Friday, July 14, 2017

Does Every Sub Need Tomahawks?

Here is a companion piece to the recent post, “Does Every Ship Need A Helicopter?” which examined US Navy design assumptions.  This time, we’ll take a look at submarine design.

One of the seeming absolute characteristics of a US Navy submarine design is the capability to shoot Tomahawk cruise missiles.  Here are the recent submarine classes and their possible Tomahawk loads.

Los Angeles  12
Ohio SSGN    154
Seawolf      50
Virginia     12-40

Without a doubt, having the capability to covertly shoot Tomahawks from submarines is a useful capability.  But, does every sub need to be able to shoot Tomahawks?

The question is not whether Tomahawk cruise missiles are useful but whether their usefulness is sufficient to justify the expenditure of ship’s volume, the concomitant increase in cost and the resulting decrease in number of submarines built?  The volume and money dedicated to a submarine cruise missile capability could go to other ship’s functions and to building more subs.  In other words, there is an opportunity cost associated with submarine launched cruise missiles.

Let’s look a bit closer.

Tomahawk missiles add size and cost to submarines.  The size increase is 20% or so, depending on the specific sub class and version.  The cost increase is harder to determine but one solid data point is the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) scheduled to be installed on the newest Virginias.  The cost increase is estimated to be around $500M which is a 20% increase over the base cost of around $2.5B.

By leaving out the VPM, we could build one extra Virginia class sub for every five subs built.  Are the added Tomahawks worth losing one extra sub for every five built?  To answer that, we need to recall the submarine’s mission(s).

The problem with “missions” is that people tend to assemble a laundry list and then, in discussions, assign by implication equal value to every mission.  For instance, here’s a partial list of submarine missions in no particular order.

  • Anti-submarine warfare
  • Anti-surface warfare
  • Long range strike warfare
  • Intelligence gathering
  • Special operations forces support
  • Presence
  • Cross training with foreign navies
  • Mine laying
  • Carrier group escort
  • Area denial
  • Blockade

As we examine the list of missions, we see that long range strike warfare is on the list.  Ergo, we must have Tomahawks on every submarine!  See what I’ve done, there?  I’ve equated every mission.  They are all equally important.  Therefore, they must all be incorporated into the design of any sub.  This is what we do today but it is wrong.

What we should be doing is prioritizing the list of missions.  We should be asking ourselves, what is the most important mission?  We might also ask ourselves what the most likely mission is – it’s often not the same as the most important!  If we do that then we can begin to intelligently design a submarine and make informed tradeoffs between cost and capability.

In war, a submarine’s most important mission is anti-submarine warfare according to US Navy doctrine since the Cold War – I’m talking about attack subs, SSN’s, not ballistic missile submarines.  The main job of our submarines is to eliminate the enemy’s submarines.  A close second mission, but still second, is anti-surface warfare.  Every mission after that is extraneous, in a sense.  If, by eliminating all the other missions – Tomahawk capability, in this case – we could build an extra submarine for every five we now build, would this be worth the loss of 12-40 Tomahawks (we’re talking about Virginia class subs, now)?  I suggest it would be and would be well worth it. 

Consider, of the 50 or so attack subs we’d like to have, we could have 10 extra subs if we dropped the Tomahawk capability!  60 subs vs. 50.  That’s a trade I’ll take!

But wait!  What about the loss of Tomahawk strike capability?  Well, that’s a significant loss, no doubt.  However, we have plenty of alternate Tomahawk strike capability in the form of Burkes and we could have much more if we took the retiring Ohio class subs and converted them into additional SSGNs with 154 Tomahawks each.  The subs are already built so it would just require the incremental cost to modify them to launch cruise missiles.  Wiki reports the conversion cost at around $700M per sub in mid-2000’s dollars.  Relative to ship building costs, that’s quite reasonable.


Submarine Launched Tomahawk - Is It Needed?


You’re asking yourself, how does an SSGN square with my previous mission list and stated priorities of ASW and ASuW?  Well, an SSGN has a different mission priority – pure cruise missile strike warfare – so the SSGN falls in line with the concept of recognizing what the priority mission is.

We see, then, that we could have more subs for the same cost and maintain or increase our fleet wide Tomahawk strike capability if we choose to spend a little bit more. 

Note, the cost of one LCS would just about cover the cost of converting one SSBN to SSGN.  Would you rather have one LCS or one Ohio SSGN with 154 Tomahawk missiles?

So, does every submarine need to have Tomahawk launch capability?  My answer is no.  The Navy needs to look at submarine CONOPS and rethink submarine design and numbers.  We need to abandon the every-ship-must-be-capable-of-every-mission thinking that now dominates our design philosophy.


49 comments:

  1. Arent submarine tomahawks fired from torpedo tubes?
    Or do US subs have VLS for them?

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    1. US subs use mainly vertical launch tubes.

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  2. I have a couple of questions;

    The first is that I had thought that since the early era of the LA class, subs used a form of VLS to launch it's missiles? Back in the day this made sense because there was more money, and because the fact that each TLAM could also be a TLAM-N gave our enemies fits in terms of us having *alot* of nuclear capable ships out there. Talk about distributed lethality! Nowadays things are different though.

    It seems what we are talking about isn't the tomahawks per se, but rather the added expense of VLS/VPM.

    Could we eliminate the VLS, maybe go (or go back to?) some sort of tube launched arrangement for TLAM's, and get the best of both worlds?

    As an aside, I think we *really* need to find a way to get some sort of sub launched AShM. It doesn't have to be super long ranged, but in the anti-surface role I think that a fast, survivable sub launched missile makes ASW that much harder for our enemies.

    The second question is based off of this:

    "If, by eliminating all the other missions – Tomahawk capability, in this case – we could build an extra submarine for every five we now build, would this be worth the loss of 12-40 Tomahawks (we’re talking about Virginia class subs, now)? I suggest it would be and would be well worth it. "

    Isn't it more fair to say 12-40 Tomahawks *per Sub*?

    I still agree with your contention, if we can have a tube launched option available in a pinch, but that is a fair amount of loss of launch capacity when you extend it across the whole build plan of the Virginias.

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    1. Yes, US subs use vertical launch.

      Yes, the Tomahawk loss would be 12-40 per sub. Thought that was obvious but maybe not. Currently, it's only 12 per sub. The VPM may or may not ever be built.

      Remember, if we went with torpedo tube launch of missiles, every missile means one less torpedo that can be carried. This gets back to my comments about mission priorities in the post. The main mission is ASW. The second mission is ASuW. Both require torpedoes, not missiles. So, you'd be enhancing a tertiary (at best) mission at the expense of the primary and secondary mission. That's the kind of out of whack thinking that the Navy routinely engages in. Hopefully, we're wiser than Navy leadership and recognize the need to maintain the full primary mission capability.

      As far as Tomahawks, do you recall the post about the Tomahawk missile strike on the Syrian air base? We launched 60 missiles in a restricted strike against a small base (probably double that for a larger, defended base). It would have required 5 subs to accomplish even that small effort. Is that really the best use of subs? In war, would we really want to pull 5 subs off their primary and secondary missions to attack a minor air base (probably 10 subs to mass enough missiles against a larger, defended base). Does that seem like the best use of a scarce and valuable submarine? As I mentioned in the post, a single SSGN could accomplish the mission by itself, freeing up 5-10 subs for their primary and secondary missions.

      Delete
    2. "Remember, if we went with torpedo tube launch of missiles, every missile means one less torpedo that can be carried. This gets back to my comments about mission priorities in the post. The main mission is ASW. The second mission is ASuW. Both require torpedoes, not missiles. So, you'd be enhancing a tertiary (at best) mission at the expense of the primary and secondary mission."

      Very true. I'm not saying that we regularly do it, just keep the capability. The scenario I'm thinking of is that in a war with China we might need a TLAM capability available for a 'regular' sub if the SSGN's are tasked elsewhere. Admittedly, it's rare, but if we can keep the ability to tube launch a TLAM* without having the expense of VLS that seems a smart thing. If its too expensive then it isn't worth it.

      *Ideally, we might be at the point of needing a better land attack missile if 60 did such a pour job.

      So, to me, the priority would be served by this:

      ASW : Torpedoes
      ASuW : Torpedoes, tube launched AShM's.
      Land Attack: Tube launched TLAMs/TLAM follow on.

      In this scenario, to my thinking, 95% of the time the subs go out with Torpedoes only, or maybe Torpedoes and some anti ship cruise missiles.

      The only time that they would go out with TLAMs is specialty situations.

      I suppose, now that I am thinking of it, I'm probably being overly argumentative. Not meaning to, I was just going down the path of 'Do they need tomahawks' and to me the answer is 'sometimes they might be super useful, and without VLS we could get the best of both worlds'.

      Delete
    3. Have to agree with Jim. If all SSN’s are capable of tube launching, not VLS, this seems like the best solution.

      I was recently on HMS Alliance, and talking to one of her submariners, I asked about her proportion of mines to torps, and his response was that “subs are Swiss army knives”, Alliance was kitted for the job at hand. And re-kitted as required.

      Having the capability to go all mines, all TLAM, all MK48 or a mix, AND CHANGE mid mission. Allows flexibility but also, for the enemy, tactical uncertainty.

      VLS seems from you figures to be too expensive. I can only assume the justification is that it’s cheaper than buying new SSGN, and allows for distributed SSGN’ness.

      Beno

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  3. CNOPS- re your series on "does every ship/sub" need helos/tomahawks.

    What is next in your series? Does every SuperHornet need to carry Aerial refueling Store? LOL. Yes.

    IMO, with a 255 ship Navy we probably need these various capabilities inherent in the design, CSGs being pitifully small, despite the expense....If we really are going to go for 350 ships and the aircraft weapons systems to man them, maybe not so...See my point A larger fleet allows more specialized platforms and systems. Jack of all trades, master of none logic.

    b2

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    1. "with a 255 ship Navy we probably need these various capabilities inherent in the design"

      Ooohh ... You're so close to grasping the issue but you're falling just short.

      You recognize that the small fleet "needs" multi-function ships/aircraft and acknowledge that a larger fleet might not but you fail to recognize the death spiral that lead to the smaller fleet. We started building more capable (meaning multi-function) ships in an attempt to save money but that drove the cost of ships up and we had to cut numbers which meant that each ship had to be still more capable which further drove up costs which meant we needed even more capable ships which drove up costs which ...

      And so we have a steadily declining fleet size with each ship being too expensive to risk in combat. IT'S A DEATH SPIRAL!

      The way to break the cycle and reverse the cycle is to build smaller, single function ships that are significantly cheaper. Then we can buy more of them which means shipyards will have more work and prices will drop which means we can build even more which will drive prices down which means we can build still more which will drive prices down which .... See? A growth spiral instead of a death spiral! Then we can get back to a carrier group with three AAW escorts, 8 destroyers, and 10 ASW corvettes/DE's - the way it should be!

      Delete
    2. I hate saying this, because it sounds (and is) bloodthirsty, but we've lost the ability to think of attrition units.

      In WWII the subs and DE's were arguably attrition units. You could build a ton of them and if we lost some it didn't break the Navy.

      Now the ships serving DE roles in many Navy's are nearly $1bn dollar Frigates and the 'Destroyers' in our Navy are arguably cruisers.

      Delete
    3. Back in the late 80's I heard a similar "death spiral" anecdote. Went like this- eventually, given the seeming logarithmic price escalation of USAF jets (B-1/2 in particular) was that the USAF would eventually amount to one aircraft, flown daily...

      The $14B Ford class fits that anecdote profile for you and I do understand. However, a $300 million ship frigate or DDG seems unobtainable to me and the word "cheaper" raises my neck hairs every time because nothing in small lots for the military is ever going to be Amazon proof...

      Plus, like I keep hammering on, I know the present leadership is not capable of delivering on any design (ship-aircraft-drone) with fundamental capability as good as what it is to replace, and keep the cost down.

      Much as I like your common sense approachs I can't see you, CNOPs, doing that much better with a new mix of stuff when we don't have much for you to build off of, today. Yes the "death spiral" exists because our defense spending is way down in order to pay for.. well, you know what....

      I agree that perhaps not all SSNs should have
      Tomahawk capability for fixed-target, day 1, land attack capability; but they better have MK-46 and HARPOON capability for their primary missions of ASUW/ASW.

      IMO, we need more platforms, to include combatant ships-combat aircraft-subs that "work".
      K.I.S.S. Principle:
      1- sustain the stuff we have in service; 2- increase training/readiness across the board; 3- increase industrial capacity and buy stuff that works, shortcomings notwithstanding- Ford, Burke series, Va. class, SuperHornets, P-8s, H-60Rs, weapon systems upgrades, etc...

      Accomplish 1-3 and then then try to sell me a new CVW-toting carrier or a new cruiser, or a new way of doing business...

      b2

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  4. This article touches on a number of interesting points: I would like to raise a few.

    1. The gorilla in the room is that current Tomahawk missiles are at least an order of magnitude *less effective* due to compliance with the convention on cluster munitions, which has effectively eliminated submunition warheads. Rather than buying more VPMs, we probably should *fix Tomahawk* by building submunitions that are compliant with the convention on cluster munitions. This is technically possible (e.g. incorporate a secondary timer function into the fuzes of the submunitions to ensure they all detonate), and should be priority number one for the Tomahawk universe, because unitary warheads really do not suit most of the target sets we should be using Tomahawk against.

    2. Tomahawk is only one means of putting explosives on target: I would like to see a cost comparison of maintaining and endless number of deployed surface ships just in the off chance for the odd Tomahawk shot at some illiterate goat herder; versus the cost of a one-time B-1/2/52 strike with air launched cruise missiles - my bet is that the exorbitant cost of a transcontinental bomber strike (~$180,000 per bomber flight hour + multiple aerial tanker hours +munitions) is far less than the global Navy deployment model. This isn't a slam on the surface/subsurface force, but I am critical of the way we run an endless "peacetime" deployment cycle designed pretty much for unnecessary interventions.

    3. Tomahawk is getting long in the teeth (but still useful) – are we spending too much on VPM to support an aging weapon?

    4. Following on to #2 above, by buying so many VPMs, we are effectively constraining the missile size of the follow on to Tomahawk, just at a time when we are looking for more range out of this type of missile.

    5. On the issue of numbers of submarines, some fool noted that the USN will be hard pressed to produce enough nuclear submarines to fight a conventional war; perhaps the SS or SSG merits consideration? A modern German diesel boat is reported to cost about $500 million, or as much as each VPM modification to a Virginia.

    GAB

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    1. Re item 3 above...

      VPM is not being designed for Tomahawk. It's really an hull slug that provides an additional water interface for the VA class SSN, with an obvious payload being Tomahawk but also used for SOF insertion, UxV deployment, etc. Presumably, a future land attack or other missile would not be constrained by current Tomahawk size, similar to the MK 41/57 VLS.

      Key statement in the linked article - "The Navy plans to engineer a new 84-foot long module into the length of the submarine in order to add four 87-inch launch tubes into the body of the ship." Seven Tomahawks could be packaged into each 87-inch launch tube.

      Delete
    2. whoops...forgot to include the link

      http://www.scout.com/military/warrior/story/1691503-navy-prototypes-new-attack-sub-missile-power

      Delete
    3. GAB, outstanding comment and right on the money, as usual. I should have asked someone to write a post on Tomahawks.

      Delete
    4. "Seven Tomahawks could be packaged into each 87-inch launch tube."

      Seven Tomahawks WILL be the standard loadout.

      Delete
    5. "Tomahawk is getting long in the teeth (but still useful) – are we spending too much on VPM to support an aging weapon?"

      This is an absolutely stunningly astute question along with the corollary in your point 4. I wish I had an answer. Even more, I wish the Navy had an answer!

      Delete
    6. IP,

      Good points and in theory you are correct, but the reality is that seven Tomahawks per VPM did not com out of thin air, it is an optimal load out of missiles given certain constraints.

      If a new missile is developed with a different size (presumably physically larger), VPM is probably no longer the optimum configuration.

      In reality, VPM, and the MK41 VLS will be the primary constraints on a replacement missile, and that may or may not make sense.

      GAB

      Delete
  5. The question is not really "does every sub need to be able to shoot Tomahawks?" but rather does every submarine need a vertical launch capability to supplement the internally stowed torpedo tubes, or does every submarine need to participate in land attack.

    I think you've made a good case that the land attack mission should be down on the list of missions, so the focus of submarine design should be back on the primary missions of ASW and ASuW. So the follow on question is what the marginal costs really are for incorporating Tomahawks, especially in an environment where the Navy is supporting operations ashore rather than currently going toe-to-toe with a near-peer competitor. And does the Tomahawk capability support the primary missions since that vertical launch interface would be available if the Navy would field a viable ASuW missile.

    As I posted elsewhere, the VPM is not really just for Tomahawk, so it's not entirely fair to "assign" the VPM costs to the land attack mission. The 688I class incorporated 12 vertical launch tubes for launch of Tomahawks, and my understanding was that this was done without extending the hull by using available hull space. The Virginia class was designed with the vertical launch capability. So what is the true marginal cost for the vertical launch capability?

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    1. "I think you've made a good case that the land attack mission should be down on the list of missions"

      If you think I've made a good case for land attack being down on the mission priority list then I have to have made a better case for SOF insertion, UxV deployment, etc. being even further down the list which brings us right back to questioning the wisdom of losing submarine numbers in order to support missions that are way down the priority list.

      Delete
    2. Tomahawk wasn't even in service when the first LA boats arrived in the late 1970s. Space was reserved for them in the design, however. Not exactly analogous to the Virginia-class VPM situation.

      Delete
  6. "and we could have much more if we took the retiring Ohio class subs and converted them into additional SSGNs with 154 Tomahawks each."

    I think it's safe to say that isn't going to happen. The Ohio-class boats are going to be 45(!) years old when they are decommissioned as it is. Extending their service life further would require not only another reactor refueling, but massive investment in modernisation and certification for ongoing service. Given how hard it is to work within a completed submarine, I wouldn't be surprised if the total cost for such an endeavour came in close to that of building a new Virginia.

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    1. The remaining unconverted Ohios were commissioned between 1984 and 1997. That makes their current age range from 33-20 years. There is room to work if we don't draw the replacement program out for an extended period.

      The option is to build dedicated SSGNs. A few would go a long way toward building both overall submarine numbers and USEFUL Tomahawk capacity.

      Of course you're right that SSGN conversions aren't going to happen. However, this blog is about both what will and will not happen and what should and should not happen. In other words, I deal equally with the way things are (reality) and the way things ought to be.

      Delete
    2. Well, I was trying to be polite. In the broader context of what is actually happening (i.e. the Columbia-class SSBN and its timelines), I think that converting the remaining Ohio-class boats to SSGNs is a foolish idea that shouldn't happen -- and won't.

      The broader concept of future dedicated SSGNs is an interesting one, and there is possibly some merit to the notion of building a Columbia-SSGN derivative to deliver a true Ohio-SSGN replacement capability while at the same time improving economies of scale for the Columbia class.

      But there are two issues even with that. The first is timelines: the Ohio SSGNs are out of service mid-2020s and won't go beyond that because they will be out of fuel. Columbia-class boats won't *begin* to arrive for another five years, and even accelerating production of SSBNs, the gap at this point would realistically be at least ten years and probably more. Hence, Virginia VPMs.

      The other question is more fundamental, along the lines you like to pose in fact: what is the rationale for these boats in the first place such that they need to be replaced, either by VPM-augmented-Virginias or a dedicated SSGN. Recall that the current Ohio SSGNs were about making use of a resource that already existed: Ohio hulls that were excess to national security requirements. Seems to me that there's a need to go back to first principles.

      Delete
  7. >>>By leaving out the VPM, we could build one extra Virginia class sub for every five subs built.

    Perhaps. But you forgot the cost for these additional crews.

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    1. I'm talking strictly about construction costs. Operating costs are another matter!

      Delete
  8. I might be wrong, but doesn't launching a tomahawk also increase the chance of the sun being detected? That might be worth it if you are launching 100+ like an SSGN or if nuclear tipped as a deterrent but against a peer opponent that seems risky anyway to fire a dozen TLAMs.
    To replace the SSGN why not stretch two of the SeaWolf class, repurposing an existing hull the way we did the Ohio's. Put Virginia Payloads modules each and call it a day.


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  9. CNO,

    The submarine TLAM-mission imposes huge costs of connectivity, comms, training, & ship design on the SSN fleet. Including loss of focus on the primary mission.

    The submarine TLAM-mission has near-total redundancy with existing Air Force and surface Navy capabilities. However, there are no redundancies for the submarine's ASW role.

    SSGN TLAM capacity more than covers any contingency requiring a surprise TLAM launch and no other US launchers available.

    I get why TLAM was adopted (relevance, budget), but it was a bad & costly idea that's just gotten worse over time.

    The VPM is change without progress. We're just iterating on our own budget dysfunction of survival of the fattest program, vs. building effective tools.

    If there's one place where a cheap, single purpose platform can do disproportional harm per dollar of cost and US lives risked, its in ASW.

    I don't see it happening, but cut back on electrical loads, crew size, admin, ancillary missions, nice-to-have vs. need-to-have systems and the result would be revelatory in terms of improved performance vs. cost.

    But no one talking about improved performance or cost effectiveness anymore.

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  10. Is there a reason why we really need submarine launched tomahawks?

    I'm not well read on submarine tactics, most of what I know is from casual conversations with submarine sailors.

    A submarine's big asset is stealth. Wouldn't some of that stealth be compromised when launching a tomahawk? In that same vein, a SSBN's stealth would be compromised when launching an ICBM, but the the situation leading an ICBM launch would be very dire. What situations would favor submarine launched tomahawks were the benefits outweigh the risk? I'd think it best to keep a sub's location hidden as much as possible, or am I missing something?

    MM-13B

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    1. Unless a submarine happens to launch a missile right next to an enemy ship or plane, the risk associated with revealing their location is minimal. The sub can be long gone before any enemy ASW assets can arrive.

      This does, however, point to the US pattern of having grown accustomed to not having to worry about anyone else operating in the water or air. We've done sub launches of missiles and haven't cared about location because we haven't fought anyone with significant naval or air forces. That would radically change in a peer war.

      Delete
    2. Golly gee! Did a few tomahawks come out of the ocean on their own? We don't see any ships in the area where the tomahawks came from. Don't American subs have the ability to launch them? Let's deploy our anti submarine assets in that area and make hell for that American sub.

      Could things work like that for the opposition? Maybe I'm over-simplifying.

      MM-13B

      Delete
    3. As I said, assuming a sub doesn't launch right next to an enemy, the risk is minimal. Even, optimistically, if it takes an hour to get an asset to the area, the sub could have travelled 20-30 nm during that time, in any direction. A 20 mile radius in any direction yields around a 1200 sq nm area to search. A 30 mile radius yields around a 2700 sq nm area. Barring dumb, bad luck, the sub isn't going to be found.

      Delete
    4. "A submarine's big asset is stealth. Wouldn't some of that stealth be compromised when launching a tomahawk?"

      Yes, but as its been pointed out, that may not be a problem.
      By the time that the (low flying, low observability) missiles are detected, they could be a hundred miles from their launch site. Making tracking them back to source impossible.
      Even if they are detected soon after launch, submarines are fast, they can run and hide, and an aggressor is unlikely to have the weeks free to hunt one down, especially if other submarines are playing games, and the surface assets are shooting the sub hunters.

      "In that same vein, a SSBN's stealth would be compromised when launching an ICBM, but the the situation leading an ICBM launch would be very dire."
      Its questionable if an SSBN would be able to launch all of its missiles before an incoming nuke destroyed it.

      "What situations would favor submarine launched tomahawks were the benefits outweigh the risk? I'd think it best to keep a sub's location hidden as much as possible, or am I missing something?"

      Behind the lines rear stuff
      You might spot a war fleet at anchor during resupply or repair or rest, or a supply convoy
      Attacks against dry docks and shipyards, any sort of port infrastructure.
      Even a Doolittle raid, could divert masses of resources from the war.
      Imagine the air defences deployed to Beijing if the CCP feared "The Great Hall of the People" or the "Central & Southern Sea" could be successfully attacked?

      Delete
  11. When was the last time a SSN used a weapon other than a TLAM? With an ASM mode gives a longer stick to use against ships. Need no? Useful enough to justify cost? IMO yes.

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  12. Should every nuclear powered attack submarine have VLS cells, Yes because its really of what you put in them, today its the Tomahawk in ten years it could be some other weapon systems like newer anti-ship missiles or whatever .

    Every other global player seems to add VLS cells to they're SSN's just look at the Chinese Type 093 or the Russian Yasen class.

    https://news.usni.org/2014/10/28/u-s-navy-impressed-new-russian-attack-boat

    Point being if you have a modern SSN at a displacement of around 8000-9000 tons, having VLS cells on them is a force multiplier.

    Launching cruise missiles from torpedo tubes is a force multiplier for smaller diesel subs, like recently demonstrated by the Russian Kilo class subs launching Kalibr crusie missiles in Syria

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    1. Well, from the post, we see that the Navy could build an extra sub for every 5 subs so, since VLS is reducing the size of our sub fleet, one could view VLS as a force divider (that would be the opposite of multiplier, right?).

      Delete
    2. Thing is, with or without VLS cells SSN's are still darn expensive boats, if you want more boats in a quantity that is strategically significant then you next post should be:
      Does the USN need an all nuclear powered submarine force?

      Delete
    3. Again, from the post, the Navy wants 50 subs or thereabouts. So, if we had dropped Tomahawk vertical launch, we could have 60 subs. Ten extra subs is strategically significant. There's your force multiplier! Given all the other ways we have of delivering Tomahawk missiles, I'd rather have ten extra subs. Of course, I'd also convert or build more SSGNs, too.

      Nuclear versus non-nuc subs is, indeed, a worth post. The problem is, I don't have a good take on it. There are good arguments for and against. It all depends on what assumptions you make about costs and missions.

      When I write a post, I normally have an opinion or position. On this, I have no strong opinion either way so I have no post position to offer. I could always do a neutral post that simply describes the pluses and minuses, I guess.

      This has been on my long term to-do list for quite awhile and I keep waiting for some inspiration one way or the other.

      If you have a strong opinion one way or the other perhaps you'd like to take a shot at a guest post?

      Delete
    4. Well, im not that of a specialist in therms of submarines :D, but lets look just at the prices.
      A Virginia class costs about 2.5 billion dollars.
      So speculating around the characteristics and price of the Shortfin Barracuda submarine that Australia is buying, a US build SSK ( around 4000 tons displacement ) should cost around 1 billion $ or even less if manufactured in more quantity .

      BTW, that Dude had a nice write up a few years back :

      http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/is-this-jumbo-diesel-electric-submarine-a-true-nuclear-1652659060

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    5. "should cost around 1 billion $ or even less"

      The issue is not cost - it's capability. If SSK's were free they still wouldn't be worth acquiring if they couldn't do the job.

      Capability is where I get ambivalent. No one has demonstrated a use FOR THE US NAVY that would offer net benefits. As a general statement, the US Navy does not engage in the the kinds of missions that an SSK would be well suited for.

      The deep water, high performance missions that the Navy will use SSN's for during war demand deep water, high performance submarines and that is not SSK's, at least not yet.

      Are there some applications for the Navy that an SSK could perform adequately? Probably. But, is it worth establishing an entire new training and logistics train to support SSK's that are only useful on occasion and in limited circumstances? Probably not.

      An SSN can perform almost any SSK mission. The reverse is not true.

      Much of the discussion revolves around how one intends to fight a war. If our strategy is to sit back and establish long term blockades around choke points and shallow water passages then SSK's make sense. If we're going to fight open ocean, fast paced, high intensity wars then we need SSN's. SSK's might also be useful for US harbor defense.

      You can see why I'm ambivalent. There's no overriding demand for SSK's that I can see. Construction cost savings will be negated by the added training and logistics requirements. There's just not a strong case to be made or, if there is, I haven't heard it yet.

      Interestingly, you, yourself, have not elucidated a compelling reason for SSK's other than cost which, as I said, is probably a wash when you factor in the added training/logistics trains that would have to be established.

      Do you see any operational use FOR THE US NAVY that demands an SSK?

      This is much like the frigate debate. Supporters list all kinds of generic things that frigates do but fail to describe how the US Navy would benefit from a frigate.

      Regarding the article you cite, the author's claims of benefits fall into one of two categories:

      1. Stuff that any sub could use: unmanned vehicles, the floating mast, etc.; that's not a case for the SSK, that's a case for some new equipment for any sub.

      2. Missions that are very low on the priority list: special ops, unmanned vehicle ops, etc.

      Delete
  13. "A Virginia class costs about 2.5 billion dollars.
    So speculating around the characteristics and price of the Shortfin Barracuda submarine that Australia is buying, a US build SSK ( around 4000 tons displacement ) should cost around 1 billion $ or even less if manufactured in more quantity ."

    I've read this, but I have to admit I'm somewhat skeptical. I'd like to see a deeper dive into that number.

    It just doesn't make sense to me that we can barely build an NSC or LSC for 500-800 million, but an SSK with all the sensors and weapons it needs costs less than $1 Billion.

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  14. lets specify what kind of vessel we are talking of, i think a conventional powered submarine with AIP
    displacement around 4500-5000 tons
    range around 10.000 - 12.000 nautical miles
    and endurance for around 60 days
    Would be technically low risk, and useful in many scenarios that do not lead to WWIII
    say enforcing a naval blockade around the second island chain to contain Chinese navy or around the Barents sea.

    Besides modern conflicts between two near peer opponents won't last for years like WWII.

    Theoretically, if a high intensity all out warfare ( without using nukes ) between the USN and the Chinese navy occurs in the south china sea, how long would it last?
    A week, a month before a political solution is reached but certainly not years, same thing with Russia, its gonna be who looses they're major surface combatants first and whos navy will suffer more attrition .
    So in a scenario like this you need more numbers

    Oh, yeah and the USN operating smaller ( relatively smaller i mean not like the type 212 class small ) conventional powered submarines would make basing and logistics a lot more easier in friendly/allied countries .

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    1. "Theoretically, if a high intensity all out warfare ( without using nukes ) between the USN and the Chinese navy occurs in the south china sea, how long would it last?"

      Assuming neither side invades the other's mainland (a reasonable assumption) a war would last indefinitely because neither side could decisively knock out the other's manufacturing capacity. There would be an initial, relatively short period of high intensity combat between equal, modern forces. The result would be mutual destruction of high end forces. Combat would then settle into infrequent clashes between second tier forces with neither side being able to gain a clear advantage. That would go on for years and probably, eventually, settle into a quasi-truce as both sides realize they can't achieve victory. I foresee a several to ten year war.

      Delete
  15. "It just doesn't make sense to me that we can barely build an NSC or LSC for 500-800 million, but an SSK with all the sensors and weapons it needs costs less than $1 Billion."
    Jim, the over hyped prices on many US build weapons system does not make sense to a lot of people around the world thats why they're simply not buying.
    Say the LCS costs 20% less then any euro frigate and has a little bit more weapons on it, i think it would have many export orders until now

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  16. From what I can tell, the 10 VPM equipped Virginia's will cost about $31 billion and, in total, field 400 cruise missiles. A Burke goes for less than $2 billion and carries 30 or so cruise missiles. The USS Ross and USS Porter fired a total of 60 cruise missiles in to Syria in April.

    For the same cost of building the 10 VPM Virginia's, we could build 15 more Burke's and field 50 more missiles.

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    1. Please be accurate. A Burke can carry up to 96 cruise missiles, if so desired. The ability to customize the VLS loadout is an advantage of the Burkes.

      That said, what was your point?

      Delete
  17. Existing Virginia class have 2 of the large VLS vertical launch tubes, each with 6 Tomahawks. The VPM adds 4 more larger tubes - with 7 miisiles each. The existing LA class had a set of single tubes behind the sonar space, with 6 each side for a total of 12.

    So the question is not if submarines should be able to launch Tomahawks, but if the VPM with 28 missiles ( and sized for later larger missiles) should be added . Part of the reason for more missile capacity is the newer anti-ship capable Tomahawk which not a lot is being said
    https://medium.com/war-is-boring/u-s-navy-packs-firepower-into-shrinking-sub-fleet-50c72bd38b83
    What ASV Tomahawk can do that a very long range harpoon cant is not clear, but foreign capability now includes supersonic in the final phase.

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  18. OK, Just going to flip everything on its head now, for the hell of it.

    Devils advocate.

    How many TLAMS have been fired in combat, and when was the last time.

    Vs.

    When was the last time MK48 launch off an SSN in wartime ?
    ( p.s. the Kurst doesn't count, it wasn't wartime. )

    or if you prefer. When was the last time an SSN attacked a surface or sub surface contact. Vs it terciary missions including land attack.

    ;)

    Beno

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  19. "Does every submarine need Tomahawks"
    Probably not

    "Can submarines make use of Tomahawks"
    Undoubtedly

    "What is the acceptable price to pay for submarine launched cruise missiles"
    It seems easy to argue somewhere between 25% and 75% of the Torpedo load out could be substituted for tube launched missiles, depending on the area and expected mission profile.
    Its hard to envision a scenario in which a submarine needs 40 torpedo.

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