We just discussed alternative methods of achieving stealth (see, "Alternative Stealth"). Well, survivability follows along similar lines. For this discussion, note that I’m referring to survivability as the ability to avoid taking a hit rather than the ability to recover from a hit which is damage mitigation and control.
Many people consider survivability to be all or nothing, meaning armor or nothing. When we consider survivability, we tend to think of, for example, a single ship versus a single enemy ship, sub, missile, torpedo, mine, or whatever and if that match up produces an unfavorable result we all too often conclude that there is nothing we can do to enhance survivability short of adding massive amounts of armor which many people erroneously believe is not feasible, having completely forgotten that we did this routinely in WWII ship design and construction. But, I digress …
The “torpedo is instant doom” crowd exemplifies this thought process. They look at, say, a destroyer and observe, correctly, that it cannot completely shrug off a torpedo so they conclude that the destroyer is not survivable and there is nothing we can do to make it so. In fact, many of these “thinkers” go a step further and conclude that since we can’t make the destroyer invulnerable to a torpedo, there’s no reason to apply any armor or protective measures whatsoever! Of course, we’ve already disproven that notion (see, "Armor For Dummies" and "Torpedo Lethality Myth").
Now, for a one-on-one scenario, that view of survivability is not totally unreasonable, however, ships and aircraft do not fight in one-on-one scenarios. Thus, their survivability can be provided by means other than their inherent survivability characteristics. Survivability, like stealth, can be achieved by alternate means.
For example, an amphibious naval gun support vessel's survivability can be provided by a combination of tactics and "jointness" rather than armor. The WWII rocket equipped landing ship, LSM(R) (see, "LSM(R) - Fire Support Ship"), was an example of an unarmored, thin-skinned, slow, naval fire support vessel that was tactically protected in that it was not committed (exposed) until after battleships and cruisers had thoroughly softened up the defenses and, even then, only when the assault waves were on the way in and a curtain of large caliber shelling was in place and aircraft were systematically bombing the assault site. No effective return fire was possible so the ship was protected and its survivability was reasonably ensured even though the ship, itself, had no special survivability characteristics.
Stealth and Alternative Stealth (includes EW/ECM) – Stealth is certainly a major aspect of survivability and we discussed it in the previous post.
Suppressive Fire – As described in the preceding example about the LSM(R), there’s nothing like the ability to keep an enemy’s head down and preoccupied to ensure one’s own survivability. While the obvious example is suppressive barrage fire during an amphibious assault (setting aside the fact that we don’t actually have that capability!) the concept can be readily applied to any operation. A task force attacking an enemy base can use a constant barrage of cruise missiles to keep the enemy from assembling and executing a counterattack. An enemy submarine base can be subjected to attack to damage subs and delay/preclude their deployment while they undergo repair. The damage doesn’t even have to be particularly serious – it just has to delay deployment which enhances the survivability of our ships. The same applies to suppressing the aerial operations at an airbase.
Area AAW – Not every ship has to be able to singlehandedly fight off entire aircraft and missile attack waves. We have specialized Aegis ships to provide area anti-air defense. Many/most ships only need medium range (out to 20 miles) air defense to deal with leakers.
Enhanced Close In Defensive Fire – Our current ship design philosophy decidedly minimizes the close range defensive AAW capability. The Burke class destroyer, our major surface ship and the backbone of the Navy, has 0-2 CIWS. This is woefully inadequate. Every ship should have at least 2 CIWS and major classes should have a minimum of 4 along with multiple SeaRAM close range missile launchers.
Size – Submarines are loathe to give away their position by wasting a torpedo against a small corvette. They’d rather wait for a larger, more valuable target. Thus, small size can confer a degree of invulnerability under certain circumstances. Conversely, larger size makes a more attractive target and an easier one to locate and “lock” on to. No matter how much stealth we apply to a ship, the fact remains that larger ships are easier to detect than smaller ones. We should carefully factor this realization into our unending pursuit of ever larger, ever more multi-purpose ships.
There are perfectly valid reasons for large platforms. For example, a very long range, very heavy payload, air supremacy fighter can’t help but be big. That’s fine. On the other hand, the Burke class, which tries to combine every function the Navy can think of into a single vessel doesn’t need to be that big. The Burkes should be broken up into smaller “chunks” as we discussed in a previous post (see, "Break Up The Burkes"). “Chunk” ships make poor business cases but good combat survivability and effectiveness cases.
Escorts & Numbers – Simple statistics assures us that greater numbers of ships or aircraft translates to enhanced survivability for any individual unit. Let’s be honest, though, that’s not an actual increase in survivability, that’s just more favorable statistics. Where numbers do enhance survivability is in sheer presence. For example, if a submarine is stalking a carrier and only has to elude a single escort to make the attack, the sub’s job is a lot easier than if it has to account for a dozen escorts. Or, another example, four Aegis escorts can provide better AAW protection than three, or two, or one. Numbers matter and the more escorts we can provide, the greater the survivability of the ships being escorted.
Air Cover – This is an obvious means of enhancing survivability. If we can provide sufficient air cover then the survivability of the entire fleet increases. This suggests that our current level of half-strength air wings and only nine functional carriers is misguided in the extreme. The carrier not only provides strike capability but survivability for the fleet. We desperately need more air cover and that can only come from larger air wings and more carriers.
The conclusion is that protection doesn't have to come from armor or special construction which is costly and has to be repeated for every ship. With good tactics and proper fleet force structure we can provide protection to all ships without having to build it into every ship. However, don’t misinterpret that as a statement that armor has no place in ship design. ComNavOps believes that armor is vital and should be part of every ship, to the degree appropriate for its role, as was done in WWII. The point is that armor does not have to be the sole provider of survivability and that survivability can be greatly enhanced through alternative means that can complement and supplement armor.
When we discuss ship designs we almost invariably do so in isolation. If the proposed ship can’t fend off every threat known to exist by itself then we conclude that it’s a poor design. How many times have I heard people state that a small, cheap ASW corvette must have short range and close in AAW protection plus anti-ship missiles? These people consider the corvette in isolation and want to make it capable of handling every known threat instead of recognizing that the corvette’s survivability can be ensured by alternative means.
It’s somewhat ironic that our WWII fathers understood the value of smaller, individual ships with unique, specialized functions and built those ships in appropriate numbers while we, today, with the benefit of all that institutional knowledge, have chosen to build only one type of surface warship that attempts to combine every surface warship function into a single, large, expensive hull. Similarly, we’ve chosen to build only one type of carrier (how many types did we have in WWII?). And so on.
We are deliberately decreasing our survivability. This is just stunningly stupid.