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    Stealthy Submarines: The Underwater Threat to Modern Navies

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    USS Dwight D. Eisenhower conducts a routine, scheduled transit through the Suez Canal.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The vast oceans have always been a battleground of technological prowess, where the mightiest ships face off against the stealthiest of adversaries. In recent military exercises, conventional wisdom was turned on its head when seemingly antiquated submarines showcased their lethal potential against some of the most advanced naval fleets.

    USS Dwight D. Eisenhower [Image 3 of 4]” by DVIDSHUB is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    These exercises have starkly illustrated a potent reality: In the domain of naval warfare, technology may not always triumph over strategy and stealth.

    USS Dwight D. Eisenhower conducts an ammunition transfer with USS George Washington.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The irony was palpable as diesel-electric submarines, considered relics of a bygone era, emerged as maritime specters capable of ‘sinking’ the pride of naval fleets—nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. One such instance occurred in 1981 during the NATO exercises Ocean Venture/Magic Sword North.

    An F/A-18E launches from the flight deck of USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The Canadian Oberon-class submarine deftly pierced through defensive screens to execute a simulated torpedo attack on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), unsettling U.S. Navy officials.

    USS Dwight D. Eisenhower conducts flight operations.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    “Slow and steady wins the race, but when it comes to sinking a warship, quiet appears to be the way to do it,” a realization that highlighted the submarine’s stealth and endurance as its ultimate weapons.

    051001-N-0050T-017” by Marion Doss is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    However, this was not an isolated event. The Swedish Gotland-class submarine used its air-independent propulsion (AIP) system to ‘sink’ the $6 billion USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) in 2005.

    USS Ronald Reagan and USS John C. Stennis conduct a dual carrier operations.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The submarine’s remarkably quiet Stirling engines, which utilize diesel and liquid oxygen, allowed it to travel 1,700 nautical miles while submerged, making it quieter than any other diesel, and even quieter than its nuclear cousins.

    USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76)” by manhhai is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    This defeat, as reported by Harrison Kass for The National Interest, should have been a wake-up call, indicating that high price tags on military assets do not guarantee invulnerability.

    081029-N-7668G-013” by Marion Doss is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    Furthermore, in 1999, the Dutch submarine HNLMS Walrus ‘torpedoed’ the USS Theodore Roosevelt and seven escort ships during an Atlantic exercise.

    Lancer bombers and F/A-18 Super Hornets fly over the JMSDF helicopter destroyer JS ISE (DDH-182), front, and the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The Walrus, employing its Electronic Warfare (EW) capabilities and leveraging favorable sonar conditions, pounced on the carrier battle group with a series of simulated attacks, sinking multiple vessels, including the Roosevelt itself.

    An F/A-18F Super Hornet approaches USS Gerald R. Ford.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    These exercises have unveiled an uncomfortable truth: The seas have become stealthier, and the hunter can quickly become the hunted.

    An F/A-18F Super Hornet performs an arrested landing aboard USS Gerald R. Ford.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Aircraft carriers, while symbols of national power like the USS Gerald R. Ford with its $13 billion price tag, harbor an Achilles’ heel, making them susceptible to more cost-effective and strategically shrewd adversaries.

    USS Gerald R. Ford pulls alongside USNS William McLean during a replenishment-at-sea..” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The compelling nature of these engagements has not only spurred debates within naval circles but has also led to a reevaluation of defense planning and strategy.

    USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) transits the Atlantic Ocean.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The implications are clear and profound; in the unforgiving chessboard of naval supremacy, even kings can fall, and sometimes, all it takes is a silent, shadowy figure lurking beneath the waves.

    An F/A-18F Super Hornet performs a touch-and-go on the flight deck of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78)” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    As these exercises have shown, the underdog is often overlooked until it reveals its fangs—proof that in the theater of war, innovation and tactics can outweigh raw power.

    Relevant articles:
    How An Antique Submarine from Canada ‘Sank’ A U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier, The National Interest
    Gotland-Class: How a Tiny Submarine from Sweden Sank a Navy Aircraft Carrier, nationalinterest.org
    How Dutch submarine Walrus ‘torpedoed’ a US aircraft carrier, Navies Worldwide
    A $100 Million Submarine ‘Sank’ a $4.5 Billion U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier, The National Interest

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