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An All Submarine Navy

July 25, 2010

Here is an article from 2007, originally posted at another site, written when I was trying to grasp the implications of a full-scale use of new weapons at sea, cruise missiles and laser guided bombs. After much thought and discussion with some smart people (our Bold Band of Readers), I no longer subscribe to all of the proposals, but I’m curious of your thoughts since New Wars will revisit the subject starting next week.


Last week, the third in a new class of underwater battleships, the USS MICHIGAN, joined the fleet after a $1 billion face lift. The 4 converted subs of the OHIO class, former Trident missile ships, are the undersea equivalent of the reborn IOWA class from the 1980’s. Armed with over 150 Tomahawk cruise missiles, plus the ability to carry special forces and unmanned vehicles, they give the Navy an incredible ability to strike decisively from the sea.

I am of the opinion that in full-scale shooting war at sea, the US surface navy will be devastated in the first day., by the combination of cruise missiles and stealthy submarines. The survivors would all be forced into port, unable to participate in the counterattack, which would likely be initiated by our own deadly nuclear attack submarines.

What this means is, our current force of colossal and pricey warships including aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and amphibious ships are obsolete in today’s precision, push button warfare. They are also tremendously expensive to build and operate, with only the richest of earth’s superpowers able to afford them in ever declining numbers. If this wasn’t reason enough for maritime nations to reevaluate their shipbuilding priorities, there are few if any jobs the surface fleet can do which the submarine cannot. I’ll elaborate:

Command of the Sea

Submariners say there are only 2 types of ships: submarines and targets. There’s valid reasons for this. Since World War 2 anti-submarine defenses have failed to match the attack boat’s advancements in speed, stealth, and weaponry. For instance, since 1945 the average speed of destroyers have remained at 30 knots, with only nuclear vessels able to maintain this rate for any period. In contrast, the velocity of nuclear attack submarines, beginning with the launch of USS NAUTILUS in 1954, has tripled and quadrupled from around 10 knots submerged to 30-40 knots.

Also, an antisubmarine vessel must get within a few miles of an enemy sub to fire its rockets or torpedoes. Its only long-range defense, the helicopter, is slow and must linger in a vulnerable hover while its sonar buoys seek out their prey. Some Russian-built boats come equipped with anti-aircraft missiles which makes this standard ASW tactic suicidal.

In contrast, a modern submarine can launch its missiles from 75 miles away and farther. Should it choose to close the distance, as occurred when a Chinese SONG class stalked the USS KITTY HAWK last year, to fire its ship killing torpedoes, it can do so at speeds as fast as and sometimes surpassing surface warships. Whether attacking with cruise missiles or wake-homing torpedoes the attack boat remains submerged; the preeminent stealth vessel.

The sub has likely held this dominate position on the high seas, since the dawn of the first nuke ships beginning in the 1950’s. The only lacking factor has been a full-scale naval war to prove it. The single example is the sinking of the Argentine cruiser BELGRANO 25 years ago by the British submarine HMS CONQUEROR in the Falklands Conflict. Afterward, the Argentine Navy fled to port and remained there!

Commerce Raiding/Protection:

This traditional role of the submarine is one which it excelled in the last century. The difference today is, neither America nor Britain has the capability to mass produce the thousands of anti-submarine escorts which just barely defeated Germany’s U-boats in 2 world wars, even if it would matter. In the next war at sea, the submarine would bring all commerce to a halt, making a mockery of the globalized free market system. The only counter to this menace is perhaps a combination of aircraft and submarine escorts, with the latter acting as the destroyer, shepherding its convoy through the “shark” ridden waters.

Amphibious Assault

Admittedly, this is not a role in which the submarine excels at , with its sparse crew and cargo capacity. Where they do stand out is the ability to land small raiding parties, like the elite Navy SEALs, and underwater demolition teams in preparation for a full-scale assault.

Still, with the submarine maintaining command of the seas, it would allow a surface amphibious task force free reign against an enemy beachhead. Rather than requiring expensive standing amphibs, reserve vessels could be maintained on both our coasts, with a cadre crew ready for any emergency. Some could also be rapidly converted with landing strips for helos or whatever air assets are needed. Some small and inexpensive littoral ships fitted with cannon could provide escort close to shore.

For standard peacekeeping operations, some large subs could be built or converted for troop carrying, as in the above mentioned MICHIGAN. The ex-ballistic missile warship and her three sisters can load up to 66 SEALs, or more, I imagine, in a pinch, plus their equipment.


If America were to suddenly lose her preeminent surface fleet of carrier groups in such a future conflict, she would still have an excellent and capable submarine force to carry the fight to the enemy. The Navy says it must build 2 boats per year to maintain 50 in commission. Perhaps a doubling or tripling of this number would be necessary to replace the surface ships in the manner I propose. A fleet of 100-150 nuke submarines would be far cheaper to maintain, but also doubtless give the USN an unmatched mastery at sea for the rest of the century.

72 Comments leave one →
  1. martin permalink
    July 29, 2010 1:13 am

    Hi Mike,
    I am concerned about the current US political situation as well. The constant grand standing by members of the senate serves no one. The president of the United states (The most powerful man in the world) While this may be the case in the rest of the world its not the case in America. Its hard for counties to do a deal with the US as they can’t pass anything in the senate.

    Any country doing an arms deal with the US must be worried about the restrictions the senate keeps trying to impose on the UK in terms of F35 software. The UK is supposed to be a tier 1 joint development partner. What chance does someone like Turkey or Singapore have of being able to do any independant work on these aircraft.

    Its strange for us who come from parliamentary democracies were a party who has the presidency and a 60% majority still cant pass anything through congress except watered down mince meat legislation.

    The Bush Administration alienated most of the US allies and now the Obama administration seems hell bent on getting rid of those that remain UK and Israel. I think as the US populations demographic continues to change away from the Anglo Saxon towards the Hispanic the gulf between the US and its traditional Allies will continue to grow.

    Chuck, I agree that your federation idea would be good and it would certainly make the world a safer place. 1776 and 1812 should never have happened and to me will remain the best example of British imperial arrogance and stupidity.

    The US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand combined would have a population of 426 million. Be self sufficient in Food all metals and nearly all its oil. It would account for nearly 40% of world GDP. And 65% of world military spending. China is currently expected to surpass US GDP by around 2050 however this combined federation would stretch that out to at least 2070. With the fast rise in US population as well as China’s growing elderly population China may never exceed the federations GDP per ca pita.

    Think America would have to adopt the queen though. You never no though a bit of parliamentary democracy might be just what the US needs right now.

  2. Chuck Hill permalink
    July 28, 2010 3:33 pm

    It’s not the Brits, it’s our thirst for oil, we’re soiling or bed.

    Same sort of thing just happened in China, as it has happened repeatedly in the US.

  3. Chuck Hill permalink
    July 28, 2010 3:25 pm

    Martin, I give the Brits lots of credit. As for WWII, it was Britain who stood alone against fascism until the US was finally forced into the fight. We can guilt the other Europeans about our coming to their rescue, but the Brits were our example and our mentors.

    Churchill’s speeches still send chills up my spine.

    I’ve always had a hope someday the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand might come together and form a federation.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 28, 2010 2:52 pm

    Sadly, I think Americans look for scapegoats rather than solutions these days. I loathe with a passion the Congressional hearings where they defame this person or that, while this body isn’t exactly blameless for our woes.

    Conservatives and Liberals are so biased against each other, there is nothing getting done. Anyone seeking compromise is considered a sellout. We need to start working together for solutions, not just seeking to demonize and constantly playing the blame game. BP might have been at fault, but our energy problems go WAY beyond this latest spill.

  5. martin permalink
    July 28, 2010 1:16 pm

    I think World War II can only get you so far. It’s like the French Bringing up 1776 on Britain Brining up The seven years war. It was not the UK’s fault that a well cracked open 1.5 miles under the surface of the Gulf. A well drilled by an American company with a blow out preventer put in place by the same American company. I wonder if Exxon would have had to promise $20 billion dollars be put aside before any trial or investigation has come up with any evidence.

    If you want to cast up the past how about that legal system we gave you. At least I thought you had that legal system we gave you. The one with the right to a fair trial and the requirement to be proven guilty.

    The UK is the only ally America has. Certainly the only one who can provide any real support. The only ally that does not ask for a thing and instinctively backs you with no questions asked whether it’s the right thing to do or not.

    Let’s see if your other close allies Argentina and Israel are willing to send a Brigade or 2 to Afghanistan.

    I have to say I was quite surprised with your response I thought it was only Obama and his crowed that had a problem with the UK. I know we apparently tortured his father in the 60’s so I could understand to a certain degree his anti British feeling but I would have thought the 600 soldiers we have lost fighting in your wars over the last10 years would have brought us a little credit.

  6. Chuck Hill permalink
    July 28, 2010 12:00 pm

    I certainly don’t blame Britain for the disaster in the gulf. BP is a very international company. There were lots of Americans involved in the decision making process. There were also American regulators who failed to do their job. And other Americans who abdicated their responsibilities apparently assuming that the nature of man had miraculously changed and that they are no longer greedy and would not cut corners.

  7. Hokie_1997 permalink
    July 28, 2010 8:37 am


    Have you ever been to the Gulf? It was a unique ecological environment. It’ll never be the way it was – how exactly do you put a price on that?

    As far as US-UK relations. World War 2.

    You’re welcome.

  8. MatR permalink
    July 28, 2010 12:25 am

    Hokie_1997: As a Briton, you know what’s coloured my perceptions of the USA?

    The fact that your country’s been the biggest funder of terrorism in the UK for the past 50 years. Not the Syrians, Pakistanis or Libyans. Your countrymen, funding the IRA in its fight against a democracy. Thinking you’re heroes as you do it.

    The gulf accident was just that, an accident. And hey, it’s given you a reason to be bilious towards foreigners, even when they’re footing the entire bill, so as an American that’s nice for you.

    Get over yourself.

  9. Don Murphy permalink
    July 27, 2010 3:15 pm

    Hi Martin,

    As a Yank married to a Brit (and an extremely cute one at that…) I get news from both sides of the Atlantic. My personal perception of American politics lately within the last six or so years has been to shift blame to anyone but one’s self. Was the spill BP’s fault or was it the fault of the greedy American petroleum commission who sought to approve any company without paying to check seals/etc? Obama has jumped onboard a “perceived” (in his mind only) nationalist attitude whereby America becomes isolationist as a cure for their financial problems.

    In other words, us Americans helping the world is what caused our economic problems. Not our stupid financial policies. I personally am independent (neither Republican or Democratic) and some of the ways he has treated our friends (Israel/UK) has really confused a lot of people. I realize he has other “things” on his mind, but he (and America in particular) shouldn’t forget the friendship/special relationship that America and UK/Israel have. No nation can go it alone and we are no exception.



  10. Hokie_1997 permalink
    July 27, 2010 1:20 pm

    Hokie-the Russian threat had been around since the 1940s at least, so I think it naturally took precedence on the plans for ships mostly built or designed before the 1970s.


    Mike, the Soviet Navy didn’t become a true threat until the late-1950s at best, when they commissioned their first November SSN.

    In my opinion, the British ultimately sacrificed their own national secruity and freedom of action as a nation simply to cut costs. Fitting in as a niche ASW force for NATO was simply the justification to reduce the cost of the fleet.

    I’m not denying RN contributions in the Cold War. They were very important to NATO in deterring and potentially defeating the Soviet Navy in the GIUK gap.

    However, if the RN had chosen to keep even one conventional fixed wing CV on-line in the 80s in order to meet national (as opposed to NATO) requirements, it likely would’ve been a very different story in the South Atlantic.

    12 Phantoms + 4 Gannet AEW would’ve made a heck of difference in air defense. And I tend to agree with Martin that it’s very likley the Argentines would’ve thought twice about even trying to take the Falklands.

    So was the cost avoidance in decommissioning a CV ultimately worth the cost paid in terms of ships 2 DD, 2 FF, 1 LSL, 1 LCU, 1 Container Ship – all sunk by air attack. Not to mention the scores of British serviceman killed.

    I know that budgets don’t work that way – but as “historians” we’ve got the luxury to look back on it from this perspective.

  11. martin permalink
    July 27, 2010 1:01 pm

    Interesting Assessment of the current situation Hokie. While I am not a fan of Cameron I thought he did a decent enough (yet typically polite) job of telling the US senate to F**K off. I cant imagine the shear arrogance or ignorance that would lead any politician to request that the de facto head of state of another nation give testimony under oath to them.

    Also me being Scottish I seems to remember an American oil platform in the North Sea exploding killing 129 British workers and spilling allot of oil in 1988. However I cant remember Thatcher ratcheting up any anti American feelings about the situation or referring to them as American Occidental to try and deflect the blame from herself. Different times perhaps or a different countries outlook on how to treat an ally maybe.

  12. Hokie_1997 permalink
    July 27, 2010 12:29 pm

    P.S. It would be interesting for me to know what the American readers of this site feel about current US policy towards the UK.



    In terms of US feelings toward the UK, I can’t speak for the current cast of characters in the White House.

    The fact that a british-owned petroleum company f**ked up the Gulf of Mexico for decades to come has colored my vision of our neighbors across the pond just a bit.

    Plus David Cameron appears to be an absolute boob.

  13. martin permalink
    July 27, 2010 11:51 am

    hi don i agree with your assessment. I think to many people see the failure with the Somali pirates as the navy’s fault especially the US navy. No other navy in history has tried to sustain a large fleet in every ocean either in peace or war time and I think it is unrealistic to expect the USN to police the worlds oceans even with a much larger budget. Between NATO and EU missions there are something like 27 warships of the Somali coast. Even with all those ships it is nearly impossible to intercept all the pirates. The only way to truly do this is to repair the state on Somalia however I think the cure would be far worse than the disease. Guess the navy will just have to keep trying to minimise the problem.

    Given the current Financial crisis in the UK I don’t think we can hope for more than getting the 2 carriers and a handful of the new type 45 and type 26 escorts. I still feel that the quantum improvement in these platforms is worth the sacrifice of the large number of type 42’s and Type 23’s. I only hope that when things pick up we get a few more of each. I also hope we can afford the aircraft for the carrier. I think the RN’s rational is that if the carriers are built they will be to advanced and costly to sell to India and the embarrassment of having two such magnificent ships without a half decent air wing will be to much to swallow for any government. Its not a bad strategy for the Navy to use in the current financial climate. We can always relatively easily and cheaply build some more escorts in future when we inevitably find out that we don’t have enough.

    I think the main backer for the carriers in the end will be the politicians themselves. Having two large CV’s will give them some much needed prestige on the world stage weather we need the ships or not. The British political elite is still stinging from the short shrift dolled out to both Gordon Brown and David Cameron by both Hilary Clinton and Barrack Obama. A couple of large CV’s might just help their bruised ego.

    hears hoping.

    P.S. It would be interesting for me to know what the American readers of this site feel about current US policy towards the UK. Is it just Barrack Obama and Hill Dog that have a bee in their bonnet about the UK or is it a wider democratic party issue for us supporting Bush so heavily post 911. Might be an interesting idea for a thread.

  14. Don Murphy permalink
    July 27, 2010 6:41 am

    Hi Martin,

    Some great thoughts and points. One of the things that is too often overlooked is supreme command. It’s no use having a dance troupe of six girls if the government continues to books twelve. Prior to gutting the Royal Navy, Thatcher’s government should have examined the Royal’s Navy’s future uses and minimum requirements. Using America as an example, we export/import more now by sea than at any time in our history. So keeping our commerce sea lanes open should be one of our criteria. The UK was right to adapt itself to a role in line with their NATO committments, but at the same time, the UK should have considered Hong Kong, the Falklands and the possibility of responding to a crisis at each. They did not do that.

    John Nott – the UK’s Donald Rumsfeld – wanted to do the whole thing but with 60% less ships. He was right in guaging that fast SSN’s were ideal for transiting at high speed to Hong Kong and the Falklands, but they were inadequate for landing marines. RN airpower was allowed to atrophe which caused problems when Galtieri made his move. Compounding the whole thing was the RAF’s inadequacy. Galtieri’s moves were not overnight. MI-5/6 had known for some time, as had the press, that Galtieri’s overtures could lead to armed conflict at worst, unplanned negotiation at best. In other words, even tho the Falkland’s sovereignity was not on Thatcher’s plate, it soon could be.

    Yet no plans were made and the RAF found itself with minimal/no ability to reach out and touch the Argentinians. The USAFE would secretly throw tankers in the air to assist the RAF, but they just didn’t have the legs to do much else. Tornado was still not fully “up and running” and Vulcan’s problems would be known on the day of her mission. Had the RAF possessed VC-10’s and Tornado’s in operation, they could have operated from Ascension Island and carried out a blitz on Galtieri’s forces. With the RAF as depleted as they were, the only hope was the Royal Navy.

    The key to all cuts is to be aware of the consequences. We Americans are as foolishly guilty. We want cheaper but aren’t prepared for the consequences of being cheaper. We continue to want 1940’s power but at 2010’s prices. Ain’t gonna happen. We also continue to want the Navy to be/do everything. It also can’t happen. The Royal Navy now – assuming the carriers get built – will be perfect for it’s role that the government has assigned to it. Not too small to be ineffective, not too large to be a financial burden. As to Somalia – whether the US Navy consists of subs or ships or a mix of both – the politicos (and the crazy folk that vote them in) need to be aware of the limitations/uses of the Navy.



  15. martin permalink
    July 27, 2010 1:20 am

    I still think 4 large CV’s would be enough for the USN. As we have all pointed out these ships have limited capabilities. With Nuclear reactors they can transit relatively quickly to any point in an emergency. Deploying fleets around CVN continuously in every Ocean of the world is expensive an unnecessary.

    The huge amount of money saved could be used to fund a large number of smaller cheaper ships to defeat the pirate threat which is not just of Somalia but in many other places including the straits of Malacca, Philippines and even the Baltic these days. I agree that the USCG would not want the job of world wide anti piracy patrol. That as I can see is the problem. No one wants to do this vital job because its not sexy, its hard to achieve and you don’t need lots of high end expensive toys to do it.

    Maybe we could give the job to the UN and fund it with a levy on shipping although given the UN’s success rate I doubt we would get an improvement on the present conditions. It might help to clear up the present legal problems though with pirates being tried at the Hague instead of the respective navy’s home countries.

    I think taking the pirates out in there home base is to problematic. Dropping LPG’s on Somali fishing ports may exacerbate the problem and putting troops on the ground did not work to well in 1993. I think they even made a movie.

    I think the Royal Navy of the Falklands was far from ideal. However I think its a great analogy for today. The RN by 1982 was just about to loose all of its expeditionary capability in favour of its massive ASW capability. It had already lost the last of its large carriers and even its commando carrier Hermes was actually in the scarp yard waiting to be broken up at the out break of war.

    While I think the RN would have done a wonderful Job against the USSR they were dam lucky to retake the Falklands. The point being that an enemy will only attack you where you are weakest. We had scrapped the carriers at the behest of the RAF who quite rightly pointed out that in a nuclear war with supersonic seam skimming cruise missiles and SSN’s a carrier was nothing more than a floating target. They were right however the war we ended up fighting was not the war we had planned for. 1 or 2 RN CV’s with F4’s and buccaneers on board would have made quick work of the Argentine forces saving countless British Lives. The war would probably never have happened.

    I think this experience shapes the British mind set. Its better to have a small number of every type of platform than a large number of any one. Even if you feel that one platform performs the only job you need to do. That is why I and allot of others Brits are prepared to support the CVF program even if it comes at the expense of allot of having a large number of ASW frigates. For this reason I would also say as I said before the US Navy needs every platform it has it just does not need as many of the high end ones. And I think everyone is in agreement that it needs some sort of small cheap global corvette in very large numbers to take on basic patrolling and merchant navy defence tasks.

    I would also like to add that I think the current US Navy ship building budget is to large. US defence spending is on the region of 4% of GDP. The US can’t afford such a large budget. China only spends 2% of GDP on defence. As the US slowly bankrupts it’s self it looses the ability to conduct soft power both against its friends and enemies. This makes the US and the west much less safer. Its certainly a bigger threat to America than the existence of Anti Ship Ballistic missiles.

  16. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 26, 2010 7:47 pm

    Hokie-the Russian threat had been around since the 1940s at least, so I think it naturally took precedence on the plans for ships mostly built or designed before the 1970s.

  17. Hokie_1997 permalink
    July 26, 2010 5:18 pm

    Mike wrote:

    “My inspiration for a perfect navy is the Royal Navy of the Falklands Conflict, who built ships for the most likely threat (not out of choice, they’d rather had strike carriers as now) which was ASW with the Soviet Union, with plenty of frigates and destroyers, and the economical Invincible CVS. ”


    So the RN was right to build its fleet to be ill-equipped for a very unlikely contingency? An unlikely contingency that had been predicted since the mid-70s, and which in fact actually happened?

    I know historical hindsight is 20/20. But to describe a navy that was barely able to put to sea and sustain a task force, and upon arrival lost multiple ships to 1950s- era jets dropping iron bombs as “a perfect navy” strikes me as a bit of a stretch.

  18. B.Smitty permalink
    July 26, 2010 4:56 pm

    Don Murphy said, “China’s DF-21 works only if you give Phalanx, RAM and SM-4 a zero% success rate. So yeah…I’m with you on that one.

    Phalanx and RAM will certainly have a zero% success rate against a ballistic missile. They are only designed to shoot down cruise missiles.

    It remains to be seen how successful SM-3 would be.

  19. Don Murphy permalink
    July 26, 2010 2:13 pm

    Hi Hokie,

    A sneak attack that wipes out every USN surface ship is realistic when you place all of our ships in only a handful of ports: Norfolk, Mayport, San Diego, Pearl Harbor. Nuke? Of course it’s only a scenario – after all, in my scenario the sub bases didn’t get hit did they (tho all of those listed bases [except Mayport] have subs stationed there)?

    China’s DF-21 works only if you give Phalanx, RAM and SM-4 a zero% success rate. So yeah…I’m with you on that one.

    As to WW2’s sub record, I’m referring to “warships” available for use. As to their attack record – what actually happened and what was reported? Nimitz/Lockwood had all and sundry believing that the subs were sinking Japanese ships. Subs were “attacking” Japanese shipping and launching torpedos at them, but again…who knew the truth of their successes until after the war? Even when torpedos WERE working correctly, common procedure was to fire, then go deep. Few lingered around to know if their fish had hit.

    Also go back to “mission kill.” Saratoga was not sunk but each of her two torpedo hits prevented her from being used at Midway and Guadalcanal. Again – mission kill.



  20. Fencer permalink
    July 26, 2010 2:04 pm

    Mike, I think 1917 is an excellent analogy, the US Navy has enough firepower to devastate pretty much any country but it doesn’t have the numbers to really protect America from all forms of retaliation.

    Who is “picking away at our sea control, at a fraction of the cost”, the Somalian pirates? The only reason that they still exist is because no one wants to deal with the political consequences of actually fighting them.

    I don’t see way you think the Royal Navy did so well at the Falklands, if they had kept the Audacious-class instead of the Invincibles they probably would have lost half as many ships. And it wouldn’t have been that expensive; if they had been kept in commission HMS Eagle and HMS Ark Royal would have been only 31 and 27 years old when the broke out.

  21. Fencer permalink
    July 26, 2010 1:58 pm

    Martin, I strongly agree with most of your points. I think if the US only had four carriers and war broke out then odds are there would significant portions of time when we would be without a CSG, I think as long as they remain the primary weapon nine is the minimum number. Also I’m not sure the US Coast Guard would want the mission of patrolling the world’s oceans, even if the US Navy would divert money from it’s budget to provide the Coast Guard with the necessary number of ships

  22. Hokie_1997 permalink
    July 26, 2010 1:51 pm

    Don wrote — “No, we shouldn’t get rid of all the ships in the Navy. But again, were a sneak attack to come again and wipe out every USN surface ship, the subs would be able to hold down the fort. Again.”



    First: Is a sneak attack that wipes out every USN surface ship even a half-way realistic scenrio?

    I just can’t think of any potential adversary on the planet which could pull this off. At worst we are dealing with regional competitors like China who can potentially threaten surface warships out to about 1,000 nm of their coastline (range of DF-21). And that’s if they can locate, identify, and track these ships — a big “if” in my book.

    My point is if we’re going what the future fleet should look like in a fiscally constrained environment, perhaps we should avoid constructing a fleet which is survivable if/when Mars attacks. :>

    Second: I’m not sure which fort you are referring to as being held down. Malaya? The Philippines? The USN had 23 submarines stationed around the Philippines in December of 1941. If I recall correctly, they sank no Japanses warships or transports and managed to hold up Takahashi’s invasion fleet exactly zero days.

    I’d say it was aircraft carriers that held the line against the IJN in the early, touch and go days of the Pacific War. Not submarines – which were largely ineffective against the IJN until mid 1943.

    Submarines eventually did a huge amount of damage to the Japanese merchant fleet, and were a critical factor (along with the B-29) to the Allies eventually winning the war. But could we have held the fort with submarines alone? Clearly not.

  23. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 26, 2010 12:40 pm

    “But the question we have to ask is who would this adversary be and to what benefit.”

    Well, I would say the same about the high end warships. Who are we building them for if few nations have them and hardly near the numbers we possess? The Navy would counter that they need these for power projecting on land, except this is a non-traditional fleet function, secondary, and duplicating most of the missions of the Army and USAF. It is also terribly expensive the way we perform it, using nuclear powered strike carriers, mostly against impovershed Third World powers.

    Today if we built a navy for the most likely threat, it would be low end, general purpose patrol ships, for fighting pirates and rogue navies like Iran and NK. You could keep around a few capital vessels, nuke subs, amphibious ships for the rare conventional wars, but you don’t need to have 10-20 times more the firepower of all other navies combined. Not while other lesser threats are picking away at our sea control, at a fraction of the cost.

    My inspiration for a perfect navy is the Royal Navy of the Falklands Conflict, who built ships for the most likely threat (not out of choice, they’d rather had strike carriers as now) which was ASW with the Soviet Union, with plenty of frigates and destroyers, and the economical Invincible CVS. When the very unlikely happened, an old-style power projection war in the Falklands, this medium end fleet was flexible enough to perform this role and win the day. Not a perfect performance, but it was better than straining your budget on a very unlikely episode, a full scale conventional conflict the USN generally prepares for, at great strain, with a cost it can no longer afford.

    I would conclude, better to have a large navy that can do many things good, than a small “perfect” one geared for one unlikely role, pretty much wasted on anything else. And if you happen to be wrong on the one role you plan for, you are in trouble.

  24. Don Murphy permalink
    July 26, 2010 12:33 pm

    Hi Martin,

    Why are we chasing a Somali fishing boat? Again – take out the port. That fishing boat came from somewhere, and it has to return somewhere. Eliminate the “somewhere.” Should we cancel the entire USAF just because the Blackbird has been retired and the USAF has no replacement? No? So why would any problem the USA faces suddenly become insurmountable if we had an all SSN/SSGN/SSBN Navy? Again – you guys are thinking big-fleet Jutland style warfare. Get out of the big ocean battles and that line of thinking.

    We’re broke. We can’t be the world’s policeman anymore. So “sending a message” is not practical. If we can’t afford ships for protection than we can’t afford them for showing the flag, right? Besides – showing the flag has pitfalls all it’s own. Do the Israeli’s “show the flag?” But when they needed to send Syria a “signal” last September, it happened, didn’t it? Should the Israeli’s have paraded their fighter fleet in the sky in front of Syrian observers? Would you have cared if you were Syrian? I wouldn’t.

    No, we shouldn’t get rid of all the ships in the Navy. But again, were a sneak attack to come again and wipe out every USN surface ship, the subs would be able to hold down the fort. Again.



  25. martin permalink
    July 26, 2010 10:15 am

    Hi mike I do appreciate your comments about a total lack of ASW capability in the USN. The USN in the cold war relied heavily on the RN and other NATO navies to provide this capability well they provided the High end Assets. With European Navy budgets cut and the few remaining pounds and euros going to power projection capabilities such as LHD’s and CV’s we would be in trouble should a major adversary try to cut world trade using a large submarine force.

    But the question we have to ask is who would this adversary be and to what benefit. Other than North Korea trying to sink a few ships in Chinese waters I just cant see an adversary ever appearing. For Iran for instance it would be much easier and more effective to use its land based aircraft with sea skimming missiles and bombs. While these would be limited in there ability to project well out into the Indian ocean so would there SSK’s.

    Its allot easier to hide an aircraft or land based anti ship missile from the inevitable US counter strike than an SSK which requires a port and onshore facilities.

    To defend a convoy against an air threat like this you will need your expensive destroyers with radars and VLS’s and all the other toys provided by a CBG.

    If the adversary was China, The resulting loss of world trade would affect them far more than any one else. While the US runs at a constant trade deficit it can at least feed its self. The merchant ships that ply the worlds oceans are not American, British or Chinese but Panamanian crewed by Indians. It would be impossible for Chinese Ships to target their enemies ships with Subs and not their own. The resulting halt in world trade would lead to mass starvation in China quickly loosing them the war.

    If it was Russia then same story. Russia can’t feed itself and must export oil and other resources to bring in grain. If they cut of world trade they would suffer the most.

    Any other nation i feel would be unable to mount any kind of significant threat. With a limited budget the navy must concentrate on areas where it is actually required to do the job. Sea control both on the surface and the air is a major part of this that I think the US navy does rather well. The Navy has not fought an ASW battle since 1945 so its hardly surprising they don’t put to much of there scare resources towards it.

    Basic patrolling and policing work is the main area the navy falls down on. I think loosing a few CBG’s would and maybe one or two ARG’s would be enough to make funds available for 100+ simple global corvettes (along the lines of the BMT venator) to give the USN the ability to chase those pirate boats.

    Maybe the bigger question is are the USN the right people for the job. Fighting wars against nations and fighting pirates are two different things. Maybe its a better idea to give the US coast Guard a world wide remit to protect US merchant ships. Give them the ships and bases to do this and the US navy can spend its time and money focusing on how to defeat North Korea or Iran in a shooting war. The USN is always going to want to arm its vessels for a high end conflict weather they need to be or not.

  26. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 26, 2010 8:37 am

    Martin, I am leaning toward your line of thinking. I feel like this is a worse case scenario that could very well happen if we continue to ignore the threat of the old fashion U-boat, now that it is coupled with modern weapons, propulsion and targeting systems.

    This is what might have happen if the RN had conceded defeat in 1917, continued to maintain its fear of the German High Seas Fleet breaking out, and ignoring the more imminent submarine threat. Or, lets say the RAF refused the use of any of its bombers by Coastal Command to aid the beleaguered destroyers, frigates, and corvettes. Again you get back to the empty oceans idea, because the mass of supplies and troops needed for the Normandy Invasion would not have happened.

    Though technically we are not at war at sea, I feel we may be in the 1917 mode today, not even close to 1942 where at least we have the makings to defeat the submarine menace. I don’t think we have the ASW mindset or even close to the number of platforms for even a short submarine conflict, with a peer foe so armed. We are just lucky that there are not such foes as yet, though I never knew anything to exist in a vacuum for long. Somebody somewhere is going to test our weakness.

    They say that the submarine is the weapon of a weaker power, much like the suicide bomber on land. Well, we all see how much trouble a suicide bomber can cause, forcing the mobilization of whole armies, sparking 2 major wars, and costing now a trillion dollars. Imagine what mischief a few insurgent submarines would cause, unleashed on the sealanes with our forces currently stretched thin, as we cast off low end assets, or concentrate our powerful weapons in ever fewer platforms.

    Currently we are trusting more in technology, but recall that in 1939 we possessed everything in order to defeat the menace–radar, sonar, depth charges, aircraft, but actually coordinating this effort and training the manpower correctly took much longer. It isn’t enough to have the right tools if you don’t know how to use them. We aren’t even up to late Cold War standards today, and even then we played the margin pretty thin.

  27. martin permalink
    July 26, 2010 7:00 am

    I think an all SSN or SSGN navy would be worse than the present fleet of battleships an CV’s. A $4billion dollar Virginia chasing down a small Somali fishing boat with its only offensive option being a Harpoon or Torpedo is far more embarrassing than a $2 billion Burke which at least can mount a 7.62 machine gun.

    Not to mention one stray round from an AK47 on the surface and the very expensive submarine cannot dive let alone an RPG hit. Having to transit on the surface from the Indian ocean back to the states on the surface in a modern SSN would quite possible be the worst imaginable journey for the crew. The other alternative is bringing it in to a friendly port near by however this goes against the submarine services ethos of secrecy. They wont even bring them into RN bases let alone bases in Oman or Yemen.

    I think the US Navy in its current structure has all the right platforms just in the wrong numbers. SSN’s are great in a real shooting war or when you want to do something in secret but nothing sends a message like a 100,000 CVN with its battle group. Often this kind of message may prevent conflict or war. That being said there is no need for 11 or even 9 of the tings. 4 seems like a better number.

    Much has been made of the CVN’s inability to approach the Chinese coast to respond to an emergency. I would love to know when the period was that CBG’s could ever approach the coast of a hostile properly armed nation. During WWII when the navy hit Japan in the Dollittle Raid the carriers launched from so far away they were unable to to recover the plains. Then as now just because the carriers could not stroll into Tokyo bay when the pleased did not mean that they were not useful.

    During the cold war the USN would never have dreamt of strolling into the black sea or the baltic to conduct exercises or strike at the USSR. Why do they today expect to go into the Yellow or South China Sea to do the same.

    Also during the cold war the USSR had a number of satellites able to spot USN navy CBG’s it did not mean they were able to hit them far out to sea. I don’t see the difference today as opposed to the 1970’s and 1980’s.

    In relation to Amphibious assault they main role of surface combatants is to provide air cover. While an SSN might be able to strike an enemy airforce on the ground its not going to be able to provide a proper radar picture and integrated air defence. The RN discovered all these issue in 1982 and believe me we would have been delighted to have kept one or two of our old exquisite battleships and CV’s to do this.

    The prevalence of Anti Ship missiles has more impact on the PLAN than it does on the US Navy. The PLAN is always obsessed with its in-ability to breach the ‘first island chain’. The line that runs from Japan to Indonesia. Anti ships missile will never stop the USN navy leaving San Diego. While China may be able to dominate its immediate coast this would do it little good in winning any wars. With the exclusion on Indonesia this area is now devoid of the basic raw materials oil metal and food that China desperately needs. To win a real shooting war all the USN has to do is hold Diego Garcia. Stopping the flow of Oil and hold the central pacific stopping the flow of food. This was the same tactic the RN used against the Germany
    in WW1. It did not matter that the RN could not operate freely in the North Sea. They were able to bottle up the Germans and let hunger and starvation do what 6 million soldiers on the western front could not.

    In conclusion I would say that the navy should maintain all of its current platforms. Just get rid of a few of the high end ones and spend the money on allot of simple cheap OPV’s and stop worrying that a 100,000 floating airfield cant go any where it wants. (ofcourse it can’t) It never could.

  28. elgatoso permalink
    July 26, 2010 1:11 am

    The US Navy and the Soviet Navy undertook preliminary sketches of submarine LSTs.
    And cargo subs;jsessionid=F1FD37C71E7D0374119859B0A59C51C5.tomcat1?fromPage=online&aid=5400928
    The idea of a battleship sub is not farfetched

  29. Chuck Hill permalink
    July 26, 2010 1:00 am

    I think we could call our submersible corvette a LCSS.

    How expensive would depend very much on how sophisticated you wanted to make it. AIP, extreme quieting, high end active and passive sonar are probably overkill for this concept. On the other hand, more battery capacity, being able to lay on the bottom, and a dry shelter on deck for a boat, UAV, and some special forces equipment would probably fit the concept. A basic passive acoustic system and navigational/mine avoidance sonar would be needed but shouldn’t cost too much.

    If like the GATOs it had 10 torpedo tubes and over 20 torpedo equivalents of mines, torpedoes, or cruise missiles it would already be way more powerful than the LCS.

    What to do about a gun replacement is a question since none of the existing guns are made to be submerged in salt water. I would hate to have to ask for a completely new weapon system (or for new 5″/25s). There is that German mast mounted heavy machine gun, but Milan or Karl Gustav might be enough for many targets. –I’m open to suggestions.

    Fencer asked, “…could something like them submerge quickly enough to protect itself from a missile attack?” Even a subsonic cruise missile covers ten miles a minute, so while it might be theoretically possible, as a practical matter it is unlikely the sub could dive completely if the first indication was an incoming missile; although, it might manage to make itself a smaller target. Unlike the surface ship corvette, if it gets acoustic or ESM indication of a cruise missile launcher in the area it can completely defeat that threat as well as others like conventional attack aircraft or shore batteries by submerging. There is also the fact because it is very low in the water already, it has some stealth advantages even when surfaced.

  30. Fencer permalink
    July 25, 2010 11:37 pm

    I sort of like the idea of a corvette that can submerge to deal with bad weather. I know the Type VII U-boats could submerge rather quickly because of their small size, could something like them submerge quickly enough to protect itself from a missile attack? It wouldn’t need AIP or advanced sonar for ASW so that might lower the cost some. I’m not sure it would offer enough unique capabilities to be worth developing though.

    Chuck Hill, you have an interesting point about the number of ASW ships needed to protect something not growing in proportion to the submarine threat.

  31. B.Smitty permalink
    July 25, 2010 10:38 pm

    Took a stab at an “All Submarine Navy” only using nuke boats with a $15 billion/year SCN budget.

    A total of 129 SSN/SSGNs with 55 “AAW SSGNs” @ $3 billion each.

    Nearly completely deficient in airpower, even with 55 helos on the AAW SSGNs.

    Not exactly where I’d like to see the USN go.

    On the bright side, it only requires 28,000 sailors, compared to the ~81,000 for the New Navy Fighting Machine fleet. So operating costs would be dramatically lower. And all of the primary combatants are nuclear powered, so no worries about fuel prices spiking.

  32. B.Smitty permalink
    July 25, 2010 10:17 pm


    I wondered about that too. It may not need a helicopter in this case. Maybe just a pad for landing. Of course a modern SSK of this size still runs $500+ million. Would a submersible corvette be any cheaper?

  33. Chuck Hill permalink
    July 25, 2010 10:07 pm

    I think there might be some benefit to making Mike’s 1,000 ton corvette submersible. An updated Gato/Balao/Tench Class, a ship that can transit on the surface at 20+ knots, over 10,000 mile range, has enough gun/missile firepower to deal with pirates and merchant ships, but it can go below when threats start to develop. Give it a small boat and UAV. As a bonus, the crew can also get some rest if the weather turns rotten just by submerging.

    It wouldn’t be a capital ship, but it could be made cheaply and would have the advantage of stealth.

    Gato class specs:
    Displacement: 1,526 tons surfaced/2,424 tons submerged
    Length: 311 feet, beam 27 feet, draft 15 feet
    Speed: 20+ knots surfaced, 8+ knots submerged
    Crew: 6 officers/54 men (10 officers/70-71 men wartime)
    Maximum operating depth: 300 feet (400ft in later classes)
    Fuel capacity: 94,400 gals (116,000 gals wartime)
    Patrol endurance: 75 days
    Cruising range: 11,000 miles @ 10 knots (surfaced)
    Submerged endurance: 48 hours @ 2 knots
    Armament: 10 torpedo tubes (6 fwd/4 aft), 21 torpedoes
    Gun armament: up to 2×5″/25 and 2x40mm
    Power plant: 4 diesel generators, 5,400 total horsepower
    Propulsion: twin shaft, electric motors, two 126-cell batteries

    Sorry even this is not as small as 1,000 tons.

  34. July 25, 2010 9:38 pm

    You make me sad. As a surface man, of course this freaks me out a bit since I’ve been on the receiving end of some Chinese and Iranian stalking missions. However, you discount the ability of an AEGIS cruiser, for example, to shoot down the anti-ship missile a Chinese sub fires (anti-ship missiles that are not efficient, by the way). And anyone can shoot up a merchant ship.

    Furthermore, surface ships provide a visual force that subs do not. It might not work as well in wartime, but it does in everything but.

  35. B.Smitty permalink
    July 25, 2010 8:34 pm

    D. E. Reddick,

    I was looking to replicate the functionality of a surface combatant on a submarine, not a carrier. I think making an SSCVN would be far harder. Helicopters are necessary for many warship missions, so an All Submarine Navy would need to find a way to incorporate them.


    The U.S. built radar picket submarines (SSRs/SSRNs) during the Cold War. They carried their radars on retractable masts. I imagine something similar could be done here.

    They would have to stay on the surface while acting as escorts, but they wouldn’t necessarily spend their entire lives performing that mission.

  36. July 25, 2010 8:18 pm

    Hello B.Smitty,

    submarines can detect helicopters and turbo-prop anti-submarine aircraft using sonars.
    They can then canister launch a missile to engage these low performance high signature aircraft.
    Giving the submarine some defence when it is in imminent danger has merit.

    However,doing the job of a surface ship’s anti-aircraft suite requires a far higher level of capability.
    Protecting a mercant vessel from missile attack will require high mounted radars and sensors which will not be hydrodynamic when under water.
    Not that you would want to submerge those fragile high cost radars,if the sea water didn’t kill them the pressure would.

    Add in the need to stay on the surface to provide around the clock defence and give away the vessels position when the radar transmits and it becomes difficult to see what advantages there are to such a vessel.

    Your second idea is more interesting.
    A long,fast displacement hull able to submerge and run on batteries in hostile areas would be relatively cheap.
    It would also be useful for special forces delivery.
    The North Koreans use a similar concept for just that purpose.

    For example such a vessel might travel at high speed to just beyond the radar horizon of a hostile country,submerge and approach the coast to deliver special forces covertly.


  37. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 25, 2010 8:15 pm

    B. Smitty,

    I think that we’ve partially covered your proposal in the several threads and partial discussions about SSGNs & ‘Submarine Gunships’.

    But, also – there have been modern proposals for an aircraft-capable submarines. One involved the VSTOL Sea Harrier carried by a submersible aircraft carrier – both launched and retrieved via SkyHook mechanisms. This was proposed by Terry C. Treadwell in his book “Submarines with Wings”. An earlier proposal by C. C. Abt in the October, 1963 USNI Proceedings envisaged a full-up SSCVN. It did seem improbable and difficult to execute in a usable form.

  38. B.Smitty permalink
    July 25, 2010 7:44 pm

    Fencer said, “Don Murphy, I agree that the modern nuclear submarine is an extremely capable weapon and in fact think the US Navy needs more of them. I was simply posting that I see cost as a major problem with an all submarine force. I believe that the price of advanced submarines, when combined with their inflexibility in limited warfare, shows why they are incapable of being the backbone of any navy that wishes to play a global role.

    One thing that’s been rolling around in the back of my head for a while is the question, “Could we make a submarine that was also capable of performing traditional surface warship tasks?” Or, “Could we make a destroyer/frigate that was also able to submerge?”

    For question 1: What is needed to make an SSN an effective surface combatant?

    IMHO it needs the following:
    – An AAW suite.
    – Additional VLS cells for SAMs.
    – A helicopter and pad.
    – A medium caliber gun.
    – RHIB launch and recovery.

    The helicopter is the only thing that seems tricky to pull off. A number of nations have experimented with aviation on submarines.

    So it doesn’t seem impossible. Given that most sub have a low freeboard, launch and recovery might be interesting in rough seas. The hangar could be used for large UUVs or special forces craft, when the helo isn’t carried.

    The radar for the AAW suite would have to be stowed in the sail.

    For question 2:

    WWII submarines were more accurately classified as “submersibles”. They spent most of their time on the surface, and only dove occasionally.

    Could we build a warship that could transit on the surface at 20-30kts with a task force, but then submerge when the threat warranted? The simple act of diving underwater effectively negates a large group of weapons, and forces the enemy to acquire ASW skills.

    Of course a hull form that is good for a warship probably makes a cr*ppy submarine hull. It could end up being a mediocre warship and a mediocre submarine, and expensive to boot.

  39. Chuck Hill permalink
    July 25, 2010 6:55 pm

    I have a great deal of respect for submariners and recognize that they have much to contribute, particularly in ASW, but I’m not sure subs will be more effective next time compared with WWII or especially with WWI.

    Reading “The U-boat Century” by Jak Mallmann Showell, it is remarkable how much more successful U-boats were in WWI than WWII. In WWI for most of the war there were of course no effective countermeasures at all. The subs were cheap and numerous.

    In WWII U-boats were still cheap and even more numerous, but once convoying was instituted the U-boats started to loose. Even during the period when we were not reading their message traffic because the enigma had been upgraded, and in spite of the fact that the Germans were also reading the Allied message traffic.

    As far as tying up resources, this is a case of diminishing returns. Countermeasures against 1 sub are out of all proportion to to the threat, but if the threat is 10 subs or 100, the countermeasures don’t increase in proportion to the threat, it fact they may not change at all.

    The subs’ chances against any one countermeasure are good, but its chances against the full range of countermeasures can be daunting because of the accumulation of probabilities.

    Will it be bombed in port?
    Will it hit a mine exiting port?
    Will it be torpedoed by a hostile sub lurking outside its homeport?
    Will it be located and destroyed by MPA as it transits to its operating area.
    Will it be located and destroyed by MPA or hostile sub sweeping ahead of the its target surface vessel?
    Having fired a torpedo and revealed its approximate location, possibly by a “flaming datum”, will it survive the counter attack?
    Will it survive the transit from it’s operating area back to homeport?
    Will it survive the MPA barrier outside its homeport?
    The submarine patrols outside its homeport?
    The minefield outside its homeport?
    —And it starts all over again.

    and lets not forget, usually when a surface vessel sinks, the crew survives and goes on to man another ship. When a sub sink, it is usually with all hands and they never have an opportunity to pass along their experience.

  40. Don Murphy permalink
    July 25, 2010 6:47 pm

    Hi Fencer,

    Again tho – what we want and what we can afford are two different things. As a Navy guy – and especially one that served in Reagan’s 600 ship navy – I’d LOVE to see a large US Navy. And if you realistically look at how much of our import/export traffic runs on the water, we economically can’t afford to have anything less than an adequate Navy. But sadly, common sense isn’t a requirement in politics (financial bailouts, anyone?).

    Whenever the government gets stuck, military cuts are usually the first on the agenda. Even tho it was cut LAST budget. You almost have to laugh as they try to fund money to cut AFTER they raped and pillaged it last time. This is why we have problems with military healthcare going on. Because the last thing the Army’s gonna cut are guns and tanks, right? We can’t do both. I wish we could. And there’s a lot of nations that wish we could. But right now, we cannot fight everybody’s wars. Our days of being the world’s policeman are over. The reason Germany and France (to some extent) are semi-solvent is cuz while we’re building billion dollar bombers, they are quietly socking that money away under the mattress and signing up to have us protect them. What a great scheme!

    As to your prices – there’s pros and cons to everything. The prices you quote are also for new construction vessels. Russia is not building subs for India/North Korea. They sold them boats they already had. What did we sell two guided missiles to Poland for? Not really a lot, was it? Oh okay…they’ll be expected to back us in the U.N. on an issue or two, but that doesn’t seem to be a sticking point in Warsaw.

    While responding fast to a crisis here and there is nice – we again, don’t have the cash to be doing it. So yes – we should be looking at cheaper, smaller boats as opposed to the large ocean going platforms we have now. Have nukes yes – but the entire sub force should not be nuclear powered. Submarines are not as one dimension as has been suggested. They do a “lot” more than given credit for. Largely due to security. Ya know that SM missile that the Navy used to knock a satelite out? It couldn’t fit in a submarine torpedo tube, could it? Would it surprise you to know that it did, during the 80’s? Submarine launched SAMs are a reality. The fear is that subs have to surface to launch them (wives tale) which is why the USN doesn’t even discuss it in hushed tones.

    Any of the really helpful weapons the USN has are capable of submarine launch if push came to shove. The overriding concern is “do we want a multi-billion dollar sub, shooting down a 400,000 dollar airplane?” Were someone to launch another “Pearl Harbor” sneak attack and sink every American surface ship, I think you’d find to your surprise that the subs remaining would be capable of performing most of the USN’s tasks. And that’s not just me blowing my former-sub-sailor horn.



  41. Fencer permalink
    July 25, 2010 6:17 pm

    Al, I do agree that possibly the primary ability of submarines is that they threaten casualties to even the strongest navy and submarines have always been the weapon of the weaker power precisely because of this. But as the US Navy needs surface ships the only answer I see is to accept the fact that we’ll take loses if we ever have to fight a modern submarine force.

    If you’re suggesting the US Navy should buy foreign subs look at the prices I posted for modern SSNs, long-range AIP submarines aren’t much cheaper with Japan’s 4,600 ton Soryu-class costing $1.4 billion.

    US Navy subs have an entirely different mission than the types of boats the Germans and Russians are building. Our submarines have to have excellent endurance to stay at sea for long periods (meaning a large sub); be fast enough to respond to any crisis (nuclear power); and capable of dealing with any threat, especially hostile subs (expensive combat systems). When all of these requirements are added together our only real choice is something like what we’re currently building and with the Virginias costing $2.2 billion apiece it appears that our shipyards are actually doing a fairly good job at this.

    The part about inflexibility was in regard to a submarine’s inability do anything other than destroy something. While sinking merchant ships with cheap AIP subs is a great tactic it’s not something the US can resort to. Even if we could declare a blockade US Navy ships would need to verify that the merchant belongs to a hostile power, send a VBSS team to search it for contraband, and than either put a team on it to sail it to a friendly port or take the merchant’s crew aboard the US Navy vessel. A submarine would be incapable of doing anything but find the ship and sink it.

    I’m not convinced that a major amphibious assault is impossible against modern weapons. I think that if China had the USN it would be entirely possible for them to have conquered Taiwan by now. While an all submarine force may be an excellent option if the US decides to give up its expeditionary capabilities I prefer to concentrate on how the US Navy could more effectively achieve the mission it has been entrusted with than decide what the mission should be.

  42. Retired Now permalink
    July 25, 2010 6:17 pm

    Lots of Senior Officers and many advanced defense universities…

    Hard to develop and teach Tactics and Doctrine when you have only a handfull of warships, at least half of which are inport somewhere.

    The UK is leading the USN by a couple of decades. On this link, you will notice that the once mighty Royal Navy has only 11 sub warships ! ( and also only 29 total surface warships ). All too soon, the United States will have a tiny inadequately sized Navy as well:

    all too soon .

  43. July 25, 2010 5:35 pm

    Hello X,

    thankyou for posting that link.
    About thirty years ago I read a book about trawlers during the Second World War and I have wanted to get hold of another copy of it for some time.
    Unfortunately I couldn’t remember it’s name but I have found it on the book list on that site.


  44. July 25, 2010 4:35 pm

    Hudson said “One of the surviving mementos from his flight duties with the 8th Air Force stationed in Kimbolton, England, was a small piece of flak that had been polished on one side and the words “Battle of Britain” stamped in fancy script. A hole had been drilled through the piece and a tassel attached, as I recall.”

    I have a shell casing from great grandfather’s trawler. See

    Ignore that these were the simple type of ships a certain naval website owner likes……!

  45. Don Murphy permalink
    July 25, 2010 4:05 pm

    Hi Fencer,

    I think one of the problems is that we think in terms of one to one. In other words, I have one submarine and one ship. In order for me (the sub) to be effective, I have to sink the ship. But that’s not always the case. USS Cole was a prime example. No, she wasn’t sunk, but she was out of commission for a period of time. That means that the US Navy had one less destroyer to play with.

    So “mission kill” is still viable in modern warfare. The cost of a submarine is prohibitive ONLY if you embark on a course that the USA has chosen. The USA’s mantra has been that if we use someone else’s gear then that someone knows how good/bad we are. USN planners will then point to Argentine successes with Exocet which were due to British threat radar not classifying Exocet as a threat. After all, the RN used it too so how could it be a threat? Once Britain “turned off” the “Exocet is friendly” part of the fleet’s radar, the Argie kills dropped off the screen.

    And to some extent, the USN has a point, but ONLY if we’re at war constantly. If there are huge lapses between our armed conflict, then we end up with the situation we’re in now where only Newport News and Electric Boat can provide our needs. Germany on the other hand has no problem selling it’s top of the line AIP boats to anyone who will buy them. Russia likewise, sells it’s boats to anyone with a credit line. This means that Jose the tin pot dictator can pick up a Soviet Tango or Kilo Class boat and go to town. And all for less than a Meko Class Corvette.

    Now if you want nuclear, then that will raise the ante as you not only need a crew but a support infrastructure. But non-nuke boats are a different kettle of fish altogether. Flexibility, likewise, is also open to interpretation. What if Mr. tin pot dictator’s purpose is NOT to sink the entire US Navy? What if his purpose is merely to sink one or two cruise ships? Firstly, loss of civilian life aside, what would that do to a state like Florida where tourism is the majority of our income?

    Carriers are important because the Cold War is over and most of our allies want their land/bases back. So if we need to use airpower anywhere we need carriers. Or do we? America needs to understand that it is no longer the world’s policeman. America has neither the money nor manpower to continue doing it. So with less demand on carriers, why not subs as the backbone? Same with amphib landings. D-Day and Iwo Jima are over. We will never see that again in our lifetime. This is predominantly why the USMC’s major assets are helicopter transport-oriented.

    To pull off a 1944-style landing on any shore would be suicidal. Why else would Taiwan exist against China’s will as long as it has? China knows the Taiwanese would hand their ass to them. Yes, they’d overwhelm the Taiwanese, but would anyone be alive left to raise the flag? China’s dumb but they’re not stupid. Right now for all the money America has and all the stuff we need to do, a large fleet is not needed. President Murphy would cut the Navy back to eight carrier battle groups with only four active and the rest in refit/upgrade. For everything that we are doing now, there’s little that SEALS/subs can’t do.

    Yes, it will take getting used to. But then again, isn’t adapting what it’s all about? Isn’t that why we took four of the Ohio Class boomers to begin with and turned them into cruise missile carriers? Of course it is.



  46. Hudson permalink
    July 25, 2010 3:37 pm

    Re Convoys and U-Boats:

    When my Old Man returned from overseas spring 1944, he traveled aboard a merchantman with some of his stuff, and the rest of this things were stowed aboard a second merchantman. The second ship was torpedoed and sunk by a U-Boat. Hence, here I am.

    One of the surviving mementos from his flight duties with the 8th Air Force stationed in Kimbolton, England, was a small piece of flak that had been polished on one side and the words “Battle of Britain” stamped in fancy script. A hole had been drilled through the piece and a tassel attached, as I recall.

  47. Fencer permalink
    July 25, 2010 3:35 pm

    Don Murphy, I agree that the modern nuclear submarine is an extremely capable weapon and in fact think the US Navy needs more of them. I was simply posting that I see cost as a major problem with an all submarine force. I believe that the price of advanced submarines, when combined with their inflexibility in limited warfare, shows why they are incapable of being the backbone of any navy that wishes to play a global role.

  48. July 25, 2010 3:21 pm

    Hello Don!!

    Misreading on line is easily done; I do it all the time, mostly with what I have typed myself!!! I reside in the extreme north-west Midlands. I don’t care about beer as I am tea-total; but cheese is a serious issue.

    You mentioned sea lanes. How are these marked out? ;)

    MattR said “Go to a site like and the sheer clutter of the sealanes becomes apparent. You really can’t hide a surface vessel amidst so many prying eyes. How crews can even defend one in crowded international waters is beyond me. “Hey look, what’s that flash of light coming from that trawler…”

    This reminds me of MPA sniffing for diesel fumes to detect snorkling SSKs. ;)

  49. RW2 permalink
    July 25, 2010 3:03 pm

    Don’t count out surface ships like the Flight 1 Burkes and CGs that have Towed Array. Subs can be detected a lot farther out and deeper than with traditional bow mounted sonar.

    The major problem with submarines from a political view is they can not be seen. A Nation can not show their resolve with a fleet of subs. Nothing says hey we mean busniess or we have your back better than a carrier battle group.
    In order for a submarine to send a message it has to sink something. What proff does an aggressor nation has that something is off their coast? A sunkin ship with the bodies of dead sailors floating around? Ask yourself this what looks better on CNN or the BBC ?

    Don’t forget the U.S. Navy golden rule. Warships are built, maintain and deployed to prevent wars.

  50. Don Murphy permalink
    July 25, 2010 2:55 pm

    Hi Mike,

    Unfortunately “weapon of a lesser power” went away when we started putting ICBM’s on “pig boats.” As others have pointed out, the cost of a sub – on a bad day – can easily eclipse other ships. You also have to quantify (as do all of our potential enemies) exactly what is considered acceptable losses.

    A good book to dive into is “Trading With The Enemy.” Conocco and Standard Oil were still doing business with Nazi Germany and as such, their tankers were by and large ignored by the U-Boats with one or two exceptions to complete the ruse. The fear of U-Boat sinking did not stop Esso, Shell and others from sailing, but insurance premiums rose which ate into company profits and was passed on to the consumer.

    So shutting down a sea lane in the traditional sense, does not have to physically be done. Again, look at our boomers. They don’t “shoot” at anyone, but they are a deterrent. While a missile silo and airfield can be bombed, no one (not even the president) knows where our SSBN’s are. We know how many are at sea, but that’s it.

    One of the problems is that we (both in government and at home) continue to fight WW2 all over again. Things are a lot different both in technology and cost. We have tankers and RORO ships that could dwarf the entire pre-war Japanese merchant fleet. How many – realistically – would have to be sunk? No…the president can’t swim out to a sub and proclaim “mission accomplished” on it’s hull, but subs will figure into the next sea war even more deadly than in the past.



  51. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 25, 2010 2:46 pm

    Thanks everyone for your thoughts! As I said, I am not so confident in the ability of the submarine to totally shut down the seaways as I was when I wrote this article, but I do love the debate it has stirred.

    As for the submarine being the weapon of a lesser power, that is a given. The submarine, as we see with the pirates, or even rogue speedboats navies like Iran, are only a problem if ignored. The thing about the submarine, it can be a BIG PROBLEM when it is ignored. I fear we are ignoring, or at least vastly underestimating this threat today.

  52. MatR permalink
    July 25, 2010 2:39 pm

    Got to say this is one of the best threads on New Wars for ages. Readers’ actual discussion of technical merits and capabilities trumps hot air any day. Sad to say we’ve suffered a bit of that.

    I’d agree with DM about surface vessels being toast in a war against a technological near-peer armed with more than a couple of ssns or ssks. I’d also add to that the terrible vulnerability of surface ships to land-based aircraft, and to missiles of all manners. If a plane or missile approaches an Aegis or similar at wave-top height (and why not? It could probably plot the ship’s location from satellite data, reports from unarmed merchantmen, and so on) the ship won’t see it until it’s a minute or two out at most – and much, much less if stealth or supersonic/hypersonic speed is used. If you have anything less than a 95% shoot-down rate for incoming targets – a hopeless dream at best – then surface ships look scarily vulnerable.

    Go to a site like and the sheer clutter of the sealanes becomes apparent. You really can’t hide a surface vessel amidst so many prying eyes. How crews can even defend one in crowded international waters is beyond me. “Hey look, what’s that flash of light coming from that trawler…”

    No threat of that affecting a sub.

  53. Don Murphy permalink
    July 25, 2010 2:30 pm

    Dear X,

    Ah…got me there. I read too fast. You’re correct. A few people going without their holiday is all that was really at stake. Tho it is interesting how many people on my side of the Atlantic were stirred into believing that it was the end of Western civilization as we know it, ha ha. Mum and dad in law were actually hoping it would be bad so that they’d get to stay another month. I told them they’d get homesick as American beer/cheese are shite.

    It’s also amazing how stupid Hitler was in respect to the wisdom of his commander, Doenitz. Things would have been different had Karl gotten all the subs he wanted and forebade them from sending messages every six seconds. That’s not to take away from the RN’s herculean effort of upgrading ASW sensor tech however… Where do you live in the UK? My inlaws are in Devon.



  54. Don Murphy permalink
    July 25, 2010 2:21 pm

    Hi Al,

    The point of helos and air is that they are effective, but there are limits to their effectiveness. They compliment each other. The ship’s bread and butter is the more quiet sensors (SQQ-89, etc). The problem is that the ship’s speed and weapon range preclude it screeching down the main street with an SSN. Plus – sonar works both ways. The minute you ping me to verify your fix, I know now your verified location. In 99 of 100 sub kills where the USN Spruance DD caught a USN sub, the result was the Sprucan remaining quiet and then having the helo perform the dirty work.

    The helo’s bread and butter is that it can (like Hokie said) outrun a sub in spades and put the weapon right on top of the sub to the point where a kill is pretty much guaranteed. In the time it takes a destroyer to get in to firing position, the sub is gone. Or deep. This is why the Navy’s ASW community decried the Burke’s being built without choppers. A plane and a chopper CAN under the right conditions, detect a submarine. The problem is that those “right” conditions aren’t that extensive.

    Nor do you have enough of them to utilize for independent hunting. Plus fuel costs cash. Whether I sink you or you sink me – it’s going to take a concerted effort on your part to hunt me/defend against me. In that scenario, I’ve already served my purpose. If you only have thirty destroyers and my one sub can occupy four of them, that’s as good as a mission kill for all intents and purposes.



  55. July 25, 2010 2:18 pm

    Don said “P.S. A few cruise missiles on your civilian airports would change your switching from sea to air transport. Again – not enough to really starve you, but enough to cause anarchy amongst your populace.”

    I don’t think I made myself clear. I am fully aware of how much cargo come and goes by sea. Further I am also aware of the nature of sea cargo and air cargo. Just to clarify. What amazed me during the volcano crisis was how there was a sense amongst the great unwashed that we were heading for a transport crisis. We weren’t, as all you old sea dogs here know. But the (wo)man in the street seems to think the world depends on air transport. I mentioned out-of-season produce and I could have added things like cod from Iceland, but the tonnes and tonnes of food needed to feed the UK comes by sea. And would it be a bad thing if the great unwashed missed out on their foreign holiday? No. Actually from a green point of view it would probably save tons and tons of carbon. Where it might hurt is the movement of high tech spares. I once had a printer down here in the UK because there was a part in Europe. But if air travel were to disappear the world’s economy would adjust to that. Actually it might stimulate the growth in certain hi-tech production.

  56. July 25, 2010 2:12 pm


    How is a helicopter tied to a sonobuoy after it is dropped?

  57. July 25, 2010 2:09 pm

    Hello Don!!!

    Heck we were lucky!!!! If you read enough military history you gain an appreciation that for every dogged defence, every wonder weapon, every skilled admiral (or general) there is mountains of luck, chance, etc.

    And you are right to mention the WW2 Atlantic campaign. Only 1 in 10 (one in ten) of convoys saw a U-boat. And if you check the figures of losses against builds you could with the luxury of hindsight we have that that the U-boat arm was anywhere near victory. Before somebody says something about the US not being in the fight from the get go you have to go and check HOW FEW BOATS the Kriegsmarine had sea in the early years of the war.

    Saying all that you have an appreciation of why people like grandparents were terrified of starvation when the media of the day reported loss after loss. Of course my grandparents (as with the rest of the British public) did know how many convoys were at sea or the quantity of goods and material needed to run the country in war (let a lone in peace time.) And the same could have easily been said of most of the government, Admiralty etc.

  58. Don Murphy permalink
    July 25, 2010 2:08 pm

    Hi Fencer,

    The cost comparison is interesting. The Tico isn’t that far off with it’s VLS but let’s remember that the Tico is ABOVE water. Everyone knows where it is and by default, can pretty much figure out where it’s going. You have no idea where my Ohio is.

    Subs are expensive. But you’re giving your Burke DDG the same cost-effectiveness as a sub. Again – you’re ON the water. Anyone with a mk-1 eyeball can see you. You have no idea where I am until I hit you. This means that you need to devote X number of dollars MORE to defending against me. Remember – my only task is to kill you. And unless I screw up (badly) you’re not gonna know I’m there until I hit you. You on the other hand have to survive air/ship attacks *PLUS* search for me. Were the Burke and Ohio to be fighting a sub-less/plane-less enemy, then yes, Burke is cheaper.

    Also add in the cost of the weapons. MK-48 can sink anything that floats. How many Harpoons/gunfire would the Burke need? Finally, add in the cost of what you need. Norman Polmar was quite accurate in the 80’s and the sad fact is that we import more by sea now than at any time in our life. Even if we give the Burke/Tico 100% sensor success, they can’t be everywhere at once, can they? And as they are on top of the water, we know where they are NOW. Five subs could therefore (as per Polmar) tie down a considerably sized navy EVEN without sinking anything. Fuel costs money. This is why the USN persists in SSN tech.



  59. Don Murphy permalink
    July 25, 2010 1:57 pm

    Hi Hokie,

    The sonobuoy on it’s own has to be dropped by an airplane/helo. Lets give the plane/helo a theoretical load of 50 sonobuoys. I don’t have millions of subs – you don’t have millions of ships. So while my sensors are quiet – yours are given away by dropping the first sonobuoy. And again – the buoy has to be told where to drop. It can’t search an area on it’s own. Once the plane/helo drops it – the plane/helo is then tied to that buoy until it’s usefullness is over. And where are you dropping it anyway? Who told you where to drop it? A ship. A plane on it’s own flying willy-nilly up and down the coast is not going to have a clue where to drop it’s buoys. And speaking as a former submarine sailor, the success rate of ships (even today) catching a submarine are pretty equal to winning the lottery. Yes people do win the lottery, but will it be you?

    Even passive buoys make noise when they enter the water. As does the plane flying over. If I’m in a thermal – you’ll never hear me. Submarines can be caught – the problem is the US Government wants to do it with four ships. Ain’t gonna happen. The USA is going to need to spend money they’re not prepared to spend. Norman Polmar wrote a paper in the 80’s postulating that a mere five Soviet SSN’s could bring Western commerce to it’s knees. “Five” isn’t a lot. As a post-script, the Cold War Soviet boats were noisier than the German AIP boats now.



  60. July 25, 2010 1:41 pm


    I agree with you that submarines are more important than most people think and that we need to boost our ASW. However I think you are selling the helicopter short as an extension of a ship’s sensors. Also there are both active and PASSIVE sonobuoys.

  61. Fencer permalink
    July 25, 2010 1:39 pm

    Since Hokie_1997 already covered many of the capability problems and the salient point of your blog is affordability I’ll deal with what I see as another major problem with a submarine navy – price.

    First submarines carry a much smaller payload than equivalently sized surface combatants. The Ohio-class SSGNs carry 154 TLAMs to the Ticonderogas’ 122 VLS, but while the cruisers displace slightly less than 10,000 tons the Ohios weight in at over 16,700.

    As well as giving fewer weapons per ton submarines also cost significantly more for each weapon. The Virginia SSN carry 4 torpedo tubes and 12 VLS for $2.2 billion giving an average of $137.5 million per weapon. The Arleigh Burke Flight IIAs on the other hand have 96 VLS, a 5″ gun, 2 triple torpedo tubes, and 2 helicopters for $1.8 billion (and it would be even less expensive if production hadn’t been halted) giving us an average of $17.8 million per weapon.

    Lastly submarines also lose in straight cost. At $2.2 billion the Virginia-class SSNs (which were designed to be affordable) are the second most expensive ships in serial production for the US Navy and the SSBN replacement is expected to cost well over $4 billion dollars. And it’s not like this is something that’s unique to America when the British are paying nearly $2 billion for a smaller boat without VLS and the French Barracuda-class costs slightly less than $1.5 billion and has a total payload smaller than the Virginias’ ready to fire weapons.

  62. Hokie_1997 permalink
    July 25, 2010 1:34 pm

    Don wrote,

    “There is no airborne ASW sensor platform (currently) that can “see” deeper than periscope depth. So your helo – while fast – is going to basically be the carrier pidgeon for the ship. Nothing more. Sono buoys are active sonar – “pinging.” Pinging makes noise. So while you’re dropping them merrily – I hear you hundreds of miles away and know which course to plot to avoid you. And you only carry so many…”


    Don — will address the substance of your comments in detail. But a couple major things I wanted to point out:

    1) Sonobuoys can and do go much deeper than periscope depth. Instruction below shows depths to 1,000 or greater depending on type.

    Click to access ntsp-Sonobuoy.pdf

    2) Not all sonobuoys are active sonar. The Navy has been relying passive sonobuoys (LOFAR and DIFAR) for decades. Again — see attached instruction.

    3) The strength of a sonobuoy system is distribution and area coverage. Assuming I was looking in the right area, I can smother an area with a field of sonobuoys which may be very difficult for a submarine to avoid.

    4) Don, you’re making the submarine to be 10 ft tall, invisible and bullet-proof! Yet let’s not forget that US ASW assets (predominantly SOSUS, VP, and SSN) did an amazing job of locating and tracking Soviet bloc submarines during the Cold War.

  63. Don Murphy permalink
    July 25, 2010 1:12 pm

    Dear X,

    You are correct that each new weapon system forecasts the doom of it’s predecessor. I guess it would have to in order to get funding. One of the problems tho with our scenario is that we really have to suffering to remember. Britain/Russia were never truly starved during the war. But was that because we were THAT good? Or was it because we were lucky? We were reading Germany’s Enigma traffic left and right. We knew what sub was leaving, where it leaving from, who the captain was and what it’s intended target was. The fact that as many German U-Boats survived as they did, was due to the speed with which we could get the intel to the killers.

    Would we be so lucky next time? This is a question that needs to be answered. So much of our ASW tech is rooted in the fact that “we won the last war.” True. But that would only be a success today, should the future enemy fail to learn from Japan/Germany’s mistakes. USN/RN tests with captured U-Boats (especially the new Type 22) were pretty scary for the Allies. Had they not been reading Germany’s codes – things may have been different. Different enought to win the war? No. But different enough to prolong the war ie; “more dead Allied soldiers/citizens.”



    P.S. A few cruise missiles on your civilian airports would change your switching from sea to air transport. Again – not enough to really starve you, but enough to cause anarchy amongst your populace.

  64. July 25, 2010 1:01 pm

    Didn’t somebody foretell the end of the bomber when RADAR was invented?

  65. July 25, 2010 1:00 pm

    Further to Don’s comments. During the “volcano crisis” I was amazed by how many pundits, experts, and interested parties said that it showed how the modern world couldn’t survive with air transport. I was in hysterics; well not quite but I was agog at the ignorance shown by the modern public. To be honest if we couldn’t get certain veg and fruit out of season it might make some think more about where their food came from……

  66. Don Murphy permalink
    July 25, 2010 12:38 pm

    Hi Hokie,

    Some great comments, but…

    The main selling point for carrier forces and amphib forces is to operate in the absence of friends. For example, when we bombed Libya in 1986, the USAF’s component of that came from European bases which we no longer have. So in that circumstance, a carrier battle group gives the USA the ability to use airpower without another nation’s permission or without having to gain airspace permission. Keep this thought for later…

    Your thoughts: “Submarines have a limited roles against the sort of low-end challenges we are currently facing (e.g. counter-piracy, maritime security) and almost no role in some high-end areas we expect of our naval forces (e.g. anti-air warfare, amphibious warfare).”

    Some nice opinions, but again, you’re forgetting who our “enemy” is and who we are. The whole point of a carrier force is to – again – operate where we don’t have friendly bases. So since we’re out at sea – out of distance of land based threats, “who” is going to threaten our carrier group? It would have to be another ship yes? Hence those enemy ships have to travel in areas where our subs could be. How would we handle piracy? We’d have to rethink how we kill. No one wants to waste jet fuel or sub torpedos to sink a dory carrying four Somali bad guys. But how about some piracy/terrorism of our own? How about sanitizing their home port with a few cruise missiles? Kinda hard to steal something when you’ve got nowhere to go home to… Do we have money to be doing the warfare George Bush dreamt of? No. So the ability to move 100,000 men and their tanks in some big amphib landing is going to go by the wayside.

    Your thoughts: “Command of the Sea. Submarines are a great tool for “sea denial” but not so much for “sea control.” This distinction is important. Submarines can prevent an enemy surface or submarine force from using a particular chunk of water (sea denial). However, the key factor since WW2 in maintaining control of the seas has been maintaining control of the airspace above and surrounding it. A submarine has zero capability to do this.”

    Kind of correct but not so. Maintaining airspace? Then you’d need a carrier, right? How’s that carrier going to get somewhere? On top of the water, right? So if a submarine is under that water, then that would be sea control. Could I – a sub – influence your land based air? Sure. T-LAM. How many would I need? One T-LAM B with a 2000lb warhead to crater your runway. Several T-LAM C’s with submunitions to wipe out your parked aircraft.

    Your point: “I’d also point out that helicopters don’t need to hover when deploying sonobuoys. I’m not sure where you got that fact, but it is simply wrong. They do need to hover to deploy their dipping sonar arrays. And I don’t see how you can say a 150 kt helo is slow, since in the previous paragraph you laud the speed of a 30-40 kt SSN.”

    The helo is not an independent weapon system, is it? It comes from a ship. The ship has to call the shots. The whole purpose of the helo is to extend the ship’s kill ability. So if the ship’s sensors (already in the water) can detect a submarine at 20 miles, it does no good for the helo to be 80 miles away, eh? A destroyer/frigate can “hunt” submarines blindly by picking areas of ocean that it “thinks” the sub might be and therefore having the helo hunt ahead/behind the ship, but… plane noise travels underwater as fast as ship noise. There is no airborne ASW sensor platform (currently) that can “see” deeper than periscope depth. So your helo – while fast – is going to basically be the carrier pidgeon for the ship. Nothing more. Sono buoys are active sonar – “pinging.” Pinging makes noise. So while you’re dropping them merrily – I hear you hundreds of miles away and know which course to plot to avoid you. And you only carry so many…

    Your thoughts: “Commerce raiding. I think you are the one refighting WW2 on this one. I am struggling to think of a scenario in which any theoretical enemy submarine fleet could and would want to bring global commerce to a halt. Are we planning to fight the Axis Powers over again?”

    Do we care if one or two Walmart’s cannot stock cheap plastic crap for a day or two? No – of course we don’t. But play with me here – how many ships will I get to sink before you get forced by Walmart’s lobby to go hunting for me? And those ships you send will be ships you could have used elsewhere, eh? Voila’ – instant success. Also – don’t underestimate WW2. Close to 95% of everything we import comes in by sea. No – we’re not fighting the Axis anymore but we could not switch to air traffic for our imports overnight. Again – instant success for our rogue submarine.

    Conclusion. I think converting to an all submarine force would make us much more capable in terms of “sea denial”, but a much weaker in terms of “sea control”. And I don’t think that’s the direction we want our Navy to go. We need a balanced force if we want to control the seas – air, surface, and subsurface.

    Your thoughts: “Sooner or later, someone is going to discover the gizmo which takes away this stealth.”

    You’re placing a lot of faith on unbuilt technology. You’re also assuming that the submarines are dormant. Also keep in mind that it’s a lot like cops and speeders. The company that builds your radar detector is the same company that builds the cop’s radar gun. Research it someday…you’ll be amazed.



  67. Hudson permalink
    July 25, 2010 12:36 pm

    An all-sub fleet is a bit of a stretch, although it is an excellent POV to stimulate debate on the composition of the Navy, today and tomorrow.

    As I argued in the previous Carrier Alternatives post, based up extensive anecdotal evidence going back decades, the carrier battle group is vulnerable to quiet D/E boats, especially those of the AIP variety, and therefore it would make sense to allocate more resources to subs than carriers for control/denial of the seas–but certainly not to the point of 0 carriers and surface ships, and all subs.

    The article referenced by Hokie_1997 is quite interesting and contains cautions against an all-sub fleet. However, much of this knowledge of satellite radar seamap imaging is at least a decade old, and no one seems to be saying that we now need a 0 sub fleet. The presence of surface ships is much more apparent than that of subs, which have the option of just sitting underwater and leaving no wake at all. But likely seamaps will become more accurate and comprehensive for all ships and boats, and we will all be living in glass houses.

    Interestingly, some Japanese admirals had this discussion in the 1930s, and advocated for an all carrier/sub navy. They were over-ruled by the “battleship” admirals. However, if memory serves, Japan built far more carriers than battleships during the war. The third ship in the Yamato class was converted during construction into a carrier.

    BWT, if the bolded “from 2007” is meant to click through to the article, in the first paragraph, it does not do so.

  68. July 25, 2010 12:15 pm

    For amphibious ops’ you need a degree of sea control. At the moment that means carriers to project a bubble of safety. This is what happened during the Falklands. The submarine is an instrument of sea denial not sea control.

  69. July 25, 2010 12:11 pm

    The submarine is the weapon of the lesser naval power. We don’t live below the waves!!!! The is comparable to saying that airpower is a panacea to all security problems. Or in deed the problem of piracy can be solved at sea without some recourse to land action………

    But at least you have thrown an idea out there. Lets see if it bares scrutiny!!

  70. Hokie_1997 permalink
    July 25, 2010 7:55 am

    Intro. I take issue with the blanket statement that there are few if any jobs the surface fleet can do which the submarine cannot. Submarines have a limited roles against the sort of low-end challenges we are currently facing (e.g. counter-piracy, maritime security) and almost no role in some high-end areas we expect of our naval forces (e.g. anti-air warfare, amphibious warfare).

    Command of the Sea. Submarines are a great tool for “sea denial” but not so much for “sea control.” This distinction is important. Submarines can prevent an enemy surface or submarine force from using a particular chunk of water (sea denial). However, the key factor since WW2 in maintaining control of the seas has been maintaining control of the airspace above and surrounding it. A submarine has zero capability to do this.

    I’d also point out that helicopters don’t need to hover when deploying sonobuoys. I’m not sure where you got that fact, but it is simply wrong. They do need to hover to deploy their dipping sonar arrays. And I don’t see how you can say a 150 kt helo is slow, since in the previous paragraph you laud the speed of a 30-40 kt SSN.

    Commerce raiding. I think you are the one refighting WW2 on this one. I am struggling to think of a scenario in which any theoretical enemy submarine fleet could and would want to bring global commerce to a halt. Are we planning to fight the Axis Powers over again?

    Conclusion. I think converting to an all submarine force would make us much more capable in terms of “sea denial”, but a much weaker in terms of “sea control”. And I don’t think that’s the direction we want our Navy to go. We need a balanced force if we want to control the seas – air, surface, and subsurface.

    And just like nature, warfare abhors a vacuum. Submarines rely upon remaining undetected to be effective — and have enjoyed undersea stealth for almost a century. This simply can’t go on forever. Sooner or later, someone is going to discover the gizmo which takes away this stealth. They might have already done so:


  1. Military And Intelligence News Briefs — July 26, 2010 « Read NEWS
  2. Military And Intelligence News Briefs — July 26, 2010 « Read NEWS

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