Surface Forces: November 26, 1999

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The future of naval forces appears to be littoral warfare (along the coasts). While this is not a new observation, there are some interesting developments resulting from it. The next generation of warships are being given more land attack capabilities. The failed Horizon Frigate the Europeans were to have built was originally a Cold War anti-aircraft ship; the replacement designs are now larger (reaching 8,000 tons) and are configured for land attack as much as air defense. Britain's new Future Surface Combatant has large vertical-launch magazines and a helicopter carried in a below-decks hangar. The blocky hangars carried above decks on current warships give them huge radar cross-sections. The British have let it be known that they will not buy Tactical Tomahawk for future land-attack warships, but will instead buy the Anglo-French Storm Shadow/Apache cruise missile and adapt it for vertical launch. Ship-launched cruise missiles are likely to become the primary weapon for the land attack mission, at least for countries other than the US, which continues to rely on carrier-based manned aircraft. Even the US uses cruise missiles for difficult targets or missions where the loss of a pilot would be unacceptable. A whole new range of such missiles have appeared, including the US Tactical Tomahawk and Stand-off Land Attack Missile, the Anglo-French Storm Shadow/Apache, the German Taurus, and the Russian Yakhont. The French, British, and Russians apparently plan to use their aircraft carriers to provide air superiority and airborne radar coverage while relying on cruise missiles from surface warships to actually hit targets. It is curious, however, that the US and Britain (the only ones to field aircraft with radar specifically designed to track armored vehicles on the ground) have only produced land-based planes or this type, and have no projections for a carrier-based system. But missiles may not be the only, or even the best, way to attack shore targets. Cannons have the tremendous advantage in that their ammunition is smaller so they can carry more of it. Missiles must burn fuel to produce reaction thrust. Cannons contain the explosion of a smaller amount of fuel in a heavy metal container, using it more efficiently. Even rocket-boosted shells take advantage of the initial efficient boost from the detonation in the chamber, burning far less fuel overall. With GPS or laser guidance, cannon-launched rocket-boosted shells could in future reliably strike targets at 100km. --Stephen V Cole

 


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