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Aircraft Carriers Vs. the New Battleships

September 24, 2009

We have made specific and proven advances in our missile defense technology, particularly with regard to land- and sea-based interceptors and the sensors that support them.  Our new approach will, therefore, deploy technologies that are proven and cost-effective and that counter the current threat, and do so sooner than the previous program.  Because our approach will be phased and adaptive, we will retain the flexibility to adjust and enhance our defenses as the threat and technology continue to evolve.

President Barack Obama on replacing the land based BMD shield in Europe for now with a sea based deterrent.

Last week, President Obama — on my recommendation and with the advice of his national-security team and the unanimous support of our senior military leadership — decided to discard that plan in favor of a vastly more suitable approach. In the first phase, to be completed by 2011, we will deploy proven, sea-based SM-3 interceptor missiles — weapons that are growing in capability — in the areas where we see the greatest threat to Europe.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a NY Times editorial.

With the blessings of the President and Defense Secretary, we can officially declare America’s guided missile cruisers and destroyers as the modern battleships. Their obvious ability to contend with an assortment of air and surface threats, as well as shoot down rogue ballistic missiles that threaten our nation and its allies, means the new battleships have gone beyond the role of mere carrier escorts, to a key strategic asset in their own right.

There is of course, the realization that this new found importance is shared with the attack submarine, a formidable asset to the nation’s defense as well. However it is also clear there are still numerous functions only the surface ship can perform, not the least of which is ballistic missile defense. While the land forces have been grappling with the problem for decades of “hitting a bullet with a bullet”, the Navy has almost seamless adapted its proven Aegis phased array radar and the Standard missile to this end, seeing it successfully shoot down missiles in 14 out of 18 tests.

This amazing and potent capability in one surface combatant begs the question” Are the new battleships still bound under the protective wing of naval airpower?” As we recorded earlier in the week the handwriting has been on the wall for airpower for some time. With the ability to dominate the airspace for 200-300 nautical miles, this is yet another role taken from the $6-$8 billion aircraft carrier plus its equally costly jets on a less costly (though still expensive) platform.

We envision a scenario where the Ticonderoga cruisers and the Arleigh Burke destroyers with their unmatched interceptor missiles operate in high threat areas without their giant motherships in support. As it seems prohibitive for aircraft to fly in some areas dominated by SAM batteries, especially the fearsome Russian S-300 and S-400, how much more would the traditional fighter-bomber be at risk against Aegis, the best anti-air system of the age?

We can in fact have such a scenario, in one of handful of sea fights in the Missile Age: Unable to afford an offensive attack aircraft carrier arm and still maintain a viable fleet, the British Royal Navy in 1982 was forced to seek alternatives. Acknowledging that her small Harrier carriers could not promise complete air superiority over the Falkland Islands, she was forced to rely more on her guided missile destroyers and frigates. The outcome is well known, with the invasion force not only surviving but prevailing over the numerous Argentine aerial armada, to safely see the troops ashore, the islands safely back under Crown protection. All this occurred long before Britain built her own high tech missile warships, the Type 45, with no Aegis-like warship to guard the South Atlantic Task Force.

Finally, Information Dissemination wonders “As the Navy is assuming a new role with Arleigh Burke destroyers, what platform has the endurance to make up for the presence requirements?” But is it more battleships we need or just spartan hulls and lots of them?

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41 Comments leave one →
  1. Anon permalink
    January 12, 2011 3:26 pm

    The carrier is outdated because of it’s dated airwing performance profiles.
    Period.
    If you want to attack China as the next big technology and geography challenging peer threat, denying her both industrial and warfighting infrastructure (C2, and OTHB ISR for the DF-21 as well as perhaps deep basing for supersonic cruise platforms like the J-20 and eventually ICBMs) then you need a system with at least 1,500nm worth of radius and the ability to get there _now_.
    What you need then is not an airplane but a TAV.
    Since the defining purpose and advantage of carrier airpower is to:
    A. Reach farther.
    B. Reach repeatedly.
    C. Reach more cheaply.
    Than the battleship gun (or the cruise missile).
    Since the Chinese ASAT/Cyberattack capabilities may well deny us real time recce, from overhead or MMA type assets, but -strategic- (fixed) capabilities can be pretargeted, the question then becomes whether you want to invest in aeroballistics which are the size of SLBMs or a platform on the order of the X-37 (29ft, 11,000lbs, less than a 1/2 the spotting footprint of an F/A-18E) which has _simplistic_, hybrid, hypersonic capabilities brought to it via: a small turbine (TF1042/1088) that can provide lift-screen assisted CVTOL (using JPALS and X-31 ESTOL techniques perhaps) while retaining enough up and away thrust trust to get the platform to 40-60,000ft where a pair of ESSM or Standard class motors fire it to Mach 3 and 80,000ft. At which point X-51 SCRAM technologies take over to raise the threshold to 150,000ft and Mach 4-6.
    We do -way- too little to challenge threats in the high-fast regime and take into account far too little the way reducing density altitude can effect things like required thrustloading.
    The D-21 went to Mach 4 and 95,000ft on less than 1,500lbf. It was untouchable.
    RIM-161 ESSM has around 887lbs of thrust, two such Mk.134 motors, in an all-boost configuration, would run around 800lbs X 6ft X 10″. Less than 1/5th the weight and 1/20th the carcass volume of a full scale turbofan in the F135 class. X-51 runs on JP and has displayed a 200+ second, Mach 7, sustained performance threshold.
    Throw out an arbitrary LEAP/NCADE type KKV weight as scatterable MARVs on the order of 250-300lbs each with Rod From God descent (Mach 10) velocities as the ability to destroy hardened buildings with just KE impact alone and the ability, to be skipped-stone be tossed from 500+nm out on largely divergent (off track) velocity vectors. Say 20 such weapons or 6,000lbs of ordnance overall. And you have an unstoppable penetration capability which actually does something that an equivalent weight-as-cost of ARRMD derived Fast Hawk or similar weapons out of a VLS cannister cannot match.
    Hence a reason to preserve the CV as it’s own strike asset, separate from the ‘battleship’ approach of the DDG/CG (and safer because it is now twice as far deep-blue stood off).
    It’s time to stop worshipping the turbine engine for more than what it is: an envelope positioning and recovery aid for much more capable propulsion systems.
    It’s time to stop thinking in terms of 20 (RN) or 40 (USN) plane carrier airwings with 700nm radii and 10-15hr operating cycles. Either increase the airwing size, increase the radius points and increase the on-station time by an order of magnitude using UCAV technology. Or put more sorties off the pointy end in half the generation interval to twice the total radius so that ‘from the sea, forwards’ is truly beyond the littoral boundaries.
    This is all basic stuff people, _The Carrier Myth_ and the aggressive territoriality of the Chinese reaction to things like the EP-3E should have pointed us down this path a long time ago.
    It is, quite literally, the ability to launch from the South China Sea and Recover to Anderson level mid pacific (or alternately Bagram, Afghanistan) landbases while putting ALL of Chinese Asia at risk. And then reverse the process as reuseable airpower. It is the way forwards or carrier air to remain relevant, post JSF debacle.
    Since I also believe we are less than ten years from seeing first generation isomer mininukes, we must really consider what we are doing in the close inshore environment and how much value we want to commit there where targeting -is- easy and even a near miss is potentially a massive risk to gamma-flash threat destruction (we are talking EMP++) of critical electronics.

  2. Chuck Hill permalink
    September 28, 2009 8:15 pm

    When major combatants arrive or sortie from a US port (where it is relatively safe) they always have an escort of Coast Guard cutters for “force protection.” Mostly it’s to make sure they are not delayed or harassed, but there is also the possibility of the water borne suicide bomber. Who protects them from this sort of threat elsewhere?

    Now that CG/DDGs have a unique role as BMD assets, they may be more likely to be targetted than either carriers or SSBNs. Why?

    Virtually no one but a peer adversary could attempt to take out an
    SSBN as part of a coordinated attack, meaning it is (a) highly unlikely and (b) extremely difficult. In the more likely event of a regional conflict they are largely irrelevant, so why bother. A terrorist organization might love to attack an SSBN but opportunities are few, and there are a lot of easier targets out there that are more likely to get their attention.

    Attempts to take out a carrier may yield a temporary advantage in a regional conflict, but it is only one element of our conventional airpower. High priority threats can still be addressed and others that are less time critical will ultimately be addressed by other assets. They are also well protected by CGs and DDGs.

    BMD ships are unique in that their loss or damage at a critical period might allow a rogue state to strike at US interests or allies changing the balance of power. They have become critical game changers. They are accessible because they are on the surface, and unlike carriers they will have no protective screen.

    Who protects them when they are away from port? Can we afford to have more than one on station all the time?

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 28, 2009 6:15 pm

    Chuck, currently we are using our 10,000 ton Burke battleships in the role of escort, in the Gulf of Aden for lack of anything smaller, newer, or better. With the role of BMD on the front-burner, as you mentioned, the argument is what will take their place fighting pirates, guarding against smugglers, sundry duties which are best performed by frigates, and corvettes? See here: http://www.informationdissemination.net/2009/09/nobody-knows.html

    Nobody knows, the blogger says, but we know don’t we?

  4. Chuck Hill permalink
    September 28, 2009 6:09 pm

    Traditional missions like sea control, ASW, Mine Counter-measures, can be thought of as defensive for a sea power, while Power projection is really an offensive capability.

    Most people would choose to have a secure defense before they go on the offense, but right now, the navy does not see a credible threat to our defense in those areas, so they feel they can emphasize offensive (power projection) capabilities.

    As close as they get to thinking defensively is ballistic missile defense. A place you might convince the navy they need corvettes is to keep vessels from approaching the “battleships.” The destroyers are too expensive for that job now.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 28, 2009 8:29 am

    “the importance of the Navy having the ability to project power ashore stems from the fact that there are places in the world where the Army and Air Force practically can’t”

    This is important, but is it all important? I have come to the conclusion that the giant supercarrier is a niche weapon whose only purpose is to project power ashore, with any other function so much overkill. It can’t and probably shouldn’t do ASW, mine warfare, coastal patrol. It has become more of a burden than an asset because now we need her very costly escort ships of cruisers and destroyers to do BMD defense. Land based air or light carriers can’t do the supercarriers job as well, but these certainly could be good enough considering the remarkably low tech strategy of our adversaries.

    I won’t say the supercarriers aren’t good, but there is such a thing as too good, when you neglect your force structure and other essential maritime functions. They can’t even buy enough planes these days to fill their spacious decks! Time to ask do we need a carrier centric fleet as much as we think?

  6. September 28, 2009 1:21 am

    As a post comment, the importance of the Navy having the ability to project power ashore stems from the fact that there are places in the world where the Army and Air Force practically can’t (without a sometimes strategically unwanted amphibious spearhead first, in which case this is something only the Navy/USMC team can provide anyway), and others were the Navy can do so more efficiently. This is due to political uncertainty in host countries and the geopolitical realities of our basing structure. We also don’t know ahead of time in which of these places we may find ourselves involved in a fight.

  7. September 28, 2009 1:14 am

    Mr. Burleson

    Well that one’s going to be news to the entire strategic thinking of the Navy, which from where you are coming from you obviously take exception to. Respectfully I disagree on the point of projecting power ashore, while I certainly agree with the thrust of your blog on the crisis the Navy is in and the nation’s shameful abdication of fighting piracy.

    The tragedy of the LCS is that it shouldn’t be the gold plated ridiculous platform it has turned into. Corvettes and gun-boats have long performed the same missions, and affordably. This is indicative of a greater trend though.

    I feel our budgetary pressures have far more to do with misguided acquisition strategies and myopic, accountant driven requirements creep that seems to think single platforms can do it all, leading to a vicious cycle of industrial consolidation and more and more platforms that will turn out like the TFX did (I’m thinking JSF at the forefront of these examples and the most egregious, but there are others.) Expensive and with so many mis-matched missions to perform that they go beyond being simply mediocre at them, they are actively poor at them. Despite our recession we are still more prosperous than at any other time in our history, and while strategically we certainly cannot “do it all,” I also don’t believe that all of the sudden we must somehow chose between flat-tops or ASW, or focus only on one slice of the spectrum of war.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 27, 2009 8:12 pm

    Prowler-Thats just it, the purpose of seapower is not to project power onland, though that is a function it can do. The purpose of a navy is maintain the sealanes, so if all your focus is on land, you are duplicating the missions of the Army and Air Force. Building a Navy just for fighting land powers leaves you short when thinking of ASW, anti-mine warfare, as well as littoral warfare which we had sadly neglected in the past few decades.

    I don’t say we shouldn’t be concerned about land threats, just that the Navy has other more important functions that are neglected to its peril. They are more important and gravely underfunded.

  9. September 27, 2009 5:44 pm

    Mr. Burleson

    The Reagan Strike Group was recently providing up to 30% of the sorties over Afghanistan. In 2007 the Enterprise shifted from the Persian Gulf in support of OIF to the Sea of Oman to support OEF when the Air Force was temporarily gutted by a red stripe against their F-15’s after one distinegrated in mid-air at an airshow in Missouri. Do we need to also mention the value of carriers in the 1997 Taiwan Crisis?

    There seems to be the perennial mistake of believing that every war will be like the current one. To be perfectly honest I absolutely agree that the current level of air support being provided in COIN operations around the Middle East could be done so more efficiently by a smaller deck carriers like you mention, perhaps Charles De Gaulle sized.

    But should it come down to strikes against Iran’s nuclear program, or God forbid a war with China, in spite of the DF-21 threat (something much easier said than done, i.e. effective employment of an ASBM) large deck carriers will offer a unique operational flexibility by nature of their mobility that is extremely worthwhile. It would be much easier to knock out Kadena than a CVN, and operations from Andersen AFB in support of a Taiwan theater borders on the logistically ineffective.

    If I had my druthers I would trade our current set of 11 large deck carriers for maybe a core fleet of 5 or 6 of them, supplemented by 8 or 9 (or whatever the roughly equivalent same cost force) “light” or “escort” carriers, Charles de Gaulle or Midway sized or so. But to argue that the increasing capabilities of AEGIS cruisers obviates the need for naval aviation strikes me as a red-herring since the two platforms perform completely different mission sets. It would be like arguing for a reduction in the submarine force because there’s been a revolution in how good tanks are. If the purpose of sea forces is to project power onto the land (after securing the sea lines of communication) nothing can do that like a carrier.

  10. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 27, 2009 7:17 am

    Prowler-I’d be the first to argue that Tomahawks or ASW helos can’t do close air support. But do you realize we are using the most valuable warships in all history for something we used off the shelf escort carriers in WW 2, and often against non-naval or non air powers like the Taliban? Large carriers were meant to fight other large carriers, and if any were around the expense might be justified.

    Often the Marines and the Army carry their own airpower anyway, so increasingly the great expense and what we lose for deploying all Big Decks is unjustified.

  11. September 26, 2009 10:40 pm

    Try doing close air support or ISR with tomahawks and helos from Aegis ships. The carrier’s demise, like the dogfight, is prematurely declared once again. They may change in number, they may change in size, the aircraft that fly off their decks will certainly change, but fixed wing naval aviation has proven itself far too valuable far too many times, recently as well as in the past, to throw them away because we briefly dazzled by the brilliant successes of Aegis BMD, or stunned by the sting of their price tag.

  12. Chuck Hill permalink
    September 25, 2009 12:10 pm

    Agreed, just don’t think they need a lot of corvettes on the periphery exposing themselves.

  13. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 25, 2009 9:06 am

    Chuck CAP is important but you also need buffers. Otherwise you wouldn’t have a carrier “Task Force” or Strike Group”. The new battleships won’t need escort, just mutual support.

  14. Distiller permalink
    September 25, 2009 1:44 am

    Haha! If the USN isn’t capable any more of full-spectrum warfare they still go back to a Soviet style fleet, or a German WW2 style submarine fleet. Seriously. They are increasingly depending on land-based combat support, so how long till someone questions their whole setup?

    I don’t know what to say. The political leadership is ignorant and uninterested, and the military prefers to fight their internal tribal battles. Basically I don’t see a way out, other than a massive cut all across the forces. Massive like at least one third. And what is really really needed is to fold those five or six armed forces the U.S. has into a single one, including all the para-mil agencies and the civil bureaucrazy.

  15. Chuck Hill permalink
    September 24, 2009 11:17 pm

    The Brits did loose the Atlantic Conveyor with all but one of there Chinook Helicopters, and they lost two LSTs.

    If the Argentinians had had all 15 of the Exocets they had ordered instead of the 5 or 6 that were actually delivered it would have been a far different war.

    The proper “buffer” is called CAP.

  16. Scott B. permalink
    September 24, 2009 7:37 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “I’d say the small ships were also there as a buffer for the large warships, and since none were attacked in the Falklands and none sank in Okinawa, this strategy works.”

    Am I supposed to believe that none of the British amphibs came under attack during the Falklands War ?

    Am I supposed to believe that the casualties inflicted to USS Franklin at Okinawa count for nothing ?

    Why you keep discounting the value of AEW and insist instead that warships serving as pickets should be sacrificied is something I fail to understand… and find quite suicidal to tell you the truth…

  17. Scott B. permalink
    September 24, 2009 7:11 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “But in the next war, the Big Ships are on their own because the pickets are no longer there.”

    Perhaps I failed to make it clear earlier, but you don’t need pickets when you have AEW.

  18. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 24, 2009 6:38 pm

    Scott I think the AEW issue is pretty much a given, which is why i didn’t mention it. I’d say the small ships were also there as a buffer for the large warships, and since none were attacked in the Falklands and none sank in Okinawa, this strategy works. But in the next war, the Big Ships are on their own because the pickets are no longer there. Even damaged, a ship out of the fight is as good as lost. We need more small ships to act as buffers.

  19. Anonymous permalink
    September 24, 2009 6:36 pm

    “Another important lesson from the Falklands War is that disrupting an enemy’s intelligence gathering effort should be the key priority.

    During the Falklands War, the Argies were able to fly reconnaissance missions (with their Neptunes, Learjets,…) with almost complete impunity, because most of the times, they could watch the British task force from a safe range.

    You cannot deny this kind of impunity with just AAW escorts : you need fighters with enough range and kinematics. Not something the Harriers were able to offer at the time…”

    There was the infamous Boeing that tracked the fleet on a number of occasions that Invincible asked to knock out of the sky but permission was never given. Reading the accounts Northwood were scared because they didn’t know who was onboard. They feared negative headlines.

  20. Scott B. permalink
    September 24, 2009 6:21 pm

    Another important lesson from the Falklands War is that disrupting an enemy’s intelligence gathering effort should be the key priority.

    During the Falklands War, the Argies were able to fly reconnaissance missions (with their Neptunes, Learjets,…) with almost complete impunity, because most of the times, they could watch the British task force from a safe range.

    You cannot deny this kind of impunity with just AAW escorts : you need fighters with enough range and kinematics. Not something the Harriers were able to offer at the time…

  21. Scott B. permalink
    September 24, 2009 6:09 pm

    At the risk repeating myself, here is something I posted last week :

    **********************************************************************************
    Here is an important lesson that you’ve not mentioned so far :

    1. The US Navy used picket destroyers off Okinawa in April 1945, because, in the absence of AEW, it was the only way to cut reaction time by extending radar horizon against low flyers and decentralizing control of CAPs. Note that the picket destroyers were not the vanilla DDs, but were “destroyers with sophisticated radars and enlarged CICs” (Norman Friedman in Net-Centric War, page 59).

    2. Likewise, the Royal Navy had to organize a picket line during the Falklands War because of the lack of AEW, and again, the Royal Navy had to assign the most advanced AAW destroyers (the Type 42) to the picket line.

    No AEW means that you need radar pickets. A warship on a radar picket assignment is pretty much tied to the picket station. Being tied to a picket station means the ship cannot use its mobility to evade threats. An individual ship can be saturated, no matter how sophisticated it is. So you end up building ships for the sole sake of numbers, to raise the saturation threshold at key picket stations and/or cope with attrition. And you start to look for something to sacrify for the sake of numbers…

    **********************************************************************************

  22. Anonymous permalink
    September 24, 2009 5:01 pm

    “Acknowledging that her small Harrier carriers could not promise complete air superiority over the Falkland Islands, she was forced to rely more on her guided missile destroyers and frigates.”

    This reminds of Woodward’s 100 Days; a book I only read after reading nearly 100 other accounts of that war (at sea) and speaking with ratings and officers who went south. I think we won that in spite of Woodward and not because of him!!! How he walked away with the credit for retaking the islands is on par with an RAF PR exercise. Neither Sea Dart or Sea Wolf did little. Keeping the fleet well east saved it.

    “Harriers were credited with destroying more Argentine Air assets in flight than the surface navy.”

    QFT

  23. Chuck Hill permalink
    September 24, 2009 3:13 pm

    From what I’ve heard the Nimrod fleet is in poor shape, but I think at one point they were adapted to launch Tomahawk land attack missiles.

    Would be very surprised if P-8s did not have a land attack as well as anti-ship missile launch capability.

    Re: Mike, “Chuck I disagree since the manned air is pricing itself out of price range (how many $100 million short range fighters can we afford?), while the missiles get better, more numerous, more lethal.”

    In terms of protecting key players (battleships as you call them, Mike) including those assigned to ABM missions, it is because the missiles are getting “better, more numerous, more lethal” that now at least, they may need the synergy of working with the carriers. We need to hit the launch platforms, blind the targeting systems, disrupt the command structure before the missiles are launched. Certainly there are other ways that might be done, but right now, large carriers are one of our most capable assets.

    (Ironic the carriers may be escorting the destroyers.)

    Certainly in the current environment, Aegis class ships are relatively safe operating independently (unless they are tied up in Yeman). On that we can agree, but over time, as the balance shifts, that will change too.

    In the long run, I think technology is on your side, in that capability will be available in in progressively smaller packages. Just don’t think we are there yet.

  24. William permalink
    September 24, 2009 1:05 pm

    “The RAF has the Nimrod (built from the Comet), and the USN will soon have the P-8 (built off the 737-800).”

    As far as I’m aware the RAF no longer operates any anti-ship missiles though.

  25. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 24, 2009 12:52 pm

    Undergrad, I agree with your proposal. I’d like to see us make the best of the large number of Aegis ships we already have, taking them off carrier escort, put them on more independent missions (not anti-piracy or narcotics!). That said, in the future I expect to see cheaper, smaller ships with some of the same missiles, perhaps not as many reloads (missiles today being so much more accurate, why have salvos?). realistically you should build 4-6 small missile corvettes for the price of one $2 billion Burke. Then you will see fleet numbers rise instead of constantly shrinking, as likely under all proposed USN and RN plans.

    Again I don’t believe you are trading capability for numbers, but extreme overkill for numbers.

  26. UndergradProgressive permalink
    September 24, 2009 12:41 pm

    The RAF has the Nimrod (built from the Comet), and the USN will soon have the P-8 (built off the 737-800).

    Mike: If the Argentines had more of the AShMs, it could have tipped the balance in their favor. This is worth considering. It seems to me that this is a good reason to spread out weapons and crew on a large number of small ships if AShMs are a threat, since even with a fair number of point defenses, Phalanx, SeaRAM, what have you, if one missile gets through, you could have serious problems. I imagine that the converse – with a lot of CIWS on a few big ships – would be less likely to maintain mission effectiveness?

  27. William permalink
    September 24, 2009 12:22 pm

    I wonder if in wartime we will see large aircraft such as maritime patrol aircraft or even modified commercial passenger aircraft act as high endurance, long range carriers for large numbers of long range anti-ship missiles.

    Something for which manned short range aircraft are less suited.

  28. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 24, 2009 12:09 pm

    Jed I think the Falklands is a great example if you are considering the ships were non Aegis anti-missile ships. The best you had there was the Sea Wolf point defense, not bad but not an area weapon. Certainly a USN with Aegis or RN with PAAMS would have slaughtered the ancient Argentine air force. So you have a fairly capable Sea Dart versus the poorly handled Argentines and you have balance.

    Pre-Falklands it was a given that you don’t send surface ships without adequate air cover against an enemy air force. We learned this from Crete and HMS Prince of Wales+Repulse in WW 2. This was suicide for a surface fleet. But skip ahead 40 years to the South Atlantic and we see something happening here. The non-aviation ships are making a comeback, thanks mainly to the guided missile. Sea Power has come full circle and the trend continues with newer phased array systems.

    Chuck I disagree since the manned air is pricing itself out of price range (how many $100 million short range fighters can we afford?), while the missiles get better, more numerous, more lethal.

  29. Chuck Hill permalink
    September 24, 2009 11:16 am

    Air vs AAW is like the old armor vs shell competition. Advantage will shift back and forth. There will not be assured dominance by one or the other.

    Next thing I see coming will be attacks by swarms of small, artificially intelligent, networked cruise missiles that will overwhelm defenses with numbers. You can see things moving in this direction with the NLOS.

  30. UndergradProgressive permalink
    September 24, 2009 10:49 am

    Sorry about that – Jed beat me to it by just a few minutes. Apologies.

  31. UndergradProgressive permalink
    September 24, 2009 10:46 am

    The surface fleet as a whole survived, but, remember, the Argentines didn’t have many Exocets. If they had, it could have been a very different story. As such, even the new battleships might be at risk. Also, what about HMS Sheffield’s demise? It had Sea Cats and a few token AA guns but didn’t fare too well. A Burke would do much better, but how much?

  32. Jed permalink
    September 24, 2009 10:45 am

    The surface fleet survived – yes, barely, and only because the Argies had fuzing issues. Having said that its not really a good example for SAMS:

    1. SeaCat was already well obsolete and pretty useless (command guided by skilled aimer and sub-sonic !) – it was based on an Anti-tank missile !

    2. SeaWolf – brand new, still had teething problems, especially with multiple low level targets in moderate to high sea states. Yes, I have served on ships which have done the old “shoot down a 4.5 inch shell with Sea Wolf” trick, but in the FI war, it was a new and untested system which did reasonably well.

    3. SeaSlug – first generation medium range SAM, probably the less said the better! I think it was only used in surface / NGS mode to ‘scare’ the Argies.

    4. SeaDart. Also relatively new. Accredited with forcing the Argies down to low level and exacerbating their bomb fuzing issues. Did pretty well (and eventually became the first SAM to shoot down an Anti-Ship missile during the Gulf war).

    But really the Falklands is not a good example for SAM versus air power. The Falklands was the Sea Harriers victory, and if anything a testament to the fact that close in weapons systems based on good old fashioned guns were not old hat – in fact how many of the Type 21’s would not have been lost if their single SeaCat had been replaced by Phalanx (which was already in the U.S. fleet in 82) and their 2, to 4 old Mk7A 20mm had been replaced by modern belt fed 20’s (like the GAMB01 which eventually supplanted it) ???

    However in the U.S. context your question is interesting. SM2 / SM3 / SM6 family and Aegis variants are being continuously developed, whereas the airdale community seemingly took a backwards step in air to air capability when the swapped the F14D for the F18E.

  33. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 24, 2009 7:28 am

    “Harriers were credited with destroying more Argentine Air assets in flight than the surface navy.”

    I was leaning more toward the survivability issue than the number of planes shot down. Hard hit but the surface fleet survived. Dare we say that surface combatants unescorted by airpower have become so powerful to, maybe not ignore enemy air threats, but not let it hinder them from their mission?

    Interesting if a Type 45 or Aegis ship in the same position.

  34. William permalink
    September 24, 2009 7:08 am

    BTW, the Type 45’s are due to be fitted with CEC in a few years time, so my scenario would also include the ABASALONS fitted with CEC or some kind of data link.

  35. William permalink
    September 24, 2009 7:06 am

    With “Co-operative Engagement Capability” would the following be possible:

    A Type 45 accompanied by a (cheap) ABSALON class ship fitted with ASTER 30. Could the ABSALON ship fire one of its ASTER 30 missiles using targeting data supplied by the Type 45’s radar?

    If YES, this would provide a usefull means of supplementing the Type 45’s AD missile load. As the ABSALON is a cheap but big hull.

    I know it will never happen anyway, but is it possible?

  36. September 24, 2009 6:53 am

    “Acknowledging that her small Harrier carriers could not promise complete air superiority over the Falkland Islands, she was forced to rely more on her guided missile destroyers and frigates.”

    Relied on them as radar picket screens…a traditional anti-air destroyer mission. Harriers were credited with destroying more Argentine Air assets in flight than the surface navy.

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