Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Ocean Security : Physical constraints on force projection at sea

As indicated earlier there are significant physical and economic constraints on a voyage at sea. These constraints apply equally to the party creating a threat and the party seeking to contain a threat.  In order to understand the delicate relationship between the threat and mitigation options, we examine the various types of threats that can emanate from the sea.

Broadly speaking one can classify the threats as follows

  1. Threats against a surface asset - using sea based assets to board, seize or sink a surface ship.
  2. Threats to a land based asset - using sea based asset to project force on land.
  3. Threats to the airspace - using sea based assets to project force against an object in the air or in space. 
  4. Threats against submarine targets - using sea based assets to destroy or damage submarine communication and surveillance mechanisms.  
While there are a number of ways in which a threat may be actualized, there are significant physical constraints on any kind of force projection from the sea. These constraints are discussed below.

Sighting the target : Before one launches any kind of attack from the sea, one has to know where the target is relative to oneself. This is much harder than it sounds. The sea is featureless and without a well developed navigational infrastructure it is easy to lose sight of the target. This problem is easily compounded if the weather is bad, or if the target is beyond visual range or if the target is mobile. Given that there is no fool proof way of sighting the enemy - there is an element of chance here that cannot be avoided. Advances in surveillance technologies (Radar, Sonar, IR, Satellite or Drone based imaging) have helped to some extent, but the fog of war remains quite dense and orientation is big enough issue that they still spend a lot of time in Naval schools on it. 

The problem of perfect positioning at sea: Unlike land, the sea is constantly in motion. The position of the asset is not constant relative to the target (or any other convenient fixed external frame of reference). So even in the limit where the position of the target is known, the point from where the attack is to be launched is moving - and the distance between the target and the point of attack is changing in unanticipated ways. The most common result of this source of error is poor accuracy. This is why naval conflicts usually involve extremely large quantities of unguided munitions being expended before even a single target is hit. Most of the shots miss. This is true even when the launch platform on a ship is stabilized, most stabilization systems can only compensate for so much drift or random motion. Things are changing now that navies everywhere are slowly shifting to guided munitions and increasing their reliance on observer based guidance. However for a majority of players in the world the problem of perfect positioning is a difficult and expensive one to solve. 

So where does this leave us when it comes to project force at sea?

What applies for the attacker - applies equally well to the defender. 

The attacker/defender in the context of sea based battle must correctly size up the distance to their target and position themselves perfectly to launch a strike. As neither of those steps are easy - errors creep in and grow in unanticipated ways (whether you are launching an unguided shell or an SLBM is irrelevant).

These errors add costs to the basic voyage costs described in my earlier posts and make the entire notion of sea-based conflicts hostage to intense cost benefit calculations. 


At 6:54 AM, Blogger Ralphy said...

the problem for the US Navy is the IRBM anti carrier missiles. Those missiles can out reach a carrier. Therefore a carrier must depend upon its destroyers and submarines cruise missiles to salvo the IRBM sites first. This is an unlikely scenario for the US.

Thus the dilemma of getting an A/C carrier group sacrificed on the opening of the conflict. A sore point of 1000's of lives just to serve as a trip wire so to speak.

Of course after the initial loss the nature of the war completely changes to one of low earth orbit space war killing satellites to blind the enemy. Then the subs and destroyer can do their cruise missile thing backed up air dominance of a carrier group. But the initial sacrifice of 1000's must be paid for this scenario.

At 9:50 AM, Blogger maverick said...

I am slowly working up to various aspects of ocean security.

In the next post I want to get into the matter of securing against submarine attack.

After that I will go into the problems of air dominance over the sea.


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