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Torpedo Boat or Missile Boat, The Weapon System Makes The Difference

Twice since the HOLLAND IV was launched the United States submarine community has pursued new weapon systems which have proven successful. These innovations were introduced during the early post-World War II period. The first was a weapon system that set the stage for the anti-submarine submarine; the second led to the fleet ballistic missile submarine. These steps, taken between 1947 and 1957, account for the shape and success or today’s submarine service.

Continued success in naval system development requires a partnership between weapon and ship systems.  A  healthy  partnership requires accommodation  toward an effective working relationship. This relationship may be stressed when two or more different weapon systems fail to find satisfactory accommodation within a single  ship. The submarine development community is presently hog-tied in precisely this situation. The operational community , by tradition, accommodates the torpedo with its finesse tactics of target motion analysis, closing, and attack. Meanwhile a whole array of standoff systems are presently being force-fit within a ship framework whose combat system is designed around the torpedo. As a result, the overall gain in submarine system capabilities is marginal.

The new family of submarine standoff weapon systems can enhance the submarine’s capacity to handle existing tasks and open up additional tasks as well. The anti-ship HARPOON and TOMAHAWK missiles would permit the submarine to launch effective attacks against heavily defended surface groups from well outside the defended perimeter. In addition, the conventionally armed, land-attack TOMAHAWK missile adds a capability to launch surprise strikes from water contiguous to the  opponent’s  homeland. The nuclear armed, land-attack TOMAHAWK could complement the fleet ballistic Missile system by assuming theater nuclear force and/or strategic reserve force roles. In short, the military Market opened by the new generation or standoff weapons could radically alter the demand for submarine services. The meeting of this demand is dependent upon flexibility in the partnership between the submarine weapon and ship system community.

The new generation standoff weapons provide the foundation for a naval system whose style of combat would differ substantially from older systems. The difference in  style  should  be reflected in differences in ships. Classically, standoff weapons and their tactics are those or naval CRUISERS. Attacks are launched as soon as practical after detection and the ship is maneuvered in such a fashion as to retain a weapon range advantage. Today’ s general purpose nuclear submarines have the mobility, displacement, and names or CRUISER types, but retain the weapon system installation logic or submarine torpedo boats. A CRUISER weapon system must concentrate on target localization at maximum range. The option or firing large salvos or standoff weapons will be important in order to assure defense saturation. Weapon inventories or over fifty and approaching one hundred per ship can be justified based on the number, type, and mix of targets to be addressed.

The tactics and needs of a close-in ATTACK type system differ substantially from a CRUISER type. After target detection, ATTACK systems will close the target to a point which maximizes the effectiveness or their weapons. The battleship, as an ATTACK type system, employed armor and compartmentation to enhance survivability as the probability or counter-attack increased during closing. ATTACK  type submarines  substitute stealth tor armor and compartmentation. Their weapon has been the torpedo, the effectiveness of which is enhanced with decreasing tiring range. An ATTACK type normally addresses individual targets in sequence, thus the importance of salvo size is diminished. Because the ATTACK type will use individual weapons more efficiently, and has a more restricted target mix, weapon inventories of less than fifty may be justified.

It is time for the naval system development community to begin considering two, not one, new generation submarines; a CRUISER type, and an ATTACK type. The ship characteristics or the SSN 688 family offer an excellent foundation for a CRUISER type. Emphasis is required to adapt the ship to CRUISER style warfare, which exploits standoff weapons. When we move on to consider the desirable characteristics of a dedicated submarine torpedo boat, we are opening up what might appear to be a new naval system question. Yet, the ATTACK submarine was the original option. It truly must be capable of going into harm’s way; penetrating into enemy-held waters and closings targets to effective torpedo range. The resulting system should be capable of handling any target which is a legitimate torpedo target. As a starting point, why not consider a ship with twice the number or torpedo tubes and one-half or the displacement or the SSN 688?

If we rail to develop a better working partnership between the weapon and the ship system engineer, the submarine may meet the same rate as the ARMORED CRUISER. Simply stated, this means that the style of the weapon system is not matched to the qualities or the ship, and vice versa. The potential or the u.s. submarine force should not be limited by this possible trap. We need a torpedo boat and missile boat!

Naval Submarine League

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