The Sea Control Ship was proposed by the United States Navy during the 1970s. Conceptually, it is a small aircraft carrier that carried a mix of aircraft and helicopters to be used for anti-submarine warfare and air support for convoys.
The SCS was to be cheaper than attack Aircraft Carriers, considerably so, but less capable as well. The USS Guam (LPH-9) was used as the vessel to test the concept. Although the tests were successful, pressure from the big Aircraft Carrier proponents ensured that the SCS concept died on the vine in the US Navy.
Sea Control Ship History
Other countries, however, created successful SCS ships. The Soviet Union’s Kiev-class, the British Invincible-class and the Spanish Principe de Asturias all were built using the concepts that came from the program. Although not as capable as the American Nimitz-class and other big flattops, they were able to carry out the duties they were designed for and even more.
The best example of that is the role the HMS Invincible (pictured in main image above) played during the 1982 Falklands War when she was instrumental in providing air support to the British forces in conflict with the Argentineans. Although Argentina had an aircraft carrier, ARA Veinticinco de Mayo, formerly the HMS Venerable, and she did detect the Invincible battle group, high winds prevented her from launching a strike. After the General Belgrano was sunk by a British submarine, the Veinticinco de Mayo returned to port for safety.
Many of the ideas behind the SCS were incorporated into the LHA and LHD classes of American amphibious assault ships. These ships have the capability to fly V/STOL aircraft and anti-submarine helicopters and protect convoys from airborne and undersea threats. Adding the amphibious capabilities to them makes the ships more valuable and in case of future conflicts, unless the need for convoy protection becomes critical, they will stay tasked with transporting and supporting the operations of Marines.
Other countries, such as Japan, South Korea and Australia are also building amphibious assault ships that, with the introduction of the F-35 to the fleets over the next few years, will make them capable Sea Control Ships. In some ways, with countries that don’t have the type of naval infantry that the United States does, using these amphibious ships in the sea control role makes more sense.
The amphibious assault ships, although they share some of the design philosophies and capabilities of the SCS, are larger and more expensive than the SCS was supposed to be. The addition of marine facilities means that the ability to launch and maintain fixed wing aircraft and helicopters has to be reduced. All ships are a tradeoff in capabilities, but this trade off keeps amphibious ships from being classified as SCS.
Even though external similarities and some capabilities make them attractive to classify as aircraft carriers, the specialized nature of their operations and focus on supporting amphibious operations make them too expensive to completely use in the Sea Control or light aircraft carrier role.
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