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Friday, December 20, 2013

Submarines are not wonder weapons

A certain military blogger I have been chatting with is convinced that surface ships are useless and subs are ten pounds of awesome in a five-pound bag.

His position is that surface ships have always been big, slow, and easy to sink. There are even easier to sink now because of things like long-range jets, nukes, satellites, anti-ship missiles, etc. Basically, they can't run, hide, or fight. Subs, on the other hand, can at least hide underwater for long periods of time.

It is true subs are harder to find, but they are hardly invisible even when submerged. Subs are big metal objects full of machinery that shakes, rattles, and rolls. So with you can find them with special listening equipment. You can also use sonar to bounce a sound wave off them and find them that way. Magnetic sensors are yet another method.

During WW2, hundreds of Axis and Allied subs were sunk by mines and depth charges- both of which are much simpler and cheaper than subs. Subs were also destroyed by aircraft and other subs.

During the Cold War, there were at least 20 collisions between US and USSR subs. Given the size of the ocean, it is very unlikely they collided by chance. It's clear that both sides were able to track each other. The main tracking tool the US used was SOSUS, a network of underwater sound detectors that covered all the major sub routes.

Bottom line: subs are also big and slow. And they can only hide from enemies that don't have sonar & other WW2-era technologies.

Our friend says the fact that the British lost 6 ships during the Falklands War is proof the ships should not have been used. I asked him how the British could have transported all the troops, aircraft, etc to the area without ships. He said the British should have left the surface ships at home and used the subs to launch surface-to-air missiles to shoot down the Argentinian planes.

He did not explain how a submerged sub is supposed to shoot down a moving target it can't see.

In his defense, I mostly agree with his point that surface ships have many weaknesses that make them hard to use against any country with aircraft and other advanced weapons. I would extend that argument to submarines.

If it were up to me, I'd get rid of the ships and subs and replace them with buoys, hydrophone arrays, etc. All we really need to know is where enemy ships are. Destroying them with anti-ship missiles and depth charges is a piece of cake.

As for the Falklands War, the British should have abandoned the place in the 19th century. The only thing I can fault them for otherwise is they should have known their military radar and computers would not recognize French-built planes and missiles as hostile. SNAFU, fog of war, etc.

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