There is an old adage that governs the ultimate rationale for naval forces:
The seat of purpose is on the land.
Sooner or later, a naval force must engage land forces. That engagement can take the form of direct strikes from missiles or carrier aircraft or can be amphibious assaults to get land forces ashore. Either way, it means that a naval force must, eventually, approach land. This is where the Navy/Marine’s idiotic doctrine of conducting an amphibious assault from 25-100+ miles at sea falls apart. If you won’t approach land, you can’t influence events on land which is where ultimate purpose resides.
Yes, there are other ways to influence events on land. A blockade, for example, can influence events on land. For countries that have an alternate, land-only means of engaging an enemy, the naval forces can get by with just playing a minor, supporting role like a blockade. The Union Navy did this during the American Civil War by imposing a blockade on the South. However, for a country that has no direct land contact with an enemy, there is only one way to get troops to the enemy and that is by sea. Yes, air transport can move a few troops but only sealift can move the massive quantities of men, weapons, ammunition, and supplies that are needed for sustained combat.
Acknowledging, then, the necessity to eventually approach an enemy’s land, the naval force structure planner must ask what forces, weapons, and tactics will allow a reasonable chance of survival while conducting near-land operations. Assessing survival equipment needs starts by identifying the major threats.
The biggest threats to naval forces wishing to operate near land are,
- Anti-ship missiles (ASM)
Ironic and troubling, isn’t it, that the US Navy has no effective combat mine countermeasures capability, no effective, dedicated surface ship anti-submarine (ASW) vessels, and limited and non-survivable aerial ASW capability? The Navy is ill-prepared to deal with two of the three major near-land threats. At least the anti-ship missile threat is manageable with our large fleet of Aegis equipped Burke class ships.
It’s further ironic and baffling that the Navy’s stated reason for doctrinally refusing to approach land is the threat of land based ASM’s, the one threat for which we are prepared! Let’s set aside the mine and submarine threats and examine the ASM threat a bit closer.
The Navy has spent billions of dollars on its Aegis capability. The system was designed and intended to counter saturation swarms of Soviet anti-ship cruise missiles launched from entire regiments of long range bombers. Aegis is designed to handle large numbers of targets simultaneously and can do so in a completely automatic mode – and, in fact, is more efficient and effective in that mode.
With all that capability in mind, one has to wonder why the threat of a relatively few isolated, land based cruise missiles so terrifies the US Navy? Either they know that Aegis is an utter failure or they’ve become so risk averse that they can’t imagine actually standing and fighting and possibly losing a ship. I tend to believe it’s the latter. I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Aegis is a failure but, to be fair, there is little actual data to indicate that Aegis is a success! Still, I’ll assume it’s capable until I see data indicating otherwise.
So, if Aegis is capable of handling the ASM threat, then the Navy is just too scared and too risk averse to stand in harm’s way and execute their function.
Let’s look at the arithmetic of the situation. For a high subsonic cruise missile, like the Chinese C-802, the missile speed is around 680 mile per hour and it cruises at an altitude of 10-20 m which decreases to 3-5 m in the terminal phase. The Navy is scared to stand near shore and, apparently, feels that the extra 25-50 miles will enable them to more effectively engage such an anti-ship cruise missile. Will it, though?
Here’s the raw reaction times for various distances.
10 miles = 0.9 minutes
25 miles = 2.2 minutes
50 miles = 4.4 minutes
Unless an ASM is sited nearly on the beach – in which case it would, presumably, have been spotted, targeted, and destroyed as part of the assault preparations – the launch site will likely be 10-100+ miles away from the assault location.
At the low end of that range, 10 miles, and assuming the defending ship is beached so that there is no extra range added, 10 miles provides around 0.9 minutes of reaction/defense time. In the world of computers and a fully automatic Aegis system, 0.9 minutes is an eternity! Longer distances simply provide even longer reaction/defense times.
|Stand and Fight!|
In any realistic scenario, say with the Navy ships about 5 miles offshore and the enemy anti-ship missile launchers around 10-100+ miles away, the reaction time is more than adequate.
There’s no question that longer distance translates to more time to defend. However, a couple of minutes is more than enough time. If you can’t shoot down an incoming missile in a couple of minutes of engagement time, a few more minutes isn’t likely to produce a positive result.
Ultimately, the risk of standing in close and fighting must be balanced against the accomplishment of the mission. It does no good to remain safe, far out at sea, but unable to accomplish the mission. If the mission is worthwhile, then the risk is acceptable. The Navy’s defensive systems were built for this. Trust them to do their job. Stand and fight.