Triumph of the Missiles?

CommentaryThe sinking of a Russian warship by cruise missile causes concern about the vulnerability of U.S. ships to Chinese missiles. But the U.S. forces are better trained at using their interlocking missile defenses. A Ukrainian Neptune missile reportedly sunk the battleship Moskva on April 14 (the Russians dispute this claim, of course, and it is tough to verify information during a war). While a massive ship like the Moskva is sailing, it is unprecedented for ammunition inside the ship to burst, engulfing the entire ship in flames with no exterior shelling. Furthermore, there was no bad weather in the Black Sea while Moskva was being towed (as Russia stated). The sinking of the Moskva has predictably led some analysts to say that the U.S. ships should be worried about missiles—particularly the new and dangerous breed of Chinese ballistic and possibly hypersonic missiles. But those concerns fail to consider the lessons of history that call for integrated weapon systems used by trained personnel, both of which the Russians failed to display in defending their ships, and the United States is more likely to show in a conflict with China. Whenever a technology supposedly fails, it is usually because analysts look at it in a vacuum without a broader context. Battleships were the kings of naval warfare, but a new, narrow technology called the torpedo boats seemed to dethrone them. They were fast and deadly for warships, and there seemed to be no counter—until battleships and navies did counter them. Battleships armored their entire hulls, and they used searchlights to detect the boats. Most importantly, navies started building a new class of boats that had smaller caliber guns that could go low enough to destroy torpedo boats (giving us the term “destroyer”). Then, during the Arab-Israeli wars, the new shoulder-mounted anti-tank missiles almost overwhelmed Israeli tanks. The king of the land battlefield, the tank, seemed overthrown by new and dangerous technology. But the Israelis were surprised, and the tanks were operating without infantry support to suss out ambushes and without artillery or air support. When Israel recovered from its surprise and operated with proper combined arms, the tanks remained the king of land battle. We have seen these factors in the Russian conflict as its military hasn’t used weapon systems in a skilled fashion. That is why Russian tanks, for example, are suffering surprising losses. It sounds counterintuitive, but armor is only effective when combined with a screening force of infantry, artillery, and air support. But the Russian infantry didn’t want to exit its armored transports. And the air force and artillery aren’t working well with the tanks. This makes the tanks easy targets for the anti-tank missiles that the United States flooded Ukraine with. That doesn’t mean the tank is obsolete, just that the Russians aren’t using it properly. A Ukrainian soldier checks a destroyed Russian tank in Irpin close to Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 1, 2022. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo) It shouldn’t surprise us that Russia’s navy performed badly, too. Navies have sophisticated missile defenses, but they rely on coordination and training among the fleet. In conjunction with surface ships, the combat air patrol relies on radar and sensors to scan for incoming missiles, and escort ships are supposed to intercept them promptly. But even though the Russian fleet, including the sunken Moskva, had ample weapon systems, there is little indication the troops used them. Russian intelligence failed to adequately assess Ukrainian capabilities by operating for a prolonged time with a range of these missiles. Based on analysis of available evidence, the Russians apparently failed to take defensive measures, which means their EMS system either wasn’t working, which is a stunning failure of maintenance for their Black Sea flagship, or sailors were too complacent or improperly trained to notice the incoming missile before it was too late. In short, the Ukrainian missile sunk this ship because the Russians used their defensive systems poorly. So this wasn’t an example of new and deadly technology, and there is no need to fearmonger over missiles. In the event of a conflict, U.S. forces are hardly going to produce the same bungling as the Russians that let their flagship get sunk. While various collisions of U.S. naval ships and woke training of the military have prompted concerns about possible American performance in the next war, U.S. forces are still better trained than any adversary in the world. The Aegis system on ships like the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer (roughly the same size and class as the Moskva the Ukrainians sunk) is much better equipped to stop missiles. The sensors on the F-35 combat aircraft have a better range and interoperability with missile defenses. The United States is fielding new weapons systems like lasers and their own hypersonic missiles with the latest technology. And most

Triumph of the Missiles?

Commentary

The sinking of a Russian warship by cruise missile causes concern about the vulnerability of U.S. ships to Chinese missiles. But the U.S. forces are better trained at using their interlocking missile defenses.

A Ukrainian Neptune missile reportedly sunk the battleship Moskva on April 14 (the Russians dispute this claim, of course, and it is tough to verify information during a war). While a massive ship like the Moskva is sailing, it is unprecedented for ammunition inside the ship to burst, engulfing the entire ship in flames with no exterior shelling. Furthermore, there was no bad weather in the Black Sea while Moskva was being towed (as Russia stated).

The sinking of the Moskva has predictably led some analysts to say that the U.S. ships should be worried about missiles—particularly the new and dangerous breed of Chinese ballistic and possibly hypersonic missiles.

But those concerns fail to consider the lessons of history that call for integrated weapon systems used by trained personnel, both of which the Russians failed to display in defending their ships, and the United States is more likely to show in a conflict with China.

Whenever a technology supposedly fails, it is usually because analysts look at it in a vacuum without a broader context. Battleships were the kings of naval warfare, but a new, narrow technology called the torpedo boats seemed to dethrone them. They were fast and deadly for warships, and there seemed to be no counter—until battleships and navies did counter them. Battleships armored their entire hulls, and they used searchlights to detect the boats. Most importantly, navies started building a new class of boats that had smaller caliber guns that could go low enough to destroy torpedo boats (giving us the term “destroyer”).

Then, during the Arab-Israeli wars, the new shoulder-mounted anti-tank missiles almost overwhelmed Israeli tanks. The king of the land battlefield, the tank, seemed overthrown by new and dangerous technology. But the Israelis were surprised, and the tanks were operating without infantry support to suss out ambushes and without artillery or air support. When Israel recovered from its surprise and operated with proper combined arms, the tanks remained the king of land battle.

We have seen these factors in the Russian conflict as its military hasn’t used weapon systems in a skilled fashion. That is why Russian tanks, for example, are suffering surprising losses. It sounds counterintuitive, but armor is only effective when combined with a screening force of infantry, artillery, and air support. But the Russian infantry didn’t want to exit its armored transports. And the air force and artillery aren’t working well with the tanks. This makes the tanks easy targets for the anti-tank missiles that the United States flooded Ukraine with. That doesn’t mean the tank is obsolete, just that the Russians aren’t using it properly.

Epoch Times Photo
A Ukrainian soldier checks a destroyed Russian tank in Irpin close to Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 1, 2022. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo)

It shouldn’t surprise us that Russia’s navy performed badly, too. Navies have sophisticated missile defenses, but they rely on coordination and training among the fleet. In conjunction with surface ships, the combat air patrol relies on radar and sensors to scan for incoming missiles, and escort ships are supposed to intercept them promptly. But even though the Russian fleet, including the sunken Moskva, had ample weapon systems, there is little indication the troops used them.

Russian intelligence failed to adequately assess Ukrainian capabilities by operating for a prolonged time with a range of these missiles. Based on analysis of available evidence, the Russians apparently failed to take defensive measures, which means their EMS system either wasn’t working, which is a stunning failure of maintenance for their Black Sea flagship, or sailors were too complacent or improperly trained to notice the incoming missile before it was too late. In short, the Ukrainian missile sunk this ship because the Russians used their defensive systems poorly.

So this wasn’t an example of new and deadly technology, and there is no need to fearmonger over missiles. In the event of a conflict, U.S. forces are hardly going to produce the same bungling as the Russians that let their flagship get sunk. While various collisions of U.S. naval ships and woke training of the military have prompted concerns about possible American performance in the next war, U.S. forces are still better trained than any adversary in the world.

The Aegis system on ships like the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer (roughly the same size and class as the Moskva the Ukrainians sunk) is much better equipped to stop missiles. The sensors on the F-35 combat aircraft have a better range and interoperability with missile defenses. The United States is fielding new weapons systems like lasers and their own hypersonic missiles with the latest technology. And most importantly, U.S. sailors are trained in how to use them.

In the case of war, the Chinese are likely to face serious questions about their training. For example, Chinese submariners may not effectively blockade targets like Taiwan, the air force won’t be able to achieve air superiority, the troops won’t advance in an organized fashion, and columns of tanks will face supply issues, and so on.

To cite another example, mental health issues have increased among Chinese submariners. A recent report suggests that at least a quarter of all Chinese troops suffer from mental health issues—this is roughly comparable to the size of the U.S. military.

In brief, the United States has the training to properly use technology for missile defense, and the Chinese regime will likely be unable to counter U.S. technology.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Morgan Deane is a former U.S. Marine, a military historian, and a freelance author. He studied military history at Kings College London and Norwich University. Morgan works as a professor of military history at the American Public University. He is a prolific author whose writings include "Decisive Battles in Chinese History," "Dragon’s Claws with Feet of Clay: A Primer on Modern Chinese Strategy," and the forthcoming, "Beyond Sunzi: Classical Chinese Debates on War and Government." His military analysis has been published in Real Clear Defense and Strategy Bridge, among other publications.