Submarines: Why Worry?
That was the attitude lately when two Russian nuclear powered Akula subs cruised off America’s coastline, an alarming reminder of old Cold War tensions. With the Navy mostly concerned with carrier warfare and shooting down the occasional ballistic missile fired by rogue states like North Korea, we should be alarmed that for the third time in a century they are ignoring the threat of the Evolutionary Submarine, as we detailed in this post from 2007:
The submarine is a unique and amazing invention in that after its modern incarnation a little over 100 years ago it continues to evolve, while surface warships such as aircraft carriers, cruisers, and destroyers have changed little ( save in size, cost, and weaponry) since World War 2, and in some cases have regressed. The following are 5 examples of how the roles of the Undersea Boat have changed in the last Century, and continues to do so in this new one:
1). Pre-World War 1: Torpedo Boat-The latter craft never lived up to expectations (save for at least one notable exception) though they were built in the hundreds by France and Russia.This was the original mission envisioned by the early submarine theorists, to surprise and attack bigger warships, using its stealthy diving ability.
2). World War 1: Commerce Raider: The surface commerce raider was never the threat imagined by pre-war theorists, with the few German examples soon swept from the seas after several headline-making battles. In contrast, the submarine sank more merchant ships in all history up to that time.
3). World War 2: The Cruiser-When the war began, the larger navies possessed so-called “cruiser submarines”, some with ranges of 10,000 miles or more and loading aircraft! The Americans used these vessels much like their namesakes, as long-range scouts, and to attack enemy merchantmen and warships. As the war entered its final stages, with airpower predominant, the old surface cruisers were forced into the new carrier task forces for mutual self-protection, while the subs continued to sail on independent missions.
4). Early Cold War: The Destroyer-Streamline hulls and nuclear power in the 1950’s provided the submarines with speeds to match their primary antagonist, the anti-sub destroyer. Armed with torpedoes, the new boats are a greater threat to other warships, and advanced underwater sensors give it a renewed capability to defeat submarines, once the prime function of the old “greyhounds” of the Navy.
5). Late Cold War and the Future: The Aircraft Carrier?-Armed with cruise missiles, they now possessed the extended reach of the carrier’s naval bombers. Increasingly, the cruise missiles can loiter like the manned planes, as well as ferry separate payloads as do the bombers. Experiments are also being conducted in launching unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which themselves are improving in range, payload, and capability.
Whatever the current faults of today’s archaic Russian Navy, we think the US Navy ignores the submarine threat to its peril. However important Expeditionary Carrier and Marine Amphibious Fleets, they are of little use if they are denied freedom of passage to their intended target. Considering how far the new U-boats have advanced since World War 2, with enhanced stealth and propulsion systems, not to mention the long -reach of cruise missiles, plus the fact that it took the combined industrial might of three navies to defeat them, we see them in a position to become an equal threat to surface warships as they were to the slow and poorly armed merchantmen of the last world war.