MadSci Network: Engineering

Re: Time to retire the surface warship?

Date: Fri Mar 17 07:31:08 2006
Posted By: Calvin Cole, Faculty, Engineering Physics, Northeastern State University
Area of science: Engineering
ID: 1140951466.Eg

Being a Naval officer myself I can tell you that this kind of question can
easily be the start of disagreements, long discussions and numerous “sea
stories” amongst sailors.  So a few facts first.  
1.We have different classes of naval vessels for different tasks.  Most are
able to do more than one task but usually at a reduced capability in either
quality or quantity.  
2. No country has any better way of moving the sheer enormous amount of
cargo, military or civilian, that a surface ship provides.  You can move
much smaller amounts more quickly with aircraft but there is still a big
difference.  Submarines do not load, unload, or move large amounts of
anything very well at all.
3. Naval vessels do not usually act alone but as part of a larger
formation.  A carrier is the center of the largest of these formations, the
carrier air group.  This is a three dimensional structure made of the
carrier, it’s picket or patrol ships, aircraft, and submarines.  It may
have a radius of 300miles or more.
4. Submarines are the primary exception to the above.  They can and do
patrol alone.  They cannot however deliver huge volumes of personnel or
material.  They can effectively deliver smart ordnance in such forms as
cruise missiles but short of nuclear weapons do not have the volume of fire
power available to larger surface ships.
5. If it has to surface to carry out the mission then the submarine becomes
a surface ship itself at that point as well.
6. No naval vessel is cheap but submarines are very expensive.

You’ll have to draw your own conclusions but I will offer my opinion.  As
much as I enjoyed submarines there will be a need for naval surface ships
both for coastal and blue water purposes for some time to come.  Articles
like the one on page 56 of the March 2006 issue of “Popular Science” about
the deployment of remotely controlled aircraft from submarines might appear
at first glance to take us closer to what your question implies but for the
reasons listed above I suspect will expand the capability of submarines but
not eliminate the need for surface ships.  And last but not least let’s
hope a time will come not too far from now where we can find better and
more peaceful things altogether to do with these amazing machines and the
people who operate them.

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