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Just variegating this question for a Royal Australian Navy Armidale-class patrol boat that has no aircraft or missiles. Like other question, assume a full weekly resupply of only ammunition and fuel.

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Armament:

Armidale Class Patrol Boat used for Civilian Support - Naval Technology.

Armidale class weapons

The vessel is armed with a Rafael Typhoon 25mm stabilised naval gun mount with an ATK Bushmaster cannon. Fire control is provided by a Rafael Toplite multi-sensor optronic weapons director. The gun has a traverse range of ±20° and an elevation of -12.5° to +40°30′. The gun has a stabilisation accuracy of 0.2mrad.

"The main roles of the Armidale Class are naval support of civilian authorities."

The line of fire stabilisation allows hostile targets to be engaged with precision in high sea state conditions and at appropriate stand-off distance. The gunner can choose to operate the gun manually or automatically. The ship also carries two 12.7mm machine guns.

Sensors and communications

The Armidale Class patrol boats are equipped with low-light optical surveillance and a Bridgemaster E radar operating at E, F and I bands.

BAE Systems Australia’s passive radar identification system (PRISM III) electronic support measures provides detection, direction finding, analysis and classification of radar emissions in the 2GHz-18GHz band.

CEA Technologies has been contracted to supply the modular integrated ships communications suite (ISCS).

To what war do you need to send this patrol boat, before it can decisively impact the course of events? A decisive impact means anywhere from eliminating a major battle in the war to changing who wins the war. Killing one extra opposition soldier does not qualify, because it doesn't quite affect war outcome.

This patrol boat can't impact outcome of WWII? This boat can be penetrated by anti-aircraft guns, let alone battleship and naval artillery, or torpedoed by wolf packs of submarines. Enemy can re-locate and settle underground, or further in land, to evade this boat's radar and technologies.

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  • $\begingroup$ This ship carries cruise missiles. What do we say about nuclear weapons? Also, your ship has insane range and ASW capacities to boot. I'd say that if it can resupply, then it could sit outside detectable range and pound the living crap out of anything the Axis could muster. But you didn't specify supporting the Allies. Does side matter? Does this ship support the USA? Sink the US carrier fleet at the battle of Midway? Japanese fleet prior to Pearl Harbor? $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Jul 28, 2020 at 2:27
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus I made the ship in question less powerful by changing it now. A Ticonderoga-class cruiser is overkill especially when the US won! $\endgroup$
    – user69651
    Jul 28, 2020 at 2:40
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    $\begingroup$ Why was this question edited to change from a Japanese ship to an Australian one? This changes the dynamic of the question/answers, and I think that a new question should have been asked! $\endgroup$
    – NomadMaker
    Jul 28, 2020 at 11:03
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    $\begingroup$ This question is opinion based. There are many possible answers (Salamina? Aegates? Actium? Lepanto? Trafalgar?) and all correct. The best would be just a matter of opinion. $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2020 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ +1 to reopen. A clarifying edit would be to ask which is the most modern war to make a difference. I was working up an answer that yes, it would prove decisive in WW2 because of its radar. Naval battles of WW1 and WW2 featured fleets fumbling around and commanders with incomplete pictures of the battle. Now imagine one side has advanced search radar and modern command and control. Jutland, Pearl Harbor, the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal would all be different. See worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/14960/… $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Jul 28, 2020 at 22:28

6 Answers 6

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It would be decisive in any (non-landlocked) war prior to 1860/1870 (and quite a few after that).

1859 is when ironclads were first used, and they became all-steel from about 1870. Even with the modern armaments of your patrol boat, I expect a group of them would pose a significant-enough challenge to reduce the impact of its existence. It would still definitely win battles, but I don't know if it could win a war.

Prior to 1860, your boat has free reign. It's orders of magnitude faster, better-armed and better-equipped than anything it might encounter at sea. The only thing I can think that might stymie it is fixed coastal defences, like a fort bristling with cannon.

On cannon: I think enough cannon ball strikes could certainly make it a non-threat for a while, But I doubt any pre-ironclad ship would be able to hit it. Even ignoring the vast difference in maneuverability, the maximum range for an 18th or 19th century cannon was maybe 2km, below the effective range for the M242 Bushmaster (3km) and well below its maximum range (6.8km).

Go far enough back, and you could sink (or aid) entire invading armies. The course of history would change. Norman invasion of Britain? Nope. Spanish Armada - wins handily. Mongol invasion of Japan? No problem.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a great answer $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2020 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. Couldn't cannon balls from 18th century warships still wreck this patrol boat though? $\endgroup$
    – user69651
    Jul 28, 2020 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ @RhandalAllen It's unlikely. The round shot from a cannon may dent the patrol boat's armor but it's unlikely to penetrate. Round shot would be able to disable components of the patrol boat such as a direct impact on the radar device but would be unable to sink the ship outright. quora.com/Would-an-old-cannon-be-able-to-damage-modern-warships $\endgroup$
    – PausePause
    Jul 28, 2020 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ I think enough cannon balls could certainly make it a non-threat for a while (hence the bit about coastal forts), I just doubt any 18th century ship would be able to hit it. Even ignoring the vast difference in maneuverability, the maximum effective range for an 18th century cannon was maybe 2km, below the effective range for the M242 Bushmaster (3km) and well below its maximum range (6.8km). $\endgroup$
    – K. Morgan
    Jul 28, 2020 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks again. Just a few more thoughts. Can't cannon balls shatter the glass on the bridge (tinted in black), leaving the bridge crew exposed? Or wreck the 25mm Bushmaster at the bow? Or the 2 machine guns which got to be manned manually, leaving the machine gunner exposed? $\endgroup$
    – user69651
    Jul 28, 2020 at 18:57
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Massive Difference (but not how you would expect it)

Forget firepower. The difference is computing power. Code breaking suddenly leaps ahead decades so German codes are virtually worthless. Your codes suddenly go to 256 bit encryption and impossible to break.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

The real difference is the technology contained in the ship, not the ship itself.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. I changed the ship, but I think your answer still applies. $\endgroup$
    – user69651
    Jul 28, 2020 at 2:40
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    $\begingroup$ Would 256-bit encryption be able to run on WWII computers? $\endgroup$
    – NomadMaker
    Jul 28, 2020 at 3:50
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    $\begingroup$ @NomadMaker How many computers in the ship could be repurposed for the task? $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Jul 28, 2020 at 11:20
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    $\begingroup$ @NomadMaker Theoretically you can run it on piece of paper if you have a few cryptologists at hand (mathematicians would do as well). You would also prefer some less secure but simpler ciphers, like AES or even DES - as long as the decryption method is obscured, you are safe (and you are 70 years ahead with cryptology, you will always have more ciphers than enemy). The worse problem would be delivering keys and cipher descriptions securely to every interested party. And getting them to trust you of course. $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2020 at 11:34
  • $\begingroup$ The technology doesn't have to be related to Computer for exemple Propeller design of many boat are top secret. For you it might look like a giant fan blade, for military it's a giant fan blade that remain silent when pushing big boat at full speed. That alone can turn the WW2 $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2020 at 13:26
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Think all the way back:

[At the time I answered this question, it was referring to a Japanese patrol boat (the question was modified), and the answer is reflected as such]

The biggest impacts on battles this ship can make will be in shifting major historical events. Imagine a group of Japanese who wanted to change the entire course of history for Japan. How broadly are you willing to consider battle, war, and what constitutes victory?

  • 1853 - Commodore Perry sails into Tokyo bay with four war ships. Before they can ever contact the locals, the ships explode. Legends of a "divine wind" defending Japan keep the country isolated from the West. The heroes responsible for this act deliver the Emperor technological secrets allowing Japan to become the military equal to any country on Earth.
  • February 1904 - The course of Japanese imperialism is changed forever when Japanese torpedo boats sent to attack the Russian navy sink mysteriously. A confident Russian navy wins the battle of Port Arthur and stymies Japanese imperial ambitions. A less aggressive and expansionist Japan decides not to pursue a global empire and stays out of WW2.
  • Midway - The Japanese fleet is given mysterious intelligence about the location of the US carrier fleet and warned as each wave of US fighters approaches, so American bombers and torpedo planes are shot down without ever seeing Japanese ships. The mysterious intelligence comes from an unknown source with full access to all imperial codes and passwords. Japan sinks the entire US carrier fleet handily when they know their exact location at all times. Historians conjecture Japan developed advanced naval radar early, but no proof ever comes to light.
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    $\begingroup$ @RhandalAllen: The question does not say that it is Japan who has the boat. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 28, 2020 at 5:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexp You're right. Ah OK! $\endgroup$
    – user69651
    Jul 28, 2020 at 5:52
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks and upvoted! I keep overpowering ships! I edited my post to an Australian patrol boat with only guns, but I think your answer still applies. $\endgroup$
    – user69651
    Jul 28, 2020 at 6:53
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I answered this when they question was still a Japanese missile boat. But the editing shows what I consider the main misconception underlying the question.

Think People, Knowledge, Politics

Assume that the time travelers decide to support a local government and that they can convince the locals to trust them and to take them seriously to start with. For the latter, a warship will help, I'll admit that. Then the best the time travelers can do to support a local faction is to teach them technology just a bit ahead of everyone else. "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

A graduate student with a solar-powered notebook and the right collection of textbooks and blueprints should be more efficient in this regard than the books which happen to be on a small to medium warship. A large one would probably have a nice library and a good group of engineering officers. The key is to bring improvements which can be applied to a local tech base. A very good javascript programmer would have learned the wrong things for programming ENIAC. But blueprints for a CODAG power plant would make a real difference in the 1950s, and the formula for prismatic powder would be great in the 1850s.

The tech difference for "this makes a great prototype" is smaller than the tech difference for "this warship is a war winner."


Expanding on the answers by Thorne and DWKraus:

  • 21 well-trained crew. It would be extremely silly to send them out using their ship, and risking their life. Send them to universities where scientists and engineers can pick their brains. The officers and petty officers won't know enough to manufacture new radars or gas turbines, but they can give pointers in the right direction.
  • On the other hand, what makes you think that present-day Japanese would bow to the military dictatorship in the name of the Emperor and not support the forces of Democracy? Drop the boat into the battle of Midway and it might well support the USN after some serious soul-searching. Or stay out of it and try to reach Sweden.
  • In addition to the crew, there would be reference books. Technical, historical, and so on. The butterfly effect might soon invalidate history books, however.
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks and upvoted! I keep overpowering ships! I edited my post to an Australian patrol boat with only guns, but I think your answer still applies. $\endgroup$
    – user69651
    Jul 28, 2020 at 6:50
  • $\begingroup$ Science advancement is the recurring dream, but it won't work too well. Even building a railway requires precise tools, which requires the ability to make steel, which requires the ability to make a hot furnace. And that's just one technology chain; CODAG power and prismatic powder have even more difficult technology chains, and you simply can't walk them in a single lifetime. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 28, 2020 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ @toolforger, I suggested bringing prismatic powder into the 1850s and CODAG into the 1950s. In each case less than one generation would be missing. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Jul 29, 2020 at 5:27
  • $\begingroup$ Ah ok. You'd have to hit the spot where the new tech is just advanced enough to be useful, but not so advanced it can't be applied. I'd find it difficult to find such a spot, not only in time but also the economical and social situation where it will actually be picked up. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 29, 2020 at 6:22
  • $\begingroup$ @toolforger, look at it the other way around. Take the situation as a given, and consider what tech the crew knows that fits the bill. From lemons and sauerkraut against scurvy over breechloaders are the way to go, try interrupted screws to iron hulls get brittle at low temperatures. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Jul 29, 2020 at 15:27
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It could alter the course of history beyond all recognition.

  • Think about the battle of Salamis, in the year 480 before the common era. The Persians had already occupied northern and central Greece, the Athenians had evacuated their city, leaving the empty shell to be occupied by the enemy. The alliance of Greek city-states had agreed to the plan of Themistocles to risk everything on a naval battle, hoping that their organizational and technological advantages would be enough to overcome the numerical superiority of the enemy.

    The entire history of the world stood balanced on a fine edge: if the Persians won, Greece would have been confirmed as a Persian satrapy. There would have been no Athenian democracy to serve as a model; there would have been no Aristotelian logic to guide the inquiring minds; there would have been no Hellenistic civilization, no Eratosthenes to measure the Earth, no Archimedes to push the boundaries of mathematics and physics. Without the Greek and Hellenistic civilization there would have been no Rome as we know it; the history of Europe would have veered off in a completely unpredictable direction.

    Think of a world where Oriental fatalism and blind obedience to fate rule.

    The smallest modern war ship would have easily destroyed the Athenian fleet at Salamis: and the entire history would have been profoundly different.

  • Think of the battle of Actium, in the year 31 before the common era. Octavian, who by that time was calling himself C. Julius Caesar Octavianus, was leading the western forces in the contest for supremacy in the nascent Roman empire against the eastern forces of Marc Antony and Cleopatra of Egypt.

    Had the easterners won, Caesarion, the son of the real C. Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, would have been confirmed in his title of King of Kings. The center of gravity of the world-spanning empire would have moved from Rome to Alexandria. Instead of Octavian's careful preservation of the old republican form, the empire would have veered into a typical oriental monarchy, with a pair of god-like rulers at the top.

    There would have been no evolution of the Roman law, no five good emperors, no Justinian, no Corpus Juris Civilis.

    And again, the smallest modern war ship would have easily destroyed the western fleet at Actium: and the entire history would have been profoundly different.

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  • $\begingroup$ "...there would have been no Aristotelian logic to guide inquiring minds..." The Platonic school of thought has had just as much impact over the years. $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2020 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ Please note that depicting the Persian empire as "Oriental fatalism and blind obedience" is hopelessly undervaluing Persia, just as assuming that Greek thinking was the cradle of Enlightenment is hopelessly overvaluing Greece (in fact Greek culture set us back by injecting misogyny and disdain for the body into Christian culture). Plus, all the thinking would have happened in the Arab world then. Of course history would have changed, and drastically so, but with a Persian victory, we might have avoided the Dark Ages, so... $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 28, 2020 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP George Boole was 2000 years after the Greek, so that connection is purely speculative. Aristotelian logic, of course, was invented in Aristoteles' era, but the Persians would have just hired him if they had won (a lot of scholars lived in Persia). On Christianity: it was so heavily influenced by Paulus and its cooperation with Byzantium (Greek culture) that it's more Greek than Judaic when it comes to day-to-day ethics. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 28, 2020 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I didn't know which of Logic and Boolean algebra you meant, so there. And I refuse to talk to people who allege I might be pretending - that implies your side is the only truthful one. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 28, 2020 at 21:55
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    $\begingroup$ Oof, this answer has a lot of... "western" supremacy, shall we say? The Persian empire was actually pretty progressive at the time (the Greeks actually subsequently adopted many Persian practices) w/a lot of freedom (if you paid taxes), and just as a reminder: Algebra was invented in the middle east, Hellenistic civ was modeled after Persia (by Alexander himself!), and much of Archimedes' work was lost anyway. Logic and other mathematical principles were independently discovered all over the world, and "western" cultures had plenty of god emperors without snuffing out the idea of 'freedom.' $\endgroup$ Jul 29, 2020 at 2:50
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This is not a line ship designed to go toe to toe with major naval assets. It's a patrol boat designed to bring force to control civilian shipping. This boat can badly damage most modern civilian freighter and passenger ships. You would not want to be on the receiving end of this thing if the Commander decides to light up your bridge with its weapons. Ships sink just as well with a bunch of little holes in their hull as much as a single big one, and this thing can add lots of little holes to your ship. If the Commander of this ship tells you to stop, you stop.

That said, the decisive nature of this vessel would be its impact of being in the right place, and the right time (or wrong place at the wrong time if you're on the other side of this).

It can stumble upon a smuggled cargo, it can attack and disable/destroy a blockade runner carrying something vital. It can be repurposed to support a SPEC OPS team returning from a vital mission. This is a pretty fast ship with good endurance, designed for open water. While not "stealthy", it's not "not stealthy". It's small and hides easily. It's not a "green water" (i.e. river) boat, but it draught isn't too deep.

How can a simple fighter plane, with little but machine guns, change the course of the war? When that fighter plane happens to take out the plane carrying Admiral Yamamoto.

So, it's all in the timing as much as the craft itself.

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