SILENT WARRIORS and THE PHOENIX ODYSSEY
Both by Richard P. Henrick, Zebra Books
Kensington Publishing Corp.
475 Park Avenue s., New York, NY
The phenomenal success of Tom Clancy’s THE HQNT FOR THE REP OCTOBER has caused the production of a considerable number of submarine novels — two of which are included here for review. The public’s great interest in submarine stories could hardly have been guessed at, prior to Clancy’s book– and that would include Ned Beach’s series with Commander “Rich” Richardson as the skipper of a World War II diesel-boat in a sequence of adventures.
The charm and interest of today1 s submarine novels seem to come, not from submarine actions involving enemies of past wars but instead from conflict situations between an unproved as yet enemy — the Soviets — in plots which might evolve in the near future between, for the most part, ~he superpowers’ naval units.
Richard Henrick’s two novels reviewed here are wellplotted, fast-moving action stories like THE HUNT FOR THE REP OCTQBER and should make good reading, particularly for those with a genuine interest in submarines. However, these books lack the thorough wringing out of technological detail and practical tactics which are found in Clancy’s book. Consequently they entertain, but appear fanciful and not exactly “the way it is.” Too obviously, like men who are involved in highly hazardous occupations on TV — private eyes or CIA agents — the men in these books attract seductive, shapely, gorgeous (of course!) readywilling-and-able women who provide an excuse for explicit sex which has little to do with what happens underseas in the subs. Yet, submariners might find the reading of these books a good test of their submarine knowledge, because something will sound wrong (like all this easy sex for submariners) and bother you until someone•s experience is dredged up or you’ve done some research to confirm or deny Henrick’s material. For example: an SSBN’s use of a thermocline in trying to evade Soviet surface ASW ships seemed questionable. Should the submarine lie in a layer, operate above it or well below it to avoid active sonar detection? How about for passive detection? I had to relearn some lessons about thermal layers I’d learned in World War II — the hard way. At any rate, I decided that the SSBN should operate in the layer rather than above it — or not deep below it. Then the author indicated that Soviet SSBNs had relatively small crews, about half of what our ballistic missile submarines carry, and that they were highly automated. (A report on t~e new ALFA nuclear attack submarine of the Soviets said that it was so well automated that it bad been designed to be operated by only 17 men — 16 of which were officers.) The automation and the high proportion of officers sounds like the Russians• solution for their crews, a great part of which are 2-year conscripts. Then, a good deal of the plot depended upon Russian ships rolling and pitching heavily in very heavy seas. But is that true or Russian ships? My own experience with Soviet warships close by, steaming into heavy seas, was that they were far more stable than our ships and pitched little and rolled less because unlike our ships, they had roll stabilizers to keep them steady.
The two books thus proved a good drill for refreshing one’s memory on details of “submarining.” But some of the details are so evidently wrong, like the skipper of an SSBN studying a Soviet surface ship through the periscope with the ship 40 miles away — and then in “high power”, recognizing a Soviet officer on the ship’s bridge. One could only wish that Henrick had the contacts Clancy undoubtedly used to ensure not making such mistakes. The novels would have been so much more of a fun-experience for submariners if their credibility had been increased.
SILENT-WARRIORS centers around a planned first strike by Russian ballistic missile submarines against strategic targets in the United States. It’s the massive strategic nuclear assault at the start of a war to destroy the United States• ability to develop “Star Wars”, and to return the Soviet Union to a position of preeminence or at least equality with the u.s.. A Soviet nuclear attack submarine skipper is given the job of using his boat to prepare the way for the Russian Fleet — including a lot of SSBNs -to exit through the GI-UK gap, to reach firing positions in the Atlantic. The conflicts inside this SSN are mainly between her Captain and her zampolit (political officer) who, perhaps not zealously, tries to control the action.
There is a good attempt by Henrick to give the reader a feel for the day to day life aboard a nuclear sub in peace and in war. And perhaps be does a good job of this, but one would have to serve on board such a boat to be able to judge how well the author succeeds.
Again, as in Clancy’s book, one cannot help but speculate how the events depicted might actually play-out in a real world scenario. More specifically, could one expect a seventy nine year old General Secretary of the Politburo to be flown — on a stormy night — to the pitching deck of the carrier KIEV? But this does, in the book, solve real-time communication problems to satisfactorily climax the story. And those familiar with ASW tactics might have trouble accepting the Soviet nuclear submarine’s escape and attack maneuvers.
THE PHOENIX ODYSSEY is the other side of the ooin — an American SSBN involved at the start of a conflict situation with Soviet ASW forces (and even u.s. ones) trying to eliminate it so that there won’t be a blind discharge of ballistic missiles which would really trigger off a massive exchange of strategic missiles. The u.s. •s PHOENIX chooses to operate in the area of a midPacific •deep trench• — an area also or severe volcanic action. But one immediately wonders whether a deep-trench area is the place to operate covertly. Think about it. And what are the best tactics for the PHOENIX to avoid a borde of Soviet ASW vessels which are converging on her from all sides? But more importantly, is a wait-4 hoursand-shoot doctrine practical tor strategic war? And perhaps even more importantly should our submarine skippers, today, be rigorously selected and trained to be non-deviationists from doctrine, when — as in the olden days of operations far away from home-base and handicapped by very poor and greatly delayed communications — the skipper of u.s. vessels had to use their best judgement to carry out u.s. interests.
What particularly worried me about this PHOENIX situation was that readers might be led to believe that a Soviet ALFA submarine was able to successfully hold a trail on the PHOENIX for many days — after she left her base at Bangor. A public which comes to believe that our SSBNs are unable to shake a trail will stop believing in their invulnerability in war and therefore stop support or SSBN construction ~ith u.s. deterrence emasculated thereby.
These submarine books can play an important role in public understanding or the importance or submarines in our national security — and in gaining public support for tbeml Certainly if the authors or today•s submarine stories want to •get it straight•, members or the Submarine League are available to lend their knowledge and assistance wherever possible.
Bill Kellum and W. J. Ruhe
“RED STORM RISING”
by Tom Clancy
652 pp Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1986.
As improbable as it may seem, Tom Clancy’s REP STOBM RISING surpasses his first best-seller novel, TUE HUNT FOR REP OCTOBER.
I’ll not be the one to lessen your suspense here. It is a gripping story of the Soviet Union’s attack against HATO in preparation for seizure of the oil fields of the Persian Gulf -in order to replace the petroleum assets destroyed in the Gulf’s largest refinery by Muslim fanatics. Tactics of disinformation, a mobilization, and a clever SPETZNAZ invasion of ICELAND are prelude to intense air-land-tank battles in Western Europe along with intense war at sea to prevent convoy logistic support of HATO. About every form or modern warfare is depicted with great and accurate realism and suspense. Realistically chemical, biological, and nuclear warfare are deterred -but just barely. Internal Kremlin politics put the reader right on the scene and involved. Dialogue and terminology are remarkably well done. The author has not pandered to the sleazy contemporary demand tor illicit sex among his characters, but there is a poignant story or romance under great stress.
Professional officers will be attracted not only by the fine portrayal of professionals at war in a great plot but by a series of succinct, evocative scenarios so realistic as to raise real questions as to our weapons systems designs, our tactics, and our war plans. The breadth of coverage is illustrated by the following list of some of the systems whose use is portrayed: SURTASS, RORSAT, VECTAC, WILD WEASEL, ELF, LOFAR, AEGIS, TAGOS, AWACS, PHOENIX, as well as Soviet systems.
These and other Hi-Tech devices of war; and their uses, electronic “trickery,n even wargaming; demonstrate that this is clearly a •corporate Novel’ in which the author masterminded the knowledge of many consultants, and visited many operating units.
This remarkab~e ability is similarly displayed by Stuart Woods in his remarkable “DEEP LIE.” He consulted with officials of· four nations which be visited. Such depth and breadth of preparation seems to be a new phenomenoQ in literature. It makes the novel a much more valuable experience for the professional.
The strategy adopted by the leaders of the USSR and that adopted by the Allied leaders are, of course, the framework of the novel. One may wonder about the wisdom of attacking NATO as a prelude to seizing the Persian Gulf where the balance of forces more clearly favors the USSR. The u.s. seems obtuse in not recognizing earlier the key importance of petroleum in the Sovi~t plan. Inactivity in the Pacific is also to be wondered at. Yet, to think about changes in strategy is simply to think about another book just as to think about changes in the rules of baseball is to think about another game.
This novel, as have a number of others, treat as weaknesses the political instability of the Warsaw Pact Alliance and the Soviet experience seems to show that this vulnerability is at le,st as strong in the u.s. and its allies. B~t, thi~ too, is another book.
The wide variety of tactical scenarios can evoke some usefUl thinking. With the thought that most professionals will read this book, let me offer some thoughts relative to submarine matters tbat came to me. Others more up-to-date and of different backgrounds may get better ideas:
- Submarine launched cruise missiles against ship~ in port could have been important against forming convoys and task forces.
- Seaplane resupply of submarine weapons could be vital.
- Submariners will need an on-demand SITBEP from a satellite after secure interrogation following lengthy submerged .engagement. A spurt dump would be required.
- Submarine support of air operations could provide such services as radar jamming from a towed jammer~ advance detection of air raids by ECM, sonar and IR, refueling of seaplanes and WIGS, recovery of downed aviators (not mentioned in this story), submarine trailing of suspicious surface contacts by A/C (e.g. the Iceland bound SEABEE), submarines might launch cruise missiles designed to emulate air raids or carry jammers, submarines might launch reconnaissance missiles designed to report to an approaching air group both distribution of defensive A!C and location of HARM targets, launching cruise missiles carrying airstrip cratering munitions and HARM missiles.
- The retaking of ICELAND might have been expedited by use of submarine launched commandos and missiles.
- The lost SOSUS systems might have been replaced by submarine laid hydrophones and glassfiber cables back to held territory; this is a possible use of an ex-Polaris boat.
- -As 9nemy submarines get too quiet for passive detection at useful ranges, it may be important that submarines lay powerful ensonifiers for active detection by other units e.g. submarines, sonobouys, surface ships, weapons; the analogy of a searchlight.
- The need for improved tactical coordination of submarines in submarine vs submarine encounters is pointed out in the story. Anti-collision and IFF devices could make prewar practice feasible.
- The increasing importance of various satellites combined with the proven ability or submarines to accurately launch large solid fueled rockets may indicate that we should be thinking of antisatellite weapons from submarines.
- Submarines lack the positioning flexibility of the F-15 used in the story, but they could be positioned relative to important convoys and battle groups.
- A fine discussion of the effects of modern chemical warfare on populations raises the question as to the relative invulnerability or nuclear submarines to exterior chemical attack. Could this be used against amphibious forces? Ships? Ports? A new fact is that whereas in the past the submarine was vulnerable to internal leaks etc., the modern binary weapons renew that vulnerability.
- Not to be forgotten was our WW II penetration of the primitive minefield of Tsushima Strait. The graphic portrayal of CHICAGO’s close approach to a minefield makes me hope we•re now adequately equipped.
- The small number of submarine mines laid in WW II were remarkably effective. Some might have been effective here.
- Increasing effectiveness of ASW aircraft may soon make necessary submarine anti-air missiles or beam weapons.
- Wartime control of a submarine campaign will require feedback to the commander or what happened to his non-returning boats — electronics or some kind such as the bouy used by a Soviet boat?
- The recent Walker espionage case raises questions as to the possible catastrophic effects of loss of orypto security.
- How would we know if the enemy had an ULTRA advantage? Could he issue false reports ~d orders? What ohanges must be made in our security precautions?
- In the story SPETZNAZ attacks staged from submarines were effective against German ports. Protection against such actions in the u.s. will surely be vital, but doesn’t our lack or immigration control make the U.S. weak in this regard?
For many readers, REP SIOHM RISING would have been vastly improved by inclusion of good maps and charts and or glossaries of terms and characters. Since these would increase costs, perhaps they could be sold separately. Preparation of these might be a good research project for a student at the Naval War College or the PG School.
It seems to me that this novel may have a deterrent effect on decision makers in the way it demonstrates the uncertainties of war. Its effect on citizens can change the apathy and complacency we now see too often.
I think this story will justify a major Hollywood effort; perhaps a TV Movie series like that done on Hermann Wouk;s “WINPS OF WAR” and the soon to come “WAR AHD REMEMBRANCE.”
It’s intriguing to think of what a follow-on sequel might include. Perhaps the story of a world containing a Soviet Union run by Tom’s new government which adopts new and much more human and effective policies tor a better world. Why not show them what to do, Tom Clancy?