The Navy and the Missile Threat Pt 1
The following was inspired by a conversation within the comments recently
There can be, it must be emphasized, no invulnerable ship, and excessive attention to passive defence takes resources away from the primary role of a warship.
DK Brown writing in The Future British Surface Fleet
Since the 1970s the US Navy has built or ordered 99 Aegis equipped anti-missile warships, the 27 CG-47 Ticonderoga class cruisers (5 decommissioned) and 62 DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class destroyers which their own websight describes as “the most powerful surface combatant ever put to sea.” They are also the most expensive now averaging $2 billion each.
During the same 40-yr time period only about 50 low end escort frigates of the Perry class have been built. Such vessels easy to build and cheap to operate are historically the most numerous and some of the fleet’s hardest working vessels, until more recent times. Only a single such craft has been commissioned in the last twenty years, the new Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom.
Obviously then the Navy sees the guided missile as a greater threat, otherwise it wouldn’t also have devised the $10 million each SM-3 Standard to shoot down rogue ballistic missiles. This weapon, about the cost of a new M-1 tank now defends a Navy almost totally committed with countering the missile threat against its ships.
History reveals missile weapons have been a major concern throughout, and not just at sea. The Medieval French knight tried to contend with the English Longbow by the overwhelming force of its charge, and when this failed, by adding even more armor to its already heavy cavalry. Such a costly tactic only slowed the knights down so they tried dismounting and hiring Genoese crossbowmen, sort of a poor-man’s longbow, but this strategy failed as well. The French gave up for a while trying to adapt their traditional tactics to the new warfare, until another missile weapon restored the balance. The use of firearms defeated the English archers at their own game, even though the new weapons were nowhere near as efficient, or possessed of better range, and the rate of fire of the guns was sadly below that of a longbow.
What made the difference however, the new technology was perfectly suited for mass production, and their operators could learn their use in a few hours, compared to a lifetime of training needed to wield the longbow. Here was a true weapon for the masses which had no small part in the revolutions between monarchism and Republicanism that would envelop Europe and eventually the world.
Bringing us back to the Missile Age, such advanced weapons are far from efficient as traditional manned aircraft, the chosen weapons of Great Democracies like America and Britain. They are certainly far from cheap as we see with the SM-3. For a poorer nation, however, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, surface to air missiles, down to rocket propelled grenades are much easy to purchase on the arms market, and also easier to deploy in numbers. Such nations may lack the ability to deploy significant numbers of jets, or construct huge airbases, and build air schools to train pilots, but they can easily set up a missile battery with aid from more advanced and often unfriendly nations as China and Russia.
Not everyone can become a pilot, but any youth who can master a video game can be taught to operate a missile battery, or learn to control a “reusable cruise missile” in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles. Hence the title “push button warfare”, with the guided missile as a new weapon for the masses, of great concern to the powers that be.
The new Navy might learn a lesson from the old French knights, that continuing to increase defenses will only raise costs and hull size while delaying the inevitable. The armored horsemen eventually shed off their armor, and played an important but secondary role for the next few centuries, or dismounted altogether to join the foot soldier in column as the arbiters of new mass firepower based on numbers. Instead of seeking to counter the abilities of the guided missile, the sailors might take advantage of its practical qualities, to build many smaller and less defensive minded warships best able to take advantage of this new threat at sea.
Tomorrow-Admiral Metcalf sees the future.