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Missiles Will Dominate Future Sea War

July 13, 2010

Japanese Aegis destroyer JDS Kirishima.

There’s plenty food for thought about the next war at sea, in the following article from David Axe at World Politics Review. Citing how some are taking the Chinese threat seriously, he posts ” Japan Counters China’s Naval Build-Up“:

Japan, for one, is quietly enhancing military capabilities that themselves pose a serious threat to the fast-growing Chinese navy. Indeed, for all China’s rapid naval expansion, the strategic scales in the Pacific still tilt in favor of the U.S. and Japan — and should continue to do so, provided the ruling Democratic Party of Japan maintains Japan’s current course.

This in response to a provocative buildup by the Mainland:

In the last decade, China has accelerated its production of large warships, aiming to replace hundreds of Cold War-era coastal patrol vessels with ships capable of traveling far from shore for extended periods of time. In addition to scores of destroyers, frigates and amphibious assault ships, China is also modifying the incomplete, former Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag for potential operational use. The DF-21 ballistic anti-ship missile, still in development, and associated targeting satellites round out the Chinese naval modernization.

China hasn’t shed off all her coastal ships, having produced some 40 Type 022 catamaran fast attack craft in just the past few years. What Axe is alluding to is that the nation no longer has an “all coast defense navy”, but a balanced fleet of mixed capabilities. Note what Tokyo is concentrating on, weapons which the USN also has little interest in, obsessed as they are with last-century naval airpower, for seventy years dominating the strategy and budget:

Japan, too, is testing supersonic anti-ship missiles that could sink Chinese surface ships. And the island nation already possesses the world’s most sophisticated non-nuclear submarines — a big threat to China’s surface and sub-surface forces — and is bolstering its surveillance capabilities.

Though Japan does have a small carrier and is planning another, for decades now it has possessed a more potent type of ship, which New Wars has counted among the New Battleships:

“The biggest thing that’s been on the minds of anyone is Ballistic Missile Defense and U.S. teamwork,” Wertheim said. The Japanese navy’s new Kongo-class destroyers, among the most powerful warships in Asia, are fitted with radars and missiles for tracking and shooting down ballistic missiles. The Kongos are used in part to defend the Japanese home islands. But “that BMD capability could also be used to protect U.S. Navy aircraft carriers in the event of hostilities,” (Eric Wertheim, an independent naval analyst and author of the popular “Combat Fleets of the World) pointed out.

That last statement makes me wonder “to what purpose”? If the Japanese are deploying supersonic missiles that doesn’t risk pilots or a $25 billion carrier group, why even place the giant ships in harm’s way? The next fight will be between missiles. Though they will likely still be such legacy vessels around as prestige ships, they won’t be sailing anywhere there is trouble.


Japanese submarine JDS Oyashio

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Chuck Hill permalink
    July 16, 2010 12:44 pm

    Japanese Warship naming conventions:

  2. Hudson permalink
    July 14, 2010 12:26 am

    Chuck Hill & elgatoso:

    Thanks. You are right that Japanese names have a rich historical context. Though I cannot cite examples at the moment, some of the names of Japanese ships and planes were quite poetic, the chrysanthemum side of their nature. It would have been interesting to have sat in on discussions about the naming of new warships and their associations with the past.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 13, 2010 7:20 pm

    Juramentado wrote-“Concerning aircraft versus missiles-“A) cannot be recalled easily, B) cannot be re-tasked easily – this is critical against mobile targets, C) cannot be deployed in sufficient cost-effective numbers compared to the re-usability of strike aircraft.”

    I have never argued against the cost-effectiveness of manned planes just its practicality. The continued growth in the cost of legacy fighter designs is pricing themselves out of reach. Also every program in recent years, whether Western or Eastern designs are suffering cost overruns and production delays, while the purchases are increasing in number. The fighter bombers are still more efficient, just losing their value when a Third World nation like Iran or NK can deploy a missile to threaten the world’s greatest militaries.

    In contrast the missiles are being deployed in many varieties and in increasing numbers, pushing 8000 or so on USN subs and surface ships plus a great many of our allies. Also they are smarter and more accurate than ever before. The VLS has revolutionized war at sea, making almost every warship an aircraft carrier in its own right.

    Every argument I get when proposing light or V/STOL carrier to sustain the concept for the future is “100,000 ton decks are the only practical way to launch manned airpower at sea”. This doesn’t bode well for the evolution of naval aviation since the choice has now become “we can afford the ships but not the planes”. Airpower is still needed and relevant, and while the admirals try desperately to force obsolescence on themselves, we offer alternatives, and in the future the UAV will be the reusable to cruise missile to finally displace the manned jet.

  4. Chuck Hill permalink
    July 13, 2010 4:40 pm

    As westerners, our only familiarity with Japanese names like Kongo, Hiei, Akagi, Kaga, etc is recognition of ship names from WWII, but to the Japanese, the meanings go much deeper: place names, lyrical descriptions, mythical beasts, and hero warships that go back much further than WWII.

  5. elgatoso permalink
    July 13, 2010 3:30 pm

    Hudson,Kirishima is second largest population of the cities in Kagoshima Prefecture.,_Kagoshima
    and is a place where according to traditional Shinto legends, Ninigi-no-Mikoto, descendant of the Japanese sun-goddess Amaterasu, descended from heaven to Mt. Takachiho, bringing the three celestial gifts that signified the divinity of the emperor.,_Kagoshima_(town)
    I really don’t know if the ship name is based in the batleship or the city.

  6. Hudson permalink
    July 13, 2010 2:15 pm

    Missiles are already the primary weapon aboard most ships. Who is going to approach a battle group or destroyer or frigate with iron bombs today?–we are far removed from the Falklands War.

    The more interesting question is, which is the most survivable weapons platform from which to launch missiles? I have read too many accounts of d/e subs penetrating carrier screens in exercises to believe that big decks will long survive in a real shooting war. And subs don’t even need to get in close to launch Exocet or Harpoon, or Russian and Chinese equivalents.

    Unless ASW improves dramatically in the near future, I would bet on subs, d/e and nuclear, ruling the waves, with torpedoes and cruise or supersonic missiles, and smart mines thrown in for extra grief.

  7. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 13, 2010 11:02 am


    You stated: “If the Japanese are deploying supersonic missiles that doesn’t risk pilots or a $25 billion carrier group, why even place the giant ships in harm’s way?”

    The supersonic cruise missile that the Japanese self-defense forces are developing and testing is an air-launched weapon. So, pilots most likely will be at some risk when employing that weapon.

  8. Juramentado permalink
    July 13, 2010 10:53 am

    “The next fight will be between missiles.”

    That is certainly BMD’s raison d’etre. But I question the general viewpoint that an exchange of missiles will solely dominate the future battlefield. Missiles have strategic and tactical uses. The dilemma in relying solely on missiles is two-fold; 1 – the effectiveness of the attack is only as good as the targeting capability. Subservient to that is good intelligence and BDA. The second is the destructive power applied – the modularity of warheads is still limited compared to the variety of weapon types available to strike aircraft.

    The reason aviation strike still exists is because missiles A) cannot be recalled easily, B) cannot be re-tasked easily – this is critical against mobile targets, C) cannot be deployed in sufficent cost-effective numbers compared to the re-usability of strike aircraft.

    This is not to say missiles will not continue to supplant manned and even unmanned strike a/c in the future. Clearly the trend is to increase the effectiveness and reach of missiles to achieve riskier missions, but right now, there is a synergy between the elements that is crucial to any comprehensive attack plan if you are a first-world power.

  9. Hudson permalink
    July 13, 2010 10:29 am

    Mike, in your bid to call today’s destroyers today’s battleships, you have found a match, intentionally or not, in JDS Kirishima pictured above.

    Sixty-eight years ago, IJN Kirishima, while inflicting damage on the USS South Dakota in night action in the waters around Guadalcanal, suffered mortal wounds from 16″ missiles launched from USS Washington.

    I wonder what the Japanese were thinking when they named their Aegis destroyer after a ghost from the past. Memories of old battles never fade away?

  10. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 13, 2010 7:55 am

    Smitty, I must still be thinking of PGS! Thanks.

  11. B.Smitty permalink
    July 13, 2010 7:00 am

    Mike said, “If the Japanese are deploying supersonic missiles that are longer ranged than any naval bomber in the skies, plus doesn’t risk pilots or a $25 billion carrier group, why even place the giant ships in harm’s way?

    XASM-3 only has a range of ~200km, IIRC.

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