Swedish Nav's stealthy Visby could be prototype for Streetfighter

Swedish Navy's stealthy Visby could be prototype for relatively low cost "Streetfighter" now being discussed in Navy circles


“We’ve put all our eggs into a few, expensive baskets.”

That’s the view of Professor Thomas G. Mahnken, who teaches at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. “If there was a lesson from the Cole incident,” says Mahnken, “it’s that we’re vulnerable, whether it's a terrorist bomb or an underwater mine.”

Mahnken says those baskets include ship platforms that are heavy on weapons and sensors, such as the Arleigh Burke Class destroyers, which cost $340 million apiece, Ticonderoga Class cruisers ($1 billion a copy) or Nimitz Class air carriers, (a staggering $4.5 billion a pop).

He says one solution would be to distribute the capabilities of these larger, more expensive platforms among a group or squadron of lower-value ships. One such warship being debated in Navy circles is the Streetfighter, a name coined and concept championed by Vice Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski.

Mahnken says swarms of Streetfighters, either working with a mothership or self-deployable, would be used in the littoral environment and heavily leverage emerging IT systems. One such IT system, called Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), allows ships in a battle group to share a common, tactical, real-time picture of the battle space. When an enemy aircraft or missile threatens any one of them— they all see it and track it in real-time. Then, whoever is in the best position can knock it out of the sky while others can hold their fire. It also allows ships to operate in spread out formations, presenting a more difficult target.

CEC is part of a move to what the Joint Staff calls “network-centric” warfare, which has already been used in exercises by the Navy.

A platform like the Streetfighter might carry a price tag of $100 million to $200 million, according to some estimates. The repairs alone to the Cole will cost $250 million.

Visby While it’s anyone's guess as to what a Streetfighter might look like, Mahnken says a platform like the Visby, a Swedish Navy corvette, is promising. Delivered by Kockums AB (whose parent is Germany’s Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft) in June 2000, the Visby is the first of six 73 m corvettes that incorporate the latest stealth technology. The vessel’s lightweight hull, which is made from carbon fiber reinforced plastic, has large, flat angled surfaces, which results in a very favorable reflection of radar waves. Additionally, air defense systems and other types of sensors are concealed behind specially designed hatches within the hull, further minimizing the vessel's radar signature. A highly adaptable, the Visby Class can fill many roles that would otherwise require the procurement of several mission-specific platforms. It can be outfitted for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare (AsuW), mine countermeasures and patrol.

Propulsion for the Visby is supplied by four gas turbines, rated at 16,000 kW total at high speed operation, and two diesel engines, rated at 2,600 kW total, for low speed operation. The engines are connected to two gearboxes that drive a pair of waterjets. Top speed is in excess of 35 knots.

Kockums began working with its parent, HDW, in August 2000 on Visby Plus, a flexible stealth-adapted surface vessel for the export market. The new concept is based on principles common to the Visby project, but includes work from Kockums’ earlier projects within this field. At the same time, HDW will use its experience in weapons and management systems to optimize the concept.

The new type of vessel represented by this concept is expected to attract growing interest on the global market. In recent years, several countries have been engaged in an intense analysis of their defense organizations and the nature of their future roles, an analysis that in many cases has led to major restructuring and a review of strategic priorities. The reason, of course, is the changing threat scenario.

Well before the USS Cole was mangled by a terrorist bomb in the Port of Aden, Yemen, in October last year, the U.S. Department of Defense was embroiled in an intense, internal debate about what shape its future fighting force should take to meet the changing threat scenario.

The wheels of that debate were set in motion in 1997 by the Quadrennial Defense Review. At the time, then Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said that since “the prospect of a horrific, global war has receded, new threats and dangers—harder to define and more difficult to track—have gathered on the horizon.

“It is the duty of America’s policy makers to comprehend the nature of these threats and devise appropriate strategies and programs to defuse or defeat them.”
Mahnken says an indirect impact of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is that they might “break the logjam on innovative projects” in Washington.
“The thinking here [at the Naval Warfare College] has already undergone a change,” says Mahnken. “There's quite a bit of creative thought here. The question is whether that will filter down to the Navy in Washington.”

Australian Incat fast cat is being assessed by U.S. militaryThat change may already be taking place. As we discussed in the August issue, the DOD is already evaluating the sealift capabilities of two Australian-built high-speed catamarans. It’s not too hard to imagine a small combatant like the Streetfighter would be too far over the horizon. Time will tell. ML