the little eggbois are aggressively cute 'copters umu
and FS Keligheten
As part of its ship design process, the Royal Navy employs the Ytstrid Ovravlegrupp
(Naval Surface Warfare Development Group), or YOG, to test novel concepts of ship design for future surface vessels. These elite naval engineers, artificers, and sailors were responsible for pioneering such things as the Royal Navy's surface effect fast attack craft of the early 1990s, the ultimately stillborn stealth ships of the 2000s, and the futuristic looking, if uninspiring, Future Surface Destroyers. The YOG tests concepts that are deemed too radical or novel for the Royal Navy to mass produce, but still considered useful ideas, and this is one of them. They are based in Hakkas, approximately 150 miles up the coast from Hyssna, Gallia, the largest port city in Metropolitan Gallia.
The starting point for the Soft/Cuddly class is the failure of the Smyge
(Stalker/one that sneaks) demonstrator to evade "electronic eye" style surveillance. While stealth ships with reduced radar signatures enjoyed some popularity in the Frisian Fleet (considered, along with the Workers' and Peasants' Agrarian Fleet, to be the main threat of the Royal Navy in the Alarian Ocean), they were slow to catch on elsewhere. The Royal Navy, concerned about ordering a new production ship when it was necessary to rapidly improve the air defenses of existing ships in the coming decade, pushed low signature stealth off to the YOG in the late 1990's. The result was a small, compact ship with high speed and low visual, infrared, and radar signatures. While this made non-visual air observation of the ship itself difficult, ironically it made observation from space somewhat easier, as the large wake produced by the vessel running at its full 55 knots was easily tracked in calm ocean by the Royal Navy's radar observation satellites. Additionally, the spray from the ship moving at high speed made it immediately recognizable to air observers visually, although acquiring radar lock-on was more difficult.
The development of the open source Global Imaging System by the Oumeian government in the late-90's coincided with the deployment of the first commercial space observation satellite constellation, which was famously used to show the record wildfires then being combated by the Forestry Service of the Interior Ministry in Western Gallia in 2001, mostly for marketing purposes. The resolution of such commercial satellites at the time were comparable to 1980's state-of-the-art systems, albeit in monochrome, such as the Celestial Command's own Neonet
spy satellites, which at the time were still in military service. More worryingly, the single satellite would be followed in less than 10 years by another dozen or so systems of similar or superior ground resolution, and by 2012 there were at least 300 such satellites orbiting the world, owned by several companies, and able to be leased to the highest bidder. The largest of these was an Oumeian company, with 150 satellites in low Earth orbit, with resolutions varying from 30-300 cm, bands varying from visual to short-wave infrared, and revisit times as low as 6 hours. Global coverage with revisit times as low as 4 hours were projected to be reasonable by 2016, with EHF SAR (cloud penetrating imagery) being available for commercial utility by the mid-2020s. Worse, these satellites could download video feed for minutes at a time, at high frame rates. Recognizing the threat that high resolution, high quality, on-demand satellite imagery and video feeds could cause for warship identification and air strike planners, as the latter would, in the medium term future (~20 years from 2010), no longer require the age old, tried and true tactic of "fly a plane over it and see what flag it flies" method to ID an aircraft carrier task group or hostile cruiser, the Royal Navy sought a solution. In the medium-term future (2020-2025 onwards), it was considered likely that bomber regiments might be able to rely entirely on satellite tactical intelligence, at least during daytime, rather than the extant myriad networks of GCI, SOSUS, maritime patrol aircraft, AWACS, and handful of spy satellites.
Three main arguments arose in the discussions between 2002-2012: 1) the Navy should stay the current course, as past weapons systems (even atomic bombs) were not revolutionary enough to invalidate the existence of a surface navy (despite being more destructive), and that the development of large amounts of real time observation would need to be taken in stride rather than opposed outright, for every new weapon there was a countermeasure and there was no reason to assume that Gallia could not develop large constellations of killer satellites to defeat the real time observation "swarms"; 2) that the surface navy was finished and this was only further evidence that the escort-carrier/submarine dichotomy which had ruled naval warfare for almost a century prior was beginning to crack under the weight of its own anachronisms, the future Navy warship should be a submarine and the Coast Guard should assume the duties of surface naval warfare while the surface fleet is allowed to transition to shore-based operations of fixed-wing aircraft at best; 3) that surface fleets should transition to a low detectable design of warship, taking the "emulating a merchant/passenger ship" one step further than the mere acoustic and electronic masking of vessels, but to include actual visual masking into the hullform, as the presence of real-time observation meant that visual identification of uniquely designed warships would be almost a total certainty, negating conventional forms of shipboard defense against bomber raids.
The first argument was considered somewhat specious, as it ignored the issue in favor of handing it off to Celestial Command or something, and it wasn't clear if this could be useful against futuristic weapons which would be appearing in the coming decades, such as boost-glide hypersonics. When combined with real time surveillance of warships, this threat seemed genuinely impossible to defeat without an inordinate amount of anti-ballistic missiles in the battlegroup, or a return to the tight spacing of carrier battlegroups reminiscent of the 1940's. The second argument was considered too pessimistic, since submarines had not shown the ability to conduct major sea control campaigns, amphibious operations (although plans for various SSLSTNs had existed since the 50's, none were considered practical), and even had they possessed weapons capable of long range attack (such as extremely long range, satellite guided torpedoes) to perform sea control, it would be rather trivial to cripple their targeting ability by destroying the "eyes" of the subs whether aircraft or spaceship. Against a submarine armed with hypersonic missiles, it seemed more plausible, but this was a bit of a bitter pill, and it would require submarines to go to depths where they would be vulnerable to airborne (and spaceborne) detection anyway. The third argument was considered only somewhat valid, as the preservation of secrecy would be difficult to achieve in peacetime under real time surveillance, although the merits of building a new era of "Far Easter" armed merchantmen had a slight romantic appeal. It would take advantage of Galla's extant civil shipbuilding industry and it could potentially lead to a newer, cheaper form of surface escort. As it were, none of these arguments were considered ultimate solutions, although the first two had substantial merit if they could be synthesized, while the third argument was mostly one of production capacity, of which the Royal Navy had plenty for conventional warships and very little for commercial-style hulls, and it wasn't clear to what extent these production bases could be integrated. Thus, YOG was tasked to determine the plausibility of converting civil yards to military warship production under the "Future Surface Destroyer" program, with intent to produce a pair of warships before the end of 2018.
In the meantime, the production of the Paalitligheten
-class destroyer leaders (the first Aigisen
equipped ship, laid down in 2004) and had begun, and the Navy was ramping up its slipways and lead orders to produce the anti-submarine warfare equivalent, the Angriparen
-class destroyer leaders from 2010 on. These ships were anticipated to serve for the next 40 years, before a replacement would become necessary for individual vessels, and production would be maintained through the late-2020s with a maximum throughput of two Reliable destroyer leaders and one Aggressor destroyer a year for the first 11 years to 2016, followed by two Aggressor classes per year through 2024. Additionally, a further 60 destroyer escorts (6,000 tonners) would be constructed at the same time, at a rate of 2 DDG and 1 DDKs per year through 2018 and 3 DDKs per year through 2024. After this, replacements would be sought for the ship classes.
With the inherent reserve buoyancy of the Reliable DLG hull, it is expected that the Royal Navy will opt to produce an improved version of this ship rather than anything particularly radical, which is why the concept of the Future Surface Destroyer was pushed off to the YOG. As the YOG is a fully independent experimental production arm, it is capable of producing its own radar systems, powerplants, and electric motors, as needed, when these cannot be acquired off-the-shelf from contractors due to lacking specific necessary equipment or radical production methods, through an arsenal-type manufacturing base. In some instances, depending on the size of the ship, it can produce its own vessels, although the small shipyard owned by the YOG is only equipped with a single 130 meter floating drydock, which renders it inadequate for all but the smallest vessels, and since the last production warship produced by the YOG was the Hydrofoil Sub Chaser in 1989, all vessels since have been, generally, sub-scale demonstrators or one-off prototypes.
Because of the limited throughput of their own yard, YOG partnered with the private firm Cliff Shipyards (KHS) in mid-2014 (a few weeks after orders were sent for two prototype ships) a firm near Roedberget, Hyssna (the name of the shipyard is a double pun, as the red cliffs of Hyssna are a well known national landmark), which invented a novel form of bow for improved fuel efficiency of small draft merchant vessels. Originally, the hulls used for the Soft and Cuddly were designed as shallow draft CONEX ships, suitable for use in inland waterways and the Vepsian and Ænglish Seas
, with relatively weak ability to traverse deep ocean. With some modification courtesy input from the YOG; namely: reinforcement of the structural spars of the ship to resist wave action, thicker gauge steel (especially around the bow), and incorporation of a "beaked bow" between the bulbous bow to reduce wave resistance during ocean transit were considered mandatory. Elimination of most windows and open views outside the bridge windows, and minor modifications of the superstructure, such as sealing the aft of the semi-spherical superstructure, and placement of AESA radar arrays within crevices inside the structure were also necessary to retain the most important aspect of the frigate: seakeeping and operations in the English Sea and Vepsian Sea during wintertime.
The timetable given by the Navy was rather tight, with only 16 months for detailed design work and 24 months for construction. Fleet trials were anticipated to last no more than 10 months, with an extension to 16 months planned for but unlikely, with acceptance into service for both ships sometime in the middle of 2018, or early 2019 at the latest. Because this was approximately 3/4ths the time allotted for ordinary construction of the CONEX ships, and the throughput of the yard was a mere single slipway, it was unclear if the civil firm partnered with could meet the demand of the time constraints. To help alleviate this, YOG deployed a construction battalion of 600 steelworkers, artificers, electricians, and naval architects to assist them in training for fabrication techniques required for military operations (specifically, sea-ice and open ocean duty), and for assisting in production of the two ships. Additionally, the current construction program of five simultaneous new escort programs was straining the ability of the industrial base to provide any surplus, although the budget allotted was significant regardless, the construction program merited bigger incomes for most factories, and few were willing, or able, to spare any assembly line space or additional production units to ship to a little known "research group".
To get around this, YOG reused equipment as necessary, built by itself what it couldn't reuse, and stole what it couldn't build: The combat system used a software modified form of the Royal Navy's Shipboard Battle Computer, which ran the Aegis Combat System, and a novel and unique radar incorporating GaN technology within an air-cooled C-band AESA radar, but in a housing not substantially larger than the frigate-type Aegis radar used on the Royal Navy's Soemnigheten
-class DDGs. The radar itself was not new, however, as it was derived from the Aggressor class's AESA radar, which became available due to castoff T/R modules being donated to YOG radar engineers from several fabs. However, it required some brassboarding to get it functioning, and the radar was less capable than a new production system due to the manufacturing defects of the T/R modules being used.
As for the towed array sonars, two dozen YOG engineers, going ashore from the rear boat ramps of the Stalker commando ship in rubber raiding craft, wearing black fatigues and with their faces camouflaged, raided the nearby 7th (Hyssna) Reserve Fleet Installation, pilfering a pair of TACTAS towed array sonars in their cradles, a dockyard forklift, two dozen fresh doughnuts, and a case of beer. The incident would have probably gone unnoticed until routine inspections later that week, had it not been for the fact that the rubber raiding craft were left floating pier side, forklift tracks ran down to the beach, and a note had been left in the Warrant Officers' mess detailing the situation in an apologetic yet assertive tone.
For the rest of the equipment: A pair of dual radar surface search sets were pulled from a couplet of destroyer escorts moored at the YOG shipyard. VLS cells were also acquired from the same ships, as was a pair of X-band fire control radars, and the still functional diesel engines of one ship were liberated to be installed in the two vessels. KHS workers protested this initially, but engineers were pleasantly surprised to find that the Navy diesels were both smaller and provided greater power output to the electric motors. Gearing requirements were met by fabrication shops within YOG, which also produced the necessary propellers in about 16 months during the construction phase. Acquisition of necessary SATCOM antennae was found in YOG stores, and several phased array EHF antennae were sourced from telecommunications firms. The required ESM and jamming equipment was stuffed into a pedestal, using refurbished "Straight Man" pedestals from the destroyer escorts and "Sidekick" defensive jammers, and new production jammer modules from YOG's fabrication shop.
These sensors were hidden in spots that were considered to be inconspicuous: the World Bank funded INMARSAT constellation high capacity datalink nominally occupies a radome abaft the surface search radar tower; this was replaced by a multi-function X-band radar which was of similar size to the SATCOM, while the SATCOM itself was replaced by a series of EHF phased array antennae buried inside the forecastle. The actual Inmarsat radome was replaced by repackaged components of a NRN-25 TACAN beacon, which fit with some difficulty, and would allow for limited helicopter operations in one of the two main TEU spotting areas amidships. The towed array sonar was hidden within a small deckhouse, which nominally was empty aside from mooring spots on the cargo vessel and typically used as a weather shelter for various bulk equipments, such as the modular raft (or a smoking spot for seamen). On the warship it had been turned into a garage of sorts.
Missile systems would occupy the four outboardmost TEU cells, replaced by onboard cranes as needed, with spare magazines stored further inboard. The magazines were to be secured by "launch tube cell guides", which would keep the missile magazines from being lost in storms, and also serve to connect the missiles to the ship's fire control system. These "launch tube guides" were derived from KHS's own cell guides for Northern/Arctic coasters.
On sea trials, both the Soft and Cuddly found their radars were hampered by poor geometries of their coaster derived hulls, although the Cuddly's improved radar (using new build components, rather than cast-offs) was found to be vastly less temperamental than the Soft's in tracking and engaging target drones. While the C-band radar of Soft could easily track a target at fairly long range, it had trouble maintaining the track for long periods of time, due to the use of cast off T/R modules. In comparison to the Aggressor-class and its similar size C-band search set, the Soft could only track targets out to a range of about 2/3rds in equal meterological conditions. YOG engineers had already identified potential failure modes of the radar set, but the actual performance was also spotty due to partial failures of the modules of the radar during operation. In a somewhat publicized incident, one of these failures resulted in the arrest of an a fishing vessel operating illegally, which was spotted after a m/104 surface to air missile was aborted due to datalink failure. Parts of the destroyed missile fell short of the fishing vessel, which was promptly boarded by Coast Guard officers and the crew arrested for trespassing. Conversely, due to the use of YOG manufactured radar components, Cuddly's performance was extremely similar to the Aggressor class. Soft would later be refitted with the same radar as Cuddly, replacing the cast off components, when it completed sea trials in August 2019.
Performance in rougher seas was considered somewhat underwhelming, with large amounts of green water, especially amidships, although this rarely presented a problem for either ship's survival. In one cruise, FS Soft suffered severe storm damage the CONEX derived missile launchers. The bespoke launchers were often built with repurposed Armored Box Launchers or m/41 vertical launch silos, crammed into a CONEX container, and given either vent ports on the bottom of the box for tactical length missiles, or a hinged roof for the cruise missile launchers. In the latter case, water flooding shorted out three of four missile canisters and prevented launch either through failure of the hinge motors, or due to destruction of the launch control electronics. The fourth cruise missile CONEX was only spared because it was leeward and sheltered from flooding by the large crane and associated superstructure, and completed firing trials of the cruise missile successfully. Investigation of the incident revealed that the problem was ultimately due to a lack of internal sealing caused by improper curing of the seals of the launchers. This was immediately corrected by YOG and new launchers were delivered when Soft returned to port.
Maneuver capability of the ship was found to be excellent, with a responsive electric motor providing propulsion, a pair of azimuth thrusters giving bow maneuverability, and the diesel motors from the Navy destroyer escorts were considered to be exceptionally reliable and provided ample power. Two main complaints of the officers commanding the vessels were noted: they wished they had two screws, and maneuvering azipods would be preferable to fixed thrusters for operation in deep water ports, although they noted that the ability of the ship to go up rivers was impressive and somewhat surprising to the officers in charge, who had previously only commanded Navy destroyer escorts.
Acoustic performance with the integrated electric propulsion of the cargo ship was considered outstanding, as self-noise was relatively low, and submariners found it difficult to distinguish between merchant vessels and the actual frigate during mock convoy hunts. Actual ability to engage submarines in trials with HMS Tonfisk
, a nuclear powered hunter-killer submarine, was found to be lacking. The lack of a helicopter, lack of torpedo tubes, and lack of a bow sonar were all considered grave issues that would require specific remedying in a future ship design. The performance of the anti-periscope radar was considered adequate, although its placement could be improved. Inclusion of visible self defense weapons such as automatic cannons, torpedo launchers, and CIWS was considered improbable due to the general role of the ship as a "stealth" surface ship, although it was not considered an impossibility if CIWS became common armaments on merchant vessels in general, such as during a state of general war.
Overall, both Soft and Cuddly had successfully demonstrated that a merchant hull adapted to life as a surface escort ship is plausible with modern equipment, although it would require a larger hull (approximately twice the size of the existing ships) and more substantial internal modifications, such as a greater quantity of bulkheads and watertight compartments. Additionally, improvements such as full maneuvering azipods, a bow sonar, and ability to operate helicopters internally would be likely modifications. However, the issues of needing to maintain a sleek external appearance, large use of buried antennae and covered fiberglass fixtures, and lack of spaces for obvious good positioning of search radars meant that the costs of the ships were not dissimilar to that of a Coast Guard patrol ship, which was much smaller in all dimensions, and thus could be built in larger quantities at a greater pace than the "stealth combat ship" built by YOG and KHS.
Repurposing merchant firms to build combat vessels was found to not be as simple a task as envisioned, perhaps colored by YOG's experience as essentially a bespoke warship construction organization. Even with assistance from YOG to include a battalion of highly experienced sailor-steelworkers, an integrated circuit fabrication shop, and rapid provisioning of long-lead equipment from various YOG acquisitions pipelines, the construction phase ran afoul of time constraints. While Soft was floated on time, at a record 20 months, despite the rather significant changes between the civilian and military designs, Cuddly ran behind far more substantially than was anticipated, requiring an additional 8 months to be floated, on top of the remaining 16, and delivery was accepted by the Navy in mid-2018, about 6 months behind allowable schedule in total. By this time, Soft had already begun sea trials and qualified the class for weapons launch, while general sea trials continued for the next 14 months through October 2019. The entire program, given its complexity, could probably not have been better managed by an even larger organization, but the timetable slipping back 2-3 months at a time was certainly wearisome during a major shipbuilding program. As a result of the schedule slippage, and lack of throughput of the docks, YOG received an approval for its FY20 request for a 90-foot expansion to its floating drydock, which will allow it to accommodate ships up to 155 meters in length.
Both ships were ultimately commissioned into the Special Warfare Service, alongside the MS Alfhem
special forces mothership and the MS Mong Frik
helicopter carrier, both of which are converted merchant vessels. Ironically, they are used more often by the Coastal Rangers as logistics ships for transporting CONEX containers of war material, due to their innate materials handling capability. In some cases, they have been seen to carry converted vertical launch missile boxes (notable primarily by their placement), presumably for land attack. In March 2020, Soft was fired at by guerrillas using a pair of "Starlight" anti-shipping missiles launched from a fast attack boat, as it exited the Sea of Aten, which were defeated by the ship's electronic self defense system and automatic chaff launchers; this followed an incident where a converted car ferry being used to transport armored vehicles was sunk by the same type of missile with a loss of all materiel. Following this, both Soft and Cuddly now carry four air defense missile and decoy launchers aft, astride the stack, two surveillance UAVs, and two helicopters armed with surface search radars and anti-ship missiles.
For training duties for the rest of the fleet, the "research ships" Soft and Cuddly, alongside the helicopter carrier Mong Frik
and diesel-electric submarine HMS Payara
, are scheduled to participate in the biennial Fleet Problem XCVIX, in mid-2023. Schedule overruns during sea trials, and the subsequent necessities of a crash overseas deployment, scuppered hopes that they would be able to participate in 2021's Fleet Problem XCVIII.
485 ft (oa), 72 ft (beam), 21 ft (dr; light), 31 ft (dr; full)
F20V/1191 7,400 kW diesel; 1x 4.1m propeller w/ electric motor
18 knots (maximum); 12 knots (cruise)
4,800 nautical miles at 12 knots
Variable, nominal 90 (8 Maritime officers; 42 Maritime sailors; 5 naval officers; 35 naval enlisted); berthing for up to 120 personnel
5,700 tons (light)
4x .50" caliber heavy machine guns (exterior, manned)
8x .265" light machine guns (in armory, for port guards)
16x .223" assault rifles (in armory, for VBSS and port guards)
2x m/92 "Gadden" surface-to-air missile CLUs (in armory)
4x .265" line throwing rifles (in armory)
4x Grg m/48 grenade launchers (in armory, anti-small craft for port guards)
Launcher-compatible guide spots for up to:
26x modular, containerized VLS launchers (20' TEU)
Additional spotting for up to 165x 40' TEUs or 342x 20' TEUs inboard at max density less lashing bridges
Air- and Watercraft:
- 52x cruise missiles (40' TEU)
- 312x single-cell tactical missiles (20' TEU)
- 1,248x quad-packed tactical missiles (20' TEU)
- any combination thereof
Reinforced deck; room for operating two medium-size helicopters in both landing spots with removable shelters, with RAST tracks.
CONEX storage for ZLL surveillance-strike UAV (Firebee or XQ-58-esque)
Two Navy 23' motor boats [Willard Sea Force 700s], carried on port and starboard amidships davits.
4x AM/SPV-4 C-band air surveillance radar
AM/SQR-19 towed array sonar system
AM/SPQ-9 multi-function X-band radar
AM/SPS-60 X-band surface search radar
AM/SPS-62 S-band surface search radar
2x INMARSAT EHF-band MC (medium-capacity) datalinks
2x AM/SMQ-32 "Bollplanket" ("Straight Man") ESM/ECM defensive jammer
2x AM/SMQ-25 "Sirenen" ("Siren") towed torpedo decoy
2x 4-shot "Michiwichiwa" ("Lively") radar decoy launchers (in VLS CONEX)
4x m/36 MMS countermeasures dischargers