Chinese SuperWeapons and Submarines

First published: 5th May 2011 | Dr. Alexander Clarke

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This is a break from the run of entries brought about by repetition I have kept viewing on so many other sites; namely that the Chinese have managed to out-technology all other nations and can now precision attack carrier groups with ballistic missiles; and that due to the only useful warships in modern warfare are submarines. Well I will start with the beginning:

1) The Chinese are developing such a system; but even they do not think it will be ready for 50 or more years, due to requirements of technology and more importantly the creation of the required infrastructure to support such a system. For example a comprehensive real-time satellite intelligence network, supported by a central command centre equipped with a computer core capable of processing and analysing the vast quantities of information gathered by such a network – none of the things on this list are beyond the Chinese, but they will not be built quickly or easily.

2) Just as the Chinese are developing such a system, the Americans are actually further ahead (in visibility of project anyway) with the counters to such a system; I of course referring to the very capable SM-3 and SM-6 missiles coupled the current SPY-2 or the future SPY-3 Aegis radars. These systems are designed to deal with saturation level air attacks and ballistic missiles – as well as having the capability of targeting satellites. That being the crucial part of the equation, and what so many other writers have missed, the projected Chinese system would be rendered impotent if the satellites which will provide it with much, if not all, of its targeting capability are destroyed; then the weapon would cease to be a major factor in influencing operational parameters.

3) Submarines – are not wonder machines, some writers talk of these very complicated, very potent machines in such terms, one could almost be excused for wondering why navies build anything else; one has even described them as the modern capital ships and being the only useful craft. A reader, may even be excused from reading the start of this point for believing I feel the same, unfortunately I don’t, and they are overstating the evidence a lot – in words of one of my former lecturers; ‘restating your argument ad-infinitum does not make it real, neither does shouting it at the top of your voice’. Submarines are useful, but they did not provide 90% of the tactical air support used in Afghanistan and the Second Gulf War – that was the carriers; neither did they provide 86% of the cruise missiles fire in support of these operations – that was cruisers and destroyers. Another argument made in their support is that they are immune from air attacks; well last time I checked there were lots of aircraft which specialise in the hunting and destroying of submarines – and many of these are quite good. In fact so good the Russians have been fitting Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) in their Submarines since the 1970s; yet even with this addition their chances were not considered that good. It is in fact a basic tenant of NATO doctrine that submarines would always operate under at least a neutral sky if not a friendly sky (weather by land bases or carrier groups), unless the operation was important enough to warrant the sacrifice of a submarine.

So here is my conclusion, submarines are useful, but as part of an overall naval package, they cannot do nearly as much at the moment as their proponents would seem to suggest; in fact I wonder those proponents actually know much about them at all. As for the Chinese weapon system, every time a new weapon, which is longer range and more accurate comes out, the same argument appears – ‘this renders all others before it useless'; in reality this is never the case, after all the missile replaced the gun; but ships still have guns, which very useful, some are in fact very useful at destroying missiles! So, here is my advice, before you sell the bath to pay for the shower – think, sometimes a bath is more useful than a shower, sometimes it is what you need for that situation and it covers most of same situations as the shower does; even though it as an idea predates the founding of Rome.

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