Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Next Battle of the Atlantic

British Prime Winston Churchill once said that the only thing which really worried him during World War 2 was the battle with the U-boats, which weren't decisively defeated until well into 1943. The entire liberation of Europe and North Africa hinged on whether the Allies could continue the free flow of troops, weapons, and supplies at sea. Until the Battle of the Atlantic was won and the vital merchant shipping assured protection , no major land or air operation could be carried out effectively.

Despite the fact that the submarine menace has not only continued in the post war era, but has become magnified thanks to modern technology, the US Navy has no such fears. In the 3rd in a series of articles titled "Subs vs Carriers", Martin Sieff reveals that:

"the U.S. Navy no longer uses its trusty old Lockheed Martin
S-3B Viking aircraft in their traditional Anti-Submarine Warfare -- ASW -- role
to protect the gigantic ships."

Apparently for reasons of economy, the mighty aircraft carriers no longer possess a long range ASW weapon, other than helicopters, to combat the rising threat from silent and deadly diesel submarines, which almost any navy can operate, and the sustained menace from high-performance and speedy nuclear attack subs.

In the last few decades, the modern nuclear submarine has become a pure underwater beast and a creature of its element, the oceans. With a streamlined hull and depth piercing design, it is the ultimate achievement in man's quest to conquer the sea.

It is such a marvel of technology and fearsome sea serpent, the traditional surface warships such as aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and frigates must now contend with the new U-boat for mastery of the waves. Sadly, these nautical monuments of the past we have worshiped for decades have changed very little over time, save only cosmetically.

The guided missile, which has enhanced the capabilities of the surface ship beginning in the mid 20th century, has also proven its Achilles heel. Increasingly such highly visible castles of steel are becoming prey to robot weapons of such precision as to always ensure a direct hit, and mostly unstoppable with speeds surpassing that of manned jet aircraft. In its haunts beneath the waves, the submarine has little to fear from such weapons.

The modern surface ship's failure to adapt over the decades puts it at a grave disadvantage, then, in the next Battle of the Atlantic. The conventional versus the unconventional.