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USN’s Ongoing Neglect of Sea Control

March 31, 2009

In the war in Southeast Asia, as in the Korean War, the enemy could not dispute US control of the seas and so the Navy’s main business became projection: amphibious landings, air strikes, and occasional episodes of naval shore bombardment. Not only did the Navy’s share of the budget shrink during those wars because the Army and the Air Force underwent greater attrition of equipment, but under the circumstances the Navy had to put a disproportionate share of the money it did receive into maintaining its capability for projection-its carriers and attack planes, its amphibious vessels, its ships with the weapons for bombardment,. Sea-control forces-anti-submarines planes and their carriers and ship suitable for patrol and escort duty-were allowed to obsolesce and, finally, retire without replacements. More damaging yet, work on future sea-control requirements-new types of ships from which planes or helicopters could operate, new techniques for combating submarines, new vessels to escort convoys, new kinds of weapons from which to fight on the surface was postponed for many years. The one exception was nuclear-powered attack submarines, which through Admiral Hyman Rickover’s special influence on Capitol Hill got built in ample numbers.

Elmo Zumwalt Jr. in “On Watch”

Last week we mentioned how the US Navy emphasizes the power projection role of expeditionary warfare above all others. Zumwalt, who as Navy CNO at the closing of the Vietnam Conflict understood this more than most, and did his utmost to halt the downward spiral of ship numbers, due to a new and very costly dependence on what he termed “superships”, often titled in this blog “Big Ships” and “exquisite warships”.

Today the size of the US Navy stands at about 280 ships, possibly an adequate number if the type of foe we will counter in the next few decades will be non-naval landpowers of the likes of the Yugoslavs, the Iraqi’s, or Afghanis. It may even be enough if we consider that the ability to “overawe” rising potential naval adversaries like China or Iran is enough, the much ballyhooed “presence” strategy and shows of force, with American superships off an enemy coastline.

If the US Navy is to engage in full scale war at sea, which is really the primary reason for its existence, then as Zumwalt contends, a few very large and capable ships will not be enough:

This task of sealing the straits-and of course coping with the substantial number of ships that would be bound to get through under the best of circumstances-is one that calls for deploying US ships around the world from the Sea of Japan to the Norwegian Sea. Thus it calls for a very large number of ships…

The sea-control mission, as I have just explained, required a large number of platforms from which weapons can be fired and planes launched, a large number of ships. In most cases seven or five or even three ships of moderate capability would contribute far more to the success of this mission than one supership… 

The admiral was concerned here at the height of the Cold War with bottling the straits worldwide from which Russian subs and surface warships would transit, from Murmansk or Valdivostock, the Baltic or Black Seas. Today we are more concerned with operations close to shore and deterring or destroying swarms of small attack craft, be they pirates or terrorist suicide boats. Some have contended that the requirement to control the Gulf of Aden, where the most piracy in recent years has transpired, would require over 400 ships.

For its own version of Sea Control, the USN and others say that only very large 10,000 ton battleships will suffice. The idea here is that with all the modern technologies introduced in warfare in recent years, from stealth, to precision weapons, and advanced senors, plus improved propulsion systems, only the largest warships on earth will do, even at the price of ever shrinking numbers, with sailors forced to undertake numerous deployments, and ships worn out far too early. It seems the compromises we make to get every form of technology to sea isn’t worth the price we are paying.

Yet while the Navy is doing one thing, they are singing a diferent tune on sea control. From the websight we read:

Two world wars have convincingly demonstrated, however, that even modest submarines are a major threat to sea transport. U.S. World War II submariners, comprising less than 2 percent of naval personnel, sank over five and a half million tons of Japanese shipping – more shipping than was sunk by all other means combined. Their campaign was a critical factor in the industrial collapse of the Japanese war effort. At the same time, German U-boats forced the Allies to commit disproportionately large forces to defend Allied sea lines of communications (SLOCs) in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Had submarines been used against the United States in the Korean, Vietnam, or DESERT STORM conflicts, the timely delivery of forces and materiel would have been dramatically impeded, and military costs could have been significant.

Submarines are the quintessential sea-control platforms, with proven capabilities to hunt and kill submarines and surface ships on the high seas and in the littorals. U.S. nuclear submarines provide our only assured capability to wrest control of the sea from a determined enemy employing submarines in an area denial or anti-SLOC role. As a result, the merchant shipping of this nation, and that of allies and friends, is free to conduct the trade on which our prosperity and security so vitally depend. Even more important, the logistical reach required for worldwide power projection can be counted on whenever and wherever called for.

We will be eternally grateful when the USN’s strategy and ship procurement plans finally catch up with each other!

27 Comments leave one →
  1. Heretic permalink
    April 2, 2009 9:58 am

    Distiller makes a good point. If you’re looking for a fleet sub, you really need to ask where is that fleet going to be stationed? If the fleet is going to spend almost all of its life in the blue waters, then you don’t want an SSK/SSP, you want an SSN, since the nuclear boats have the power and endurance to “keep up” with a surface fleet on maneuvers.

    The thing is, speed is the enemy of stealth, when it comes to submarines … and not just because of cavitation issues. The rule of thumb is that the faster you’re moving, the easier it’s going to be for someone else to hear you. This is in part why SSPs moving at 5-7 knots on AIP is so incredibly dangerous. They’re moving so slowly that flow noise over the hull is minimal, their propulsion system is turning so slowly that it’s almost totally silent (and thus easy to lose in all the background noise of the ocean) and the AIP system is far quieter than anything you can do with a nuke sub because it doesn’t require coolant pumps to be constantly working to prevent a meltdown.

    Which is why an “ideal” littoral fleet mix would combine SSPs and gunboat+helicopter corvettes. The SSPs are slow and silent prowlers while the corvettes act as a rapid reaction fast attack craft force. The SSPs and corvettes are “small enough” to get the job done without costing a big chunk of GDP, allowing you to buy “lots and lots” of them so they can achieve economies of scale in construction and achieve synergies of numbers when deployed … where quantity has a quality all of its own.

    After that, it’s just a question of making sure that their “sea legs” are long enough to reach anywhere in the world … which can be done via underway replenishment ships (ie. motherships) and basing.

  2. Distiller permalink
    April 2, 2009 3:13 am

    If you want a submarine that can keep up (++) with a fleet, you have a fleet submarine, and nothing beats nuclear here. A small SSK should not transit on its own power, but be stationed close to its respective ops area. And if it needs repair, rent a floating drydock, or flo/flo it home.

    If you really wanted/needed a SSK to transit under own power, it should have a hull shaped like a WW2 boat and transit on surface. Which basically wouldn’t hurt, since once submerged and on AIP a SSK is happy to do even seven knots, which is perfectly do-able (and controlable) without bulbous bow hull. Look at the performance of the German Type XXI boats! (Also interesting to look at the Type XXVI layout, and how little basically has changed.)

  3. Heretic permalink
    April 2, 2009 12:37 am

    Probably Smitty. I don’t know what the range is at 20 knots. Hence why some means of underway replenishment would be ideal for giving small boats like this the necessary “sea legs” to cross oceans and deploy away from their home port for up to 3 months at a stretch, much like SSNs do.

  4. B.Smitty permalink
    April 1, 2009 9:46 pm


    The Type 212 tops out at 12kts surface and 20 submerged, but those aren’t its cruising speeds. Wikipedia says its range is 8000nm at 8kts, but what is it at 20? Will the task force have to stop to let the small SSKs refuel midway?

  5. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 1, 2009 9:30 pm

    My inspiration for a 2500 ton nuke sub is the French Rubis class. Also USS Skipjack was 3000 tons, not too far off.

  6. Heretic permalink
    April 1, 2009 1:04 pm

    Actually, upon reflection, I think I made an error in the shielding requirements I mentioned above. I think it’s supposed to be 1 inch of lead, not 12 inches. Under such a circumstance, 11 inches of ballast water would be the equivalent of 1 inch of lead … hence why the NR-1 could be designed the way it was, with no lead shielding aside from the forward bulkhead. My apologies for the error.

  7. Heretic permalink
    April 1, 2009 12:56 pm

    re: B.Smitty
    {Small AIP boats are useful for coastal defenses, but moving, supporting and sustaining them in an expeditionary environment around the world is another thing.}

    Hence why investment into something akin to a Submarine Tender designed to support a fleet of SSPs with underway replenishment would probably be a good idea. You could probably use specially outfitted JHSVs to “extend the legs” of these SSPs sufficiently to reach anywhere in the world you needed them to get to (by topping up their fuel, LOx and food supplies en route to theater). Something as “small” as a JHSV (at under 3000 tons, loaded) wouldn’t be able to carry the full complement of machine shops and other stores that the Emory S. Land class of submarine tender carries on it, but then there’s a difference in purpose between a floating repair ship and what amounts to a “mere tanker” for SSPs.


    re: B.Smitty
    {What’s a Type 212’s cruising speed snorking? 8kts? 10? 12? It would have to be carried by something to transit with a task force at 18-24kts.}

    Well, according to the wiki on the Type 212, they do 12 knots on the surface and 20 knots submerged. Running purely on AIP for a long haul, they’ll be slower submerged (more like 5-7 knots). Presumably if they’re snorkling, the could move at an 18-20 knot pace. Performance for the Gotland class is broadly similar. So to answer your question, they both ought to be able to “keep up” with an 18-20 knot task force speed.


    re: Mike
    {As for 2000 ton AIP subs, that will likely work, but if you have such large boats why not just stuff a nuke reactor in for simplicity’s sake?}

    You used the words “nuke reactor” and “simplicity” in the same sentence. The penalty is death.

    Snark aside … there’s a few problems (only a few?) with doing that. Obviously it’s possible to “fit” a small nuclear reactor into a (perishingly?) small submarine, since the NR-1 has a nuclear reactor in it and it weighs in at only 400 tons. The thing is, they had to make some compromises with the NR-1 in order to be able to do that … such as … radiation shielding.

    The problem is, with a nuclear reactor, you need to have radiation shielding. The standard rating of shielding you “need” for a reactor (according to the USN) is 12 inches of lead, to protect everyone on the boat not inside the reactor room. And if you know anything about submarines and their need to control their buoyancy, you’ll pretty quickly realize that lead (specific gravity, 11) is a lot denser than water (specific gravity, 1, by definition), which means that you need a lot more “open space” (filled with air, or vacuum) to provide enough positive buoyancy to offset the decidedly negative buoyancy of all that lead shielding around the reactor room. This has the effect of making the entire boat “bigger” just to make things “balance” on the buoyancy … and that’s even before you start dealing with issues like trim.

    Well, the NR-1 was going to be “too small” to have room for a nuke and all the shielding necessary and the ballast and trim tanks to make it all work inside the size of hull they were going to put it all in. The solution? 11 inches of water equals 1 inch of lead. Instead of using lead as the radiation shielding, it was decided to use ballast water as shielding, which since it’s neutrally buoyant, would not make the sub “too heavy” and sink it.

    So basically there’s a bulkhead of lead between the crew area (forward) and the reactor area (aft) … and nobody goes wandering around the aft end of the ship without a radiation suit, even when the reactor is shut down.

    And that’s even before getting into the whole “nuke subs are noisier by engineering demand(s) than conventional types running on batteries or AIP” issue, which by the way is something you really don’t want to be pushing your luck on when maneuvering around in the littorals and playing the game of “I’m not here” that subs need to play. I’m sure you’d stipulate to that Mike, at the very least.

    Plus there’s the fact that you’d need to design a whole new nuclear reactor for something like this, since there’s no way you’d be able to drop the reactor room of a SSN-774 boat into a 2000 ton (when submerged) hull. What’s that going to cost, in both time and money?

    Right now, there’s existing technology, in use, at sea, in service … that permits submerged operations for 2-3 weeks at a stretch without having to snorkle. Prior to conventional AIP, you either had your submerged time measured in hours/days (batteries) or in years (nuclear). With AIP, you can have weeks of submerged operations without needing to surface, and the limiting factor is how much LOx tankage is built into the design. It ought to be perfectly possible, if willing to compromise a bit at the design stage, to achieve a submerged AIP-only duration of a month, simply by building enough LOx reserve into the boat’s design. The question is … what does that “cost you” in terms of other capabilities (size, speed, stores, crew space, weapons, etc.).


    re: B.Smitty
    {“Steel is cheap and air is free.”}

    True … but magnetic mines are even cheaper … and I’m pretty sure the ocean has more water in it than you want inside your boat. Hence why the use of non-ferrous metals is on the rise in the construction of submarines, both conventional and nuclear.

  8. B.Smitty permalink
    April 1, 2009 9:24 am


    Large SSKs are still a LOT less expensive than nuke boats. “Steel is cheap and air is free.” after all.

  9. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 1, 2009 8:23 am

    And I think tenders or “motherships” that have been going around on the blogs will be essential for future expeditionary warfare. They will be the force enablers while these small warships will be the spear, of necessity I think due to the cost of large warships plus the vulnerability of the latter to lo-tech threats in littoral waters.

    I know all this is speculative but you can see it happening with the meltdown of defense procurement, and as budgets increasingly tighten. The game changer will be a real war at sea, and remember you read it first on the blogs.

    As for 2000 ton AIP subs, that will likely work, but if you have such large boats why not just stuff a nuke reactor in for simplicity’s sake? I have nothing against atomic subs, and I say if you have them keep them. The range and performance is just unbeatable. Still you may not want to risk your most expensive battleships with a simple mine of even getting stuck on a sandbar. Something smaller and cheaper is called for, and in all my research, even an old d/e subs still beats a modern N-sub for quietness.

  10. Distiller permalink
    April 1, 2009 4:04 am

    The HDW/Thyssen 212 class sure are nice boats. Perhaps even more interesting for littoral work, but would demand support by a tender (flo/flo?), is the new DCNS Andrasta class. Still the size of a Type VII, btw.

  11. B.Smitty permalink
    March 31, 2009 11:25 pm

    Small AIP boats are useful for coastal defenses, but moving, supporting and sustaining them in an expeditionary environment around the world is another thing.

    What’s a Type 212’s cruising speed snorking? 8kts? 10? 12? It would have to be carried by something to transit with a task force at 18-24kts.

    (This same mothership would presumably have to carry their fuel and oxidizer refueling system as well.)

    IMHO, if we want SSKs, we should be looking on the larger end of the spectrum (e.g. Collins class, Sōryū/Oyashio class) They’re still not fast snorking, but at least they can carry a useful portion of an SSN’s combat system (BYG-1 on the Collins)

  12. Heretic permalink
    March 31, 2009 10:06 pm

    Yeah … both the Gotland and 212 look like pretty solid boats. Difference is that the 212 has an export version available, the Type 214 which lacks some of the features of the 212 (such as the 212’s non-magnetic hull for instance). Apparently there have been problems with the first 214 for the Hellenic Navy, with (among other things) the fuel cell stack overheating(?!) … which then brings into question the maturity of the engineering/technology being used to manufacture those fuel cell stacks in the 214 (and by extension, the 212).

    In theory, I’d imagine that the fuel cell system ought to be more efficient, on balance, than the stirling system, as well as quieter (practically no moving parts upstream of the electric motors that drive the aft propulsor) than the stirling system. That’s because the stirling system still requires pistons, which means moving parts, which in turn can result in vibrations (that need to be isolated/dampened). Thing is, it sounds as if Kockums has managed to “figure out” how to do that with the stirling engine(s) they’re using, and have built a reliable/simple system that can be dropped into almost any SSK.

    Bare minimum … yeah … this is a technological domain that the USN should be very interested in, not something to shun (in favor of yet more blue water fantasies).

  13. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 31, 2009 9:23 pm

    I am very impressed with the German 212s. I think some conventional subs are worth checking into, especially for this littoral work. We used some pretty large boats to bedevil the Soviets close to shore in the Cold War. Perhaps then for us 1000 tons would be too small.

    But the Navy considers the conventional boats and newer AIP craft to be very dangerous, so maybe we should put some to work on our side.

  14. Heretic permalink
    March 31, 2009 8:54 pm

    re: Mike

    {Perhaps we could deploy some smaller 1000 ton subs like those Nordic coastal boats?}

    I presume you’re talking about such advanced SSPs as the Gotland of the Swedish Navy or the Type 212 of the German Navy. The USN has had an opportunity to discover firsthand just how … dangerous … Air Independent Propulsion is on submarines this small. These boats are under 2000 tons (submerged) and can operate in extremely shallow waters. The Type 212 is cleared to work in as little as 17m (55ft) of water, which no SSN would ever dare to brave as it would very likely “beach” itself on something in waters that shallow. They also have some rather interesting design features, such as the X-shaped stern planes among other things, which make them pretty much ideal littoral interdiction vessels.

    And Sweden is already working on the next generation of its SSP boats, with work (apparently) already proceeding on the A26 for an anticipated price of around 1.5 billion SEK (~$181 million current USD). Kinda makes you wonder what would happen to the price if the USN said something to Kockums like, “those look nice … can we work with you (at Electric Boat here, under liscense) and buy 50 copies of what you’re doing with the A26?”

    After that, all you’d “need to do” is figure out what would make a really good Submarine Tender (JHSV-variant?) so as to replenish these boats at sea so as to give them the “legs” needed to reach any stretch of coastline, anywhere in the world, and enough time on station to be really dangerous. Which brings up the whole “motherships supporting flotillas” angle again. Funny how that works out, isn’t it?

  15. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 31, 2009 3:55 pm

    I sort of agree with you here, Distiller. The main reason for calling the new missile ships “battleships” is partly for simplicity’s sake (with just a touch of sarcasm!). Today the terminology is skewed around USN cruisers and destroyers, European and Asian frigates which all basically do the same function, air defense, ASW, and with some type of offensive cruise missiles on board. Certainly they are the most dangerous surface ships ever built, even with only a few SSM onboard.

    I agree completely on the need to cut carriers, which have become a great drag on more essential warfighting requirements, and the USN is finding increasingly hard even to fill the carrier decks with adequate aircraft in adequate numbers. We love the Hornet but it is currently doing the work of 4 better aircraft from the late-Cold War, F-14s, A-7s, A-6s, and Prowlers.

  16. Distiller permalink
    March 31, 2009 3:01 pm

    I wouldn’t really call the large escorts “battleships”. Ticonderogas and Burkes are foremost (used as) defensive assets to protect the carriers; the percentage of offensive weaponry they carry is minimal – and could be done with cruise missile spitting B747s at a fraction of the costs. The U.S. Navy has as offensive (blue water) platforms only the carriers and the subs.

    When Zumwalt envisioned his Sea Control Ship, basically a flight deck cruiser, he not only tried to increase the presence, reach and capability of the blue water fleet against subsurface and secondary surface threats, but also give it more offensive (aerial) capability.

    Before anything changes in the U.S. Navy the number of CVNs has to be substantially cut. Only then there will be the resources and will to go a different path.

  17. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 31, 2009 12:42 pm

    Heretic, you have a small point here, and I was just repeating what the Navy itself posted, but still you must consider the “last man standing”, the warship able to keep other ships from getting to sea through use of its weapons, while allowing its own ships freedom is in control. Of course, if you decide to move into the littorals, capture some land, then that is a whole new ballgame. Battleships were used for sea control, as were aircraft carriers. If you consider the submarine as the capital ship of the future, if it can sink all other rivals, then it is in control. If you read Corbett, you know there is no such thing as total sea control.

    In the Falklands Conflict you mentioned, the RN Subs allowed the British task force to operate without interference from the Argentine Navy, however inadequate the latter was. The Subs gave the expeditionary forces freedom to operate. They had sea control. The enemy air forces did great damage, but as history reveals, couldn’t win on their own. In a future war at sea, the American attack subs will allow our expeditionary forces to do the same, and perhaps have been since the Cold War, as I argue here.

  18. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 31, 2009 12:16 pm

    Smitty: We currently have 4 major warships performing the battleship role, carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, 5 if you count large amphibious ships and some like Galrahn do. I Never said we should use the submarine for littoral operations, just the opposite. The navy considers its Virginia class as geared for the littorals, but at 8000 tons, I think this a suicidal role for such a large and expansive boat. Perhaps we could deploy some smaller 1000 ton subs like those Nordic coastal boats?

    If you consider the primary weapon at sea as the cruise missile, then obviously as we often argue here, the best launch platform is a submarine. As you well know, to fire its weapons it don’t need to rise to the surface anymore, to defend itself against other cruise missiles, or aerial defenses, it doen’t need very costly add-ons to be stealthy, it is inherently so just by diving.

    Submarines can still support land operations with its missiles, but it lacks the ability to linger around and perform close support. So for this you still need some surface craft, which is why I advocate corvette size vessels or less. If you are going near to shore where the cruise missile threat is greater, YOU MUST HAVE SMALL, EXPENDABLE WARSHIPS. Anyway, you are going to lose some ships, better it be a few of a very large number, than a few of a very few number, like the large missile battleships we currently, and I think foolishly use for littoral operations.

  19. B.Smitty permalink
    March 31, 2009 10:43 am

    In the types of littoral conflicts we’re currently engaged (GWOT, counter-piracy), subs have limited utility. At least large warships can protect shipping lanes, perform VBSS, and perform counter-piracy, even if they are far from ideal. large warships can also protect smaller warships and patrol vessels from air attack, and act as command and control nodes. Subs can’t.

    We are not engaged in a shooting war with China or Russia.

    Even against Iran, SSNs and airpower will make short work of the large warships in the Iranian Navy. After this, subs will be limited to TLAM strikes, coastal ISR and SEAL support. They can’t deal with with the Iranian small boat swarms (other than to avoid them).

    We certainly do need subs – as many as we can afford. My point is, we have to recognize their limitations in anything short of full scale war with China.

    They are supreme in their domain, and very difficult to kill. But outside of that, they have many limitations.

    I’ve often wondered if there are ways to give SSNs more utility on the surface, while not sacrificing their undersea prowess. I could envisage a VBSS piggyback container containing a pair of RHIBs. Or adding ESSM/SM-2s along with radar and fire control upgrades to allow them to perform limited AAW escort.

    A big improvement for maritime security roles would come with the addition of a helo. But I imagine adding one to the Virginia hull would be not at all cost-effective.

    It feels like this type of thinking could lead to a Rube Goldberg monstrosity that costs a lot more, and wasn’t good at anything, but the idea still appeals to me, for some reason.

    Perhaps it’s because we want to build high-end combatants and high-end submarines, but can’t afford large enough build rates to make economies of scale kick in. So I keep trying to think of a means to combine the two platforms and then build twice as many. I fear it may be a lost cause.

  20. Heretic permalink
    March 31, 2009 10:13 am

    “Submarines are the quintessential sea-control platforms …”


    There is a difference between Sea Control … and Sea Denial.
    Control Denial Contested Denial Control

    Control *implies* that your dominance is unchallenged. “Control of the skies” along with “Air Superiority/Dominance” spring to mind, in which all enemy forces are (quite literally) CLEARED from the theater of operations. Not so with Denial. With Denial, you do not “control” the area, but you DENY freedom of movement/action with impunity to an opposing force.

    What the RN did during the Falklands War was a Sea Denial operation. They didn’t CONTROL the sea in their quadrant off the coast, they simply DENIED its use to the Argentines, thus upsetting their plans for resupply/reinforcement of forces on the islands. HMS Conqueror did not “control” the seas around the islands, she merely *denied* the Argentine Navy the opportunity to move around at will.

    In order to CONTROL an area, the enemy needs to KNOW that you’re THERE so that they won’t contest your “control” of that area. That means (in the naval context) surface ships, which can be positively identified (both in peace and in wartime). If the enemy can only *suspect* your forces are in an area, but don’t *know* you have forces in that area, you are merely DENYING the area to them, you’re not CONTROLLING it.

    That’s why shortly after hostilities over the Falklands started, the UK Government very deliberately let it be known, publicly, that the RN had at least one (if not more) submarines operating in the area (which as it turned out, happened to be true). Just by making that public statement, the RN was able to initiate a doctrine of Sea Denial … as opposed to Sea Control … in the region around the Falklands.

    Submarines DO NOT CONTROL the seas. At best, they can DENY them to the enemy (of the moment). If you want to CONTROL the sea(s), you need surface ships, so that the enemy *knows* that you’re present (there) and is motivated to not challenge your dominance in that area.

    Or as they like to say in the mud moving services … “The only land you control is the dirt you’re standing on.”

  21. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 31, 2009 9:19 am

    Large surface combatants are too risky for the type of littoral conflicts we are engaged in. Subs are needed to maintain Blue Water dominance, the sea control I discuss here. The idea that we need large surface warships like carriers and missile battleships to “scare” our enemies with presence is ludicrous. Warships should be built to fight, not overawe an enemy. Eventually someone will be bold enough to test our giant warships, and how interesting it would be the simplest of all threats in the form of a suicide boat knocking USS Cole out of commission for a year.

    We build these very costly battlefleets and use them for combating very poor asymmetric foes, as in the Third World. In a future missile war at sea, the Navy plans to flee the littorals to keep their superships out of harms way. Then they will wish they had more stealthy subs and expendable attack ships to fight a real war for sea control. Hope they have time to make up the difference, but as you know, “you go to war with the military you have”.

  22. B.Smitty permalink
    March 31, 2009 9:08 am

    Hey Mike,

    Again I ask, Sea Control for what purpose?

    Subs are next to worthless for controlling the seas against pirates and Al Qaeda, and can only control surface and and undersea environments. They can’t control the air or space overhead. Large surface combatants can influence or control all four environments.

    I agree that in any conflict with China, SSNs and SSGNs will be a primary means of rolling back their A2/AD network. Until that happens, operating near Chinese shores may be too dangerous for surface ships.

    But short of that, IMHO, surface combatants have greater utility.


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