Home' Defence Review Asia : DRA March/April 2010 Contents ANTI-SUBMARINE WARFARE
STRUGGLING TO CONTAIN
THE SUBMARINE THREAT Ted Hooton / London
The Arleigh Burke class destroyer is largely an anti-air warfare ship
but they have an ASW combat system which uses the helicopter as an
extension rather than an autonomous system (Northrop Grumman).
he recent discovery of the remains of the Australian hospital
ship Centaur, torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during the
Second World War that ignored her clearly displayed markings
(markings spotted immediately by the remotely operated vehicle
which discovered the wreck), is a poignant reminder of the
importance of dominating the underwater battlespace.
It should never be forgotten that Asia’s history in the last century was
shaped by the submarine. Between 1943 and 1945 the US submarine force,
augmented by British and Dutch boats, slaughtered the Japanese merchant
fleet and isolated Tokyo from its ill-gotten territorial gains long before the
first atomic bomb descended. The lesson for Asia’s navies is that they must
be proficient in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) to ensure national survival.
It has been estimated that Asia’s submarine market alone is worth US$32
billion and around 10 countries are acquiring or will acquire some 90 boats, the
most recent being Vietnam which is buying six Kilos (Project 636) from Russia.
Vietnam joins Malaysia as a ‘new’ submarine operator and, if Bangkok has
its way, Thailand will follow suit. India, Indonesia, Pakistan, South Korea,
Singapore and Taiwan are all interested in expanding their submarine fleets
while the US Navy intends to have the majority of its submarines in the
Pacific and is slowly building up its forces. Canberra plans to double its fleet
although many regard this is a triumph of hope over experience, given the
difficulties of operating six Collins, of which no more than a third appear
operational at any one time.
The value of the submarine is its versatility; it can be used for covert
reconnaissance (increasingly using unmanned vehicles) while its offensive
weaponry includes the torpedo, surface-to-surface missiles (anti-ship and
land-attack) and mines. They are extremely difficult to detect, especially the
ever-quieter modern diesel-electric boats as even the mighty United States
Navy is discovering. In October 2006 a Chinese Song (Type 039) submarine
managed to approach the carrier USS Kitty Hawk and was only spotted by
accident by which time she was within torpedo range. The US Navy has
also found it a challenge detecting and tracking European and European-
designed submarines in its training grounds.
With the Pacific Rim’s economic prosperity
depending upon seaborne trade, the threat
from the ASW continues and this is partly
reflected in the growth of ASW forces
within the region.
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