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Warships are evolving, but they will not disappear

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Wars often provide glimpses into the future. World War I, for example, ushered in the age of tanks, submarines, and aircraft, while World War II ushered in an era of computers, missiles, and nuclear energy. The Ukraine war is still raging, but even now strategists are learning from what the conflict means for the war in the age of social media, and whether the warship is going the way of the horse cavalry. In fact, almost immediately after the dramatic sinking of Moscow, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, these two questions came together.

Even when the cruiser was on fire – but before it sank – the news of the attack broke on social media in the form of messages from Ukrainian government sources on Twitter, followed by reports from several open source intelligence analysts. The two combating nations immediately began arguing over the cause. While Russia ridiculously claimed that Moscow had been lost due to an unintentional explosion, more credible reports confirmed the Ukrainians’ claim that they had taken out the 11,000-tonne heavily armed warship by hitting it with two Neptune cruise missiles, each packing 330 pounds high. explosive.

Soon after, a major altercation began to burn over what this news meant beyond the Black Sea. It was “a ‘wake-up call’ for the world’s best fleets,” experts told Business Insider. Teacher Matt Yglesias tweeted that the episode had convinced him that even U.S.-valued aircraft carriers were now “basically useless in a wide range of scenarios,” while Nikkei’s former China office chief reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s confidence in the airlines was also “shaken” by the attack. Xi is reportedly concerned that China’s carrier program, which originated from the Soviet – era Kuznetsov – class airline – ironically made in Ukraine – has now been wasted yuan.

In general, the argument that surface ships are now obsolete has been formulated in a helpless all-or-nothing way. Our fleet is certainly threatened by a new generation of missiles, including some far more dangerous than those used by the Ukrainians for such an effect, such as hypersonic missiles that can travel five times the speed of sound. But analysts have prematurely announced the death of surface ships before – as far back as 100 years ago, when early air force theorists such as US Army Air Corps’ Billy Mitchell and Italian General Giulio Douhet said the plane’s emergence questioned the value of the fleet. Then as now, reality is more complex. The naval warship, even the often reviled aircraft carrier, has a future, but its key tactics, systems, and even form may change, in large part because of the same threats that have allegedly killed it. As the sea warriors from “Game of Thrones” promised: “What is dead must never die. But rises again, harder and stronger.”

The first looming change in war at sea – already well under way in the US Navy – involves new ideas transforming old technology. Consider, for example, the problem of a missile fired at your warship. You could do what the Russians were trying to do – namely, trust that a ship’s radar and defense systems respond in a timely manner. Or you can bring software and networks that are common in the business into this war problem, to move the necessary information at machine speed. A reconnaissance satellite can capture the infrared bloom of heat from the missile launch. That information can then be seamlessly linked to the radar of an F-35 fighter or AWACS aircraft flying from an aircraft carrier, which can detect and extrapolate the missile’s trajectory. Finally, the data can be combined with the insight from an Aegis Combat System aboard an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer that escorts the larger task force into which your ship is networked, which, now warned, can launch a defensive missile well in advance of the threat. arrives. None of the ships or even their nuclear weapons have changed (Burke is more than three decades old, like Moscow). But through new software and innovative ideas, our sensors and sliders can go drastically further and create a bigger bubble of mortality.

Another – and timely – example of using older ships in new ways came in early April, when record-breaking 20 F-35 fighter jets flew off the USS Tripoli. Replacing the ship’s normal supplement with troop-carrying helicopters and tiltrotors for fighter jets transformed an amphibious assault ship, originally designed to move a naval unit ashore, into what is equivalent to a light aircraft carrier. This proof of concept shows that a whole new set of aircraft carriers can be added to the fleet without having to build them from scratch. This presents an enemy challenge with multiple mobile air bases to find and counter. What’s more, World War II experience shows that pairing light carriers with traditional carriers has a power multiplier effect; the move adds more deck space and allows aircraft from different airlines to focus on offensive attacks or defenses.

The second transformative path involves adding groundbreaking new hardware to old warships. The day before Moscow’s defense failed her, the US Office of Naval Research announced the first successful test of an all-electric, high-energy laser weapon: it shot down a target, much like the Neptune cruise missiles used in the Black Sea. The appeal of directed energy is that it changes both odds and cost equation to defend ships against missiles. After all, you only get one chance to hit an incoming missile with a multi-million dollar defensive missile, and ships can only carry a limited supply. With a laser, you get unlimited shots, each for just the price of producing the electric charge.

Unmanned technology will also transform what flies from our warships – and may change the definition of an “aircraft carrier.” Although the U.S. Air Force is rushing to send a new type of drone, the Phoenix Ghost, to Ukrainians – packed with explosives they can attack kamikaze-style – the Pentagon has unveiled the latest generation of autonomous “tiltroter” drones that can be deployed at sea. The V-247 Vigilant, dimensioned to fit into the same space as the military’s workhorse helicopter, the manned MH-60, will be able to fly not just from a traditional aircraft carrier, but from almost any warship. It can carry a variety of weapons, from anti-submarine weapons to Sidewinder air-to-air missiles to Joint Strike Missiles (cruise missiles similar to those that conquered Moscow). They would give a warship the range of the missile’s range plus the drone’s range, equivalent to doubling the length of a boxer’s blow.

The final change for the future of the warship will come from bringing ever more skilled and intelligent robots from the air to the waves. In fact, future naval historians may see other developments in April 2022 as more significant than the sinking of the Black Sea. For example, the U.S. Navy provided Congress with its 30-year shipbuilding plan, which, depending on which route is taken, envisages a fleet of 81 to 153 unmanned surface vessels and 18 to 50 unmanned submarines.

The Navy was confident in taking this step because of the successes of tests involving unmanned vessels, which it has collectively dubbed its ghost fleet. A new naval organization working in the Persian Gulf, Task Force 59, is now taking these tests to a new level and exploring how best to use robotic warships in a variety of scenarios, both on their own and integrated into new types of units. of unmanned and manned ships. In a sense, these exercises repeat the learning experiments of the 1920s – where strategists found that the aircraft had not actually made the warship obsolete, but instead revealed the need for new types of ships as well as new tactics.

On the same day that the sinking of Moscow gave rise to questions for so many, the Pentagon announced that a package of military equipment was being sent to Ukraine. Next to the old howitzers and Soviet-era helicopters was a set of new “unmanned coastal defense vessels”. Ukraine had already shown that it was quite capable of fighting today’s battles at sea. The next task, not only for Ukraine but for the United States, is to get ready for tomorrow.

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