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Aircraft Carrier Vs. Cruise Missile #25

May 31, 2008

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.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. charbookguy permalink
    June 2, 2008 3:13 pm

    I especially like the USAF’s ABL system which has sadly suffered numerous delays, but might be more cost effective than the Navy’s BMD program in the long run.

  2. west_rhino permalink
    June 2, 2008 3:08 pm

    PS despite distractions there is a video bouncing around cyberspace of the Army laser system’s demo.

  3. west_rhino permalink
    June 2, 2008 3:04 pm

    Given a “typical, i.e. best” test shot of the Army’s tactical laser zapping inbound 152mm rounds fired from by God real ex Soviet howitzers, I have to suspect that the JCS has somewhere (probably under wraps) an improvement onthe “Lazer Dazzle Sight” used in the Falklands/Malvinas against Exocet armed Argentine aircraft.

    Has to be a separate project, the Navy would never take soemthing off the shelf from another service… ;-)

  4. charbookguy permalink
    June 2, 2008 9:03 am

    I agree with you about the laser, though we seem years away from perfecting it. In the case of Aegis, I always had my doubts that you can “hit a bullet with a bullet”, at least economically and everytime.

  5. west_rhino permalink
    June 1, 2008 10:41 pm

    Cognate with this is the interesting contrast of another facet of the syndrome in the last issue of Proceedings I perused, asking “Where is the Ballistic Missile Defense Cruiser?”

    Maybe a point defense laser system has an edge on dealing with the aged Sunburn… recalling it was an issue of discussion circa 15 years ago and we were using Sunburns bought from the CIS that still kept hitting the target barges despite all the point defense options thrown at it.

    Mike, we dare not make a proportional response to the next Pearl Harbor.

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