Now THAT’S an interesting question

In a comment left on my post about the end of the Phoenix missile, linked to by today’s post about the end of the F-14 Tomcat:

If we had kept the F-14 / Phoenix would that have been a thorn in the side of the advocates for big carrier escorts (cruisers/DDX) with long range SAM’s?

Whoa-ho! That’s just a bit out there!

And I’m thinking there’s more than a little sense in it. If only we could figure out how retiring the F-14 / Phoenix guaranteed that battleships would never never ever be reactivated, I’d be buying it.

As I said in the Phoenix post:

The AIM-120 AMRAAM has replaced the Phoenix [as fleet defender], but its range of around 20 miles is only one-fifth the range of the Phoenix.

And as Buckethead (who always seems to weigh in on naval matters) writes in the Tomcat post:

[The Navy’s] only hope is to buy into some of the UCAV programs, otherwise – aside from having billion dollar cruise missile launching frigates – they won’t have any credible power projection capability at all.

But hey, at least we’re saving money by cutting the attack sub fleet! That’s gotta count for something.


  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if this kind of argument could be made by someone with an agenda, but it doesn’t actually make sense: A long-range sea-based SAM has a couple of big disadvantages over a long range AAM like a Phoenix, especially if you use the AAM in combination with SAMs (which of course the Navy did): * The SAM has to get up from sea level to high altitude and then back down, plus the ship moves a lot slower at launch time than an aircraft, so it has to be lot bigger, and therefore you can’t have as many on a ship and they cost more to manufacture. * A ship’s radar can’t see low-flying targets at long range because of the curvature of the earth and other factors like the clutter from waves and such at those oblique angles. A high-flying aircraft looks DOWN on the water far away, so it has a much better chance of seeing a low-flying target, especially a small one like a cruise-missile. * The ship’s powerful radar makes its position really obvious. Ditto for aircraft, obviously, but aircraft can move much faster and hide in the weeds if necessary so it’s less of a problem. Anti-ship missiles can quite happily home in on the emissions. * Aircraft can fly at stations quite far away from the carrier, say 1000nm (although for limited periods), so you can add that to the range of the AAMs, which SAMs simply can’t compete with. Alternatively, if you know an attack is on the way, you can go out and meet it, and the SAMs only have to deal with the aircraft/missiles that make it through the ‘welcoming committee’, effectively giving you two (or probably more) shots at them. A SAM-based defence doesn’t have much time between the first round of missiles hitting (or missing) the targets and the incoming missiles impacting the ships, so you get fewer shots and therefore there’s a greater chance of something getting through. * Aircraft can do other things too, like reconnaisance and ground attack. Yes, you can do ground attack with Tomahawks and such, but it costs much more per missile than it does for a bomb, even a precision-guided one. Like I said, just because it’s silly to suggest you can replace long-range AAMs entirely with SAMs doesn’t mean nobody has. Of course, the biggest argument is that there simply won’t be much need for either, which I’d say is a bit of a gamble.

  2. Can you tell I’m bored? (Also, these are some of my pet interests) I don’t think you can argue that retiring F-14s makes sure battleships won’t become re-activated. However, I think they’re both being done for the same reason. That is, the Navy wants shiny new toys, not old workhorses. Both battleships and F-14s are good at many jobs. However, in both cases, their greatest value currently lies in roles they were not originally intended to fulfill. Battleships originally were designed for destroying other ships… but these days they really make rather nice shore bombardment/missile/gun platforms. (Of course, they’ve pretty much always been used for shore bombardment, but the difference is that it’s now basically their primary use). F-14s were originally intended to be interceptors, although if you’re familiar with the F-111/F-14 development, you’d realise that later in their development they were designed to be ground attack aircraft also, but then that was cancelled due to general project trouble. In both cases that ended up being their final mission anyway (although with the F-14 much later in life.. the F-111 never made it past testing as an interceptor). If the B-52 was a Navy aircraft, I very much doubt any would be flying today. They’re just not glamorous enough, cost too much to keep flying, and to upgrade…. but the fact remains, there isn’t really any sensible replacement. In my mind, that parallels battleships and F-14s too. Bring on the counter-arguments, I want to hear them 🙂 Nicholas

  3. Not a counter-argument, but a clarification regarding the retire the F-14/Phoenix to make way for the new SAM platforms theory: You’re right that it doesn’t really make a ton of sense to replace AAMs completely with SAMs for fleet defense. I don’t think anyone was arguing that it would make sense. Just that it could have been someone’s agenda. ;] And regarding the battleships, I was being just a bit snarky. If I mention ‘battleships’ on MO, everyone suddenly goes into a feeding frenzy of one sort or another…

  4. And what about the attack subs? The Navy needs money for stealth destroyers so it retires attack subs. Which are, of course, basically stealth destroyers only more stealthy. How about converting a few OHIO boomers into submergable cruisers complete with retractable 5′ guns based on the DD(X) cannon? Now we’re talking stealth.

  5. I just posted this on the catblog post, but it actually makes more sense here, so I’m reposting it: Those are all interesting ideas – but does it strike all of you as a bit odd that at least in regard to the Navy, most of our discussions are about saving old technology to backstop potentially dangerous decisions in Naval procurement? Battleships, now F-14s. What are the odds that the Navy will not go with the DDX? What are the odds that we will keep any meaningful part of the attack sub fleet in service? What are the odds that the most promising technology now under development – the LCS/sea fighter – will reach service in large numbers? Murdoc accuses me of always chiming in on the Navy, but maybe because the Navy, more than the other services, seems to have a completely bassackwards technology development program. They missed the boat entirely on aircraft. When did the F18 enter service? When will the F35 enter service? A thirty year gap without a new plane. And most of the UAV research is happening in the world of the Army and Air Force. Given developments in missile and sensor technology that I’ve argued about here, I think big ship plans are a bit ridiculous, and potentially disastrous in the future. The Navy is right about a lot of its strategic conclusions in ‘Forward from the Sea’ and other plans. But their shopping list shows no evidence that they themselves understand the implications.

  6. I think Murdoc’s right about subs. The submarine fleet – with some suitable upgrades – is potentially far more powerful and survivable than any imaginable fleet of glorified stealth destroyers. Subs are the original stealth ship. How many vertical launch tubes could you put in a Ohio class boomer? Quite a few, I should think. And those boats are nigh on to indetectable. Cutting the sub fleet is right in line with the stupidity I see emanating from whomever is in charge of naval procurement plans.

  7. One of the main targets for the Phoenix was to be the large and slow Soviet bomber. It’s a much better missle against that type of target than it is against, say, a MIG-31. Since we now do not appear to have to defend carrier battle groups against mass Soviet assault, we might not miss the Phoenix. Though I will miss the Tomcat.

  8. Hmm, true that the Phoenix’s main targets were Soviet bombers (as well as cruise missiles). But keep in mind, neither of them are slow. Those Blackjacks and similar are damn fast – like the B1-A was going to be, and the Soviets are pretty much the only people to successfully build supersonic cruise missiles (and several models, too). Of course, at that speed, your turning circle is half the earth’s radius… so you’re at least partially correct. Then again, when the rate of closure is mach 1 (fighter) + mach 4+ (missile), the missile doesn’t have to be able to turn very fast in order to hit you, especially with a big warhead. After all, the rate of closure would be something like 1 mile per second, and you can’t change where you will be in 1 second very much even in a maneuerable fighter… which is why I think it’s mostly the quality of the sensors which will determine whether it will be a hit or a miss. What’s more, if the F-14’s radar, and the Phoenix’s radar, can happily track a cruise-missile-sized target at the wavetops, it must be able to see, track and hit even a fairly stealthy fighter quite far a way. As for subs, I love the idea of artillery/missile platforms that can magically appear at any point on the earth’s oceans and just as easily disappear beneath the waves. I wrote previously about how interesting a submarine-mounted SAM system would be in order to control air space. It’s like a land- or ship- based SAM system except it’s very hard to preemptively strike it, since you probably have no idea where it is at any one time… As for sub-mounted artillery, I guess it won’t have the staying power or range of a battleship, but it sure could come in handy for when you really need fire support right now, to have a sub tooling around offshore ready to surface and deliver it.

  9. I think those new Ohio SSGN’s equipped with 154 cruise missiles is power projection bar none, and without the overaged aircraft and billion dollar surface ship escorts needed. The aircraft carrier has now gone the way of the battleship as strickly for land support only. Give me a sub anytime.

  10. My normal reaction about the navy, is not printable. But I will have to chime in a bit. With respect to UAV’s- See the X-47. The Navy has a much harder time with UAV’s as the see is very demanding environment, plus, people get real nervious with unmaned planes landing on a carrier. As the F-14 / Phoenix phase out. Basically it just does not make sense to keep the F-14. To keep the F-14 modern, you would have to do a serious upgrade. It electronics are old and its underpowered. The Phonenix/F-14 are a matched set, upgrade one, you have to upgrade the other. As a swing wing, you are going to have inherit higher maintence costs, and an inherit limit on its weapons load. The F-18 the answer? NO.. but that Navy hsa no other plane. Will the F-35 be the answer? NO The F-35 is a underarmed and under performing f-16 that has some ‘stealth’ from the front. IMO the air mix should a be few high stealth air dominance fighters, a bucket load of ultra stealth unmanned bombers. Once air dominance is gained, you bring in the non-stealth craft. A-10 type craft as the small end & large unmanned super heavy bombers on call from above. The Navy would be better off, putting its money into a navalized F-23 Widow II. Dump the DD(X), bring back the Battleships, stop the F-18 production and rev up the X-47 program. The Sea Fighter, should be brought front and center, and they should make Xtreame varients. Its small enough and cheap enough to let the designers go wild.

  11. It’s easy to figure out. The Navy has outsourced all of their strategic planning to Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, and Boeing. Together they came up with the following shocking conclusions: * The F-14 and battleships are no good and must be immediately retired, scrapped, destroyed, sunk, whatever. * Some very very expensive programs must be launched to development replacements for the capabilities we just scrapped. * Even though this appears to make little sense, just trust us.

  12. I think if i put a one-word, no-title post up, I could still score commentary from the peanut gallery if the word was ‘battleship’, ‘XM8’, or (the latest addition to the hotlist) ‘F-14 Tomcat’. Yeah, that’s more than one word, but ‘F-14’ isn’t really a word, so it’s less than two…

  13. Peanut Gallery? tish tosh, no peanuts for me. Now if you were talking twinkee’s that you have something to crow about. As for a retractable 5 inch gun. I think the Japanese in WWII tried that. Now what might be cool is a sub armed with the vertical launch gun used in the early concepts of the DD(X) Toss in the Navy research on multi-viscosity rounds and you have a gun that can be veritically fired while the sub is underwater. Basically the RAMICS round but in reverse. As a side note: I think the RAMICS rounds have a great potencial to end the threat of litoral subs. Take a A-10, load it up with RAMICS rounds, and have Aerostat with a blue-green LADAR and you have a dead sub.

  14. James, I’ve been thinking that about the F-23 for a long while – haven’t run across that many people who think the same. For my money, the F-23 was always the best looking of the two ATF competitors, and a two-seater navalized version would be a worthy successor to the F-14: Stealthy, supercruise, long range, heavy bomb load, class of the world interceptor. What’s wrong with that picture? Might actually prolong the useful life of our carriers. I like your plan – maybe I’d add some small, fast pocket carriers designed to fly UCAVs for recon/wild weasel/bombing – deep interdiction. Something like that could get relatively close inshore without the terrible risk of losing a multi-billion dollar supercarrier with thousands of crew. And battleships. Heh.

  15. With respect to the F-23, I have always wondered why the air force never really stated why they went for the F-22 over the F-23. I understand that the F-23 had better stealth and speed. The Navy, could save some significant development money by going with the F-23 and get out of the trap they are falling in. Simply put the Navy is decades behind the airforce. If the navy ever has to be the lead airforce in a conflict vs a foe with an air force, say china, the F-18’s are going to dropping like flies. The F-18 is a second eschlon airplane – usefull after primary air superiority is established.

  16. One of my neighbors was a test pilot. He said that the aviation community was more than a little concerned with the most advanced Russian fighters that the Chinese have purchased. The aging F14s and repurposed F18s are at best on par with the best chicom airframes. Not exactly the situation you want to be in when your’re likely as not outnumbered. An F23 would totally outclass any foriegn fighter, including the Eurofighter. And its not like we’d need thousands of them – just enough to put a squadron on every carrier for that edge.

  17. Well its said that there is nothing like a war to focus your mind on what is important. The army, marines and air force have had significant combat actions that inspired change. The Navy on the other hand, has not had a naval engagement since WWII. So now we are seeing the fruit of innaction…. It may sound cold, but I think the Navy needs to get its clock cleaned. Then maybe it could pull its collective head out. On the lighter side, when Buckethead starts up the Bring Back the F-23 drive, sign me up.

  18. The point of having an F-23 program with all of its startup and R&D costs, vs. adapting the F-22 for naval operations, escapes me. Just where is all that money supposed to come from? I would totally, 110% support an O/A-10E ‘Seahog’ carrier-based attack aircraft, however. Relatively cheap, builds on a proven platform, rounds out the naval aviation numbers nicely, and really ups the Navy’s power projection and attack capabilities. The Phoenix went because it was tied to the F-14, which was unsustainable. That’s too bad, because if you look at its performance in the Iran-Iraq War, it was extremely effective against all targets, not just bombers. The MBDA Meteor missile under development in Europe represents a Phoenix-like solution. They had to, their fighters (even the Typhoon, Rafale and Gripen) have limited stealth and they understand the implications of the SU-30/AA-12 combination. The US Navy, operating F-18 Super Hornets will even less stealth, ought to take a clue. While the Meteor’s ramjet engines are excellent for range and sustained energy in the terminal flight phase (= improved kill probability), the bad news is that it doesn’t fit in the stealth weapon bays of the F-35 and F-22. The good news is that MBDA, who sees which way the procurement winds are blowing around the world, intends to modify the Meteor so it does fit. The US originally saw its key advantage in the air as stealth. Get in close undetected, fire an AMRAAM missile with very high kill probability, then (if in an F-22) supercruise out before they’re fully aware what hit them. The Euros saw a need to go long range, to ensure that they remained in the advantage zone. What I see is gradual convergence, as each side begins to realize that either/or has weaknesses. Raytheon will of course lobby for a whole R&D program to produce an extended range ramjet-AMRAAM that can also fit the stealth weapon bays. If it succeeds, the USA will probably get less missile for more money, at the price of some job protectionism. But Meteor isn’t set to go until 2010, and that tradeoff may be acceptable if a ramjet AMRAAM can be fielded earlier (by, say, 2008) to plug the current hole. If it was up to me, I’d junk the AIM-9X and equip all US aircraft with the Israeli Python 5 (plus fleet helicopters, given its outstanding maneuverability and detection for tough targets like cruise missiles). They learned the lessons of the AA-11 (the Germans learned too, which is why they abandoned ASRAAM and developed the IRIS-T). Licensed production would be the condition. I’d keep AMRAAM for medium range, and do a competition between a ramjet AMRAAM (if Raytheon wants to play) vs. a buy in to the MBDA Meteor for the Navy’s F-18s and USAF F-15 fleet. MBDA would have to find an American partner to bid with and share overall program production (not just American production), and to do R&D for the F-35/F-22 weapons bay modifications. But the priority of the bidding would be equipping the F-18s and F-15s ASAP, given China’s potential timelines. Having said all that, it probably won’t play out that way. We do not live in a perfect world, especially when it comes to defense contracting (and that applies anywhere, not just in the USA).