Anti-surface warfare

Anti-surface warfare (ASuW or ASUW) is the branch of naval warfare concerned with the suppression of surface combatants. More generally, it is any weapons, sensors, or operations intended to attack or limit the effectiveness of an adversary's surface ships. Before the adoption of the submarine and naval aviation, all naval warfare consisted of anti-surface warfare. The distinct concept of an anti-surface warfare capability emerged after World War II, and literature on the subject as a distinct discipline is inherently dominated by the dynamics of the Cold War.

Categories of anti-surface warfare

Anti-surface warfare can be divided into four categories based on the platform from which weapons are launched:

  • Air (or aviation): Anti-surface warfare conducted by aircraft. Historically, this was conducted primarily through level- or dive-bombing, strafing runs or air-launching torpedoes (and in some cases by suicide (Kamikaze) attacks). Today, air ASuW is generally conducted by stand-off attacks using air-launched examples of cruise missiles (ALCM) or anti-ship missiles (ASM).
  • Surface: Anti-surface warfare conducted by warships. These vessels can use torpedoes, guns, surface-to-surface missiles, or mines. UAVs represent an emerging technology. Asymmetric methods include the suicide boat.
  • Submarine: Anti-surface warfare conducted by submarines. Historically, this was conducted using torpedoes and deck guns. More recently, the submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) has become a preferred anti-ship weapon, offering a significantly longer range.
  • Shore/Space: Historically, this refers to shore bombardment from coastal artillery, including cannons. Today, shore-based cruise or ballistic missiles are considerably more common. Further, ground-controlled satellites may provide data on fleet movements.

Anti-ship missiles include the Harpoon, RBS-15, P-500 Bazalt, Penguin and Exocet.


Following the results of the Battle of Taranto and the Battle of Midway, the primary combatant ship type was the CV or fleet carrier. After WW2, the ASuW concept primarily involved the multiple carrier battle-groups fielded by the US Navy, against which the Soviet Union designed specialized strategies that did not equate to a 1:1 match of designs.

Broadly speaking, military planners in the US after World War II envisioned that a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe would require a massive convoy effort to Europe to supply Allied forces in theatre. Against this necessity of logistical and combat support, the Soviet Union expanded its submarine fleet, which in the event of hostilities may have been sufficient to deny the supply of material to the theatre. As military strategists often design counter-strategies to meet the capabilities of the rival force, the Western then responded with the construction of SOSUS lines to track Soviet submarines.

From the air, Soviet naval aviation had ASuW capabilities. The Tupolev Tu-16 Badger G was armed with anti-ship missiles, followed by the Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire supersonic maritime strike bomber. Even the prop-driven Tu-142, primarily designed for ASW, could and was armed with antiship missiles.

Today, following the end of the Cold War, ASuW still involves asymmetries, which may for now be more pronounced.

Air ASuW

After the development of reliable, long-range, guided missiles, Air ASuW was imagined to consist of a mass attack by high-speed jet aircraft launching a sufficient number of missiles to overwhelm the air defences of a fleet. Some commentators believed that this capability was consistently underestimated. Exocet anti-ship missile strikes against the Royal Navy during the Falklands War even resulted in the adoption of 'Exocet' as a slang term for a 'sharp, devastating and surprising attack.' The USS Stark incident showed a medium-sized power could significantly damage a modern frigate, with the attack of a single plane on a single ship capable of inflicting heavy damage, let alone the scenario of a multi-ship flight.

The same advantages that made planes so successful against surface ships in World War II are largely still existent today. Aircraft can attack in large numbers with little warning and can carry multiple weapons that are each capable of disabling a ship. While warships are able to carry powerful defensive technologies the need to destroy every incoming missile leaves them at a disadvantage. Missiles and supersonic aircraft are very difficult targets to hit and even the most advanced systems cannot provide certainty of interception. During the Cold War the gulf was at its most pronounced, with saturation missile attacks a major concern but the gulf has closed a little in recent time. The advent of phased array radar on ships allow them to track and target a far larger number of targets at one time, increasing the number of missiles needed to saturate defences. The arrival of vertical launching systems allow for dozens of SAMs to be launched almost simultaneously from each ship, a substantial advance over older missile launchers that could only fire one or two missiles before reloading. Should salvoes of SAMs fail to destroy a saturation attack, 'soft kill' countermeasures are complemented by the invention of the point-defence Close in Weapons System, 'CIWS', usually a rapid-fire autocannon sometimes paired with a missile system as a last line of defence. Finally the arrival of networked fleet level defence direction using many radars and many launch platforms together to intercept a cloud of missiles allows for better use of defence resources. Previously each ship would have to act individually against a coordinated attack which leads to defensive fire being wasted on the same targets. Networking also brings information from airborne radar, giving vastly longer range than any ship board radar could achieve due to the radar horizon.

Additionally modern communication and intelligence tools make carrier fleets harder to attack than in previous decades. The challenge for a carrier in the 1970s was in effectively using its air arm against incoming bombers. Fighters could cause huge casualties in a bomber force, but their comparatively low range and loiter time made it impossible to keep a constant combat air patrol over hundreds of miles of ocean. The range of anti-ship missiles also typically put bombers out of range of fighters launching once a raid was detected, nullifying a major part of the fleets anti-air defences. The ability to bring real time intelligence from long range radars and satellite imaging to the fleet better allows fighters to be used against attackers in the air.

These improvements do not make a fleet impervious to missile attack but do increase a fleet's ability to defend itself and the number of attackers needed to saturate defences. Attackers retain the advantage because a fleet is still relatively static and needs to be successful against every incoming missile to avoid significant losses while attackers only need to achieve a few hits to make an attack successful. The major change is that attackers now need to invest more resources into each attack. Larger formations of aircraft are needed to successfully saturate defences, but if this can be achieved then the aircraft will cause very significant damage. Even a single missile may be able to penetrate defences and sink a ship and even the most successful defence systems cannot guarantee an interception, simply a higher likelihood of one.

Surface ASuW

Most naval vessels today are equipped with long range anti-surface missiles such as Harpoon and Exocet which are capable of crippling or destroying enemy ships with a single hit. These can be fired from vertical launch systems or from stand alone launch tubes and are designed to attack other warships. Smaller ships such as the US Navy's Littoral Combat Ship make use of smaller missiles such as hellfire missiles in the surface to surface role that are less suited to attack warships but are still dangerous against fast attack craft or smugglers and pirates as well as land targets.

A surface ship has several key disadvantages as ship to ship missile platform compared to other combatants. Being close to the surface substantially reduces radar range due to the radar horizon which makes it harder to find targets and decreases the maximum range that a missile could be usefully launched at. Also, launching from low altitude costs more fuel than air launch, further decreasing a missile's potential range. However ships can carry far more missiles than any other platform and are thus able to attack more targets or continue an engagement for longer than other platforms.

While ships do retain a robust anti-ship missile armament the ubiquity of such missiles makes an engagement with anti-ship missiles between surface ships fairly unlikely because for one ship to launch its missiles it would have to bring itself within range of the enemies missiles. Even with surprise the flight time of such missiles is long enough for an enemy to return fire before being hit making such an engagement extremely dangerous without some additional advantage. The Battle of Latakia during the Yom Kippur War saw Israeli missile boats sink an equal number of Syrian boats by using electronic counter measures and chaff to successfully avoid missile fire but modern missiles typically have additional guidance systems that make such defences much less effective. In a modern conflict anti-surface missiles would more likely be used against merchant shipping or auxiliary ships and only against similarly armed vessels when no other weapons are available. The arrival of networked weapon systems do potentially offer surface to surface missiles way to launch, using radar data from an aircraft or UAV to target missiles over the horizon and engage ships without exposing the launcher to retaliation although such systems are yet to be deployed.

One recent advance in surface to surface weaponry is the modification of RIM-66 Standard anti-air missiles to attack surface targets. Although not as powerful as a dedicated anti-ship missile they are extremely fast and agile and better able to penetrate anti-missile defences. Additionally as many more surface to air missiles are typically carried on every vessel this increases a ships potential firepower many times over. While an Arleigh Burke Class destroyer typically carries eight Harpoons ready to fire, it carries forty or more Standard missiles in its vertical launch cells. This also presents a Standard armed ship with the potential to attack a long range target without necessarily trying to sink it, something very valuable against non-military targets.

While naval guns have largely been supplanted by missiles, guns remain a part of many ships weaponry. Weapons such as the 5-inch Mark 45 gun remain in service to provide artillery support against land targets but also with a function against surface ships. Missiles are typically a better weapon in terms of their destructive potential but cannon shells are much harder (if not impossible) to intercept with anti-missile defence systems and likely will not be seen on the defenders radar, providing a potential advantage for a surprise attacker. Equally guns do not require a radar lock to fire, giving them utility against stealth vessels or those too small to be detected.

Submarine ASuW

Undersea versus fleet action is commonly described as a "cat-and-mouse" game, where submarines seek to escape detection long enough to engage in a punishing strike against the much more valuable CV fleet groups. Early Soviet submarine designs could be heard "across the Atlantic," but by the late 80s, many advanced designs were approaching sound-output equivalent to a body of water the size of the sub. P-3 Orions or other ASW maritime patrol planes could deploy Magnetic Anomaly Detectors or disposable sonobuoys, against which the concept of a submarine firing a SAM was generally considered a poor trade-off (the revelation of the submarine's location was not generally considered worth the possible hit on a single plane). However, the concept of the submarine firing on the plane has been revived with Germany's 209-class diesel submarines.

Submarines seeking to engage in ASuW can also be targeted by other submarines, resulting in wholly undersea combat.

Shore/Space ASuW

Shore-based assets may have provided the decisive edge in surface warriors, with constrains imposed by range of such assets. Furthermore, satellites controlled from ground stations could provide information on enemy fleet movements.

Post Cold-War

In the post-Cold War era, UAVs and asymmetric threats such as the suicide boat are adding additional complexity to the ASuW discipline.

Andrasta-class submarine

Andrastra is a submarine design concept announced by the French shipbuilder DCNS in 2008. A development of the Scorpène class submarine and based on the previous SMX-23 concept, it is a smaller vessel optimised for shallow water operations. DCNS advertising material for the ship concept, in a PDF document with a date-time stamp of October 19, 2008, includes information and digital illustrations that reveal the torpedo tube configuration and other details. The draught of the proposed submarine is apparent from the numbered depth markings shown on the hull in one of the illustrations. It is designed for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, as well as intelligence gathering and special operations.

Bremen-class frigate

The eight F122 Bremen-class frigates of the German Navy are a series of frigates commissioned between 1982 and 1990. The design is based on the proven Dutch Kortenaer class but uses a different propulsion system and hangar lay-out. The ships were built for anti-submarine warfare as a primary task even though they are not fitted with towed array sonars. They are also suited for anti-aircraft warfare and anti-surface warfare.

This class of ship was one of the last to be constructed under post-war displacement limitations imposed by the WEU on West Germany.

All eight Bremen-class frigates will be replaced by the planned F125-class frigates, starting around 2016. Prior to that the Bremen class served as the backbone of the German Navy.

Common Support Aircraft

The Common Support Aircraft (CSA) was a proposed concept, which has been considered by the United States Navy since at least the early 1990s, to replace a number of different fixed-wing aircraft capable of operating from an aircraft carrier and which serve a "support" function, with a single type of aircraft or aircraft platform able to perform all support tasks.

Current roles deemed "support" by the Navy include: carrier on-board delivery (COD), electronic surveillance (ES), electronic warfare (EW), and airborne early warning (AEW). Another possible support role for a carrier-based aircraft is that of aerial refueling.

Among combat roles, while anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface warfare (ASUW) are sometimes also considered "support"; fighter, bomber, and ground attack roles are not.Current carrier-based fixed-wing support aircraft used by the US Navy, and which would presumably be replaced by the CSA, include:

C-2 Greyhound, for COD

E-2 Hawkeye, for AEWOther support aircraft used by the US Navy in the recent past include:

S-3 Viking, for ASW, ASUW, and aerial refueling

ES-3 Shadow, for ES

EA-6B Prowler, for EW

Eurocopter AS565 Panther

The Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters) AS565 Panther is the military version of the Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin medium-weight multi-purpose twin-engine helicopter. The Panther is used for a wide range of military roles, including combat assault, fire support, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, search and rescue, and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC).

Fincastle Trophy

The International Fincastle Competition is a contest of skills between the air forces of the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. During the competition, crews compete in anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and intelligence and surveillance gathering.


Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 22 (HSC-22) is a United States Navy helicopter squadron based at NAS Chambers Field (KNGU) in Norfolk, Virginia. The "Sea Knights" were Established on September 29, 2006, and have multiple missions including vertical replenishment, search and rescue, air-sea rescue and anti-surface warfare. The Sea Knights fly the MH-60S helicopter, manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, Connecticut. It is the first new helicopter squadron at Naval Station Norfolk in 22 years. HSC-22 is the sister squadron of HSC-23 "Wild Cards" stationed at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, California.


Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron FIVE (HSC-5) (previously Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron FIVE (HS-5)), also known as the Nightdippers, is a helicopter squadron of the United States Navy based at Naval Station Norfolk operating the Sikorsky MH-60S Seahawk. The Nightdippers are a part of Carrier Air Wing Seven and deploy aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) to provide anti-surface warfare, search and rescue, vertical replenishment, Combat Search and Rescue and Naval Special Warfare Support capabilities to the carrier strike group.


Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Nine (HSC-9) "Tridents" is a United States Navy helicopter squadron based at Naval Air Station Norfolk, Norfolk, Virginia. HSC-9 is attached to Carrier Air Wing Eight and deploys aboard USS Harry S. Truman. HSC-9 was redesignated from HS-3 on 1 June 2009.


Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 49 (HSM-49) is a United States Navy Maritime Strike helicopter squadron based Naval Air Station North Island, California.

The Scorpions of HSM-49 are an operational fleet squadron based at NAS North Island. Their tailcode is TX and their radio callsign is "Red Stinger". The squadron provides combat-ready pilots, aircrewmen, technicians, and aircraft to Pacific Fleet warships. The squadron operates the MH-60R Seahawk helicopter.

Islamic Republic of Iran Navy Aviation

The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy Aviation (IRINA) (Persian: هواپیمایی نیروی دریایی آجا‎) or Havadarya (هوادریا) is the air component of the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy. It is one of the few air elements in any Persian Gulf navy, and has both fixed-wing aircraft and armed helicopters.

Kaman SH-2G Super Seasprite

The Kaman SH-2G Super Seasprite is an American ship-based helicopter with anti-submarine, anti-surface threat capability, including over-the-horizon targeting. This aircraft extends and increases shipboard sensor and weapon capabilities against several types of enemy threats, including submarines of all types, surface ships, and patrol craft that may be armed with anti-ship missiles. It was originally developed for the United States Navy in 1980s as a reengined version of the older Kaman SH-2 Seasprite.

The SH-2G's primary missions include anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, anti-ship missile defense, and anti-ship surveillance and targeting. Secondary missions may include medical evacuation, search and rescue, personnel and cargo transfer, as well as small boat interdiction, amphibious assault air support, gun fire spotting, mine detection and battle damage assessment.

Kanin-class destroyer

The Kanin class were a class of destroyers of the Soviet Navy during the Cold War. The Soviet designation was Project 57A Gnevny (not to be confused with the World War II era Project 7). These ships were the first Soviet guided missile destroyers and were initially designated Project 57bis (or 57b) and known to NATO as the Krupny class. Their primary mission was anti-surface warfare using the SS-N-1 anti-ship missile

Kynda-class cruiser

The Project 58 missile cruisers (Ракетные крейсера проекта 58), known to NATO as the Kynda class and sometimes referred to as the Grozny class (тип «Грозный»), from the name of the first ship of the series to be constructed, were the first generation of Soviet missile cruisers and represented a considerable advance for the Soviet Navy. Their main role was anti-surface warfare using the SS-N-3b 'Shaddock' missile. The design proved top-heavy and was soon succeeded by the larger Kresta I class, but the Kyndas stayed in service until the fall of the Soviet Union.

Naval aviation

Naval aviation is the application of military air power by navies, whether from warships that embark aircraft, or land bases.

Naval aviation is typically projected to a position nearer the target by way of an aircraft carrier. Carrier-based aircraft must be sturdy enough to withstand demanding carrier operations. They must be able to launch in a short distance and be sturdy and flexible enough to come to a sudden stop on a pitching flight deck; they typically have robust folding mechanisms that allow higher numbers of them to be stored in below-decks hangars and small spaces on flight decks. These aircraft are designed for many purposes, including air-to-air combat, surface attack, submarine attack, search and rescue, matériel transport, weather observation, reconnaissance and wide area command and control duties.

Next Generation Missile Vessels

Next Generation Missile Vessels (NGMVs) are planned class of anti-surface warfare Corvettes for the Indian navy. Under this programme Indian navy intends to acquire 6 advanced missile Corvettes. Ships in this class will be armed with anti-ship or land attack missiles like Brahmos or Nirbhay. Ships under this class will feature advanced stealth features like low Radar Cross Section (RCS), Infrared, Acoustic and magnetic signature.


Singapore India Maritime Bilateral Exercise (SIMBEX) is an annual bilateral naval exercise conducted by the Indian Navy and the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).The exercise has been held annually since 1994. Over the years, SIMBEX has progressed beyond its original emphasis on anti-submarine warfare to include elements of maritime security, anti-air and anti-surface warfare.

Surface combatant

Surface combatants (or surface ships or surface vessels) are a subset of naval warships which are designed for warfare on the surface of the water, with their own weapons. They are generally ships built to fight other ships, submarines or aircraft, and can carry out several other missions including counter-narcotics operations and maritime interdiction. Their primary purpose is to engage space, air, surface, and submerged targets with weapons deployed from the ship itself, rather than by manned carried craft.Surface ships include cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and corvettes, and several outdated types including battleships and battlecruisers. The category does not include aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, and mine hunters, as these generally do not use on board weapons system (i.e. aircraft carriers generally only attack with their aircraft, and mine hunters are not primarily combat vessels). However, some warships combine aspects of the surface combatant and other roles, such as the Russian Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier, which carries both aircraft and an array of conventional armament (the class is sometimes termed a "heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser").Modern naval warfare is divided into three operational areas: anti-surface warfare (ASUW), anti-air warfare (AAW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW). The current canonical combined arms naval task force or task group centers around a flagship hosting dedicated command elements to conduct tactical operations within each of these areas. In smaller surface action groups (i.e. a single or a few task elements, such as a lone Aegis-equipped destroyer or cruisers on patrol), the same combatant commander may be responsible for managing all three areas as part of his duty in carrying out his vessel's mission, while larger formations such as a carrier strike group may have an individual commander in charge of each separate warfare element. Western naval career advancement for unrestricted line officers also follow this model: a career line officer in a command-oriented track will specialize, train, and be billeted into distinct surface, naval aviation, or subsurface warfare posts.

USS Benfold

USS Benfold (DDG-65) is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the United States Navy.

Benfold is a multi-mission platform capable of AAW (Anti-Aircraft Warfare) with the powerful AEGIS combat systems suite and anti-aircraft missiles, ASW (Anti-submarine warfare), with towed sonar array, anti-submarine rockets, ASUW (Anti-surface warfare) with a Harpoon missile launcher, and strategic land strike using Tomahawk missiles. Benfold was one of the first ships fitted with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System and during the 2010 Stellar Daggers exercise was the first ship to simultaneously engage a ballistic missile and a cruise missile.Former Benfold commanding officers include ADM Mark Ferguson, VADM Thomas H. Copeman III, and author D. Michael Abrashoff.

Udaloy-class destroyer

The Udaloy class, Russian designations Project 1155 Fregat and Project 11551 Fregat-M (Russian: Фрегат, 'Fregat' meaning Frigate), are series of anti-submarine guided missile destroyers built for the Soviet Navy, seven of which are currently in service with the Russian Navy. Twelve ships were built between 1980 and 1991, while the thirteenth ship built to a modified design, known as Udaloy II class, followed in 1999. They complement the Sovremennyy-class destroyers in anti-aircraft and anti-surface warfare operations.


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