Modern warships (II) - ASW

Military technology influences warship layouts dominantly. This has been obvious since the first warships got a ramming bow. It became even more obvious with guns, and later aviation. Technology is much more influential in the air and at sea than on land (warfare). Thus I'll approach the topic of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mostly from the technological angle.

The submarine threat

First, submarines and anti-submarine warfare. The short version of this story is that submarines have nowadays a monopoly on heavyweight torpedoes which can destroy frigates and destroyers with one hit, but scoring such a hit on a moving and somewhat silent or target is difficult when the torpedo is launched at long distances. Other munitions of submarines include sub-launched anti-ship missiles (rather rare), sub-launched anti-submarine missiles (lightweight torpedo-tipped, even more rare), naval mines (very rare because munition storage is scarce and previous), land attack cruise missiles (common among American, British, Russian and Israeli submarines) and submarines may be equipped with short range air defence missiles. This would be an easily kept secret, but such efforts have been known since the 70's and the utility is obvious in light of the extreme importance of ASW helicopters.

(c) Naval Graphics
Submarine survivability

The survivability of submarines rests on their stealth, which makes them an ideal naval platform for underdog naval powers that would see their surface fleet destroyed on short notice.
Stealth depends on being silent and on not reflecting much acoustic energy when in practical range of active sonars. The latter can be achieved by small size, by minimising the silhouette by pointing bow or aft at the emitter and by using anechoic tiles that absorb much of the acoustic energy and reflect little. The latter have a tendency of developing defects that create noise when the sub is moving and are reported as being not so good at dampening the low frequency (3 kHz and lower) acoustic waves.
Modern submarines can be considered extremely silent, even nuclear-powered ones. Warships cannot be expected to detect modern submarines at useful minimum distances when relying on passive sonars alone. Anechoic tiles and long ranges of munitions have on the other hand made old style active sonars unsatisfactory.
Low frequency active sonars can often achieve good detection ranges and can tell wrecks and natural objects apart from submarines by noticing the latter's movements and comparing sensor data with pre-war undersea maps. They're present in some rather new ASW frigates and few other units.

Submarine detection & contact confirmation

There are thus four approaches for the detection of modern submarines to be considered:
  1. low frequency active sonars (LFAS)
  2. lots of sonar-equipped drones swarming the sea and detecting subs when they get close
  3. fixed wing aircraft relying on sonobuoys
  4. helicopters with a unique dipping sonar capability in addition to sonobuoys
(1) faces extreme opposition by Greenpeace etc. due to the alleged damage done to maritime mammals, but militarily speaking the main disadvantage is that the emitter gives away its position (or at least bearing) with its noise. The smallest LFAS is a dipping sonar for helicopters, and a LFAS exists for surface ships ">300 tons", so LFAS can be employed by de facto all ocean-going units.

example (part) of a variable depth (towed) LFASS
Towed LFAS appear to be limited in terms of maximum cruise speed (~17 kts) and maximum sea state (~ sea state 6).

(2) is unproven and in my opinion not practical at high seas. It may be relevant for coastal waters, but convoys at sea would want to cruise at 15...25 kts, and I doubt that many small drones could achieve the necessary endurance to accompany a convoy at such cruise speeds. They would need to be recovered and refuelled all the time, which would require a huge effort in addition to the purchase costs of dozens if not hundreds of drones per convoy. Lone slow patrol drones with a LFAS would attract attacks with long-range munitions that they would rather not survive on their own.

(3) is a very expensive and in my opinion also laughable concept - hundreds of thousands of sonobuoys would need to be expended per month, which would be unsustainable in all but the shortest wars. I suppose naval conflicts might be rather long ones if both sides have safe harbours, for the loss of life and damage to economy and society would be much less extreme than with mobile land warfare. The effects would also be much less decisive in the short term.
Fast fixed wing aircraft are in theory great to  race to a contact, be it a SOSUS contact (unlikely with modern submarines), a contact made by navy assets or civilian ships reporting an attack by a torpedo in their area. I'm just unconvinced that ASW fixed wing aircraft can do much upon arrival. Their arsenal is largely limited to sonobuoys and lightweight torpedoes nowadays - nothing that a convoy couldn't employ on its own. Fixed wing ASW is in my opinion a remnant of Second World War fixed wing ASW - a result of path dependency, not a result of the state of the art and sciences. It's a deviation from the rule that land-based is more cost efficient than naval.

(4) is simply not practical in very rough seas; the limit is sea state 5 for NH-90 and Ka-27; that's 2.5-4 m high waves. The heavier AW.101 is claimed to be able to operate at sea state 6, but that claim may  mean the lower bound of sea state 6.

Helicopters also face the threat of submarine-launched air defences (if they are present) once the sub commander believes he has been detected or is about to be detected. They lack terrain features at sea that their brethren over land could exploit to survive. ASW helicopters are furthermore terribly expensive, in a league with "generation 4.5" strike fighters.
My conclusion is thus that ship-operated low frequency active sonars should be the mainstay of anti-submarine sensors, with helicopters and drones being mere complementary asserts at high seas. Helicopters' low frequency dipping sonars may in fact be or become the main emitters (which allows keeping ships silent) if this provides enough effective detection range. This range variable is classified, of course.

Low frequency active sonars aren't necessarily as simple as old school active sonars, though: Techniques have been developed to address the problem of the treacherous emissions and small echoes from submarine bows. Bistatic and multistatic sonar networks have one or multiple emitter/receiver units and one or multiple units that don't emit, only receive (listen). Two well-spaced emitters would hit the submarine with acoustic waves from different directions, and even if due to shape the echo isn't strong enough to be detected by either emitter some other listener might pick it up. Active nodes can turn passive and passive nodes can turn active, which means that submarines could get but limited and quickly obsolete information about the warships by listening to those emissions. There's clearly a substantial advantage in quantity in modern ASW. The gold plated ASW destroyer or ASW frigate designed for self-reliance is no more the state of the art. Moreover, the extreme silencing of such ASW units is of no consequence during the active sonar operation. In fact, active sonars may give away even perfectly silenced ASW ships' bearing to submarines when said ships are being hit by the low frequency wave.

multistatic sonar (c)Topher200
The ideal submarine detection by a convoy at high seas would thus include a ~300° forward low frequency active sonar search, passive listening in the rear ~60° (as submarines become less silent when they are moving at 20 kts or faster, which would be required to catch up with a convoy from behind) with low frequency dipping sonar searches by ASW helicopters (360° around the convoy), not the least to have a second look at suspected contacts.

Some drones could be dispatched to investigate contacts as well, even helicopter-dropped and -recovered drones. Drones have the advantage that they would allow the scarce helicopters to stay at a safe distance to a suspected contact.

Finally, I'd like to mention about sonars that as early as in 1941 German passive sonars were able to detect a battleship or convoy well past the horizon of a battleship's mast. This over the horizon capability is still present against noisy ships, but it is of much-reduced importance due to the helicopters' radars that provide a much better look past the ship's horizon. Modern submarines are meanwhile too silent for passive long range detection.

Destruction of the submarine & confirmation of the kill

Heavyweight torpedoes are almost extinct on surface warships, and the smaller (in the West usually 324 mm diameter) lightweight torpedoes (LWT) are badly outranged by the submarines' torpedoes. The dominant method for delivering a warhead onto a detected threat submarine is thus to drop  lightweight torpedoes from helicopters. This means the helicopter has to come close (entering a hypothetical air defence zone of the threat sub) and it has to be able to operate at all. The latter is difficult not only in stormy weather, but also after weeks at sea with frequent patrols. The maintenance burden and the limited quantity of such expensive and thus scarce helicopters may lead to too few helicopters being available.

There should thus be a backup. The state of the art for this are LWT-carrying missiles which can be stored in and launched from vertical launch silos just like most other warship missiles. A salvo of three such missiles could be launched at a confirmed contact with impact point updates by radio for a triangular impact pattern around the contact that traps the submarine in a no escape zone. Suspected contacts would at most be shot at with a single missile, which would likely provoke a confirming reaction if the contact isn't a false one. I don't think that equipping submarines with such ASW missiles makes much sense - the costs and volume & mass required are not justified by the low probability of success. An interesting detail about such missile-delivered lightweight torpedoes is that they might be used to sink (finish off) crippled surface ships.
This might sound like an endorsement of VL-ASROC, but to my knowledge that missile has no datalink and doesn't get updates during the flight, which may be important to engage unpredictably sprinting (30+ kts) nuclear attack submarines at long ranges due to the short effective range of the LWT warhead. This and the range (that's shorter than the range at which submarines may choose to unleash a salvo of missiles at a merely heard convoy) seem to be critical limitations of VL-ASROC. The USN should not have aborted the Sea Lance program in the 90's.

Long distances between the warship and the submarine target would allow for imprecise direction- and range-finding by active sonar only. The speed of sound in seawater is about 1,500 m/s. A 30 km distant submarine's echo from the warship's active sonar would thus arrive about 40 seconds after emission. A 30 kts fast nuclear-powered submarine would have travelled about 600 m in this time, and likely over 1,000 m until the impact of an ASW missile. The missile could thus create a miss distance of well over 1,500 m with a u-turn even if the sonar had zero degree bearing error (which no sonar can do without sheer luck). Additionally, the LWTs on the tip of the ASW missile would have no information about the depth the submarine is at, and would likely waste time searching in circles in the wrong layer of seawater.

Another sonar needs to be brought to the submarine's vicinity to get a more accurate location and also accurate information about the submarine's depth at long distances (= likely all distances outside of effective heavyweight torpedo range) from the warship. An engagement with a pattern of ASW missiles would often be a waste of munitions without such improved targeting data.

The destruction of a threat submarine could be confirmed with high resolution sonar by helicopter or drone. The use of a drone would be practical at short ranges only, due to its likely slow travel and afterwards slow catch-up with the convoy. The implosion of a submarine as it sinks beyond its destruction depth may also serve as indicator, but this doesn't necessarily happen. The waters of the continental shelf may not be deep enough and a hit may lead to a pressure equalisation between inside and outside, avoiding implosion.

The heavyweight torpedo threat

The ASW topic also includes the defences against the threat posed almost exclusively by submarines: Heavyweight torpedoes.

Such torpedo threats can be divided into categories depending on propulsion and seeker
  • high speed propulsion or electric propulsion
  • acoustic homing or wake homing
High speed propulsion is meant to allow for extremely fast terminal approach to the target (reportedly even around 70 kts), which makes any attempt to run away futile if the torpedo was detected late or fired at short range. Even 40+ kts warships could not run away from a 70 kts torpedo that's close and has enough fuel left. The most extreme high speed torpedoes use supercavitation, but this appears to be practical only with nuclear warheads or at short ranges, for such a torpedo cannot have own search and track sensors (it can be wire-guided, though).
Electric propulsion torpedoes are sneakier and more versatile. They could for example be used to destroy an undersea cable from well over 50 nm away. They could also self-deploy by extremely long distances (even exploiting sea currents) and become a long endurance naval mine in the mission area.

Acoustic homing torpedoes are similar to the first ones in the Second World War. They carry an onboard sonar with passive and active modes (typically in the nose), but they are connected with the submarine by a copper cable or fibre-optic cable for most if not all of the approach to the target.  The submarine can listen through the torpedo's sonar, which enables human intelligence to participate in the choice of a target. This is important, as there may be plenty acoustic decoys. Acoustic decoys have to be smart to properly simulate the warship or another attractive target, as torpedoes (just as acoustic naval mines) can process sounds since the 80's so well that they can tell one ship class from another.
A wakehoming sensor is a common secondary sensor in modern heavyweight torpedoes, to be used in the ship's vicinity. Torpedo fuses vary, but contact fuses are uncommon nowadays though there may be a contact fuse mode present as backup. 

Countermeasures to heavyweight torpedoes

Surface warships have some measures to silence them (rather silent diesel-electric propulsion, water bubble systems, screws and cruise speeds meant to avoid cavitation that transport ships usually lack and cannot be retrofitted with. Warships also have a reduced magnetic signature, albeit the utility of this is questionable nowadays.

Acoustic countermeasures to torpedoes are the reason why wake homing was introduced, usually as a second homing mode for a torpedo that's also got a sonar. Wake homing torpedoes sense the wake of a ship and zig-zag along it to the ship. The one most effective countermeasure to this is to stop moving, but even then wake homing would bring the torpedo close to the only recently stopped warship.

There would be no countermeasure available against an IR sensor on a torpedo. IR doesn't help underwater, but all torpedoes can reach 40+ kts in the terminal approach, which is enough to jump out of the water by several metres and make a 180+° snap shot of the surroundings. The problem with this would be to steer the torpedo into a suitable angle for the re-entry (this could be achieved with minute charges). No such thing has ever been published to my knowledge, and military patents are usually classified, so I can't even tell if anyone ever came up with the idea before I did.

Countermeasures to wake homing might include hull vanes for reduced wakes, towed mines along the wake that blow up an approaching torpedo and anti-torpedo munitions, including guided lightweight torpedoes (might be the same as the ones used on submarines). I have not read of any modern towed mines and the anti-torpedo torpedo thing is according to published infos still largely in an experimental stage (just as submarine air defences). Hull vanes for wake reduction are experimental as well, apparently.

Some more remarks

The use of sonar is not a simple affair. There are layers of water in oceans with different salinity and temperature that keep acoustic waves from travelling straight. Variable depth sonars that could be lowered on a tether down into such layers (or have microphones in different layers at the same time) were very fashionable in the 1970's and 1980's for this reason.
Passive sonar is furthermore affected by the ship platform itself - the only passive sonars that work fine to the rear 30° or so are towed sonars. They are speed-limited, though. I saw published operating speeds in the 15...17 kts range and maximum survival speeds a little short of 30 kts. A ship that cruises at 20...25 kts would rather not make use of a towed sonar. Hull-mounted sonars on the other hand have no business trying to listen for what's behind the ship and can't enter lower water layers themselves.

Bubbles underwater can create an active sonar echo that may be mistaken for a submarine (by an active sonar) - this was used for deception back in the Second World War already. Bubbles don't move horizontally (save for the general drift of the water) as submarines often do, though.

Sonars can be used to create imagery of objects, and this is done when looking for naval mines or sunk shipwrecks. This is de facto not available at long ranges, though.

There are some rather elaborate acoustic 'stealth' technologies; the old prairie - masker has become publicly known, for example.

The thermal and salinity layers as well as the currents of the sea can be sensed with tiny drone or single use sensors. They could also be surveilled by slow-moving drones that travel along  expected convoy routes and make regular reports by satellite uplink.

Ship identification by passive sonar is possible if the ship's acoustic profile was recorded before, and naval mines even use this to prefer real targets over simulators used by minesweepers. It's quite safe to assume that modern threat torpedoes have the same capability, which rules out some primitive acoustic decoys.

Cavitation is the forming of water vapour bubbles in water, caused especially at ship screws. This is noisy, damages the screws and is to be avoided if possible, but it's hard to avoid with sprinting torpedoes and sprinting surface warships. Cavitation depends on the vessel design and the water pressure (depth) mostly. Submarines may sprint silently at great depth even if they would be loud due to cavitation at a lesser depth. That's in part the appeal behind diving deep.

Blast is less effective at great depths than at shallow depths, so lightweight torpedoes usually have shaped charges to pierce a submarine hull at any depth. This helps especially against large double-hulled submarines, as these may very well survive a single blast hit. A single hit by a lightweight torpedo is still not necessarily a kill on a large submarine. It's an almost guaranteed flooding of one possibly critical compartment, though. There is very little if any experience with what lightweight torpedoes do to large submarines at depth in practice.

Lightweight torpedoes are not as fast as the fastest heavyweight torpedoes and may be outrun by nuclear attack submarines particularly at great depths. Light weight torpedoes also have quite small sonars and face various countermeasures deployed by the targeted submarines. We shouldn't assume a respectable probability of hit or kill by the employment of a single lightweight torpedo. A single torpedo is a suitable approach for testing whether a contact is a target or a false contact (provoking a reaction), and while -as mentioned before- a pattern of three or four lightweight torpedoes is a promising approach for engaging a high confidence contact.

Consumption of lightweight torpedoes is a major problem due to many false contacts and apparently lacking ability to recover & refuel/recharge those torpedoes in wartime for repeated use. This is done in exercises even with dedicated torpedo recovery boats, of course. NATO had a serious problem with North Atlantic convoy escorts because operational research suggested that the lightweight torpedo expenditure on false contacts would be so high that the escorts may have run out of munitions before completing a single crossing of the North Atlantic. On the one hand improved sensors have no doubt become better at identifying natural source signatures as no threat, but submarines might deploy entire swarms of decoys and even a torpedo might be mistaken as a submarine and trigger the expenditure of one lightweight torpedo for probing and three for the kill.

Heavyweight torpedoes might deploy submunition torpedoes that serve as moving decoys. This should be kept in mind when one thinks of hard kill defences.

Lightweight torpedoes can usually be launched by 324 mm torpedo tubes onboard of warships. These tubes are usually close to or even in the helicopter hangar for a reason; the torpedoes are the same as used by the helicopters. To add this last ditch defence (which is badly outranged by the submarines' heavyweight torpedoes) costs hardly anything in terms of money and weight. Such LWT launchers might become more relevant if hard kill defence against heavyweight torpedoes by lightweight torpedoes really is or becomes a relevant.

Throughout this text I assumed a silent nuclear attack submarine (SSN) or a conventional yet air-independent submarine (SSI) as the threat that needs to be defeated. These are the high ends among submarine threats - the vast majority of today's submarines are noisier, and most conventional submarines need to penetrate the surface with a snorkel from time to time in order to recharge their batteries with a (relatively loud) operation of diesel engines.

Some submarine types have small torpedo tubes in addition to larger diameter torpedo tubes. The smaller tubes are supposedly for anti-submarine torpedoes, which makes sense as the detection range in a submarine-on-submarine encounter would likely be short. These smaller tubes may still become more important as decoy and anti-torpedo torpedo (hard kill defence) launchers. The same can also be had by loading a container with multiple mobile decoys or small anti-torpedo torpedoes into a single large torpedo tube, of course.

The use of the periscope (for surface target identification) and snorkel isn't nearly as treacherous as one might believe. Submarines can first extend a tiny ESM antenna to sense any radar activity, then extend an electro-optical periscope for a few seconds to record a digital 360° panorama which can then be interpreted by humans while the periscope is back under the water surface again. Such E/O periscopes are apparently not standard yet, but they can be retrofitted quickly. Finally, snorkels are still small objects in an ocean with lots of floating trash and it's easy to minimise their radar return. The bigger concern is the wake that periscope/snorkel and even the submarine itself at periscope depth create (the wake causes a recognisable pattern in radar returns and may even be visible to the naked eye). This forces the submarine to be very slow when it's close to the surface.

Submarines may have towed sonars, too. This is common among nuclear submarines only, especially SSBNs and SSGNs (nuclear-powered submarines with a primary armament of ballistic or cruise missiles).

I wrote a lot about heavyweight torpedoes as threat munitions because they are de facto unique to ASW. I will write about defence against missiles in the AAW part. That will include submarine-launched missile threats.

Non-nuclear submarines are capable of sprints  (about 20 kts), but their cruise speed is poor (about 4...10 kts). Nuclear submarines can be fast (20+ to almost 40 kts) at all times, but they choose to be slow much of the time in order to be less noisy.

ASW fixed wing aircraft and some ASW helicopters used to employ magnetic anomaly detectors (MAD) and diesel smoke detectors, but both are prone to false alarms and largely obsolete today.

I neglected the employment of manned submarines as convoy escorts so far. The U.S.Navy uses nuclear- attack submarines to support carrier battlegroups. This is way too expensive (more than € 2.5 bn per nuclear submarine) for escorting transport ship convoys of any practical size in my opinion. Non-nuclear submarines lack the cruise speed to escort any convoy. Submarines may be used to stealthily scout straits at neutral countries ahead of a convoy as a secondary mission of theirs, but I don't see much else they could cost-efficiently do for convoys. Their greatest asset - stealth - is lost once they employ the only effective long range sensor against other modern submarines - a LFAS.
Maybe some submarines do indeed find a hostile submarine and succeed at killing it even if both submarines are very silent/stealthy. This may add to a general naval campaign by attrition of the hostile submarine force, but is not likely enough for convoy security.

A torpedo is really small, and especially its frontal silhouette is tiny. There is thus a potential for active noise cancelling, both to hide the torpedo's propulsion noises and to cancel out acoustic waves sent by active sonar. Torpedoes have already an active sonar nose, so this could be used for the noise cancelling within a design-dependent frequency range. This technical possibility hints that very high quality torpedoes may be practically undetectable by the targeted ship itself. It would then depend on other sources for detection. That's another good point in favour of multistatic sonar networks.

Submarines are not really good at radio traffic. Some can deploy a tethered, floating radio antenna without leaving a deep altitude, but generally submarines need to maintain radio silence to not give away their location. This lesson was learned in the Second Battle of the Atlantic (in WW2). Submarines can receive radio messages while at depth without a tethered antenna, but only really long wavelengths penetrate the sea well. These wavelengths have great ranges, but low data rates. A submarine at 300 m depth will typically receive no long messages. It would rather receive a ELF or SLF radio signal with the message to be ready (at a lesser depth) for the real message later on. Submarines at a small depth on the other hand may receive VLF radio signals that are of greater use. They may tow an antenna that stays for this purpose at such a shallow depth even while the sub is cruising deeper to avoid cavitation, stay below helpful water layers and make MAD detection even less likely by sheer distance to the MAD sensor.
The takeaway from all this is that submarines are rather loners that fight on their own, rarely as a part of a combined arms team.


We shouldn't forget about the crews among all this technocentric stuff that coins naval warfare. The difference between a rested well-trained crew and an exhausted green crew is stark. ASW operators may also become desensitised by false contacts. False contacts could even be created artificially to this end; aircraft could disperse ten thousands of swimming radar reflectors over an ocean to make snorkels and periscopes indistinguishable, for example. A crew that works three times four hours per day in a  watch system would also be exhausted and less alert after a week-long wartime patrol / convoy action than at its beginning. The crew would also be less alert at the end of a watch, so only stupid captains use a known watch rhythm in wartime (they sure shouldn't change watches at 0/4/8/12/16/20 o'clock!).


The construction and operation of dedicated surface warships is expensive, and they are thus scarce. To secure a single convoy with enough low frequency sonars and helicopters would require at a minimum two, more likely four such warships. Dozens if not hundreds of convoys would need to be secured if navies were to meet their claim that they're the service that protects maritime trade. Additionally, aircraft carriers need to be protected against submarines as well (at least until they're lost or damaged beyond repair for the remainder of the conflict).

The very minimum to come close to proper anti-submarine protection is to replace such scarce dedicated warships by other means in friendly coastal regions where land-based assets and boats can take over the ASW role .

A second requirement is that every frigate and destroyer has to be fully ASW-capable. The quantity of ships needed to secure a convoy grows badly when one employs dedicated ASW and AAW (anti-air warfare) warships. The AAW article will add to this case by showing that a mixed ASW escort and AAW escort group isn't cheaper than a smaller escort group of GP (general purpose) warships.

Third, there seems to be no way around using low frequency active sonar systems (LFASS) in ASW. So either we agree with Greenpeace and give up on ASW (which actually is an option and sensible for the vast majority of countries with a coastline) or we go all-in and do ASW properly, with effective LFASS technology. To keep antiquated ASW units in service that are ineffective against modern submarines helps only if the opposing forces employ about equally antiquated submarines. That's actually true regarding North Korea, Russia and the vast majority of navies in the world, but it can change quicker than the West could reform its ASW arsenal.

The scarce missiles with lightweight torpedo as payload (such as VL-ASROC) cannot be the primary means of probing underwater contacts. The much more cost-, weight- and volume-efficient helicopter-dropped LWT has to be available and be used much. Maybe the helicopters or dinghys should be tasked with torpedo recovery, but that's difficult to tell without knowing R&D results on the subject. Surface and  underwater  drones might be used for confirming underwater contacts as hostile, but this capability is not quite available off the shelf (unless you use minehunting drones) and may be a too slow approach, especially compared to a helicopter closing in and using a dipping sonar.
Submarines are much more different from civilian ship designs than any dedicated surface warships are. Civilian shipyards would thus have a harder time to mass-produce submarines than to mass-produce surface warships - especially in the first few years of a naval arms race. This is a good reason to believe that an all-out arms race in East Asia would feature a sub-proportional rise in submarine tonnage compared to the rise in surface warship tonnage.
This doesn't help ASW much, though; the quantity of false contacts (on which munitions will be expended) and the necessary quantity of escorts would not be affected by this. It only helps insofar as escort losses might be moderate and auxiliary warships (armed merchantmen) might be used as ASW platforms.

Anti-torpedo countermeasure kits should be available for equipping cargo ships despite their acoustic signatures. There's little point in giving comprehensive countermeasure kits to the protecting ships, but not to the ships that shall be protected. To spend on stocks of countermeasure kits and for their storage is not exactly something that naval bureaucracies want to do by instinct, though. They desire many impressive warships to cruise with.

A comprehensive countermeasure suite would include towed decoys/mines towed in on the wake to defeat wake-homing torpedoes, signature reduction measures on the ship hull and screws, mobile and stationary decoys to be launched when a torpedo attack is imminent or ongoing (and ideally recovered later) and anti-torpedo torpedoes. The latter could also be effective as ordinary lightweight torpedoes against submarines. The Russians also appear to trust multiple rocket launchers in the role of decoy launchers - these rocket launchers originally used to project depth charges on submarines and may actually still be relevant in this role at least at very short range in shallow waters.

Minesweeping knows simulator vehicles that recreate the acoustic and magnetic signature of ships to trigger naval mines. Short-distance convoys might make use of such boats (some of which are optionally manned) as anti-torpedo defence for the real ships. I doubt that transoceanic convoys would find it practical to have such boats cruise thousands of nautical miles at 15...25 kts.



Modern warships (I) - Introduction


Naval technology and warfare is far from my speciality or focus (I do rather consider land warfare art of war to be my focus), but I still want to write near-universal article series on modern warships.

Keep in mind my focus is on deterrence and defence; the preservation of peace and the minimisation of harm done by warfare if peace was not preserved. For this reason I will not show myself concerned about naval topics such as how to operate with carrier groups in range of Chinese land-based tactical missiles and air power. Security of Persian Gulf exports is the problem of the exporters in my opinion; they could build additional pipelines or afford a ridiculously more expensive naval security solution themselves. I'm furthermore not concerned about how best  to destroy SSBNs (submarines with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles) simply because any such effort could provoke the employment of their missiles before they were lost to hostile action.

An important and in my opinion extremely neglected point I want to make about naval affairs is that a great deal of military missions that need to be accomplished at sea can be accomplished without warships by dominantly land-based power such as land-based air power (including naval helicopters), missile units, OTH radars, orbital satellite operations, boats, land-launched drones for mine countermeasures and land-controlled naval surface drones. Warships are usually less cost-efficient than those land-based and coastal units.

The West furthermore lacks the shipbuilding capacity to arms race at sea against the PRC (South Korea would likely abstain from providing the West with output of its shipyards, as this would put South Korea itself at great risk).
My conclusion from this is that the West should make much more use of land-based and coastal assets and reserve its dedicated warships for high seas actions such as securing the most important transoceanic maritime trade lanes (main convoy routes) and more rarely some distant naval blockades. This should be rested on cost-efficient platforms as well and at least the Americans and Japanese should configure their navies for this with the superior shipyard capacity of the PR China in mind.

There's a widespread notion that one should have offshore patrol vessels or helicopter corvettes for easy tasks such as UN trade embargo enforcement, as doing these missions with frigates and destroyers would be too expensive.
I disagree. OPVs and corvettes are an expensive misallocation of resources in a shooting war because of their poor equipment with sensors, munitions and aviation component. The costs of building, modernising and operating frigates and destroyers are sunk costs anyway because these expenses are deemed necessary to deter or fight wars; sunk costs should never have any influence on decisionmaking. Corvettes with their combat power barely above fast attack craft levels are not the way to go. Nor are oversized OPVs such as the mis-labeled F125.

I will address many topics on modern (surface) warships - essentially what would commonly be called frigates, destroyers and cruisers (FFG, DDG, CG) - in the next posts. There will be rather few links in the texts, but the final part of the series will include a list of links especially to what I wrote before on naval topics. Those linked blog posts have many of the explanations that I'll omit in the series itself.

Feel free to read my magnus opum on blue water surface warfare. Be advised; it's long. Some of the conclusions are only very late in the series. You may wonder what I'm working towards in some part or another - well, that's in a later one.

Part II (ASW) : 31 January 2018
Part III (AAW) : 13 February 2018
Part IV (ASuW) : 16 February 2018
Part V (land attack) : 18 February 2018
Part VI (other topics) :19 February 2018
Part VII (conclusion; the two paths) :21 February 2018
Part VIII (links to previous naval-themed blog posts at D&F) : 23 February 2018



An open letter to fellow pacifists

Hello folks,

I understand all those campaigns against military small arms, even for small arms export bans, have a little bit of hope that this might curb wars in the background. I also understand that the overtly offered argument against such small arms  is that they are the killer #1 in many of those messy little wars in the Third World, especially in Africa.

Folks, the idea that without small arms = less killing doesn't work. Axes, clubs, steel bars, machetes knifes and even stones are always available in the necessary quantities when humans want to massacre each other. We saw that in Rwanda and Burundi. In Biafra there wasn't even a need for much active killing - hunger did much of the killing.

One should use one's fights wisely, spend political capital that's available wisely. The campaigns against small arms may be good for generating donations, but they won't affect the outcome of wars.

Here's another, much more promising and easier target: Autonomous killer drones/missiles that are either recoverable/reusable or have an endurance of greater than three hours* (excluding underwater munitions).

There are no such things in service yet, which makes it relatively easy to get those banned. A ban on small arms export would merely provoke a few poor countries to discover small arms manufacture and export as a profitable market niche.

Autonomous killer drones on land and in the air are freaky enough and have so much Sci Fi background that mobilising support for a ban would be guaranteed to generate much support. Moreover, such drones could overthrow the current peace-preserving military (im)balances and lead to wars because powers that are kept in check today might see an opportunity to "win" in a war.

There's hardly any success to show after 15+ years of campaigning against small arms. It's all-too obvious that even the Arms Trade Treaty won't affect the small arms supply in Africa noticeably.

Let's campaign against autonomous killer drones instead! Western popular culture is already de facto allied, and this Pandora's box is still closed. Let's weld its lock closed (as much as a treaty can do so)!


*: The definition has to exclude ordinary fire-and-forget missiles or a ban would be unrealistic.


[temporary] Update on the warship series

The article series on warships is about 80-90% done, most of the remaining delay will be the wait time for previews. I let some people look at the articles in order to avoid substantial errors in the released version. The series stands at 18 k words so far, which is equivalent to 45 book pages text.

The 'wrap it up' conclusions part still has to be written.

edit: I wrote that one, too. It's not planned to be previewed, unlike most other parts of the series.



[temporary] low ops

I'm writing on a series of mostly long posts that summarize info, thoughts and conclusions on warships. This takes a lot of time (finding all those pictures and links is the worst about it), so there won't be much other writing in a while.

The good news is I finally repaired the spellchecker on my browser, so there will be fewer embarrassing typos in the future.



"Hybrid" Russian invasions

There has been much talk and many articles about "hybrid" approaches of Russia to warfare. Cyber, invading army in incomplete uniforms, attempts to manipulate right wingers with fake news, attempts to manipulate social media with fake comments and upvotes et cetera.

A very widespread conclusion from this is that if Russia made a move against NATO, it woudl do so with a hybrid approach that mattered - not just some 'Since 6 o'clock we're returning fire." false flag nonsense as the nazi stunt in '39 that would be relevant but for the most gullible part of the domestic audience.
As a consequence, questions are being asked such as what NATO would do if Russian army troops crossed the Estonian borders posing as Russians living in Estonia.

I have argued against this a couple times, but this time I'll argue against it more elaborately.

First, let's ward ourselves against falling for the nonsense that what the Russians did in the Ukraine was anything new, imaginative or unusual.

So it wasn't really new, imaginative or unusual.

It was a move designed to achieve multiple things
- calm the more gullible part of the domestic audience
- give foreign sympathizers a way to not think of Russia as an aggressor first and foremost
- delay Western reactions TO A CRISIS IN A NON-ALLIED COUNTRY

There we have the key difference between such theatre in the Ukraine and in Estonia. The bar for Western military reactions was incredibly much higher in the case of the Ukraine. It's extremely dubious if any Western military would have been sent to assist the Ukraine even if Russia had formally declared war on the Ukraine with a stated war goal of 100% annexation.

A NATO member on the other hand is an altogether different thing. To neglect the duty to help an ally-by-treaty that's under attack would destroy the standing of any great power. It would even destroy the deterrence value of a nuclear arsenal. Most of Eastern Europe would likely surrender to Russia, seeking favourable terms if not an alliance in which servitude as allies is the payment for continued sovereignty.

There's no way NATO would not at the very least react with a non-violent counterconcentration of military power in Poland and Germany (likely Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Norway and Denmark as well) if Russian fake secessionists appeared in the Baltics.

Those who expect a similar playbook as in the Crimea and Donetzk basin are making the typical mistake of extrapolation. They neglect to think about the reasons for the observed behaviour, and whether such reasons would exist in a future scenario as well. The intelligence put into making such an extrapolation can be provided by the computer chip of a microwave oven.

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It's easily debatable whether the aimed escalations that I project in scenarios of Russian aggression would really be dared. Meanwhile, I also assume that certain escalations would be avoided (I think they would keep Belarus neutral in a Baltic conflict). Escalations are tricky and depend on judgment that cannot be predicted.

What can be predicted is that any fake secessionists as first stage of invasion would utterly fail to make any difference in favour of Russia. Fake secessionists might provide some propaganda value well before an invasion - but adding a fake secessionist uprising as a first stage only wastes the element of surprise and time. The Russian military is not entirely ignorant of Suvorov - a rapid coup de main for fait accompli is MUCH more plausible than them wasting days.




Link drop Jan 2018, part II

"Previous research has shown that when confronted with a factual statement that appears to go against an ideologically held belief, a percentage of people tested will move their position away from the factual information – a so-called “backfire effect.” This notion was rapidly incorporated into the skeptical narrative, because it seems to confirm our perception that it is very difficult to change people’s minds. However, more recent research suggests that the backfire effect may not exist, or at least is exceedingly rare."

I mentioned this effect in some blog post years ago, jsut cannot find it. Apparently, I did not use the term. My experience fits better with the notion that the effect is commonplace than with the notion that it isn't - at least regarding things that people find comfort in believing.
Did I prove my point? ;-)

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I don't get it. It worked fine before!

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An old one, but back then I wasn't in the mood becoming all rational cassandra again. Errorism is petty compared to this:

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In case you didn't notice; the French state of emergency ended a while ago after two years - it was replaced by one of those primitive reaction 'law and order'ish laws that pop up after terrorism and then stick for no good reason whatsoever. Germany has such leftovers from the 70's on the law books.

So when one mourns the decline of liberal democracy in Europe, don't just look at Poland, Hungary or maybe Spain.



quick note on retracted articles

I retracted a few articles over the last ten years. Today I pulled one titled "Interceptors vs. wonder weapon fighters" from 2009. I have felt for a long time that I didn't properly take into account the kinetic and potential energy difficulties and effects of datalink networks on the tactic I mentioned.

I also pulled (long time ago) one about a RAND study (the study was widely criticised), one about downsides of high speed in ships (faulty data), a couple blog posts that were meant to be temporary all along and a few that were about the blog itself. I have a couple drafts of which I don't know if they were never published or rather reverted from published to draft.

It happens once in a while that I pull articles, but if you ever miss a blog post of mine there's still the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive. I can't do anything about its long term memory.

edit 3/2018: I also just pulled an old article on small naval combatants that's too easily misunderstood in light of the recent warship series.



Link drop January 2018

This doesn't give me a good feeling. On the other hand, there was more than a decade delay between Rambo in Afghanistan and Americans wanting to go there.

I may have mentioned this before.
This wake reduction is not only of interest for fuel savings. Navies might be interested in it to reduce vulnerability to wake-homing torpedoes and saterllite/aerial radars that can detect ships going more than about 5 kts by spotting their wakes.

Think of this as mounted on a 4x4 car, moved every 2-4 minutes by 500+ m. And this thing is visibly (see antenna) not even close tot he state of the art!

A low frequency towed active sonar system for FAC-sized naval units. What's the excuse for "AAW" frigates and destroyers to nto be general purpose units again? 

Years ago I did (IIRC) doubt that low frequency active sonar would be available for ASW helicopters (or did I only doubt it would be available with sonobuoys?). Well, I was ignorant of this thing, obviously. So costs and survivabilikty against (potetnial) submarine air defences are the two main problems left with ASW helos then. AFAIK.

A reasonable concept, might be even better if they turned it into a palletised solution - but I've yet tio read about any MULTI/PLS/EPLS/DROPS equivalent in Russian use.

I mentioned in comments that NOSTRADAMUS might be relevant against the hypothertical cruise missile surprise salvo. This was what I meant:

This reminds me of the coloured and sugared water that was handed out in German air force barracks to meals.First time I saw "Jägermeister" flavor as a drink. Quite a disappointment; it was rather based on the dessert than the beverage.

and for germanophone people:

Nichts Neues im Westen.


Konnte man sich auch so denken.

So sollte Politik und insbesondere Demokratie nicht funktionieren!