Bubblehead has an interesting post essentially about people who don't have a clue spouting garbage ideas. Other than the idiots that constantly read the wrong outcome into every military action (and still somehow end up get invited to talk to the Times or CNN again next week to be wrong again) there was one piece that caught my eye. The idea that a Diesel fleet would even have a chance to compete realistically against a nuclear fleet is ridiculous. Bubblehead says that he will leave the counter for that to others. Well here goes.
There are a few items that make a Submarine an effective war fighting asset.
Cost of Construction
Cost of Operation
Cost of Decommissioning
So lets start with the tactical items
Stealth is really the main item that separates the submarine capabilities from other war machines. One of the main things that Diesel advocates espouse is that they are quieter than Nuclear Subs. This is certainly true of older SSN's but even then it is only applicable when the Diesel is running on electrical power. The newer SSN's are so much quieter than the older that there is little difference. Without going into t0o many specifics the primary consideration for stealth is a function of two items when comparing the tactical capabilities of two boat. The relative detectability range of each boat in comparison with sensor capabilities of each is the primary consideration. Both Nuclear and Diesel boats have detectability ranges that are comparable or at least so close that it makes little difference. The nuclear vessels have one significant advantage. They are able to maintain a relatively high consistent speed and energy output (within the quiet operation ranges) effectively indefinitely. The Diesel subs on the other hand can only operate for a finite period of time before they have to recharge their batteries. There is one exception to this the 212 which I will address later. This is a function of the clear advantage that nukes have in terms of endurance. Engagements between Diesels and Nukes become a game of the Nukes moving at a relatively high quiet speed (still well below the speed that they are easily detectable) while gathering a large area of data. They are able to move relatively freely when trying to gain information for solutions. If they get short but uncertain hits they have the energy available to develop more detailed data. If they feel it is advantageous they can move away and reengage from a more opportune angle without have to factor in how much time they have left. A standard diesel's range under battery is extremely limited. They have to husband it and carefully choose when and where to expend their power. This is a significant tactical advantage and a reason that despite claims to the contrary, nuclear powered vessels have the clear superiority in this arena. In engagements involving multiple hostiles this advantage is dramatically more important. In all of the games I remember being in with Diesel subs the nuke had the clear advantage and always came out on top. There were only a few exceptions to this. In an artificially tightly constricted operational area most of the nukes advantages are mitigated because they are unable to move around freely. Many people claim that this is a significant mitigate in terms of shallow water (more on this later) and harbor operations. The reality is that in a real engagement, control of area is what is important, and that will leave more than enough leeway for the nukes endurance based stealth advantages to play out on a tactical level. There was one set of games with the Brits that it was clearly a function of them having a genius for a CO. He used dozens of brilliant moves but even then it basically came to a draw after about 10 engagements over a week(I don't think the Brits have Diesels anymore). Every other hide and seek I can remember the nuke easily won.
The next significant tactical measure is speed. I don't have to spend much time on this one. The nukes easily and demonstrably win. There is no comparison.
On the surface the detection capability would seem to be even. It is primarily a function of what equipment on board. There are slight advantages in detection capability to the quieter sub but the effect only plays out for significant differences. There is one way in which the nukes have an advantage in this arena. With a nearly unlimited energy budget designers don't have to limit their choices in terms of numbers or energy use. Likewise Captains don't have to worry about energy budget in operations. This is a significant advantage. More and better equipment can be installed. Redundant operators can monitor equipment in multiple modes simultaneously increasing the likelihood of proper interpretation of gathered data. Overall this area is mostly influenced by the quality of equipment available but even here nukes have the advantage in terms of design and operability flexibility.
Weapon systems have a lot in common with with sensor capabilities in that they are largely dependant on what systems can be chosen. In this case what can be chosen is mostly independant of the power source.
Overall Nukes have a 3 to one or more advantage tactically.
This post has taken more time than I expected so I am going to break it into parts.
I'll get strategic, cost and my crazy idea later.