There has been a consistent failure in the past to recognize the actual potential of the submarine. When it has been used in war the results achieved by the submarine have far exceeded planned expectations. This makes one suspect that what the role of the nuclear submarine — the true submarine – should be in tomorrow’s sea warfare is similarly not well appreciated. Thus to comprehend what realizing the full potential of the nuclear submarine might offer to naval warfare and its possibly revolutionizing effects — needs to be examined, not only to see if the u.s., is missing a good bet but also to evaluate the success of the Soviet’s thrust. toward gaining command of the seas with a Navy whose major ships their “ships-of-the-line” are nuclear submarines.
At the start of World War 1, the submarine was considered to be a low cost, submersible torpedo-boat with very limited capability due to its low surface and submerged mobility. That it was a serious threat to big, heavily armed warships was claimed by only a few optimistic military analysts of that day. The Germans, consequently, entered the war with only 18 operational boats, of 300 to 500 tons and with only a few torpedoes on board. When , then, in the opening moments of the War, a German submarine sank 3 British cruisers in a single operation, the high command of the British Navy – and probably other major navies of the world — overreacted and took unnecessary, inhibiting actions in their warship operations when the near presence of enemy submarines was even suspected. This caution continued through the war despite subsequent evidence that submarines were not efficient in anti-warship warfare. Against merchant ships, however, German submarine results exceeded all expectations.
Yet, at the start of World War II, the Germans had far too few boats operational (only 57) to fully realize the great potential of the submarine in an anti-shipping attrition campaign. Other navies seemed to better comprehend the submarine’s potential, and had more submarines, but. quickly discovered they needed even more. The U.S. started the war with 95 operational boats, the Russians with 218, the Japanese with 65 and, surprisingly, the Italians had 84 ready for sea — out of 150 in commission. Again, the sinking of ships in WW II by submarines exceeded all expectations.
Today, as Navies consider the possibility of a World War III, there is predominant evidence that the full potential of the submarine is still not being recognized — except possibly by the Soviets. Moreover, the highest potential of the submarine lies in nuclear submarines that are heavily armed, highly mobile, of long submerged endurance, tough and almost unsinkable. Today’ s nuclear submarines of the Soviet navy seem to meet all these specifications. Hence, only the Soviets at present seem best able to use their nuclear submarine fleet to gain command of the seas. The U.S. with its goal of only 100 nuclear attack submarines, however, apparently sees the capability to command the seas as vested in fleets which are centered around at tack carriers. The 100 U.S. nuclear attack submarines thus seem designed to merely deny the Soviet submarine-oriented navy a capability to command the seas.
The “submarine” discussed here as to its potential to command the seas, is a collective term and implies the use of submarines not just as “ships-of-the-line”, in the Mahan sense, but also submarines for anti-surface, anti-air, anti-satellite, anti-mine, pro-amphibious, shore bombardment, etc., warfare.
“Command of the seas”, in Mahan’s words, derives from “a prolonged control of strategic areas of the oceans — and that such control can be wrung from a powerful navy only in fighting and overcoming it.” Mahan also notes that such control of the seas “does not imply that an enemy’s single ships or small squadrons cannot steal out of port., cross less frequented tracts of the oceans, make harassing forays, ” etc, since history has shown that “such evasions are always possible, to some extent, however great the inequality of naval strength.” Thus, in Napoleonic days, the naval power demonstrated by the British, through successful fleet engagements in which sailing ships-of-the-line comprised the main battle line, made it clear to the French and Spanish fleets that to risk operations on the high seas around Europe with major naval units promised only their destruction. Nelson at Trafalger literally drove the fleets of the Allies from the seas in the local theater of naval operations, by destruction of enemy’s ships.
In World War I, command of the seas was contested by fleets with battleships comprising the battle line.
The ships-of-the-line in WW II proved to be attack carriers.
In any case, “ships-of-the-line” of the past have contained the greatest weapon power of all units afloat while being hardened to withstand great punishment — making them highly survivable.
Now, Admiral Gorshkov with a fleet whose “ships-of-the-line” are nuclear submarines, has noted that in today’ s naval environment, control of limited areas of the seas for short periods of time sufficient to carry out certain naval missions — a low level of command of the seas — is possible even for weak navies because of the considerable destructive power that all naval units, even small ones, now possess.
In our time, we have seen nuclear submarines demonstrate a command of the seas in warfare. Hence this capability is more than a remote dream. In the Falkland Islands War, the sinking of the Argentine cruiser Belgrano by the British nuclear submarine CONQUEROR, convinced the Argentines that the risk to the Argentine fleet was too high to attempt to operate in waters infested with British nuclear submarines. The Argentine fleet was therefore held in port for the remainder of the war. A similar kind of command of the seas by submarines was reported in World War II when conventional submarines — primarily Sam Dealey’s HARDER — operating in Sibutu Passage, sank five Japanese destroyers. This caused the Japanese Admhal in command of the fleet operating out of Tawi Tawi Bay, to sortie his fleet and clear the area because of the great hazard posed to hi ~ carriers by the presence of U.s. submarines in tl’e Sibutu Passage area of the seas.
Still, it is assumed that today commana of the seas is vested in a navy which can control the air over the seas. Dominant air power, it is felt, assures the destruction of enemy threats in the air, on the surface of the oceans and underseas as well. Moreover it is seriously questioned whether the Soviet Navy, with submarines as their “ships-of-the-line” could, in this decade, gain command of the seas in war. It is felt that the command and control of a navy, so oriented, is still sufficiently impractical so that other navies whose fleets have air dominance over the oceans cannot be seriously threatened. But, if the Soviets tried a shoot-out with their “fleets,” which are composed of mainly submarines and land based air, against those of the U.S. — which are primarily attack carrier battle groups “command of the seas” would stem from the control “wrung from a powerful navy which had been fought and overcome.”
It does seem evident, however, that the naval power projection capability for strategic nuclear war is eminently achieved by the ballistic missile nuclear submarine, the SSBN – so well in fact that this submarine capability has supplanted that of carrier-based, nuclear armed aircraft. Consequently, for strategic nuclear war the potential of the nuclear submarine seems to have been fully realized. But for limited naval wars, including those using tactical nuclear weapons, the potential of the nuclear submarine appears to be only partially exploited. U.S. nuclear submarines, for example, have been well designed to realize their potential for anti-submarine warfare. But for other missions, achieving the nuclear submarine’s full potential appears to be for the most part neglected.
In realizing the nuclear submarine’s potential to command the seas, consideration must be taken of the advantages from operating in the water medium as opposed to the surface, in the air, or in space far removed from the sea’s surface. The water medium provides the greatest protection and concealment. It has the least ranges for detection. It offers the greatest shielding of radiations. And it causes the greatest span of time for tactical actions. In today’s environment of electronics, very high speed systems, and precision weaponry of great damaging power, the need for covert operations and surprise in attack become paramount, and submarines offer a high degree of both. Submarines also enjoy more opportunities to concentrate forces and mass their weapon power than other types of naval forces — while still achieving a high element of surprise in attack. The principles of war are thus readily realized by submarine forces.
The assumed shortcomings in command and control of submarine forces stem from a surface ship oriented view of what it takes to coordinate forces for battle both strategically and tactically. Since submarines today are likely to be armed with long range anti-ship missiles which are targeted by third party information, such strike submarines can deliver their attacks from widely diverse positions as regards to range to target and sectors from which their weapons are delivered. Consequently, critical communications to and between submarines prior to engageGent will normally take place several hundred miles away from the enemy forces. This allows methods of communication which should not be readily compromised by an enemy. Then when battle is joined, tactical communications to and between submarines will be of the simplest nature. Even two-letter coded instructions (as possibly used by ELF communication systems), in many circumstances should be adequate. Submarines today need not be operated in tactical formations in battle. This tends to minimize tactical communications. And the supposed danger of collisions, which would require some communications concerning other submarine whereabouts, should be virtually non-existent. Like aircraft, submarines can be operated in stratums. But unlike aircraft in low visibility conditions, today’s submarines with their excellent passive detection capability can be passively warned of the near presence of another submarine in time to take avoiding action. As to being hit by another sub’s torpedoes, wire guidance directs torpedoes to “identified” enemy targets and can prevent straying to other targets.
Command and control of submarine forces armed with today’s weapons is far simpler than that for surface fleets. This was evidenced by the Soviet’s central, land-based control of submarine forces in Okean ’70 and Okean ‘7 5. Thus, what little and occasional command and control is actually necessary for fleet engagements — where submarines play the role ofmodern ships-of-the-line should be recognized when evaluating the submarine’s potential to command the seas.
The conventional wisdom of today’s submariners is that nuclear attack submarines must first and foremost emphasize quietness and long range passive acoustic detection capability. Hence U.S. submarines are necessarily single hull boats which minimize hull-created noise both radiated and self. The former prevents being heard by an enemy, the latter ensures a least hindrance to listening capability.
In the process of emphasizing singlehull design to achieve what is considered a best warfighting capabiltiy, U.S. submariners also recognize the considerable volume, buoyancy and payload limitations inherent to single hull submarines.These are limitations which dictate against the submarine developing sufficient capability to be a ship-of-the-line of the future.
Thus, if the full potential of the attack submarine is to be realized, some compromise with the elements of stealth and quietness appears necessary. Inasmuch as the Soviets are credited with greatly quieting their third generation submarines while still retaining hardness and great weapon payload in their double-hull designs, it would seem that their realization of a ship-of-the-line capability may be imminent.
But of what value are submarines — like the Soviet’s OSCAR — which can mass 24 big-warhead missiles on a ship target from 150 miles away, and later at closer range deliver 32 torpedoes into enemy fleet. units while being able to absorb hits from light-warhead aircraft-delivered conventional weapons without being diverted from their attack? For such ships-of-the-line, air control over the oceans is of questionable significance if today’s sea-based aircraft, armed with today’s antisubmarine conventional ordinance are used. Hence, the use of air-delivered tactical nuclear ASW weapons seems more appropriate. But in tactical nuclear war the submarine holds most of the advantages. It is shielded from electromagnetic propagation. Blast and radiation effects are minimized. Locating submarines is most difficult. Attacks can be made with a higher element of surprise, etc. In fact, a few submarine fleet units armed with nuclear anti-air weapons should discourage enemy attempts at holding air control over an area of submarine operations.
But even if a submarine-oriented fleet gained command of a sea area which was critical to the success of shore operations — as with the sea lanes of the north Atlantic where convoys would carry logistic resupply for embattled NATO forces in Europe — could properly developed nuclear submarines destroy sufficient shipping to seriously affect the land battle outcome? The success of the convoy system versus conventional submarines in WW II has been dredged up as a valid argument against the potential of today’s nuclear submarine to efficiently carry out the antishipping mission — “an important secondary operation of naval war”, in Mahan’s terms. Whereas single-hulled submarines would be hard put to carry a sufficient. payload of antiship weapons t.o critically affect the massive movement of heavily loaded merchantmen, submarines with double hulls might carry far greater numbers of weapons but many of them This would include mines in external mine belts. Attributing convoys near their destinations is an equally useful way to destroy shipping as on the high seas. Additionally, due to the precision of today’ s submarine weapons, fewer should produce more sinkings than in WWII. The potential of submarines which can carry a great load of relatively low-cost, anti-shipping weapons simple torpedoes, with big warheads and mines with great destructive force — is great.
It may be argued that air delivered attacks on convoyed shipping should be more efficient than submarine torpedo attacks. But again, WWII experience is deceptive since today’s merchantmen can be readily armed with simple short-range anti-air missiles, like the Stinger or Grail. These would force aircraft into a standoff delivery of weapons. This makes the use of bombs inefficient and necessitates the use of costly precision weapons, which are normally not as destructive.
In short, the submarine’s considerable potential against warships and shipping is still not apparently being emphasized — if not being neglected. The Soviet’s “fleet” of “mainly submarines” appears to be insufficiently evaluated as to its imminenence of achieving a capability to command the seas” through the defeat of an enemy’s “powerful fleet.” And. the s. might be missing one of the best bets of history through a lack of vision as to what the nuclear submarine can offer to naval warfare. arming the new attack submarine. the SSN 21. with 50 weapons comprising advanced torpedoes and long range antiship and land attack missiles is a major step forward. but seemingly only a partial effort towards realizing the full potential of the nuclear submarine.