CLAC design considerations and tactical deployment
Any "bulk-hauler," "soft" CLAC is going to operate as far away from the wall of battle as possible if (and this is a huge "if") the other side can range on the wall effectively in the first place. Note that I am speaking here of Havenite-style Aviaries. The Minnie is an intermidate between the Aviary and the new, tougher CLACs, which will be just as tough as current generation SD(P)s. It is true that they won't be in a "sensor shadow" of the wall, but they will definitely be inside the "missile-defense shadow," if you will, of the wall. They will also contribute not simply their LACs but their shipboard anti-missile suites to the missile umbrella of the entire wall.
With their LACs launched, the crew of a CLAC is not going to be a whole lot bigger than an SD(P)s. It will be somewhat larger, but not large enough to make a CLAC a juicier target than an SD(P) which is actively shooting at you and which (one would suppose) you would wish to encourage to do something else. The fire that does come its way will be coming in against very strong active defenses, very powerful sidewalls, and a heavily armored ship with a lot of additional defensive features designed into it.
These ships are intended to be as survivable as an SD(P) whose design hasn't been compromised by sticking in features it doesn't need. As such, it is no more "out of place" in the wall its LACs are screening and supporting than are any of the SD(P)s rolling pods against the enemy.
As far as spider drive ships are concerned, staying in company with the wall will actually increase a CLAC's safety. The probability of a spider drive ship pulling it off against the massed sensor capability of a wall will be much lower than against a single CLAC or a handful of them (which is not to say how probable it will or won't be, you understand), and the wall's ability to absolutely annihilate any target it can localize, even at extreme ranges, will allow for a higher probability of taking out incoming vessels short of attack range. . . and virtually guarantee the spider drive vessel's destruction if if ever does get into position and actually attack.
Or that's my view, at any rate, but what do I know?
Manty-style current-generation CLACs suffer from much the same sort of doctrinal thinking (and develop-it-as-you-go doctrinal evolution) which led to the muddled, sub-optimal turret and mast arrangements on the early generation British dreadnought battleships. There are differences between the two processes (in a lot of ways), of course, but there are also a lot of similarities. In many ways, that's the penalty both navies paid for being first into the pond with a radically new type of unit.
The USN's South Carolina-class ships, which were actually laid down before Dreadnought, indicated the proper, all-centerline arrangement for a battleship's main armament, but the Americans had an advantage in both the design of their turrets (the sighting hoods were at the rear, which meant the guns of a superfiring turret could fire across a lower turret without concussing the observers) and the vision of their senior designer, Capps (who realized that the vital criterion was broadside fire and not fire directly ahead or astern). As a result, South Carolina, with only eight guns, had the same broadside as Dreadnought, with ten, avoided the deck strain which resulted from firing wing turrets, had less blast interference from her guns, and didn't have to worry about protecting wing magazines.
Given the nature of the Brits' turret design, it's hard to fault them for not adopting superfiring guns for Dreadnought or the other "first-generation" dreadnought classes. They could have taken the time to redesign their turrets, but that would have been a major design project when the whole point of Fisher's approach to Dreadnought was to get her into the water first. And, in fairness to the question of broadside-vs-fire ahead tactical doctrine, no one had ever had the much gunpower to play around with, so it's not too surprising that most navies missed Capps' point. (For that matter, the tonnage limitations Congress placed on the new ships by the authorizing act, gave him a lot more motivation to be inventive in utilizing every single ton he had as effectively as possible.) Still, there was no reason they couldn't have adopted centerline mounts even with their turret design if they'd been willing to sacrifice fire across about a 15-degree arc directly ahead or astern for the superfiring turrets. Despite that, it wasn't until the Orion-class, laid down five years (and four design classes) after Dreadnought, that they actually got around to doing that. And even though they'd adopted an entirely new gun and new turret (in fact, they'd gone from Dreadnought's and the Bellerophon class' 12"/45 through the 12"/50 of the St. Vincent and Neptine/Hercules class to the Orion's 13"/45), they still hadn't changed their sighting hoods, which has to be considered a grave oversight. In fact, they didn't actually change their turret arrangements in that respect until they moved to the 15"/42 for the Queen Elizabeth-class ships. In fairness, however, it should be pointed out that they made the entire evolution in artillery in only eight years (1905-1913), so no one should be too critical if they got a few points less than perfect in a work in progress. On the other hand, they'd completed or at least laid down 18 more BBs (21, if you want to count the ships building for other nations which were taken over when war broke out) and 8 BCs in the same period.
The masting arrangements of British ships were also questionable in this period, and with even less justification. Funnel smoke, especially from coal-fired boilers, was not only hot and corrosive but blinding, yet they persisted in arrangements which put the control positions on their masts in positions where they would inevitably be smoked out and virtually uninhabitable in action. That error persisted until the King George V class laid down in 1911.
Sorry about that.
My point is that the initial Minotaur CLACs were designed when the entire nature of CLAC operations was one big question mark. The RMN's operational thinkers had a lot of good ideas and some not-so-good ideas about what the LAC/CLAC combination might be able to do, and given the critical nature of their war situation, they decided they had no choice but to build the best ship they could envision (knowing they were going to get some details wrong) and start developing tactics and doctrine in a real-world environment. As Fisher put it in reference to the Dreadnought, "the best scale for an experiment is twelve inches to the foot." The Graysons were part of the Manty project, which started them off on the same foot, although they drew somewhat different lessons for their own second-generation (or possibly first-gen, if you want to consider the Minnie a purely experimental type) designs. The Peeps, with inferior LACs and a different mission for them, opted for another approach entirely, what I've been calling the "bulk hauler" version.
The Manties are now thinking about their next-generation CLACs based on all the combat and operational experience built up with their first-generation ships. In essence (and this is more detail than I really planned yo give you guys when I first opened this can of worms
) they see a function for two distinct types of carrier. (Well, three, actually, including what's essentially a LAC transport designed to get large numbers of operational LACs from one n-space deployment station to another, but I don't think we need to spend a lot of time on the transports at this point.)
The first function the Manties see is to transport the largest possible number of LACs to support the wall of battle. It's entirely possible that pure-LAC strikes on lightly defended star systems may be practical, in which case the same "largest number possible" function would be in order, but the real Manty thinking is focused on the wall right now. (It's kind of like US Air Force thinking when it comes to designing new generations of fighters. Build the very best fighter you can, with no trade-offs for other roles which will compromise its air-to-air capability, and then figure out a place to stick on bombs or ground-attack missiles afterward. One reason the Air Force types don't really like the A10 [optimized for the ground support role above everything else] . . . and why the guys on the ground love it. But I digress. Again.
) This type of CLAC needs to be able to take care of itself at least marginally well if it should ever have the bad taste or poor judgment to come into range of someone who could actually shoot at it, so it has to have adequate defensive capability for emergencies, but that is definitely secondary to its operational role unless the fecal matter has truly hit the rotary air impeller.
The second function is to support and service the largest possible number of LACs in the closest possible proximity to the wall they are supporting. This is not precisely the same role. Or, rather, the same ship cannot be optimized for both roles. One prioritizes maximum capacity per ton, which emphasizes capacity over protection, while the other prioritizes survival in the furball, which emphasizes protection over capacity. Given the current shape of RMN LAC doctrine, the Manties would go with the second set of priorities --- survival in proximity to the wall --- over the first in an either/or situation, but what they would really prefer is a “both” situation, and that’s what BuShips has been working on.
In a best-of-all-worlds situation, the Manties would/will build two distinct classes of “warship” CLACs. One would begin with the SD-sized Grayson CLACs as a starting point and enhance the protective features as much as one can without sacrificing LAC capacity. The second would begin with a clean slate (CLAC design-wise, at least) and accept a significantly lower LAC-per-ton ratio in order to build the most survivable possible ship. The second type of LAC would then operate in close proximity to the wall, under the cover of the wall’s missile defenses (to which it would contribute its own fair share), and serve as servicing and rearming platforms for the LACs assigned to accompany and screen the wall. In a full blown attack on a heavily defended system, large-capacity CLACs would also accompany the wall. They would launch their LACs at the hyper-limit, then retire into hyper with their close escorts, leaving one or two hyper-capable pickets behind in n-space to keep an eye on things and serve as communications relays to the rest of the task force or fleet. The close-support CLACs would then accompany the wall in-system, where they would be available to service and rearm not only their own not-inconsiderable-sized LAC groups, but also those of the large-cap carriers who launched from outside the limit. As LAC specialists, they would be far more efficient at accomplishing this task than hybrid SD/CLACs, and their design features would make them much more survivable in the combat environment than their more fragile, larger capacity sisters.
As far as Manty LAC doctrine is concerned, it’s the RMN’s judgment that a modern LAC has roughly the same anti-missile capability as a DD, for a much lower tonnage cost and a much lower exposure of personnel. Because LACs are smaller and more agile than a DD (and have weaker emission signatures), not to mention sidewalls which are both tougher and not compromised by gun ports, they are far harder targets to kill than a DD. In fact, unlike the DD, they have a very good chance of survival even if they are in the middle of an MDM missile exchange, particularly if there are wallers around for the bad guys to be shooting at instead. This means the Manties are willing to risk/expose them on the engaged side of a wall of battle, which makes them far more effective at killing incoming shipkillers than traditional light escorts ever were. In addition, it means the Manties are willing to push dense screens of them out towards an enemy force, creating a long-range interception fence/barrier (or even multiple barriers) on the threat axis to begin thinning the incoming missile storm as quickly as possible and at as great a range from the wall as possible. Obviously, a CM launcher or a PDLC on an LAC is going to be less efficient at killing an incoming missile than the same defensive system aboard a waller, but modern Manty LACs are still going to be better at the job (on a per-launcher/mount basis) than most other people’s CAs or even BCs, at least as long as their ammo lasts. And the reason for having the “close support” CLACs is to reammunition them as quickly as possible --- almost certainly not between missile waves in the same engagement (for the distant-deployed LACs, at least), but between engagements in the event that there are multiple hostile forces in the system or that the Manty CO can manage to engage the bad guys in “penny packets” before they can combine into a single force against him. And the close-defense LACs deployed in tighter proximity to the wall very well might be able to reammo in relayes between missile waves, even in a single engagement.
In addition to all of the above, the Manties are considering a “modular” LAC approach in which the same basic hull would be used to support a “plug in” weapons module which could be either a Shrike’s graser (for anti-shipping strikes) or a Ferret/Katana’s missile system (for space superiority/missile-defense operations). At the moment, it looks to BuShips as if the change would drive up basic LAC tonnage slightly, but it would give the RMN greatly enhanced tactical flexibility (especially combined with specialized forward support ships which could carry spare modules and change them out before a given engagement) and probably actually simplify and speed construction times. The question at this time is how much it would increase tonnage and how that would impact CLAC design and operations.
Hope this somewhat long-winded exposition adds to the fun and games on speculation. Of course, I have the unfair advantage of already knowing what the RMN is going to decide and do, don’t I?