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The Military Technology

Will Submarines Soon Become As Obsolete As the Battleship? 439

An anonymous reader writes: The United States spends $1.8 billion to build a brand new, state of the art, Virginia-class nuclear powered attack submarine. They are the backbone of the U.S. Navy and the ultimate threat to those nations who are building massive amounts of missiles to keep U.S. naval forces like aircraft carriers away from their shores — think China, Russia, Iran and various others. Sadly, the era of the submarine could be coming to an end. New types of detection technology could make the stealth capabilities of subs obsolete, just like the age of flight made the battleship into a floating museum:

"The ability of submarines to hide through quieting alone will decrease as each successive decibel of noise reduction becomes more expensive and as new detection methods mature that rely on phenomena other than sounds emanating from a submarine. These techniques include lower frequency active sonar and non-acoustic methods that detect submarine wakes or (at short ranges) bounce laser or light-emitting diode (LED) light off a submarine hull. The physics behind most of these alternative techniques has been known for decades, but was not exploited because computer processors were too slow to run the detailed models needed to see small changes in the environment caused by a quiet submarine. Today, "big data" processing enables advanced navies to run sophisticated oceanographic models in real time to exploit these detection techniques. As they become more prevalent, they could make some coastal areas too hazardous for manned submarines."

This could force submarines to stay far away from areas where they could be found. Alternately, they could evolve into something different: underwater aircraft carriers hosting drones that could strike below the surface.
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Will Submarines Soon Become As Obsolete As the Battleship?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 14, 2015 @08:25PM (#49057545)

    Most of the biggest potential war zones involving China are on the coast. Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Koreas, and the many disputed islands out there. So I doubt they will become obsolete.

    Also, Bertridge's law says no.

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Sunday February 15, 2015 @12:32AM (#49058467) Homepage

      Considering the fact that either you have submarines and you know how they work - and can therefore at least have a reasonable defense against them or you don't have them and your knowledge will diminish because you can't train those scenarios.

      Submarines also come in many variants - all the way from the nuclear "big dicks" to the miniature one-person type. It only takes a small one to cause a major impact in a harbor.

  • Big Data (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ketomax ( 2859503 ) on Saturday February 14, 2015 @08:27PM (#49057551)
    How much credibility does this article lose once you put "Big Data" in there?
    • Re:Big Data (Score:5, Insightful)

      by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <circletimessquar ... SD.com minus bsd> on Saturday February 14, 2015 @09:15PM (#49057711) Homepage Journal

      None.

      Like "cloud computing" is a new buzzword for an old concept, that doesn't mean the concept loses value. In fact the old concept is quite reinvigorated, the buzzword is just along for the ride.

      People have an aversion to trendy buzzwords for good reason, but it's interesting how this means a little bit of smarmy style can turn your mind off from analyzing the genuine substance here. "Big data" is being used to reinvigorate a powerful tactic. Oh you don't like that buzzword? Well, the tactic is still reinvigorated.

      Why have you tuned out just because you don't like a word? It makes you and your analysis shallow. Just ignore the word and move onto the substance.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

        In this case it subtracts a great deal of credibility because it isn't used in the right context. This isn't big data at all, it's just very fast processing. You couldn't call what a GPU does "big data", just a very fast vector processor suited to certain tasks.

        Big data involves collecting large amounts of data from many sources and finding connections and patterns in it. This is just very advanced and computationally intensive signal processing.

    • How much credibility does this article lose once you put "Big Data" in there?

      Would suggesting the use of Big Data gathered from cloud-based mobile social apps help its credibility?

      Or am I just proactively leveraging my synergies here?

      (Sounds like some detection technology [knowyourmeme.com] is in play here....)

    • Re:Big Data (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Saturday February 14, 2015 @10:12PM (#49057931)

      How much credibility does this article lose once you put "Big Data" in there?

      Just about as much as when he declares them "the backbone of the US Navy". Anyone who knows anything about the navy understands that our nuclear carriers are the backbone of the US Navy. Just about everything the navy does revolves around those carrier groups.

      Submarines may someday become obsolete. Not in the foreseeable future though. Eventually, we'll probably have massive swarms of small, cheap, robotic drones that can swarm the oceans and search for them with active methods (not caring if they get detected themselves). That will probably signal the end of practical, stealthy submarines.

  • Why the hate on battleships? Why are they out of favor?

    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Saturday February 14, 2015 @08:34PM (#49057573) Homepage

      No particular hate, but no love either. They out of service [wikipedia.org] and no one is planning on reviving the class, AFAIK.

      Too big, too slow, not useful enough. Although putting a couple of nuclear reactors in one of the old hulls and lighting up the energy weapons [slashdot.org] might be a way to go.

    • by Guspaz ( 556486 ) on Saturday February 14, 2015 @08:36PM (#49057585)

      They became obsolete when naval warfare stopped being about shelling things and started being about launching aircraft, missiles, and torpedoes. They haven't really been relevant since the second world war, and even then their utility was questionable: aircraft carriers dominated naval battles of the 1930s and 1940s. Nobody has built one in more than 70 years.

      • The Zumwalt-class destroyer is a a lot smaller than a battleship. But it is supposed to do land bombardment too. With missiles and railguns instead of big conventional naval guns.

        A lot of people claim aircraft carriers are obsolete as well. So what's left? Ekranoplans?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 14, 2015 @08:37PM (#49057591)

      Why the hate on battleships? Why are they out of favor?

      Effective range of a battleship cannon: 25-45 km

      Effective range of a anti-ship missile: 270+ km
      Effective range of an aircraft carrying an anti-ship missile: ~2000km

      You do the math. Battleships are as dead as the cavalry charge.

      • by Dahamma ( 304068 ) on Saturday February 14, 2015 @09:28PM (#49057763)

        Effective range of a Trident II nuclear missile: 6000+ miles.

        Nuclear subs are not stealthy to get close their target. Nuclear subs are stealthy to be by FAR the most difficult nuclear platform to hit in a first strike, while still being able to hit targets VERY FAR AWAY.

        • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Saturday February 14, 2015 @10:11PM (#49057929)

          While we have enemies that are nuclear armed superpowers, boomers will not become obsolete.

          However TFA was talking about the Virginia class, which are attack subs, not SLBM platforms.

          • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

            No, the reality is the details of the actual technical article referred to all nuclear submarines. There was only a brief mention of the Virginia class as a (what I guess we would both agree) somewhat stupid example.

    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      BB's were used as ground fire support in Nam (a co-worker once told me an apocryphal story about a call for fire that got routed to a BB), but other than showing the colors, they really haven't done anything else since.

      • i wonder how accurate you can be with shelling. can you target a particular building.

        • Yes. Just not on the first shot. By the time they hit that particular building, a few acres around it are craters.

          Still somewhat useful, even in modern warfare. Keyword being 'war'. Lately we do 'missions', with precision strikes and little collateral damage, so not very useful there.

        • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Saturday February 14, 2015 @10:22PM (#49057955) Journal

          i wonder how accurate you can be with shelling. can you target a particular building.

          Incredibly accurate, even with the cutting edge of 1940s technology. This was always the advantage that the United States Navy had which the Japanese couldn't even dream of duplicating. Read about the USS Washington savaging of Kirishima [wikipedia.org] off Guadalcanal, in the dark, with 5" and 16" fire directed solely by radar. The USN credits Washington with eight or nine 16" inch hits but modern research [navweaps.com] suggests she scored over 20 main battery hits and as many or more hits with the secondary 5" battery. If the USN had had more officers in the early days who understood the proper usage of radar (Admiral Lee [wikipedia.org] is one of the most underrated WW2 leaders, in my humble opinion, a man who was way ahead of his time) Iron Bottom Sound would be littered with Japanese wrecks instead of American ships.

          For another example, read The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors [amazon.com], the story of Taffy 3 off Samar during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Our destroyers and destroyer escorts could land first salvo hits at maximum range, while maneuvering at flank speed, simply by pointing their computerized fire control directors at the Japanese ships. Even at this late stage in the war the Japanese could not duplicate radar directed fire control, they relied on optical rangefinders for their fire control, the consequence of which is they could not actually land hits on maneuvering targets until they were nearly at point blank range. Nor could they really maneuver themselves without losing their fire control solutions and starting from scratch.

          Want an personal anecdote to add to all of the above? One of my best friends was aboard the USS Antietam [wikipedia.org], where he served in the 5"/38 battery. During target practice he tells me that they didn't actually aim at the target sleeves being towed by airplanes, rather they would aim at the cable connecting the sleeve to the airplane and more often than not they could hit it. There's a reason why the Japanese paid a very heavy price whenever they tried to attack our ships with aircraft, look at what happened to them during the Battles of the Eastern Solomons [wikipedia.org] and Santa Cruz Islands [wikipedia.org].

          This is the single biggest reason why people who select Yamoto in the "Iowa vs. Yamoto" debate are deluding themselves. Iowa, or even the so-called treaty battleships (North Carolina and South Dakota classes) would have raped Yamoto, as evidenced by her poor fire control off Samar. Having the biggest guns in the world means nothing if you can't land hits with them. Hell, I would almost take the old battleships that survived Pearl Harbor up against Yamato; they all had modernized radar driven fire control suites after their rebuilds.

          • by tsotha ( 720379 )

            This was always the advantage that the United States Navy had which the Japanese couldn't even dream of duplicating.

            At the outset of the war IJN doctrine was to use torpedoes against capital ships. The marriage of radar and analog targeting computers caught them somewhat flatfooted. Not that it mattered, really, since by the start of the war battleships were really only useful for providing shore bombardment and as AA platforms.

        • by QQBoss ( 2527196 )

          Depends on when you are talking about. Pre-2K, with the aid of an FO (Forward Observer), the shells could get fairly accurate by the 6th or 7th shell, 10th if the seas are high. Given the size of shells involved, though, that means you probably leveled an area the size of a small shopping center to hit the outhouse that had been your target.

          Today, totally different story. With laser guidance from an FO, tiny little winglets will dance enough that as long as your target is within a cone of the shells targ

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by sconeu ( 64226 )

          For a while I worked on artillery control systems. The 16 inch NAVGUNs were considered among the most accurate.

          Also, anecodtal and second hand, but allegedly when a CFF went to a BB, they'd ask what side of the street you wanted the shell to hit.

      • the last battleship built seemed more of an AA platform than anything. Sure it had the expected complement of a bunch of cool looking big guns, but more importantly it had an advanced (for the time) selection of fire control radars, something like 100 Bofors 40mm quick firing guns and a decent complement of slower firing heavy AA guns.

        I don't think it ever saw active combat, and even fairly shortly into its career, AA missiles weren't all that great and aircraft had got rather better than the AA guns, so i

        • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Saturday February 14, 2015 @10:49PM (#49058045) Journal

          If Halsey had been less of an idiot and left Admiral Lee behind with Task Force 34 during Leyte Gulf you would have seen modern battleships clashing with each other off Samar, an engagement that almost certainly would have been an ass raping of the Imperial Japanese Navy, barring alien intervention or extremely bad luck on the part of the USN.

          As it was it only happened only three times in the entire war under what might be considered an equal footing, once in the Pacific (Washington vs. Kirishima off Guadalcanal) and twice in the Atlantic (Bismarck vs. Hood and Scharnhorst vs. Duke of York). There were other battles where battleships were involved (Surigao Strait and Bismarck's final battle) but they can't even charitably be described as fair engagements. Surigao involved a depleted Japanese force against an entire American battleline that outclassed them in every department while Bismarck was crippled before her last fight, unable to steam at speed or maneuver.

          The battleship wasn't as useless as people would have you believe, nor was it Pearl Harbor that sealed its doom. The oft-repeated mantra is that the United States Navy was invested in the battleship and Pearl Harbor was a rude awakening; this doesn't survive even a casual examination of the historical record. The Two-Ocean Navy Act [wikipedia.org] passed Congress in 1940, nearly 18 months before Pearl Harbor and it very deliberately recognized the supremacy of the aircraft carrier, both in number of ships ordered and the statements of the legislators who wrote it. The Japanese were more invested in the battleship than the USN, wasting their limited resources on two mega battleships that ultimately accomplished nothing, while deluding themselves into thinking that a single decisive battle like Tsushima would be enough to convince the United States to throw in the towel, a country that had seventeen times Japan's GDP [combinedfleet.com] and twice her population!

          Incidentally, the turning point of the war didn't happen at Midway, as is often repeated, but rather it happened at Guadalcanal. Midway was a battle, Guadalcanal was a campaign, one which proved the Japanese were not equipped materially or psychologically to fight a long war. Guess which ship saved the day for the USN during the last decisive engagement? A battleship, USS Washington. :)

          At least the USN got a return on investment for our expensive toys. I can't think of a single Japanese battleship that accomplished anything of note during the entire war. The few that they were willing to commit early in the war were destroyed off Guadalcanal with little to show for it; the rest they hoarded for a decisive battle that never came, ultimately being forced to commit them at Leyte Gulf, where they were so hopelessly outmatched that even Halsey's stupidity didn't give them enough breathing room to carry the day.

          • by tsotha ( 720379 )

            The Japanese were more invested in the battleship than the USN, wasting their limited resources on two mega battleships that ultimately accomplished nothing,

            The reason they built Yamato and Musashi was because they knew they had no way to match American industrial capability and that they would always be outnumbered. So they decided to build ships that could destroy multiple enemy battleships. But remember, the ball got rolling for this in 1934, long before it was obvious battleships were obsolete.

      • by tsotha ( 720379 )
        They were also used decades later in Lebanon.
      • by fnj ( 64210 )

        other than showing the colors, they really haven't done anything else since [Vietnam]

        If he said that prior to 1984 he would have been right, but in 1984 New Jersey was used to try to attack some targets in Lebanon. Unfortunately it was a tragic fiasco, with shells landing as much as 10 km from the untouched targets, and inflicting terrible collateral damage which stirred up a huge reaction. The Marines can tell you how that reaction ended up, with their barracks devastated in an explosion.

        In 1991, Missouri

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Pinhedd ( 1661735 )

      No particular hate, they were never replaced after WWII. While no one is planning any new ones, modern destroyers are getting larger and larger with the Zumwalt class destroyer larger than many WWII cruisers. I suspect that a battleship-esque design will be proposed sometime in the next few decades to mount powerful railguns.

      Anyway, there are several reasons why battleship fell out of favour.

      1. Battleships were often used as a fleet-in-being. Battleships are highly impervious to surface fire, so a single ba

  • And just what vessels will deploy such sensors, and how many decades will it take to fully deploy such networks?

    The Virginia class will be in use for many decades. Navy generally plans ship hulls for 30-50 years of active use. The enterprise cvn was in service for 50 years.

    While such sensors may limit future sub combat options it is decades away. For one simple fact you still have to move attack assets into positions. Battleships disappeared due to two separate but equal reasons. The armor effectiveness

  • by Guspaz ( 556486 ) on Saturday February 14, 2015 @08:33PM (#49057569)

    Betteridge says the likely answer is no. Looking at the article, there's a whole lot of predictions and guesses in there. LEDs and lasers? Water is very good at attenuating light, and even a ship directly on top of a submersed vessel wouldn't be able to detect anything using light... and coastal water attenuates light MUCH faster than open ocean, due to all the extra stuff in the water...

    • by bwcbwc ( 601780 )

      Not to mention that the "Chinese supersonic sub" [extremetech.com] could bring about the downfall of the Virginia class and all the fancy big-data detection technology. Short of a super-sonic sub, the detection technologies aren't that far-fetched - detecting an exoplanet hundreds of light-years away has some of the same signal processing issues, and look at the improvements in that area.

    • Not only is there a whole lot of requirements to make them obsolete, the most obvious reasons will still keep subs working.

      Long ago Submarines were ship killers. That is what their job was, and they did it very well. Over time that role changed, primarily due to the advent of nuclear missiles being tucked inside. Submarines are the single best deterrent anyone has for nuclear war. New sensor technology won't change that, because a sub does not have to be close to another ship to launch, does not have to

      • 21" guns are amazingly expensive to fire.

        21" guns??? Where did you get the idea that anyone used 21" guns on any battleships? 18" on Yamato and Musashi, 16" on the last two classes of American BBs, 14-15 inches more other battleships.

      • 21" guns are amazingly expensive to fire.

        16" guns were what we used, and they are expensive to maintain (along with the entire ship, of course), but relatively cheap to fire compared to a cruise missile - probably in the order of hundreds of times less expensive (I haven't run the numbers - just a guess). Given, however, that we can expect to maintain air supremacy for the foreseeable future, we can expect our apparently immortal B-52 fleet (also a system whose demise has been predicted time and time again) to perform our ground saturation missio

      • It gives away their position

        Not exactly, the torpedoes can travel some distance away from the sub before turning and acquiring the target.

      • by fnj ( 64210 )

        21" guns are amazingly expensive to fire

        Well, there is the little detail that no 21" gun ever put to sea on any ship. Try 16", and Yamato and Musashi with 18". That will do it (outside of Hitler's fevered dream of 20" battleship guns).

        And 16" guns are NOWHERE NEAR as expensive to use as aircraft carrier planes and cruise missiles. But if we worried about cost in a war we would all still be using slingshots and arrows.

  • MAD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kunedog ( 1033226 ) on Saturday February 14, 2015 @08:34PM (#49057571)
    As long as they can remain undetectable from beyond the range of their nuclear warheads*, they will be indispensible. You should even be glad your enemies have them, as they are one of the most stabilizing technologies because they discourage first strikes (by guaranteeing a second strike).

    * I know the Virginia-class subs don't have nukes yet.
    • I'll just point out the Tomahawk submarine launched missiles do have a tactical nuclear package option.

      I can neither confirm nor deny whether any of those packages have ever been deployed.

      • by Shakrai ( 717556 )

        I'll just point out the Tomahawk submarine launched missiles do have a tactical nuclear package option.

        Taken out of service some time ago. Of course there's nothing stopping it from coming back, either on the Tomahawk or its planned successor. :)

        You can also mount nuclear warheads to torpedoes though to the best of my knowledge the USN hasn't done that in decades. Nothing stopping them from doing it again should the need arise though.

  • I thought the whole point of submarines these days was as mobile launchers for nuclear weapons.. Launchers that could be anywhere (not necessarily close to the coast), and therefore harder to eliminate in a first strike.

  • While each DB of quieting maybe more expensive it's also more effective.

    • I thought we were already to the point where you pretty much looked for the quiet spot for modern subs, not the loud spot?

      • We've been there for a long time. Decades. We don't actually need to make our subs quieter, we need to make them a bit noisier to match background levels in oceans....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 14, 2015 @08:45PM (#49057619)

    Attack submarines, like the Virginia class, are not the backbone of the US Navy. The aircraft carrier battle group, typically including one or two attack submarines attached, is still the main battle group of the US navy. The other type of submarine is the SSBN ballistic missile submarine which always deploys alone and spends its entire patrol hiding from anything and everything, its sole purpose being to guarantee a nuclear 2nd strike capability for the United States as part of our nuclear triad. The Ohio class submarines serve in this capacity for the United States and even then they aren't the "bakbone" of the US Navy, but rather a specialized asset with a singular purpose. The US doesn't show the colors around the world with submarines, it's the carrier battle group that commands respect, even from our enemies.

    • by kullnd ( 760403 )
      The Virginia class is also going to replace the Ohio class "boomers" - Virginia is modular and capable of being configured for every submarine mission needed today.
      • Oh how I love an infusion of managment speak. You get full credit for "modular" but only partial credit for "capable of being reconfigured" when the correct incantation of buzzwords is "reconfigur(ation|able) capabiilty"
        • by kullnd ( 760403 )
          Read again; I said "capable of being configured". What I said means that some of them will be configured as trident missile boats, not reconfigured after construction. That being said, it is possible that a boat could be reconfigured as well. Some of the Ohio class boats have been reconfigured as SSGNs, carrying a massive load-out of tomahawk missiles instead of trident missiles with some of the tubes reconfigured to support SEAL deployment.
  • little subs might be more effective (and tasty).
  • MH370 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ebonum ( 830686 ) on Saturday February 14, 2015 @08:57PM (#49057651)

    We can't find MH370. If we can't find a missing plane in the ocean, then the tech for finding subs has a ways to go before it makes submarines obsolete. Plus, I bet all these detection techniques only work over a short distance. You'd need a lot of detectors to get good coverage. The ocean is large. Plus, anything active (sound, lasers, etc) can be detected by the sub and avoided.
    Plus, for non-ship based sensors, you try covering the ocean with highly sensitive detectors. Things that are highly sensitive and the ocean don't mix - unless you are going to pull each detector up on a regular basis for maintenance. Plus, detectors require power. Getting power 50-200 km offshore isn't all that easy. Surface ships pinging away in shallow waters pose the greatest danger. But for every threat, there is a way to counter it. Satellite tracking of enemy ships so subs have some warning of what's coming. Special coatings to reflect lasers. Active cancellation of the acoustic waves.

    • Submarines are actively moving. Plane wreckage falls to the bottom and stops.

    • Presumably MH370 is no longer doing things like communicating, running engines, maneuvering, hosting a crowd of living people, etc - the things that can get you noticed.
    • We can't find MH370. If we can't find a missing plane in the ocean, then the tech for finding subs has a ways to go before it makes submarines obsolete.

      This completely ignores that MH370 is (likely) a stationary, fragmented husk, spread over a significant portion of the ocean bottom (as in, below crush-depth), with zero emissions, and not in any way expected to support life. Strange how "two things in the water" can still have a bunch of important attributes that differentiate them.

    • Re:MH370 (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Plazmid ( 1132467 ) on Saturday February 14, 2015 @10:21PM (#49057951)

      The problem of find an object siting on the bottom of the ocean is different from finding an object actively propelling itself through the ocean.

      One possible method of detecting submarines is looking at [fas.org] the wake they produce [koreascience.or.kr]. As submarines move through the water they leave an underwater wake that slightly modifies the wave pattern at the surface. One can use radar or lidar along with a bunch of computing power to detect these wakes and thus reveal submarines. Implementing such a system could be done relatively cheaply by mounting such systems on a UAV. Submarines have allegedly been detected from SAR satellites.

      Acoustic cancellation is no countermeasure for this, one would have to find a way for the submarine to be propelled without making a wake, which is possible [physicsworld.com], but probably not practical. Although this detection technique does not work well when there are a lot of breaking waves.

  • by FlyingGuy ( 989135 ) <flyingguy@gmail.cTIGERom minus cat> on Saturday February 14, 2015 @09:45PM (#49057833)

    hunter killers of naval warfare. You think you can find them? Best of luck. Lasers don't go far under water and they diffract all over the place in the water column. US Submarines have some of the most sensitive acoustic detection equipment designed. They can hang suspended in the ocean, listening. They can silently go shallow or deep in the water column. Just stick the nose above the main thermocline, or tilt down to just penetrate into the deep sound channel.

    If you are a surface ship, and a submarine wants you you are just dead. By the time you hear a MK-48 torpedo, it is too late. You don't even want to be in the same ocean with one those because it will kill you. By the time you detect that harpoon missile you might get the first one but the second one will get you. Your a surface ship, you can't hide, but that submarine can and you cant hear it over the background noise of the ocean.

    Look up how many weapons a Virginia class submarine can carry. If you are a surface group dumb enough to be cruising in proximity of each other, they can put a shit load of torpedoes on your ass, turn around, go deep and haul ass while you are still trying to rescue your sinking ship mates.

    5 US Nuclear Submarines can deny ANY fleet the Straits of Gibraltar, The Straits of Hormuz. There is not a Navy in the world that can challenge the US Navy at sea. If the Chinese tried to cross Taiwan Strait it would just be a shooting gallery.

    Lest anyone think I know not from whence I speak, I spent 10 years in two classes of fast attack submarines in the US Navy. Are motto was then and still is now, "There are two kinds of ships, Submarines and Targets."

    • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Sunday February 15, 2015 @01:14AM (#49058575)

      I'm not going to argue your main points, but as a less partial party I need to raise some points of my own. This is less aimed at you (I'm sure you know everything I'm about to say), and more aimed at the other readers, to give them a more objective viewpoint.

      1. The natural counter to a submarine is another submarine. Russia and China may not be able to match us fleet-for-fleet, but assuming they're the aggressors, they'll be able to bring all their force to bear at one point, outnumbering us in the battle but not the war. Do we have half our submarine fleet or more near Taiwan at all times? If not, they can make a reasonable attempt at crossing.

      2. Submarines and aircraft basically can't touch each other (specialized ASW aircraft notwithstanding). If the entire Russian Tu-95 fleet flies over the entire US submarine fleet, neither one will do anything to the other. They might not even notice each other. Fleets and aircraft carriers are declining in primacy as aircraft ranges increase. We flew a B-52 combat mission from America to Iraq and back without landing - aircraft carriers, and thus navies in general, are no longer the sole way to project power. If America and Russia finally go to war, the winner will probably be the one who wins the air war, not the one who wins the sea war or land war. (Of course, with nuclear missiles in play in a US-Ru war, the real winner would be China, unless one of us decides to nuke them anyways while we're at it).

      3. Consider the effect of naval drones. How many small boats is an aircraft carrier able to fight off? Imagine a USS Cole scenario, except instead of just one suicide boat masquerading as a civilian, it's dozens or even hundreds of suicide drones. You don't need to take my word for how effective these would be, there were Navy wargames for asymmetric warfare that had a "fleet" much like I proposed take out the entire Blue-team fleet, which was basically a full carrier group (the brassholes decided this was "cheating" and ordered the wargames to continue according to a script guaranteeing Blue-team victory) [citation: look up "Millennium Challenge 2002"]. Surface drones may be no threat to our subs, but our subs are similarly no threat to them, and eventually someone will get submarine drones usable. At that point, they're basically just really smart torpedoes with trans-Atlantic range. I'm not sure what the counter for *that* is, except for "not being in the water" (see point 2).

  • Betteridge's law of headlines at play! There's no faster way to deliver a nuke than a SLBM on a depressed trajectory. Until this is not the case, nuclear-powered attack submarines (which can stay submerged for months at a time) will be indispensable to a nuclear-armed nation.
  • Combined arms trumps "super weapons" every time.

    So you can detect all my subs with your fancy sensors and "Big Data". So how are you enjoying the cyber attack/EMP burst/barrage of cruise missiles targeting your power grid?

    Can you hear me now? Didn't think so.

  • by tsotha ( 720379 ) on Saturday February 14, 2015 @11:35PM (#49058265)

    The answer is "no". People who say submarines are obsolete are the same people who say "stealth doesn't work". They're missing the point. The point is not to be able to sidle up to your enemies without detection and tag their ships with slogans. The point is to gain a tactical advantage by detecting the enemy before he detects you. Detection isn't a yes/no thing - it's all about range.

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