Increases in Ship Size

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Increases in Ship Size

Postby Graham Kennedy » Thu Jan 06, 2011 8:57 pm

I know we've had discussion before regarding how plausible it is for ship sizes to go up by certain amounts over a given time. Whilst browsing Wikipedia today I came across this chart, which I found rather interesting :

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It shows the growth in Royal Navy ships of the line - the largest most powerful ships in the fleet. As you can see, in 1630 the average ship of the line was around 1,500 tons. It then took over a hundred years for that figure to rise to 2,000 tons. By the 1830s, the tonnage of a battleship was up to about 2750 tons.

But then look what happened with the introduction of the steam/iron revolution. By 1880 the figure had jumped from 3,350 to almost 7,000 tons! I did a little sniffing around...

In 1871 HMS Devastation weighed in at 9,180 tons.

In 1889, HMS Royal Sovereign weighed in at 14,300 tons.

In 1905, HMS Agamemnon came along at 16,500 tons.

In 1906, HMS Dreadnought came along 18,120 tons.

In 1910, HMS Orion at 22,000 tons.

And so it goes. By 1936 the Nelson class weighed in at 34,000 tons. Within the next few years we'd see the Royal Navy more or less spent as a global force, but the USA brought in the Iowa class at 45,000 tons and the Japanese had the Yamato class at about 70,000 tons.

By this time the battleship itself was a spent force, with the Aircraft Carrier taking over. But there's no reason to suppose that the ships we saw in WWII were at the limits of construction. The planned US Montana class would have reached 66,000 tons, whilst Hitler had plans drawn up for a Battleship with 20 inch guns of a whopping 144,000 tons.

So it's perfectly feasible that we could have had a tenfold increase in ship sizes between 1900 and 1945, and that's including a pause in the 30s due to the Washington treaty limits; as soon as they went out the window ships ballooned in size at an incredible rate.

This trend continued, somewhat, with carriers. The WWII Essex carriers were around 33,000 tons; in the following fifty years the carriers tripled in displacement. However, over the last 20 years or so they have stayed the same size. I think this is largely because there is no competition; the great powers all constantly leapfrogged one another to build the biggest and best ships in the run up to the great wars, and this just doesn't happen now - pretty much nobody can afford it.

I'm thinking of working a version of that chart up with a bunch of the ships I mentioned and others on it, just for fun...
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Re: Increases in Ship Size

Postby Mikey » Thu Jan 06, 2011 9:02 pm

I'm not surprised. The only concrete limitation on size is the actual material limitation of the construction medium and the manufacturing capability of the building entity. With warships, unlike commercial products, there is no market pressure favoring any particular size. Since bigger warships = more/bigger guns, greater armor, larger magazines, larger aircraft complement, etc., etc; there is no factor limiting a "ship-of-the-line" (to use the archaic term) as far as size. In other words, for a battleship/carrier/ship-of-the-line, there is no reason to build them any smaller than the builder is capable of building them.
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Re: Increases in Ship Size

Postby Tyyr » Fri Jan 07, 2011 3:13 am

I think the deciding factor was steam as a motive power. Once you shifted away from wind you were no longer constrained by the size sheet you could hoist over your ship allowing you to build things as big as you wanted.
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Re: Increases in Ship Size

Postby Mikey » Fri Jan 07, 2011 4:07 am

Tyyr wrote:I think the deciding factor was steam as a motive power. Once you shifted away from wind you were no longer constrained by the size sheet you could hoist over your ship allowing you to build things as big as you wanted.


HMS Sovereign of the Seas would tend to discount that. Rather, it seems to me (though I'm hardly a nautical engineer) that the medium - oak - was the deciding factor.
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Re: Increases in Ship Size

Postby Atekimogus » Fri Jan 07, 2011 10:32 am

I guess its mostly the locomotive power. Like the germans in ww2 showed us with tanks, building ever more heavier and bigger tanks isn't so much a problem, powering them to make them function reasonably is another story. I would guess the same applies to ships. Building huge ships isn't so much of a problem, designing them with reasonable range and speed is another story.

Once you have overcame those limitations the only factors deciding the size is probably that you only build them as large as you need them.
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Re: Increases in Ship Size

Postby Tyyr » Fri Jan 07, 2011 12:41 pm

Mikey wrote:HMS Sovereign of the Seas would tend to discount that. Rather, it seems to me (though I'm hardly a nautical engineer) that the medium - oak - was the deciding factor.

Not really sure how. It was a 1500 ton ship that fits rather neatly into the general trend of Graham's graph. The Wyoming or Great Republic are better examples of ships topping out in size from being made of wood. However they were also limited in speed.
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Re: Increases in Ship Size

Postby Mikey » Fri Jan 07, 2011 4:42 pm

Tyyr wrote:Not really sure how.


Because motive power wasn't nearly a limiting factor. Before she was cut down, HMS Sovereign of the Seas displaced 1522 tons and carried 102 guns (though that was admittedly an overload for a 90-gun first-rater) but was just barely a ship. She could have easily carried more than three square masts or even been built as a barque or barquentine with no increase in size or sacrifice of gun capacity.
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Re: Increases in Ship Size

Postby SolkaTruesilver » Mon Jan 10, 2011 3:41 am

I'd believe that if the trend of changing the Air Force into a fleet of aerial supersonic drones, it's possible that carriers will reduce in size, as I believe it's a lot easier to host and launch hundred of drones without pilots than it it to launch a hundred fighter planes, with pilots.

Off course, you'd still have some manned aircrafts. But the scout/surgical strike/air superiority (maybe?) could be assumed by drones that can withstand G forces no pilot could. And I guess it's safer for your pilotes, as it's much easier (moral-wise) to just jettison a drone than a fighter with his pilot.

Hmm.. I wonder just how many drones a modern Carrier could hold and field in a time of war, if these carriers were entirely refitted to assure that they could launch all of them as quickly as possible?
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Re: Increases in Ship Size

Postby Graham Kennedy » Mon Jan 10, 2011 10:20 am

I wonder, if carriers do become bases for UAVs more or less exclusively, will we actually get smaller carriers, or will we get the same carriers with an air wing of 150, 200 or even more drones?
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Re: Increases in Ship Size

Postby Tyyr » Mon Jan 10, 2011 12:48 pm

Well, it's unlikely we'll see UAV's come far enough to replace manned combat aircraft in the next decade or two. Which actually could put us right near the time to start replacing the early Nimitz carriers. Frankly I'd rather see increased airwing sizes on same size carriers but I suspect that we'll see smaller UK sized carriers in the name of saving money.
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Re: Increases in Ship Size

Postby Tsukiyumi » Mon Jan 10, 2011 2:16 pm

Tyyr wrote:...I suspect that we'll see smaller UK sized carriers...


So... nonexistent? Hell of a cost savings.
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Re: Increases in Ship Size

Postby Mikey » Mon Jan 10, 2011 3:38 pm

If it came to that, I wouldn't be surprised to see two (or more) different sizes of carriers - a "main" carrier, with a full CAG included manned fighter & F/A squadrons, EW squadrons, etc., etc.; and a smaller "recon" carrier geared toward UAV squadrons.
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Re: Increases in Ship Size

Postby SolkaTruesilver » Mon Jan 10, 2011 4:42 pm

Mikey wrote:If it came to that, I wouldn't be surprised to see two (or more) different sizes of carriers - a "main" carrier, with a full CAG included manned fighter & F/A squadrons, EW squadrons, etc., etc.; and a smaller "recon" carrier geared toward UAV squadrons.


the UAV squadrons are being used more and more into bombing runs, if I gathered my intel right. While, as Tyyr said, manned aircrafts won't be replaced by UAV for the next ten to twenty years, it is likely that the process will be transitional and the % of UAV used by any modern air force will only increase with time.

A modern US Navy Destroyer, if refitted properly, could host quite a bunch of UAV and be used as a fast launching platform. It's certain less obvious than a superheavy Carrier, and there is probably a lot of advantages to diversify the carried capacity of your airpower. Removing the pilots out of the equation sure solves a lot of logistic problems, I'd think.

So, we never know. Maybe the trend will be into a less heavy, more diversified navy.
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Re: Increases in Ship Size

Postby Reliant121 » Mon Jan 10, 2011 5:00 pm

Tsukiyumi wrote:
Tyyr wrote:...I suspect that we'll see smaller UK sized carriers...


So... nonexistent? Hell of a cost savings.


He meant like the Ark Royal and the Illustrious of the Invincible class, they weren't originally designed to be carriers. They were meant as cruisers; to carry Helos. As a much larger carrier was cancelled the design was reworked into a sort of "mini-carrier". The Invincibles are only really viable as STOL and Helo platforms. Ironically, I believe the Queen Elizabeth's are going to be nearer the size of the Nimitz.
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Re: Increases in Ship Size

Postby Mikey » Mon Jan 10, 2011 5:03 pm

SolkaTruesilver wrote:A modern US Navy Destroyer, if refitted properly, could host quite a bunch of UAV and be used as a fast launching platform. It's certain less obvious than a superheavy Carrier, and there is probably a lot of advantages to diversify the carried capacity of your airpower.


What would inevitably follow would be the "carrier-ification" of said destroyer, until it becomes in essence the smaller of the diverse carrier styles I had mentioned. An alternate route to the same destination, methinks. With the current trend of increasing defensive armament on carriers, plus the possible trend we are discussing now, we might very well witness a navy comprising a majority of carriers of different types - destroyer-carriers, cruiser-carriers, supers, etc.
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