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Why Submarines Rule

April 16, 2008

David Axe at Danger Room weighs in on the “Subs vs Carriers” debate, and points to an earlier posting I missed with this comment:

…despite the best efforts of naval technologists over the
past 100 years, submarines are still by far the most powerful seaborne weapons
ever developed. Nothing’s better for winning a full-scale sea war. Need proof?
See
here and here. Forget $5-billion
DDG-1000 battleships
. Submarines rule the
waves.

Though Galrahn would disagree with yours truly, I contend that no matter how useful our magnificent force of strike carriers are and unmatched by any other seapower, if the submarine can sink our entire force of huge flattops or chase the survivors into port, then by default the boats are the new capital ships, whether they can bombard a shoreline, launch scout planes, or show the flag.

The aircraft carrier never was a perfect substitute for the battleship, as we see from constant calls for improvements in our Marine fire support. A fragile flattop could not be expected to survive long in a surface duel, a mission which the battlewagons, with their thick armor layer, excelled at. Yet, the carrier prevailed despite their flaws, for the simple fact that they prevented the dreadnoughts from performing the essential mission of sea control. And though there has yet to be a full-scale war at sea involving carriers versus submarines, we may get a glimpse of the future in this incident from the Falklands Island Conflict of 1982.

On the afternoon of May 2, and in the only such incident so far in history, the nuclear powered attack submarine HMS Conqueror sank one of Argentina’s prime battle force ships, the cruiser General Belgrano. The 2 escorting ASW destroyers fled the scene, leaving the stricken ship’s crew to fend for themselves. In its only sortie during the war, the Argentine carrier fled back to port after the Belgrano sinking, never to pose a threat to the British task force. Imagine this on a grand scale as a sign of a future war between subs and surface ships!
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