Sunday, March 02, 2008

The New Cruisers

"Where are the Cruisers?" asks the blogger over at Information Dissemination. Since the Second World War and the dawn of the airpower age, the navy cruiser has been forced to reject its traditional role in sea warfare and huddle under the protective wings of the aircraft carrier. Here's how Wikipedia defines the vessel:

"Historically a cruiser was not a type of ship but a warship role. Cruisers were ships—often frigates or smaller vessels—which were assigned a role largely independent from the fleet. Typically this might involve missions such as raiding enemy merchant shipping. In the late 19th century the term 'cruiser' came to mean ships designed to fulfill such a role, and from the 1890s to the 1950s a 'cruiser' was a warship larger than a destroyer but smaller than a battleship."

If we took the historical definition then that cruiser means a ship's role in sea combat, this then is where the modern submarine comes in. During the same time period that the traditional cruisers were increasingly tied to the carrier task forces, the US Navy was deploying what they termed as "cruiser submarines". These long-legged warships saw the role forced upon them as the surface ship faced increased threats against its previously independent role, and naval leaders saw the advantage of the undersea boat's built-in stealth qualities.
As well as devastating the Japanese merchant fleet in its new role, the submarine also performed many other traditional cruiser duties, which included long-range scouting, and surveillance missions. On occasion small landing parties were also off loaded for short raids. Into the Cold War these same missions became the norm, and a new role of anti-submarine warfare was also bequeathed, just as another cruiser was once considered the antidote to an enemy cruiser.

The advent of smooth hulls, and the higher speeds garnered from nuclear energy only enhanced the cruiser capabilities of the submarine. During the 1960's and 70's the idea of the surface cruiser operating independent of naval airpower made a brief comeback. The Soviets began the trend with powerful new guided missile cruisers, especially the giant Kirov and Kiev classes. Each possessed a vast missile battery of anti-ship and anti-air weapons. In the case of the Kiev, a flight deck for attack vertol airplanes actually supplemented its main missile armament.

The Americans responded with a less radical innovation. 4 antique but still serviceable Iowa class battleships were refurbished with cruise missiles and formed into so-called "Surface Action Groups" which also included guided missile cruisers and destroyers. There were never any serious plans to operate such squadrons very long without the protective cover of airpower, however.

If the old surface cruisers couldn't face the new challenge posed by naval bombers at sea, how much less can it continue its independent role In the age of supersonic and hypersonic missiles. Such a mission would be disastrous in concept.this makes the cruiser submarine even more vital for its ability to stay safely submerged out of harms way against the new advanced weapons.