Top Tier Navies should see that the age of big expensive ships are done and submarines, missile and drone swarms are the future

War is Boring makes a convincing and comprehensive case that expensive aircraft carriers and fourth and fifth generation planes are too expensive and vulnerable.

A Russian firm that is reportedly selling a “Club-K” cruise missile concealable in shipping containers deployable on trucks, rail cars or merchant ships.

China has around 100 fast missile boats — primarily of the Hubei class with stealth catamaran hulls — that carry eight anti-ship cruise missiles with current ranges of 160 nautical miles. A coordinated attack would also likely include aircraft and Sovremenny-class destroyers and, in the next decade, an estimated 75–80 submarines — both nuclear and diesel — armed with torpedoes and some with wave skimming, supersonic anti-ship missiles supplied by or copied from advanced Russian models.

China could produce 1,227 DF-21D ballistic anti-ship missiles for the cost of a single U.S. carrier. The range of the DF-21D anti-ship missile to be 1,500–1,750 nautical miles and some speculate the range to be greater. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will have an unrefueled combat radius of 730 nautical miles.

The US fleet must be able to defend against a large number of incoming weapons approaching on evasive trajectories at greater than twice the speed of sound, while the attacker needs to only score a few hits. These new anti-ship missiles “put U.S. forces on the wrong side of physics,” the U.S. Naval War College’s Andrew Erickson warned.

Ballistic missiles are just the most recent challenge to carrier vulnerability. “I would argue that you can put a ship out of action faster by putting a hole in the bottom [with a torpedo] than by putting a hole in the top [with a weapon like the DF-21],” former U.S. Naval Operations chief Gary Roughhead said.

This extends to diesel submarines. Although the number of simulated “sinkings” by ships of the Navy is officially unacknowledged, there are reports of around a dozen U.S. aircraft carriers being “sunk” in exercises with friendly countries including Canada, Denmark and Chile.

Missile ranges and speeds will increase. Missiles will become more elusive and accurate — and could be nuclear-tipped. Sensors will see further and more accurately, significantly reducing the fog of war. Surface ships, no matter where located, will be increasingly vulnerable.

Supercavitating torpedoes — such as the Russian Shkval — already travel at 200 knots and can track ships for more than 1,000 kilometers. Above the surface, supersonic anti-ship missiles that currently travel at Mach 2 will be replaced by hypersonic missiles that will travel at Mach 5, and Mach 10 and Mach 25.

Although TV viewers were in awe of images of precision weapons during Desert Storm, precision guided munitions had improved in effectiveness by 12 to 20 fold by the time of the second Iraq war. Those improvements will continue to be matched by increases in range accompanied, in some instances, by hypersonic speed.

New passive and active methods– including the use of VHF and UHF from other sources — will make stealth increasingly elusive to achieve. Worryingly, Defense News has reported claims by Chinese sources that its DWL002 passive radar had already rendered the F-35 obsolete.

New and very low-cost landing ships such as the USNS Montford Point and John Glenn can be built at about 1/25th to 1/30th the cost of a supercarrier and project advanced missiles, drones, helicopters, V-22 Ospreys or jump jets. Instead of an arsenal of 90 missiles on an existing Aegis craft, the new Afloat forward stage base ship Lewis B. Puller can hold 2,000 missiles at one-fourth the cost of an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

Afloat forward stage base ship Lewis B. Puller

Railguns with over 5 megajoules per shot will take longer to develop because of the wear on the railgun.

DARPA is making progress on coordinating swarms of drones

Diesel submarines are ten times cheaper than nuclear submarines.

Air independent propulsion can make the diesel submarine quieter and more deadly.

The Naval technological breakthrough that is needed is to have submarines on the ocean bottom.

Today’s submarines are link blimps in the ocean. They float high over the sea floor. Dr Robert Ballard proposes submarines that hide on the ocean floor.

Modern nuclear attack submarines like the American Seawolf class are estimated to have a test depth of 490 meters (1,600 ft), which would imply (see above) a collapse depth of 730 meters (2,400 ft). Each 10 metres (33 feet) of depth puts another atmosphere (1 bar, 14.7 psi, 100 kPa) of pressure on the hull, so at 300 metres (1,000 feet), the hull is withstanding thirty atmospheres (30 bar, 441 psi, 3,000 kPa) of water pressure. World War II German U-boats generally had collapse depths in the range of 200 to 280 metres (660 to 920 feet).

The average ocean depth is 2.65 miles (14,000 feet).

In 1984, Dr Robert Ballard demonstrated the ability to operate on the ocean floor during a two-week exploration near Iceland’s Reykjanes Ridge. He took the Navy’s deep-sea research submarine, the NR-1, down 3,000 feet and drove it around volcanic peaks; he even hid in the occasional lava tube. At the time, the NR-1 was the Navy’s largest deep-sea research submarine and its smallest nuclear sub. At a length of 150 feet and 400 tons, it could support a crew of 13 for up to a month. But most importantly, the NR-1 had retractable wheels and portals. The wheels allowed the NR-1 to roll along the seafloor. The portals allowed the sub drivers to see where the hell they were going.

In a complex, jumbled terrain with rocks, mountains, and canyons, the sound waves get so jumbled up that it’s impossible to make any sense of the sounds that come back.

Navies also use very sensitive magnetic detectors to locate the giant, metallic mass of the submarine as it moves underwater. But this method is less effective in some kinds of seafloor terrain. For example, near basaltic rocks, which interfere with even simple compasses and create downright havoc with sensitive magnetic sub-hunting gear.

Between the jumbled sonar and the magnetic interference of the ocean floor, it can be very hard to find something hiding in the seafloor terrain. Ballard illustrated this point clearly when he dared the Navy to find him while he was tooling around on the Reykjanes Ridge in the NR-1. Two weeks of searching later, the Navy had no clue where he was.

SOURCES – Vice, Wikipedia, Ocean Service NOAA, War is Boring, DARPA