I was very surprised and disappointed by Rear Admiral Connor’s comments on anti-access weapons in his remarks at the 2010 Naval Submarine League symposium as printed in the January 2011 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.
He cites anti-ship cruise missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles as the principal anti-access weapons confronting the U.S. Navy. Relatively few nations and non-state actors possess land-launched cruise missiles. I believe that they have been employed on only three occasions since first employed 30 years ago: They have damaged a British destroyer and a small Israeli corvette. The one occasion in which the weapon was employed against U.S. ships-a battleship-it was shot down by a British warship.
Only China currently has land-launched, anti-ship ballistic missiles. However, the probability of a United States-China conflict is small; this view is confirmed by my discussions with U.S. and Chinese naval officials-despite the press hype over China improving its naval forces and flying a prototype stealth fighter aircraft. Also, the U.S. Navy has a demonstrated anti-ballistic missile capability for its surface forces in the Aegis air/missile defense system.
While China could transfer the anti-ship ballistic missile technology to other nations, they would also require the associated surveillance, targeting, and system linkage, which would be difficult to operate and are highly vulnerable to various forms of interruption.
But more significant than these systems is one that RADM Connor ignores in his comments: The naval mine. Mines are the most prolific anti-access weapon, which can be easily employed, and for which the U.S. Navy has limited countermeasures available.
In 1950 North Korea without a navy-used mines to defeat the planned U.S. invasion of the port of Wonsan. The U.S. Navy Jost several minesweepers to Soviet mines in that conflict. During later U.S. naval operations in the Persian Gulf the Navy suffered an Aegis ruiser, a helicopter carrier (LPH), and a frigate heavily damaged by mines. In addition, a super tanker under U.S. escort was mined.
U.S. mine countermeasure (MCM) capabilities are limited, with many naval experts believing that the shift to the littoral combat ship (LCS) carrying a modular MCM package will be less effective than the traditional specialized MCM ships and MH-53E MCM helicopters. Beyond the delays with the LCS and technical problems with the MCM module, the size of the new ships brings to mind Winston Churchill’s comment in World War II that the growth of destroyer size was resulting in the hunter becoming the hunted.
Today advanced mines are in the arsenals of several nations that are considered potential enemies of the United States as well as numerous other nations. Mines and mine technology are readily available in the international weapons market. These mines can be a threat to U.S. submarines as well as to surface forces. Indeed, efforts to develop submarine-launched mine detection vehicles have not been successful. Submarines can offer little if any capabilities to counter hostile mines, especially rising mines like the discarded U.S. Captor weapon. Both Russia and China have such mines in their arsenals and have offered them to other nations.
Advanced mines can be planted by aircraft, submarines, surface warships, merchant ships (as occurred in the Red Sea), and even small coastal craft, both military and civilian. These weapons-which can threaten U.S. submarines-represent a major omission in RADM Connor’s discussion of anti-access weapons.