By lex, on February 9th, 2008
From the time of the Spanish Armada until today, naval warfare has been about firepower and mobility: Put the most firepower you can on the largest ships that will hold them and row, sail or steam them as fast as you can into harm’s way.
Where weight and accuracy were matched, tactics held sway – Drake used fireships and the weather gage to sink what Spanish ships he could before their survivors dashed themselves to bits against the rocks of Ireland. Hundreds of years later battleship sailors conjured the ghosts of Jutland and Tsushima by maneuvering to “cross the T” at Cape Esperance and the Surigao Straight.
Smashing victories were won, but even by then the hour of the great gun had come and gone. Carrier air power was decisive to the Allied victory in the Philippine Sea, and at Midway, great fleets were sent to the bottom never having seen the ships of their enemy. Soon massive aircraft carriers swam the sea, dwarfing the dreadnoughts of the past and carrying ever greater numbers of airplanes with ever more powerful weapons – first unguided bombs, and then at last precision bombs and guided missiles. As aircraft took to the skies, shipboard maneuvers were defensive rather than offensive in nature.
The flattops were seen as a troubling innovation to the battleship captains. Air power was seen as a kind of paradigm shift, a threat to the established way of things. But senior naval officers realized carrier air power was truly more evolutionary than revolutionary: We had simply found a new way to put more firepower on larger ships, deploying it at ever greater distances and more quickly.
Which is why this picture struck a strange chord in me today. It seemed almost like a premonition:
The crew of a naval special warfare boat are seen here launching a Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle.
Here is still mobility, to be certain – but not ocean going reach. And there is firepower to be sure but in this there is nothing of the clashing test of great weights of fire and armor, but rather an application of force that is stealthy, surreptitious, almost guileful.
I read too much in perhaps, but somehow this seems a fitting metaphor for our age in this wee little boat, with its wee, small drone.
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