Every weapon system experiences a natural rhythm in development. Military historian J.F.C. Fuller in his Armaments and History refers to this phenomenon as the Constant Tactical Factor which is described as follows:
“Every improvement in weapon-power has aimed at lessening the danger on one side by increasing it on the other. Therefore, every improvement in weapons has eventually been met by a counter-improvement which has rendered the improvement obsolete, the evolutionary pendulum of weapon-power, slowly or rapidly, swinging from the offensive to the protective and back again
in harmony with the pace of civil progress, with each awing in a measurable degree
Our post-World War II decision to redirect attack submarine development to the anti-submarine
warfare task represented a major step toward reducing the danger of the submarine in the hands
of an opponent. This development cycle was kicked off more than thirty-five years ago. If our
future decisions with respect to submarine weapon systems and tactical development are to continue
to yield reduced danger, it is essential that we sense the rhythm of development and counterdevelopment.
Before launching off into the specific development rhythm associated with the ASW submarine weapon system, it is essential that we establish a working vocabulary which may be used
in discussing weapon systems. J.F.C. Fuller helps us through this step as well. He finds that the
bulk of all weapons may be classified as “shock” weapons or “missiles”. These two classes are
distinguished by their roles. Shock weapons are used for in-fighting, while missiles are used for
out-fighting. Early examples of shock weapons include the club, mace, spear, lance, sword, axe,
pike, and bayonet. Early missiles include the pebble, javelin, arrow, bolt, ball, bullet, bomb,
and shell. Today, the complementary roles of infighting and out-fighting remain; however, the
weapons employed include short range missiles and long range missiles. For the purposes of this
discussion, we will refer to the complementary nature of in-fighting and out-fighting weapons
rather than shock weapons and missiles.
Fuller considers the powers and limitations or individual weapons in terms of the following:
” ( 1 ) Range of Action;(2) Striking Power;( 3) Accuracy of Aim;( 4) Volume of Fire; and (5) Portability.”
From his analysis he has concluded that range of action is the dominant characteristic. In his words:
“The dominant weapon is not necesarily the more powerful, the more accurate, the more blow-dealing, or the more protable; it is the weapon which, on account of its superior range, can be brought into action first, and under the protective cover of which all other weapons, according to their
respective powers and limitations, can be brought into play.”
In reflecting upon the past thirty-five plus years of submar lne weapon development, the
pattern is quite clear. The United States has concentrated on establishing and retaining an
effective out-fighting capability. This requires the possession of a weapon of superior range, the
dominant weapon. The foundation for such superiority lies in a sonar figure of merit advantage which can translate into first detection, first target classification, and first attack. In the family of conventional (nonnuclear) weapons, the dominant weapon today is the acoustic homing torpedo. The acoustic homing torpedo is amenable to extended range delivery with an added missile stage.
Applying the concept of the Constant Tactical Factor, it would be safe to assume that any submarine force responding to U.S. developments would establish the following priorities: (1) deny the u.s. an effective out-fighting capability by defeating the acoustic homing torpedo; (2) prepare to excel at in-fighting; and ( 3) explore options to improve an out-fighting capability. The first two are of special interest.
The first priority of an opponent responding to U.S. ASW forces in general and U.S. submarines in
particular is seen to lie in the defeat of the acoustic torpedo. The acoustic torpedo is fundamentally an intelligent, complex, and slow weapon. It is complex because it must replicate the functions of a submarine combat system in a compact, automated package. Low speed is consistent with the need to collect target intelligence in a high drag medium – water. One might seek to counter this dominant system by neutralizing its warhead, the weapon, and/or its launcher. Clearly, actions taken to neutralize the warhead would appear to be measures of the last resort; however, most mature weapons systems allocate resources for precisely this function; i.e., armor protection in one or more forms. This adds to the burden placed on the weapon to transport more explosive and/or to place the
warhead more selectively. The name of the defensive game is to shift the burden back through
the weapon to the launching submarine.
The burden placed on the weapon itself can be further extended by passive and active counter
measures embodied in the target submarine. The passive measures would focus on minimizing the
detectables sought by a homing weapon. These measures would include quieting and the reduction
of active target strength. Should the target submarine be alerted by an incoming weapon, it may deploy its counter-measures and judiciously select speed, depth, and maneuvers, for evasion
all within the context of the local operational environment. The net result of such steps may
lie in forcing the attack submarine to place the weapon more precisely at closer range and/or to
launch more weapons.
At this point, the attack submarine, which wishes to remain a specialist in out-fighting, must use its existing combat system with great skill. It also needs continuing advances in target detection, classification, and tracking. In this case, the attack submarine faces two opponents: the target submarine and the environment. Additional target quieting and the inherent constraints of the underseas ennvironment may bring this first envolutionary swing in the submarine ASW development cycle to an end.
If this hypothetical discussion of the swing of the ASW pendulum reflects anything close to
the facts, the merging goal for the U.S. at tack submarine forces must become the mastery of ASW
in-fighting. The prioritites in mastering ASW In-fighting are as follows: (1) the definition and development of an in-fighting weapon and supporting combat subsystem, and (2) consideration of those submarine characteristics most appropriate to in-fighting. It is only reasonable that changes in weapons should take place prior to change in ships. Once the properties of in-fighting weapons are better understood a more solid basis for adapting ship characteristics will emerge.
A swing in the development pendulum with respect to roles also signals a potential reversal in weapon and ship characteristics. For example, during our emphasis on the out-fighting role the dominant weapon evolved into an intelligent, complex, and slow weapon. There is good reason to forecast that the emerging infighting weapon will be fast, dumb, and simple. The environment for in-fighting will be that of a “melee” wherein fast reaction time is fundamental; dumb weapons would not be distracted by extraneous activities, and weapon usage could be high.
While we can forecast the properties of an infighting weapon, anticipating the properties of a
submarine effective at in-fighting is, without study, a matter of speculation. Certainly, effectiveness implies an ability to hit decisively, to avoid being hit by an opponent, and the ability to absorb a hit with minimal effect on performance. A submarine with low detectables remains desirable. However, from that point, there are a number of possible options. On one hand, one could envision a medium to large size submarine with a substantial fraction of its displacement dedicated to the protection of vital systems a la the battleship; or perhaps a small, highly agile vessel which would represent an
illusive target in the spirit of the old torpedo boat. There are other possible approaches. While
it is uncertain which option offers the most appropriate set of characteristics, it is certain
that when the pendulum swings, in peace or in war, the Constant Tactical Factor will demand change.
A specialist in out-fighting is not likely to emerge a winner if his opponent catches him up against the ropes.