Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Defining The Modern Brig

In the days of sail the term "brig" referred to a two masted square rigged vessel.

Brigs were used as minor warships,smaller than sloops,although there were also brig rigged brig-sloops.

Such low cost vessels were not well suited to operating with the larger vessels of the battle line.

Often they were used for patrol,constabulary and other low threat tasks.

Although the historic meaning of the term "brig" has no relevance to today's vessels,there are many modern naval vessels which mirror the low cost,limited fighting capacity and many roles of the historic brig:

Mine hunters.

Mine sweepers.

Offshore patrol vessels.

 Survey vessels.

 Coast guard cutters.

Like their ancestors,modern brigs are lightly armed,carrying the most basic naval weapon,the cannon.

In situations short of war the brig may find it's self very close to potentially hostile vessels.

Unlike missiles,cannons have no minimum engagement range and high ammunition storage density,making them ideal for generating low cost,high volume fire against short range and low value targets.

Such armament is well suited to dealing with civilian vessels involved in fishing,smuggling and piracy.

It is also adequate for dealing with other brigs.

Many of the brig's roles will require the facilities for launching boats.

Helicopter hangars and flight decks are also useful for many roles.

Requiring little in the way of weapons,sensors and trained manpower,brigs cost little to buy or operate.

It is this low lifecycle cost which makes the brig preferable to a sloop or a frigate.

However,with only limited ability to defend themselves from anti-ship threats the modern brigs cannot operate in a hostile environment without an escort.

Consequently they are of limited utility in war fighting operations.

These limitations were illustrated during the Argentine invasion of South Georgia.

Her Majesty's Ship (H.M.S.) Endurance,a brig armed icebreaking patrol vessel was faced with threats including missile armed corvettes.

Brigs are incapable of engaging true fighting ships,that is properly the task of the more capable frigates or sloops.

Brigs should only be used independently in low threat environments.

The modern brig may perform roles such as mine hunting and surveying in support of a task group but will require the protection of other warships to do this.

A defenceless brig is more of a burden to a task group than a war fighting vessel like the sloop.

Brigs may relieve more capable task group vessels of minor roles such as search and rescue and providing assistance to damaged ships.

Particularly large brigs may be required to meet the demands of speed,range,endurance and seakeeping needed for fleet operations or long range patrol duties.

If armed with a large enough gun,brigs may provide naval fire support for ground forces.

If fitted with mine rails,they can perform minelaying tasks.

Low cost weapons such as these are in keeping with the low cost nature of the brig.

However,the brig's lack of fighting ability limits it's utility to such an extent that it is an inapropriate choice if there is any prospect of the vessel being used for warfighting.

Brig armament can be recommended only for those roles which are unlikely to involve combat operations or for those navies which cannot afford a more capable vessel.

For more fluid environments,the frigate or sloop is a more suitable vessel than the brig.


TheRagingTory said...

I think a huge enabler for a "Brig" would be "fitted for not with" a light helicopter.

An utter waste most of the time, so left at home (or assigned somewhere else) but a Lynx type helicopter should be operable from even the smallest ship, and that gives access to "proper" anti ship weapons, with the obvious caveat that four or five hits might not inconvenience a ship of course.

GrandLogistics said...

Hello TheRaging Tory,

I agree with you completely.

Most of a brig's roles don't justify the expense of a helicopter being onboard - the aircraft will often cost as much as the ship.

But a hangar and flight deck cost very little to add if you have the space and give an enormous amount of flexibility.

In some roles they are essential too.

The helicopter is essential on a "proper" warship,such as a frigate, but on a brig it is role specific equipment to be carried as required.