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Rest-of-World Naval Forces

During the Cold War, Western naval forces focussed on countering the threat posed by the Soviet Union. While its breakup diminishes the immediate threat of conflict, the uncertainty that surrounds the nature of the post-Cold War environment has created new problems for navies to consider. Identifying where future challenges might emerge from is an inexact science, whether they take the form of legal disputes, confrontations with other states, or technological developments.

During the Cold War, small fleets were often treated as "lesser included cases" given their relative lack of offensive power. The spread of advanced weapon systems to small fleets may be a significant evolution in the new international order. This is not a new development, however. In the past, Western navies concentrated largely on East bloc technology. Since the collapse of East/West rivalry and its associated trade restrictions in technology, nations capable of manufacturing sophisticated weapons and electronics, such as Russia, China, France, and the United States are increasingly willing to export their state-of-the-art technology. Western navies are very likely to face Western technology opposing them in the future. The spread of advanced weaponry will continue for the foreseeable future and serve to complicate maritime operations. An added problem associated with advanced weapons is that incremental improvements in software and electronics are often undetectable.

The threat from surface vessels varies widely, defying precise definition. Procurement trends will run toward smaller and cheaper ships with technological advances being used to increase their capabilities. Older vessels will benefit from sensor, combat system, and weapons upgrades. Less advanced navies have been taking advantage of the cutbacks in many naval forces with the purchase of older, but still highly capable, warships. The Royal Navy has sold Type 22 frigates to Brazil and Type 21 frigates to Pakistan, while ex-USN Oliver Hazard Perry class ships have recently appeared in several navies. In many cases these navies have made a quantum leap from their previous capabilities. Many navies are modernising older ships with state of the art technology. A case in point is the gradual replacement of the Thai and Taiwanese navies' World War Two era platforms with extremely modern vessels. Taiwan has recently acquired LaFayette class frigates, while the Thais have acquired both Chinese frigates equipped with Western weapon systems as well as a small aircraft carrier built in Spain. India continues to seek aircraft carriers to replace its ancient British built ships.

The introduction of "user-friendly" weapons is yet another consideration. In the past, there was a direct correlation between the technical proficiency of a navy and its ability to employ advanced weapons to their full potential. The development of user-friendly weapons and systems has progressed sufficiently that even a moderately well-trained navy can use advanced weapons to their full potential. The Argentinean experience with Exocet missiles during the Falklands War serves as an example.

The current threat from anti-ship missiles is represented by two categories: missiles that are supersonic and highly evasive and missiles which are subsonic and "stealthy". Western navies have traditionally employed the latter type, examples being Harpoon and Exocet. Sales of the Chinese Houdong Fast Attack Craft armed with the C802 Saccade anti-ship missile to Iran demonstrate that that other navies are adopting the western philosophy. Russia continues to market the Switchblade, often referred to as the "Harpoonski" at military trade shows, with India appearing to be a major customer. Supersonic missiles, such as Russia's Sunburn and Krypton, have also been advertised for sale at recent air shows. Each type of missile presents specific threats designed to complicate the problem of ship defence by sharply reducing reaction time available. Subsonic and stealthy missiles aim to hide the missile in the clutter of surface radar returns until the last moment. Supersonic missiles aim to reduce the amount of time a ship self defence system has to locate, identify and counter an incoming threat. Intelligence analysts believe that missiles with significantly improved range, speed, manoeuvrability, and intelligent homing systems will pose the greatest threat in the long term. Anti-ship missiles can be carried by both ships and aircraft, or fired from ashore.

While it is true that many recent naval missions such as sanction enforcement, interdiction operations, and support to ground forces ashore, suggest a shift from blue water to littoral operations, most naval activity during the Cold War took place in littoral areas. The renewed emphasis on littoral operations outside of the familiar European theatre does raise many significant issues that were downplayed during the Cold War, however.

While strategic mobility and operational manoeuvre are still inherent strengths for naval forces, care must be exercised when operating within the range of land-based forces. Greater weapon range and lethality have expanded the modern battlefield to the point where some land-based forces must be considered naval weapons. The variety of shore-based anti-ship missiles, and mobile and fixed artillery systems demonstrates the growing reach of shore based forces. Even the exercise of due passage in international waters has been greatly complicated by this fact as the stationing of Iranian "Seersucker" missiles in the Straits of Hormuz illustrates.

Beyond anti-ship missiles, naval forces involved in coastal operations will face threats from aircraft and helicopters, directly proportionate to the proximity of the shore. In some situations, ground attack aircraft and helicopter gunships will be employed against naval vessels. Many of these aircraft and helicopters are able to engage armoured vehicles or tanks and this capability is more than suitable for attacking merchant shipping and, warships.

Mine warfare is an established, but often downplayed, part of naval operations. Mines are relatively cheap, easy to produce, and simple to deploy. They are capable of creating a threat out of all proportion to the effort required to deploy them. The mere threat of mines is often enough to cause a significant disruption to naval operations or shipping. During the Persian Gulf War, the 1200-1500 mines Iraq laid off Kuwait were largely responsible for the decision not to conduct an amphibious landing during the war.

Mines are an attractive option for many small powers for the following reasons. Maritime powers are highly vulnerable both in peace and war due to their dependence on the sea. Mining operations are far cheaper than counter mining operations, and they are far cheaper than other types of naval weaponry which inflict similar types of damage. Many small naval powers will attempt to use mines in order to deny their coastal areas to forces arrayed against them. Others will use mines offensively to deny port facilities or egress points to hostile fleets. Given the ease of deployment (mines can be deployed from submarines or from civilian vessels) and the growing sophistication of them, mines will remain effective weapons.

The number of countries operating diesel-electric submarines continues to increase and they continue to pose a serious threat to naval operations, in the littoral as well as in the open ocean. Most nations currently operating submarines are endeavouring to upgrade or maintain their capability. The inherent advantages of submarines are apparent to many nations seeking to enhance their naval capability. Given the number of "fire sales" on offer in a variety of states, the ease of acquiring submarines has never been greater than at the present time. The purchase of Russian KILO-class submarines by Iran is a prime example.

Submarines are ideal weapons for states which lack, or cannot afford the capability to assert sea control in their own (or others) waterspace. As such, they can operate in an opponent's backyard, even in the face of determined sea control efforts, they can conduct stealthy and intrusive operations in sensitive areas, and can be inserted early for a wide range of tasks with a high degree of assured survivability.

When equipped with mines, advanced torpedoes, and/or anti-ship missiles, a submarine is a potent political weapon. A conventional submarine able to penetrate a multinational task force's defences could undermine efforts to manage coalition politics in a single strike. The success of HMS Conqueror's mission in the Falklands War demonstrates the effect of the submarine to military operations. The Argentinian Navy retired to its bases following the sinking of the General Belgrano, greatly complicating Argentinian efforts to keep control of the islands. User- friendly weapons such as wire-guided and wake-homing torpedoes increase the probability that even moderately proficient submarine operators will be successful when engaging surface targets. In the Falklands war, the Royal Navy, a highly experienced ASW force, was unable to completely clear its areas of operations of Argentine submarines. The development of AIP systems will further enhance the capability and stealth of conventional submarines.

The serious threat posed by submarines to both land and sea operations highlights the pressing need for continued research and practise of measures to counter them. Canadian ships regularly deploy into areas where there are large numbers of conventional submarines, such as during operations in the Mediterranean, Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia. Losing an effective ASW capability would not only jeopardise Canada's ability to monitor and control its own waterspace, but also its ability to safely deploy abroad and participate in multinational operations.{85} Thus, Canada's naval forces must continue to practise the difficult operations necessary in undersea warfare.

The end of the Cold War, despite its reductions in defence expenditures has not halted the relentless progress in destructive weaponry. The spread of advanced weapons in the form of anti-ship missiles, submarines, and modern surface ships, together with the persistence of older but still effective technology such as mines continue to upgrade military capabilities.

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Page last modified: 08-07-2014 18:26:08 ZULU