Streetwise Professor

July 16, 2009

You Can’t Hit What You Can’t Seen

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Professor @ 8:49 pm

Frequent commentor, not to say gadfly, S/O, has suggested that American aircraft carriers are obsolete due to the development of new anti-ship weapons, such as hypersonic missiles and conventional ballistic missiles.  Information Dissemination (a Navy geek website) links to a Navy Times article on the US development of a new anti-ship missile that addresses S/O’s arguments head on:

I particularly enjoyed, and agree completely, with the response by Norman Friedman.

U.S. commanders became wary of ship-launched anti-ship missiles in exercises in the 1980s, during which they missed or hit neutral ships about as often as they found their targets, naval weapons expert Norman Friedman said. The weapons suffered from the classic problem of needing good information about their targets.

Friedman said he was skeptical about the prospects for DARPA and ONR’s new missile. Although sensors have gotten better in the age of unmanned aerial vehicles and higher-tech satellites, the classic target-finding problem still remains, he said.

“There are constant efforts to make hypersonic missiles — you see claims about them — but they don’t seem to go anywhere.”

Scouting, Scouting, Scouting. My favorite paragraph in Wayne P. Hughes book  Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat covers the problem perfectly.

It seems pedestrian to say that scouting has always been an important constant in war. Perhaps the way to put it is this: winners have outscouted the enemy in detection, in tracking, and in targeting. At sea better scouting – more important than maneuver, as much as weapon range, and oftentimes as much as anything else – has determined who would attack not merely effectively, but who would attack decisively first.

While I have no problems with the development of a new anti-ship weapon system, particularly considering this is a weapon system that doesn’t seem to get much attention in the US Navy anymore; I still say the challenge for the US Navy is improving the capabilities in scouting. I could be wrong, but I don’t see any evidence that delivering firepower is a problem for any service branch of the armed forces.

But developing effective maritime domain awareness of the battlefield… I see that as a major issue emerging in the 21st century, particularly with hybrid threats emerging that look and act exactly like the normal maritime traffic seen globally every day.

But if the United States, which has the most advanced, extensive, and capable surveillance resources in the world has difficulties finding maritime targets, any potential challenger will have even more daunting challenges.  This is especially true inasmuch as the US also has the greatest capability to deny any enemy of the ability to use these resources.

This is no reason for complacency by the United States Navy.  It is just to say that some seeming wonder weapons have Achilles Heels that make them far less threatening than their specs would suggest.

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1 Comment »

  1. 1. The article says that 10$ mn has been allocated to start its development.

    2. The anti anti-ship missile comments referred to the 1980’s!!

    3. The point remains. Even if you develop a near-100% anti-anti-ship missile, how many of them can you stack on a CVBG? An aircraft carrier, and even a destroyer, is far, far more expensive than a 100 AS missiles and their platforms. How many missile ports can simultaneously defend against the AS missiles? How are they expected to stop, say, a barrage of several dozen AS missiles?

    This will work against a country like N. Korea and probably Iran (for a time anyway), but not against China or Russia. Just how are CVBG’s supposed to provide cover for Taiwan if the Chinese have an anti-ship ballistic missile? I don’t see this system stopping it.

    4. I suspect the only way to provide real protection to CVBG’s that can prolong its usefulness in a Great Power war is tied up with rail guns and/or directed energy weapons to defend against AS missiles. Research is on-going, but the technologies are still a decade from germination and probably two from implementation. By then better offensive counter will have probably been developed.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — July 17, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

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