Drone attack on Saudi Arabia proves we shouldn’t build big expensive Navy ships?

Back in March, I wrote “Robot kamikaze submarines shaped like blue whales render navy ships useless?” and asked “Does it make sense to spend $billions on these Navy ships that could be attacked by robots?”

A reader responded “Forget about submarines, anti-ship missiles probably make every surface ship a sitting duck in a war.”

Does the recent drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities (Guardian) prove this reader’s point?

They had the latest and greatest air defense systems says “Did U.S. Missile Defenses Fail During Saudi Oil Attack?”:

The attack revealed the limits of Saudi Arabia’s seemingly sophisticated air-defense system. Riyadh in recent years has spent billions of dollars building up six battalions of U.S.-made Patriot surface-to-air missiles and associated radars. The Patriots didn’t stop the recent attack.

A ship doesn’t have a better air defense system than what the Saudis had, does it? If not, why would we want to spend $10+ billion on a Navy ship when it can be wiped out by a relatively weak adversary, such as the Houthi rebels that are blamed for this attack on the Saudis?

(Also, why should the U.S. fight with Iran over this? Saudi Arabia is not a member of NATO, right? China is not going to deploy its military on one side or the other of this fight. If it doesn’t make sense for China to weigh in, why does it make sense for us?)

Posted in War

8 thoughts on “Drone attack on Saudi Arabia proves we shouldn’t build big expensive Navy ships?

  1. It’s hard to say because of several variables:

    1. We don’t know whether the Saudis are actually capable of using their fancy US equipment effectively. The Saudi military doesn’t exactly have a reputation for competence, and the linked article does suggest that they’re not capable of maintaining it.
    2. As far as I know the rules of engagement the Saudis were operating under haven’t been made public. They may well have been ordered to hold fire on aircraft until the aircraft do something clearly hostile, which a kamikaze drone wouldn’t do until it was too late.
    3. Ground attack aircraft normally fly very low on the way to their targets to hide in ground clutter, which doesn’t work when attacking a target that’s nowhere near the ground.

  2. I’m not a military nerd, but most of your comments are somewhat uninformed.

    1. Its a lot harder to defend a whole country, than a single warship.
    2. Warships DO have better defence mechanisms.
    3. Anti-ship missiles are not new.
    4. In the open ocean incoming threats are easier to identify.
    5. Sinking a warship with a single hit is quite difficult.
    6. The Houthis claimed credit, but the attack involved a state entity.

    • All excellent points. Not to mention, a Navy ship is far more hardened than an oil refinery. If it wasn’t for the flammable liquid in the storage tanks that were hit, I doubt much damage would have been done by the relatively small warheads in both the drone and cruise missiles.

  3. The US Navy has in fact far better defenses than the Saudis, and more importantly, competent personnel manning them. But on the other hand they have a far more fearsome opponent in China, and their defenses are unlikely to stop China’s land-sea missiles.

    There are some young turks in the Navy who suggested ditching expensive carriers and replacing them with much swarms of much cheaper commercial vessels refitted with a flying deck suitable for drones. Needless to say, the Navy brass is not amused.

  4. Like others already said, Saudi military is incompetence at best. Look at Israel, similar attacks are carried out from their enemies that in many cases under 20 miles away and yet Israel is able to fend them off using their Iron Dome. The best and latest technology means nothing if the people who operate them are not up to it.

    Speaking of such attacks like the one carried out against the Saudi oil field. This kind of war is nothing new and cannot be won by a military force. You are not fighting with a known country for which once the losing country losses, the war is over. You are fighting against a lose militia fighters in a country that doesn’t have stable government for which the militia is financed and armed by a proxy country.

    The only way to stop this is to cut off ties with countries that are financing the militia — this means holding Saudi Arabia accountable too, not just Iran.

  5. The drone attack on Saudi Arabia did not do much damage, the oil markets would have reacted much more if the damage was significant. This will be a question of economics, the explosive payload capacity for these drones is quite small, so they would not be very useful against hard targets like military vessels. They could be very useful against a soft target, like a crowd of people. The cost of launching a drone with small bomb is very low, much lower than say training a suicide bomber. Instead of trying to teach kids and young adults to blow themselves up in a market, you can teach kids on flying drones, then you just put explosives on the drones and get the kids to fly them into crowds. You can make it as fun as a video game. You would have kids lined up to join your drone STEM program in the your middle east terrorist training camp, because it is no longer a suicide mission, so the personal cost and economic cost are suddenly 1000 times lower. Add some religious texts that the drones are a gift from Allah to deliver bombs to the infidels. No more difficult recruiting. Imagine a group of 10 or more kids each piloting a drone towards a crowded market. The end less supply of cheap drones from China and kids to fly them, would mean daily attacks would be possible. Very hard to catch them when they all go running in different directions after their mission is complete.

    If you want to take out military vessels or transport ships, there is a much simpler and cheaper solution. You can make a cheap naval mine using a battery, oil drum and some explosives, the Iranians make these things in the same quantity as daily bread and drop them all over the gulf waters.

    It will be a very scary future.

  6. > …we shouldn’t build big expensive Navy ships?
    The Navy wholeheartedly agrees!
    We should build *small* expensive ones instead, and since they are going to be so small we will need more of them.

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