VSTOL SUPPORT SHIPS (VSS): PROPOSED
The Navy seeks to supplement the larger aircraft carriers with a class of “light” aircraft carriers now designated VSTOL Support Ships (VSS). These ships would operate fixed-wing Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing aircraft and helicopters. The lead ship is planned for the Fiscal Year 1980 shipbuilding programme with possibly as many as a dozen ships being constructed over a 10-year period.
Congress refused to fund a VSTOL carrier known as the Sea Control Ship (SCS) that the Navy had planned for the FY 1975 shipbuilding programme. The ship was opposed on the basis of limited size, capability and speed. Accordingly, the Navy has examined a number of designs that would provide a more flexible employment of sea-based tactical aircraft in a wide range of “low threat” situations as well as being able to conduct anti-submarine operations.
The adjacent table provides the characteristics of the aborted SCS design, of a 22,000 ton VSS design that is now the principle candidate for this type of ship, and those of a larger ship of some 33,000 tons which would be able to operate conventional fixed-wing aircraft in limited numbers as well as VSTOL aircraft and helicopters.
Current Navy-Department of Defense Planning provides for a VSS configuration suitable for sea control, amphibious assault, close air support, mine countermeasures, and low-intensity Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) operations. The last would be primarily against long-range reconnaissance and missile guidance aircraft, and not to counter high-performance fighter or attack aircraft. This multi-mission concept overcomes many of the objections which led to Congressional refusal to fund the smaller Sea Control Ship previously proposed by the Navy. In addition, the VSS would have sufficient speed (approximately 28-30 knots) to accompany carrier task forces or fast merchant ships.
The feasibility of the VSS/Sea Control Ship concept was demonstrated from 1972 to 1974 by the amphibious assault ship Guam (LPH 9) which operated as an interim SCS. The Guam carried AV-8 Harrier fighter-attack aircraft, SH-3 Sea King helicopters, and SH-2 LAMPS helicopters during several exercises. She subsequently reverted to the amphibious role. (Photographs of the Guam with her SCS aircraft appear in the editions published during that period).
Aircraft: “Notional” air groups are indicated for the Sea Control Ship and the 22,000 ton VSS design. The VSTOL strike aircraft is the AV-8 Harrier or its successor; the large anti-submarine helicopter is the SH-3 Sea King or the SH-53 Sea Stallion (in an A/S configuration); the LAMPS (Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System) is a medium-size helicopter primarily configured for A/S search and attack. The current LAMPS helicopter is the SH-2, while a later aircraft based on the Army’s Utility Tactical Transport Aircraft System (UTTAS) programme will be developed as the LAMPS III.
A VSTOL carrier over 25,000 tons could operate a small number of conventional fixed-wing aircraft, particularly the S-3 Viking and A-7 Corsair II. These aircraft require catapults and arresting wires. The large VSS design described would have two C-13 steam catapults and could operate an air group of 50 or more, fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, the exact number depending upon the type assigned.
Several advanced VSTOL aircraft are under development in the United States for ship-based use, with the more promising candidates being the Hawker Siddeley-McDonnell Douglas AV-16 Advanced Harrier, the Rockwell XFV-12 Thrust Augmented Wing (TAW) aircraft, and the Grumman “Nutcracker” design.
Fiscal: Current cost estimates provide for a VSS of about 22,000 tons having an average cost of about $ 270 000 000 in FY 1976 dollars.
Gunnery: All of the SCS/VSS designs provide for the installation of at least two Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), probably the rapid fire, multi-barrel 20 mm Phalanx gun systems. This would be used as a final defence against incoming anti-ship cruiser missiles.
Missiles: Harpoon anti-ship missiles in storage/launcher canisters could be fitted in all of these ships.
Propulsion: Despite the Title VIII legislation passed by Congress which encourages nuclear propulsion for surface combatants, all SCS/VSS designs provide for fossil fuel propulsion because of the high development and procurement costs of nuclear power plants. The Navy-Department of Defense decision not to seek nuclear propulsion for these ships accounts in part for their classification as VSTOL Support Ships vice “carriers”.
Troops: Multi-mission features for the VSS include being able to accommodate 500 troops in the amphibious contingency role for limited periods with minimum modifications.
Photographs: A photograph and scale drawings of the proposed 14 300 ton Sea Control Ship appear in the 1974-1975 edition. The proposed 22 000 ton VSS would to a large extent be a scaled up SCS configuration.
|Sea Control Ship (SCS) Design||22 000 ton VSS Design||33 000 ton VSS Design|
|Displacement, tons:||14 300 full load||22 000 full load||33 000 full load|
|Length, feet (meters):||640 oa (195.1)||750 oa (228.6) `||780 oa (237.7)|
|Beam, feet (meters):||80 (24.4)||87 (26.5)||100 (30.5)|
|Draught, feet (meters)||30 (9.1)||24 (7.3)||25 (7.6)|
|Aircraft:||3 VSTOL Strike Aircraft||4 VSTOL Strike Aircraft||50+ (see notes)|
|14 large A/S helicopters||16 large A/S helicopters|
|2 LAMPS helicopters||6 LAMPS helicopters|
|Catapults:||none||none||2 C-13 steam|
|Guns:||2-20 mm CIWS||2-20 mm CIWS||2-20 mm CIWS|
|Main engines:||2 gas turbines; 40 000 ship 1 shaft||4 gas turbines; 90 000 shp; 2 shafts||steam turbines; 100 000 shp; 2 shafts|
|Speed, knots:||approx 26||28+||26+|
Jane's Fighting Ships 1976-77, p. 561, copyright 1976