The recent comments by CNO Admiral Watkins concerning war fighting in the Arctic Ocean are bound to start a spiral of academic and press inquiry into the subject of strategic ASW. (Ed. note: Strategic ASW is, primarily attack submarines versus ballistic missile submarines–SSBNs.) The CNO ‘s comments as noted in the Submarine Review and in Air Force Magazine represent an open and major change in u.s. defense doctrine.
Although Clausewitz and Mahan taught that the enemy military forces were the proper object in war, strategic nuclear forces have often been thought to be exempt from this principle. In the past, the u.s. has also disavowed the development of defensive capabilities which could negate the actions of Soviet strategic forces. Anti-ballistic missile capabilities and civil defense measures have not been pushed. Rather than deterrence by defense, dissuasion through the terror of offense has seemingly been preferred.
Under the concept of allowing one’s own cities and forces to be vulnerable to an opponent’s attack, it was hoped that our opponent would be “educated” to recognize that such policies were logical and less expensive. Each side would then be assured of threatening the “assured destruction” of his opponent. This mutual vulnerability is better known as Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).
Unfortunately, the USSR has taken numerous steps which have led the u.S. to conclude that they do not subscribe to MAD. In fact, the Soviets have evidenced a totally different concept of deterrence. Their view is that defense is both logical and necessary. They have taken efforts to protect their national command center, their military forces, and their civilian population. In short, the Soviet view of deterrence is to have superiority over all possible enemies and the capability to fight a war and limit damage to their homeland should deterrence fail.
The U.S. has belatedly acknowledged that such a defense doctrine is desirable. But the u.s. bas not finalized a strategy or procured the forces necessary to implement a strategic nuclear defense.
Despite the fact that current deterrence strategy for the past two Administrations rejects MAD, there are considerable nUJDbers of the American public, press, academics, and legislators who think that MAD is still u.s. policy–or that it should be.
Those who defend HAD argue that efforts by the u.s. to threaten Soviet strategic nuclear forces is “destabilizing”. This is the fantasy world where a threat to weapons is bad while a threat to unarmed civilians is good.
As is well known, our Navy bas provided a survivable strategic nuclear reserve force–with its SSBNs–which could threaten the “punishment” of Assured Destruction should deterrence and subsequently, strategic defense fail.
U.S. SSBNs have been part of a “countervailing strategy” which uses a triad of forces capable of: providing a secure reserve; prompt and delayed targeting across the full range of enemy strategic targets; flexibility in weapon delivery; and escalation control.
The U.S. is obviously not adding defense to its well thought out strategic offense. Should deterrence fail, our National Co..and Authority will have the option of employing forces both offensively and defensively in order to limit damage to the u.s. and to inhibit further use of strategic weapons. In some circles, this policy is known as deterrence by threatening to deny victory–or deterrence by nuclear war fighting.
Providing the President with an option to defend his nation in strategic nuclear war is not only a good idea but supports the political end to which war is tailored. Taking a page from Clausewitz or Mahan, it might be realized that the u.s. Navy should engage the center of gravity of the Soviet Navy main fleet–of SSBNs–whether it be actively engaged or withheld.
Another area of discussion which will likely grow out of the CNO’s talk is that of sanctuaries or zones where strategic ASW–attack on enemy SSBNs–cannot be practiced. Support for such ideas CBIIle from former President Jimmy Carter. Such ideas however are not in the interest of the u.s. under the present accepted national military doctrine, since they represent a way to return to MAD as a doctrine for deterrence. Furthermore, zones free of ASW limit other missions which might be conducted by forces with a strategic ASW capability. ASW free zones tend to undermine the acquistion of good intelligence from submarines–affecting deterrence.
Strategic ASW using attack submarines is a justifiable mission which is morally defensible. One must assume that it was necessary to take this mission out of the closet in order to support new weapons systems. Now that it is out of the closet, we should prepare ourselves for the inevitable examination from strategic thinkers and a legislature which may not agree with the concept of deterrence through promoting a capability to defend oneself should deterrence fail.
Commander Jaaes John Tritten, USN