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Old 02-16-2004, 03:50 PM
Poetgrrl Poetgrrl is offline
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Did the USSR have the cability of sinking a US Aircraft carrier during the Cold War?

Some friends were talking about a bunch of hypothetical NATO vs Warsaw Pact scenarios. One of the discussions regarded the Soviet efforts to counter US Carrier groups. A Carrier Group, from what I understood in the conversation, was 1 Aircraft carrier, and several escort ships along with submarines. The carrier itself has planes it can send out to attack distant targets.

It seems like the Soviets really didn't take the aircraft carrier approach themselves- people mentioned they have ships that could carry helicopters, but instead of carrier groups they would have really big missile ships.

So did the soviets plan on hitting the carrier from long range with missiles? Because it seems like the US tactic was foolproof- no matter which conventional way a carrier group was attacked (planes, ships, submarines) the carrier group would have many ways of detecting it and stopping it in advance. How did the Soviets plan on even getting close enough to pull this off?
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Old 02-16-2004, 04:02 PM
kinoons kinoons is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Poetgrrl
Some friends were talking about a bunch of hypothetical NATO vs Warsaw Pact scenarios. One of the discussions regarded the Soviet efforts to counter US Carrier groups. A Carrier Group, from what I understood in the conversation, was 1 Aircraft carrier, and several escort ships along with submarines. The carrier itself has planes it can send out to attack distant targets.

It seems like the Soviets really didn't take the aircraft carrier approach themselves- people mentioned they have ships that could carry helicopters, but instead of carrier groups they would have really big missile ships.

So did the soviets plan on hitting the carrier from long range with missiles? Because it seems like the US tactic was foolproof- no matter which conventional way a carrier group was attacked (planes, ships, submarines) the carrier group would have many ways of detecting it and stopping it in advance. How did the Soviets plan on even getting close enough to pull this off?
The USSR did have a large number of long range bombers. If the carrier came close enough to land, those could have been an issue.

My best guess would have been cruse missles delpoyed with nuclear warheads. They don't have to get terribly close to do some serious damage.

Just my 50 cent guess
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Old 02-16-2004, 04:04 PM
Uncivil Uncivil is offline
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Well, they could have nuked it. Although I assume you are talking about conventional weapons?

A carrier group has multiple defences against air, surface & sub-surface attacks, but none of them are foolproof. A carrier would be a very difficult target, but not invulnerable. If the Soviets attacked with enough aircraft, they'd eventually get through. Or a submarine might be able to slip through the defences and launch torpedos.
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Old 02-16-2004, 04:11 PM
ftg ftg is offline
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Interesting, Adm. Rickover ("The father of the nuclear navy.") thought carriers were a complete waste of money in an all-out war. Quoted saying something like "they wouldn't last 15 minutes." But I believe that included nukes being lobbed at the carriers.

Conventional? A decent navy with a lot of Exocet class missiles 20 years ago could cause a lot of damage. But they would also be taking a lot of damage back. I doubt the Soviets had missiles that were really that good nor had the defensive capabilities to last long enough in a one-group vs. one-group encounter.

Now subs, that's where it might get hard to second guess. The Soviets were very good at sneaking their subs around. (Which would be what would hit the carriers during a nuclear war using missiles.) Very interesting...
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Old 02-16-2004, 04:15 PM
Buran Buran is offline
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If your interested I can dig out the notes I have on just this scenario and the hypothetical means of sinking a US Carrier by the Soviets during the Cold War.

If the war went nuclear (most likely from the get go) US studies (which I've read but don't have my hands on) said that within a week most major US Naval Assets would be radioactive heaps at the bottom of the sea. This is in a limited, military forces only and protracted nuclear engagement though. But carriers had no defences against them.

And even in conventional weapons they weren't called "floating bullseyes" for nothing

The Soviets could have overwhelmed the carrier battlegroups defenses if the CBG got too close in to shore (still hundreds of miles) or attacked with long range bombers such as the Tu-22M Backfire (my favourite) which would have been costly for the attackers.

The other big one, especially in Soviet terms is the submarines, either try a stealthy attack with a couple of subs or again throw a handful or more at them and hope one gets through.

Add in nuclear-tipped torpedos for even more fun.

I really should dig out those notes just out of interest....
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Old 02-16-2004, 04:22 PM
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The big thing of course is the carrier never operates alone but in large group of specialised ships.
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Old 02-16-2004, 04:31 PM
Redsland Redsland is offline
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On preview, I see that most of these points have been made, but here goes:

If the carrier battle group was within a couple hundred miles of Soviet-controlled land, the Soviets could overwhelm the U.S. carrier's 80 planes with a very large number of fighter aircraft.

Under most circumstances, the Soviets probably couldn't count on U.S. forces exposing themselves like this. So the Soviets emphasized submarines.

In 1991, the U.S. was beginning to turn away from Reagan's dream of a 600-ship navy, which is a very large navy. At the time, we had 93 attack subs, representing our largest peacetime undersea attack force.

The Soviets, by way of comparison had 203 attack boats at their fleet's peak in 1989, and an additional 66 guided missile subs.

So, to answer the O.P.'s question, one tactic a Soviet admiral might have employed if he really wanted to off a U.S. carrier and/or its battle group, would be to send in a large submarine wolf pack. A CBG was composed of two attack subs, so if the Soviets could overwhelm these while confusing the escort destroyers, they might be able to shoot some torpedoes and cruise missiles at the carrier. The more subs the Soviets could throw at the CBG, the more likely they’d score some hits. Of course, the undersea choreography would get stickier, too.
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Old 02-16-2004, 04:48 PM
Loopydude Loopydude is offline
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Super-Cavitating torpedos

I believe the Soviets were developing/had developed "super-cavitating" torpedos (which the Russians continue to work on). These were torpedos fit with special tips that would create high friction. The friction vaporized water, which expanded in a bubble surrounding all but the tip of the fore end of the torpedo and stretched aft, enveloping the torpedo in steam. This vapor cushion dramatically reduces drag on the torpedo, allowing rocket-propelled versions to travel literally hundreds of knots beneath the water. Even today, our Navy has no adequate countermeasure against such a weapon (nor anything comparable to fire back). A few of these with conventional warheads, or a small nuclear warhead, could sink a carrier, no question. One caveat is that these underwater missiles can't be steered (at least, not very well), so it's possible launching them could be very risky for the attacker, since lining up the kill might give the target ample time to launch a counterattack torpedo, though probably not enough time to save itself. Once the rocket is on its way, no ship the size of a carrier (or even much smaller) can take evasive action quickly enough to avoid being hit. If these weapons become prevalent, it may be necessary for the Navy to develop some kind of underwater cannon firing super-cavitating shells, sort of like the anti-missle guns you see on ships above-board. Or maybe even super-cavitating anti-super-cavitating-torpedo missiles, since supercavitating shells don't travel very far underwater after being fired. Given how well Patriots perform against SCUDS, I'd say our anti-missile technology isn't up to the task, currently.

It is rumored that a "Shkval" super-cavitating torpedo is what blew up and sunk the Kursk; hence Russian reluctance to seek international aid, though the final analysis reveals nothing could have been done to save the few surviving crew after the explosion.
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Old 02-16-2004, 05:31 PM
Sofa King Sofa King is offline
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Tom Clancy seems to have thought so. His fictional book Red Storm Rising details the overwhelming of a carrier group's defenses by Backfire-launched missiles. As I recall, the carrier was only disabled, but disabling and sinking are really effectively the same in the sort of short, all-out conventional war envisioned by both sides during the Cold War.
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Old 02-16-2004, 06:02 PM
Padeye Padeye is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kinoons
My best guess would have been cruse missles delpoyed with nuclear warheads. They don't have to get terribly close to do some serious damage.
IIRC the AIM-54 Phoenix has been successfully tested against cruise missles as the F-14's primary role was fleet air defense. I'm not saying that it makes carriers invulnerable, but somewhat less so than without them. An intercepted cruise missle becomes a mere dirty bomb rather than a nuclear device.
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  #11  
Old 02-16-2004, 06:31 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is online now
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The doctrine on nuclear attacks against naval ships was a dangerous ambiguity back during the cold war. Neither side stated their position definitively, but the Soviet Union implied that it did not regard a tactical nuclear attack against a naval ship as a general nuclear attack and the United States implied it would regard such an attack as a general strike. Obviously both sides were attempting to create a position that favored their own military, but it was dangerous when the two sides didn't agree on what the rules were.
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Old 02-16-2004, 07:39 PM
Buran Buran is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Padeye
IIRC the AIM-54 Phoenix has been successfully tested against cruise missles as the F-14's primary role was fleet air defense. I'm not saying that it makes carriers invulnerable, but somewhat less so than without them. An intercepted cruise missle becomes a mere dirty bomb rather than a nuclear device.
Only problem is that the Soviet and now Russian cruise and anti-ship missiles are rather different than western variants which tend to be relatively small and slower (subsonic in the "cruise" missiles case)

Russian missiles are massive, designed to fly at several times the speed of sound at low level and execute a diving attack impacting at extremly high speed, even if one is hit its still going to do massive damage from kinetic energy alone.

Not unstoppable but not a fun thing to get poked by either.

(isn't the F14 and AIM-54 shortly going out of service though?)
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Old 02-16-2004, 09:10 PM
Diceman Diceman is offline
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I've read about the Russian super-cavitating torpedos. According to rumors, those suckers are so fast that there's really no defense against them (except to hope that it malfunctions and blows up the parent sub, a la the Kursk). Those things could be pretty nasty in a battle.
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Old 02-16-2004, 11:20 PM
Ravenman Ravenman is offline
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I am not sure about when it was deployed, but Russia developed a nasty anti-ship missile known as the SS-N 22 Sunburn: a sea-skimming missile that moves at about Mach 2.5, with a pretty damn big warhead.

A few years ago, I worked with a guy who later ended up being the captain of a US Navy destroyer. He said, basically, that he'd hate to go up against one of those, because as soon as you found it, it was right on top of you.

It's my non-expert opinion that if one of these missiles were so dreaded by the skipper of an Aegis-equipped boat, they'd be dreaded many times over by a carrier battle group.
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  #15  
Old 02-17-2004, 01:12 AM
Cerowyn Cerowyn is offline
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One Soviet missile that generated a lot of consternation in the Pentagon when it came out was the SS-N-19 "SHIPWRECK" -- a supersonic cruise missile that carried a 750 kg conventional warhead, or a 500 kiloton nuclear.

The SS-N-22 "SUNBURN" had a much shorter range (250 km vs. 900+ km for the SHIPWRECK), but is capable of Mach 3 at high altitude and Mach 2.2 at very low altitude. Theoretical response time for counter-measures to a detected SUNBURN attack is 25-30 seconds (vs. 120-150 for most Western weapons, such as the Harpoon or Exocet). It carries a 320 kg conventional warhead.
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Old 02-17-2004, 04:28 PM
Quartz Quartz is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sofa King
Tom Clancy seems to have thought so. His fictional book Red Storm Rising details the overwhelming of a carrier group's defenses by Backfire-launched missiles. As I recall, the carrier was only disabled, but disabling and sinking are really effectively the same in the sort of short, all-out conventional war envisioned by both sides during the Cold War.
I remember reading that Clancy and Bond agreed that neither side would be able to eliminate the other side's carriers. Hence both Foch and Kiev survive, the latter despite four torpedo hits (from a Norwegian sub IIRC).
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Old 02-18-2004, 03:23 AM
Baa-Baas Baa-Baas is offline
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I think the point Tom Clancy was trying to make in Red Storm Rising was that even though any conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact would be highly technology orientated it would still come down to the skill and training used to employ these weapons.

Hence in the scene where the Soviets attack the Nimitz group they use decoy missiles as drones to draw off the American F-14's and their Phoenix missiles.

Even though I would agree with him that the Soviets had the ability to sink a US carrier, I think that in real life they did not have the flexibilty of command nor adequate enough training to actually pull it off.

On the flip side to this if a force is well trained and motivated enough to overcome its technical disadvantages then no vessel is immune from attack. The USS Cole being case in point.
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Old 02-18-2004, 09:51 AM
thereallouis thereallouis is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Loopydude
I believe the Soviets were developing/had developed "super-cavitating" torpedos (which the Russians continue to work on). These were torpedos fit with special tips that would create high friction. The friction vaporized water, which expanded in a bubble surrounding all but the tip of the fore end of the torpedo and stretched aft, enveloping the torpedo in steam. This vapor cushion dramatically reduces drag on the torpedo, allowing rocket-propelled versions to travel literally hundreds of knots beneath the water. Even today, our Navy has no adequate countermeasure against such a weapon (nor anything comparable to fire back). A few of these with conventional warheads, or a small nuclear warhead, could sink a carrier, no question. One caveat is that these underwater missiles can't be steered (at least, not very well), so it's possible launching them could be very risky for the attacker, since lining up the kill might give the target ample time to launch a counterattack torpedo, though probably not enough time to save itself. Once the rocket is on its way, no ship the size of a carrier (or even much smaller) can take evasive action quickly enough to avoid being hit. If these weapons become prevalent, it may be necessary for the Navy to develop some kind of underwater cannon firing super-cavitating shells, sort of like the anti-missle guns you see on ships above-board. Or maybe even super-cavitating anti-super-cavitating-torpedo missiles, since supercavitating shells don't travel very far underwater after being fired. Given how well Patriots perform against SCUDS, I'd say our anti-missile technology isn't up to the task, currently.

It is rumored that a "Shkval" super-cavitating torpedo is what blew up and sunk the Kursk; hence Russian reluctance to seek international aid, though the final analysis reveals nothing could have been done to save the few surviving crew after the explosion.
What I hear (a ex-engineer in charge of the engine room on board nuclear submarines with the royal navy based in chatam told me) is that the difference between nato and russian torpedos is the type of fuel used. The russians used a far more reactive fuel that would ignite on contact with oxygen. The royal navy experimented with this fuel and lost a sub. They decided it was to dangerous. The sinking of the Kursk was caused by a torpedo exploding while being fired according to him. I am studying ship science at southampton and have never hear of super cavitating torpedos but its feasable. (Id like to hear more about them what are your sources?)
By the way, russian submarines could go deeper and faster than nato submarines because russia has most of the worlds titanium( which is very expensive). The Kursk and many other russian subs had hulls made entirely of titanium. For the same weight(and volume) the hull could be much less thick and lighter than a steel or aluminium hull so more weigth could be taken up by powering or weaponry.
The question of who would of won a ussr/usa war is irrelevent since the world would of ended.
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Old 02-18-2004, 10:57 AM
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Scientific American article on "Warp Drive Underwater". It's gushes a bit.
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Old 02-18-2004, 01:53 PM
paperbackwriter paperbackwriter is offline
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The first question really should be: "Did the Soviet forces have the technical capability in (some named time period) to launch an attack that had a reasonable chance of overwhelming a Carrier Battle Group's defenses and sink one(1) of the carriers?" The multiplicity of qualifiers is necessary to make this a more concrete exercise. The OP specified "during the Cold War", however, this is a 55-year time period (1945-1999)(2), and therefore too broad. At times, the answer would have been "no". For instance, in the 1945-1950 time period, the Soviet Union had little in the way of long-range weapons, few naval assets of any type, and no deployed nuclear weapons(3).

Most answers above seem to be focused on the later Cold War period. In the 90's the technical capability certainly existed, and greatly worried Naval planners. The Soviet Navy at this time had capable delivery systems. Such as the Akula-class SSN, the quietest Soviet attack sub ever produced, and a real worry for our Los Angeles-class sailors.

Even worse, from the standpoint of the CBG commander, was the Oscar-class SSGN, each of which could launch 24 SS-N-19 "Shipwreck" cruise missiles. These missiles had a 300-nautical mile range and a speed between Mach 1.6 and 2.5(4). These missiles were specifically designed to attack American CBG's, it would have been a challenge to intercept all of them, even with the Phoenix and Aegis. As previously mentioned by others, similar antishipping cruise missiles could also be launched by the Tupolev Tu-22M "Backfire" and Tu-160 "Blackjack" bombers, both of which had aerial refueling capability. Finally, many Soviet Navy surface ships also carried the same or similar missiles. Put together in a coordinated attack, and the CBG has a real big problem.

So the short answer (after all that, I'm giving a "short" answer?) is "yes, at certain times."

The real conundrum is: Did they have the organizational and command capability to pull off such an attack? While the clear answer today is "no", we know much less about what would have happened, say, in 1990. They did successfully undertake some large fleet maneuvers and exercises at that time, but these exercises were highly-scripted and planned long in advance, in some cases for over a year.

Of course, put this question into a total nuclear war scenario, and the answer is undoubtedly "yes". As metioned before, the odds are that the CBG would be a target of nuclear forces.

NOTES
1: Standard composition of a CBG for most of this period was one carrier/group, but this varied, and sometimes two or more were in a group. Such as in the early-post war period, when one or two larger CV's and a smaller CVL might operate together.

2: Standard dates are 1946-1999, but IMHO, the tensions started to be evidence at the Yalta Conference.

3: 1st Soviet nuke test = 1949

4: Varies depending on the source of the information
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Old 02-18-2004, 04:47 PM
Buran Buran is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by paperbackwriter
The OP specified "during the Cold War", however, this is a 55-year time period (1945-1999)(2), and therefore too broad.

2: Standard dates are 1946-1999, but IMHO, the tensions started to be evidence at the Yalta Conference.
This is a good and interesting post, but the accepted span of the Cold War was 1945 - 1989.

Perhaps 1991, but by that date the USSR is about to vanish and the tensions between east and west were virtually gone by 1989.

45 years not 55.
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Old 02-18-2004, 05:54 PM
paperbackwriter paperbackwriter is offline
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You're completely correct; I plead no contest to Misplacing a Decade.
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