02 June 2011

Proceedings article by CDR Scott Tait, USN, on how to defeat anti-ship missiles: “Make Smoke!”

Cdr. Scott Tait, USN, Make Smoke!” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 137.6 (June 2011).

Borrowing a tool from the Army, the Navy could revive a long-dormant tactic to defend against the threat of today’s high-tech antiship missiles.

Two characteristics seem certain to define the military environment for the immediate future: rapid, radical technological change, and increased budget pressure on service accounts. There is a temptation to think that our acquisition community, along with R&D and industry, must take the lead in these technology-based competitions; that the Fleet must wait for Office of the Chief of Naval Operations to buy solutions to our problems. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth—or less aligned with our history.

When our Navy has faced times like these before, notably the interwar period of 1919–1941, progress most often was driven by Fleet innovation using existing technologies. As Captain Wayne Hughes noted in his exceptional work Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, the pages of Proceedings from that era were filled with articles by naval operators debating the merits of various tactics and recommending innovative uses of existing means to achieve new ends. The current era demands a similar approach, and the Fleet must step forward to lead the debate.

What follows is offered in that spirit—a vision for implementation of modern radio-frequency obscurants, an existing U.S. Army passive-defense technology recently advocated by Thomas Culora, a professor at the Naval War College. It would require returning to tactics the Navy has not trained to since World War II, but the potential benefits might include substantial improvement in ship defense against what are arguably the most pressing threats: antiship cruise and ballistic missiles. …