US Navy stuck in Cold-War mindset

Slashdot | World’s Most Powerful Rail Gun Delivered to US Navy

Re:How silly (Score:5, Informative)

by jollyreaper (513215) on Monday January 28, @05:39PM (#22214316)

It’s interesting how the cost accounting of the modern navy works out. Nuclear power makes sense for carriers and the three classes of subs we operate, SSN, SSBN, and SSGN, but it’s never really taken off for surface ships. The last non-carrier nuclear surface boat was the Long Beach, I believe, an escort cruiser.

The whole naming and classification of surface vessels is also weird. Frigate is a name held over from the age of sail. Back then, heavy fighting was done with ships of the line, frigates were used for the free-wheeling missions of escort and raiding and scouting and what have you. Line ships were too important to risk being lost on mundane missions like that. Destroyers were originally called torpedo boat destroyers, ships capable of keeping up with the fleet while screening against torpedo boat attack. A cruiser was not a class but a job description, with frigates operating as cruisers in the age of sail.

By WWII, you had frigates, destroyers, and destroyer escorts operating as small ships working in various roles. Destroyers carried torpedoes to threaten larger ships, 5 inch guns to use against other destroyers and merchantmen, AAA for use against planes and depth charges for subs. The cruiser was intended to be a heavy combatant that could catch anything it could sink and flee from anything that could sink it. You then ended up with all the weird categories of light and heavy cruisers, battle-cruisers, etc. Then you had your battleships, slow sluggers that could not control the range of the fight. Then improvement in propulsion technology created fast battleships that could keep up with the cruisers. Carriers then pissed in everyone’s cheerios because the battleship admirals didn’t know what to do with them. Concerted air attack could take out a battleship with minimal loss of air crews but the formations the Americans put together towards the end of the Pacific war would have made conventional air attack suicidal for a well-trained and well-provisioned air force, let alone the Japanese. If two US-style fleets faced off, they’d likely run out of planes and pilots before running out of ships, thus forcing the engagement into a gun battle. The rapid development of technology changes everything.

Since the Cold War, the US has dicked around with cruisers and battleships but now the only large surface combatants left are carriers. Even the Aegis cruisers are running on hulls more comparable to destroyers and the arleigh burkes are using the same aegis. With the hitting power of modern anti-ship missiles, it’s seen as impossible to armor a ship sufficiently to survive a strike. Then again, US naval thinking is still shaped by the Cold War and the idea that incoming weapons are going to be nuclear so you have to knock them down or else be incinerated, there’s no such thing as armoring against a nuke fireball. Since we haven’t had a proper naval engagement since WWII, all we’re operating under is a bunch of theory that has not been put to the test in a very long time.

Hey, don’t knock it (Score:5, Insightful)

by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday January 28, @03:39PM (#22212504)

The REAL reason Fusion power will be perfected…so the Generals can fire their fancy guns more than a few times an hour.

We get a lot of cool technologies because the military wants new toys. You can argue about if it should be that way or not, but it is how things go. GPS is a great example. No civilian organization would invest in something that big. Are you crazy? Who would want that? However the cost wasn’t a problem for the military and hence we got one of the most amazing navigational aids ever. Even now that the technology has been proven feasible and useful, or rather essential, the military run systems remains the only one. The European civilian governmental version remains snarled up in political battles.

So while you jest, there could be truth in the statement. Fusion is all well and fine, but there’s only so much money going to be thrown at it. We have other cheap power sources in terms of commercial use, so not a lot of commercial dollars, and it just isn’t sexy or pressing enough to get much government research dollars… However if there’s a major military application, well that could get billions easily.

That’s one reason I’m not always opposed to defense spending. Though it is very often wasteful and it seems there are better things to do with the money, it does seem to be one way for getting projects that just don’t get built otherwise. A great many things come directly from defense research.

Re:I miss the days of gunpowder (Score:5, Interesting)

by rahvin112 (446269) on Monday January 28, @05:51PM (#22214528)

The Railguns serve a purpose which right now is being filled by EXTREMELY expensive weapons. The cruise missile has a range of about 600 miles, it also moves at a speed that makes them very easy to shoot down. To compensate for this they fly them at extremely low elevation, but they can still be shot down and you can hear them approaching for quite a while before they get there, making it much easier to avoid being hit by one.

The railgun on the other hand currently has a range roughly 1/3rd the distance of a cruise missile and IIRC the 64MJ version has a range around 2/3 the range of a cruise missile. Not only that but the projectile cannot be shot down as no weapon could catch it, nor even if they could (fired head on) would the interceptor be able to stop it as the kinetic energy of the blob of metal would simply disintegrate anything that tried to stop it with almost no deflection of the weapon. Not only that but the railgun offers extremely high energy on impact, far in excess of the 500-2000lb bomb on cruise missiles. I’ve heard estimates that place the energy release on impact with that of around 15000lbs of TNT, the explosive energy release is huge but the big blob of metal becomes millions of small pieces of metal that fly in every direction along with rocks and dirt moving at ultra high velocities from the impact site. And above all this the railgun projectile is under $500 in comparison to the $1 million dollar tag for the cruise missile.

The railgun essentially allows the USN to toss moderately sized meteorites at enemies. Whenever a naval article comes up everyone likes to talk about how vulnerable the USN is because of Sunburn and other antiship missiles. What they fail to realize is that once the DDX destroyers come online the fleet wouldn’t even need to get in sunburn range to absolutely destroy even fortified coastal positions. Take a couple DDX destroyers and the new CDX carriers and you have a fleet that can sit 400 miles off the coast and bombard all the coastal defenses into oblivion before moving further in to bombard the cities and fortifications further in from the coast. The railgun projectiles also have extreme penetration, they can cut through 10’s of feet of reinforced concrete with ease, and even underground facilities become susceptible as 10 projectiles could likely cut a massive hole and penetrate buried facilities that could then be followed up with bombs dropped from planes. There is also another advantage, cruise missiles aren’t effective against mobile targets because it takes so long for them to get there, at mach 8 the railgun projectiles flight time is extremely small, along with the no advanced warning (no sound preceding impact) gives the projectile a much better chance at hitting mobile targets without having to use manned aircraft.

The USN is also trying to find guidance systems that can survive the G forces in the hope of having some minimal guidance.

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