In late May 1984 the following news clip appeared:
“The PATRICK HENRY, the second submarine in the Polaris fleet, will be decommissioned today and placed in the inactive fleet at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Launched in 1959, the PATRICK HENRY logged more than 500, 000 miles on submerged patrol. It was converted to non-missile status in 1981. Coming up: The decommissioning of GEORGE WASHINGTON, the oldest of the 41 Polarlis subs.”
Thus, a quiet end after 25 years for these magnificent machines which have contributed so much to over 2000 successful deterrent patrols, generated scores of highly successful flag officers and magnificent crews, and been part of the u.s. Navy’s most outstanding program — both operationally and logistically.
As the Polaris boats arrived on the scene, there was a similar quiet demise of the Regulus boats. Their contribution to deterrence along with their “Black and Blue Crews” proved of considerable importance to the early Polaris effort.
In either situation, submarines have become available for other possible missions — each mission of which requires a very large compartment.
Variety of design, Polaris budget pressures, and the fact that Regulus boats were no longer top-notch submarines resulted in little use made of their unique large compartments. Perhaps, with larger number of old Polaris-Poseidon boats being mad!.! available, along with the demands of arms control, we can get smarter. Most of these boats are still very effective submarines — even though probably not up to the latest in ASW capability. But that should not be their mission. It is felt that many of these boats, when they are taken out of the strategic deterrent system, should be placed for some years into a reserve status pending the approach of a war.With war, there should be a rapid expansion of necessary submarine missions. Such missions are not being seriously considered for the next war because of lengthy new submarine construction times. Such missions might, however, be met within the time limits for altering of these old-age boats.
With imperfect. foresight, some possible future missions are suggested which changing technology and naval challenge may make important and for which the old Polaris-Poseidon boats could be adapted:
Carrying massive numbers of cruise missiles for launch against ships, especially those in port. In most naval history, ports have been used as havens for ships and thus used to control the schedule of a war. (See the following addendum written in expansion of this mission.)
Covert laying of mines in large numbers. Many mine barrages in history have failed because they failed to reach saturation strength before being discoveredand hence with countermeasures initiated.
Covert laying of sensor systems. U.S. SO SUS systems are not actually secure: their positions are known; their shore sides are subject to a variety of attack; and their arrays are destructable. The ability to covertly and rapidly lay replacement systems, perhaps with glass fiber leads to CONUS, could prove critical for U.S. ASW.
Covert laying of net systems, either anchored or towed. As the potential enemy becomes more adept at avoiding SOSUS, such a ~zero range~ detection system could prove important and might include a kill system.
Launching of massive numbers of long range torpedoes against large naval forces, e.g. 1000 torpedoes against a force of 50 ships. New torpedoes would have to be designed for this purpose.
Launching, towing, and monitoring of sonic arrays for the detection of aircraft and missiles. Surely the U.S. can find a way to detect sonically the loudest machines man has developed. Early warning especially against low-flyers could be vital.
Launching of missiles against aircraft or missiles detected by various means such as sonic, infra-red, radar, satellite, or bistatic radar. This might be a most important mission in protection of strike forces — a means to fight the outer air battle.
Launching and controlling reconnaissance drone aircraft. These drones could be handled in large numbers and either expended or recovered in a variety of ways. They could also be used for control of an attack on ships in port, for relaying of information and control orders, as well as for reconnaissance.
Covert support for beleaguered garrisons by transport of personnel, material, POL, ammo. Almost every war develops this need at saue time.
Covert refueling of short-legged vessels such as hovercraft, ground effect machines, hydrofoils.
Rescue of submarine crews with DSRV, or of surface crews subject to air attack.
Provision of a relatively invulnerable command center for naval operations — where marginal communications are tolerable.
Intelligence gathering, using new methods.
Use of high power radiation weapons from a thermally protected environment. The submarine could have critically important advantages in this developing field.
— Covert carrying, supporting and controlling of small X-craft submarines. Many real-war situations have shown the great value of such craft. The X-1 developments of over 20 years ago and the DSRV have shown that small submarines can be developed to enter ports, thus imposing expensive defense requirements on an enemy. Use of a large mother ship to provide the necessary operational range for such a scheme is indicated.
A reserve supply of about 30 submarines with large compartments would seem to be a prudent way to approach the 21st Century. It is also worth considering what the possible effects may be of a potential enemy using his old age submarines in similar fashion.
– AN ADDENDUM –
Attack On The Ships In Port With Cruise Missiles
The densest concentrations of ships, even in the middle of a war, are apt to be found in port. Since most ports are poorly defended against a weapon like Tomahawk and most ships in port are in reduced states of readiness, it seems only sensible to plan for saturation conventional attacks against ships in the naval and commercial ports of the enemy. Such attacks from long range would hold the element of surprise by very nature of the sea-hugging characteristics of a weapon like Tomahawk. Saturation at port facilities might be enhanced by combining submarine missile attacks with B-52’s launching air to surface cruise missiles.
The fact that recent development of air to surface missiles for use against tanks — which don’t require a lock-on under pilot control – suggest satellite observation and terminal control of missiles might be developed, as well as drone aircraft carrying out much the same function and launched from a forward-positioned submarine.
To increase the potential volume of fire, conversion of a Polaris submarine to carry hundreds rather than tens of Tomahawks seems logical.
Strategically, such a need is driven by the continued Russian build-up of conventional forces which suggests that mutual nuclear deterrence is expected to be in effect. If this is the case, the speed with which U.S. forces might annihilate Russian sea forces becomes critical to those even more critical battles being fought on land. In an age when, through modern reconnaissance, two large navies tend to know where each unit of the other is, naval air will be converted from the opportunistic winning of sea encounters to the almost industrial perted-out process of destruction of ships wherever they may be. Speed of the process becomes the critical factor. Naval wars must be won in months instead of years, all other activities are happening too fast. The implications of this are profound in terms of weapons, tactics, weapon supplies, and defensive planning.
It is inevitable that too few carrier battle groups will have too many missions and that submarines must take on the destruction of shipping as described above. Should war break out along a central front, it further follows the U.S. strategy should provide for attacking peripheral interests of the enemy to stress his overall war-making potential. Thus, all of the enemy’s commerce for SE Asia and NE Asia should be wiped out.
It is predictable that submarine launched cruise missiles will place U.S. and allied ports in jeopardy as well as ships at sea. The loss of industrial products on the scale experienced in WWil would bankrupt the world. Thus, the naval effort must quickly produce a winning situation — for the U.S.