Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Stealthy Optionally Crewed Catamaran for Australian Navy

HMAS Stradbroke Island.
Stealthy Optionally Crewed
Catamaran for Australian Navy
Diagram by Tom Worthington,
CC-BY 21 February 2024
The Australian Government released a fleet plan for the Navy yesterday which included designing and building six large optionally crewed missile carry ships. Australian companies Austal and Incat have both made catamaran high speed transports for the US military, derived from their car ferry designs. Austal have also make trimarans with stealthy tumble-home hulls for the US navy. Both companies offer high levels of automation. They could either (or both) produce vessels for the Australian requirement. I suggest any such design should be designed for these features (but with not all fitted to very vessel):

1. Tumblehome hull: The hull would slope inward above the waterline, and the superstructure would be free of railings, masts, cranes, and other items, to reduce the radar cross-section. All equipment needed on deck would be covered. 

2. Vertical Launch Cells: Rows of vertical launch cells would extend down into each of the catamaran hulls.

3. Drone Hangar:  A covered hangar forward of the flight deck would accommodate UAVs. Automated systems would launch, recover and service the drones.

4. XLUUV Bay: A travelling gantry with cradle between the hulls would pick up Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUV), while the ship is underway. The bay would be equipped with  ECLIPS robots for automated rearming & refueling, before dropping the XLUUVs back in the water.

5. USV Bay: A bay at the back of the vessel, would allow Uncrewed Surface Vessels (USV) to be launched and recovered. Automated systems would service the USVs.

6. Self Defense Auto-cannons: The four corners of the ship would each have a small caliber auto-cannon similar to the EOS Slinger, for self defence from missiles, drones, and small boats. Each cannon would be equipped with an electro-optical sight, radar, backup power supply, and operator station. This would allow the ship to be defended even if all other power and systems failed.

While the media has made much of the "optionally crewed" feature of the vessels, of more significance is that the ships are highly automated and so only need a small crew, about one quarter of a conventional military vessel, when they are aboard. 

ps: John Birmingham's book "Weapons of Choice" featured highly automated ship warfare. One of the ships was an Australia high speed catamaran HMAS Moreton Bay, apparently inspired by the real HMAS Jervis Bay. This was an Incat built high speed catamaran, which transported troops to East Timor. I wrote a review of the book, and as was John's custom, I hoped he would use my name for a sister ship "USS Stradbroke Island", but unfortunately not. ;-)