Let’s take a look at a historical example of this phenomenon, the Japanese WWII Type 93 Long Lance torpedo. The torpedo had a range of up to 25 miles at slower speeds of around 35 kts and was capable of 14 miles at around 50 kts! On paper, this weapon should have allowed the Japanese to stand well off from the US Navy ships and utterly wipe them out but it failed to do so. Certainly, the torpedo did do serious damage but fell well short of being the weapon that it could have been because the Japanese had no sensors capable of detecting targets at ranges equal to the range of the weapon, especially in the up close, night battles that were typical of the fighting around Guadalcanal.
It was longer than 9 meters, could travel up to 20 miles at speeds up to 52 knots, and had a warhead in excess of 1000 lbs. This torpedo “out-sticked” (had a longer range) and outperformed the American Mark XV torpedo in all aspects. But, fortunately for the U.S. Navy, its range exceeded the range at which Japanese ships could detect their American prey. (1)
The reality was that most battles involving the use of Japanese torpedoes occurred at point blank ranges where the torpedo’s range advantage was completely negated. This is not to downplay the torpedo’s lethality in any way. It was a deadly weapon at any range. However, it was not the long range threat that its capabilities indicated it could be. If the Japanese had had effective long range radar, for example, to provide targeting data, the results could have been far worse for the US Navy than they were.
We see this phenomenon of weapons outranging sensors being played out repeatedly, today.
The Zumwalt’s 70-100 mile rocket propelled LRLAP munition (set aside the fact that it never performed to spec and cost too much) required fixed target coordinates and no one ever explained where those target coordinates were going to come from.
The Navy wants to equip its ships with the new, long range anti-ship cruise missile (LRASM) with a range two or three hundred miles but no way to consistently provide effective targeting.
And so on.
As with the Japanese torpedo, those weapons may still be effective at shorter ranges but that fails to take advantage of the full range capability of the weapons.
The lesson is obvious. We need to devote as much or more effort to developing long range sensing as we do to developing long range weapons. Further, the sensing needs to be something that is effective in high end combat, unlike the UAVs and P-8’s that the Navy seems to think will somehow provide targeting despite being easily detectable and non-survivable.
Sensors may not be as sexy as shiny new weapons but they’re far more important and the Navy has completely forgotten that.
(1)USNI Proceedings, “Ten Seconds To Live Or Die”, Dec 2018,https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2018-12/ten-seconds-live-or-die