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More Reason for the Surface Navy to Worry

June 16, 2009

seawolf3Submarines may get a “Cloak of Silence” further enhancing their already considerable stealth, according to this article from Discovery News:

“Our focus is not about dampening noise, but to guide sound waves around structures,” said Nicholas Fang, a professor a the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and coauthor, along with Shu Zhang and Leilei Yin, on a paper that appears in the journal Physical Review Letters.

For example, “if we have a coating on a submarine that bends acoustics waves before they hit the surface, guiding them around the submarine smoothly, then you won’t be able to detect a submarine using sonar.”
The same technology that could render a military submarine invisible to sonar could also be used to create high-definition, in-utero baby pictures or detect previously undetectable, tiny tumors.

I occasionally wonder if we aren’t deluding ourselves, building ever larger warships which are leading to historically smaller fleet numbers. And with all our technology we still haven’t solved the U-boat problem which in the last world war took the combined exerptise and industrial might of 3 navies to finally defeat.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 17, 2009 9:22 pm

    Back in the Cold War, the US Navy planned to sail into the Soviet waters where were the submarine bases and destroy the enemy before he had a chance to sail into the Blue Water, Realistically, given the advances in submarine capability, and the decline of Western ASW techniques which I consistently detail on the blog, I think the situation will be quite opposite.

    Admiral Doenitz had little trouble in concentrating his Wolf Packs against Allied convoys. Why in this age of greatly enhanced communications can we expect less from the modern U-boats?

    I agree that it was pretty much one-sided for America submariners in the Pacific War. Considering the lack of specialized ASW escorts in any numbers, or any long-range ASW weapon, how can it not be similar to the surface navy who once again assure us they have the threat well in hand, but they didn’t in the past. Today we are the Japanese with some very advanced but irreplacable warships, and China is us.

  2. June 17, 2009 3:43 pm

    The possibilities to counter countermeasures are dim under water.

    Blue/green lasers have afaik very limited range – enough for shallow waters vertical application, but afaik not enough for more than target confirmation (LADAR) in horizontal applications.

    Electrostatic stuff (or how that’s being called) is short ranged as well.

    There’s pretty much just one effective sensor method: Acoustic.

    Add this to the existing datalink problem (no effective radio comm) and the slow speed of acoustic waves* and you get a very difficult environment for offensive use of sensors.
    (*: It’s possible to mount microphones away from the hull and analyze a signal in time to counter it with an own signal at the time of impact on the hull.)

    I like subs, but I don’t trust subs. It would be a huge mistake to focus on subs as ship killers – too much systemic risk. Subs are furthermore few, it’s hard to concentrate them for fleet actions and have a new concentration quickly somewhere else. That’s the strength of air power (in addition to the fact that air power is much more versatile).

    Ship-launched ASCMs are not very different to normal ASCMs. A sub launching a six-missile ASCM strike is the equivalent of a single strike fighter flight’s sortie.
    The strike fighters have additional possibilities like the synchronized use of ARMs to improve the ASCM’s chances.

    By the way; the allied submarine successes against the IJN aren’t that impressive because the ASW threat was low to marginal. Gatos and Balaos would have been slaughtered in the Battle of the Atlantic II.
    The advantage of Gato/Balao subs was their ability to fight “behind enemy lines” during the Pacific War. This advantage seems to be non-existing for today’s Western subs in the even of war. Our potential enemies would face such a pressure on their naval bases that their ability to sustain a sub campaign would be in question even if their subs were great.
    The strategic context is important. This applies to military history precedents, too.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 17, 2009 3:09 pm

    Recall also Sven that both US and Germans submarines suffered from faulty torpedo’s early in the war. Battle experience soon changed the direction of the war, with the Germans fixing their faulty fish much sooner. US submariners ended their careers in the pacific War as the most lethal ship-sinker of any weapon on any side of the war, including the celebrated naval aircraft.

    Have you forgotten the new and deadliest weapon carried by the new U-boats, the cruise missile? the threat from these have forced world navies to fashion complicated anti-missile systems to keep the traditional style surface ship relevant in an age of computer GPS and precision technology. The question being, is the extreme cost of defending their giant surface ship worth the latter’s usefulness in modern war?

  4. June 17, 2009 12:50 pm

    The guided torpedo was invented during WW2 and almost immediately fooled by towed decoys.

    Modern subs would be ill-armed if the world wars were relevant experience.

    Mike, did you know this? (Similar capability was claimed for a MU90 version and the U.S. had or has a project called “ATT” for the same purpose.)

    Or this?

    Add the towed decoys, possibly dinghy-based decoys, rocket-launcher-deployed decoys, surface ships running silent & slow, extension of magnetic field for premature fuzing, acoustic tiles on surface warships below the waterline, manipulation of acoustic profiles, …

    I guess even the USN doesn’t know for sure how deadly subs are at all. They know their systems and countermeasures, most allied ones and have some info about foreign ones – but they don’t know for sure.
    Torpedoes may be ultimate killers – one shot = one kill.
    They might as well be total tactical duds.

    My guess is that fibreoptic cables are a great thing if they allow the full synthesis of several torpedoes’ sonar data. This sensor fusion may be a great ace – but cables get cut at times.
    I have rather little trust in old torpedo targeting systems. Torpedoes with 80’s electronics (including all Mk.46 and many older ADCAP versions) are probably useless against modern countermeasures.

  5. Heretic permalink
    June 17, 2009 10:06 am

    If we were REALLY smart, Congress would be working out a way for Electric Boat in Connecticut to be working with Kockums in Sweden on development and production of the A26 … the follow on class to the Gotland … so that we could build some for ourselves and save both us … and the Swedish Navy … a fair chunk of cash.

    Good thing we’re not that smart, eh?

    {sounds of weeping}

  6. Distiller permalink
    June 17, 2009 9:19 am

    No, he’s right. Smart decoys and small interceptor torpedos *could* pose a problem for conventional torpedos in a few years.
    But there is still a lot of room for development – like 3D maneuvering torpedos akin to dive-bombing missiles for example, and torpedos with more situational awareness.

  7. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 17, 2009 8:57 am

    Sven said “There\’s simply no real-world experience.”

    Two world wars?

  8. June 17, 2009 6:21 am

    It\’s actually extremely difficult to tell how effective subs are at all. Their torpedoes could be deadly carnage machines or dumb and easily tricked (even easily killed) munitions. There\’s simply no real-world experience.

    Their anti-ship cruise missiles (UGM-84, SM39 and the likes) are probably the best understood variable in the whole sub equation.

  9. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 16, 2009 9:24 pm

    If we didn’t buy the other things, we could afford more subs. Like you I think the ones we have are too costly, and would love to see a return to smaller conventional subs. But if we must have a capital ship, I would choose the most survivable and one most deadly to other ships, which is the submarine. So if you have one weapon which can defeat all your other weapons, logically you would spend the bulk of your funds there.

  10. DesScorp permalink
    June 16, 2009 8:00 pm

    I occasionally wonder if we aren’t deluding ourselves, building ever larger warships which are leading to historically smaller fleet numbers

    Buying subs aren’t going to help fleet numbers. Quite the opposite. Except for Carriers and Amphibs, subs are more expensive than surface ships. The “cheap” Virginia class subs are now more expensive than the Seawolf class that was supposedly too expensive. I’ll promise you that if you took a Virginia class boat and made it diesel-only, it’d still be more expensive than anything but a flattop.

    I’m all for more subs, but price isn’t an argument for buying them.

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