US Navy is a huge force but largely based around aircraft
carrier groups that modern weaponry may have made obsolete
This was an original RI article first published in April of 2015. We are running it again because of the renewed discussion of a very real possible military confrontation between Russia and America, especially their respective navies. The announcement of Russia’s new ‘miracle weapons’, only makes the thesis of the author more compelling.
America sees itself as a ruler of the world’s oceans. After all, the country — which spends 10 times more on its military forces than the following nine countries — has by far the biggest naval force. And as since the Vietnam War they have dealt only with militarily inferior opponents, they are extremely self-confident in their belief that they can defeat everything and everyone. It is not surprising that some young Americans even wear T-shirts with the logo: “United States Navy: The Sea is Ours.”
Perhaps we need to meet this pride and arrogance with some understanding in view of the numerical superiority of the U.S. Navy. In total, it currently has 10 operational aircraft carriers (two in reserve), while Russia and China have only one each.
Aircraft carriers are the great pride of the U.S. Navy and are also perfect to underline visually the claim of the ruler of the seas. They are therefore well liked by U.S. presidents as stages for delivering speeches when the time comes to tell the people that this unique nation has once again won a heroic victory.
What thrilling moments these were (at least for Americans) when George W. Bush landed in a fighter jet on the USS Abraham Lincoln (no, not as a pilot) and then, with the words “mission accomplished” and “a job well done,” proclaimed the end of the Iraq war to the people. As we know, the destruction of Iraq was carried out by the Americans under the label of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We may still ask ourselves what it had to do with freedom, but that’s a different story.
In addition to their suitability as impressive orator stages, the aircraft carriers also fulfill, of course, a military purpose. They can be considered as small floating airports, which ship up to 100 fighter jets to the scene of the action. Since they are equipped with the best weapons, radar, and defense systems, until now they have experienced almost no threat, especially since in the past the U.S. Navy parked them preferably off the coasts of defenseless desert states.
But what would it look like if the power of the U.S. Navy met its peer? The title of this article already implies the answer: not so good, and it could be that the patriotic U.S. Navy fans would hide their T-shirts quickly in the closet.
Back in the 70s, Admiral Rickover, the “father of nuclear navy,” had to answer the question before the U.S. Senate: “How long would our aircraft carriers survive in a battle against the Russian Navy?” His response caused disillusionment: “Two or three days before they sink, maybe a week if they stay in the harbor.”
The reason for the greatly reduced lifetime of the aircraft carrier in a battle against the Russians is a deadly danger below the water: modern submarines — especially Russian ones — are so powerful and difficult to locate that they can send large battleships and aircraft carriers to the bottom of the sea in the blink of an eye. The weakness of the U.S. Navy, therefore, is their vulnerability when they compete with an enemy that — using the language of the Americans — dominates the seas below the water surface. Of course, the U.S. military analysts are aware of this weakness, so one wonders why the U.S. Navy still adheres to the doctrine “the bigger the better” and continues to rely on an armada of aircraft carriers and large battleships.
Colonel Douglas McGregor, a decorated combat veteran, author of four books, a PhD and military analyst, gives the answer: “Strategically, it makes no sense, but the construction of large ships, of course, creates a lot of jobs.”
So the threat of Russian submarines, torpedoes and anti-ship missiles is well known by the Americans — a fact which Roger Thompson’s book, Lessons Not Learned: The U.S. Navy’s Status Quo Culture, also points out. A brief excerpt:
As Howard Bloom and Dianne Star Petryk-Bloom advised in 2003, both the Russians and Chinese now have the deadly SS-N-22 Sunburn missile at their disposal. This massive long-range missile, equipped with nuclear or conventional warheads, is extremely difficult to detect or destroy. According to Jane’s Information Group, it is more than capable of destroying any U.S. aircraft carrier. More to the point, Timperlake (a Naval Academy graduate) and Triplett warned that the Sunburn missile is designed to do one thing: kill American aircraft carriers and Aegis-class cruisers.
The SS-N-22 missile skims the surface of the water at two-and-a-half times the speed of sound until just before impact, when it lifts up and then heads straight down into the target’s deck. Its two-hundred-kiloton nuclear warhead has almost twenty times the explosive power of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima. The U.S. Navy has no defence against this missile system. As retired Admiral Eric McVadon put it: “It’s enough to make the U.S. 7th (Pacific) Fleet sink twice.”
In addition to this concept-related, almost inevitable weakness of large warships, there is another reason for the vulnerability of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. armed forces in general: their arrogance and the associated underestimation of their opponents. Anyone who underestimates his enemy grows imprudent and holds bad cards in the event of a surprise attack. This happened in 2000, when the American aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk was caught by the Russians on the wrong foot.
Here are some excerpts from Jon Dougherty’s article, “Russian Navy takes Flyover by Surprise” (World Net Daily):
A pair of Russian warplanes that made at least three high-speed passes over a U.S. aircraft carrier stationed in the Sea of Japan in October constituted a much more serious threat than the Pentagon has admitted and were easily in a position to destroy the ship if the planes had had hostile intentions, say Navy personnel.
According to reports, a Russian air force Su-24 “Fencer” accompanied by a Su-27 “Flanker” made unopposed passes over the USS Kitty Hawk on Oct. 9, as the carrier was being refueled.
Russian fighters and reconnaissance planes made a second attempt to get close to the carrier on Nov. 9 — a repeat performance for which the Pentagon, as well as eyewitnesses aboard ship, said the carrier was prepared. But it was the first incident in October that caused alarm.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said during a regularly scheduled press briefing Nov. 30 that the Russian fighters were detected on radar well in advance of their high-speed passes. Naval officers aboard ship who spoke of the incident on the condition of anonymity agreed.
However, at the time the carrier’s combat information center alerted the ship’s commander, Capt. Allen G. Myers, that the Russian fighters were inbound, none of the carrier’s fighters were airborne. The ship carries 85 aircraft, according to Navy figures, and has a crew of over 5,500.
Witnesses said Myers immediately ordered the launch of alert fighters, but the ship’s scheduled fighter squadron was on “Alert-30” status — a minimum launch time of 30 minutes where pilots are “in the ready room” but are not sitting in cockpits waiting to be launched.
Bacon told reporters only that there “may have been a slight delay” in getting the interceptors in the air, explaining that because the Kitty Hawk was taking on fuel, it was not sailing fast enough to launch its aircraft.
One naval officer onboard the ship said, “40 minutes after the CO [commanding officer] called away the alerts,” the Russian planes “made a 500-knot, 200-foot pass directly over the tower” of the carrier.
Before the Kitty Hawk could get a single plane airborne, the Russian fighters made two more passes. Worse, witnesses said, the first plane off the deck was an EA-6B Prowler — a plane used primarily for electronic jamming of an enemy’s radar and air defenses, not a fighter capable of intercepting another warplane.
The EA-6B “ended up in a one-versus-one with a Flanker just in front of the ship,” one witness said. “The Flanker was all over his a…. He was screaming for help when finally an F/A-18 Hornet from our sister squadron got off the deck and made the intercept. It was too late.”
Naval personnel noted that “the entire crew watched overhead as the Russians made a mockery of our feeble attempt of intercepting them.”
The Clinton administration downplayed the incident …. The BBC, however, said that it was evident by the photographs taken by the Russian jets that there was “panic aboard” when the planes made their over-flights.
Our American readers will now perhaps argue that this humiliating incident happened 15 years ago and such a thing is no longer possible nowadays. But most readers of Russia Insider remember the events of April 2014 when the ultra-modern destroyer USS Donald Cook was paralyzed by a single SU-24.
For those readers who unfortunately missed the story, here it is:
At the beginning of April last year the Americans sent the USS Donald Cook into the Black Sea, with the permission of Turkey, to protest against the Russian annexation of Crimea and to demonstrate their military strength. The destroyer was equipped with the most advanced Aegis Combat System, a naval weapons systems which ensures the detection, tracking and destruction of multiple targets at the same time. In addition, the USS Donald Cook is equipped with four large radars, whose power is comparable to that of several stations. For protection, it carries more than 50 anti-aircraft missiles of various types.
According to the “Montreux Convention,” non-Black Sea state warships are permitted to stay in the Black Sea for no longer than 21 days. The Americans, of course, ignored this rule, and Russia responded by sending an SU-24. The Sukhoi was unarmed but equipped with the latest electronic warfare device, called Khibiny.
When the SU-24 approached the destroyer, all radar and control systems, information transfers, etc., of the USS Donald Cook were suddenly paralyzed by Khibiny. In other words, the seemingly superior Aegis system was completely off — like when you turn off your TV with the remote control.
Subsequently, the Sukhoi simulated 12 missile attacks at low altitude on the virtually blind and deaf USS Donald Cook, and we can imagine that the two SU-24 aircraft pilots had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, at this time there was neither John McCain nor NATO Commander Phillip Breedlove on board the ship — they would certainly have received some long-lasting impressions from this demonstration.
After this incident, the USS Donald Cook chose to immediately and at full speed move towards a port in Romania, where 27 shocked crew members asked for dismissal from the service.
This story shows us that Americans still overestimate the capabilities of their armed forces and do not realize (or do not want to admit) that Russia’s military technology is in many areas superior and has an advantage that cannot be offset quickly.
So, as long as a single Russian fighter jet can turn off a complete U.S. warship with the latest warning and fire control systems by just pushing a button, the answer to the question “How long would the U.S. Navy survive?” today is the same as in the old Cold War days.
In a War With Russia NATO Doesn’t Stand a Chance
As long as we’re talking about a war close to Russia’s borders – conversely defense-minded Russia military is no threat to the US or western Europe
This article originally appeared at The Unz Review in July of 2015, and we are running it again because of a sickening lurch towards war between Russia and NATO over the past 2 weeks. The Saker is unparalleled on this subject.
Since this article was written, the Russian armed forces have only become stronger, with new weapons systems, higher morale, and crucial battle experience in Syria.
In a recent column for the Unz Review I wrote that “under any conceivable scenario Russia does have the means to basically completely destroy the USA as a country in about 30min (the USA, of course, can do the same to Russia). Any US war planner would have to consider the escalatory potential of any military action against Russia.”
This still begs the question of whether Russia could challenge the USA militarily if we assume, for demonstration’s sake, that neither side would be prepared to use nuclear weapons, including tactical ones. If, by some mysterious magic, all nuclear weapons were to disappear, what would the balance of power between Russian and the US look like?
Why Bean Counting Makes Absolutely No SenseThe typical reply to this kind of question resorts to what US force planners call “bean counting”. Typically, journalists use the yearly IISS Military Balance or a source like Global Firepower and tallies of the number of men, main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry combat vehicles, combat aircraft, artillery pieces, bombers, missiles, surface ships, submarines, etc. presented by each side in a chart.
The reality is that such bean counting means absolutely and strictly nothing. Let’s take a simple example: if a war happens between, say, China and Russia then the fact that China has, say, 1000 tanks in its Yunnan province, will make no difference to the war at all, simply because they are too distant. When we apply this caveat to the Russian-US conventional military balance we immediately ought to ask ourselves the following two basic questions:
a) What part of the US military worldwide would be immediately available to the US commanders in case of a war with Russia?
b) On how many reinforcements could this force count and how soon could they get there?
Keep in mind that tanks, bombers, soldiers and artillery do not fight separately – they fight together in what is logically called “combined arms” battles. So even if the USA could get X number of soldiers to location A, if they don’t have all the other combined arms components to support them in combat they are just an easy target.Furthermore, any fighting force will require a major logistics/supply effort. It is all very well to get aircraft X to location A, but if its missiles, maintenance equipment and specialists are not there to help, they are useless. Armored forces are notorious for expending a huge amount of petroleum, oil and lubricants. According to one estimate, in 1991 a US armored division could sustain itself for only 5 days – after that it would need a major resupply effort.
Finally, any force that the US would move from point A to point B would become unavailable to execute its normally assigned role at point A. Now consider that “point A” could mean the Middle-East, or Far East Asia and you will see that this might be a difficult decision for US commanders.
We have one very good example of how the US operates: Operation Desert Shield. During this huge operation it took the US six months and an unprecedented logistical effort to gather the forces needed to attack Iraq.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia had been prepared for decades to receive such a massive force (in compliance with the so-called Carter Doctrine) and the US efforts was completely unopposed by Saddam Hussein. Now ask yourself the following questions:a) In case of war with Russia, which country neighboring Russia would have an infrastructure similar to the one of the KSA, prepositioned equipment, huge bases, runways, deep ports, etc. ? (Answer: none)
b) How likely is it that the Russians would give the USA six months to prepare for war without taking any action? (Answer: impossible)
One might object that not all wars run according to the “heavy” scenario of Desert Storm. What if the US was preparing a very ‘light’ military intervention using only US and NATO immediate or rapid reaction forces?
Light (or rapid reaction) warfare
I will repeat here something I wrote in December of last year:
The Russians have no fear of the military threat posed by NATO. Their reaction to the latest NATO moves (new bases and personnel in Central Europe, more spending, etc.) is to denounce it as provocative, but Russian officials all insist that Russia can handle the military threat.
As one Russian deputy said “5 rapid reaction diversionary groups is a problem we can solve with one missile”. A simplistic but basically correct formula.
As I mentioned before, the decision to double the size of the Russian Airborne Forces and to upgrade the elite 45th Special Designation Airborne Regiment to full brigade-size has already been taken anyway. You could say that Russia preempted the creation of the 10,000 strong NATO force by bringing her own mobile (airborne) forces from 36,000 to 72,000.
This is typical Putin. While NATO announces with fanfare and fireworks that NATO will create a special rapid reaction “spearhead” force of 10,000, Putin quietly doubles the size of the Russian Airborne Forces to 72,000.
And, believe me, the battle hardened Russian Airborne Forces are a vastly more capable fighting force then the hedonistic and demotivated multi-national (28 countries) Euroforce of 5,000 NATO is struggling hard to put together. The US commanders fully understand that.
In other words, “light” or “rapid reaction” warfare is where the Russians excel and not the kind of conflict the US or NATO could ever hope to prevail in. Besides, if the “light warfare” was to last longer than planned and had to be escalated to the “heavy” kind, would the USA or Russia have its heavy forces nearer?
Shock and Awe
There is, of course, another model available to the US commanders: the “shock and awe” model: massive cruise missile attacks backed by bomber strikes. Here I could easily object that bombing Russia is not comparable to bombing Iraq and that the Russian air defenses are the most formidable on the planet.
Or I could say that while the USA has an excellent record of success when bombing civilians, its record against a military force like the Serbian Army Corps in Kosovo was an abject failure.[Sidebar: 78 days of non-stop US/NATO airstrikes, 1000+ aircraft and 38,000+ air sorties and all that to achieve what? Ten or so Serbian aircraft destroyed (most on the ground), 20+ APC and tanks destroyed and 1000+ Serbian soldiers dead or wounded. That is out of a force of 130,000+ Serbian soliders, 80+ aircraft, 1,400 artillery pieces, 1,270 tanks and 825 APCs (all figures according to Wikipedia). The 3rd Serbian Army Corps basically came out unharmed from this massive bombing campaign which will go down in history as arguably the worst defeat of airpower in history!]
But even if we assume that somehow the US succeeded in its favorite “remote” warfare, does anybody believe that this would seriously affect the Russian military or breaking the will of the Russian people? The people of Leningrad survived not 78, but 900 (nine hundred!) days of a infinitely worse siege and bombing and never even considered surrendering!
The reality is that being on the defense gives Russia a huge advantage against the USA even if we only consider conventional weapons. Even if the conflict happened in the Ukraine or the Baltic states, geographic proximity would give Russia a decisive advantage over any conceivable US/NATO attack. American commanders all understand that very well even if they pretend otherwise.
Conversely, a Russian attack on the USA or NATO is just as unlikely, and for the same reasons. Russia cannot project her power very far from her borders.
In fact, if you look at the way the Russian military is organized, structured and trained, you will immediately see that it is a force designed primarily to defeat an enemy on the Russian border or within less than 1000km from it.Yes, sure, you will see Russian bombers, surface ships and submarines reaching much further, but these are also typical “showing the flag” missions, not combat training for actual military scenarios.
The sole real purpose of the US military is to regularly beat up on some small, more or less defenseless country, either in order to rob it of its resources, overthrow a government daring to defy the World Hegemon, or just to make an example of it.
The US military was never designed to fight a major war against a sophisticated enemy. Only the US strategic nuclear forces are tasked to defend the USA against another nuclear power (Russia or China) or actually fight in a major war.
As for the Russian military, it was designed to be purely defensive and it has no capability to threaten anybody in Europe, much less so the United States.
Of course, the western corporate media will continue to “bean count” US and Russian forces, but that is pure propaganda designed to create a sense of urgency and fear in the general public. The reality for the foreseeable future will remain that neither the USA nor Russia have the means to successfully attack each other, even with only conventional forces.
The only real danger left is an unprepared and unforeseen sudden escalation which will lead to a confrontation neither side wants nor is prepared for. The Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006 or the Georgian attack on Russian peacekeepers in 2008 are two scary reminders that sometimes dumb politicians take fantastically dumb decisions.
I am confident that Putin and his team would never make such a dumb decision, but when I look at the current pool of US Presidential candidates I will tell you that I get very, very frightened.