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In my setting, rail guns, point defence lasers and supersonic missiles are the weapons of choice. What I'm wondering is, how do these weapons change modern naval warfare. More specifically, ship design, engagement ranges, and general tactics and doctrine.

For the sake of simplicity, let's assume the technological challenges have been solved.

Edit: The missiles would be the surface to suborbit to surface variety. And only because they have a large carbon nose cone to survive reentry and laser fire. Anything else is blasted by the laser. They are also expensive compared to the rail gun and laser. And that's not accounting kinetic defence systems.

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  • $\begingroup$ The existence of the missiles implies that the laser point defenses are pretty rubbish. What's the point of them? $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Nov 15 '19 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking that the missiles would be the surface to orbit to surface variety. and only because they have a large carbon nose cone to survive reentry and laser fire. Any thing else is blasted by the laser. And they are expensive compared to the rail gun and laser. and that's not accounting kinetic defence systems. $\endgroup$ – Seraphim Nov 15 '19 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ Ahh, right... not naval missiles per se, but genera surface-launched ASAT jobbies. Right, that makes more sense. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Nov 15 '19 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ I have actually retired from the Navy and we have these things, except the lasers are armor-piercing Phalanx CIWS systems that will cut your supersonic missile in half. And the missiles you describe are called Harpoons. The missile hits the target from directly above, punches completely through the ship, then detonates underneath it. This usually splits the ship in half. They don't go into orbit because we don't need to but they do go high into the stratosphere. If there were a good reason for going into orbit, that's not a problem. We have missiles which travel over mach 5. $\endgroup$ – Vogon Poet Nov 16 '19 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ And your missile's carbon nose is useless against depleted uranium rounds hitting it at 3,000 per second. At least that's what we have today $\endgroup$ – Vogon Poet Nov 16 '19 at 4:25

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In a state of warfare like this, ships would be incredibly obsolete. The technologies you mentioned would—as Willik stated—be catastophic to the entire endeavor of naval warfare in their own right, but I think that the implications of those technologies quite easily allow for anti-naval strategies even more devastating.

Take, for example, the extensive use of suborbital ballistic missiles—for all intents and purposes, ICBMs. If the technology and resources existed to mass produce such missiles on a scale where they could become a dominating force in naval warfare, the same advanced rocketry could be used to launch kinetic orbital strike platforms. I think that a 200 tonne tungsten rod dropping out of the sky at massive velocity and shattering the largest capital ship on the waters would quickly put an end to naval warfare. If accuracy would prove to be a limiting factor, there are still options available. The most devastating that comes to mind would be the use of tungsten rods with a dopant of relatively lower melting point and/or relatively higher thermal expansion irregularly incorporated during the sintering process, such that they would shatter into thousands of pieces in the low stratosphere. A close call with a fragmentary payload would have the same net result as a perfect bullseye with a solid one, except it wouldn't just sink the capital ship, it'd rip to shreds the entire fleet and any particularly unfortunate aircraft that happened to be accompanying.

If orbital lazy dog cluster munitions seem a bit too, uh, warcrime-y for the scenario you're envisioning, I have another notion for dealing with any accuracy issues, by letting the enemy calibrate the drop for you. By launching multiple long range, small scale (although perhaps appearing to be large scale with the use of advanced corner reflectors, IR emitters, etc.) missile strikes on a valuable primary target, they would be spurred to block with point defense systems, lasers, and the whole shebang. This gives you about 30 minutes of radar, lasers, and chatter lighting up the electromagnetic spectrum with all the data you need to determine the position, heading, and speed of the target to infentissemal accuracy—enough to split an aircraf carrier straight in half from orbit, even if the initial rocket attack was a ploy with cheap dummy loads.

Any of these orbital strike tactics would no doubt be very costly, but they are absolutely feasible within the framework you've provided, and they have the special characteristic that they would change the entire nature of warfare even if you only used them once. Or, not at all.

Then, there's railguns. Hmm. I have to assume that a ship equipped with such is carrying a tremendously powerful nuclear reactor on board, as there's not really any other feasible way to provide the necessary energy. This seems like a potential misallocation of resources. Once railguns are refined to a level near what would be necessary for ship to ship engagement, their range will only be restricted by the energy available. Why not then instead place the railguns on land and provide them a far larger power supply capable of striking ships from land? This gets uncomfortable very fast. Imagine coastal artillery in Maryland capable of continuously shelling the Straits of Gibraltar. Boats aren't looking that great.

As a last afterthought, it would be potentially devastating to exploit an opponent's laser weapons systems against them. One method that comes to mind is the clever use of electromagnetic absorbance peaks. If I were in a situation, let's say, where I've been launching missiles at an enemy vessel only to have them shot down by lasers, and I measured the frequency of the beams to be around 2.5 MHz, I'd be thrilled to ditch the expensive warheads, guidance systems, and adjustment thrusters, and cheerily launch a tremendous salvo of unguided dummy rockets carrying nothing but giant wads of plasticized propylene glycol. As soon as being hit by electromagnetic energy in that bandwidth, the glycol would superheat and expand extremely abruptly, turning into gigantic clouds of flaming, viscous aerosol on the exact same trajectory and with the same, if not greater, velocity. There are other chemical compounds that would produce devastating results as well, and in response to other wavelengths, I just have some particularly shocking memories as to the behavior of that particular chemical when exposed to microwave radiation, and the scars to prove it.

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    $\begingroup$ Your orbital strike scenario is not wrong, but it does overlook the simple fact that we currently have missiles that can shred orbital infrastructure with saturation attacks. The major powers will force instantiate a Kessler event if this kind of threat is suspected. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Nov 22 '19 at 6:24
  • $\begingroup$ To be honest, that scenario will NOT be accuracy-limited for missiles. Current generation missiles are already far more accurate than required for destroying capital ships. $\endgroup$ – Gloweye Nov 28 '19 at 8:10
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Nothing on the surface.

In this scenario, topside ships of any size are sitting ducks. If your oceangoing vessels are going to survive they need to all be subsurface where a thick blanket of water protects against lasers, railguns and missiles.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not a bad thought. You'll still probably want stuff on the surface, though they're unlikely to be ships intended to engage other ships, but more like support vessels, I guess. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Nov 15 '19 at 21:30
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    $\begingroup$ So these ships would essentially be u-boats or semisubmersible ships. Launching drones to scout the area for targets. Rise, fire rail guns or missiles with lasers on standby, then submerge immediately. Sounds like a mix between ww2 naval combat and whac-a-mole. $\endgroup$ – Seraphim Nov 16 '19 at 0:07
  • $\begingroup$ You could have extensible turrets that are poked out of the sea, fired and retracted. No reason to have the whole boat rise out of the ocean. $\endgroup$ – Borgh Nov 20 '19 at 12:46
  • $\begingroup$ That's the overall direction warfare goes to since previous century - the one who's best at hiding wins. Submarines, snipers, stealth bombers, landmines, ballistic missile silos, bacterial weapons all pursue the goal of being able to hit while completely avoiding detection. $\endgroup$ – ZuOverture Nov 26 '19 at 5:40
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Perhaps there would be an increased emphasis on stealth and other methods of cloaking or generating disinformation as to the whereabouts of a warship. Because a supersonic missile is useless if the enemy ship can't be detected or tracked.

Electronic warfare would be particularly important. If an enemy can be detected before they can detect you then the enemy would probably be doomed.

The timing of engagements would also be very short lived and highly automated. Enemy ships could be detected, multiple missiles fired, counter measures switched to maximum, decoys activated and the enemy ship destroyed utterly in less than a second.

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In some ways, naval combat would go back to how it was pre-WW2. If you have lasers capable of reliably intercepting hypersonic anti-ship cruise missiles (such as the upcoming BrahMos-II) then aircraft that have to carry meatbags have no hope. No aircraft carriers, though ships might reasonably expect to carry drones for reconnaisance use. The maximum range of a railgun round is going to be a few hundred miles, max, and you'll need a good firing solution on the target to hit it at that range. That's a far cry from autonomous hypersonic fire-and-forget antiship cruise missiles or long range strike aircraft, so ships at sea will be much safer than they are now.

Lasers and railguns need power, and lots of it. Bigger ships mean beefier weapons. The ineffectiveness of antiship missiles mean that smaller ships no longer have effective long-range means of assaulting larger ships, so if you want to take out a battleship, you'll be needing your own battleship.

Big railguns can hit targets over the horizon, but you'll need to be able to spot your targets first. Hopefully your recon drones will be able to do that without getting shot down themselves. Even high altitude reconnaisance aircraft are vulnerable if you can strike targets in orbit, so there's a bit of a visibility gap... satellites could help, but you don't want to risk filling orbital space with debris if the first phase of any conflict is to shoot down everyone's recon satellites. Possibly there will be large constellations of small recon satellites that are resilient to damage (because they're tiny and hopefully cheap and you'd need to take em all out to blind your opponent). Possibly ASAT missiles will be backed up by sensor-blinding lasers for soft kills.

Increased stealthing will make it harder for ships to be stopped from afar, luring reconnaisance drones in closer where they can be more easily spotted and dispatched by point defense.

I suspect the next-gen US navy ships like the Zumwalt class might be a taste of things to come:

USS Zumwalt

The Lyndon B. Johnson has been built such that its conventional(ish) cannon may be swapped out for a railgun.

I guess the tricky bit will be working out how things work for submarines. Modern antisubmarine tactics often involve some kind of air support, and that's still practical when you're defending yourself because there probably isn't any enemy point defense immediately available. I honestly have no idea how modern antisubmarine tactics work, or how effective modern attack submarines may be... there aren't many actual combats involving them. I'll just halfheartedly wave my hands and say things in that regard probably won't change a whole lot (and given their short range supercavitating torpedoes are unlikely to decisively tip the balance).

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The USS Virginia and the Indian Navy's Arihant-class submarines provide a hint of what the future might hold. While notionally attack submarines (SSN), they actually have the ability to carry and fire strategic weapons. The Virginia displaces 7000 tons, while the Arihant displaces about 6000 tons.

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Arihant-class submarine

Couple this to the ability of the submarine vessels to network to sensors carried by unmanned vessels, UAV's overhead and satellite vehicles like the X-37, and the name of the game in naval warfare becomes a very deadly game of hide and seek. The submarine has the persistence to remain on station for a period of weeks or months, meaning there is an unseen threat out there, capable of striking targets at sea or along the coast in a matter of minutes if it is carrying hypersonic missiles.

enter image description here

Unmanned surface platform for sensing and communicating with the submarines

The counter will be an equally extensive network of sensors, connected to high speed platforms carrying anti submarine weapons. These could be unmanned ships, aircraft or even lighter than airships-essentially weaponized blimps which provide the persistent overhead coverage over areas while high speed platforms dash out to prosecute contacts. Submarine captains will need to be very alert to prevent revealing themselves to these sensors, since an aircraft dropping a torpedo or a cheap unmanned ship firing a rocket carrying a torpedo to the target box will not be detected until too late.

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Unmanned torpedo boats heading to a contact

Since the OP has also stipulated railguns and lasers, the hypersonic attack missiles will have a challenging gauntlet to pass through to reach their target. The best way to deal with this would be to overwhelm the defense with more missiles, but this could be problematic with a compact SSN based platform. Remote "arsenal subs" could be part of the mix as well, designed to trail the SSN and possibly receive commands via fibre optic cable to the controlling sub.

So tactics would revolve around creating vast sensor networks which submarines would link into (on their side) and attempt to avoid on the enemy side. They would have unobtrusive means to communicate with their sensor networks (possibly floating laser transmitters and receivers connected via fibre optic cable). The defender would be prosecuting contacts with a variety of persistent and high speed platforms to keep the submarine off balance and less able to carry out the mission.

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Unstoppable attacks. Indestructible defenses. Yeah. Right.

Ever since people were replacing the stone axe with copper, they have been enthusiastic about new weapons that would either be so effective to make war a cakewalk, or so terrible that war would be utterly impossible. Neither one has happened. Thirty years ago, there were professional naval writers who proclaimed that navies would consist entirely of stealth missile boats, since anything bigger would be a sitting duck. A bit over a century ago, writers argued over the merits of battleships vs. torpedo boat destroyers. And so on.

Expect gradual change.

You wrote that technical problems have been solved, but they are never completely solved. Point defenses depend on sensors to detect the attack, computers to direct the countermeasures, and the weapons themselves. Either one could be overcome. Both sensors and weapons have limited fields of vision respective fire. Lasers will have "deeper magazines" than point defense missiles or guns, but they could still be limited by factors like overheating. The computers may be overcome by more (and more stealthy) targets than they were built for. Railguns need a power supply (just like the lasers) and will have issues of rail corrosion and heat management from sustained use. Just like the barrels of conventional guns.

  • Improved point defenses mean that attacks must be more separate missiles to saturate defenses, better coordination for time-on-target attacks, and better stealth to look like a random wave crest.
  • Railguns will be one way to put many cheap attacks on target and to keep the lasers busy. But ballistics limit the number of shells that can arrive time-on-target. (Within limits, that can be done. See modern field howitzers.)
  • As gunnery ranges go up, targeting with on-board drones or helicopters and off-board data sources like AWACS or sats becomes more important. Problably unmanned drones rather than manned helicopters, if the point defenses can reach out to the horizon. We reached the point where battleships can fire beyond the visual horizon a century ago, an early cause for the development of naval aviation.
  • If things get more hostile over the surface, there might be more emphasis on submarine attacks. Do you know ASROC? Well, imagine a cruise missile which delivers a big, wake-homing torpedo like the Soviet DST92. (Expect amateurs waxing eloquently about them being the ultimate anti-ship weapon. They're not, either.)
  • For that matter, long-range UUV go prowling after enemy targets.
  • Powers with relatively weak navies might have shore batteries with ASBM, anti-ship ballistic missiles. But where do they get targeting data? Perhaps over the horizon radar. Or hackers reading the enemy mail.
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  • $\begingroup$ Regarding your comment about "weapons ... so terrible that war would be utterly impossible" it is pretty much true that no nuclear powers have ever engaged in direct combat right? I guess India and Pakistan are the exception to this, though since they gained nuclear capabilities (in like the 80's?) they haven't really engaged in all-out warfare. $\endgroup$ – ben Nov 19 '19 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ @ben, nuclear powers fought plenty of wars. I was thinking more of remarks about the gatling gun or machine gun. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 20 '19 at 6:04
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry I was unclear (and it's a bit of a tangent). That line in your response just made me realize that nuclear powers don't ever really fight each other directly. $\endgroup$ – ben Nov 20 '19 at 6:46
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None of the technology you mention is really new, but I'm assuming your hypersonic missiles, railguns and lasers are a significant advance compared with today's technology.

Logistics and support will be the key, as ever. How reliable are the various systems, how expensive are they to operate, what's the availability of spares and consumables like? Can you afford the cost and space to fit all of them to every ship or are they such high cost that only capital ships get to have them?

Which has the advantage, the hypersonic missile or the anti-missile defence system (and the sensors it employs to achieve lock on the incoming threat)? Can you afford to blat away at a target with your railgun and hope that a round or two gets through the lasers or are the rounds 10 million dollars a pop?

In this game of rock, scissors, paper^W^W^W missile, railgun, laser if the missile / railgun beats the laser then expect to see increasing investment in stealth and detection capabilities, as the first unit to detect and fire on its target has a very large advantage. Additional research into mitigation technologies such as chaff, flares, decoys might improve survivability against active homing missiles and rounds.

If on the other hand the laser defence system consistently beats the missiles and railgun rounds then the ideal system to kill a ship becomes a submarine (or ship-launched torpedo, but torpedoes have limited range so it's nice to be able to get into range undetected by using a submarine), so you would expect ships to focus more on anti-submarine warfare and protection against the back of the ship being broken by the way a torpedo works.

None of this will make much difference in unbalanced wars: if you have a superpower going up against a small nation with last-generation weapon systems, the superpower will win. The same happens if one side can massively outbuild the other, spending more to build more ships or build them quicker.

In wars where the two sides are roughly equal parity, each side will be desperately spying on the other and analysing early clashes to try to identify weaknesses in the other's technology and tactics and exploit them: it will then be the side with the better intelligence that wins.

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Observations

Strength in numbers

If both your long range weapons and point defenses are reasonably effective (i.e. neither is made obsolete by the other), a single ship, no matter the size, will quickly succumb to a coordinated strike from multiple directions. Depending on your radar, electronic warfare and drone technologies, determining its exact location might not be easy, but your missiles don't need an exact location.

However, in a well coordinated strike group, each ship's point defenses should cover the entire group. The larger the group, the more firepower and coordination is required to score any hit. In the same vein, you need more and more accurate targeting data to distribute your attacks in a cost effective manner. Economically, sustained missile fire will bleed you dry much more quickly than keeping your lasers running for a while longer, so the attacker is under quite a bit of pressure to hit high value targets.

Accuracy will limit your railguns

While the range and volume of fire that a battery of railguns could offer would be impressive, firing them "blind" will not do you much good against a sufficiently distant and mobile target, especially one that has railguns (and perhaps short range missiles) of its own that can also be used defensively. You need eyes on the enemy, and those eyes will be susceptible to counterattack.

Cold war in orbit

The cost of putting significant mass into orbit, widespread availability of "satellite-killer" missiles and the very real danger of Kessler Syndrome suggest that attack satellites and the like would be used very sparingly, if at all. A network of small, hard to detect satellites that provides targeting data and detects incoming missiles appears much more useful. Warfare in orbit would revolve around locating and blinding enemy assets and disrupting their communications rather than hard-kill measures.

Conclusion: How a naval battle might look

A satellite or patrolling UAV detects the enemy fleet far beyond visual range, transmits coordinates and half a minute of video before going silent. Almost immediately, a swarm of UAVs and missiles is launched towards the enemy, followed by the (mostly unmanned) escort vessels. Somewhere between the two fleets, the drones engage in a short but intense air battle while the escorts establish a defensive perimeter.

The fleet is now roughly split into three groups

Carriers, missile cruisers, destroyers (and/or large submarines) keep their distance from the enemy. They're the fleet's long range firepower as well as the juiciest targets. Using targeting data from the other groups, they take out enemy escorts and point defenses until it's time to strike a decisive blow.

Escorts spread out towards the enemy. Their first job is to intercept as much of the initial missile salvo (that's mostly targeting the bigger vessels) as possible. Once in position, they deploy small (surface and subsurface) recon and attack craft. The more area they can cover, the harder it will be for enemy assets to get eyes on the rest of the fleet before they're met with overwhelming point defense fire.

Drones and smaller submarines mostly provide targeting data on the enemy escort vessels and take out forward sensor assets. If they can bypass the perimeter (or a satellite picks up the enemy fleet), they help track priority targets.

Eventually, one side loses too many escorts or makes a tactical blunder, which leaves them open to a decisive railgun and missle salvo. Once they lose their long range firepower, the battle is over.

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To set the stage for discussion, in olde times, naval battles were fought in engagement ranges proportional to the gun ranges. As gun ranges increased the circle of engagement grew larger. Then, the use of aircraft and missiles increased the circle of engagement to their largest dimensions since fleets could strike one another at distances of more than a thousand miles -- for the sake of argument.

I think your addition of effective laser defenses takes aircraft and missiles off the table for most parts shrinking the engagement circle again to gun range.

Your addition of rail guns pushes the engagement range to the horizon again, and in a limited degree over the horizon. I'll assume that getting hit by a direct round from a rail gun would destroy or cripple another ship, that passive armor is ineffective for obvious reasons. Since the parabolic trajectory of a ballistic round or guided round won't always intersect with the curvature of the earth these powerful weapons won't always have a firing solution for a vessel within range. And because traditional single keeled ships have to maintain a certain depth of keel to remain stable and assuming your rail guns have a limited range of vertical tilt, you'll end up with a sort of inverted donut of possible engagement circles.

I think this means that double or triple keeled ships would enter the fleet. These could raise and lower with ballast without compromising stability and provide a smaller inverted donut and might do away with the problematic geometry altogether. That depends on the range of muzzle velocities and atmospheric breaking acting on a round.

The defense against the rail gun rounds would become vitally important. I think it would be some form of active defense. small fast missiles carrying shaped charges. They wouldn't likely destroy a projectile, but they can detonate in their path and reduce their velocity. If the velocities can be slowed enough, the round will either fall short or not penetrate the armor. I think Russian tanks, among other countries, use a similar system to destroy inbound missiles or prematurely detonate rounds shot at them.

I think this means that over the horizon (OTH) detection of rails guns would be really important to compute firing and maneuvering solutions to defeat focused firing attacks by multiple ships trying to swamp your defenses. Since the rounds would be faster than sound, underwater surveillance for detecting firing wouldn't be practical -- depends on the speed of sound underwater v. muzzle velocities -- so I'd think remote observation via drones or space or very stealthy ships would be necessary. But the lasers would make the difficult but not impossible with either numbers or very good stealth. Maybe submarine drones watching enemy fleets and communicating with laser beam to blimps flying over the fleet.

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Naval warfare (except perhaps autonomous and submarine-focused) is largely obsolete in your scenario.

Hypersonic missiles are plentiful - intuitively, this means people will build underwater torpedoes into hypersonic missiles, launch them at ships, and have the missiles drop the torpedo into the water before it becomes a target for laser defenses.

Laser point defense might be even crappier than it looks on paper if people start putting mirror coatings on missiles to thwart it, in which case you might as well downgrade to a Phalanx.

Another problem with laser point defense is that it provides very little kinetic force. Even if it's a sci-fi capital ship laser that will burn a hole in just about whatever you aim it at, it's vulnerable to attacks by swarms of impact missiles that travel in a ballistic path toward their intended recipient and contain an extremely dense 10-20 pound weight in place of a warhead. You can punch a hole in them and shut down their engines, but chances are that they're already on the correct path and that leaves dozens of 10-20 pound solid weights barreling towards your ship which will probably impact at Mach 2. Again, a Phalanx might be more effective at diminishing the incoming missile's velocity or causing it to break up completely.

The railguns are a red herring. Forget them. This war that you mention is won with missiles, which will outrange just about any railgun due to air drag.

tl;dr:

  • point defense lasers are highly overrated and in many practical respects outclassed by old-fashioned kinetic counterparts
  • railguns are deadweight and a waste of reactor space that should be used for missiles
  • hypersonic missiles are dangerous, nasty, and deadly. They quickly end battles - with brutal efficiency.
  • warships will go slowly extinct in favor of submarines, and their primary loadout will be a mix of torpedoes (against other subs) and hypersonic missiles (to pick off anyone who's dumb enough to keep using their warships)
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  • $\begingroup$ But mirrors would not work. While it is true that they would reflect the laser, it wouldn’t be a hundred percent, this means that the laser would burn the mirror and the missile rendering all ship to ship middles obsolete. Now if it were a surface to suborbital missile...then we are going somewhere, kinda. Read the upper answers. $\endgroup$ – Seraphim Nov 26 '19 at 6:27
  • $\begingroup$ Laser point defense doesn't work even if you ban mirrors, simply because people will replace missile warheads with dense weights that impact their target at Mach 2. Those hurt no matter how many holes you put in them. $\endgroup$ – user1258361 Nov 26 '19 at 6:29
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The problem with sinking modern warships isn't a question of having weapons powerful enough to do the job, it is a question of having the right targets. What makes aircraft carriers useful is that their fighters and radar aircraft can appear from nowhere, while the carrier is moving such that it cannot be pinned down while still being able to recover its own aircraft. While it sounds odd, they actually are capable of hiding strategically.

Stealth at sea is mostly about constantly moving and never turning on your own radar. You're going to need either large quantities of sensor drones or manned radar aircraft(which as a bonus can control drones, freeing the need for radio traffic from the warship) regardless of what weapons your warships have so that they can remain undetected until they begin firing.

Obviously for your situation lasers are making this slightly more complicated, because they serve to make aircraft less survivable. But the detection problem also exists here. Your lasers can't hit what your radar can't see. Standoff weapons are already becoming the norm to survive against anti-aircraft missiles, which can even be fired over the horizon in the most extreme cases. Railguns and lasers aren't more effective than such missiles, they are simply cheaper to operate. Also, what do lasers do when it rains?

Also ballistic missiles aren't guaranteed to get past anti-aircraft missiles either. This is what the SM-3 was made for, and why just about every destroyer and cruiser in the US Navy is getting a couple. The fact that they can also provide anti-ballistic missile defense for other targets is a bonus(especially to Navy budgets).

The biggest advantage to lasers is that they serve as an excellent counter to drones and other cheap assets like massed MLRS batteries(something Iran has plans to do), which are so much cheaper than defensive missiles they could wear down defenses from an economic standpoint. Railguns are mostly intended to be used for shore bombardment instead of relying on million dollar missiles or a risking a multibillion dollar destroyer so that it can shoot its short ranged deck gun every time a Marine wants fire support. They're not really intended to be used against enemy ships, which is reserved for missiles.

As for submarines, the current trend seems to be that they would almost certainly dominate if there ever is a real war. The only reason why submarines aren't already ruling the seas is that there fortunately hasn't been a real war to let them prove this fact. Submarines are also not as useful at most of the things navies have actually wound up doing, like chasing pirates and waving the flag. It is also not for nothing that the US Navy has invested heavily in upgrading their helicopters and replacing their patrol aircraft to hunt submarines, as well as keeping up their numbers of subs. Oddly enough lasers are actually part of this picture, as a blue-green laser can actually help locate shallow submarines.

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