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Naval capabilities


For centuries, navies the world over have prided themselves on the vastness of their ships: their


fi repower, their length, the size of their crews. But since the end of the Cold War, as the prospect of all-out naval confl ict has receded, militaries have started reconsidering. What if, ultimately, the sea battles of tomorrow could be won without putting a single sailor in the line of fi re? Andrea Valentino learns more from Rear Admiral Kiril Mihaylov of the Bulgarian Navy and Bryan Clark, senior fellow and director of the Center for Defense Concepts and Technology at the Hudson Institute.


In ship shape U


ntil Passchendaele and the Somme dragged Europeans into a blood-soaked 20th century, military planners in Berlin and Whitehall looked not to the fields of Belgium, nor the endless Russian steppe as the future of warfare – but out to the open sea. They saw there a way of ruling their empires, securing friendly markets and proving the maxim, to quote one British admiral, that “our frontiers are the coasts of the enemy”. And so, in the years before the First World War, Germany and the British Empire embarked on one of the wildest sprees of naval construction ever seen. By the time hostilities finally began in 1914, the rivals had spent millions of pounds and amassed over 250 ships between them. That included 35 dreadnoughts – floating fortresses over 500ft long and boasting dozens of 27mm guns. In the end, the clash of the dreadnoughts at Jutland in 1916 proved mercifully underwhelming – compared with the slaughter in the trenches, anyway. Yet for many decades after, their size and firepower would cast long shadows. Think of the epic clash at Midway


58 Defence & Security Systems International / www.defence-and-security.com


or how aircraft carriers, big enough to fit dozens of aircraft, would rule the waves throughout the Cold War. To put it another way, though carpet-bombing and jet fighters quickly put the dreadnoughts out of style, the fundamental idea that naval supremacy is predicated on the scale of the ship – its length and its bristle of artillery – never really went away. Now, however, things are starting to change. Recognising that the gigantic naval clashes of earlier centuries are unlikely to be repeated anytime soon, naval planners are instead looking to downsize. Not that this necessarily means a reduction in efficiency. On the contrary, in the fight against pirates, insurgents or the many other threats of modern life, having fast and versatile vessels is a boon. Even better, navies are starting to examine the potential of autonomous boats. What if the maritime clashes of tomorrow could be fought remotely, from a landlocked barracks hundreds of miles away? An intriguing possibility – even if technology has some distance to catch up first.


Bulgarian Navy


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