28 March 2006

What Is The U.S. Navy Up Against?

One professor at the Navy's graduate school has real worries that the U.S. Navy presents a target that is vulnerable to new opponents like China:

Q: In short, smart, precision-targeted weapons like cruise missiles are going to become increasingly cheap and available to any government or group that can afford them. The Falklands War between Britain and Argentina gave early indications of the vulnerability of big platforms, didn't it?

A: I think so. The lessons there include: how many British submarines did it take to pen up the entire Argentine navy? Two. Simultaneously, the Exocet missile proved the slow-moving capital ship's vulnerability. Today, the Chinese aren't developing aircraft carrier battle groups, but brilliant sea-going mines that know how to maneuver, supersonic anti-ship missiles -- which means the Falklands War on steroids -- and super-cavitation torpedoes, which create a bubble of air in front of the torpedo, letting them move at hundreds of knots per hour. The Chinese have an explicit "swarming" doctrine that can best be characterized as sea power without a navy. In this new naval antagonism that's emerging, our potential enemies are not trying to emulate what we're doing. Instead, they're innovating in very thoughtful, effective ways.

Certainly, the U.S. Navy is aware of these threats. They have elaborate anti-submarine warfare systems. They have a couple of dozen anti-mine warfare ships. They have point defense systems and other anti-missile weapons designed to stop missiles. They have missiles and carrier based aircraft to keep opposing fighter aircraft out of range. But, there are lingering questions over whether these will work well enough when push comes to shove. This is particularly a concern for logistics ships like tankers and sea lift ships, and for ships carrying Marines. These ships often have less of an escort than aircraft carrier groups against these kinds of threats. The Falklands War is so carefully studied by military strategists, because it is the only significant Naval campaign in recent history.

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