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    Stealth Sub-Carriers: The Future of Unmanned Naval Warfare

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    USS KITTY HAWK(CV 63)” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC CC0 1.0

    The concept of sub-carriers, merging the elusive nature of submarines with the tactical advantage of an aircraft carrier, has long been a topic of fascination within military circles. The latest advancements in drone technology bring this innovative idea closer to reality, signaling a potential paradigm shift in naval warfare.

    May 10: 1978: REALITY: HMAS MELBOURNE [II] with the 83,000 ton USS KITTY HAWK at Pearl Harbour – RAN.” by Kookaburra2011 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    During recent years, the U.S. Navy has tested the feasibility of launching unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from submarines, an effort that could enhance the stealth and survivability of naval forces in contested environments. Notably, the U.S. Navy’s tests involving the Sea Robin and Blackwing UAVs have demonstrated significant progress in this area.

    Submarine conducts alpha trials in the Atlantic Ocean [Image 1 of 9]” by DVIDSHUB is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The Sea Robin was successfully launched from a submarine’s torpedo tube in 2013, and by 2016, the Navy was working on deploying Blackwing spy drones in a similar fashion.

    A-6 ‘Intruder’s’, F-14 ‘Tomcat’s’, A-7 ‘Corsair II’s’,A-6B ‘Prowler’s’ aboard the USS KITTY HAWK SH-3 ‘Sea King’, E-2C ‘Hawkeye’s’ and E CVW-15 (CV-63), 1980.” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC CC0 1.0

    In an ambitious leap, envisioning the sub-carrier with an elevator and flight deck for unmanned combat vehicles, these platforms could potentially allow submarines to penetrate contested seas with unprecedented discretion.

    Beret March of IDF’s Submarine Combat Soldiers” by Israel Defense Forces is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    As defense expert Robert Farley suggests, “A submarine platform for launching drones would stand a better chance of surviving in hostile, anti-access environments,” an advantage traditional aircraft carriers, despite their speed and mobility, can’t match.

    USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63)” by Tjflex2 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Farley’s comments resonate with historical incidents that underscore the vulnerability of sizeable naval vessels. A stark reminder of this came on March 21, 1984, when the USS Kitty Hawk, a colossal 80,000-ton aircraft carrier, collided with the Soviet Victor-class attack submarine K-314 in the Sea of Japan.

    Beret March of IDF’s Submarine Combat Soldiers” by Israel Defense Forces is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    The incident, happening amid heightened Cold War tensions, resulted in only minor damage to the Kitty Hawk but left the K-314 incapacitated and in need of assistance.

    USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63)” by Tjflex2 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Such encounters between submarines and surface vessels have been a staple of naval strategy for decades, with both sides engaging in a high-stakes game of surveillance and intelligence gathering. The collision involving the USS Kitty Hawk is but one example in a series of underwater encounters that could have led to catastrophes, especially considering both vessels likely carried nuclear armaments.

    The USS Constellation (CV 64) (foreground) steams alongside the USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) in the South China Sea on Aug. 8, 1999” by manhhai is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    The advent of sub-carriers might mitigate the risk of such direct confrontations by enabling more discreet operations. Israel’s recent success with the Ninox 103, a submarine-launched reconnaissance drone, highlights the ongoing interest and potential of this technology.

    Beret March of IDF’s Submarine Combat Soldiers” by Israel Defense Forces is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    The Ninox 103 leverages artificial intelligence to operate autonomously and communicate with ground troops, all while being launched undetected from beneath the waves.

    LUBECK” by TimWebb is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    Furthermore, the concept extends beyond reconnaissance. Drones could assist in torpedo targeting, providing real-time data on enemy ship movements back to the sub-carrier, enhancing precision in combat situations. Additionally, these UAVs could significantly benefit Navy SEAL operations, potentially acting as spotters to clear paths and gather intelligence for inserted teams.

    Sept. 1945: aircraft-carrying submarines at Yokosuka , alongside US tender USS PROTEUS – USN.” by Kookaburra2011 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    The historical context provided by these submarine and carrier developments sheds light on the continuing evolution of naval warfare. The allure of merging the stealth capabilities of a submarine with the tactical edge provided by an aircraft is not new.

    Royal Navy P2000 Patrol Boat HMS Dasher Escorts the Nuclear Submarine HMS Vanguard” by Defence Images is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Both World War I and II saw nascent attempts at combining the two, like the German U-Boat SM U-12 and the Japanese I-400-class submarines, which harbored a vision that has influenced modern military strategists.

    Santa waves to friends and family as USS San Juan (SSN 751) returns to Submarine Base New London.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    As the world’s navies seek ways to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of war, the sub-carrier stands as a testament to the ingenious, though sometimes precarious, blend of technology and strategy.

    Royal Navy Submarine HMS Talent Conducts Surfacing Drills in Scotland” by Defence Images is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    With the continuing development of UAV technology and the U.S. Navy’s dedicated research, the future of naval warfare might just rest beneath the waves, with stealth sub-carriers at the forefront of this aquatic revolution.

    Relevant articles:
    The Sub-Carrier: Merge Together An Aircraft Carrier and Submarine, The National Interest
    80,000-Ton US Aircraft Carrier Collides With Russian Submarine – Recalling ‘Scary Accident’ Between Two Nuclear Warships, eurasiantimes.com
    The SubCarrier: Can the Navy Merge An Aircraft Carrier and Submarine?, The National Interest
    How Carrier Battle Groups Work, HowStuffWorks

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