I joke now and then about “Make Auxiliary Cruisers Great Again” – but I am only partially joking.
What were Auxiliary Cruisers? On the surface, they were somewhere between pirates and commerce raiders, but they were also a way to get more armed ships with your flag on them in the mind of your enemy's planners, disrupting their Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) (aka supply chains), and complicating their attempts to secure their seas.
Turning merchant ships in to warships is an imperfect act, but until your enemy achieves complete sea control, they have a good to acceptable track record of bringing more capability to the fight from the South Pacific to the Indian Ocean and other places they could make a nuisance of themselves. Also, they are better underway today, than waiting 24-months for a warship to displace water.
When we look at the challenge west of Wake, one thing most navalists have sobered up to is that we simply do not have enough VLS cells to cover the needs of area defense, ballistic missile defense, strike, and even ASW. We are not producing enough multi-purpose warships that carry enough VLS cells – or enough VLS cell carrying warships – to both bring the firepower we need or distribute risk to an acceptable level.
The USAF has a parallel challenge. Since I was a kid and people had plans to convert 747 in to flying cruise missile carrying aircraft throwing out ALCM like a Pez Dispenser does candy, they’ve been looking at better ways to launch stand off weapons without requiring such high demand/low density/high-cost platforms such as heavy bombers. Sure, they can butch up Strike Eagles … but what about their fleet of cargo aircraft?
In partnership with the U.S. Air Force (USAF), Lockheed Martin has deployed Rapid Dragon munition pallets from C-17 and EC‑130 aircraft and released surrogate JASSM-ERs in system-level flights conducted over White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
Rapid Dragon is a fast-paced USAF Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) program that has moved from concept to surrogate missile deployment in just 10 months.
The Rapid Dragon team conducted an airdrop from a C-17A Globemaster III and another from an EC-130SJ Commando Solo. In both flights, aircrews deployed a pallet at an operationally relevant altitude. Once stabilized by parachutes, the pallets released surrogate missiles in quick succession, each aerodynamically identical to a JASSM-ER.
If for no other reason than good old inter-service rivalry … can we iterate past the SA-6 on a USV to, well, looking at what existing cargo ships can be converted in to …. VLS farms.
Work with me here. Yes, I understand people who want unmanned surface vessels to operate like “loyal wingmen” with our surface fleet as VLS farms, but we are a long way from having the machinery, communications, laws, code, etc to make them a reality anytime in the next decade. I'll take them when they come, but they are not coming fast enough.
We cannot wait that long. We need a gap filler. We need to experiment like the USAF … but better.
Let me be modest here: what kind of merchant ship can we purchase right now that I can fit 256 VLS cells, bolt on a SeaRAM or two, a couple of 30mm, can cruise effectively at 20 kts but can also make 25kts at a minimum sustained maximum speed.
Can you think of a better way to give the USNR some warships?
Just imagine; six on each coast ready to get underway, fully loaded, in 2-weeks.