From a post to BAEN's BAR BuShips forum on 12/28/2011

Frigates vs. LACs... again!

    Okay, I see the topic is back. I guess I need a better stake to drive through its heart.

    I don't expect everyone to agree with my logic, and I do tend to take the perspective of a first-line, "first world" star nation when I'm talking about warship procurement. I don't focus solely on Manticore (and the Haven Quadrant) in my thinking, whatever people may think from my comments, but events and developments there are driving where naval war-fighting technology across the entire galaxy is going to end up going, so what happens in that combat environment has enormous significance for where the force mix of galactic navies in general is headed. Therefore, I think it is legitimate to use a "Manticoran perspective" in analyzing rational procurement policy.

    Now, I've also stated all along that no one who can afford to build ships better than frigates will build frigates, and that happens to be true. Even pre-Shrike, frigates are inferior as combat platforms, as surveillance platforms, and (generally but not always) in terms of endurance to destroyers built at the same tech level and capabilities. Note here that I am assuming a "traditional" tonnage differential between the two types; obviously, if we're talking about a current-generation Manty destroyer, we ought to be comparing a 1905 frigate to a powerful light cruiser, not a destroyer. Also note the word "afford" in the first sentence of this paragraph. Should some star nation which cannot afford to build ships better than frigates require — for some reason which, frankly, I find it difficult to envision — a hyper-capable patrol/escort vessel, then something like a frigate is what it's going to build because it can't afford to build anything better. However, a star nation which is that poverty-stricken is also not going to find itself in a position to build "packs" of frigates (see below), which means that its so-called warships are going to be capable of engaging the equivalent of a rowboat armed with a few machine guns, and that's about it. Why such a penurious star nation should feel that it requires the ability to project a ludicrously minute amount of firepower over interstellar distances eludes me, however. That would be rather like Libya building gunboats capable of crossing the Atlantic in order to project power into New York Harbor. Not a winning scenario.

    Assuming the tonnage differential between the types holds true as a percentage of difference even in classes which have experienced "tonnage creep," the destroyer will always be the better platform and the manning and maintenance costs will be approximately equivalent. Therefore, the limiting factor on numbers of platforms is primarily the initial purchase cost, which will be easily amortized over the lifespan of a ship which may remain in commission, with periodic upgrades, for upwards of 40 years without anyone raising an eyebrow. In other words, platform cost is not the primary driver in the design and procurement of Honorverse ships. Shipboard systems, maintenance, and manpower costs are going to be much more important than platform costs. There are clearly going to be instances in which platform design is going to play a role in service life, but that is usually only going to be the case when there is a game changer on the technological side. That is, you cannot "upgrade and refit" a traditional, energy-broadside superdreadnought into a pod-layer, no matter how hard you try. You're into a replacement cycle, not an upgrade cycle, when something like that happens.

    I've seen all kinds of cost analyses demonstrating one pet theory or another when it comes to comparative cost of "equal tonnages" or "equal capability" of frigates or LACs. Most of those analyses, in my opinion, are flawed. In many cases, that's because the underlying assumptions about cost and availability are inaccurate (under the shipbuilding models I've adopted, at any rate). Since I have no intention of entering into "infodump territory" in the books by explaining exactly how every aspect of that model works, you're just going to have to take my word on that aspect of the situation. In other cases, however, it's because assumptions are being made about the relative efficacy of the types and the nature of the missions they're being assigned to carry out. And, in still other cases, it's because your analysis depends on the basic assumptions you're making about the ship types involved themselves, the fiscal environment, the way the navies in question visualize the tasks to be achieved, and the political environment in which decisions are made.

    Let me be very clear on this. A current-generation LAC, if it is energy armed, is basically the smallest possible hull wrapped around the energy weapon mounted. The fact that a Shrike's hull has to be big enough to wrap around that god-awful graser, for example, sets a minimum dimension and tonnage which allows for the inclusion of a limited shipkiller magazine and a rotary launcher for a very small increase in size and cost also. The need to provide at least some medium-range missile intercept capability requires a minimum amount of tonnage — and hull volume — in which to mount counter missile tubes and point defense clusters. In other words, a current-generation LAC is the tiniest hull which can possibly be built to haul around the vessel's weapons fit and the smallest crew which can possibly operate the ship via massive automation. One hit, and it's toast, for all intents and purposes. And a LAC has a very limited field of fire. With current-generation Manticoran missiles, a LAC has the capacity to fire over a considerably wider and deeper range than that of which previous LACs were capable, but even they have a much narrower aspect in which they can engage with energy weapons or point defense clusters.

    A frigate has to provide for longer-term endurance, a lot more fuel bunkerage, hyper generator, and alpha nodes. Unlike a LAC, which can usually rely upon the environmental services of its carrier, tender, or local base, an independently hyper-capable platform is going to be designed to operate just that way — independently. If it's not going to operate that way, then there's no point making it hyper capable in the first place. In general, a frigate is also not limited to a single firing aspect offensively, and has a somewhat broader field of fire. With comparable technology, it's going to have a lower acceleration rate than a LAC, it's going to require a larger crew, and it is going to have a far lower ratio of firepower-to-tonnage. It's also going to be a more easily detected and locked up target, and it's going to be less suited to evasive maneuvers once it has been locked up. Presumably, given equal technology between the frigate and the LAC, it should be possible to cram even more electronic warfare capability into the frigate — enough to offset the difference in the inherent detectability of the two types' signatures — except that when you do that you begin increasing tonnage and start turning into — guess what? — a destroyer.

    It can be argued that with larger magazines, a frigate would have more endurance than a LAC in a missile engagement, but again, if you're going to give it enough missile capacity for a truly sustained engagement, the hull is going to grow larger and it's going to start morphing into that destroyer again. And that overlooks the fact that a frigate-sized vessel up against anything except another frigate-sized vessel (or something smaller) built by a peer naval power with comparable technology is unlikely to last long enough for a sustained engagement.

    I understand people are now talking about operating frigates in packs rather than deploying LAC squadrons or groups for system security. And I also understand that people are including the cost and building time of the carrier in the LAC equation. That's fine as far as it goes. Unfortunately, I don't believe I ever stated anywhere that a LAC squadron or group requires an all up CLAC to support it on station.

    LACs can be supported by much simpler tenders on extended stations or by local infrastructure if they're being used for system security. So, aside from the independent interstellar mobility of the frigate, it has no advantage for sustained system security functions over a LAC. It is true that if you built frigates with LAC weaponry, even with all of the upward pressure on hull dimensions and tonnages that would entail, you could deploy an equal combat capability of frigates to a distant station with a substantially lower tonnage investment than it would cost you to deploy that combat capability in LACs counting the necessary CLACs. And it is also true that you could then redeploy those frigates wherever you needed them. You could not, however, maintain them indefinitely on station without the same sort of support infrastructure the LACs would require. They could remain on-station longer than an unsupported LAC, but not long enough to fulfill any long-term presence mission over interstellar distances. So either you have to have that infrastructure available in-system when they arrive, or else you still have to provide it in the form of a tender or tenders of some sort. You don't get something for nothing. So your tonnage advantage starts to go away if you're talking about sustained deployments; all you're really saving is the cost to deliver the combat power to the system, not to support and sustain it after it's there. And all you're gaining tactically or strategically is the ability of your flyweight ships (which is what LACs and frigates are) to independently reach their intended stations. This is not something to sneer at, but it is also not a primary consideration for the missions LACs and frigates routinely carry out.

    (I should also point out that CLACs aren't the only way to deploy LACs. They can be deployed from freighter bays or even transported limpeted onto the hulls of regular warships. A CLAC offers many significant tactical and strategic advantages, including the ability to provide rapid turnaround time for LAC sorties and the defense of firepower and shipboard electronics capabilities built into them. They also tend to be faster than most freighters, as well as specifically configured to carry large amounts of ammunition, spare parts, etc., to service their LAC groups. They aren't necessary to the process, however.)

    Frigates are (or traditionally have been, at any rate) a presence and patrol vessel in the Honorverse. They aren't really used to show the flag (except by Third World star nations), they have negligible combat capability, they have very low survivability against any serious military opponent, they have (generally) more limited independent endurance than a destroyer or a light cruiser, and their function is to police the volume of a star system which is worth policing in the first place. Prior to the new-generation LAC designs and the concept of the CLAC, it was the cheapest, most expendable platform available capable of carrying anything heavier than single-round box launchers, and which could be deployed by any means to a station distant from the point at which it was built. With the new developments in LAC design and capabilities, and the introduction of the CLAC, that equation has (obviously, in my opinion) significantly changed.

    Again, people have to bear in mind that patrol and escort in hyper-space is going to become a primary mission requirement only in an infinitesimally small percentage of cases because of the sheer difficulty of locating a target in hyper-space. Combat is going to be almost inconceivably rare in hyper-space. Patrol functions, escort functions, and screening functions are going to be vastly more important — indeed, it would be impossible to exaggerate how much more important — in normal-space. It's not simply that normal-space is where all of the targets worth attacking are located in terms of astrographic real estate, but that you literally cannot find each other to fight battles in hyper-space except under very extraordinary circumstances, such as occurred in the case of the Selkir Rift in Honor Among Enemies or in the convoy ambush in which Helen Zilwicki the elder earned the POV. And it should be noted that the convoy ambush was possible only because the Peeps had detailed information on the convoy's departure and arrival times, which allowed it to extrapolate its route with highly atypical accuracy — and even then, the odds against the intercepts were very high. Frankly, it occurred only because I decided the Peeps were going to get incredibly lucky because I wanted the sequence I'd come up with to work.

    My point is that aside from the ability to independently reach its station, hyper capability is going to bestow very little advantage on a light combatant. The ability to independently break off action and run for it, assuming they can survive to get back across the hyper limit, would be an advantage for the frigate. However, it's not going to be a significant advantage except for a local patrol force which is driven off its station by enemy action. What I mean by that is that in the case of an offensive strike using LACs, the CLACs are going to withdraw into hyper but they are going to leave a stealthed hyper-capable escort behind to keep an eye on the progress of the strike. That escort (or escorts) will be responsible for informing the CLACs where the attacking LACs are headed (generally towards one of several possible prearranged recovery points) and of the tactical situation those LACs face. If the recovery of the LACs is going to be impossible or (in the strike CO's interpretation of his mission and his orders) too risky, then the CLACs simply don't make rendezvous with the LACs. He may well actually use his stealthed hyper-capable escorts to shuttle in and out of normal-space, passing orders to the LACs to set up a new recovery point, and the LACs aren't going to be in any more danger from a hyper-capable pursuit force then they would be by one limited to normal-space because to shoot them, the pursuit force has to be in normal-space. It is true that under extraordinary circumstances, a strikeforce composed of a "pack" of frigates might be able to escape when LACs cannot, but in my opinion those circumstances would be rare and infrequent enough that navies would be designing for optimum combat capability in conditions under which those circumstances would not arise.

    Nor does the comparison of a current day Coast Guard cutter to the Honorverse frigate constitute an accurate analogy. The Coast Guard operates vessels of many sizes, but the large, long endurance cutters are the size they are because they have to be capable of operating "off soundings." That is, they have to be capable of operating in an environment where wind and wave are going to be more of a factor than they are in sheltered harbor waters, hence they require more size and greater seakeeping capability. In the simplest terms, they need the size to become adequate sea boats. Weapons fit is actually pretty much secondary to seakeeping when it comes to designing current day Coast Guard cutters. Where the analogy breaks down, is that the traditional Coast Guard function in the Honorverse is going to be fulfilled in normal-space and primarily within the hyper limit of a star. There's no "seakeeping" requirement for the mission, and so there is no need to build a bigger vessel.

    That's not to say that no "Coast Guard" will ever build any hyper-capable vessels, but as I discussed in a lengthy debate on this very topic on my website some time back, it's going to make more sense to build LACs which can at need "piggyback" on a hyper-capable freighter hull fitted as a rescue and/or hospital vessel for operations in normal-space beyond the hyper limit than it is going to be to invest procurement dollars in building in a hyper generator bell-and-whistle capability.

    At the current moment, there are undoubtedly still a lot of frigates moldering away in "Third World" star nation inventories. No first-line navy has built the type in many decades, however, because they are disinclined to waste the money, the industrial output, the resources, the manpower, and the maintenance cycles on an inferior vessel when for a relatively (note that I did say "relatively") modest increase in initial purchase price they can build a destroyer, which can do anything a frigate could do and project some realistic combat power to boot.

    The truth is, of course, that in the combat environment introduced by the Manties, even a destroyer (of traditional tonnage, at any rate) is no longer a survivable proposition. A single hit from a current generation MDM capital ship missile — or even the new Manty cruiser-grade laser heads — is going to pretty much gut a traditional destroyer. If it doesn't kill it out right, it will certainly constitute a mission-kill, except under extraordinary circumstances. Even a Roland-class destroyer has a larger crew than a LAC, so the loss of the ship entails the loss of more trained manpower. The LAC is going to be harder to lock up; going to tend to disappear out of the lower edge of a capital missile's AI's targeting criteria; going to be more resistant to being hit even if we assume equal EW capability on both sides, if only because it's a substantially smaller target; and going to be far more survivable through redundancy as an escorting force than a frigate or a destroyer, or even a light cruiser, on any ton-for-ton basis. And anybody who sends frigates to tangle with modern LACs is going to get handed his head, unless the frigates have "bracket crept" up into traditional destroyer tonnages and acquired traditional destroyer capabilities.

    As for the argument that a peacetime star nation's budget decision-makers are going to buy lots of cheap, crappy ships to fulfill that star nation's naval needs, I'd have to say that it's highly unlikely. Navies build the ships they need within the constraints of what they can afford. There is a tendency for a naval power in peacetime to concentrate not on cheap ships, but on the expensive ones, the ones it won't be able to build rapidly in mass production numbers in the event of an actual war. As a general rule, you don't decide to build bunches of PT boats in peacetime and figure you can cobble together the battleships you'll need after the fighting starts; you try to make damned sure you build enough of the high-cost, long-leadtime capital ships in peacetime so that you have enough of them when wartime finds you, and that's especially true in a period of long-term relative stability in naval design and technology.

    Our own Cold War experience tends to blind people, I think, to the actual historical model of budgetary decisions by naval powers. That's probably especially true in the case of the United States, which wasn't a naval power, arguably, until the First World War or (at the very earliest) the Spanish-American War. Compared to the Royal Navy or even the French Navy of the 1890s, however, the U.S. Navy was laughable, a coast defense force at best. That was all it was designed to be, and if you want to go back and look at the history involved you'll discover that warship budgets were constantly competing with coastal fortification budgets as the means of protecting the nation's shores. There were a lot of reasons for that, including the "Jeffersonian" fear that the possession of a powerful navy would inevitably embroil the United States in overseas adventures, whereas if it didn't have a navy, it couldn't engage in any such adventures even if it wanted to. You could argue that the Spanish-American War validated that view; you could also argue that the Barbary pirates, the Quasi-War with France, the War of 1812, and the American Civil War were all examples of what happens when you end up needing a navy after all my… and you don't have one.

    Since World War I, the United States has been in the interesting position of becoming a major naval power without remaining a major maritime power. The bulk of the United States' merchant marine operates on brown water and in coastal waters, not on blu e water, yet because of the US' enormous economic and strategic dependence on oceanic transport, the United States has continued to invest in the naval capacity to protect other people's shipping in the service of the US' overall economic well-being. (That, by the way, would be a better example of why the Solarian League needs a navy than of why Manticore needs a navy. The Sollies are simply protecting their local economies; the Manties are protecting the merchant marine which represents the very sinews of their economic existence.) And throughout the period from around 1905 (actually a little earlier than that) to the present, the U.S. Navy's budgets have been configured against a constantly changing and evolving technological background. The move from pre-dreadnoughts to dreadnoughts. The introduction of the submarine. The introduction of the aircraft carrier. The introduction of the cruise missile. Someday soon, the introduction of coherent energy weapons and (probably) rail guns. And, of course, the unending increases in electronics systems for detection, target control, deceptive electronic warfare capabilities, etc., etc. At the end of World War II the United States started looking at the design of a proper escort to fulfill the function of the Fletcher-class destroyer (around 2,200 tons) in a post-World War II combat environment. They found that they couldn't do it. They required something the size of a World War II light cruiser just to fit in the electronics.

    The problems with the Littoral Combat Ship were many, including an insistence on building in the maximum possible capabilities because the Navy knew it was going to get the minimum number of platforms, whatever might be projected. Obviously there was also the inevitable "for just a little bit more we can make it sooo o much better" mindset, but in an Honorverse environment that's not going to push people towards budgeting for the lower-capability platform. If anything, it's going to push the other way. And, again, all Honorverse naval combat is going to be, for all intents and purposes, littoral combat.

    (BTW, I see that the F22-vs-F35 parallel has been brought up. Most of the reasons already adduced for why feels disinclined to invest large amounts of money in acquiring fifth-generation fighters — including the F-35 that there aren't that many fifth-generation fighters out there — have validity. One of the primary reasons for shifting from the F-22 to the F-35 was that the F-22 was purely an Air Force project and Congress had mandated that it could not be sold on the international market, meaning there was no way to recover/share the development and procurement costs on the aircraft, whereas the idea was that the F-35 would be a multi-service/multinational project. Obviously it would cost less and be a better aircraft. Apparently they never heard of a gentleman named Robert McNamara and the F-111. But I digress.)

    The bottom line is this. Vessels as small as frigates are going to be easy meat for properly designed warships, including LACs, on any sort of ton-for-ton comparison basis. That's just the way it is. So even if someone wants, for example, the Solarian League Navy to begin building hordes of these things to use as commerce or infrastructure raiders, they're going to get their posteriors shot off if they go up against any target the Manties want to defend. They are simply inefficient vessels for their design function, whose sole "advantage" over a LAC is that they can independently deploy over interstellar distances to die. There's not even any point to the argument that star systems which "can't build" destroyers for some obscure reason can build frigates, because a frigate is simply a pygmy destroyer. This nothing any more difficult about building a destroyer than there is about building a frigate; if you can build one (and if you are prepared to spend the money) then you can build the other. That being the case, why build the less useful vessel? There's a point at which the answer "numbers of platforms" becomes meaningless. Again, don't look at the US naval experience for an Honorverse parallel; look at the British naval experience. England pursued a persistent naval strategy from at least the late 1660s through 1918, and while many of the individual ships they built were inferior to those of competitor powers, and while there were frequent battles over budget, there were frequent instances in which the Admiralty didn't get everything (or nearly everything) it wanted, etc., the necessity of the Royal Navy meant that in general the Navy got the ships it actually needed in adequate numbers, and following 1815, the Brits consciously adopted the "two-power standard," building a battle fleet equal in strength to the next two largest naval powers combined, while simultaneously supporting the flotillas of cruisers (to patrol the sea lanes) and gunboats with no real blue water capability at all (to patrol strategically and economically important coastal waters and inland waterways).

    When onboard, independent hyper capability was the only way to get light vessels where you needed them, then frigates made a degree of sense, but even then anybody except the Royal Podunk Navy was building destroyers and cruisers, not frigates, for the purpose. I'm sorry if that seems "nonsensical" to some of my readers, but my view is that if it seems "nonsensical" to them, it's because they haven't really fully appreciated the differences between the interstellar model of the Honorverse and the oceanic model of our own historic experience here on Earth.


    "Oh, bother!" Pooh said as Piglet came back from the dead.



From a follow-up post to the DAVIDWEBER.NET forums on 12/29/2011


Relax wrote:
Mitchell, Esq. wrote:

    I just don't understand why people are so fixated on frigates.

    Because navies have always had the term Frigate for the past several hundred years. The definition has changed over time, but it has always been used. FOREX frigates in the 18th/19th century would be what we called cruisers CA/CL in WWI and WWII. The age of sail rendition for modern term for frigate would be closer to the sloop of war though not quite as a modern frigate is a blue navy ship as well.

    Now MWW has essentially changed the modern term for Frigate(Convoy escort, minesweeper, ASW fleet escort) into Destroyer from everything I can tell and keeps inventing new ways to cover his change in definition while denigrating the use of the term frigate because he sees modern frigates( & Honorverse Frigates) as a waste of money and his inner admiral rebels at wasting money buying such ships when destroyers costing a bit more are so much better. A lot of modern "destroyers" are really frigates if one goes by the definition of the US navy. You will note his continual use of the 70% cost of a destroyer theme throughout his posts. I don't disagree here, just that reality would dictate that navies would take the view that saving said 30% per ship is more important to achieving procurement funds than building too few ships for duty slots to fill.

    Unfortunately said ships exist in REALITY due to a thing called $$$ of which MWW only gives a token wave of the hand acknowledgement.

    No, the SLN will not build Frigates in the Honorverse. Frankly I am surprised they bother building DD's or Cl's. Same reason State Security didn't have such small ships either. Now, SDF's with large merchant fleet needing convoy escort on the other hand, I would fully expect to field frigates as used by the modern definition.


    A "frigate" in the classic naval sense was a cruising vessel with a single armed deck that served "below the line." It performed primarily the functions of an early twentieth century cruiser, and occupied a middle ground between the battle fleet proper and the light units used for commerce protection (or destruction) and similar patrol-oriented missions. The term actually ceased to be completely accurate with the introduction of the "double-banked" frigates with armed spardecks (like the famous USS Constitution) and virtually every frigate built after that until the construction of HMS Warrior in the 1850s was "double-banked." Technically the ironclad British ship was simply the biggest sailing frigate (her steam was primarily for auxiliary power in combat) ever built, since she was indeed armed on a single deck. Actually, she was a battleship, designed and built (and at the time of her construction very much able) to destroy any foreign battleship in existence. In the pre-1900 American naval tradition, frigates were always heavy ships, fulfilling more of the battlecruiser or armored cruiser role and standing in for true battleships because there really were no American battleships. One reason we'd always built powerful, heavy frigates was because we knew we weren't going to be able to build a genuine battle fleet and needed what amounted to powerful heavy cruisers instead. (This tradition is one reason why the USN's use of the "frigate" terminology in the 20th century was so different from that of most of the other world's naval powers.)

    By the end of the 19th century, the term "frigate" was falling out of use, replaced by function-determined type labels — like torpedo boat, torpedo boat-destroyer, and cruiser — which more precisely delineated the role the ship was to carry out. The term didn't reenter common usage until the British Royal Navy reintroduced it for a long-range oceanic escort falling between the corvette (another sailing era term which had been appropriated and somewhat misapplied) and the fleet destroyer. In British service, therefore, a frigate was a vessel smaller than a destroyer.

    In American service, the World War II equivalent of the British frigate was the escort destroyer, and the term frigate was not used in naval service in the United States between about 1870 and 1950-55. The term reemerged in American service as a label for what were also known as "ocean escorts" or "task force" escorts — very large destroyers which had to be large in order to provide the combination of weapons fit, sensor capability, range and speed to cope with nuclear powered submarines and the increasingly dangerous air threat, and to keep station on aircraft carriers larger than any battleship ever built at high speed even in heavy weather. Some of the ships which fell into this category were known as frigates (or "destroyer leaders," which was the origin of the "DL” designation for the frigate); some were destroyers, some were missile destroyers, and some were as big as cruisers, etc.

    The Norfolk built in 1951 was the first American "frigate" (also referred to as an ASW hunter/killer [CLK]), she displaced 5,600 tons, better than twice as much as a Fletcher-class destroyer because of the way in which the operational requirements for task force escorts had changed. She was also considered to be far too large and far too expensive; it would be impossible to build enough of her to provide the required coverage, and so she remained one-of-a-kind, followed by the smaller, less capable Mitscher-class. Eventually, the pressures of mission creep forced the Navy (and Congress) to authorize the larger Farragut, Coontz, Leahy, and Belknap classes of conventionally-powered "frigates" and the Bainbridge and Truxton and the California and Virginia-class nuclear powered "frigates." These were big ships, with tonnages closely approaching (or even exceeding) Norfolk's, and yet despite their size, they tended to be biased towards either antisubmarine warfare or anti-air warfare, not equally capable of both, because the Navy simply couldn't build equal capability for both on the hull sizes available.

    It was not until 1975 that the United States Navy undertook a rationalization of its nomenclature to attempt to get ships of approximately the same tonnage and the same operating characteristics under the same labels. Most of the frigates at that time became either cruisers (CLG) or guided-missile destroyers (DDG), because the ships which the US had described as frigates were larger than destroyers. Most other navies had continued to use the British World War II designation, in which "frigates" were smaller than destroyers; what the United States was calling frigates at the time, those other navies were calling "cruisers," and the American change in nomenclature brought us more into line with the practice of those other navies. For that matter, the more recent Oliver Hazard Perry-class' designation as a frigate (and the only frigate class we still have in commission at all) is much more in keeping with the European practice. It's worth noting, by the way, that there are only about 40 Perrys still in service and that they require/have required substantial upgrades in their anti-air capabilities.

    In the Honorverse, the term "frigate" applies to a specific tonnage range, which falls between the LAC and the destroyer. It is simply a label for a ship of a given hull size, although the hull size has led to a function-based concept of what a "frigate" is, just as the tonnage bracket for "destroyer" led to a function-based concept of what a "destroyer" was… in 1905 PD. In Manticoran practice, function-based labels have superseded the tonnage-based labels for the various types of warship. That is, a "destroyer" is what fulfills the functions of a 1905 destroyer in the current combat environment, regardless of the actual size of the ship under consideration.

    My problem with the inexplicable fascination that the "frigate" seems to hold for certain people in the Honorverse has nothing to do with the term's historic implications, or with any penchant on my part for "inventing new ways to cover his change in definition while denigrating the use of the term frigate because he sees modern frigates (& Honorverse Frigates) as a waste of money and his inner admiral rebels at wasting money buying such ships." I haven't changed any definitions, at least from where I was at the beginning of the Honorverse books, and to be honest my use of the term "frigate" is much more consistent with the use of that term by the world in general since 1900 than the current American use of the term is. It may not be consistent with the 17th or 18th century descriptors, but then the 17th and 18th century descriptors weren't very consistent with the 16th descriptor from when the type first originated, either.

    Frigates, described as falling into the tonnage brackets established for the frigate type as of 1905, do not make sense for any interstellar power to build, which is why the type had fallen out of favor and no one had built any for several decades.

    One reason I've been pointing out the difference between the Honorverse interstellar model and the oceanic model is that providing large numbers of light warships to escort convoys is not going to be a high priority for any Honorverse navy. When the Manties sent escorts along in Silesia, it wasn't to protect the convoys against attack in hyper, where such attacks are virtually impossible to bring off. It was to provide a mobile, "sanitized" bubble of secure space for that convoy's members when they dropped back into normal-space within the territory of the star nation unable or unwilling to police its own space effectively against pirates. This isn't a situation in which hordes of corvettes and destroyer escorts are going to be useful for fighting off German U-boats on the way across the Atlantic. The ships doing the equivalent of "crossing the Atlantic" in the Honorverse are effectively immune from attack. It's when they reach the English Channel that they need protection against the Dunkirk-based pirates. And there certainly isn't any equivalent of the ability of a fairly weakly-armed surface ship to "force down" a U-boat, forcing it to submerge and burn up its battery endurance while simultaneously falling behind the convoy; it's much more a matter of fighting off E-boats or light cruisers. As a consequence, where commerce protection is concerned, it's far more vital to have a useful number of capable platforms than a vast plethora of incapable platforms.

    It is not a matter of cruising range, it is not a matter of endurance, it is a matter of whether or not it makes sense to put an extremely light weapons fit into an extremely vulnerable hull when a better solution to the problem is available. The Oliver Hazard Perry-class was seen as the "low" end component of a "high/low" mix in which the Spruance-class was seen as the "high" end. The ships were built at that time because the United States Navy needed platforms and couldn't convince Congress to cough up the funds to build platforms with the capabilities that they really wanted and was able to come up with a "workaround" solution that met (far from perfectly) it's minimum requirements. The result was that the Perrys were good at killing submarines and capable of little more than self-defense when it came to killing aircraft. The USN had been forced to accept a policy of building specialized designs and operating task forces as integrated groups of specialists none of whom could have done the job in isolation by themselves. All of the Navy's procurement policies where naval escorts were concerned were focused around protecting the carriers rather than producing force projection ships that could operate independently of air cover and the support of their other specialized fellows in any sort of high threat environment.

    Honorverse requirements for ships to fulfill the cruiser/presence role are not the same as 20th-21st century carrier battle group escort. They are far closer to the requirements of the 18th or 19th century. Unless you're prepared to send a battle squadron or so along to support them, those vessels have to be capable of looking after themselves a long way from home and fulfilling the classic frigate role, which is not the "frigate" role people are trying to build undersized vessels to fill.

    The British Royal Navy in the 1930s needed a lot of cruisers to police its trade routes and the far-flung British Empire, and they found themselves caught in a trap of their own devising because of the tonnage limitations/labels they'd negotiated as part of the Washington Naval Disarmament Treaties. What they really needed were ships in about the same 6,000-ton range as the later American "frigates" and armed with 6 to 8 6" guns, but what everyone else was building as cruisers tended to be in the 10,000-ton range (or bigger, depending on how much they felt like cheating on the naval treaties) and armed with 8" guns because that was the "upper limit" of cruiser tonnages defined by the treaties and nobody else needed to produce as many platforms out of the treaty-limited total cruiser tonnages allotted to the treaty's signatories. But while the Brits would have preferred to build (and, in fact, did build) quite a few of those smaller 6"-gun cruisers, they never had any intention of building 1,200-ton destroyers to fulfill the traditional "frigate" role. Their destroyers were built primarily as screening and escort vessels for the battle fleet, because they didn't have the size and the endurance to independently deploy to distant stations; that was what cruisers were for. The Americans and the Japanese built substantially larger destroyers, which the British tended to denigrate during the interwar years as being far too large to fulfill a traditional destroyer's screening and escort function. Unfortunately, the Americans and the Japanese needed that extra tonnage because they were preparing to fight across Pacific Ocean distances, not Atlantic distances, and they needed the additional endurance and cruising radius. When the Brits designed their Battle-class destroyers for service in the Pacific, they found that they were going to need ships at least as large as the American Fletcher-class ships.

    They built small, relatively low-endurance destroyers as long as those ships served the function they needed to serve. When they needed bigger and more capable ships, that's what they built. A nation like Germany can afford to build — and rely upon — "frigates" in the European sense of smaller, less-capable vessels because of the nature of their requirements, which are less stringent and certainly far less global than those of the United States Navy. The United States can afford to build those smaller "frigates" only as part of a "high/low" procurement strategy and only if it's going to regard its escorts as plug-in/plug-out specialized components of a force which relies upon dispersed platforms to provide all of its required functions.

    Something the size of a 1905 Honorverse frigate could no longer provide the required capabilities to carry out either a viable long-range independent presence role or to survive in the screening role for a battle group or task force. It was simply too small, too fragile, and too restricted in firepower in terms of both numbers of weapons systems and depth of magazines. So, no major power was building them anymore; they were building destroyers, which had become the smallest (and therefore cheapest) viable platforms. People, I don't care whether you call them frigates or destroyers, and I don't care whether you're trying to cut costs or not. A 1905 destroyer was a "frigate" in the European sense of being a small, minimum capability platform.

    Given the fact that the combat environment has gotten no way but uglier since 1905, and given the fact that a 1905 light cruiser is probably not especially survivable in 1922 in any sort of serious combat situation, the idea that anyone is going to go back and begin building Honorverse frigates strikes me as foolish, to say the very least. It's not a case of "the admiral in me rebelling at the thought of wasting money on such ships;" it's a case of the people making those budgetary decisions recognizing what the minimum capability platform is. They may choose to build destroyers instead of cruisers for roles in which the Manties would undoubtedly use cruisers (or at least Roland-class destroyers) in 1922 PD, but that's because those destroyers are, for all intents and purposes, 1922 PD "frigates." You simply can't get by with anything smaller, so it's not a question of "shall I build something even smaller and cheaper" than a destroyer but a question of "how many platforms can I build at the minimum possible cost, which is that of a destroyer?"

    The LAC represents a way to acquire much of the same presence and security capability as a traditional frigate (Honorverse variety) for less financial cost, with more flexibility, more survivability through redundancy, and a lower manpower cost. Deployed from CLACs in the anti-missile role, they are also more capable — much more capable — of performing the antimissile screening mission, and within the constraints of that mission, all of the advantages they have over the frigate in terms of cost, survivability through redundancy, and economy of manpower are at least as valid in comparison to the destroyer. That's one reason why I've said — more than once — that there are those within the Royal Manticoran Navy who believe that even destroyers are obsolete given the current combat matrix. However, even the Royal Manticoran Navy is continuing to build destroyers (even if they are now the size of the Roland-class) because of fiscal and industrial pressures. They're building less capable, more vulnerable platforms than they would in a perfect world because they don't live in a perfect world. But no Manticoran admiral in his right mind would suggest going back and building something the size of Honor's old destroyer Hawkwing, because the naval force mix has moved on and evolved enormously in the last 20 years or so. That being the case, why are there people out there who are still insisting that the Honorverse frigate is still either (a) a viable weapon system, or (b) going to be acquired for purely fiscal reasons, irrespective of strategic or tactical considerations? Was anybody in 1914 still designing and building pre-dreadnought battleships? No. Was anybody in 1940 still designing and building 300-ton torpedoboats or 500-ton torpedoboat-destroyers? No. Was anybody in 1950 still building 16,000 ton fleet aircraft carriers like the Ranger? No. Is anybody in 2011 building 2,500-ton destroyers like the Fletcher? No. Is anybody ever likely to go back and decide to build those obsolete, undersized, less capable, non-survivable ship types again? No.

    So what the heck is it that leads people to believe that Honorverse admirals and government budgetary decision-makers are going to be stupid enough to go back and do the equivalent?

    Like I said at the beginning of the post Duckk crossposted from Baen's Bar [see above, -Ed.], it seems like there isn't a stake in the world big enough to put through the heart of this particular ludicrous contention.