The Russian anti-ship missile we have no defense against?
January 23, 2010 3:26 PM   Subscribe

SS-N-22 Sunburn is the NATO designation for a Russian-made anti-ship missile that the US Navy (it seems) currently has no defense against.
Many years ago, Soviet planners gave up trying to match the US Navy ship for ship, gun for gun, and dollar for dollar. The Soviets simply could not compete with the high levels of US spending required to build up and maintain a huge naval armada. They shrewdly adopted an alternative approach based on strategic defense. They searched for weaknesses, and sought relatively inexpensive ways to exploit those weaknesses. The Soviets succeeded: by developing several supersonic anti-ship missiles, one of which, the SS-N-22 Sunburn, has been called “the most lethal missile in the world today...

The Sunburn can deliver a 200-kiloton nuclear payload, or: a 750-pound conventional warhead, within a range of 100 miles, more than twice the range of the Exocet. The Sunburn combines a Mach 2.1 speed (two times the speed of sound) with a flight pattern that hugs the deck and includes “violent end maneuvers” to elude enemy defenses. The missile was specifically designed to defeat the US Aegis radar defense system. Should a US Navy Phalanx point defense somehow manage to detect an incoming Sunburn missile, the system has only seconds to calculate a fire solution –– not enough time to take out the intruding missile. The US Phalanx defense employs a six-barreled gun that fires 3,000 depleted-uranium rounds a minute, but the gun must have precise coordinates to destroy an intruder “just in time.”
I'm really hoping that this article turns out to be out-of-date, that we have developed technologies to defend against these weapons that the Russkies custom-designed to exploit the weaknesses in our ships.

Especially since Iran has a bunch of them and we're sending anti-missile ships into the Persian Gulf as a show of force. Having missiles sink our anti-missile-ships would be so many kinds of bad I can't even count them.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey (82 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I'm really hoping that this article turns out to be out-of-date"

I remember reading it when it came out in '04, so yeah, it probably is.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 3:27 PM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


As we learned in the Falklands war -- missles are cheaper than men.
posted by effugas at 3:32 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The threat from anti-ship missiles is not to be underestimated, but the breathless tone of the first article leaves me sceptical. If there's really so much to worry about, why is the author going to such lengths to alarm me?
posted by fatbird at 3:36 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the whole article is an attempt to scare the reader with the impotence of the U.S. Navy in the face of this particular asymmetrical threat to support a totally unrelated point:
Conclusion

Friends, we must work together to prevent such a catastrophe. We must stop the next Middle East war before it starts. The US government must turn over to the United Nations the primary responsibility for resolving the deepening crisis in Iraq, and, immediately thereafter, withdraw US forces from the country. We must also prevail upon the Israelis to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and open all of their nuclear sites to IAEA inspectors. Only then can serious talks begin with Iran and other states to establish a nuclear weapon free zone (NWFZ) in the Mid East –– so essential to the region’s long-term peace and security.
posted by fatbird at 3:41 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


According to various reports online, the Thales Goalkeeper CIWS is able to chew up the SS-N-22 in 5 seconds (youtube).
posted by honest knave at 3:43 PM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I’ve been saying for a long time that aircraft carriers are just history’s most expensive floating targets, and that they were doomed."
The War Nerd points out that, in combat, aircraft carriers are just big targets.
posted by Marky at 3:43 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


That may be true in a total war between two global powers but those conflicts have been nonexistent since the second world war. Aircraft carriers are the primary means of power projection against any other threat.

One wonders if we would be quite so gung-ho about getting in all these medium sized conflicts if it meant a good chance of losing a CVN though. Perhaps the dominance of the carrier group against smaller nations is not a good thing.
posted by Justinian at 3:49 PM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Armed with their Russian-supplied cruise missiles, the Iranians will close the lake’s only outlet, the strategic Strait of Hormuz, cutting off the trapped and dying Americans from help and rescue.

ROFL

Dude needs to look at a map and look closely at Iran. On the other side of the Gulf is Bahrain and Qatar, currently the home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet and the USAF Al Udeid Air Base. Bordering Iran to the north is NATO ally Turkey. To the east, Iraq, currently under U.S. occupation. To the west, Afghanistan, also currently under U.S. occupation.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:52 PM on January 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


There are many imbalances in our respective militaries. Not much sense getting upset about it unless you are very well informed.

USA has the Phalanx and Rolling Airframe Missile for close in defense. Both are very capable.

The missiles carried by Aegis cruisers are Mach 3+ missiles. Hostile ships would have very similar problems to deal with.
posted by colinshark at 3:54 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


And in regards to a swarm of Cessnas or cigarette boats, as a veteran of service aboard two CVN's, one may need to be reminded of the screening ships, patrolling aircraft and the men aboard the carrier itself, armed with a variety of heavy machine guns and small arms.
posted by jsavimbi at 4:00 PM on January 23, 2010


The War Nerd points out that, in combat, aircraft carriers are just big targets.

War Nerd forgets that ...

* Aircraft carriers embark planes, which have all sorts of radar, guns, bombs and shit.
* Aircraft carriers do not travel alone; rather, they are formed into battle groups.
* The U.S. has more aircraft carrier deck space than the rest of the world combined.
* The world is not a board game. You don't get to compare pieces and parts to each other out of context with everything else. "ZOMG I GOT NUKES!!!!" Yeah? So do a lot of other people.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:00 PM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I doubt mefi are enough into war porn to make particularly informed comments here, and I'm always dubious when the war porn guys start talking too, but remember that this shit gets messy once people start fighting.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:02 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does anyone really believe that Vladimir Putin will hesitate to seize a most rare opportunity to change the course of history and, in the bargain, take his sweet revenge?

Well, I guess I do.
posted by spinn at 4:03 PM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


It seems pretty obvious that if an equal amount of engineering is invested in anti-ship missiles and anti-ship missile defenses, anti-ship missiles will always win. Ships are expensive, slow, and big. Missiles are comparatively cheap, fast, and portable. No amount of tech is ever going to make up the difference. That won't keep someone from selling a bogus anti-missile system to the Defense department.
posted by rdr at 4:05 PM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm really hoping that this article turns out to be out-of-date...

You yourself seem to be out of date. We have been at war with the Soviets or "Russkies" for over 2 decades.
posted by DU at 4:05 PM on January 23, 2010


I guess I have a hard time taking seriously an essay where the sortof-ish "bad guy" (Putin) is shown as sipping cognac while considering "teaching the Americans a lesson". If you leave out the wheelchair and stroking a white cat, where's the punch?
posted by spinn at 4:05 PM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Goalkeeper is better than Phalanx
posted by A189Nut at 4:12 PM on January 23, 2010


This post seems to invite uninformed hand-wringing. I mean, how old is the article in the link?
posted by KokuRyu at 4:14 PM on January 23, 2010


Does anyone really believe that Vladimir Putin will hesitate to seize a most rare opportunity to change the course of history and, in the bargain, take his sweet revenge?

The people who write this kind of stuff are the same people who read the sort of fiction in which characters say things like, "I will not hesitate to seize this most rare opportunity to change the course of history and, in the bargain, take my sweet revenge!"
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 4:17 PM on January 23, 2010 [15 favorites]


We have been at war with the Soviets or "Russkies" for over 2 decade.

n't
posted by DU at 4:32 PM on January 23, 2010


The Sunburn can deliver a 200-kiloton nuclear payload...

Wow. Hard to believe something that heavy could fly.
posted by hal9k at 4:37 PM on January 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


When it comes to this kind of missile, the real question is not how fast it is, nor how big a warhead it carries, nor even its range. The real question is its guidance system. US Navy ships have a lot of countermeasures for guidance, and if the missile can't see a target, it isn't going to hit anything except by luck.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:42 PM on January 23, 2010


I feel very sorry for anyone who is so deluded as to believe that all of that high-tech garbage that the Pentagon and its contractors come up with has ever made anyone 'safer.'
posted by wadefranklin at 4:46 PM on January 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Wade Franklin, ask an infantryman who is wearing a ceramic vest and survived being shot.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:47 PM on January 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Wow. Hard to believe something that heavy could fly.
200 kilotons is how much TNT it would take to cause an equivalent explosion, not the actual weight of the warhead, which is probably in the ballpark of one metric ton.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 4:48 PM on January 23, 2010


The article dates to 10/26/04, it's almost six years old.

Petraeus is shuffling the board to keep the pressure on Iran after Obama got rid of the missile defense in Czech and Poland and to keep military industrialist Yanks (and Israelis) happy at little cost. The move was also announced right before the start of Afghan/Yemen summit in London UK, and might be to make sure people don't get funny ideas while their national leaders are absent.

Well, instead of just paging through Jane’s and drooling over the Harpoon’s range and 221-kg warhead (don’t bother lying, I spent years doing that stuff myself and I know)

Touché!
posted by furtive at 4:53 PM on January 23, 2010


Beginning in 2002, the U.S. Navy started repurposing/converting 4 Ohio class SSBN missile submarines into SSGN boats, as littoral mission support vessels that could stealthily approach enemy coastal waters, and provide multi-mission support, including up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles, per boat. Meet the SSGN fleet: USS Florida, USS Ohio, USS Michigan and USS Georgia.

The USS Florida and USS Georgia have both made Middle Eastern deployments, complete with visible ports of call in that region, to advertise their presence, since 2004. All Gulf states are quite aware of the existence of these vessels, and their approximate capabilities.

Submerged, any of these boats are fairly impervious to anti-ship missiles of the type described in this old article. In concert with other Fleet resources, they provide a credible counter-threat that an enemy must recognize in formulating and executing any potential attack on U.S. surface vessel assets.
posted by paulsc at 5:04 PM on January 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


This assumes that Iran isn't being sold the scaled down junior factory refurbished model.

Moreover, there seems to be a bunch of scuttlebutt that Raytheon's ESSM (Evolved Nato Sea Sparrow) is up to the job.

Not that I know from personal experience, mind. BUt then, and meaning no total disrespect, I have to wonder just a tad about the author
posted by IndigoJones at 5:06 PM on January 23, 2010


Chocolate Pickle, I was speaking in the general sense that no arms race has ever made the world a better or safer place. As in, "My missile can destroy your ship" so "OK I'll spend 100 billion developing a new anti-missile system" and so on and so on and so on. It's a self-perpetuating tragedy.

If we had never built a multi-trillion dollar war machine, perhaps we'd stop thinking that more guns and bombs and missiles and invasions and wars are the solution to any problem.

There is no such thing as safety. Realizing this is the first step toward true freedom.
posted by wadefranklin at 5:19 PM on January 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack
posted by mlis at 5:28 PM on January 23, 2010


Egad, what a bunch of speculation. For example, a ballistic missile by definition pretty much is set in its course once its primary motor burns out; that makes it not so good against moving targets. If it can chase down a moving target, then it is not a ballistic missile. Anyway, the current state of the art in evading US defenses seems to be secreting PETN on one's person and that has been less successful at actually blowing stuff up than inconveniencing a lot of travelers (at least those who wear shoes.)
posted by TedW at 6:03 PM on January 23, 2010


200 kilotons is how much TNT it would take...

I'm pretty sure hal9k was joking.

War Nerd forgets that ...

While I totally agree that War Nerd (ugh!) is not to be taken seriously, he's right in so far as aircraft carriers (CV's) have a very a very low chance of survival in superpower conflict. I've seen US intelligence reports from the '80s which gave them a life expectancy of less than 30 minutes in a war with the Soviet Union. The defensive capabilities of the CVBG were greatly exagerated by a very politically- and PR-savvy US Navy.

This fact was not lost on the military planners of the late Cold War, who vigourously debated the question of whether the US should spend so much money on these ships. In the end, however, their political value as a prestige weapon won out. Even if you thought that CV's would be useless in WWIII, politicians loved them too much to ever consider cutting back.

As it turned out, though, (as Justinian points out), CV's turned out to be very useful in fighting small wars in the developing world. The Americans could rapidly get a small airfield almost anywhere, and wouldn't need to worry about pesky base rights or international cooperation. This role (naval theorists call it 'power projection') is now the raison d'etre for CV's in the North. Witness countries like the UK, who had small CV's designed for antisubmarine warfare, replacing their old CV fleets with bigger, power projection models.

It is, indeed, a good question as to whether the Americans would have been so quick to intervene in various places without their large CVN's. My suspicion: they would have still done it, but would have had to do so at greater expense and more incrementally.
posted by Dreadnought at 6:14 PM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


a Russian-made anti-ship missile that the US Navy (it seems) currently has no defense against.

No defense, unless you count deterrents. Namely, IF YOU DO THAT WE WILL BLOW YOUR WHOLE FUCKING COUNTRY TO SMITHEREENS.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:34 PM on January 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


The Chinese Dong Feng 21 anti-ship ballistic missile is much scarier. Not that there is actually a feasible defense against the Sunburn at this point.
posted by p3on at 6:47 PM on January 23, 2010


The band of conflict escalation where you've got enough ballistic missiles flying to take down carrier groups and but not enough to start an all out nuclear war is likely pretty small. Instead of buying a new superpower sized navy of any sort, you're probably better off spending money to get people living (and thriving) somewhere well away from the planet Earth.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:54 PM on January 23, 2010


I'm pretty sure hal9k was joking.

Far be it from me to pass up the chance to be a pedant on the Internet just because somebody was joking.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:05 PM on January 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Goalkeeper is an autonomous and completely automatic weapon system"

Autonomous and completely automatic?

Don't goalkeepers generally protect some sort of net?

Like, some sort of sky-net perhaps?
posted by flaterik at 7:14 PM on January 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


One of the Tom Clancy books, Debt of Honor, has a bit where the carriers get attacked by the Japanese navy. If you are interested in reading a somewhat fact-based version of the situation.
posted by smackfu at 7:24 PM on January 23, 2010


I can't see Iran sinking an American ship as a first strike option. Sinking a ship would give the US a free hand to respond in an overwhelming manner. Perhaps they would launch an attack in retaliation for a strike by American forces, but I would assume American war planners have factored this particular threat into their strategy. Given the large number of US airfields and in region military assets a carrier is only a high value target from a short term PR perspective.
posted by humanfont at 7:52 PM on January 23, 2010


"The Russkies?" Our anti-missile-ships? Not all of the readers of this site are American...in fact, a good deal may reside in the former Soviet Union!
posted by pravit at 7:58 PM on January 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


I remember reading it when it came out in '04, so yeah, it probably is.

Uh, military hardware isn't like iPods. That would only have been six years ago. The Aegis system was started in the 1980s
posted by delmoi at 8:10 PM on January 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


"The Russkies?" Our anti-missile-ships? Not all of the readers of this site are American

I believe inherent in the "All posts are © their original authors" thing is that they aren't speaking for the whole site. Or did you not want to let that get in the way of your little rage-on?
posted by Cyrano at 8:11 PM on January 23, 2010


I bellieve Phalanx is being phased out in favour of the SeaRAM, pretty much to deal with this kind of missile. Which is a shame for all gatling gun fans.
posted by Artw at 8:14 PM on January 23, 2010


smackfu: Tom Clancy? Fact based?

Tom Clancy is a very imaginative and skilled writer of fiction. As I bristle indignantly I will note (archly) that, to someone who's been marking naval history papers all evening, invoking Clancy as an authority is like... well it's like confusing Helvetica and Comic Sans! ;-)

*marches off in huff, nodding at the several naval experts who are clearly populating the above thread* .... *peeks head back around door to make sure huff registered with the room, notices nobody noticing huff, slinks away*

posted by Dreadnought at 8:26 PM on January 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Paraphrasing and collecting others' thoughts, of course there's a defense against it. There's always a defense against it, whatever it is.

The most obvious defense, and one the US actually employed, was not to elect John "GRAR GRAR Foaming At The Mouth Lemme At'Em Lemme At'Em" McCain as president, so the Iranians are not [starman] little bit jumpy. [/starman]

The second most obvious is to let Iran know that there's military conflict and then there's unrestricted warfare, and if they like having things like bridges or electricity they should keep it to the former by not taking potshots at CVNs.

Another obvious defense is to assume they have them and start any attack by pounding their command and control systems to shit and hope most of the local commanders don't want to fire very expensive weapons with unknown political effects without clear orders to do so.

Another obvious defense, if one that would be antagonistic to the rest of the world, would just be to liberally dot the areas suspected to house the launchers with high-altitude nukes for the EMP.

Another obvious defense is to just drill the shit out of your damage control parties, especially for predicted effects of 600kg warheads. I'd be surprised if a single 600 kilo warhead, broadly equivalent to a couple of standard bombs, would sink a CVN. Shit, Forrestal took worse than that and limped away.

Or, as we seem to have also done, develop and attach faster and twitchier close-in systems.

It doesn't mean that any of these defenses are necessarily smart (except the first), and it certainly doesn't mean that Iran isn't getting their money's worth out of the missiles already as an essentially diplomatic or posturing tool. But it might mean that their value as actual weapons is, much like nukes, probably not as high as you'd think.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:29 PM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


ROFL

Dude needs to look at a map and look closely at Iran. On the other side of the Gulf is Bahrain and Qatar, currently the home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet and the USAF Al Udeid Air Base. Bordering Iran to the north is NATO ally Turkey. To the east, Iraq, currently under U.S. occupation. To the west, Afghanistan


Heh. Look at a map indeed.

Far be it from me to pass up the chance to be a pedant on the Internet just because somebody was joking.

I agree wholeheartedly.

posted by LionIndex at 8:46 PM on January 23, 2010


if the Iranians are smart, then the best response to an Israeli/American attack would be to do nothing and howl mightily.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:07 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The War Nerd points out that, in combat, aircraft carriers are just big targets.

We don't have a reliable naval defense against silkworms either.

This is why you park your carriers ten miles offshore of a helpless, failed state and shoot your GPS-guided cruise missiles at mobile scud launchers, crumbling ministries, and civilians. DUH.
posted by clarknova at 9:40 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pre-Socratic weapons will save us.
posted by problemspace at 9:55 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Having missiles sink our anti-missile-ships would be so many kinds of bad I can't even count them.

Or totally awesome, depending on your take on unchallenged US military hegemony.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:36 PM on January 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


clarknova: “We don't have a reliable naval defense against silkworms either. ”

Um, from your own link there, the British Sea Dart system has previously proven effective in combat against the Silkworm, and it's pretty much what the Phalanx CIWS was designed to counter, although it's had a mixed record in combat. (In the "Silkworm Incident," the USS Jarrett locked onto some chaff from USS Missouri and put a few rounds into the latter; the Missouri reportedly didn't get an opportunity to fire the CIWS before the Sea Dart took out the incoming missile. So a mixed bag.)

The Silkworm is several generations behind the Russian and Chinese missiles that are generally considered threatening to US Navy assets. The Silkworm is probably most problematic because there are a lot of them, and because someone could use one to take out civilian ships with impunity (as Iran did during the Iran/Iraq war) or even fire them at vulnerable land targets.

The Silkworm is based on a 1959 design (the Soviet "Styx"), so it's hardly a spring chicken. They're not particularly high-tech missiles by modern standards, but there are quite a lot of them sitting around, and many of those are on surprisingly small boats.

If you wanted to get nervous about Silkworms, the threat would be some rogue group getting one and lighting up a LNG tanker parked in a friendly port, which is arguably more likely than a belligerent state deciding to provoke nuclear annihilation by offing a carrier with a more-sophisticated Sunburn.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:37 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are no women in this thread at all, are there? Because it reads like dick measuring. Chocolate Pickle has even offered up a version of the "It's not the size that counts" excuse.
posted by pracowity at 12:51 AM on January 24, 2010


You're not the first person to assert that women can have no understanding of military technology.
posted by ryanrs at 1:59 AM on January 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Why on earth is everyone assuming that the Iranians would bother to target military vessels when targeting two or three VLCCs would effectively shut down the Straits and stop the shipment of close to 1/3 of the world's oil?
posted by digitalprimate at 6:40 AM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I doubt mefi are enough into war porn to make particularly informed comments here
New to MetaFilter, are you?
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:04 AM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


The main purpose of Irans navy appears to be to kidnap anyone who goes near their waters. They do this by using very small, fast boats and counting on people being too polite or confused to fight back. So basically their big thing is Somali pirate type shit, not getting into actual fights.
posted by Artw at 7:10 AM on January 24, 2010


In war games, the Brazillians consistently kill our carriers dead. They do this with diesel subs... hide 'em deep and queit, blow the tanks, launch a salvo of modern torpedos, and then quietly sink back down to their hiding spot. The slang Navy strategists use for a carrier group is "sitting duck."

Back in WWII, carriers were a fantastic idea. In the modern age, less so. They're going to be completely obsolete in another 5-10 years as VTOL fighter-drones come on the scene - every cruiser can keep five or ten of 'em racked up and ready to go. Heck, refit a few boomers for fighters rather than missiles.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:26 AM on January 24, 2010


I bellieve Phalanx is being phased out in favour of the SeaRAM, pretty much to deal with this kind of missile. Which is a shame for all gatling gun fans.
So what happens if they fire more then 11 missiles? These defenses don't really seem like they'd do that much good against a well financed enemy.
The main purpose of Irans navy appears to be to kidnap anyone who goes near their waters. They do this by using very small, fast boats and counting on people being too polite or confused to fight back. So basically their big thing is Somali pirate type shit, not getting into actual fights.
Well, what are they supposed to do? They're not at war with anyone. I'm sure they saw plenty of action during the Iran/Iraq war.
posted by delmoi at 7:47 AM on January 24, 2010


Sys Rq: No defense, unless you count deterrents. Namely, IF YOU DO THAT WE WILL BLOW YOUR WHOLE FUCKING COUNTRY TO SMITHEREENS.

Doesn't that detterrent rather evaporate, from the perspective of the Iranian government, once American and Iran are at war? What's the deterrant then, that America is going to bomb everything twice instead of just once?

ROU_Xenophobe: The second most obvious is to let Iran know that there's military conflict and then there's unrestricted warfare, and if they like having things like bridges or electricity they should keep it to the former by not taking potshots at CVNs.

I would hardly call targeting an aircraft carrier (a floating military asset full of military personnel, used for launching military attacks, during a war) unrestricted warfare - and you could hardly argue America would be holding back on bombing Iranian air bases.

Anyway, wouldn't the threat of increasing the severity of an invasion imply that it is not currently being performed at the maximum allowable ferocity? I would hardly expect an invading military to hold half their power back, just in case they want to increase the amount of military to punish resistance; wouldn't doctrine like shock and awe call for attacking at full severity from the start?
posted by Mike1024 at 8:49 AM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Generally, the defense against this sort of missile is to preemptively blow up the launching vehicle.

100-mile range assumes you can get within 100 miles. The thing about a carrier group is that it can see you long before you get 100 miles away.
Let's look at it closely. Any carrier group is going to be surrounded by a destroyer screen equipped with sonar/radar, as well as several attack submarines, as well as F/A 18 Hornets and Hawkeye AWACS-style aircraft. On top of that, usually there will be not only satellite coverage with IR and visual detection systems as well. They can see diesel subs in shallow waters as well.

In a war-time situation, any enemy surface ship within 750 miles of a carrier group is gonna get sunk in very short order. Brazil's mighty diesel subs (so loud!) are also going to have a hard time getting close, regardless of how many torpedos they have. There's a reason its a battle carrier group, you know.

Those Brazillian diesel subs don't exactly have a ton of range either--they are diesel, don't you know. They need a submarine tender to have serious strategic range. That tender is, of course, a surface ship, which would be sunk within hours of leaving port.

In a hypothetical war with Brazil, we wouldn't come within 2000 miles of their coasts. There'd be no need.

As for drones, I agree they are the wave of the future, but the US is waaaay out in front of everyone else in that technology too. There are advantages to spending the colossal sums that we do.

The way for other nations to strategically eclipse the US is not to play this game. Why build forces to compete with the US at all? US carrier groups have, with the exception of a few areas, swept piracy from the seas. Any trading nation has no need for such a navy. Rather than invest in these technologies, smart countries will "free-ride" on these efforts, while the US pays the crushing costs of maintaining 7 carrier groups.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:03 AM on January 24, 2010


Doesn't that detterrent rather evaporate, from the perspective of the Iranian government, once American and Iran are at war? What's the deterrant then, that America is going to bomb everything twice instead of just once?

Ah, yes, but in that case the Sunburn is the defensive weapon, and using it would be entirely justified.

In other words: Iran made a wise purchase. Good on 'em.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:05 AM on January 24, 2010


Who is this "we" you speak of? And what is this threat we share?
posted by clvrmnky at 9:29 AM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


No defense, unless you count deterrents. Namely, IF YOU DO THAT WE WILL BLOW YOUR WHOLE FUCKING COUNTRY TO SMITHEREENS.Doesn't that detterrent rather evaporate, from the perspective of the Iranian government, once American and Iran are at war? What's the deterrant then, that America is going to bomb everything twice instead of just once?

Huh? Just blowing things up once will be enough. There's no coming back from that. There's no warfighting capability after that. Its game over. Its not like the Iranian government is going to tell its people it defended them and survive. It will be obvious they did not. Trade and the economy will be disrupted for years.

The problem with articles like these is they take one small operational or tactical part of US forces and focus on it, without taking into account the gigantic breadth of US strategic dominance.

War, however, isn't Iran's problem right now. Obama's reach out his hand policy worked wonders. What Bush couldn't see with his transparently weak "tough-guy" policy is that Iran's posture as an enemy of the US and a rallying point against the US was that it required the US to play along and be mean to it. As soon as he publically offered cooperation to them, they were in big trouble. They couldn't hide the offer, and it undercut their internal "the US is gonna get us" dynamic. Kinda hard to blame the student protests on US agents when the US is offering a new era of cooperation, no? That's why Iran's government bizzarely played the "its that well-known British warmonger Gordon Brown" card. Dumb.

It also brought the Germans, Russians and Chinese on board. Just the other day the Germans warned Iran of more sanctions.

And the threat of bombing? Never gone away. A single phone call and it would get done. Never expressed once by Obama, but that threat is still there, obvious to everyone.

Obama's playing the game the way TR did, speak softly and carry a big stick.

The real problem for Obama has been cleaning up the mess Bush made everywhere else. No easy solutions--so he gets blamed.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:35 AM on January 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


The real problem for Obama has been cleaning up the mess Bush made everywhere else.

That'll teach 'em to start a war without the involvement of Canada, America's cleaning lady. (We'd've done wonders with that mess in Vietnam, too.)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:41 AM on January 24, 2010


I stopped reading when I got to this sentence:

"For this purpose US AWACs radar planes assigned to each naval battle group are kept aloft on a rotating schedule. The planes “see” everything within two hundred miles of the fleet, and are complemented with intelligence from orbiting satellites."

Additionally, Sunburns use altitude as part of their flight profile. They aren't surface skimmers until the very end.

Dude doesn't know what he's talking about. If you have experience in the issues he's addressing, it reads like he Googled all his information.
posted by matty at 10:13 AM on January 24, 2010


The article presented here is alarmist and mostly incredible. The threats presented by evolving ASM technologies are real but they are also, in and of themselves, impotent. The scenario of Iran bottling up the US fleet in the Gulf is misleading and overly simplistic. Rather, the real threats that the US Navy will face, will come from combined operations where both weapons technology and information technology renders US CVBGs unwieldy, vulnerable, and second-string tactical player.

In a nutshell, carriers and carrier battle groups are anathema to warfare in the information era. It's arguable that even in WW2, had the Japanese embraced radar technology early on, that the US's CVBGs would have had a much more difficult time of it, even against the more conventional (ie, Mahanian) Japanese force.

As it is, land warfare tactics have thoroughly embraced the doctrine of maneuver (through the necessity of real-world testing), while naval tactics (lacking such real world, modern-day challenges) have more-or-less languished in an antiquated tactical/strategic mentality. This doctrinal becalming has been fostered mostly my money, and by the huge costs of teh assets involved.

Money, historically the bane of all navies, dictates equipment and equipment in turn dictates naval strategy. Lack of money for experimentation coupled with a lack of real-world challenges, both conspire to disadvantage naval operational doctrines and make them slow to evolve. Today, the United States has so much invested in its CVBGs, that it will take--literally--a sea change to move the USN off of the paths it first laid down in WW2.
posted by DavidandConquer at 10:20 AM on January 24, 2010


In 1999 I used to play a naval warfare PC simulation called "Jane's Fleet Command." As a PC game it was boring as hell, but it was extremely informative with regard to naval weaponry and the way modern engagements play out. (e.g. Tomahawks take forever to get anywhere.)

One of the lessons that I learned about simulated fleet defense is that the only weapon you ever need is the Phalanx. Other longer-range defensive measures are expensive and unreliable, and the Phalanx makes the kill 100% of the time. Silence any active radar on the boat, track the incoming missile with AWACS, and light up the Phalanx radar at the last minute.

I later had an opportunity to talk about about the game with a friend who had recently completed a stint in the Gulf as a naval officer. I asked about the Phalanx and he said "Yeah the truth is the Russians and Chinese have missiles that go right past it. They fly right in until they're 1000 yards out, then they go straight up and over, and come right down on top of you. That's sensitive information, by the way."


Also: littoral!
posted by rlk at 10:36 AM on January 24, 2010


That's sensitive information, by the way.

Don't answer your door.
posted by deacon_blues at 11:11 AM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Enough missiles will always win. It only takes one or two hits out of a swarm. And as we learned in the famous Millennium Challenge, the Admirals of our Navy can lose a carrier and several escorts in the Gulf to a modest swarm of Silkworms and speedboats.

Getting close enough will not likely be a problem. The uninvited guest: Chinese sub pops up in middle of U.S. Navy exercise, leaving military chiefs red-faced.

There are only two types of ships in the US Navy should they go up against any somewhat modern opposing force: Targets and submarines.
posted by Moonster at 11:48 AM on January 24, 2010


I would hardly call targeting an aircraft carrier (a floating military asset full of military personnel, used for launching military attacks, during a war) unrestricted warfare

Doesn't matter what the attack is, what matters is what it provokes.

and you could hardly argue America would be holding back on bombing Iranian air bases.

No, of course not, but that's still a limited military conflict. The US might be holding back bombing bridges and powerplants and waterworks and dams and oil production facilities and highways and railroads and so on, and can credibly threaten to destroy them if a CVN is taken out.

I would hardly expect an invading military to hold half their power back, just in case they want to increase the amount of military to punish resistance; wouldn't doctrine like shock and awe call for attacking at full severity from the start?

Nope. A consistent criticism of the war in Iraq is that it was done with far too small a force, for reasons between "It's cheaper" and "That fits with Rumsfeld's pet issues," and that the size of the force that went in and things that flowed from that (like an inability to maintain order or protect the civilian population in conquered areas) were a strong force leading to the insurgency.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:02 PM on January 24, 2010


According to various reports online, the Thales Goalkeeper CIWS is able to chew up the SS-N-22 in 5 seconds (youtube).

But you did not link to any of those reports. In the YouTube link, Goalkeeper shoots up subsonic Exocets, not supersonic SS-N-22s. In the other link, which is a Thales marketing piece, there's no mention of the SS-N-22. Is five seconds enough time to target something approaching at Mach 2.5?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:27 PM on January 24, 2010


All these threats and saber rattling against the Iranians. Hmm. Sounds like the Iranians really need to develop some nuclear weapons to put a stop to this nonsense. Oops, maybe they are doing that, those bad, bad Iranians, viciously intent on defending themselves against the god-given right of the U.S. to trump up fake charges and attack. How many countries has Iran's military been the aggressor against, in the past 150 years or so? How many has the U.S. attacked?

The problem is not a given weapon system being a threat against some other weapon system. The real problem is the extreme unbalance of power. Because those who have an overwhelming advantage are not constrained in exercising it, and have no incentive to compromise. That's why Israel will continue to whale on the Palestinians - that conflict would've been settled long ago, had the Palestinians and Israelis had equivalent power.

The U.S. military dominance these past few decades has been bad for the world - and the U.S., because we get trapped into spending more and more into this waste. There would be fewer wars if everyone had comparable power.

Frankly, if there were some missiles which the U.S. Navy could not defend against, it might just be the best thing for the U.S. We can certainly spend the money for better things (health care!) than a gigantic Navy that merely tempts us into rattling sabers and launching wars... without the hammer we won't be looking for nails.
posted by VikingSword at 12:37 PM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Generally, the defense against this sort of missile is to preemptively blow up the launching vehicle.

This is the key point. Just like people who talk about how Iran has some Phoenix missiles left over from the Shah, which they've reverse-engineered (I don't know if this is true or not), and therefore they can shoot down U.S. planes at ranges beyond what the U.S. can engage now -- these arguments are all predicated on the U.S. not blowing the shit out of 99% of the major weapons platforms in the first night of a war against Iran. The Iranian air force and navy aren't good for much if they're destroyed on the ground and in their berths by a wave of U.S. stealth aircraft in the first 12 hours of a conflict.

This is not to say that Iran couldn't cause the U.S. all kinds of misery with asymmetrical warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, having its proxies launch missiles against Tel Aviv, etc. War would still be a really costly adventure. But that's a long way from saying that they're going to be able sink U.S. carriers.
posted by Dasein at 2:31 PM on January 24, 2010


Why on earth is everyone assuming that the Iranians would bother to target military vessels when targeting two or three VLCCs would effectively shut down the Straits and stop the shipment of close to 1/3 of the world's oil?

Except a lot of that oil comes from Iran. Also which country's major sea ports sit on the Persian Gulf?
posted by humanfont at 4:34 PM on January 24, 2010


Why build forces to compete with the US at all? US carrier groups have, with the exception of a few areas, swept piracy from the seas. Any trading nation has no need for such a navy. Rather than invest in these technologies, smart countries will "free-ride" on these efforts
I'm no strategist, but from a military standpoint this sounds like yet another win for the US. Maintaining carrier groups is truly expensive, but the benefit is that in some future conflict, the other nations may not even have a significant navy. If you can outspend them today, they can't fight you tomorrow, or something like that. (Downside is that our allies might not have a navy either, hm. Solution: Antagonize everyone! The US political strategy of the 2000s suddenly becomes clear.)
posted by hattifattener at 5:07 PM on January 24, 2010


There would be fewer wars if everyone had comparable power.

Er, like in 1914?

There would be fewer wars if there were fewer wars.
posted by warbaby at 8:32 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I could swear I read this on Metafilter about six years ago. Oh look...
posted by inpHilltr8r at 8:44 PM on January 24, 2010


Having missiles sink our anti-missile-ships would be so many kinds of bad I can't even count them.

Or totally awesome, depending on your take on unchallenged US military hegemony.


Hey, some of us are out there on said ships. Please do not wish for my death.

Anyway, the US Navy is aware of this Sunburn threat. As dangerous as it might be, it isn't the ultimate weapon that the author is portraying it as and there are always ways to evade and minimize damage, mostly through destroying targets before hand or engaging in electronic warfare (chaff, jamming and the like). Electronic Warfare is the only modern battle-proven way to prevent missile damage once they start flying.

Hopefully, no one will get a chance to find out how well it works.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:04 AM on January 25, 2010


if the Iranians are smart, then the best response to an Israeli/American attack would be to do nothing and howl mightily.

Imagine if the howling somehow got the world to place a trade embargo as a result.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:38 AM on January 25, 2010


There are advantages to spending the colossal sums that we do.

Bankruptcy is an advantage?
posted by rough ashlar at 5:40 AM on January 25, 2010


I could swear I read this on Metafilter about six years ago. Oh look...

I was going to say 'wasn't that the worry 5-6 years ago when Iran was about to be attacked'.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:47 AM on January 25, 2010


Can't we just learn to get along instead of all this spitting in shoes and pissing in Cokes?
posted by Pressed Rat at 6:27 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


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