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Sub Hunters Take a Dive Pt 3

July 1, 2009
Third Russian Kilo-class submarine purchased by Iran.

Third Russian Kilo-class submarine purchased by Iran.

If anyone doubts the utility of old fashioned diesel electric submarines when navies now operate nuclear attack submarines, fast attack supercarriers, and very sophisticated anti-missile destroyers, apparently Russia does not share this skepticism. Realizing that to a minor power, a conventional sub is a capital ship, and also that such silent and stealthy craft cause even superpowers major concern, the former communist power plans on selling to anyone with a need, according to Ria Novosti:

Russia could sell up to 40 fourth-generation diesel-electric submarines to foreign customers by 2015, state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport said on Wednesday.
“Russia’s export potential in this market sector is very high thanks to Project 636 and Amur-1650 class submarines equipped with the Club-S integrated missile systems,” Rosoboronexport said in a press release.
The Project 636 Kilo-class submarine is thought to be one of the most silent submarine classes in the world. It has been specifically designed for anti-shipping and anti-submarine operations in relatively shallow waters.
Russia has built Kilo-class submarines for India, China and Iran.

The USS Kobayashi Maru

Star Trek Crew Member

Star Trek Crew Member

The famed Kobayashi Maru test from the popular Star Trek space operas involved a “no win” scenario in which an aspiring starship captain might have to face overwhelming odds in the performance of duty. A young James Kirk defied these odds and won by changing the outcome of the test, or in other words, he cheated! In real life, however, you might change the way you play the game of war, but if you break the basic rules of warfare you are dead.

In the US Navy, their version of the Kobayashi Maru test might be called “the no lose scenario”, more close to that favored by the fictional Captain Kirk. By basing their entire naval strategy on a handful of costly giant warships, they gamble the security of the sea lanes on a concept untried in warfare, that of few or no causalities in a future conflict, or by avoiding conflict altogether. Instead of preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, they prepare for the best, and hope there will never be an opportunity where these exquisite and very costly ships will be tested in battle. In reality, though, the history of war at sea has never been so obliging.

Charge of the Light Brigade at Sea

The roots of this self-delusion can be found early in the Cold War. Back in the 1950s and faced with Stalin’s plan to deploy 1200 submarines against the West (the actual figure eventually amounted to less than 400), the US Navy came to the conclusion that the only way to contend with such an overwhelming force was a change in the way submarines were fought. So, instead of taking to heart the hard-won antisubmarine lessons of the recent world war, the leadership changed the rules claiming they had a better way to defeat the new U-boats. Ronald H. Spector in his book At War, At Sea describes the plan developed by then Deputy CNO Vice Admiral Forrest Sherman:

Sherman argued that the enormous numbers of advanced submarines could not be countered by the traditional methods of convoy and anti-submarine warfare; the Soviet submarine threat must be attacked “at the source,” using naval air to attack submarines in their bases and support facilities. To do that, aircraft carriers would have to approach close to the Soviet Union in range of land-based Russian aircraft.

Interestingly enough, it was a plan based on the new Navy capital ships, the giant supercarriers now entering service, which the admirals had fought tooth and nail to acquire. These would be backed by new high-end missile cruiser and destroyers, plus advanced nuclear submarines as they became available. Such a force also allowed the Navy to compete with the Air Force’s strategic bomber fleet for the coveted nuclear deterrent mission. Anti submarine warfare was sidelined to the air-admirals obsession with Big Decks and budget rivalries. In the 1980s, a revised version of this plan to sail into the Soviet Navy’s submarine bastions was adopted by Navy Secretary John Lehman in Ronald Reagan’s 600 Ship Navy .

It was a poor substitute for a very complicated form of warfare, one in which the combined armed forces had been required to combat in 1941-1945. Then it was the Air Force’s bombers, the Navy’s destroyers and escorts, frigates, small carriers, corvettes, sloops, and even Coast Guard cutters which finally overwhelmed the Axis submarines. “Never mind” said the Navy. “We have found a better way”, but it was one untested in combat, and remains so to this day.

Avoiding the Armageddon at Sea

From what we have learned this week, it appears the submarine is very likely, in the next war at sea, set to expand on its reputation as the greatest ship-killer in history. We are not sure if the dire situation which we have allowed anti-submarine warfare to fall can be reversed, but here are some suggestions:

  • A freeze on the construction of all large warships, with savings going to increase smaller hulls geared toward anti-submarine warfare.
  • A very long-range replacement for ASROC, which should be able to strike at submarines before the latter can come into torpedo range.
  • High Speed Vessels which should be fast enough to outrun a torpedo. 50 knots is good, but 100 would be better. Also stealth features to help avoid cruise missiles.
  • UAVs to replace ASW helicopters, as the new drones can stay on patrol far longer and can also be launched from smaller corvette type warships. In some cases they are also faster than the helo.
  • Build conventional subs, SSK’s especially geared toward hunting other submarines. There is some evidence much quieter conventional boats are a threat to the larger and noisier nuclear submarines, especially in littoral waters.
Peruvian submarine underway with the guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman.

Peruvian submarine underway with the guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman.

If any of these fail to answer the threat posed by the rise of the new battleship at sea, then we might try “if you can’t beat them join them”. We once proposed an “All Submarine Navy” which would give the fleet a single very survivable and deadly capital vessel, instead of the vulnerable and too pricey “All Battleship Navy” it currently deploys. While such a force geared to moving the Navy under the sea to survive might do the merchant navy little good, at least there will be something left when the next Armageddon at Sea comes, due to the West for the third time in a century ignoring or discounting the submarine threat to surface ships. Considering how amazingly advanced and well armed they have become in 65 years, we think it the last time the undersea boats’ abilities will be ignored.

Concluded tomorrow.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Defiant permalink
    July 2, 2009 4:12 am

    well , theres a hardkill version of the lightweight torpedo, don’t know wheather ships are usually equipped with it.
    Is there a ship with a speed of 100kts able to carry some payload? 100kts is probably race boat only territory.
    I saw an article recently of General ELectric (iirc) developing a drone boat able to carry sonarbuoys and some other stuff for the navy, could be the right way to go.

  2. Mike Burleson permalink
    July 1, 2009 7:31 pm

    “You can probably also launch depth charges while running away to destroy the torpedo”

    The Navy version of Chaff. Such a simple idea, why hasn’t anyone ever though of this. Wonder if you could place reactive armor below the waterline to detonate away the torpedo explosion?

  3. July 1, 2009 7:22 pm

    @ Scott B: Oh ho! You noticed that AIP bit too did you? Me too! ’bout 1/10th of a second AFTER I hit the “submit” button. dang. Anyway, just me being to fast typing instead of thinking it over a second! duh. (anyway, sorry, never saw that response you made) But…hey….”lurking”??? play nice, huh?

    @ Alex: Sorry, have to explain, over and over and over again…..I don’t mean “blimps”….which indeed, are slow, fragile, etc, etc.

    No….we’re talking airships, lifted by helium yes, but built out of carbon fiber. Ultralight weight, super strong. Strong enough to carry much more powerful engines (JETS)…so you end up with something you can field at about 175 kts. Not super, but several times faster than surface vessels.

    And… it comes: STEALTHY. Not a big round blimp looking thing….but something a bit more like a B-2, that’s simply been enlarged. Keeps the same profile, built of the same materials. In practice, should simply fly/hover only a few feet off of water surface…

    again, more at my place…….

    “lurking”…why the very thought!

  4. Heretic permalink
    July 1, 2009 3:43 pm

    Building small ships or having blueprints shouldnt be so much of a problem

    I now refer you to Kelly Johnson’s unwritten rule for the Skunk Works:

    Starve, before dealing with the {censored} Navy.

    If having blueprints weren’t such a problem, we’d have 10 copies of LCS in the water already.

  5. Defiant permalink
    July 1, 2009 2:26 pm

    well maybe there are torpedos going 72knts or more but this speed greatly decreases its range.
    The closest to the High Speed vessel would probably be the skjold class, which can speed up to 60 kts, i did a little it of calculation assuming the maximum range at 72kt of the torpedo would be 20000m (i wanted to use 20nm but messed up and used 20km which is propably an even more accurate assumption) with this data the submarine would have to launch at a distance of 3330m for the torpedo to hit (assuming the skjold is directed in the same direction as the torpedo and senses the torpedo immediatly after launch and also neglecting the acceleration of the skjold)
    So fitting the skjold with sonar/tsa could probably make a good submarine hunter .
    You can probably also launch depth charges while running away to detroy the torpedo and while still being in range for an asroc.
    Combine this ship with a small helicopter/uav carrier (without welldeck and lots of cargo space, only helos and tender for the skjold) to drop sonarbuoys and you have a decent asw fleet. (i dont have much knowledge about detecting ranges of torpedos, if you have, pls let me know)

    Building small ships or having blueprints shouldnt be so much of a problem, take corvette hull and attach the systems you need, 57mm gun, 8 or 16 cell vls, 4 anti ship missiles, ciws, helo deck with hangar and uav capability, a small boat, some space for a boarding team, this would weigh about 1000t and some ship builder who has experience with corvettes can create the blue prints in a few months.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink
    July 1, 2009 2:17 pm

    Heretic, the freeze on battleship production in the 20s and 30s helped boost greater reliance on naval aviation. After the battlewagons were smoked at Pearl Harbor, it was mostly these plus the smaller surface ships like cruisers and destroyers which held the line in the early desperate naval actions of the South Pacific. A freeze on big ships may be the shot in the arm which will save us in the next war at sea.

    A basic tactic of a surface vessel is trying to outmaneuver a torpedo after it is fired. If she can’t out run it, the combatant can surely outlast it, until the weapon runs out of fuel.

  7. Heretic permalink
    July 1, 2009 9:31 am

    Sorry Mike, but it’s always going to be far easier to move a hundred kilos of missile/torpedo than it is a few thousand tons of ship. You aren’t going to outrun missiles with ship speeds. That’s fantasy, from beginning to end.

    The trouble with replacing ASROC is that you need to DETECT the submarine first, before you can shoot at it. You could have a 300nmi ASROC(X) in the arsenal, and it will do you all {censored} good if your ASW capability means you can only detect subs within 10 nmi. After all, you can only shoot at what you *know* to be there … unless you prefer the rather wasteful practice of Recon By Fire as your standard operating procedure.

    And a freeze on all big ship construction? BEFORE having a plan for what to build instead? A plan with *details* and NUMBERS in it? I’m sorry Mike, but that’s wishful thinking in the extreme. And build WHAT small ships and sub hunters? There’s no plans on the books to even reorient the shipbuilding plans in this direction … and by plans, I mean no blueprints to work from. What are we going to do? Plow everything back into LCS?

  8. Mike Burleson permalink
    July 1, 2009 9:04 am

    Alex said “the RNs can do 72kts easy”

    Good point. Better look to the 100 knot scenario.

    Scott said “You won’t outrun a torpedo if you cannot detect it in the first place.’

    Another good point. Just trying to save something for the surface guys.

  9. July 1, 2009 8:06 am

    arn’t airships slow and rather lacking in manoverability? and with a propensity for going boom all of their own accord?

    I might be being remarkably dense here; but isn’t anything the size of an airship at anyheight going to show up on radar like the sole piece of pepperroni on an otherwise cheese and tomato sauce pizza?

    and if you do overcome all these problems…how is it going to be more useful any other airbourne air defence; as whilst it maybe able to stay there for a long time…the trouble really being getting it anywhere else in time to be useful

    yours sincerly


  10. Scott B. permalink
    July 1, 2009 7:56 am

    Campbell, since you’re lurking.

    Here is what you wrote in your last blog entry (emphasis added) :

    “Coupling these with other forms of power generation such as fuel cells or AIP

    I dropped you a message asking why an airship would need AIP (i.e. Air Independent Propulsion).

    The message disappeared for whatever reason.

    No answer was posted.

    Leaving aside the somewhat negative impression this might produce on a first-time visitor, I’m still interested to know what your answer might be…

  11. July 1, 2009 7:39 am

    “High Speed Vessels which should be fast enough to outrun a torpedo. 50 knots is good, but 100 would be better. Also stealth features to help avoid cruise missiles.” and “UAVs to replace ASW helicopters, as the new drones can stay on patrol far longer”

    Heh heh. Coming over to the Dark Side?

    AIRSHIPS gentlemen.
    Faster, steathier, more versatile, longer legs. Oooooh!

  12. Scott B. permalink
    July 1, 2009 7:20 am

    You won’t outrun a torpedo if you cannot detect it in the first place.

    LCS has no organic sensors to detect torpedos : she’s a sitting duck, no matter how fast she can (or cannot) go…

  13. July 1, 2009 7:15 am

    sorry mike, 50kts can not out run a torpedo…the RNs can do 72kts easy, and the next generation…are just getting faster

    yours sincerly


  14. Scott B. permalink
    July 1, 2009 6:41 am

    Mike Burleson said : “High Speed Vessels which should be fast enough to outrun a torpedo. 50 knots is good, but 100 would be better. Also stealth features to help avoid cruise missiles.”

    Perfect illustration of what I told you many times : you’re re-running the LCS software, hoping the re-boot will make all the bugs disappear.

    Didn’t you learn anything from the current fiasco ?

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