The Navy admits that the P-3 aircraft operating inside the active warning zones was engaged in an ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) exercise involving the dropping of 39 sonobouys. Obviously, if one is dropping sonobouys, one is tracking a submarine. After all, what good is flying a plane back and forth over the water without a target to practice ON?
Initially denied, the existence of a submarine in the area was revealed in the Newsday article, but the name of the submarine has yet to be made known.
This raises the question of whether the missile that downed Flight 800 could have been a submarine launched SAM.
This brings us to the following two photos of the cannister launch system.
In the above photograph, a cannister has been ejected from the submerged submarine's torpedo tube, either with compressed air or a quiet "swim out" motor, and has floated to the surface, and is photographed in the midst of jettisoning the end cap that protects the contents from the ocean environment.
Mere seconds later, the missile inside the cannister, in this case a Harpoon ship-killing missile, is being boosted out of the cannister and into the air.
Prior to the present time, ASW aircraft have enjoyed a one-sided game. They get to take all the shots at the sub, and the sub has no choice but to run and try to hide.
Mounting a credible defense against ASW attack from the air presents serious difficulties for the submarine. Even when surfaced, the submarine's shape limits both the effectiveness and range of air-search radars. Surfacing immediately presents a target for a kill from the air in any event. Staying deeply submerged provides the greatest safety for the submarine, but means that the submarine cannot locate and track the attacking aircraft. But the Aegis radars, operating from a safe distance away, provide that function, painting the attacking aircraft, and signaling the cannister launch via VLF or ELF radio.
The advantage of the cannister system is twofold. Launched via conventional torpedo tube, the system can be retrofitted to existing submarines without vertical launch tubes (such as the older 688 boats), and the delay in the cannister's rise to the surface allows the submarine to clear datum, so that the actual missile firing does not reveal the submarine's true location.
Clearly a missile that is launched from a direction other than the vector to the Aegis radar greatly complicates the air defense problem of the enemy, by masking the threat direction. Launched from closer in, a sub-launched missile also cuts the reaction time of the enemies air-defense system.
These are two real tactical advantages that the Standard missiles, launched from the Aegis ship itself, do not have.
Meanwhile, its worth noting that the enhanced type 688 submarine includes 12 vertical launch tubes forward of the sail which are admitted to handle Tomahawk and Harpoon. The Mark 41 surface launcher handles Tomahawk and Harpoon and Sea Sparrow and Standards with the same sized tube.
A 688 Los Angeles Class submarine launching using VLS (Vertical Launch System).
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