Unleash the TLAM Warships Pt 2
It is a little frustrating when you consider with our 86 TLAM (Tomahawk Land Attack Missile) armed surface battleships in service , the USN has next to nothing for the low-end spectrum of warfare, the kind she most often contends with, save for a few aged frigates and coastal patrol ships. For the price of a single Burke destroyer (around $2 billion) several frigates (LCS), or a squadron of High Speed Vessels, or a whole fleet of small patrol boats could be acquired for shallow water threats. Still there is no denying that in the last 20 years while the aircraft carrier union has been struggling with buying enough adequate warplanes for its over-priced decks, the surface and submarine community has deployed a potent arsenal of some 10,000 missiles based in vertical launchers (VLS), with firepower and accuracy the likes of which the world has never seen. Concerning this, here is something we wrote way back in 2003 titled “America’s Vast Missile Magazine“:
Robert Work, a retired Marine Colonel and an analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments stated in “Navy Times” last week: “The Navy has fielded a tremendous capability in a relatively short amount of time. The Navy has transformed itself into a vast mobile, missile magazine.” What Colonel Work is referring to is the widespread employment of the Vertical Launch System (VLS) on board US warships, and the remarkable capability it offers to surface as well as sub commanders, offering them an anti-surface as well as overland strike capacity unheard in naval warfare…
The first class of warships to carry VLS was the Baseline 2 “Bunker Hill” class guided missile cruisers, built in the early 1980’s. Each carried 122 missiles and included a total 22 ships. Later “Spruance” class ships were likewise converted. Interestingly, the “Spruance” VLS can fire Tomahawk as well as ASROC; it is considered a DD or general-purpose destroyer and not a guided missile destroyer. The “Arleigh Burke” guided missile destroyers continue the VLS tradition, with launchers fore and aft. Considered an “Aegis lite” with 75% its capability, a total of 90+ missiles are carried carrying a mix of Tomahawks and Standard SAMs. The “Los Angeles” class submarines, beginning with SSN 719, carried 12 Tomahawks in a Vertical launcher behind the fin. The next class, “Seawolf”, returned to the older torpedo tube version, while newer “Virginia” ships will reintroduce the VLS in American submarine design.
During the 1990’s the Navy planned a floating missile barge dubbed the “Arsenal Ship”. It would have been built on a modified Arleigh Burke hull and carry anywhere from 500 to 1000 missiles! A very promising design that was soon canceled because of budgetary reasons and doubts in the design. The idea was recently revived in a new form by remodeling 4 old Trident “boomer” submarines, being discarded because of nuclear arms reductions, and turning them into SSGN subs, able to fire 155 Tomahawk cruise missiles. The big Tridents’ vast hull allows them to carry 66 Special Forces in addition to their equipment. The first, “USS Florida” recently underwent successful tests in the Caribbean Sea.
Obviously the Tomahawk cruise missile, costing around $600,000, with each weapon lost after launching, can never perform sorties or close air support like the traditional manned naval bomber (though future naval UAVs likely will and already do so on land). When you consider however, the supreme effort it takes to deploy the manned airwings, multiple billion dollar carriers, and equally pricey missile escorts plus submarines, and the logistics train, in contrast to one Arleigh Burke destroyer or a Virginia class submarine which can perform many of the same functions, then the real cost difference is put into perspective.
Hopefully in the near future, the USN will build many smaller missile launching corvettes and conventional submarines, which will take further advantage of the power of modern missiles at less cost. Smaller common platforms would easily double or triple our general purpose operating forces, vital naval assets which we never have enough of in wartime. Capability and firepower would then be spread around the fleet, greatly easing our presence deficit.
Concluded Wednesday with Corbett’s justification of the TLAM Battleships!