12 November 2007

Carriers As Targets

The notion that surface ships, including aircraft carrier groups, are vulnerable is more than theory.

American military chiefs have been left dumbstruck by an undetected Chinese submarine popping up at the heart of a recent Pacific exercise and close to the vast U.S.S. Kitty Hawk - a 1,000ft supercarrier with 4,500 personnel on board.

By the time it surfaced the 160ft Song Class diesel-electric attack submarine is understood to have sailed within viable range for launching torpedoes or missiles at the carrier. . . . The incident . . . took place in the ocean between southern Japan and Taiwan. . . . The lone Chinese vessel slipped past at least a dozen other American warships which were supposed to protect the carrier from hostile aircraft or submarines. And the rest of the costly defensive screen, which usually includes at least two U.S. submarines, was also apparently unable to detect it. . . [T]he encounter has forced a serious re-think of American and Nato naval strategy as commanders reconsider the level of threat from potentially hostile Chinese submarines.

This is one of multiple incidents that have shown the vulnerability of surface ships to hostile attacks, a threat that has been seriously discussed since the Falklands War, has resurfaced in multiple exercises, and has also come up in the recent conflicts between Israel and guerillas in Lebanon.

Navy advocates have time and again come back with the rejoinder that their anti-submarine screens and point defense systems keep the ships safe. But, this is becoming a dubious claim. Increasingly, the fact that there a very few nations in the blue seas interested in directing hostile fire at U.S. naval forces is becoming a more plausible explanation.

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