How Can a Cheap Submarine Sink an Expensive Military Aircraft Carrier?
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How Can a Cheap Submarine Sink an Expensive Military Aircraft Carrier?


Just off the coast of California a hunt is
underway. American cruisers and the USS Ronald Reagan
aircraft carrier ply the deep Pacific waters, and underneath a Los Angeles class nuclear
attack submarine prowls for its quarry. Overhead, anti-submarine warfare helicopters
buzz around the carrier battle group, routinely stopping to dip their hanging sonar into the
water and listen for the sub everyone is hunting for. Poseidon aircraft fly overhead, their powerful
magnetic anomaly sensors scouring the sea beneath the big planes. Thousands of eyes are glued to electronic
screens, or scouring the sea with binoculars. Just three miles away from the mighty USS
Ronald Reagan, a slender periscope breaks the surface. It snaps four photos of the big aircraft carrier,
and then sinks once more beneath the waves. It’s mission has been achieved, the tiny Swedish
submarine has successfully penetrated all the various layers of American anti-submarine
defense and scored a simulated hit on the Ronald Reagan. This wargame occurred in 2005, after the US
Navy struck a deal with Sweden to lease the submarine and her crew for participation in
major anti-submarine warfare war games. If the scenario had been a real war time condition,
the small Gotland class submarine would have definitely scored hits on the Ronald Reagan,
though with her relatively small torpedoes and limited number of launch tubes, it’s unlikely
the massive Reagan would have been sunk or even declared a mission kill. Still, when you’re operating the world’s largest
supercarriers, and each carrier is home to more firepower than many country’s entire
air forces, you don’t want to be taking unnecessary risks. The bigger question however is how did this
small Swedish sub even manage to penetrate through the many rings of security supposed
to protect the most powerful warships in the world? Immediately after the end of World War II,
a fierce debate over the future of American firepower erupted at the highest levels of
military leadership. The US Navy insisted that big aircraft carriers
were the best tools for projecting American firepower, while the newly created Air Force
insisted that its B-36 long range bomber program was in fact the best fit. After many hearings, Congress eventually sided
with the Air Force, and a planned expansion of aircraft carriers was cancelled. However during the Korean War the close air
support made available by aircraft carrier assets convinced the country that aircraft
carriers were indeed a critical way of projecting power forward, and a new emphasis on their
construction began. As the Cold War evolved, the Soviet Union
greatly feared the growing threat of American carriers. Once the US developed nuclear weapons small
enough to be equipped by carrier-based planes, those fears were intensified. This led them to aggressively pursue the use
of nuclear submarines in order to hunt and kill American carriers in the event of war. The US was well aware of this threat, and
its intelligence on Soviet submarines was far better than the Soviet Union ever truly
knew. Thus America quickly developed the most robust
anti-submarine warfare capability in the world, and the US was so confident it could defeat
Soviet subs, that aircraft carriers played prominent roles in war plan offensives against
the Soviet Union. When the Cold War ended though, the US Navy
found itself armed to the teeth for a war that never came, and with no significant opponent
that could match the level of readiness the Soviet Union had forced the US Navy to maintain. China was a growing problem, but its navy
was- and remains today- decades behind in capabilities to the US, and its own submarines
are so notoriously loud that sonar operators have described Chinese subs as “washing
machines being dragged behind a pick-up truck down a gravel road”. With no significant threat to American carriers,
the US’s anti-submarine warfare capabilities began to atrophy, and this only worsened with
the retirement of the S-3 Viking patrol aircraft and the Oliver Hazard Perry class of frigates,
both key tools in the Cold War navy’s anti-submarine warfare toolkit. To make matters worse, the launch of the dual
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan saw the Navy shift its focus from blue water naval operations,
to coastal support roles, lending their surface and undersea firepower to land units in need
of fire support. Budgets, and technology, were invested in
giving Navy vessels improved ability to target and destroy land targets and better support
ongoing shore-based operations. Under the waves though, the American sub fleet
was being slowly neglected, and it wouldn’t be until President Obama’s second term that
a big investment in submarine purchases would see a growing gap in available vessels finally
start to shrink. By 2005 it was growing increasingly obvious
that China wasn’t content to let the current balance of power in the South Pacific rest
as it had for decades, and its aggressive and illegal seizure of maritime territory
belonging to its neighbors proved to the US that China could very quickly become the US
Navy’s public enemy number one. While Chinese submarines were decades behind
in stealth technology, many international ship builders were starting to produce new
models of diesel-electric submarines that could threaten America’s big carriers. Despite these threats, the US Navy had allowed
its anti-submarine warfare capabilities atrophy to disastrous levels. It was time to make a change. First though, the Navy had to determine what
kind of a threat these new Air Independent diesel-electric submarines posed to modern
carriers. A relatively new development, air independent
diesel-electric subs bridge the endurance gap between nuclear submarines and traditional
diesel subs. Nuclear submarines are notoriously difficult
to run silently, and the US Navy has spent billions on research into quieting the many
very noisy systems that keep a nuclear reactor running smoothly. The constant need for water as coolant to
be pumped into the reactor for instance is one hurdle that the US Navy has long cleared,
but navies such as Russia’s own never quite did. China, for all intents and purposes, never
even made it out of the starting block in this regard. By comparison though, a diesel electric submarine
runs perfectly silent when it is under water. That’s because these subs use air-breathing
diesel engines while on the surface of the ocean to charge massive banks of batteries,
and then turn their engines off and cruise the depths on battery power alone, completely
eliminating all the potential noise of a nuclear sub. Yet this ability comes with the obvious drawback
that a diesel sub will very quickly have to resurface in order to run its engines and
replenish its batteries, and this has traditionally limited the endurance of diesel subs to just
days. A new development in diesel submarines though
has resulted in what is known as ‘air independent’ propulsion systems, in which the diesel engines
can still be run even while under water. Typically liquid oxygen is mixed with an inert
gas and pumped into the engines so that they can burn the diesel as fuel, and then waste
gases are vented into the ocean. Thus this new generation of diesel subs can
recharge their batteries while underwater, and not give themselves away by having to
surface every two to three days. An AIP diesel sub can have an endurance of
up to two weeks, which is far and away better than any other diesel submarine to date. This increased endurance has made diesel submarines
a threat to ships operating in deep waters, as in the past there was little threat from
diesel subs getting anywhere near the depths that an aircraft carrier might operate from,
as they simply didn’t have the endurance. Now AIP diesel subs offer a cheap alternative
to nations wishing to build a fleet capable of striking in deep waters, with an AIP diesel
sub running anywhere from $100 to $500 million dollars, or about a quarter the price of a
nuclear submarine. In 2005 the US got to see for itself just
how effective these small, lethal boats were, and though details of the war games remain
classified, it is rumored that the Gotland and its Swedish crew managed to score many
hits and even some kills on US vessels during the one year it was on lease to the US. In fact the United States went so far as to
lease the sub and its crew for an additional year, as it carefully studied the capabilities
of the sub and developed strategies to defeat this new generation of quiet, stealthy diesel-electric
subs. The result of the two years of war games was
an increased focus on America’s seriously flagging anti-submarine warfare capabilities,
and the development of new tools such as autonomous sub-hunting drone ships now in active duty
service. With the threat of a possible conflict with
China in the South China Sea, the US Navy is no longer taking any chances in the realm
of undersea warfare, and its traditional edge in anti-submarine warfare is once more being
honed. Yet just how vulnerable are big ships such
as a modern supercarrier to this new generation of small, stealthy diesel-electric subs? Well, even the best equipped navy in the world
is going to have trouble dealing with submarines. It is notoriously difficult to locate and
track submarines beneath the waves, and thus the best defense that a modern carrier has
is to simply stay on the move at all times. An American supercarrier has a cruising speed
of about 35 knots, which is approximately the top speed of most submarines. By staying on the move, a sub will have a
very difficult time getting close enough to get a firing solution, or will have to burn
up its fuel or energy reserves in order to keep up. For a nuclear powered sub this isn’t a problem,
but for a diesel electric submarine this poses a huge issue, and is the reason why the US
Navy has always opted for nuclear power. Yet a diesel-electric sub such as Sweden’s
Gotland doesn’t have to catch up with a carrier if it can instead simply wait directly in
its path. This might be tough for a country with a small
submarine fleet such as Sweden to do in a real war, as aircraft carriers routinely make
abrupt course adjustments for just this reason. Yet a large enough group of submarines could
potentially spread out over a large enough area that the big carrier will eventually
be moving in one of their directions. With its engines powered off and resting still
and silent, a submarine is practically undetectable, and it can simply sit still and wait until
it has a firing solution on the approaching carrier, fire off its torpedoes, and then
quickly make its escape. Smaller submarines such as the Gotland and
its limited number of torpedo tubes and smaller warheads are unlikely to destroy a big supercarrier,
as they would be detected immediately upon opening fire and sunk themselves in return
if they didn’t flee as soon as they launched their opening volley. Yet larger diesel-electric subs can carry
more torpedo tubes with larger warheads, and these pose a significant threat to big surface
ships. Not impossible to detect, or defend from by
any means, small, cheap diesel-electric submarines nevertheless pose a significant threat to
any surface ship, and especially so when a navy has allowed its anti-submarine warfare
training and capabilities both to atrophy. Do you think the US Navy should invest in
diesel-electric subs over the big, expensive nuclear powered subs? Are aircraft carriers simply too big a target
to risk operating anymore? Let us know in the comments! And as always if you enjoyed this video don’t
forget to Like, Share, and subscribe for more great content!

100 Comments

  • Bhagat kulkarni

    I think the US should use the money in making subs and do away with carriers…it's pointless spending so much money on something so vulnerable….. submarines are easily more valuable and cheaper than a carrier…..the US is spending so much money again to keep the carrier safe which has honestly speaking limited capabilities

  • rumchjoe

    Can anyone help me understand something. At 6:17 the video says the Swedish submarine has a new system called "air independent propulsion system" that allows it to run the diesel engine underwater and therefore keep charging the propulsion batteries and stay undetectable. My question is – if the diesel engine is running then it would make noise and make the sub detectable – right / wrong? Thanks!

  • Daniel Paterson

    Are you kidding, this guy has no clue on ASW.

    It was an exercise, you force these close events for TRAINING.

    Only 2 subs in war since ww2 have sunk anything. Hint none were aircraft carriers, as that one stayed in port.

  • Edward Corbin

    Yes the USA should invest in a few of these new diesel submarines. They can be cheaper to run and operate without the cost of nuclear waste disposal

  • Ryan Rahebi

    Honestly though all you need is a to put a fish (torpedo) in the right spot…say you launch a wire guided fish and steer the weapon to the carrier just detonate it in the wake of a supercarrier and the carriers own engines become its demise…as the sheer force of the detonation alone unbalances screws due to blade loss leading to a massive amount of torque on the shaft leading up to the reduction gears and turbines eventually destroying the engine and causing massive flooding in the engineering spaces…which is one of the most vulnerable spots on a carrier…or a rogue anti ship missile impacting just off the end of the flight deck in between the third and 4th catapults will weaken the structural integrity of the carrier as to take it out of the fight lest it remains on station and eventually combat fatigue eventually cracks the carrier like a pumpkin exposing her to the sea…or the carriers stack (island) knock that out and command and control of a carrier is lost how that’s done well to be honest I haven’t really thought about that to be honest…but do you all agree with my assessment why or why not let’s get a discussion going about this because my very first love will always be the United States Navy and Marine Corps and hindsight is 20/20 vision…and unless we learn from history we are inevitably bound to repeat it

  • Maximilian John

    I think the best way for the US are attack subs (equipped with weapons against other subs, surface vessels, short ranged air targets and also cruise missiles against land targets) in a similar matter of technology and tactics like the gotland class.
    And for keeping this attack subs even longer under water the old cruiser tactic concept of ships only tasked with supplying offensive combating naval vessel should be placed on to this topic. A huge sub with lots of diesel, LOX (for the stirling engine of the attack subs), food, weapon re supply stocks,.. which is staying all the time under the water surface, powered with nuclear reactors and just little offense but too a much more extent defensive weapons are the best strategy to counter the naval threats of the future.

    These supply subs used by the german navy in WW2 were quite successful – they called it Milchkuh (original translated milkcow) – relatively to the german navies total 'success'.

  • Rios Salvajes

    New silent "black hole" subs are only one problem. The range and speed of modern Russian antiship missiles simply negate the utility of an aircraft carrier and its planes.

  • Alberto La Fauci

    During wargames also the Walrus (dutch), Saphir (french) and Todaro (Italian) succesfully targeted an aircraft carrier (always the Uss Roosevelt). The last two are equipped with Black Shark Heavy torpedos, so, in the real thing, in case of 4 hits if it doesn't sink is at least severely incapacitated to continue the mission.

  • P GR

    Asymmetric warfare is very dangerous for expensive large military assets like carriers. You built a carrier for $5 billion. Great, I can build 100 mini subs each packed with enough explosives to sink it for $50 million (1/100th the cost) and it is extremely unlikely you'll be able to stop all of them if I choose a decent moment to attack.

  • That1germanbritishrussianusamericanGuy

    Forgot to mention it was a submarine of a german company. It uses a german silenced engine and a special coating to make it almost invisibel to all eyes and machines.

  • sharp knife

    You "forgot" to mention nuclear warheads on torpedoes. In an actual shooting war, these small subs could carry one or two small nuclear armed torpedoes which could easily take out an aircraft carrier, and escape during the noise of the explosions and ship crumpling as it sank. During war, all bets are off.

  • Cameron Renwick

    Maybe super carriers are a thing of the past like the big battleships?
    How about small (cheaper) stealthy carriers that can only carry a few jets?
    It would be a much smaller target and still be effective.

  • Ho Chi Wang

    This the reason why both China and NK have the largest submarine fleet in the world. China will destroy all the US aircrafts carriers  that they sent to attack China  in the south China sea, from three way, sub, anti ship missiles and air strike.

  • JR

    Atlest have a Gotland submarine in your graphic arts….particularly then you show a schematic and a text under it saying "Small Gotland class submarine"

  • Richard East

    Yep the Gotland class are the ones the the Australian Colin's class are built on except ours are extra long range and give the US Navy nightmares on exercise. Our new Attack class subs will be a whole other level, go hard deisal electric subs

  • noble jose

    I don't think so, they come as fleet with full protection. Aircraft carrier work as a mobile military base that always take risk assment to protect it at any cost. Countries won't spend billion's dollars to simply sink in the middle of the Sea. All the aircraft carrier fleet must have one or two submarine's for protection apart from number of small battle ship's.

  • Aiden Daniels

    For anti-submarine warfare. Could the USA put huge nets around the sides to stop the torpedos from hitting the actual carrier and instead hit the nets?

  • Alyasa Gan

    Undersea water drone can hassle the warship and render it useless. They can create signals so the warship would fire on it and making it a nightmare if there are so many drones.

  • RunsWithBears

    A lot of time is spent in this video bashing on Chinese submarines, but I guess they didn't read about the incident in 2006 where a Chinese Song-class submarine pulled the same trick the Swedish Gotland did.

  • Suleiman The Magnificent

    Is it even possible?
    Because I know that the Aircraft's radar can detect any kind of danger from 500 miles under water…..
    Strange!!

  • Hasses Garage

    Whoever made this video has no idea how these Swedish / German submarines work. Even less how American warships couldn't find the submarine …

  • NeoXenoZ

    US Navy: Has just every anti-submarine vehicles and equipment on guard to protect USS Reagan
    Gotland Class Submarine: I'm about to end this man's whole career

  • Grey M&Ms

    Guess its time for the US to prepare once more for conventional warfare. Just in case China wants to have a go and their Ships and all are starting to be a threat.

  • mr ed

    A dutch sub did the same (S802 walrus ) at a nato/us exercise (1999 . the theodore roosevelt cvn-71 and 8 other warships ) and …… got away

  • black star

    I wonder if the newest lasers work underwater?If so, torpedoes would get picked off easily as soon as detected.The new defense lasers coming out have already made the Russian hyper sonic anti ship missiles obsolete, if capable of underwater firing, I can't see why the same wouldn't hold true for underwater fired threat ordinance.

  • Non Merci

    You should repeat the word atrophy a bit more, I quite didn't get what the US did to its anti-submarine warfare training and capabilities.

  • Just A Fisher

    1:54
    Infographic Show : while the newly created air force insisted that it's B-36
    also Infographic Show : Shows The B-52

    3:47 How dafuq that Sukhoi-27 throws a freakin ww2 torpedo to the city?

  • Fung Chi Leung

    Aircraft carrier is too expensive for a country to bear ! The money can be use to build more infrastructure in the country ! But America have to maintain a threatening power for the whole world to see ! All it can do is to drain the pocket and even advance loan of his citizen by issue bonds and have the citizen to repaid the loan in future ! They are cheating their citizen without they even knowing it ! The military actually kidnapped America and the people's pocket !

  • Ryan Sayer

    Well, historically planes and boats have been weaponized for suicide attacks in the past, an enemy could use subs in the same manner in the future, then there is the possibility of suicide drones as well…

  • joe claridy

    This is what happens when you let your skills that were honed over decades degrade. At the very beginning the narrator was spot on, we've allowed many capabilities go by the wayside since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Thankfully in recent years DOD has made efforts to refocus on peer and near peer large scale warfare and tactics. I don't see this as a hindrance but as a wake up call for the DOD to get back to the level of readiness we've had throughout the Cold War.

  • Jonathan Hansen

    At his retirement in 1982 Admiral Hiram Rickover, father of the Nuclear Submarine Navy, was called to testify before congress. One of the questions he was asked was how long did he think American carriers would last in an all out war with the Soviet Union? He answered “maybe three days”.

  • John Ishmael

    At the beginning of this video those 2 ships looks Russian in origin and Cobra gunships aren't tasks for Anti-Submarine warfare or is equipped to do so.

  • The TechMarine-Librarian

    didn't an italian sub did the same in 2008? i mean the sub (Salvatore Todaro) still as the photo of the carrier (Theodore Roosevelt) on it.
    it took the photo at 7km and italian torpedos have a 50km range

  • Phantom Aviator

    Its easy. Just surface directly under the carrier with a Typhoon class. It may sink you too, but you got through and they can't launch a counter attack without harming the carrier itself.

  • Philip Ferris

    Just think about the obsolete swordfish biplane that crippled the bismark. Also before the navy says we have eliminated the diesel threat let the Israelize and the Germans have a go at our carriers in war games with their new diesel subs otherwise I think the aircraft carriers are sitting ducks

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