews to be really, really quiet when hunting wabbits.

    The preferred Manticoran approach is to use DDs for this role, because they can carry larger numbers of platforms and have a genuine combat capability. From the perspective of stealthy system recon, the existence of that combat capability is simply gravy, but I imagine the crews find it a comfort. No doubt Manticore would be perfectly willing to use FGs for the recon role if it had them lying around anyway, but it isn't going to build an otherwise useless type which is putatively combat-worthy simply so that it can use it for this. Instead, it will build types that have multi-mission functionality. If Manticore decides that it simply has to have hundreds or thousands of additional hyper-capable recon platforms (which seems pretty damned unlikely, frankly) then it probably will build a bare-bones, cheap, unarmed vessel whose sole function is to carry, deploy, and monitor recon remotes.

    In either case, whether for a combat role or for a recon role, a FG represents a wanton wastage of resources and manpower and ' in the event that the ship is actually called to combat ' almost certainly of lives, as well.

    And in response to the argument that Manticore desperately needs these platforms because of the hammering it's taken, I say nonsense. The building times for frigates, the resources required to build them, and the manpower required to man them, all indicate that there would be minimal savings over building and deploying the same number of destroyers even in terms of the initial purchase price and building times. The advantages (such as they are and what there are of them) are certainly far too small to justify building the smaller type, instead. They simply aren't going to matter in the long haul.

    People, this isn't another case of the Royal British Navy and the U.S. Navy being forced to build corvettes and DDEs as stopgap, cheaper, barely adequate vessels in the face of the submarine threat. The corvettes were the absolute minimum which could possibly have done the job. They were designed on the basis of a deep sea trawler hull because they could be built in small, scattered civilian yards to civilian standards, and they were actually outclassed as combat vessels by the submarines they were hunting. It was their ability to suppress the slow and largely blind (when submerged), air-breathing submarine by forcing it to remain submerged that made them effective, not their speed or weapons fit, and that sort of suppression isn't going to be a factor in the Honorverse.

    The destroyer escorts, on the other hand, weren't all that much cheaper than the standard prewar fleet DD, and they didn't save very much on building times. True, they were cheaper than the later Sumner/Gearing-class ships evolved from the Fletcher-class, but not by as much as most people seem to think. I don't have the cost figures on the Sumner/Gearings, but the Fletchers [authorized 1939; built 1942-44] cost roughly $6,000,000 each under wartime building conditions, which was almost exactly the same cost as the ultimate DDE design. They weren't that much smaller than the fleet DDs, either. Although the Gearing class [1944] displaced 2,203 tons in light condition, while the Brenan-class DDE [1944] displaced 1,023 tons (about a 50% tonnage reduction over the DD), the pre-war Bagley-class DD [1937] displaced only 1,400 tons. It was primarily the numbers being built simultaneously (i.e., the sheer scale of the building program) and the decision to adopt alternative, cheaper power plants (also not a factor ' or an option ' in the Honorverse), not their smaller size, less complex hull, or dirt-cheap price tag which made the DDEs available in such quantities.

    For that matter, if you look at the debate over the DDE's construction, you'll find that Admiral Robinson, the Chief of BuShips in 1941, argued strongly in favor of building large numbers of a 1,500-ton standard DD (with beefed up AA in place of torpedo tubes but an otherwise standard armament) instead of the DDE. He based his argument on a BuShips analysis which showed that the low-end capability DDE would cost about $6,900,000 per unit whereas a 1,620-ton DD would have cost only $8,000,000, or only about 16% more than the proposed DDE. In fact, the simpler DDE finally adopted cost about $6,000,000 (same as the Fletcher), around 60% of the 1,620-tonners (Gleaves-class) designed in 1938 and actually completed in 1941-43, which came in around $10,000,000 (more than the later, wartime Fletcher-class), but Robinson was talking about a smaller, cheaper DD, as well. He wanted to go back to the Bagely as the basis for a design which would be simpler than the Fletcher but much more capable than the DE and argued that the real bottleneck (for DDs or DDEs) was going to be yard capacity, not cost, and that by the time the yard capacity was built up to projected levels, it would be able to build the DDs in the numbers actually needed… which he believed would be substantially lower than the numbers of DDEs being projected.

    In fact, he was quite right… not that it did him much good. His proposals were overruled primarily by FDR, who didn't trust the admirals not to press for 'gold-plated heads' rather than building austere, readily produced designs. He pressed for enormous DDE (and CVE) programs, which required the construction of three completely new yards dedicated to DDE production (exactly as Robinson had predicted) and found themselves in competition for strategic materials and priorities which were in very short demand. They didn't really hit their stride until very late in 1942… and by mid-1943 there were enormous cancellations of orders because the Navy was finding itself glutted with huge numbers of ships of very limited utility (again, as Robinson had predicted) and there were other and more pressing needs (like landing craft) in direct competition with the DDE program. The greatest single reason that the DDEs were no longer needed was that the escort carrier had proved decisive in breaking the back of the German submarine arm, and even scores of CVEs were cancelled, as well.

    Despite the massive cancellations, so many had already been built that the USN ended up with hundreds of only marginally useful vessels post-war, which created its own problem in that with so many hulls, obsolescent and tactically limited or not, it was extremely difficult to get Congressional authorization to build the newer, more effective vessels which were actually needed. If Robinson's advice had been taken, almost the same numbers of units would have been produced, to nearly the same timetable, and they would have been 50% faster, with a greater operating radius and enough reserve buoyancy to accept a far larger increase in both equipment and manpower post-war.

    The reason for this side excursion is that the RMN sees exactly the same factors looming on its horizon. It has no desire to tie up resources in vessels which would be of extremely limited utility even now and completely useless within a few years when it can build much more effective ships which will be far more likely to retain a reasonable degree of utility down the road.

    What made the DDEs of such limited utility after 1945? Three main factors: low speed, limited habitability, and very limited internal volume, all of which would have been greatly reduced if Robinson's 1,500-ton ships had been built instead.

    (1) The speed disadvantage was the result of having designed ships with maximum speeds of 24 knots (and most of the diesel-powered DDEs were slower than that) in order to go after submarines with a max submerged speed of well under 10 knots when the submarines they were actually going to face could make twice that speed submerged even with conventional power plants. In fact, the GUPPY conversions and the Soviet subs developed from the late-war German Walther boats were actually faster submerged than the DDEs were on the surface! The 1,500-tonners would have been designed for a sprint speed of 38 knots.

    (2) Limited habitability was simply a factor of small size coupled with steady growth in crew complement, resulting in overcrowding of already very limited habitability features. It didn't help that the DDEs had been designed primarily as trans-Atlantic escorts; that is, with 'short legs' and the intention to provide crew-rest and shore maintenance between convoys, unlike the 'long endurance' requirements of the big Fletchers and Gearings which had been specifically designed for Pacific Ocean operational distances. The DDEs which operated in the Pacific later in the war had to refuel much more often than the Fletchers and the other big DDs, and the USN was fortunate that it had developed the mobile logistics structure to keep them fueled underway.

    (3) And the limited internal volume ' the result of being designed just big enough to squeeze in only the shipboard equipment visualized at the time they were authorized ' meant they were already suffering from very cramped shipboard conditions (and even more limited habitability) even by 1945. Over the course of its operational life, every warship finds itself being asked to accept systems and hardware which had never been contemplated at the time it was designed. That was true for the DDEs well before WW II was over, and the situation was only worsened post-war when the Navy tried to figure out how to cram in the new, massive sonar systems and the much larger anti-submarine weapons which would eventually become ASROC and its contemporaries. That need for greater and greater internal volume is precisely what Honorverse ships now confront, though for somewhat different reasons, as the sophistication (and physical size) of missiles and counter-missiles ' and RDs ' continue to climb.

    And that's really the conclusive point, in my opinion. Even if the economic arguments in favor of building frigates made sense (which they don't), small platforms have always been of minimal survivability, limited utility, and even more limited offensive capability in the Honorverse, and that has now gotten even more pronounced. The Rolands (which, again, the Manties think of as essentially a transitional type) are a case in point, and changing roles ' in recon and commerce protection, as well as fleet combat ' are inevitably going to continue to drive vessel size up. Whether the Roland itself will be a practical, survivable unit in another ten or twelve T-years is very much in question at this time. Whether or not a frigate will be a practical, survivable unit in today's Honorverse really isn't, because the answer is already in, and it's "No."

   


    Okay, I'm going to try this one more time.

    The argument was that frigates make more sense than destroyers. Frigates do not make more sense than destroyers for any possible mission. Now, if the object is to discuss building some vessel other than a frigate for a specific mission, that's an entirely different proposition. It was not the question as originally posed, although, if you will notice, I suggested in my long post on this topic that building something on the order of an Orion ' that is, a completely unarmed, small-manpower, hyper-capable vessel solely for reconnaissance purposes ' might (and I emphasize might) be a reasonable proposition. If, however, that's what you're proposing, then it isn't a "frigate" at all. It's something else entirely, that would be a new departure, and saying that I don't understand the logic that makes a frigate desirable or even necessary is inaccurate, because you're talking about something else entirely.

    A frigate is a light warship capable of independent interstellar deployment; a pure recon platform would be, at best, a drone tender. It certainly would not be a warship.

    Having said that, I still don't see Manticore needing or building the type you're discussing. And the reason I don't see Manticore needing or building the type is that their vulnerabilities are clearly not what you seem to be thinking they are. Or, rather, the solution to the problem which you envision (note that I did not say "which you invented," although the temptation was there) is far in excess to the need and would require the diversion of lots and lots of badly needed resources from platforms which would be combat capable at need to platforms which would be completely non-combat capable. Before you point out (again) that I'm clearly missing the point because the type we're talking about (now) doesn't have to be armed at all to accomplish its mission, note that I said platforms which would be combat capable at need. In other words, platforms which would be capable of a somewhat more demanding mission than the one you've sketched out and (would therefore actually constitute a useful addition to the RMN's war-fighting ability, as well) in addition to running around like chickens with their heads cut off on recon missions.

    All right, first what exactly constitutes Manticore's recon requirements where spider-drive ships are concerned? The problem from Manticore's perspective with the original Oyster Bay attack wasn't that they failed to detect the Sharks arrival but that they failed to recognize what it was. They picked up the attack force's hyper footprint, but the fashion in which the attack force made its alpha translation was very carefully designed to disguise the footprint and make it look like a sensor ghost. The defenders had no reason to believe that it truly was an alpha translation, yet they treated it seriously and dispatched a response force to the location of what they believed was a false datum, where the response force proceeded ' very diligently; they took their responsibility seriously even if the odds were overwhelmingly that it was a wild goose chase ' to search anyway. Unfortunately, they didn't know (then) that anyone had a reactionless drive that didn't rely on an impeller wedge. It wasn't that they weren't looking; it wasn't that they didn't get there in time; it was that they were looking for the wrong thing because they didn't know the right thing existed. That's not a hardware failure, it's not a ship availability failure; it's arguably an intelligence failure, but I personally would disagree even with that. They did everything right; they simply didn't know about an entirely new threat no one else in the entire galaxy had ever seen.

    The significant delay element in getting the destroyers to the locus of the footprint was the time necessary for that footprint to reach the enormous passive sensors necessary to pick something like that up at extreme distances. It wouldn't have mattered whether they'd had frigates deployed instead of destroyers, the transit time would have been effectively identical. Nor, for that matter, would speed in getting there have been the critical factor if they'd known what they were looking for in the first place. Had they realized that someone could accelerate ships without using a reaction/fusion drive or an impeller wedge, the logical thing for them to do would have been to send a larger force (which would have been readily available out of on-call destroyers) to englobe the locus and then deploy remote platforms for all they were worth. The acceleration rates of the individual units are really pretty much immaterial, as is the number of individual hulls, as long as they can carry a large enough combined number of remote platforms. Initial detection depends upon the huge, passive arrays; once that detection has taken place ' and been recognized ' the Royal Manticoran Navy has all of the "rapid response" vessels that it needs in the form of destroyers. And the sensor suites available to your non-frigates are going to be sufficiently inferior to the passive arrays as to constitute no net increase in detection reach. Again, it's not a matter of numbers of platforms, but rather of their sensitivity, and the existing passive arrays are fully sensitive enough… if they know what to look for in the first place. And please note that I'm not talking about picking up the spider drive; I'm talking about picking up the hyper footprint. On the other hand, anyone arriving from an interstellar distance is still going to radiate a hyper footprint, the detection of which has to be any star system's first line of defense against spider drive-ships.

    If your thought is that they're going to smother the area outside the hyper limit with frigates ' I'm sorry, with non-frigates ' in order to significantly reduce response times and possibly even pick up spider drives coming in (somehow) without hyper footprints, then how many of them do you intend to build? How heavily do you intend to saturate the area outside the hyper limit, and how big a zone do you intend to saturate? Detection range against the spider drive is going to be very, very short. (I'm not going to tell you how short just yet, but it's safe to say that it will be substantially less than five light-minutes unless you already know essentially where the target is.) If you assume a hyper limit of 20 light-minutes and you further assume that you're going to cover a zone that extends merely another 20 light-minutes beyond the limit, you're looking at an area of 234,572 cubic light-minutes. Are you going to distribute one non-frigate for every ten cubic light-minutes? Fifteen? Twenty? If you call it 15 cubic light-minutes, you're going to need 15,638. So let's call it 30, which will reduce your numbers requirement to a "mere" 7,819. Assume you can get the crew all the way down to only ten trained personnel (trust me, you'd be looking at more than that if they were going to remain instantly deployable over any extended period), and you get damned near 80,000 personnel who will be sitting around in completely unarmed vessels serving no other useful function at all. Somehow I don't see the Admiralty viewing that as an efficient usage of manpower, building materials, or logistics, especially when the Admiralty already has a perfectly adequate quick response force now that it knows what to look for in the first place.

    The other side of that equation is that if they invest the money in something like a Roland, it will be able to carry out the quick response recon function you're talking about and, even if the non-frigate you're now talking about cost only 10% as much as a Roland, they'd have an additional 781.9 Mark 16-capable destroyers which could also be used for other duties at need.

    Building thousands of ships for "quick response" recon is one of the best examples of a solution in search of a problem I've seen in quite some time. It would constitute a panic reaction on the part of the RMN which would have a significant impact on the ability of the RMN to maintain a useful combat capability.

    If I were designing the RMN's "quick response" recon forces (which, by an odd coincidence, I am responsible for doing) they would be built around a small number of specifically tasked groups of destroyers and a single CLAC. They would be dispatched to the coordinates of any suspect datum, and once they reached those coordinates, they would be tasked to search a volume around them which would allow for a rate of advance by any incoming force which would be at least twice that of which I believe the attackers to actually be capable. They would deploy recon platforms in profusion and they would operate two shells of RDs: one working its way in from the outer perimeter of the sphere to be searched, and another working its way out from the center. The CLAC would remain a light-minute or so away from any anticipated danger, staying in contact via FTL com, and would be available to provide a massive launch of LACs if an opponent suitable for its engagement turned up. If, instead, an entire enemy Battle Fleet turned up, then Home Fleet would be on call to deal with it. And, in the meantime, I would not have invested billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of tons of shipping, and tens of thousands of personnel in a fleet of ships which had no other function but to run around, look for the enemy, and either run away very fast ' or die ' if they detect the enemy.

    Wasting resources on that mission when that mission can already be accomplished by existing combat types which can also serve other useful functions is logistically and economically insane.

   


   

I know without any possible doubt that the logic train that is being followed is flawed unless there's some handwavium happening that I'm not aware of, but it's not my universe to write in. I can only do my best to point out flaws. I'm done with this topic and won't bring it up again unless the argument changes substantially.

    Fine. That is your opinion, and obviously nothing I can do in the entire universe is going to change your mind. My only possible defense is that (a) I devised the technology; (b) I know the limits of the technology; (c) I know the detection limts of the systems; (d) I know the lift capability of the ships; (e) I know how much money the Admiralty has to play with, how much manpower it has, and what its strategic priorities are; (f) I've studied military and naval history for the last 45 years; and (g) I am concerned about the navy's ability to do its primary job -- which is fighting an expletive-deleted war for survival while striking an effective balance between combat power and sensor capability.

    I could continue to discuss your responses on a point-by-point bais, but since you are now (apparently) positing a sufficiently inexhaustible supply of enemy starships to do unlimited in-and-outs which, obviously the Manties are going to be too stupid to recognize and do a single expletive-deleted thing to cope with, there doesn't seem to be much point.

    However, let me try this one last time.

    (1) The Manties have a finite supply of money, manpower, and logistics.

    (2) The Manties are not and ever have been interested in building single-purpose ships which are incapable of contributing to their net combat power unless it is the only possible way to get that single capability.

    (3) The RMN is fully capable of performing the mission you are describing using ships which are also combat-effective and is not interested in deliberately building death traps/noncombatants simply to guarantee that no one can possibly use the ships for some other useful function.

    (4) The smaller the ship the less capable it becomes, not simply in combat but also in other venues, including its inability to carry worthwhile numbers of the remote and unmanned (and hence expendable) platforms which will do the actual scouting in the high-risk zone.

    (5) Ergo, with all due respect for your belief that the Admiralty must be staffed by idiots to pursue your forward-looking, insightful policy, they are not interested in buying any significant number (defined, in this instance, as more than one) of vessels which are unarmed resource and manpower sinks for the sole purpose of performing a mission they already and (and already are) performing.

    I will add only that I resent (a) being informed that I obviously do not understand my own technology (this from someone who seems to believe that frigates can go higher in the hyper bands than anyone else) and (b) being informed that I am resorting to "handwavium" when I have given specific supporting logic for each of the points I have made. I appreciate the interest in the books and the technology. I welcome questions and debate and, yes, on at least two occasions I can think of I have picked up on logical implications of my own tech which had not occurred to me before the discussion. This is not one of those instances. Before you lecture me on the best mix for the RMN in light of its fiscal and manpower restraints and the nature of the mission it actually faces, it would be a good idea for you to know what those limitations and that mission actually are.