Another day, another proposal to replace our carriers:
The U.S. Navy is working on developing a new ballistic missile submarine to replace the service’s current Ohio-class boomers, but should the Navy build some of those vessels as cruise missile carriers?
Allow me to interrupt for a moment and say, “Yes. Of course. Build all the ships and all the subs and build them quickly. Load them with many guns and lasers and missiles and other assorted flying items which go ‘BOOM’.”
And now, back to our regularly scheduled excerpt:
The Navy should consider building additional Ohio Replacement Program (OPR) submarines to serve as cruise missile carriers. Or alternatively, the Navy should design the twelve planned boomers so that those vessels can accept the current seven-shot Multiple-All-Up-Round Canisters (MACs) found on the first four Ohio-class boats that were converted into guided missile submarines (SSGNs). That should not be a huge technical challenge because the OPR is being designed to use the same Trident II D5 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) as the Ohios.
Indeed, former Navy Capt. Jerry Hendrix, director of the defense strategies and assessments program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), has gone so far as to say that such a submarine could potentially replace the aircraft carrier as the centerpiece of the U.S. Navy fleet. “If the Navy chooses to not pursue unmanned combat aerial vehicles in order to keep the carrier relevant in the future, then it is the time to move on to another generation of weapons, perhaps submarines carrying long range conventionally armed missiles and operating with impunity in the waters denied to the carrier,” he wrote in a piece for The National Interest today.
Missile subs — especially cruise missile subs like the converted Ohio-class SSGNs which can be used in actions short of Global Thermonuclear War — are awesome. There’s nothing like being able to sneak up on the bad guy and launch 154 Love Missile BGM-109s at them before they even know you’ve dropped by to say Hi.
The problem is what happens next, and what didn’t happen before.
What happens next is, the missile sub has to return to base to underwood the tricky procedure of having it’s missile tubes reloaded with another 154 Love Missiles. The SSGN is useless until it’s had time to return to base, reload, perhaps switch crews, make assorted repairs or refits, then at last make the long trip back to its action station.
And what about before the war started? Well, the submarine is doing what submarines do best: Staying hidden, out of sight, undetected. A submarine can unleash a world of hurt, but as I’ve written here before what it lacks it presence.
So a carrier can do two things a submarine can’t
For actions short of war, a carrier announces that we’re serious. There’s nothing quite like having a carrier, then another, and then two more, show up on the bad guy’s shore to indicate just how serious. As Bill Whittle noted on Trifecta recently, the first thing a President asks when the stuff begins its ballistic arc towards the fan is, “Where are our carriers?” By the time he has to ask that about our missile subs, then the stuff hasn’t just hit the fan — it has been splattered around the room and onto everybody in it.
The second thing a carrier can do is sustained operations. A sub fires its missiles off in a hurry, and then requires a not-so-brief refractory period to recover. A carrier has support ships allowing it to reload and rearm and refuel and keep its jets in the air for weeks at a time.
So yes, let’s build new SSGNs to replace the aging Ohios, but let’s not think of them as replacements for nuclear-powered aircraft carriers — because they aren’t.