About Cruise Missiles – more

I believe that the future of navies was written on the wall by the nazis. It just has taken a while for the technology to catch up.

It’s hard to believe but the nazis built a radio-controlled guided missile; it’s not exactly a cruise missile since it didn’t contain its own mapping and terminal guidance, but it was a pretty impressive feat for its day.

It even had that lovely 1930s German art deco design look. The designer, Herbert Wagner,[wik] was one of the German scientists who was imported secretly to the US after the war, to turn their bomb-making and nefarious skills against the Japanese. Wagner wound up at Ft Detrick, MD (where I used to hang out occasionally when I was in college) along with a host of other shady characters including, after the war, Dr. Shiro Ishii [I intend to someday do a posting about Dr Ishii and his work][but it’s depressing].

The glider bomb was piloted remotely using a multi-radio control system with a joystick. [wik] Overall, the weapons system worked pretty well – well enough to send the allies into a shitfit of producing experimental radio jammers to break the drone’s command/control channel. In use, the drone had flares on the back, so the pilot could see it and navigate it. (those are the “tail tracer unit.”)

The USS Savannah, hit by a Henschel glider bomb off Salerno

The Savannah was not sunk but was severely damaged, dead in the water, and several crew were killed (and a few spent 60+hr in watertight compartments below water while waiting for the ship to be pumped out). It was a great big reality check, like the Exocet that hit the Sheffield. When, in some future conflict, someone tags a US ship, it’s going to be a great big reality check then, too.

What’s interesting to me about this ancient war-device is that it ought to have ended the era of the flat-top right then and there. But the command/control technology was just not quite good enough to make it a long-distance threat. Nowadays, of course, radar-homing anti-ship missiles like the venerable French Exocet, which famously sank the HMS Sheffield, are a separate technology branch that continues to be developed. China, apparently, is working on anti-ship missiles with ranges in the 2,000-3,000km ballpark. Big fleets of ships look more and more like sitting ducks, to me.

What never made sense to me is that governments still build navies. Well, really only one government builds navies, anymore, and that’s because a navy is necessary for imperial force projection. The bell tolled for navies in WW2, but “big navy” is tenaciously clinging to its budget dollars.


  1. John Morales says

    What never made sense to me is that governments still build navies.

    Because they’re vulnerable?

    I already noted individual units do not operate alone; furthermore, warships’ point defences aren’t that shabby, these days.

    Also, there’s the orbital high ground.

    (Finally, you blow up the fleet, you get nuked, and all that)

  2. says

    I suspect carriers would not be all that vulnerable because they provided their own air cover, and the controlling plane could not avoid fighters. Unescorted gun ships would be a different matter. Roma was sunk by a Fritz X.

  3. says

    Honestly, the only reason the US Navy is not basically going “glug” all day every day is because nobody has the will to go and make that happen.

    I’m pretty sure I could run a project to build a widget that would knock out Arleigh Burkes at under a million bucks a pop. Float a bunch of them out in “lost containers” in the right general areas and wait. The ocean is filled with 40 foot steel boxes floating very low in the water, what’s a couple more. I don’t think I’m particularly special, I am pretty sure that there are plenty of folks who could do it. What’s needed is a budget of a couple hundred million bucks and a place to do the work. It helps that the Arleighs are ridiculously unsurvivable death traps.

    The fact that Arleigh Burkes are not falling to the ocean floor daily suggests that there are zero state-like entities that want to make that happen.

    It is possible that there are nation states with the relevant ordnance in their back pockets, handy insurance against it coming to some idiotic knock-down drag-out with ships. Possibly, just as most of the US armed forces are actually just a large and expensive sign reading “Nuh-Uh” there have been back channel communications suggesting that the US might do well to avoid direct confrontations in certain areas. It’s a bit mysterious what’s real and what’s theater.

  4. dangerousbeans says

    other shady characters including, after the war, Dr. Shiro Ishii [I intend to someday do a posting about Dr Ishii and his work][but it’s depressing].

    Hmm, Japanese sort of name, doctorate… I’ll take unethical medical experimentation on captured Chinese civilians in occupied Manchuria?

    weren’t the russians working on long range supercavitating torpedoes? which could be combined with a second airborne sprint stage once it gets close enough to the ships. kind of like a highly explosive, supersonic flying fish.

    On the topic of building navies, Australia is building submarines. i have no idea why; we don’t have nukes so they can’t be used as that sort of deterrent, and they are no use for our navy’s primary task of harassing refugees, but we’ve got em. I suppose being big, expensive, and phallic they appeal to the men in charge.

  5. says

    Hmm, Japanese sort of name, doctorate… I’ll take unethical medical experimentation on captured Chinese civilians in occupied Manchuria?

    Yep, that’s the guy. He apparently contributed his particular experience to developing the US’ offensive bioweapon program (run out of Ft Detrick) and was probably the brains behind the US’ bioweapon attack on North Korea.
    What, didn’t you know about that? :P

  6. dangerousbeans says

    Damn, i had no idea about that. I knew about various countries hiring/kidnapping(?) German engineers, but that was a guess based on general knowledge of imperial Japan and a deep lack of faith in humanity

  7. lorn says

    Back in the mid-80s my friends and I used to play a pocket game that went by the name: Grond. The conceit was the existence of huge armored tanks the size of city blocks. Armor measured in meters, turrets suitable for WW2 battleships, crewed by thousands.

    Being kids we brainstormed the basic concept. Huge tanks never made much sense but huge ships had a ring. This was when supertankers were just coming into their own. Massively thick steel armor sounds expensive and inefficient. How about fiber reinforced concrete? Find an old supertanker. Install higher performance propulsion, make everything vital massively redundant. Limit personnel and vital systems to small modular cores. Connect everything up with hollow steel tubes with heavy doors at frequent intervals. Suspend all these compartments and passageways well away from the hull and fill the spaces between modules and modules and hull with layers of high-strength fiber-reinforced concrete, lightweight concrete, and compartments filled with loose or wet sand. Wet sand can be vibrated to make it able to be transferred by pump for trim.

    Based upon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TI-class_supertanker
    At 68m abeam and 350m long you have space for 25m of layered protection sides and bottom and still leave 18m for systems. Listed at 16.5 loaded with a single frumpy 50K HP unit with modern modular propulsion pods driven by remote turbine generators we should see a substantial improvements in speed while making station keeping and maintaining steerage without a rudder far less a problem.

    This sort of protection would be almost immune to existing Exocet missiles of the 80s. More modern units wouldn’t have much of an advantage. Thousand pound bombs would blow chunks out but the beast could remain largely unaffected. Only if you used much larger weapons, or were able to land several in the same spot, would you be able to damage critical systems. At which time the redundancy would require the same feat of accuracy to be repeated many times.

    Of course while people are pounding on this beast it gets to return the favor. A modern guided missile cruiser comes in, all told, at around 10K tons. The tanker. 234Kt. In terms of weight and volumetric restrictions you could fit a fleets worth of conventional gun turrets, vertical launch systems, CIWS, and pretty much anything else you might want. Link the weapons to other ships or assets for firing solutions and you can eliminate most of those vulnerable antennas.

    It’s only a kids fancy but I have talked, many years ago, college, to several defense planners and while they may have been humoring me there seemed to be some question of how they could stop such a beast without resorting to nuclear weapons.

    Israel scrapped their large combatants in response to cruise missiles. It’s all missile and patrol boats now. Could they have gone the other way? Looking at fleets from around the world there aren’t many large guns or heavy missiles in use. Very few guns over 155mm and even the much feared Silkworm missile is carrying a warhead slightly heavier than 500Kg. Deadly against most modern warships. But against 80′ of glorified dirt, a ship designed to take a beating and keep going? I don’t know.

  8. dangerousbeans says

    seems like you could just shoot the sensors and com systems off that and just ignore it. if it doesn’t know where you are and can’t talk to the rest of it’s fleet then it’s missiles aren’t much use. hit it with the occasional missile to keep the crew’s heads down

  9. says

    You’d be surprised at how fast interior space falls off once you start adding hull thickness, and at how heavy concrete is. If the plan is to exclude the water mainly by filling the thing up with cement, that presents problems. Structural concrete is too heavy, so you’re looking at some lightweight aggregate for most of the space. That stuff hasn’t got a lot of structural use, and which tends to absorb water if it gets wet. I dunno, maybe someone’s invented a lightweight aggregate that is both waterproof (including when smashed up) and weighs less than water? There’s 80 feet of that damned thing hanging below the waterline.

    Fuel consumption also goes up really fast as speeds increase, so pumping up the volume on that front isn’t going to be. There’s a reason aircraft carriers are nuclear powered. Pushing a ship that big at 30 knots for any substantial amount of time is not practical with non-nuclear options. There’s a good reason those big pigs go slow.


    Holy shit lookit that 10,000 TEU bitch go. You’d like go 25 knots instead of 17 knots? Your fuel consumption just tripled! Ouch.

    I’d knock the propulsion pods out, bash a couple holes in one side, and wait for it to roll over.

  10. dangerousbeans says

    You could probably make a hydrophobic lightweight aggregate using aerogells. Would be bloody expensive though.

  11. says

    I’ve encountered enough informed opinions on the subject over the last few years to believe that technological advances since the second world war have rendered modern warfare between equivalent powers almost unrecognisable.

    I’m pretty sure that in the event of the US navy having to fight an enemy even close to equivalent tech it will find out how much things have changed in the last century. The strange thing is that while US military industrial influences have continued to build more and more complex and expensive weapons; the ubiquity of technology has made it entirely possible to field, for example, huge autonomous kamikaze drone swarms for a fraction of the cost. A number of ships have been disabled in the persian gulf by things too small and fast to see, let alone counter.

    The other half of the problem is that modern submarines are all but undetectable and modern torpedoes are extremely powerful and all but impossible to evade. Surface ships are unbelievably vulnerable to subsurface attacks, in wargame exercises a single sub has been able to cripple or destroy an entire carrier group.

    On the other hand it’s possibly worth considering that the purpose of the US armed forces at this moment in time is less to fight wars than it is to provide the appearance of imperial might. Aircraft carriers and their attendant fleets are impressive, and ruinously expensive. Both of which are, to certain people, ends in themselves.

  12. says

    The giant unsinkable vessel isn’t a terrible idea, for reference! The boston whaler provides a very useful reference here. It’s a work boat that has enough closed-cell foam involved in its construction that it can’t sink.

    You have maybe three problems to solve:

    First, the thing has to remain structurallly viable when you blow big chunks off it.
    Two, it has to remain afloat, ditto.
    Three, it should retain some maneuvering ability.

    I think a viable approach would be to fill the interior first with a large scale honeycomb structure (or similar) designed to retain structural integrity. Steel, perhaps, for this. Then fill the voids mostly with a closed cell foam with a lot of fire retardant. Some voids, some “cells” in the structure, would be where you’d keep all your ship stuff, and guns, and people, and whatnot.

    I feel like a myriad of of tunnel drives, to keep propulsion highly redundant and also tucked up more or less inside the ship might be something to look in to.

    Essentially you wind up with a gigantic surfboard.

  13. cvoinescu says

    Link the weapons to other ships or assets for firing solutions and you can eliminate most of those vulnerable antennas.

    I know exactly how this project would be implemented. We already have* software that does* exactly that. It just needs to be tweaked slightly* to work for your floating F-35 too. Always easier* to adapt and reuse existing*, proven* software.

    * These words represent slight exaggerations of actual, current fact.

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