Fate of the Carriers in a 1983 exchange

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by creighton, Feb 9, 2019.

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  1. creighton Everything’s coming up Milhouse

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    If Able Archer goes hot, would any of the US’ aircraft carriers make it, or would they have been taken by sub launched or bomber nukes?
     
  2. Ian_W Kicked

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    If nukes are flying, it's pretty sure that US aircraft carriers are high on the target list.

    Basically, if they Soviets know where they are, they get nuked.
     
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  3. chankljp The sensitive soul of a heartbroken idealist Donor

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    During that period, the Walker family spy ring has been active since 1967, and was not discovered until 1985. Considering that they had provided the Soviets with literally all the codes used by the US Navy in their communications, the USSR would have had full access to the estimated position, speed and route of US Navy task forces in the world, including all the carrier strike groups. Hence, in an Able Archer nuclear exchange scenario, they would have most certainly been some of the first targets to be taken out.
     
  4. creighton Everything’s coming up Milhouse

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    Thanks! I recently was rereading Red Storm Rising, and although it doesn't involve nukes, I always found the carrier strike group battle in the opening days of the war interesting, and it got me wondering about this.
     
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  5. GarethC Donor

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    The Soviet doctrine at the time ackmowledged that a USN CVBG was a very tough nut to crack, requiring multiple-axis attacks with A- & SLCMs, starting with bearing-only launches from beyond effective range to try to localize the target on AD radar emissions via ESM. Follow-up regimental salvos would attrite CAP loadouts and SAM magazines before ulimately detonating a nuclear warhead outside close-in weapons range.

    Nonetheless, the ALCMs are detected as they climb after launch and engaged at 80 nm or so - nuclear-tipped missiles may well get shot down well before detonation. An intrepid antiair officer may sneak a couple of F-14s within 100nm of the bomber stream and shoot down the aircraft before weapons release. The SSGN may be detected crossing the SOSUS network and get pillaged by a Viking, or cause a magnetic anomaly detection on an MPA that flies overhead by dumb luck.

    Having said all that, the ideal Soviet opening hand was to keep a "tattletale" destroyer near all the carriers they could, and at H-hour, launch a nuclear-tipped supersonic seaskimming missile like the P-270 Moskit (NATO SS-N-22 Sunburn) to wipe out the air group within thirty seconds. Gorshkov wasn't kidding when he called it a "Battle of the First Salvo".
     
  6. GDIS Pathe Well-Known Member

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    Some are sunk by Soviet SSN SSGN and Soviet missiles, some survive finding the exact location of a group of ships that are moving at 20+ knots every hour is actually pretty damn hard knowing that a ship is out there somewhere is difficult from knowing exactly where it is so you can plaster that position with multi-kiloton warheads
     
  7. Riain Well-Known Member

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    Being located doesn't mean an attack will be successful, let alone mean the carriers are actually sunk.

    Soviet Naval Aviation had 4 active regiments of Tu22Ms in 2 divisions, one in the North and the other in the Crimea and a training regiment also in the Crimea. They also had some 30 Charlie and Oscar class SSGNs.

    IIRC Red Storm Rising had a complex operation resulting in a regiment firing 60 missiles, such an attack in the Pacific would have likely only had 30 missiles due to the distances involved.

    The CBGs are by no means defenceless, and are dispersed to reduce the damage a nuke can do, so all in all I think maybe only 1/3 of carriers would be sunk ion the opening days of 1983 WW3.
     
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  8. Barry Bull Donor

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    The issue of dispersal is one that is often missed by the amatuer students of military matters. The comprising ships of a CBG is so widely spread out that a nuclear attack on the outlying escorts can hardly touch the CV.
     
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  9. PSL Information not passed on is lost.

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  10. Md139115 Bring back the Inquisition!

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    It’s a rather open secret that CVBGs can be a LOT faster than that...
     
  11. GDIS Pathe Well-Known Member

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    Oh I if they just detached the carriers and the nuclear escorts they can probably move at 40+ knots indefinitely which makes it rather hard for them to be hit
     
  12. Md139115 Bring back the Inquisition!

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    About that...

    The carrier is probably the fastest ship in the group...
     
  13. Riain Well-Known Member

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    I've read that might be a myth, the speed of a ship is about the power it makes and carriers have been making 280,000 shp since the 80s but each carrier has been getting fatter and fatter within the same length so speeds may have dropped to as little as 31 knots, compared to 35kts+ for the Vinson. What makes carriers and the older nuke escorts look so fast was their acceleration, they could make heaps to steam really fast and be hitting their top speed faster than an oil burner.
     
  14. Barry Bull Donor

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    There is also the issue that once the CBG entered strict wartime EMCON condition (which may or may not involve change of code books), the efficiency of previous breached codes may have been reduced. Even if the code breaches remain effective, reduction in transmissions from CBGs means the Soviet still had to rely on their ocean surveillance system to acquire sufficiently precise location of CBGs to allow their strike assets to successfully target CBGs. This is where USAF ASAT missiles may become useful.

    Furthermore, the relatively small amount of airbases that served as launchpads for air strikes may themselves be subject to long range air and missile strikes that comes from non-CBG sources.
     
  15. Md139115 Bring back the Inquisition!

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    Your numbers seem accurate, but I’ve heard (second hand) from someone on one of the newer carriers that it is definitely not a myth. So either the Navy is lying about the horsepower output, or my second-hand anecdotal source is inaccurate. Probably a 50-50 chance to be honest.
     
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  16. NOMISYRRUC Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch!

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    Did you mean, annihilate?

    I thought annulate wasn't a word. However, according to the Collins on line dictionary it is an adjective and means: having, composed of, or marked with rings.
     
  17. Riain Well-Known Member

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    It's the publicity photos that do it: showing a bunch of ships all close together with not enough room to even turn away from an incoming missile let alone use a CIWS without spraying other ships.
     
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  18. Ashley Pomeroy Member

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    I don't know when it was posted - I think it's a relic of the pre-"September that never ended" internet - but this article on NavWeaps.com about hiding a task force is fascinating:
    http://www.navweaps.com/index_tech/tech-031.php

    "The AS4/6 on a Badger or Backfire in regimental strength backed with Bears in the recon role were and are formidable. They roughly had a Regiment per carrier. In a straight-forward engagement, the issue would have been "in doubt" at best. If a strike regiment caught a CV by surprise it would have been curtains. An alerted CV would have a better than even chance of surviving, but probable losses would have been severe.

    But the Regiment running through fighter opposition to their launch points and then getting back out would have taken crippling losses. They would have not been able to mount a second strike and would have been effectively destroyed if not annihilated. If a missile trap is set so that the regiment is climbing to launch altitude over a missile ship it doesn't know about until the radar comes up and missiles start impacting, the fight will be over before it barely starts."

    And:
    "We would also deliberately provide a false contact reference. If a searching aircraft is intercepted they can draw an operational radius of previously observed intercepts and conclude the CV is in that area. That allows a concentrated search. Now if we had deliberately intercepted him at an extended range and then moved the carrier at high speed in the other direction the search effort is concentrated at the wrong point.

    I did that one day by tanking an A7, running him out a long range and bringing him into an intercept of two Bears that were visually searching and identifying fishing boats and merchants trying to find us. I brought him in off-axis and took him back out off-axis (in other words not directly to or from the CV). We then cranked up the 32.5 knots the Midway could then do and went in the other direction. A few hours later we observed a "large number" of search aircraft vainly saturating that area of the ocean and giving all the fishing boats a great air show."
     
  19. Riain Well-Known Member

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    @Ashley Pomeroy I read the same article years ago, its fascinating.

    I'd add that a lot of contacts, at least 20% and at times 80% are detected by passive means: ESSM. Further, strange off the brochure stuff happens with the electromagnetic spectrum, where surface search radars with a horizon of 25 miles can often pick up targets well beyond that and even bending around the curvature of the earth out to 100 miles.

    All this adds up to a answer why the navies that can build big carriers always do, despite the harping of pundits.
     
  20. History Learner Well-Known Member

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    The Soviets aren't going to waste ICBMs on moving targets, nor do their aircraft have the reach to get all of the Carriers at sea. Submarines are the only realistic path and, given the USN's abilities, I sincerely doubt their Soviet counterparts could get them all.