Aircraft Carrier Vs. Cruise Missile #25
From Martin Sieff at the UPI:
Modern surface warships of the U.S. and British navies designed and built over the past 30 years share a common weakness, as we have noted in previous columns. Like so many big, impressive heavyweight boxers throughout history, they can be big, fast, powerful and handsome — but they can’t take a punch.
This was brought home to the British when first the cruiser Sheffield and then other British warships were sunk after suffering only one or two hits from Argentina’s French-built Exocet low-flying cruise missiles during the 1982 Falklands war. As respected U.S. defense analyst David Crane pointed out in Defense Review a couple of years ago, U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers today do not carry a fraction of the armor protection that a World War II battleship did.
Yet the threat to surface warships from submarine, air or surface-launched anti-ship missiles is vastly greater today than it was 26 years ago when the Falklands war was fought. Impressed by the impact of the Exocets, weapons designers around the world, especially in Russia and China, have invested big in much faster and more formidable anti-ship missiles than the Exocet. The king of the crop today is the Moskit 3M80 — NATO designation SS-N-22 Sunburn — that now figures prominently in the anti-warship inventories of China and Iran. The Russians also have developed the even more advanced SS-N-27 Sizzler.
These weapons fly two and a half times faster than U.S. ones. American cruise missiles are subsonic, but Russian-made ones can fly at well over Mach 2, or more than twice the speed of sound — with speeds estimated at 1,500 mph to 1,700 mph at close to ground level.
Russia has sold the technology to build the Moskit to China, which manufactures it as the Hai Ying or Sea Eagle HY2. It can carry an almost 500-pound warhead, and it can deliver a tactical nuclear weapon. The threat of the Hai Ying is so great that it has effectively barred operational access to the Taiwan Strait to U.S. aircraft carriers in time of high tension. China has also supplied the Hai Ying to Iran.
And U.S. carriers today are far more vulnerable to shell and missile attack than battleships were 65 years ago in World War II.
To be fair, aircraft carriers were far more vulnerable in the World War than they are today. Back then, many Navy carriers were converted from thin-skinned battle cruisers, and possessed wooden flight decks that were easily repairable but also highly flammable. Only the British carriers of the Illustrious class carried armor of any significance.