Warfare Through a Looking Glass Pt. 1
Revolutions in warfare are an ongoing phenomena and there is no predicting when one will occur. The current Transformation is an accurate though discredited term, mainly because the US Military considers that the new computer technology only enhances the power of their last century carriers, tanks, and aircraft, rather than robot weapons themselves leading this change.
Concerning Revolution at Sea, there are few examples to go by considering the lack of wide-spread combat on a global scale as occurred in the world wars. However, we consider the single major air/land/sea war in the Falklands in 1982 to obtain all the requirements for such a conflict, despite its relative small scope.
1. Large surface ships will initially be chased into port from fear of the nearly invisible and superfast attack submarine.
2. If carriers can operate at all for dread of the latter, they will be forced to do so at the extreme limit of their attacking aircraft because of the menace of land based cruise missiles.
3. Precision bombs and missile will deny the traditional amphibious invasion, considering the mauling the Royal Navy received at the hands of the Argentine Air Force, equipped with only a handful of Exocet missiles and dumb bombs that too often failed to explode.
Yet, the right lessons were learned from this conflict by Western navies if you consider that your forces will only engage Third World militaries with few or no advanced weapons, archaic air forces, or equally ancient and timid naval power. The Americans felt the South Atlantic war justified their Big Carrier program and proceeded to build more. The British has recently jumped on the supercarrier bandwagon while reducing the numbers in the surface and submarine fleet to pay for them. Ever larger destroyers were built, about the size of WW 2 cruisers which is considered better able to survive the new sea warfare, and amphibious fleets are to be provided with an “over the horizon” capability with hydrofoils, expensive tiltroter planes and advanced amphibious vehicles so that the Marines won’t have to sail into a “bomb alley”.
So, with our current Navy, sizable aircraft carrier groups along with their expensive missile escorts and logistics ships are required to enforce American foreign and military policy around the world. For instance, blogger Galrahn reveals to us the order of battle of forces currently in the Gulf Region:
Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group
USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72)
USS Mobile Bay (CG 53)
USS Russell (DDG 59)
USS Shoup (DDG 86)
USS Momsen (DDG 92)
USS Curts (FFG 38)
And an amphibious group:
Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group
USS Peleliu (LHA 5)
USS Dubuque (LPD 8)
USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52)
USS Cape St. George (CG 71)
USS Benfold (DDG 65)
USS Halsey (DDG 97)
Also listed are numerous anti-mine warfare ships, patrol ships and frigates of our allies totaling 19 ships. Not mentioned are the logistics supply vessels to support the above, which normally would consist of “A combined ammunition, oiler and supply ship (AOE/AOR), usually supply (T-AOE); provides logistic support enabling the Navy’s forward presence: on station, ready to respond.” according to Wikipedia.
Now all this expensive naval power and the tens of thousands of sailors in the missile age is a great drain on even a superpower’s finances. The huge price of fossil fuel compounds the problems of upkeeping such a Cold War/World War 2 system, not to mention their vulnerability to the modern cruise missile as we have detailed. Even worse, Congress is now directing the Navy to build new nuclear powered surface warships, which would solve the fuel problem but add many millions to the already outrageous price of navy battleships.
A simple solution might be for the USN to concentrate on a single nuclear powered battleship, which thanks to guided missiles can duplicate most of the mission of aircraft carrier, cruiser, and destroyer. We mean of course, the attack submarine, one of which we think can duplicate all the functions of the carrier strike group mentioned above without the need of expensive logistic ships. She cannot however perform escort missions in confined waters like the patrol craft and frigates or land sizable amphibious forces as the USS Peleliu and her sisters.
Those who argue the necessity of carrier groups might site the need for “presence”, meaning the sending of a supercarrier into the vicinity of a potential hotspot might be enough to avert conflict. To this I would contend that ordering a missile-firing submarine off an enemy shore, along with a discrete posting in the Press, would accomplish the same function without putting at risk the tens of thousands of sailors or the enormous expense of such an undertaking, or the subsequent escalation of tensions that occurs everytime the highly visible battle group makes a move. The beauty of this strategy is that the attack sub need not even be in the vicinity for this to work! How would an adversary know the difference from the near invisible undersea boats?!
We conclude that 1 or 2 nuclear attack subs with long range cruise missiles could replace an entire aircraft carrier strike group, her expensive escorts, as well as the extended and vulnerable logistical chain. Likewise a squadron of such vessels, 6-10 nuke boats including 1 or 2 SSGNs could conduct a sustained campaign on the order of a Desert Storm, in place of 3-4 carriers and 50 or so supporting ships.