The US Navy is considering converting available merchant ships into missile-armed Navy ships. They would be able to make 15-20 merchant ships for the cost of one destroyer. The merchant missile ships would have 450-600 missiles versus 90 on one destroyer.
Offensive and defensive missiles are one of the main metrics for how much combat capability there is in a fleet.
The line item cost for Mk41 VLS is around $51-54 million per ship set (twelve modules). For hardware alone, the cost drops to $33-36 million per ship set. This means the cost of the missiles is about 2-4% of the cost of a $1.5 billion US destroyer.
One enemy missile can eliminate a US destroyer with 90 missiles on board. The Navy is looking at 30 missiles per merchant. The merchant ships are slower than a destroyer but it would take three missiles to blow three different ships.
The VLS Mk 41 are to Navy ships like bullet clips for handguns. The VLS Mk 41 can simultaneously prepare two missiles in each 8-cell launcher module for fast reaction to multiple threats with concentrated, continuous firepower. Missiles can be used for antiaircraft, antisubmarine warfare, strike, naval surface fire support and ballistic missile defense missions. The VLS Mk 41 is highly adaptable to accommodate the latest weapon types to meet new mission requirements.
BAE Systems has developed the Mk 25 Quad-Pack canister, which can vastly increase a ship’s self-defense capability. The Mk 25 Quad-Pack allows the system to store and fire four Evolved SeaSparrow Missiles (ESSMs) in a canister space that normally contains a single weapon.
The US has a networked navy and military. Planes and ships would be able to network to merchant missile ships that were 50 miles or more behind the battle to launch missiles against targets.
Modular merchant missile ships would be better than new giant arsenal ships. Giant ships can still be destroyed by one or two missiles. You want to put your missiles into many smaller baskets.
Armored Vehicles on Deck For Defense Against Small Boats and Planes
The Marine Corps is experimenting with strapping light armored vehicles, or LAVs, to the flight deck to counter small boat and other threats.
In September, 2018, Marines aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp parked LAVs on the flight deck for a ship defense drill in the South China Sea that was designed to mimic the MEU’s voyage through dangerous waters.
The LAV-25 costs about $900,000 each. They weigh about 12-13 tons. The armored vehicles could be fastened to the deck of merchant ships for security and protection. The LAV-25 can defend against enemies up to 2 miles away using guns. They have versions with 25mm chain guns or heavier guns and there are versions with missiles.
In Oct. 2017, the Corps successfully tested the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System on the deck of the amphibious transport dock Anchorage.
The rocket artillery system destroyed a land-based target 70 km away.
Merchant Aircraft Carriers in WW2
In WW2, the US converted nineteen merchant ships into merchant aircraft carriers. They were thinking about making 40-50 merchant aircraft carriers, but as the battle of the Atlantic swung to the allies there was less of a need.
Russia Also Looking at Container Missile Navy
These weapons can support new classes of lighter vessels — such as the Project 22160-class patrol ship, which has an internal space below the helicopter deck perfectly suited to packing pop-up containerized weapons and other systems. A small corvette with 300-kilometer-range Kh-35 missiles can outrange and overpower a much more expensive U.S. Littoral Combat Ship.
Navy Ships are Overpriced and Over-engineered for What is Really Needed
Navy ships are far too expensive and over-engineered for what they need to do. There would not be 5X or 10X price advantages if Navy ships were not ridiculously expensive.
Other European countries can build ships at 2-5 times lower cost than the US is able. Those European ships have modern electronics, systems and weapons.
In 2006, the RAND Corporation found that from 1965-2005 the US Navy had 7-11% annual inflation for its ships which is worse than the inflation for US college tuition and US healthcare. This was before the Zumwalt destroyers (aka DDX) came in at $7.5 billion each compared to the previous destroyer at $1-2 billion each.
The US Navy plan for cost-effective low-end was the LCS (Littoral Combat Ship). The LCS will be a $20+ billion failure. The inexpensive ships are coming at over $600 million each. They can barely operate 30 days before a major systems failure.
The LCS has aluminum hulls and are lightly armed with virtually no useful weapons. One LCS tested a Harpoon anti-ship missile, but wider use among the LCS will probably not happen. The ships are armed with Hellfire missiles that don’t have enough range or a large enough warhead to win battles. The Navy was going to build 52 LCS and now will build 40.
The US Navy will try to start building twenty new guided missile frigates starting in 2020. The Navy wants to keep costs below $950 million each. Two of the bidders are the US companies (Lockheed and Austal) behind two versions of the LCS. The first ship is to be delivered in 2020 and then two per year from 2021-2030. There will be no new technology in the FFX ships.
The US DDG 51 (Burke) destroyers cost $1.75 billion each.
Chinese ships are about 5 times lower cost than comparable US ships
China is building about 32 Type 054A or Type 054A+ frigates. China is claiming a cost of about $200 million each, but The Diplomat estimates the cost at $348 million.