Monday, June 02, 2008

Maritime Strategy Monday: DDGN and Strategic Risk

This post should be shorter than the title suggests. Maybe.

Rep. Taylor (D-MS) and some of the other nuclear power lovers have been running fairly strong over the last year, encouraged by the oil bump, to push the concept of nuclear power for more than SSN and CVN.

We have the ABM CBGN idea, OK. CGN Cruisers and CBGN Battle Cruisers nuking their time away in deep water with their CVN Carrier buddies and SSN/SSGN/SSBN sub-buddies - sure. But; are we sure we want something we call a Destroyer nuking it way around the firing line - giving and taking fire with the enemy like any honest ship should be ready to? Really? Inside the useful NSFS range of the 5" pea-shooter we "arm" our major surface combatants with? Really?

One thing people don't really talk about much should be talked about. Remember the major reason we found the TITANIC? Yep, needed to check out the SCORPION and THRESHER nuke plants to see how they are doing after a few years.

I don't know about you, but I always get a bit twitchy about having CVN/SSN too shallow and close to shore in confined bodies of water like the Persian/Arabian Gulf and such. Nosomuch because of their ability to get that long boat around. No, those pros do that just fine - as a matter of fact some of the place they go would make a eel proud. No, what I think about is what we do know. We know what a heavy-weight torpedo can do. We know what a moored mine can do, old-school ASW weapons and others can do co cause major damage. We also know it is a lot easier to kill a surface ship, especially a smallish one, than it is to kill a SSN. We have post-WWII gotten quite spoiled - the enemy rarely shoots back at the USN.

Ships get sunk. Ships get broken in half. Picture a nuclear powered surface ship that, in some combat related event (that still happens at sea you know) in a confined shallow water or environmentally sensitive area results in the its reactor cracking open or creating a significant nuclear spill - not to mention one bubb'l away in 10 fathoms. Is is one thing thousands of feet down in the middle of the ocean, it is quite another to be stuck in the middle of someone's fishing ground.

Some nations, like New Zealand, already have an issues with ships that may or may not have nuclear weapons getting near their territorial waters. Imagine a DDGN split in two and spilling nutreons 12nm off of Dubai? You think having to drop anchor off a port is bad just because you ship has an "N" in its name - you ain't seen nut'n yet. Would anyone fault closing the entire Gulf to any nuclear powered ship of any nation? Like the politics of that? Like the other potential issues with that?

We have been very good and very lucky with out nuclear powered ships - but no one can tell me that any of our thin skinned ships and their nuclear plants could take a SS-N-22 or her more modern sisters hit intact. Seriously. Even if it did - imagine the problems we would have getting our ships where we want if one of our reactors was responsible for nuclear contamination - anywhere near shore or off.

It is a risk that has always been there - an acceptable risk - and one we have had good success with. Would we put a DDGN in the same danger as we put the
USS PRINCETON or USS TRIPOLI? If they were nuclear, would that have impacted our risk assessment? How does that impact the ability of you to put your ships in harm's way - after one reactor was throwing neutrons around in 16 meters of water - the depth the PRINCETON was hit.

Forget the potential financial impact of DDGN's cost on our already stressed shipbuilding budget - think about the things no one wants to talk about. That isn't just Tactical or Operational Risk - that is Strategic Risk if you happen to be a navy that has put a "N" on its major Tiffany Navy ships that no one would let, even in peace, get near their shore.

Ponder. I could be all wet here, but ponder. Less likely things happen on a regular basis in this line of work. War changes all equations. Ponder.


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