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The term modern naval tactics refers to tactical doctrines developed after World War II, following the final obsolescence of the battleship and the development of long-range missiles. Since there has been no major naval conflict since World War II, with the exception of the Falklands War, many of these doctrines reflect scenarios developed for planning purposes. Critics argue that the collapse of the Soviet Unionmarker and the subsequent reduction in the size and capabilities of the Russian navy renders most such scenarios obsolete.

Key concepts

A central concept in modern naval warfare is battle space: a zone around a naval force within which a commander is confident of detecting, tracking, engaging and destroying threats before they pose a danger. As in all forms of warfare, a central objective is to detect the enemy while avoiding detection.The open sea provides the most favorable battle space for a surface fleet. The presence of land and the bottom topology of an area compress the battle space, limit the opportunities to maneuver, make it easier for an enemy to predict the location of the fleet and make the detection of enemy forces more difficult. In shallow waters, the detection of submarines and mine is especially problematic.

One scenario that was the focus of American and NATOmarker naval planning during the Cold War was a conflict between two modern and well equipped fleets on the high seas, the clash of the United States/NATO and the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact. The main consideration is for Carrier Battle Groups (CVBGs). Critics of current naval doctrine argue that, although such a fleet battle is unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future, Cold War thinking continues to dominate naval practice [84387]. However, the possibility of conventional naval combat in the future increases as the naval budgets of Russia and South and East Asia rise.

The key threat in modern naval combat is the airborne missile. These self-propelled, electronically guided, ordnance laden offensive weapons can be delivered from surface, subsurface or airborne platforms. With missile speeds ranging up to Mach 4, engagement time may be only seconds. The key to successful defence is thus to destroy the launching platform before it fires, thus removing a number of missile threats in one go. This is not always possible so the anti-aircraft warfare (AAW) resources need to be balanced between the outer and inner air battles. Missile Tactics are now mostly fire and forget (e.g. the Harpoon) or over-the-horizon targeting. Close-range missile defence for both Nato and Warsaw Pact is coverd by CIWS or anti-missile Gatling Guns.

Though traveling under water and at lower speeds, torpedoes present a similar threat. As is the case with airborne missiles, torpedoes are self-propelled and can be launched from surface, subsurface, and air platforms. Modern versions of this weapon present a wide selection of homing technologies specially suited to their particular target. Unlike airborne missiles, however, there are far fewer means to destroy incoming torpedoes.

Submarines, as subsurface launching platforms, present an important threat to conventional naval operations. Anechoic coatings, ultra-quiet pump-jets, etc., provide modern submarines with stealth, their sole advantage. The move towards shallow-water operations has greatly increased this advantage. The suspicion of a submarine threat can force a fleet to commit resources to removing it, as the consequences of an undetected enemy submarine can obviously be lethal. The threat posed by British submarines during the Falklands War of 1982 was one of the reasons why the Argentine Navy was limited in its operations.

In modern naval combat, there is the potential of a deadly strike being launched from up to 600 nautical miles (1,100 km) away. This is a huge area to scout. The double-edged answer to this is electronic warfare.

Conventional naval forces are also seen as providing a capability for power projection.

Non-conventional naval activities

Naval forces have often been involved in non-conventional naval warfare and operations other than warfare. This has continued since the end of the Cold-War, as the prospect of combat in which both sides employ conventional naval forces receded in the 1990s.

Such missions include:

Modern naval operations

The Falklands War

The Falklands War of 1982 was the only significant conflict involving naval forces since World War II. The primary combat was between the Argentine Air force, based on the mainland, and the British naval force centered on aircraft carriers. Argentine naval forces played only a minor role in the conflict.

The War demonstrated the importance of naval airborne early warning (AEW). Vital to British success was the protection of the two Royal Navy aircraft carriers, HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible. In 1982, the Royal Navy had effectively zero over-the-horizon radar capability, so to protect the British naval taskforce several destroyers and frigates were sent on radar picket duty to essentially form the first line of defense against Argentine air attacks. As a result, the British lost the Type 42 destroyer HMS Sheffieldmarker to fire following an Argentine Exocet missile strike. As a result of the conflict, the Royal Navy modified some Westland Sea King helicopters for the AEW role. Other navies (including France, Spain and Italy) have since included AEW aircraft or helicopters on their carriers.

The conflict also led to an increased interest in the close defense capabilities of naval ships, including Close-in weapon systems (CIWS) as a last-ditch defense against incoming missiles. The attack on the US frigate USS Stark on patrol in the Persian Gulf in 1987 also highlighted the danger of anti-ship missiles, and in the case of the USS Stark, the Iraqi Exocet missiles were not detected and their CIWS was not turned on, since the ship was not expecting attack.

The Falklands war also saw the only time a warship has been sunk by a nuclear-powered submarine in a hostile attack when the British nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror attacked the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano with torpedoes. With their nuclear propulsion plants, the submarines were able to remain on station virtually undetected.

Other conflicts involving naval forces

Naval forces have played a supporting role in some land battles. US battleships provided gunfire support during the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War. During the Falklands War, British warships were able to bombard Argentine positions. British and Australian warships provided gunfire support to the Al Fawmarker operation during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. US and UK naval forces have used Tomahawk cruise missiles against land targets in the course of actions undertaken since the end of the Cold War.

The USS Cole bombingmarker, a year 2000 suicide mission on a US destroyer in a Yemen harbour, has resulted in an increased awareness of terrorist risks whilst warships are in harbour or near potentially hostile coastlines. The War on Terrorism has also seen increased awareness of the naval role against terrorism. The US-led invasion of Afghanistan reaffirmed the role of naval air power, and US carrier based aircraft provided most of the sorties over Afghanistan against Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces. Over 90% of munitions delivered by the US Navy in Operation Enduring Freedom were precision-guided munitions. Several nations contributed vessels and maritime patrol aircraft to deny Al-Qaeda access to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, including the US, Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, Netherlands and New Zealand amongst others. France and Italy also used their carrier based aircraft over Afghanistan. Special forces operated from US and British carriers, in particular, the USS Kitty Hawk. Aircraft traditionally used for maritime patrol such as the Nimrod and P-3 Orion were also used in the overland surveillance role over Afghanistan as well as during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

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