by David Crane
david at defensereview.com
November 20, 2006
By now, everyone and their mother knows that last month, in the Pacific, a Chinese submarine stalked a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group and surfaced within torpedo and missile firing range before being detected. DefenseReview can’t really say we’re surprised by this, especially since U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups are no longer utilizing the Lockheed Martin S-3B Viking Aircraft in the ASW/ASuW (Anti-Submarine Warfare/Anti-Surface Warfare) role. Frankly, it makes one wonder how the U.S. Navy plans to protect our carrier battle groups against modern quiet attack submarines armed with standard torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, and the new breed of supercavitating torpedoes like the Russian Shkval-2 (“Shkval” translates to “Squall”).
Given the current lack of U.S. ASW/ASuW capability, we don’t see how the U.S. Navy can possibly adequately defend itself against these threats. In January of this year (2006), Jane’s Defence Weekly reported on a new “revolutionary” anti-ship version of the DF-21 medium-range ballistic missile being developed by the Chinese military, but the situation gets even bleaker when one takes into account the aforementioned high-speed, rocket-propelled guided supercavitating torpedoes like the Russian Shkval-2 (“Shkval” tranlates to “Squall”) that’s reported to weigh approx. 2700kg (5,923 lbs) and travel at 230-300mph. This supercaviating torpedo tech creates a real problem from a ship defense standpoint, since one has so little time to react to a threat coming in so fast underwater, even if you detect it quickly. At present, the U.S. Navy doesn’t appear to have effective anti-torpedo torpedoes, let alone torpedoes that can intercept ultra-high speed supercavitating torpedos.
Oh, and this just in: according to Aviation Week magazine, the Chinese military is developing a new high-speed cruise missile called Anjian (“Dark Sword”). The new missile was reportedly displayed at Air Show China. From the picture we’ve seen of it, Anjian also looks very stealthy, i.e. it looks like it utilizes stealth technology. If China’s already perfected this item, it would be another weapon that our Navy can’t combat.
Bottom line, our aircraft carriers are vulnerable against the latest Russian and Chinese torpedo and missile tech, and with the current U.S. naval defense philosophy, that situation isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Unfortunately, we no longer have an armored Navy (no more battle ships in service), which means we’re relying on our smaller, less armored high-tech ships like AEGIS (a.k.a. AEGIS weapon system MK-7 a.k.a. AEGIS combat system) to protect the fleet–along with our aircraft carriers themselves, which, again, are vulnerable.
What happens if China decides to take back Taiwan? How can we protect it? At present, from a pure military/naval standpoint we probably can’t. The Chinese military can most likely sink our aircraft carriers, along with a lot of our other ships, at will. A group of updated/upgraded battleships and heavy cruisers carrying the latest weapons and ship defense systems, and capable of carrying, launching, and recovering their own aircraft–and thus providing their own air cover (ideally with F-35B and/or F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter and navalized 2-seat A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog”, or “Sea Hog”, aircraft)– could probably be used effectively in fron of our aircraft carriers to defend Taiwan, but we no longer have any in service. The USS Wisconson and USS Iowa battleships still exixt, but they’re currently mothballed. The USS Missouri and USS New Jersey are in museums in New Jersey and Philadelphia, respectively. That gives us four battleships with which to work (i.e. upgrade/modify, weaponize and modernize). The Wisconson and Iowa could most likely be brought back into service the fastest. Two to four battleships would probably be enough to handle the job, provided we could also defend against the Chinese subs.
Now, there will be some who say that battleships and heavy cruisers are outdated tech, that heavy ship armor for defending against missile and torpedo strikes is an outdated concept. They’ll say that we already have everything we would need with our AEGIS ships, subs and large aircraft carriers that carry lots of fighter and attack aircraft to the fight. First, that represents “Japanese Zero” (Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter aircraft) unarmored mentality–and we all remember how the lighter, faster and more maneuverable (yet totally unarmored) Japanese Zeros faired against the much more heavily-armored Grumman F6F Hellcat fighter aircraft in head-on chicken-type aerial dogfights (the Hellcat pilots’ preferred fighting mode) with guns a’blazin’. The Hellcats won. That’s why I much prefer the “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking” or “Timex” approach. Bottom line: physical armor is still a good idea as a component in our naval combat arsenal/solution, especially if a battleship and/or heavy cruiser can pull double-duty as an aircraft carrier. After all, we might just find ourselves in a game of chicken with the Chinese military in the Taiwan straights. With our Navy in it’s current state, let’s hope we don’t.
And, second, who says we can’t convert our currently-mothballed battleships to nuclear power and uprate them (a.k.a. update/upgrade them) in the fashion oulined above, to the point where they can deal with modern threats (enemy jets, high-speed anti-ship missiles and supercavitating torpedoes, etc.). Give them flight decks and the latest high-tech armor packages, radar stealth tech (physical and electronic), countermeasures (electronic and physical), sensors (AEGIS phased-array radar, etc.), and weapons suites (anti-missile missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, anti-ship missiles, and anti-supercavitating torpedo torpedos–which would also have to be supercavitating)–to deal with modern Chinese and Russian military tech threats.
In order to enable them to provide their own air cover (air defense), we should equip them (battle ships) with aircraft launching catapults, ski-jump style take-off ramps, aircraft storage space, elevators, etc. so that they can be fully self-sufficiant (carry, launch and recover their own aircraft), rather than relying on aircraft carriers for this (more on this in a follow-up article). As mentioned above, he Lockheed Martin F-35B (STOVL version) Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) would seem to be an excellent candidate for the job. Imagine if you could launch F-35Bs right off of fully-modernized, ultra-weaponized, highly-armored, stealthy battleships!
So, bring back the battleships and heavy cruisers–and update/upgrade/weaponize/modernize them accordingly!
Note: Ideally, strategically, I’d actually prefer a larger number of modernized (as outlined above), armored heavy cruisers, destroyers, and even smaller ships that are still large enough to at least launch F-35B STOVL fighter aircraft and carry all the latest goodies (gun systems, advanced ship defense systems, missiles, launching platforms and storage for aircraft). However, we already have the battleships available in storage (meaning they already exist), so we could start with them, at least as an interim solution. Besides, nothing intimidates quite like a battleship, particularly if it can also launch it’s own fighters and sub-hunting aircraft.
For future anti-submarine warfare (ASW), specifically, we might want to consider the following:
1) Bring back the S-3B Viking Aircraft for ASW/ASuW. If the Navy doesn’t want to do that, perhaps they could consider converting the Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye or E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft to the ASW role. Or, as alluded-to above, we could navalize the A-10/OA-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog” to create a two-seat “Sea Hog” capable of ASW/ASuW. Any/all of these options would be better than having no carrier-based ASW/ASuW aircraft in service, whatsoever.
2) As already touched on above, focus a lot of effort on developing viable supercavitating torpedoes with anti-torpedo/anti-supercavitating torpedo capability.
3) Produce and field more P-3C Orion (P-3C Update III Anti-Surface Warfare Improvement Program [AIP], specifically) aircraft. Right now, if our numbers are correct, the U.S. military has approx. 108 of these aircraft in service (unconfirmed/unverified). The P-3C aircraft are land-based, not carrier-based.
The U.S. has never had to go up against modern high-tech, ultra-quiet nuclear and Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) hybrid-electric enemy subs in battle, and good thing, ‘cause we’re not prepared for it.
If we get into any kind of military conflict with China, it will most-likely stay conventional, and it will very likely be over the Middle East oil supply. The way China and Russia look at it, why should the United States control that supply? Why not them, instead? If it comes to a military conflict, the Chinese will most likely go for the U.S. military’s central nervous system and heart. They could even end up teaming with Russia to fight us, in which case we’d be in big, big trouble. Both the Russians and Chinese combined militaries will be formidable, and they will play chess, not checkers. We have to be prepared for this, and right now, we simply are not ready.
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