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Aircraft Carriers versus TLAM Warships

July 10, 2010
 

Ships from Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Escort Flotilla One are underway in formation.

Recent plans for placing Prompt Global Strike on America’s unmatched fleet of Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) firing cruisers and destroyers brought the following post from 2009 to mind. Originally appearing in the Carrier Alternative Weekly column, I present it here in its own post simply for my own future reference, though you might find it interesting:

*****

What if there was a way to build up carrier numbers today, without drastically increasing the shipbuilding budget or retiring vast sums of other essential navy ships prematurely? I don’t mean just deploying the 15 of the Cold War, but dozens, scores, all you need and more. What if I tell you we have these vessels already in service? First some history. 

The carrier advocates use the same faulty metrics for the deployment of only a handful of large deck aircraft carriers, used by the battleship admirals pre-1940, that their ships were more cost effective in laying down ordnance on a target. In part, they were right (which is why you still hear howls of “bring back the battleship”) that the 16 inch guns of a dreadnought could place down a massive amount of firepower on a target quickly, often with more accuracy than carrier air. 

For example, the first American fast battleship, USS North Carolina in 1940 carried 911 tons of shell, the bulk of which it could expend in less than an hour. An Essex class carrier of the same period carried only 425 tons of ammunition, divided among bombs, torpedoes, and shells for self-defense. For Essex to deliver all of her small stocks of weapons, it would take days, burning much fuel and risking precious pilots in the process. 

In the end, the carrier reined, because it was more effective and practical. The 100 planes of the CV could patrol and control hundreds of thousands of square miles of sea compared to the range of the battleship’s cannon, on average 20 miles. Most important, it could sink the world’s most powerful warships, as it dramatically proved on numerous occasions. 

Today, the large deck has a new rival which might be equally effective, without the giant cost it takes to build, deploy, and arm a carrier force. Today the metrics which rule in the minds of the Navy is that a 100,000 ton carrier with 70 planes can launch the new smart bomb (one bomb, one hit) more cost effective than a $1 million Tomahawk land attack missile (TLAM) launched from a single surface warship. While for the carrier to send a single fighter against a single target, you deploy an entire fleet, highly visible and up to one tenth of your entire Navy to place one bomb on one target. For the TLAM warship to perform the same function of placing one weapon on one target you just need one ship, plus this ship carries many such weapons. 

Therefore, even though the cruise missile is individually more costly, here is where the battleship versus the carrier ordinance comes into play. The TLAM is more cost effective because it is less harder to deploy than naval airpower from the sea. Much of this is obvious since all nations, particularly Britain, India, China, and Russia which have attempted to deploy even one large deck aircraft carrier have faced enormous technical and funding issues. Even the supreme practitioner of the art, the US Navy struggles to keep 10-11 in service, or build adequate numbers of planes for its spacious decks. 

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So I contend that the TLAM is the best weapon to take advantage of the new precision warfare of one bomb or missile, assuring one hit. This doesn’t just balance the cost effectiveness of the two platforms either, but completely blows the carrier out of competition. Currently the USN has in service 130 TLAM ships–80 cruisers/destroyers and 50 submarines–positioned around the world, dramatically revealed recently with attacks on terrorist targets on Yemen by TLAM ships. Far from being as efficient as a legacy manned warplane, they don’t need to be, just effective. Meanwhile, advances in technology are constantly upgrading the cruise missile until it is as versatile, still without the monumental expense of deploying naval air at sea. 

We have the equivalent of 130 carrier groups deployed today, something the carrier admirals only dream of in their deepest fantasies. This would be the same as deploying some 130 light carriers, each armed with precision weapons, around the globe. As we often argue there is no difference in the effectiveness (notice we didn’t say “difference in firepower”) of a PGM armed light carrier and a PGM armed supercarrier. Because of smart bombs, the latter becomes so much overkill and unnecessary. 

We should keep a few of our giant decks around, to support the occasional land battle, but this has always been a secondary role for seapower, which the giant and expensive battleships were ushered into in the last World War, after it became obvious cheaper lighter weapons were more effective and cost effective in the long run. For this we argue that the Navy is heavily skewed toward the high end conventional side of warfare, still shrinking and stretched thin when there is no need. Because of a traditional mindset toward the deployment of airpower from the sea, it has little understanding of the power and potential of the force multiplying Tomahawk cruise missile.

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63 Comments leave one →
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  2. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 13, 2010 11:09 am

    Tangosix,

    You left out one bit…

    “His Serene Blogness (Iron) Mike Burleson, Defensor Corvettei, O.P.V., and Hammer of the Carriers”

  3. July 13, 2010 8:41 am

    Hello,

    that sounds like a challenge.
    How about:

    “His Serene Blogness (Iron) Mike Burleson,Defensor Corvettei and Hammer of the Carriers”?

    This could be a new theme for when we run out of L.C.S. acronyms.

    tangosix.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 13, 2010 5:28 am

    “our dear leader”

    You guys can do much better! thanks LOL

  5. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 12, 2010 8:29 pm

    I responded to Resboiu over at his blog, but I thought that I’d share my meandering and developing thoughts with the good folks here at New Wars.

    Resboiu,

    My idea regarding the gun muzzle is that only its small radar image would be detectable when the weapon is used. To make that possible would require a reduced or shortened sail / conning tower. Then, the especially long barrel of a weapon of this type would emerge above the ocean surface while the rest of the submarine remained submerged. Given a time on target fire of 60 seconds for ten rounds, then the submarine could submerge and retreat to the depths for some length of time before once again approaching the surface to stage another attack. I could easily envisage a moderately large SSGN armed with 50 to 100 of the developing hypersonic land attack PSG missiles being also armed with a 155 mm Advanced Gun System or an even more advanced electromagnetic rail gun. Given the projected development of networked sensor buoys deployable by USN SSNs & SSGNs, then the gun-armed submarine would be aware of any threats that might threaten it should it surface to carry out a gun attack.

  6. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 12, 2010 8:21 pm

    Tangosix,

    I imagine such information is residing in a database file (Oracle or MS Access based, perhaps) somewhere here or there or aboutz on the vast Internetz…

  7. July 12, 2010 8:09 pm

    Hello D. E. Reddick,

    if our dear leader was infallible this blog would be no fun at all.

    I think the record for an American carrier is 159 continuous days at sea by Theodore Roosevelt.

    Any advance on 166 days,for any ship type?

    I wish I could find a decent book with such statistics,it would save a lot of time trawling squadron and ship histories.

    tangosix.

  8. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 12, 2010 7:33 pm

    Tangosix,

    I’ve already rapped Mike’s knuckles regarding that particular statement: “Also, the carrier has to return to port too for aviation fuel and reloads.” It’s back somewhere about halfway through the thread.

    I expected Scott B. to call him to the mat about it, also. But that hasn’t happened (still hoping, as it should be ‘engaging & invigorating’…).

    Sometimes our fearless leader does seem to miss / bypass / fail to recognize the obvious. And we certainly cannot allow him to get away with that sort of error. This blog is too interesting for us to allow him that false freedom.

  9. July 12, 2010 6:12 pm

    Hello Chuck Hill,

    given the short notice of attack in the days before radar equipped ships it was assumed that it would not be possible to get enough fighters up to intercept an incoming raid in the time that would be available.
    Hence the emphasis on armour and heavy anti-aircraft armament on British carriers.

    tangosix.

  10. Chuck Hill permalink
    July 12, 2010 6:02 pm

    The British carriers were built the way they were because they did not expect to have many planes. They were starved for aircraft by the RAF until Fleet Air Arm became independent and they started getting US lend lease aircraft.

    It was also commonly believed that it was impossible to build a carrier based fighter that would be equal to its land based counter-parts. If I was defended by Skuas and Fulmars, I’s want armor too.

    Don’t forget Malta was twice resupplied by aircraft flying from the USS Wasp–no armor there.

  11. July 12, 2010 5:38 pm

    Hello,

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Also, the carrier has to return to port too for aviation fuel and reloads.”

    I know you are keen on the small Harrier carriers but did you know that in the Falklands War of 1982 Her Majesty’s Ship Invincible spent 166 operational days at sea without putting in to port.
    That’s five and a half months at sea sustained only by replenishment vessels.
    The record for an American carrier is of similar duration.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Also the Brits only operated their carriers with caution in the Med during this period, even though they had plenty of land bases.
    Meaning carriers also need bases and support to operate.”

    British carriers were specifically designed to operate near land,hence the armoured flight decks and heavy anti aircraft armament.
    They were designed that way because they were intended to fight in the North Sea and Mediterranean Sea and hence would never be far from enemy land bases.

    During the first half of the Second World War they were heavily outnumbered by land based aircraft but still continued to operate close to land.
    They had no choice,the British land bases on Malta could not survive without the help of the aircraft carriers involved in operations such as Pedastal.

    It is notable that the carriers were delivering aircraft to the land base which was struggling to defend it’s self.
    The Royal Navy spent much of the early part of the war in the Mediterranean sacrificing it’s self to save the land based Army and Royal Air Force most notably on Crete and Malta.

    tangosix.

  12. July 12, 2010 11:15 am

    Hello D.E. Reddick,

    I’m sorry about my english skills, and I hope my words Will not “hurt” zour eyes when your you will read this.

    About the undersea-cruiser Surcouf, it was on the wrong side of the fence for his destination.
    If Surcouf was in the hands of the Kriegsmarine, I’m sure would be covered in glory by South Atlantic Crusades and even further in the Indian Ocean. I think it was well received and such a different version of “Strike from the sea” by Douglas Reaman. Incidentally, Surcouf in the hands of the Germans could bomb the American and Canadian ports with his heavy guns.

    But in the hands of allies, its capabilities could be used not only in the discovery / tracking German corsairs, the German heavy ships went out hunting, or reconnaissance / infiltration in Denmark and Norway, can and patrol missions in the Pacific.
    Anyway, i put that image with Surcouf because his guns are more obvious then the last picture, with that M class monitor-submarine.

    About your concept, and what i marryed (Kilo+Koksan gun), there are little chances possible to occur in reality and not only in our thinking.
    But, I think in their missions will be escorted by small submarine in sites of theyr mission, and the escort would engage adversaries SSN. Maybe parasite UUVs. Why not?

    Interesting concept that you said to leave the submerged submarine so as to be just the gun to the surface …

  13. Hudson permalink
    July 12, 2010 8:30 am

    D.E.R.,

    Great detective work!

  14. July 12, 2010 7:14 am

    Hudson,

    Further to DER’s comments and my own.

    When I type here I am doing so on the fly. So a lot gets lost in translation. When I said NLOS I should have said a “NLOS like system” I was driving at a vertical MLRS like system.

    I think when reading each other’s comments we need to look at the broadthrust and the short hand. And not be so specific about terms. For example many here seem to use Phalanx as a synonym for CIWS; mainly because there are a lot Yanks here and it is/was a common system.

    Oh! That isn’t directed at you specifically Hudson just a general comment to all of us. Me included a lot of the time.

  15. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 11, 2010 11:05 pm

    Hudson,

    LOL, indeed! Perhaps I should have taken French in high school, rather than Spanish. But then, I had been going to school with Army Brat Puertoriquenos since the first grade – so Spanish seemed a more natural language course at the time. That was forty years ago! Yet, my interest in Indo-European languages and English language evolution served me semi-well. I’ve spent some time trying to understand the development of French and Spanish along with the Occitan languages (Catalan, etc.) which formed between those two ‘standard’ languages. I thought that I was reading French, but perhaps a webpage written in one of those less known variants of more standard western Romance languages. I kept wondering about the unusual word endings and accent marks, but my first reading of Resboiu’s website suggested to me that I was viewing some form of French.

    So, how did I catch the error of my ways? It’s a simple answer: F222… That’s the ship displayed in Resboiu’s banner image. I looked at it a few times and came to the conclusion that it was a modified Royal Navy frigate (not a vessel one would expect as appearing in the banner of a Francophilic webpage). A quick search led me to RS Regina Maria (F222), aka the former Type 22 frigate HMS London (F95) – which was commissioned in the Romanian Regina Marina in 2005. Quite elementary, once one gets past ones own limited linguistic blocks & blinders.

    HMS London (F95)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RS_Regina_Maria_(F222)

  16. Hudson permalink
    July 11, 2010 10:13 pm

    D.E.R.,

    See what happens when you post on the Web! You’d need OTH intel to make full use of such a long range cannon. But with tube launched UAVs, you’d be going great guns. You could hit Count Dracula’s castle with such a weapon. LOL.

  17. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 11, 2010 7:48 pm

    Correction. I just realized that Resboiu’s site is Romanian, rather than French. Well, I did mention that I don’t read French. Also, I don’t read Romanian. Still, at least I recognized that I was trying to interpret a Latin-derived, Romance language-based website. Isn’t it wonderful how a little bit of knowledge can be so embarrassing.

  18. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 11, 2010 5:40 pm

    B. Smitty,

    Yep, that did it! Your first effort was missing the last 17 characters of the URL.

    Thanks.

  19. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 11, 2010 5:15 pm

    Hudson,

    Resboiu has picked my silly idea and connected it with possible NorK and Iranian efforts. I don’t actually read French, but if I’ve correctly interpreted his posting, then he’s discussing the possibility of modern submarine monitors armed with the NorK Koksan 170 mm long-range artillery piece. Given the reduction in ASW assets and abilities in many navies, then such an old idea suddenly doesn’t seem completely impossible. I’ve responded to him at his blog.

    Just a silly idea, really

    http://resboiu.wordpress.com/2010/07/11/just-a-silly-idea-really/

  20. Hudson permalink
    July 11, 2010 4:49 pm

    D.E.R.,

    Son of a b! I read up a bit on Narwhal–quite a colorful career! An alternative to the sub gun would be MLRS, which seems to have tested badly on U.S. surface ships, though one Russian project ship mounts a similar system. If earlier subs could store and launch Regulus, then it seems to me the Navy could find a way to do the same with MLRS, if it wanted to. My objection to NLOS is the very high cost of the rocket even if it works like a charm. Your mentioned robot sub could more easily launch certain types of “brilliant” mines that are essentially torpedoes that loiter and attack surface ships.

    As the expense of all ships increases, the Navy will expect more versatility from its ships including subs. The Germans have come up with designs for their 212/214 boats that include a 30mm cannon to deploy from the conning tree, and a submerged launched anti-air missile.

  21. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 11, 2010 4:29 pm

    B.Smitty,

    Google docs states:

    Sorry, the page (or document) you have requested is not available.

    Please check the address and try again.

    I think there has to be something wrong with how you copied and pasted that Google docs URL link (it’s the most likely error).

    BTW – I was just over at Cdr. Salamander’s place and a commenter there made this remark about these SSGNs: ‘Stealth Battleship’. Seems appropriate.

  22. B.Smitty permalink
    July 11, 2010 4:13 pm

    My mistake, it was called the Compact Vertical Gun System.

    https://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0ByVQu4lA4SjvMzU3ZjJjMmEtOGUxYS00M2JkLTk4MjEtYzNjNWZkMTIzZWUy&hl=en

  23. B.Smitty permalink
    July 11, 2010 3:29 pm

    There was a proposal for a vertical 5″ or 155mm gun called VGAS that could be carried in and fired from a Trident (or Virginia Payload) Tube.

  24. Fencer permalink
    July 11, 2010 2:49 pm

    Didn’t the first DD(X) concept have the gun entirely below deck? If so it probably wouldn’t be to hard to add to gun or two to a new Virginia SSN (would a new hull classification be needed for a gun armed submarine?).

  25. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 11, 2010 2:48 pm

    Mike,

    You stated: “Also, the carrier has to return to port too for aviation fuel and reloads.”

    You have heard of UNREP, haven’t you? You have repeatedly made mention of T-AKE replenishment ships for usage as motherships in the proposed Influence Squadrons. Now, you forget the primary raison d’être for many of the naval auxiliaries of the USN. They are there to keep the CSGs at sea for control and strike, and to preclude the necessity of having on station carriers from having “to return to port”.

  26. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 11, 2010 2:37 pm

    X,

    I concur with your concern over the usefulness of the troubled NLOS as a weapon launched from any manned submarine. But what of a remotely controlled, unmanned UAV submarine designed to be operated in the shallow littorals? Perhaps releasing a floating canister launcher for each NLOS would work as a way to preserve the presence of the UAV sub while allowing it to attack littoral opponents such as FACs and PCs, thus opening up those waters for approaching gators or other surface forces. This would be a form of clearance of area denial forces such as one might encounter in the South China or Yellow Seas with the presence of forces such as the PLAN’s Type 022 Houbei missile boats.

  27. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 11, 2010 2:23 pm

    Hudson,

    USS Argonaut (SM-1 / SS-166), USS Narwhal (SS-167), and USS Nautilus (SS-168) were submarine cruisers of WW-II which were each armed with two 6″/53 cal. Mark 17 wet mount guns (at 152 mm they were slightly smaller than modern 155 mm gun tubes). They were the largest guns ever carried by any USN submarines.

    USS Argonaut (SM-1)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Argonaut_(SM-1)

    V-5 and V-6—Narwhal and Nautilus

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Narwhal_class_submarine#V-5_and_V-6.E2.80.94Narwhal_and_Nautilus

    USS Narwhal (SS-167)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Narwhal_(SS-167)

    USS Nautilus (SS-168)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Nautilus_(SS-168)

    6″/53 caliber gun

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/6“/53_caliber_gun

  28. Anonymous permalink
    July 11, 2010 2:21 pm

    While I am a fan of the SSGN, I don’t think it will be possible for a single boat type to replace the aircraft carrier. (though they do need to be replaced) The reason for this is that a carrier has so many roles that a number of specialized ships would be required to replace it.

    Al

  29. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 11, 2010 2:04 pm

    Tangosix wrote “In return for that great expense we get the ability to fire 150 cruise missiles before returning to the nearest base to reload.
    The carrier meanwhile will deliver hundreds of precision guided munitions every day for months at a time without returning to port.”

    As I said, the carriers are useful, just unafordable in their present numbers. Also, the carrier has to return to port too for aviation fuel and reloads.

    Concerning carriers versus land bases, the loss of our forward bases like Wake, Guam, and the Philippines during 1941, 42 meant the flattops couldn’t operate forward either, except for swift hit and run strikes like the famed Doolittle raid. It took some serous island hopping and support from the Air Force, Marines, and Army before the carriers finally returned to the Western Pacific in 1944.

    Also the Brits only operated their carriers with caution in the Med during this period, even though they had plenty of land bases.

    Meaning carriers also need bases and support to operate.

  30. July 11, 2010 1:35 pm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_submarine_Surcouf_%28N_N_3%29

    One gun isn’t enough. Submarine version of NLOS might be better. But I think the short range would be a major disadvantage.

  31. Hudson permalink
    July 11, 2010 1:23 pm

    D.E.R.,

    Re: The Big Gun Sub, I picked up this: http://www.valoratsea.com/538.htm

    Not to say we couldn’t do 155mm. It’s only a small step up from 127mm, which has long range possibilitles. Certainly, not a silly idea at all.

  32. July 11, 2010 12:30 pm

    Hello,

    what is mindboggling is the cost of buying an bomber/boomer and converting it to the cruise missile role.
    The ohio conversions cost hundreds of millions of dollars even though they used redundant trident submarines.
    I don’t know how much the Ohio replacement will cost but the cost of each new British Vanguard replacement may be up to twice the price of the new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers.
    Newbuild cruise missile submarines will be exceedingly expensive.

    In return for that great expense we get the ability to fire 150 cruise missiles before returning to the nearest base to reload.
    The carrier meanwhile will deliver hundreds of precision guided munitions every day for months at a time without returning to port.

    The cruise missiles cannot perform many of the tasks which carrier aircraft can perform such as close air support and air defence:

    This video taken by an A10 gives some idea of what is involved in such missions:

    It is difficult to see the logic in decrying aircraft carriers as too vulnerable while at the same time suggesting that far more vulnerable land bases should do their job:

    http://grandlogistics.blogspot.com/2010/06/analysis-of-warfare-is-bit-like.html

    tangosix.

  33. Fencer permalink
    July 11, 2010 12:04 pm

    The Iowas were like the Ohio SSGNs, already paid for and they could fill their niche better than any thing else in service. The carriers on the other hand are extremely versatile ships capable of performing nearly any task given to them.

    1) the current cost is mind-boggling
    I calculated what the US Navy would have to spend to keep its current inventory and the SSNs where actually the the most expensive ship type.

    
2) there are smaller cheaper alternatives,
    If you mean smaller carriers (50,000+ tons) I think they might be a viable option as long as the Navy continues using aircraft like the F/A-18 and the F-35C but if we ever want another F-14 or S-3 than the large decks are needed.

    
3) they distract from other essential naval missions from anti-mine to ASW warfare
    I’m not sure I would call mine hunting an “essential naval missine” it strikes me something you really only need when operating right off the enemy’s coastline, and while ASW is important a CVN carries half the battle group’s helicopters and can carry fixed-wing ASW aircraft.

    
4) they are vulnerable to modern weapons
    My opinion is that those same modern weapons have improved the carrier’s defenses equally but I would like to hear your reasoning.

    
5) the guided missile is easier to deploy, more practical, increasingly as good as manned airpower thanks to precision tech
    Just a few post ago I showed an example of why I think missiles aren’t as good as aircraft but again I would welcome your explanation.

  34. B.Smitty permalink
    July 11, 2010 10:40 am

    Mike said, “1) the current cost is mind-boggling
    2) there are smaller cheaper alternatives,
    3) they distract from other essential naval missions from anti-mine to ASW warfare
    4) they are vulnerable to modern weapons
    5) the guided missile is easier to deploy, more practical, increasingly as good as manned airpower thanks to precision tech

    1) Yes, but so is maintaining a network of foreign land bases that may or may not be at the right place when we need them.
    2) STOVL carriers are not viable alternatives. Conventional, mid-sized, CATOBAR carriers might be, but they have higher operating costs.
    3) ASW has not played a significant part in any conflict since WWII. MIW has had a larger impacted, but still just a side-show. (even counting the 14 ships damaged due to mines since WWII) OTOH, carriers have played critical roles in nearly every conflict.
    4) Carriers have been vulnerable to weapons of the day since their inception. Vulnerability can be managed.
    5) This is just flat out wrong.

  35. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 11, 2010 4:14 am

    “obsolescence of the carriers is not one of them”

    I agree in the usefulness of large carriers, but as you may recall the Iowas were very useful ships right up unto the end and probably would still be in service if not for their operating cost, high manning, and extreme age. Neither are they a dire necessity.

    So I think the carrier is still in service because their usefulness is taken for “can’t live without them”, but I would argue our seapower doesn’t just rest on these, or the high number we have in service. Neither does our overall military force since the naval air mission duplicates that we already have with our land bases and now with missiles which can fire from the sea. The last refuge of the battleship was surface bombardment for supporting troops and shows of force and this is exactly the sole mission of the supercarrier today.

    If we can afford them, lets keep them, but:

    1) the current cost is mind-boggling
    2) there are smaller cheaper alternatives,
    3) they distract from other essential naval missions from anti-mine to ASW warfare
    4) they are vulnerable to modern weapons
    5) the guided missile is easier to deploy, more practical, increasingly as good as manned airpower thanks to precision tech

  36. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 11, 2010 12:40 am

    I’ve been waiting for someone to suggest it – but it hasn’t happened, as yet.

    So, I’ll just hang this silliness out for everyone to laugh at. Recall that the Royal Navy built submarines with major artillery – i.e., 12 inch (305 mm) guns. Those were the M-class, which carried a single gun of that rather large size. Another class of RN submarines embarked with four 5.1″ (130 mm) guns in two twin turrets. Some of the largest USN submarines in service during WW-II carried two 6″ (152 mm) guns. So, what am I getting at? Well, why not mount a 155 mm AGS forward of the sail on a future SSGN? Maybe by then (late 2020s or ’30s) it’ll be an electromagnetic railgun rather than a chemically propelled artillery system. So, let’s consider a future SSGN type which can launch 100 to 200 cruise missiles (hypersonic speed) and also fire several hundred rounds of guided artillery munitions against various targets at lesser ranges (200-500 kilometers, let’s say). If done correctly, only the muzzle of the weapon would break the surface of the water. Just a silly idea, really…

  37. Fencer permalink
    July 10, 2010 9:27 pm

    RW2,
    I don’t know that much about submarine doctrine, but from what I’ve read it seems that submarines don’t operate well together.

  38. Fencer permalink
    July 10, 2010 9:24 pm

    Mike,
    As you demonstrated with the submarines a ship’s contribution to furthering its country’s goals is not measured solely by the number targets destroyed. Just by existing the carriers have demonstrate the power and global reach of the US Navy. It’s not an accident that so many countries are obsessed with developing aircraft carriers or the weapons to defeat them. While I agree with many of the points you make on this blog but the obsolescence of the carries is not one of them.
    P.S. thanks for the book reccomendation.

  39. RW2 permalink
    July 10, 2010 9:15 pm

    SSNs will clear a batter box for SSGNs. In naval warfare everything has an escort. Just because you can’t see it dosent mean it’s not there. The question is how many cells should a DDG/CG give to this global strike weapon? What missile payload will be reduce? TLAM family? SM-2 Family? SM-3? ESSM?

  40. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 10, 2010 6:01 pm

    Fencer wrote-”While the carriers have been mainly used for land attack so have submarines”

    I have to disagree with that notion. Though what you say has been true, it is only a recent phenomena thanks to the Sub-Tomahawk which joined the fleet in the late Cold War. But for most of that time the sub force had a broader role, which remains to this day, according to the USN website:

    Dominance over the Soviet Navy was vital in preserving maritime superiority during the Cold War.
    During this time period, U.S. attack submarines monitored Soviet naval development and open ocean
    naval operations in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans. U.S. SSNs obtained vital information
    on Soviet naval capabilities and weaknesses while underscoring American determination to defend the
    nation and her allies from attack. While almost all Cold War operations
    remain classified, two recently declassified missions showcase
    Submarine Force capabilities. USS Guardfish (SSN-612) silently
    tracked a Soviet cruise missile (SSGN) submarine which was following
    U.S. aircraft carriers off Vietnam in the 1970’s – ready to protect our
    ships should the SSGN launch her missiles. In 1978, in the Atlantic,
    USS Batfish (SSN-681) tracked a Soviet ballistic missile submarine
    (SSBN) sailing off the East Coast of the U.S.- learning Soviet SSBN
    patrol areas and operating patterns and providing early indications of
    any potential surprise attack on the U.S.

    http://www.navy.mil/navydata/cno/n87/images/coldwar.pdf

    Not so much in the headlines, I’d say they actively hastened the downfall of the Soviet Union, mainly through covert means, at least more than any other USN vessel. I also recommend the the book Blind Man’s Bluff for further reference.

  41. Fencer permalink
    July 10, 2010 3:59 pm

    Mike,
    While the carriers have been mainly used for land attack so have submarines, but I haven’t seen you say that submarines are only good for bombing third world countries.

    While any military force should prepare for all eventualities to assume that all the carriers will be put out of action seems slightly unrealistic, but you do have a good point that our ASUW capabilities are much too concentrated.

    Jacob touched upon the major role aircraft played in the battle of Guadalcanal but here’s something else. During the battle of Midway the airwing of USS Enterprise flew to where the Japanese fleet was expected to be and didn’t find anything, if they had been cruise missiles instead of airplanes Enterprise would have just fired its entire magazine at nothing. However, the aircraft flew a basic search pattern, found the enemy fleet, and sank two carriers. I believe this demonstrates the versatility of carrier aircraft.

  42. Jacob permalink
    July 10, 2010 3:38 pm

    “The problem with this is one we see in Guadalcanal, 1942, with the capital ships often out of action, the cruisers, destroyers, and PT boats had to learn on the job surface warfare. So I think the best counter to a enemy surface combatant is another combatant, accounting for attrition in large warships.”

    True, but another major part of the Guadalcanal campaign was land-based airpower. Planes flying out of Henderson field were able to inflict significant damage on any Japanese ships that came near in open daylight, if not sink them outright. Therefore the Japanese were forced to approach by night. But modern technology has taken away the nighttime limitations of airpower now, hasn’t it?

    Another thing is that if the Japanese carrier fleet hadn’t been lost at Midway, they could’ve been used to beat back the Americans at Guadalcanal (or more likely we never would’ve attempted invading). And if the Americans had had their massive Essex fleet in 1942, we probably could’ve steamrolled through the entire Solomons rather than fighting that grueling battle of attrition for months on end.

  43. Distiller permalink
    July 10, 2010 3:03 pm

    It was Smitty moaning :-)

  44. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 10, 2010 2:14 pm

    Joe, you hit the nail on the head again!

    Hudson wrote “I don’t think they should replace carriers, which are far more flexible though very expensive.”

    I see them as complementing, not so much as replacing our current shrinking carrier fleet. But in a major blowup at sea, with the ASCM and ASBM’s flying, the stealthy SSGN’s and SSN’s will be vital for our survival.

    Fencer said “One major point that is being missed here is that a carrier’s primary function is ASUW.”

    This is certainly not how they have been used since the World Wars, though I do believe the service sees them as such if it comes to surface actions. The problem with this is one we see in Guadalcanal, 1942, with the capital ships often out of action, the cruisers, destroyers, and PT boats had to learn on the job surface warfare. So I think the best counter to a enemy surface combatant is another combatant, accounting for attrition in large warships.

    Distiller bemoaned “Do we really have to go over this time and time again?”

    Repetition! Repetition! As we learned in school, to get the point across.LOL

  45. Joe permalink
    July 10, 2010 1:56 pm

    SSGN’s wring new utility out of paid-for platforms. A big thing when you’re a nearly bankrupt superpower with $13 Trillion on your American Express statement.

    Also they are stealthy harbingers of conventional death. Insofar as we know, China presently has no way of knowing where they are until either they’re firing their missiles or surfacing on the ocean.

    Distiller puts his finger on their limitations, but is it truly possible (within one platform) to reduce such type of risk to zero? If you think “cruise missile attack” + “China”, then the SSGN’s may be but one part of an equation that also includes the ALCM-spewing B-747 he alludes to, covering many diff attack vectors and increasing likelihood of success.

    Nobody knows what the future might hold, but barring the U.S. ever building a small number of Mike’s oft-discussed arsenal ships, then doing more of these SSBN conversions might not be a bad consolation prize.

  46. Anonymous permalink
    July 10, 2010 1:32 pm

    @ Distiller

    750 miles (half Tomahawk range) is still longer range than most carrier aircraft. Also while your planes are flying to their launch areas, they are exposing themselves to enemy aircraft and missiles.

    Al

  47. Fencer permalink
    July 10, 2010 1:11 pm

    Distiller, the way I understand it the SSNs’ job is attrition / commerce raiding /destabilizing the enemy while the Carrier Strike Groups provide the firepower to destroy an enemy fleet.

  48. July 10, 2010 12:36 pm

    There is something that I don’t see mentioned here that I think is important, and that is the power a carrier has even when it isn’t shooting something. Iran doesn’t care so much when my cruiser goes through the Strait, but when we’re with a carrier, suddenly it’s a big deal. Not that we weren’t questioned anyway, but more folks came out to see (if my memory serves me). I think it’s entirely possible that the TLAM ship (such as my cruiser) is more cost effective, but we must keep carriers, though not all of them. They provide a quiet power that a TLAM ship can’t provide.

  49. Distiller permalink
    July 10, 2010 12:19 pm

    @ Anon: Yes, but unless you sacrify considerable range – like one third, maybe one half – you still come from more or less the same direction, compared to aerial launch. Predictable, makes defence easier.

    @ Fencer: In the coastal regions, yes. Blue water, no – there it’s a SSN job.

    The SSGN could be a sneak attack “shock’n’awe” weapon against a more or less capable enemy. Btw, in case people say China, that is an interesting challenge. The question if an SSGN would go into the shallow and ASW poisened South China Sea. If not, the potential launch locations for a SSGN are quite limited and also limits the reach inland. That just asks for a pre-pos SSN/SSK and preventive ASW presence in those regions. But this brings me back to the point, that against China (as the most likely target – well, not really likely, but still more likely than Europe/Russia or India) I don’t see a conventional war. So I really fail to see the “customer” for the SSGN’s load. Against have-nots it’s a waste of money – rather deliver the cruise missiles via (aux) bomber, or surface ship or SSN. The current Ohio SSGNs are an anomaly of naval history, only existing because the hulls already existed and were paid for. I say no one would build such a system from scratch!

  50. Scott B. permalink
    July 10, 2010 11:44 am

    B. Smitty said : “Do we really have to go over this time and time again? ;)”

    The beatings will continue until morale improves.

    And the Phoenix of the *New* New Wars emerges from the ashes of the old one ;-p

  51. Fencer permalink
    July 10, 2010 11:08 am

    One major point that is being missed here is that a carrier’s primary function is ASUW. While the Tomahawk has been effective in destroying static targets long-range anti-ship cruise missiles have never really proven themselves.

  52. Hudson permalink
    July 10, 2010 11:06 am

    I like the SSGN and understand the usefulness of TLAM et al, as single strike and massive prep for larger operations. However, I don’t think they should replace carriers, which are far more flexible though very expensive.

    It’s too easy to push the button and launch cruise missiles in a bloodless (to us) attack. Bill Clinton’s 1998 strike against Sudan and bin Laden in Afghanistan was a failure on both targets–and I realize smart bombs could have missed too or hit the wrong target. If we had really wanted to get bin Laden, we should have sucked up the political risk and sent 200 Special Forces into Afghanistan, with wheels, and hunted down O.B.L. and finished him off then and there. Too easy to push the button and say “mission accomplished.”

  53. Anonymous permalink
    July 10, 2010 10:57 am

    @ Marcase

    “Satellites and UAVs are good ISR platforms, but neither are as flexible as a carrier based Recce aircraft, especially when dealing with mobile, time-sensitive targets.”

    Maybe I’m just being stupid (again), by why are UAVs inferior to manned aircraft for ISR?

    Al

  54. Anonymous permalink
    July 10, 2010 10:33 am

    @ Distiller

    “What I don’t like about the land attack SSGN is that the SSGN is strategically inflexible; that it opens basically only a single vector for 150 missiles”

    I was under the impression that Tomahawk missiles could follow multiple attack vectors to the same target?

    Al

  55. B.Smitty permalink
    July 10, 2010 10:00 am

    Mike said,”Must the sea service fight all our land wars too, duplicating Army and USAF capabilities and missions?

    Do we really have to go over this time and time again? ;)

    OIF. OEF. Extremely limited forward basing.

  56. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 10, 2010 7:58 am

    “the limited range of TLAM-C targets further inland are out of reach”

    Whatever’s out of reach of the Tomahawk would be greatly out of range of naval air also, so the Navy would be irrelevant here anyway.

    Must the sea service fight all our land wars too, duplicating Army and USAF capabilities and missions? As if fighting submarines and sweeping mines isn’t a noble and essential endeavor.

  57. Distiller permalink
    July 10, 2010 7:20 am

    If the question is what system gets a cruise missile on target most cost effective and operational useful, my bet is on a squadron of converted airliners with ALCMs in their bellies. With Russian-style long range cruise missiles there is no need to go even close to enemy airspace, and you’re able to open dozens of attack vectors over hundreds of miles.

    What I don’t like about the land attack SSGN is that the SSGN is strategically inflexible; that it opens basically only a single vector for 150+ missiles; that with the limited range of TLAM-C targets further inland are out of reach; and also if for any reason a SSGN can’t deploy 25-33% of offensive arsenal are gone.

    And the carrier doesn’t have to be out of the cruise missile game either. If NavAir puts TLAM on SHornets (they certified AGM-109 on the A-6E, but never deployed operationally), a carrier air group could launch a max salvo of up to 200 cruise missiles. And that over 50 attack vectors spread over hundreds of miles. Not too bad I say!

  58. Marcase permalink
    July 10, 2010 6:12 am

    This isn’t new, back in the late 1980s there was serious lobbying to equip the (then) Spruance class with Tomahawk boxes, both anti-ship and land attack variants. The problem then, is partly the same now; targeting.

    Satellites and UAVs are good ISR platforms, but neither are as flexible as a carrier based Recce aircraft, especially when dealing with mobile, time-sensitive targets. The FA-18EF isn’t the greatest of ISR platforms, but LITENING/SNIPER-type recce-pods allow it to do fast tac recce from OTH, without the need for shorebased facilities.

    IF the USNs BAMS system-of-systems could provide over-land ISR/TA as well, then conventional but CEC networked DESRONs with TLAMs could indeed become the ultimate of ARSENAL battleships.

Trackbacks

  1. Carriers: The Weakest Link Pt 1 « New Wars
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