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The Threat Below

May 12th, 2014 - 8:19 am

Bill Sweetman on the latest advances in submarine technology:

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—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.

As I’ve written here before, maritime trading nations that can’t protect their sealanes don’t remain trading nations for long.

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All Comments   (11)
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My section chief in power school was on the USS Chicago. After some ASW exercises in the Eastern Med they pull into Haifa for some liberty, mooring astern a US destroyer. He and his liberty buddy head to the disbursing office on the destroyer to get some cash for town. While there they notice a commotion. Being the inquisitive types they go look. They find a division formed up on the fantail with their chief chewing them up one side and down the other. Hats are being knocked off heads, lineages are being called into question, suggestions are made that are certainly illegal and possibly physically impossible. At the end the chief yells out "ABOUT FACE!"

The entire division turns and looks off the stern of the ship.

"NOW CAN YOU FIND THAT (&*&*^(^^&#$ SUBMARINE?"
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've know for a while that the Navy's surface ships fair poorly against Swedish and Aussie AIS boats. Those guys have about the best conventional boats in the world.

However, I'd be curious how well those AIS boats fair against US subs out in open water? Probably never know.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
AIP not AIS ugh..

Stupid insurance commercials
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was a sonarman on a US Navy surface ship in the mid 90's. A sub on battery is fiendishly difficult to detect. They're usually moving slowly so there's no screw cavitation, and the rest of the boat is engineered for quiet. Their Achilles's heel however is recharging. Even with an air independent system they're still using an internal combustion engine to generate power. That engine still makes plenty of noise, so they have to find someplace relatively safe for their recharging.
The advantage of nuclear, though it isn't as quiet as battery, is that you have full available power all the time for the duration of your mission. The conventional subs can only go a few days on battery then they must recharge.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Fuel cells are silent, as far as I know ...
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Like the Type 212? Yes, they'll be about impossible to find passively unless they have reason to fire up their diesels.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_212_submarine
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
As I’ve written here before, maritime trading nations that can’t protect their sealanes don’t remain trading nations for long.

Are there a nations other than the US with an interest in protecting sealanes much beyond their coastlines? We'll have Swedish-style submarines when we have Swedish-style policies.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
American subs are the best in the world -- that's not our problem. Besides, we don't really have much (any?) need for diesel boats at all. The problem is that our ASW efforts lag behind our adversaries' sub development.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
The problem is that our ASW efforts lag behind our adversaries' sub development.

As far as we know. Probably true and surely tough to overcome.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm surprised that Sweden has subs, much less that they have state of the art subs that we can't detect. Maybe Europe still has a pulse.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Swedes have quite a defense establishment for a country with less that ten million people. SAAB has been making world-class jet fighters since the early 1950s and the Swedish Air Force has bought then in quantity: IIRC, they bought something like 600 SAAB J-27s, for instance. Their latest fighter, the JAS 39 Gripen, can probably go up against anything short of an F-22.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
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