Smaller Yet Flexible Warships for Maritime Security Operations

In the past two decades, there has been a significant shift in naval missions toward operations other than war. Maritime security operations such as counter-piracy, maritime interdiction, maritime patrol, and naval escort are the main focus of most fleets today; however, the vessels that are currently being used in such operations were mainly built for other purposes. For instance, in August 2009, the North Atlantic Council approved “Operation Ocean Shield” to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Among ships that were assigned in the rotations of this NATO mission, many were destroyers and frigates. Although those warships can be used in such missions, how reasonable is it to risk a destroyer or a frigate to fight with terrorist boats or pirates?

Capable Warships vs. Smaller Combatants

Many surface vessels that perform maritime security operations, as in the NATO Task Force example, are sophisticated warships capable of anti-surface warfare (ASUW), anti-air warfare (AAW), and anti-submarine warfare (ASW). Although these sophisticated multi-mission capable fleets are able to achieve good results in expeditionary warfare against a strong enemy [1], the capabilities of those ships will probably be used in less than 1% of their total lifetime. It seems a sound reason to build capable ships in case of a conventional war, and one can claim that capable ships are built to be used in that small period of their lifetime; nevertheless, navies should optimize their efforts and resources in some way to find a better mix of vessel types and systems that constitute the vessels.

While frigates and destroyers seem to be the best available options that can perform offshore operations, they are expensive to build and operate. On the other hand, smaller combatants are much cheaper and better suited for modern naval operations due to their flexibility. Therefore, many nations have begun reshaping their fleets to meet emerging operational demands: (1) they have started building smaller, yet sophisticated multi-mission capable combatants such as Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) that can be operated in a variety of maritime roles; (2) they have initiated the development of new tactics and countermeasures to better deal with the new threats. The ship design and the acquisition processes, however, remains almost the same.

Achieving Effectiveness: Some Recommendations

Despite technological advances in the last few decades, the ship design and the acquisition processes have not yet been able to keep pace with the rapid changes in use of technology [2]. Cost-effectiveness and operational effectiveness are important, and it is extremely hard to achieve both using a traditional ship design process. Acceptable levels of effectiveness for both measures are more likely to be achieved with the use of technology and virtual environments. Moreover, utilizing the simulations and analytical models to build decision-making tools will ensure collaboration between warfighters and engineers in the early stages of the process. Therefore, exploiting technology is paramount for accomplishing a navy’s objectives and increasing the effectiveness for both cost and operations [3].

A maritime security operation scenario analyzed using simulation and modeling and design of experiments tools in the author’s study provides valuable insights regarding the naval shipbuilding process, employing tactics, and ROE. The following recommendations are based on the insights gained from the results of the analysis [4]:

  • The acquisition of the naval ships needs thorough analysis regarding capability, cost, and operational effectiveness.
  • The decision makers of the shipbuilding process, and the decision makers at sea (i.e., the naval officers) should work together to set the requirements for a ship design.
  • Trade-space analysis is a valuable tool to understand the impact of the various factors. Many factors affect the result of a naval mission. Among these, there is not “one” set of decisions that provide the mission success. There are numerous ways to achieve the same result.
  • Bigger scale modeling and simulations can be performed to analyze the operational effectiveness of the naval ships in various tasks. This will help the planning of the Concept of Operations (CONOPS) along with the shipbuilding process.

Conclusion and Discussion

Surface combatants are one of the most valuable assets of a country. They provide security on the sea and protect a nation’s interests across the globe. For these reasons, they need to be not only capable but also flexible and ready to fight any threat in this rapidly changing world.

Modern maritime menaces are threatening the shipping lanes and merchant vessels as well as the warships. Therefore, most of the operations that are being conducted today are maritime security operations. However, existing ships were not specifically built for these modern tasks, and they are extremely expensive to risk in such missions. Moreover, they are not flexible enough to deal with smaller targets. Therefore, navies should start thinking about building smaller and more flexible ships such as OPVs to cope with evolving maritime threats.

Most decisions about a naval ship’s capabilities are made prior to the design of the ship. For better decisions, however, the decision maker needs to know the trade-offs between certain options. The analysis for the operational effectiveness of the ships is therefore crucial. Furthermore, the tactical decisions of the decision makers at sea are also paramount for accomplishing a mission. Thus, both the capability and operational decisions should be analyzed in the early stages of the ship design, and this can be achieved with close collaboration between the two groups.

Note: Featured image by Turkish Naval Forces. TCG Giresun (F-491) is performing an escort mission in the Gulf of Aden.


[1] Martin N. Murphy, “Suppression Of Piracy And Maritime Terrorism: A Suitable Role for a Navy?,” Naval War College Review 60, no. 3 (2007): 23–45.

[2] J. Christopher Ryan and Otto P. Jons, “Improving the Ship Design, Acquisition and Construction Process,” Naval Engineers Journal 104, no. 2 (1992): 39–57,

[3] Igor Mizine, Bruce Wintersteen, and Steven Wynn, “A Multi-Level Hierarchical System Approach to Ship Concept Formulation Tools,” Naval Engineers Journal 124, no. 3 (2012): 93–120.

[4] Turgut Kaymal, “Assessing the Operational Effectiveness of a Small Surface Combat Ship in an Anti-Surface Warfare Environment,” 2013,

Leave a Comment