Tomorrow’s Stealthy Subs Could Sink America’s Navy
The U.S. military is relying on sub-hunting tech that’s decades old. Meanwhile, the targets they’re trying to find are getting quieter and more invisible by the day.
Submarines are getting quieter, stealthier, and better armed. And that could mean major trouble for the U.S. Navy and its aging fleet of sub-hunters. The tactical balance between the surface warship and the submarine has strategic impact. The submarine is not made for a show of force. Its principal weapon is designed not to damage a ship, but to sink it—rapidly and probably with much loss of life. It’s a sure way to shift the trajectory of any conflict in a more violent direction.
The best deterrent against submarine attack is robust defense—but as little as surface sailors like to discuss it, that defense has seldom been less assured.
Modern diesel-electric submarines (SSKs) are very hard to detect. It’s not that SSKs with air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems are much quieter, but they mitigate the SSK’s drawback: lack of speed and endurance on quiet electric power. When the Swedish AIP boat Gotland operated with the U.S. Navy out of San Diego in 2005-07, the Navy’s surface ships turned up all too often in a photo album acquired by the submarine’s mast. The sub was so quiet, that it consistently managed to get within easy torpedo range.
AIP submarines are a high priority in the budgets of nations such as Singapore, Korea and Japan. Russia has struggled with its Lada-class boats, but persisted, and is selling them to China. Sweden, whose Kockums yard developed the AIP technology for Japan’s big 4,100-ton Soryu-class subs, had trouble getting its A26 replacement submarine program started. In an indication of its importance, Saab will buy the Kockums yard back for Sweden from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems.
AIP—which uses stored liquid oxygen and fuel to generate power underwater—seems to be here to stay, whether it uses the Swedish-developed Stirling-cycle engine (a 19th-century curiosity, but very efficient) or fuel cells, favored by ThyssenKrupp’s German yards and Russia. Lithium-ion batteries will further increase underwater performance. Kockums advertises another step in invisibility called Ghost (genuine holistic stealth) which, like stealth technology on an airplane, involves the careful blending of hull shapes and rubber-like coatings to make the submarine into a weak sonar target.
Other improvements are making the submarine more elusive and lethal. Masts with high-definition cameras are as clear as direct-vision optics—so the mast needs only to break the surface and make a single sweep to provide a full horizon view. Finmeccanica’s WASS division and Atlas Electronik offer modern all-electric torpedoes with multiple guidance modes, from fiber-optic to wake-homing, and back-breaking influence fuzes that work too often for comfort.
Full article at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/12/tomorrow-s-stealthy-subs-could-sink-america-s-navy.html