Monday, March 12, 2018

The Capital Ship of the Future


Come and see the timidity inherent in the system!



There is a common myth that castles and knights were made obsolete overnight by guns and cannons.

Nope, they weren't.  Anyone who says otherwise is a graduate of the Dunning-Kruger school of military history.  What killed the castle and the armored knight was economics.  Plenty of castles survived early and indeed even modern artillery barrages.     Take a look at Caerphilly Castle in Wales.  



As a career military man, I'm telling you if a modern rifle company was holding it, it would be an absolute bear to take. Even up to and including World War II, if a castle was in a spot that was strategically important, then it would be garrisoned.  Nobody ever tore one down because it was obsolete.

But if you needed to build a new fortress later than the year 1500, then you had to look at the cost.  Fortifications built around canons instead of arrows were cheaper to build because low sloping walls cost less to build than high straight ones. From a military perspective the castle was still perfectly viable but from an economic one, you'd be an idiot to build one.

Body armor remained in common use until the late 1600s.  Armor changed to keep pace with weapons and tactics.  Instead of full body armor (which incidentally was available into 1600s if you were important enough), battlefield armor now covered only the head and chest (like today). It also became thicker and rounder for ballistic protection.  While this did increase weight, the most important factor was cost.

The same problem is now facing the US Navy.

I had made a comment on Vox Popoli the other night.

"The people who insist on it (*the new capital ship*) being the submarine  are flat out wrong. A capital ship's primary strategic purpose isn't to engage in combat, it is to intimidate by it's very presence. Subs can't do that since no one ever knows if they are actually there or not.

The tactical and strategic technological shifts appears to be favoring (of all things) something very close to the armored battleship."

One reply was from a Bubblehead skipper.  He strongly disagreed with me, claiming that submarines are indeed capital ships and presented the usual arguments to support it.   

Fine. Neither of us would convince the other with arguments we'd both heard a hundred times. So I chose to ignore it.

However this same comment got another guy seriously Sheldon Coopering all over the place.  It was late so I chose to ignore the butthurt but I could use some blog content now, so here is my reply:

I can't agree with that. Who do "capital" warships intimidate? Maybe third world countries with no anti-ship missile capability. To a serious power--even a middling power--a capital ship says "target". 


I can't think of a single time since 1945 that anyone has dared to attack a US Carrier group. They clearly and obviously intimidate the hell out of  everyone. It's ridiculous to claim they don't.  American Carriers don't say "target."  What they say the US Navy is the biggest dog in any yard it chooses to wander into.

Sure, warships can bombard far-off places, but bombardment is a blunt tool, and can be done far more cheaply. 

Okay, not sure what this means. Nothing in the military is cheap but artillery shells are much cheaper than missiles or bombing runs. Moving on.

There was an Allied fleet in the Harbor of Smyrna in September of 1922. It could do nothing to prevent the Turks from burning down the Christian--Greek, Armenian, and Nestorian--quarters of the city, and massacring the population. Firepower has its limits when it comes to influencing events. 

Agreed. My own reflexive prejudice and bigotry toward the US Navy is that it's only real use is as a gun that fires the Marine Corps at the enemy. This is completely WRONG of course but it's my bigotry and I'm keeping it.

As to armored surface ships being the future...um...that strait has been navigated before. The culmination of this trend was a ship that was simply too expensive to risk in battle--you could not afford to lose a dreadnought. 

Wrong. The British were desperate to risk their dreadnoughts in battle. Germany on the other hand chose to keep their fleet bottled up in the harbor at Kiel.

Strategically it was justified in that it kept the British Navy in one spot waiting for a chance to fight, while German U-boats harried shipping largely unmolested. Keeping the High Seas Fleet in port had nothing to do with cost or risk of investment.  The real reason that Germany avoided sortieing was the Prussian military aquaphobia. They simply had no tradition of sea warfare.  Prussia was a land power and they were extremely uncomfortable with the very concept of fighting on the waves.  Hitler was no Prussian but he couldn't have summed up the mindset better than with his statement, "on land I am a hero. At sea I am a coward."

So, except for one timid and inconclusive encounter, the mighty dreadnoughts sat in their respective harbors while the Great War went on.

At nearly 9,000 men dead, the Battle of Jutland was anything but timid.

As for it being inconclusive, I disagree there as well. Like Battle of the Coral Sea the truth Jutland is more complicated.  The Germans claimed a tactical victory, which it was for them. The British had twice as many dead and lost nearly double the tonnage. And the Royal Navy claimed a strategic win, which it was for them. The High Seas Fleet was too chewed up to sortie again because Germany didn't have the resources to properly refit it.

Do you really think that an armored ship could be constructed today which could survive a missile attack? 

Yes, I do.  But then I know what I'm talking about. Also, I don't view missiles as magic death wands that cometh from the sky.

Even if there are no anti-ship missiles now which could pierce heavy armor--something I doubt,

Completely wrong. No one has bothered to build armor piercing missiles because there are no navy ships anywhere that are armored (possible exception the Admiral Nakhimov ). Armor piercing anti-ship missiles would be a weapon without a target.  So there aren't any.

 I'm sure they would be deployed before the second new dreadnought is launched. 

The Soviet Union had eight years to deploy one when the Iowa class ships took to the seas again.  They never built a single one.  Weapons development takes more time than that.

But I was beginning to see where the blinders are on this guy. He thought I was talking about something like the USS Iowa.

The fundamental tactical principle of the contemporary battlefield is "to be seen is to die". 


Maybe among the armchair admiralty but it doesn't work that way in the real world.  I know of no military organization on Earth that has adopted this as a doctrine. Good slogans make for bad national defense planning.

Submarines have an advantage there. No, they're not undetectable, but at least they can move in three dimensions and not only two. 

Agreed. But it doesn't change the fact that they aren't Capital Ships and never will be.  Unless they are carrying nuclear weapons, they are and will remain tactical assets.

You can not intimidate a nation with submarines. You just can't.  You can worry naval planners and occasionally send ships scurrying back to port but it ends there.  SSNs can win battles but that doesn't make them a war winner.

If you tell some head of government, "I have my fleet in your backyard" and his response is, "oh yeah? Prove it!"

You are going to look very silly if your reply is, "sorry, I can't do that."

Our surface ships should be relatively small, heavy on electronic counteremeasures, and as fast as possible. Not to mention so affordable that we can actually build a fleet of them.

He is correct on these points. I agree with him.

Here is the long range strategic problem.  The cost of a Naval F-35 is north of 300 million.  The fighter has moved from a tactical to strategic cost.  I confess that I am rather dismissive of the wild eyed claims that they are completely worthless.*   But the cost is now nearly prohibitive. On top of that drones are going from strength to strength and you don't need a full size Nimitz Class carrier to launch or retrieve them.  My projection is that in the next thirty years, the pilot will become viewed as the weakest part of any fighter design and by 2050 he will be removed from the cockpit which will be followed by the removal of the cockpit.

I think the naval gun is about to make a major comeback.  I should stress that the Armored Gun Platform (AGP**) of 2050 will have about as much in common with the USS Iowa as the Iowa does with the HMS Victory.

First it should be remembered that a lot of armor on the old battleships was needed to protect the magazines.  Much less of an issue when neither your propellant nor your ordnance is conventionally explosive. Rail guns rely on kinetic energy to do their damage.  You are lobbing a spike at hyper velocity using electricity. So no real need for explosives unless you are mounting missiles as well as guns.  Whether it will be preferable to have separate ships for missiles or not is a question for some other armchair admiral.

As for the armor itself...(problem here, I was read in on some stuff.  I don't know what is still CI so I am going to be pretty vague here)... trust me, we can do better than belted steel.

The biggest question is, is there a need for armor on ships? And the answer is, yes.  We are developing hyper velocity kinetic weapons. Russia is deploying one and everyone is pretty sure China is working on one too.  Past a certain point interception will become exceptionally difficult.  A strategy that is built on absorbing a certain number of impacts will become a necessity.  That is where armor comes in.

The thing is, it's not just high tech threats.  The fairly successful attack on the USS Cole was anything but high tech.  Also one of the favored intimidation tactics of the North Korean Navy and the PLA Navy is ramming.  "Oops! Sorry, didn't see you there!"

So in conclusion ya-da, ya-da armored surface ships with hyper velocity guns, probably the future of the Navy.   Okay, I'm done here.   I gotta go.


*I remember when everyone knew that the M-1 Abrams was completely worthless and then came Desert Storm. 

** I'm trying to avoid the terms 'battleship' or 'dreadnought'. 

3 comments:

Mr. Bee said...

1."Be Forever Yamato!"
2. 1000lb tungsten cone moving at mach 5(10?) from 12 O'clock high.

Cataline Sergius said...

@ Mr. Bee

Kind of a gearshift but I can roll with it.

If you haven't seen Yamato 2199, I highly recommend it. That is remake done right.

Tamaqua said...

I'd say a greater problem isn't the ships, but the sailors aboard them and the admirals commanding them. Institutionally, the Navy couldn't handle losing a ship in combat. The last was the Pueblo in 1968. The admirals aren't about to risk getting USS Diversity sunk alongside the USS LGBTQ.

Uparmoring your ships means a willingness to put the crews inside into combat.I don't see our current crop of risk averse admirals suddenly channeling John Paul Jones or Bull Halsey.

I did two WESTPACS, one aboard the last all male surface ship in the navy, and one aboard a coed ship commanded by a female captain. You can be damn sure which ship was preferable if a naval battle broke out.