How Long Would the US Navy Survive in a Shooting War?
US Navy is a huge force but largely based around aircraft carrier groups that modern weaponry may have made obsolete
America sees itself as a ruler of the world’s oceans. After all, the country — which spends 10 times more on its military forces than the following nine countries — has by far the biggest naval force. And as since the Vietnam War they have dealt only with militarily inferior opponents, they are extremely self-confident in their belief that they can defeat everything and everyone. It is not surprising that some young Americans even wear T-shirts with the logo: “United States Navy: The Sea is Ours.”
Perhaps we need to meet this pride and arrogance with some understanding in view of the numerical superiority of the U.S. Navy. In total, it currently has 10 operational aircraft carriers (two in reserve), while Russia and China have only one each.
Aircraft carriers are the great pride of the U.S. Navy and are also perfect to underline visually the claim of the ruler of the seas. They are therefore well liked by U.S. presidents as stages for delivering speeches when the time comes to tell the people that this unique nation has once again won a heroic victory.
What thrilling moments these were (at least for Americans) when George W. Bush landed in a fighter jet on the USS Abraham Lincoln (no, not as a pilot) and then, with the words “mission accomplished” and “a job well done,” proclaimed the end of the Iraq war to the people. As we know, the destruction of Iraq was carried out by the Americans under the label of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We may still ask ourselves what it had to do with freedom, but that’s a different story.
But what would it look like if the power of the U.S. Navy met its peer? The title of this article already implies the answer: not so good, and it could be that the patriotic U.S. Navy fans would hide their T-shirts quickly in the closet.
Back in the 70s, Admiral Rickover, the “father of nuclear navy,” had to answer the question before the U.S. Senate: “How long would our aircraft carriers survive in a battle against the Russian Navy?” His response caused disillusionment: “Two or three days before they sink, maybe a week if they stay in the harbor.”
The reason for the greatly reduced lifetime of the aircraft carrier in a battle against the Russians is a deadly danger below the water: modern submarines — especially Russian ones — are so powerful and difficult to locate that they can send large battleships and aircraft carriers to the bottom of the sea in the blink of an eye. The weakness of the U.S. Navy, therefore, is their vulnerability when they compete with an enemy that — using the language of the Americans — dominates the seas below the water surface. Of course, the U.S. military analysts are aware of this weakness, so one wonders why the U.S. Navy still adheres to the doctrine “the bigger the better” and continues to rely on an armada of aircraft carriers and large battleships.
Colonel Douglas McGregor, a decorated combat veteran, author of four books, a PhD and military analyst, gives the answer: “Strategically, it makes no sense, but the construction of large ships, of course, creates a lot of jobs.”
So the threat of Russian submarines, torpedoes and anti-ship missiles is well known by the Americans — a fact which Roger Thompson’s book, Lessons Not Learned: The U.S. Navy’s Status Quo Culture, also points out. A brief excerpt:
As Howard Bloom and Dianne Star Petryk-Bloom advised in 2003, both the Russians and Chinese now have the deadly SS-N-22 Sunburn missile at their disposal. This massive long-range missile, equipped with nuclear or conventional warheads, is extremely difficult to detect or destroy. According to Jane’s Information Group, it is more than capable of destroying any U.S. aircraft carrier. More to the point, Timperlake (a Naval Academy graduate) and Triplett warned that the Sunburn missile is designed to do one thing: kill American aircraft carriers and Aegis-class cruisers.
The SS-N-22 missile skims the surface of the water at two-and-a-half times the speed of sound until just before impact, when it lifts up and then heads straight down into the target’s deck. Its two-hundred-kiloton nuclear warhead has almost twenty times the explosive power of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima. The U.S. Navy has no defence against this missile system. As retired Admiral Eric McVadon put it: “It’s enough to make the U.S. 7th (Pacific) Fleet sink twice.”
In addition to this concept-related, almost inevitable weakness of large warships, there is another reason for the vulnerability of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. armed forces in general: their arrogance and the associated underestimation of their opponents. Anyone who underestimates his enemy grows imprudent and holds bad cards in the event of a surprise attack. This happened in 2000, when the American aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk was caught by the Russians on the wrong foot.
Here are some excerpts from Jon Dougherty’s article, “Russian Navy takes Flyover by Surprise” (World Net Daily):
A pair of Russian warplanes that made at least three high-speed passes over a U.S. aircraft carrier stationed in the Sea of Japan in October constituted a much more serious threat than the Pentagon has admitted and were easily in a position to destroy the ship if the planes had had hostile intentions, say Navy personnel.
According to reports, a Russian air force Su-24 “Fencer” accompanied by a Su-27 “Flanker” made unopposed passes over the USS Kitty Hawk on Oct. 9, as the carrier was being refueled.
Russian fighters and reconnaissance planes made a second attempt to get close to the carrier on Nov. 9 — a repeat performance for which the Pentagon, as well as eyewitnesses aboard ship, said the carrier was prepared. But it was the first incident in October that caused alarm.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said during a regularly scheduled press briefing Nov. 30 that the Russian fighters were detected on radar well in advance of their high-speed passes. Naval officers aboard ship who spoke of the incident on the condition of anonymity agreed.
However, at the time the carrier’s combat information center alerted the ship’s commander, Capt. Allen G. Myers, that the Russian fighters were inbound, none of the carrier’s fighters were airborne. The ship carries 85 aircraft, according to Navy figures, and has a crew of over 5,500.
Witnesses said Myers immediately ordered the launch of alert fighters, but the ship’s scheduled fighter squadron was on “Alert-30” status — a minimum launch time of 30 minutes where pilots are “in the ready room” but are not sitting in cockpits waiting to be launched.
Bacon told reporters only that there “may have been a slight delay” in getting the interceptors in the air, explaining that because the Kitty Hawk was taking on fuel, it was not sailing fast enough to launch its aircraft.
One naval officer onboard the ship said, “40 minutes after the CO [commanding officer] called away the alerts,” the Russian planes “made a 500-knot, 200-foot pass directly over the tower” of the carrier.
Before the Kitty Hawk could get a single plane airborne, the Russian fighters made two more passes. Worse, witnesses said, the first plane off the deck was an EA-6B Prowler — a plane used primarily for electronic jamming of an enemy’s radar and air defenses, not a fighter capable of intercepting another warplane.
The EA-6B “ended up in a one-versus-one with a Flanker just in front of the ship,” one witness said. “The Flanker was all over his a.... He was screaming for help when finally an F/A-18 Hornet from our sister squadron got off the deck and made the intercept. It was too late.”
Naval personnel noted that “the entire crew watched overhead as the Russians made a mockery of our feeble attempt of intercepting them.”
The Clinton administration downplayed the incident .... The BBC, however, said that it was evident by the photographs taken by the Russian jets that there was “panic aboard” when the planes made their over-flights.
For those readers who unfortunately missed the story, here it is: At the beginning of April last year the Americans sent the USS Donald Cook into the Black Sea, with the permission of Turkey, to protest against the Russian annexation of Crimea and to demonstrate their military strength. The destroyer was equipped with the most advanced Aegis Combat System, a naval weapons systems which ensures the detection, tracking and destruction of multiple targets at the same time. In addition, the USS Donald Cook is equipped with four large radars, whose power is comparable to that of several stations. For protection, it carries more than 50 anti-aircraft missiles of various types.
According to the “Montreux Convention,” non-Black Sea state warships are permitted to stay in the Black Sea for no longer than 21 days. The Americans, of course, ignored this rule, and Russia responded by sending an SU-24. The Sukhoi was unarmed but equipped with the latest electronic warfare device, called Khibiny.
When the SU-24 approached the destroyer, all radar and control systems, information transfers, etc., of the USS Donald Cook were suddenly paralyzed by Khibiny. In other words, the seemingly superior Aegis system was completely off — like when you turn off your TV with the remote control.
Subsequently, the Sukhoi simulated 12 missile attacks at low altitude on the virtually blind and deaf USS Donald Cook, and we can imagine that the two SU-24 aircraft pilots had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, at this time there was neither John McCain nor NATO Commander Phillip Breedlove on board the ship — they would certainly have received some long-lasting impressions from this demonstration.
This story shows us that Americans still overestimate the capabilities of their armed forces and do not realize (or do not want to admit) that Russia’s military technology is in many areas superior and has an advantage that cannot be offset quickly.
So, as long as a single Russian fighter jet can turn off a complete U.S. warship with the latest warning and fire control systems by just pushing a button, the answer to the question “How long would the U.S. Navy survive?” today is the same as in the old Cold War days.
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