(Ed. Note: With the advent of the D-5 and Land attack nuclear cruise missile, the vast number of potential counterforce and counter-military targets created puts a heavy burden on nuclear weapons planners who are doing the selective targeting for wstrategic submarines.”)
SUBMARINE REVIEW provides the professional submariner an insight into the history of his profession and an opportunity to discuss and debate the issues facing the Submarine Force in the future. Submariners are gradually coming to see the advantage of using their BEVIEW as a forum for such debates. But we cannot debate and discuss alternative solutions to the problems facing us until we recognize what those problems are. One such problem is the impending loss of strategic nuclear planning expertise in the Submarine Force. This loss would be serious at any time. It is particularly serious now, given the growing need for a cadre of officers who understand both the nature of submarine operations and the details of nuclear weapons planning to support the increasing national importance of the strategic submarine force.
Some statistics indicate the magnitude of the problem. In mid-1984 there were 20 Navy Commanders and Captains formally designated as proven subspecialists in Strategic Nuclear Planning. Fourteen of these officers had 25 or more years of service. Five others had greater than 20 years service. Had every proven subspecialist in nuclear planning who was eligible to retire elected to do so, the Navy would be left with ~ officer in the grades of Commander or senior with demonstrated expertise in this field. In theory, there is some backup. An additional 26 Captains and Commanders are designated nuclear planning subspecialists but are not considered proven subspecialists. Their designation as subspecialists may or may not imply a degree of expertise; it is awarded after a single tour or an appropriate educational attainment and may reflect duty assignments long in the past. But even this limited backup expertise is soon to vanish. Of the 26 non-proven subspecialists, only eight are not yet eligible to retire.
Not all of these soon-to-vanish subspecialists are submarine officers, nor would it be desirable if they were. But for many years the Submarine Force provided the bulk of the strategic nuclear planning expertise in the Navy. Diesel submarine officers used their knowledge of submarine warfare and developed a knowledge of nuclear planning to become skilled integrators of operational and policy implications. The existence of the diesel submarine force allowed these officers to maintain their warfare qualifications, and thus to progress through the ranks to Commander and Captain. With the demise of the diesel submarine force, there has been a gradual shift of General Submarine Officers to career patterns in which command at sea is not an option and 20 year retirement is a likelihood. Thus, a valuable source of senior nuclear planners has essentially been eliminated.
At first this loss of planning experience in the Submarine Force may not seem serious. Competent strategic nuclear planners have come from other warfare specialties in the past and will do so again. The attack aviation community has a number of officers with solid foundations in nuclear planning. It may appear that if the supply of submarine officers dwindles, the shortage can be replaced from other warfare disciplines. Fifteen years ago this would have been true. The POLARIS submarine force, although revolutionary as the first truly survivable deterrent, was employed in a relatively straightforward fashion. POSEIDON, too, was best suited for targeting fixed, urban-industrial targets. While nuclear planning is an inherently complex function requiring considerable skill, it would not have been fatal, in those days, for nuclear planners to have no first band experience with strategic submarines. Indeed, many of the best submarine officers who served as strategic nuclear planners in the past had not served aboard Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines.
In this case, however, the past is not a desirable model for the future. Over the next decade the Submarine Force will assume new strategic roles requiring planners to re-think both traditional methods of operating SSBN’s and of planning for the employment of their weapons. Three examples illustrate the types of issues which will face us in the next decades:
The deployment of the TRIDENT II (D-5) missile will provide the strategic eubmarine force, for the first time, with the ability to engage all types of targets, not simply so-called soft targets. The target spectrum TRIDENT II will be capable of holding at risk includes many socalled time-urgent targets which will require a prompt retaliatory response. Submarine force operating and communication procedures have historically been based on the inevitably of retaliation, not its immediacy. With no need to respond rapidly to ensure our own survival, we have been under no pressure to devise procedures to allow very rapid engagement of a variety of targets. Devising the new procedures that will be required in the 1990’s while still preserving operational flexibility for the Submarine Force will demand officers with a firm understanding of both submarine operations and nuclear targeting.
The advent of the nuclear land attack TOMAHAWK requires a whole new approach to nuclear planning. TOMAHAWK is a hybrid, a non-strategic nuclear weapon which also fulfills an important strategic role as part of the nuclear reserve. It will be carried on attack submarines which have a vital role to play in the overall maritime strategy. As both the recognition of TOMAHAWK’s capability and the size of the TOMAHAWK force grow, there will be an urgent requirement for officers who understand both national and nuclear policy and the fundamentals of submarine warfare.
United States nuclear policy over the past ten years has come to place great stress on the concept of endurance — the notion that it is important to have forces which can survive and remain available long beyond an initial strategic exchange. Such forces insure that an adversary cannot believe that he can achieve his aims, even after the u.s. has absorbed a major strategic strike. Enduring forces are thus particularly important for deterrence. Of all u.s. strategic forces, SSBN’s are clearly the best able to provide that endurance. The operation and employment of an enduring submarine force is yet another case where knowledge of both nuclear planning and submarine operations will be essential.
If the United States is to make intelligent use of the tremendous capability of its strategic submarine force in the coming decade, we must reverse the precipitous decline of nuclear planning expertise within the Navy in general and the Submarine Force in particular. It is not necessary nor desirable that specific flag billets be designated as requiring extensive backgrounds in strategic nuclear planning. Experience with the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff, and since the formation of the Strategic and Theater Nuclear Warfare Division in OPNAV, has demonstrated that flag officers with solid backgrounds in submarine operations perform superbly in this area. But these flag officers must be supported by staff officers with detailed nuclear planning backgrounds. What ~ necessary is to ensure that in the future the Commanders and Captains with the appropriate planning background will be there.
We require action on two fronts. For the short term, to deal with the impending loss of virtually all Commanders and Captains with nuclear planning expertise, we must aggressively seek out those who remain to ensure they are used in those high priority areas where their expertise is needed. In addition we need to actively recruit new Commanders and junior Captains into this arcane but vital area. We also need to take the best General Submarine Officers with SSBN weapon experience and ensure that they are channeled into the nuclear planning community — and that their immense importance is recognized by selection boards.
In the long-term the solution lies in finding a replacement for the diesel submarine community as a source of strategic nuclear planners. Since the planners of the future must have a firm grasp of submarine operations, they can only come from the nuclear submarine community. We should begin now to fill Navy billets on the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff, Joint Staff Intern Billets and quotas in the Navy Postgraduate School revised Nuclear Planning Curriculum with nuclear trained submarine officers. Such assignments need to have an equal claim as other so- called hard core submarine requirements on our best officers. Having sent some of our best young officers to these billets, we must ensure they return to the Submarine Force and progress up the professional ladder. The answer is not to develop a community of nuclear specialists; rather we must develop true subspecialists — knowledgeable in both the field of submarine warfare and in the world of strategic nuclear planning.
Traditions of the Submarine Force are almost exclusively tactical. No one ever tells seastories of maintaining alert coverage or building a better target footprint library or making improvements in SlOP planning factors. But like it or not, the Submarine Force J4 the Navy’s strategic force — a force whose capabilities grow more and more important each year. If the nation is to have the full benefit of that capability, we need to reestablish a core of submarine officers with nuclear planning expertise. And we need to start NOW.
CAPT L. F. Brooke, USN