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“Concentration”  is a basic principle of warfare. At sea, in the past, it implied a “massing” of warships in close groupings in order to destroy specific enemy ships through a concentration of weapon fire. Then, with the advent of aircraft as weapon-delivery platforms, concentration was additionally achieved through a massing of aircraft over a battle area in order to overwhelm enemy targets by means of closely spaced attacks.

“Concentration” and “massing” have tended to be synonymous as a “principle of war”.

With the advent of long range, terminal-homing antiship missiles, however, concentration of naval power has become achievable, not by the close massing of weapon-firing platforms, but by means of widely dispersed firing platforms which through coordinated weapon-fire can have their missiles “massed” at their targets — achieving the effects of concentrated weapon force. Aircraft as well as ships and submarines can provide this form of concentration by attacks from several quadrants — properly timed. Significantly, this “massing” of weapons can be against land targets as well as targets at sea.

A new form of “concentration” or “massing” at sea has developed.

Less easily recognized is how nuclear submarines with their great submerged mobility have a capability to produce concentrated torpedo fire — and with a high element of “surprise” (another principle of war). Nuclear submarines can be “massed” for torpedo attack — as well as for missile attack, just as surface warships or the past were tactically maneuvered to concentrate their weapon fire on major targets. A group or nuclear submarines, with their inherent covertness in attack, can thus provide a new quality of “concentration”, significantly different from that offered by the wolfpack tactics of World War II.

This concentration or force, even if only conventional explosives are used, is achievable with long range “smart” missiles and guided torpedoes. It can have an overwhelming effect on enemy defenses, along with a far higher level of destruction and shock effect on an enemy’s combat organization. Decisiveness in a sea action in a greatly compressed period of time, becomes likely. Thus, winning a sea battle in a single strike action appears to be possible.

Although a new kind of “concentration of force” through the use of missiles is produced by a form of air power, it is not identical to the concentration of weapon force achieved in WW II by the sequential attacks of manned aircraft — using the aircraft’s organic targeting capability. Nor would submarine wolfpack attacks of ~lW II — with their organic selection of targets and use of short-range torpedoes — tend to resemble the coordinated attacks of several nuclear submarines against pre-selected designated targets.

To understand how concentration of force has been achieved in sea battles of the past — so as to appreciate the basic differences which emerge from the use of today’s technology — a brief look at several classical engagements appears appropriate.

“Concentration  of Force”  in  the  Past.

At Trafalgar in the Napoleonic Wars, the British ships-of-the-line under Lord Nelson’s command were maneuvered to concentrate their gunfire on the two main flagships of the enemy. The closely grouped lead-column of British ships, with VICTORY of 100 guns and TEHERAIRE and NEPTUNE of 98 guns each, headed for the French flagship BUCENTURE to take her out of action. A second and lee-column of British men of war, led by ROYAL SOVEREIGN, maneuvered “to pass through the enemy line at the 12th ship from the rear” — making the Spanish flagship SANTA ANA the target for the concentration of broadsides from the column or ships moving past her. The success or this British tactic to concentrate its weapon force on the major targets of an enemy’s fleet established the British as the sea power of the world for more than a century.

In WW II, the classic “capping of the T” was effected at the Battle of Jutland by the main battle line of the British Grand Fleet. Crossing ahead of the oncoming German High Seas Fleet battle line, many of the British battleships were able to concentrate their gunfire against the lead ships of the German fleet — forcing the seriously damaged German dreadnoughts KONIG and GROSSER KURFURST — in the van of the German column — to turn away . The poor accuracy of the British big guns which were used at very long ranges , resulted in only a low level of concentrated force on their targets, with consequent indecisive action.

At the Battle or Midway, in World War II, a new type of concentrated force was applied by manned aircraft. They were “massed” to deliver their short range weapons — bombs, torpedoes — in closely spaced sequential attacks. At 1024 on the morning of 3 June, 1943, seventeen dive bombers        from    YORKTOWN attacked the Japanese carrier KAGA and scored four bomb hits. Thirty three more dive bombers from ENTERPRISE obtained three bomb hits on both the AKAGI and SORYU. The fires created by the u.s. fragmentation bombs in use caused fatal damage to all three carriers. Later in the day, a final flight of U.S. dive bombers sank the HIRYU. About 17 planes per strike group– each delivering a 1,000 pound bomb in quick succession — wiped out all of the Japanese carriers in a decisive engagement lasting only a few hours.

Today, manned aircraft with standoff guided weapons should be able to provide an even higher level of concentrated force and over a shorter span of time. But the increased hazards to aircraft, causing high attrition of attacking units, plus the likelihood of the aircrafts’ smart weapons being countered by electronic warfare measures, may seriously dilute the number of weapons arriving on target — despite a “massing” of air platforms for an air attack.

The expendable, long range guided missile, however, if “massed” on high value targets, and delivered with a high element of surprise promises a heavy concentration of force which is not easily countered . And this concentration of force can be effected by only a few missile-firing nuclear submarines.

Concentration of Force  by  Nuclear Submarines Today

It must be emphasized that a new quality of “concentration” in sea warfare is achievable by nuclear           submarines            and    not     by        conventional submarines. It is the covert, mobility of the nuclear submarine which is essential to this quality, along with weapons which complement these nuclear submarine characteristics to produce “surprise” in attack. Thus a viable “concentration or force” — in today’s electronic warfare environment — depends first on the capability of the nuclear submarine to covertly gain a favorable weapon-delivery position and then project weapons which in their trajectory are so covert that their target is given little warning or their attack — making the countering or such weapons virtually impossible.

Spelled out, this implies a nuclear submarine capability to quietly close (while at the same time  not producing detectable  non-acoustic signatures) a weapon launch position. Then, missiles or low, radar cross-section can be put in trajectories where they are not likely to be detected until they are very close to their target. Similarly, torpedoes can be employed which are so quiet {and without significant non-acoustic signatures) and sufficiently fast, that they can intercept targets with little advance warning.

Importantly,  whereas  submarine-launched  long range cruise missiles appear to complement reasonably well the nuclear submarine’s capability to concentrate force on enemy targets {and they do have good utility today) in actuality they appear to have been developed for use by conventional submarines. Their range, programmed guidance and terminal-homing features indicate the use or such missiles from a submarine platform or low mobility and one which is likely to alert an enemy target well in advance or a missile’s arrival if an attempt is made to develop a tracking solution and close the range over a considerable period or time. The built-in counter countermeasures in today’s missiles would also indicate a belief that the element of surprise is likely to be compromised and hence complex organic electronics are necessary to ensure a hit. As designed, the long range cruise missile is a weapon of opportunity which must be launched despite little tracking data on an initial contact — since it is seemingly believed that  a  failure to attack quickly will result  in a  lost  opportunity.   This is a reasonable conclusion for conventional submarines but not nuclears.

This anomaly in submarine weapons is more easily recognized in the torpedoes in use and those     planned  for  the  near  future. The   present high-speed, noisy, electronically complex submarine torpedoes are so designed because it is assumed that the firing platform cannot readily gain a good attack position, and that attempts to do so will tend to compromise the submarine’s covertness and facilitate an enemy’s electronic countermeasuring of the torpedo. It is the low mobility of the conventional submarine which is being reflected in these torpedo characteristics. The conventional submarine has great difficulty in attaining a favorable attack position without being detected, hence a high speed torpedo gives the best chance for attack success — though the probability of hitting is probably low where electronic countermeasures can be brought into play. Thus, the feasibility of concentrating force with such a combination of platform and weapon appears to be so poor that “concentration” by submarines has not been emphasized.

The ASW standoff, missile-carried torpedo or depth charge is also premised on a firing platform which must launch on a distant contact because it is presumed that the firing platform has such low mobility that the initial contact cannot be developed and hence rapid attack is therefore necessary  —  or  the  opportunity lost. A  nuclear submarine, however, can develop a long-range contact through several regained contacts until, at shorter ranges, the probability of weapon kill becomes reasonably high — and this can be done without alerting the enemy target.

Importantly, “concentration of  force” is a quality to be developed further in nuclear submarines because of their great promise to dominate sea warfare. But, complementing weapons and the development of supporting systems are necessary to realize this potential.

Submarine concentrated force is dependent upon a synergism of broad ocean surveillance systems  as well   as  reliable long range communications, highly accurate geographic positioning and external command and control for coordinating the actions of several submarine firing platforms. Surveillance systems include SOSUS, radar and Elint satellites, electronic intercept vessels, (AGis), observant fishermen, etc. Satellites play a major role in geographic positioning an4 satellite communications as part of a redundant network of communications are necessary to provide the command and control which makes possible a level of concentration of force which can produce decisive results in a sea action.

These systems make possible the coordination of submarine firings so that weapons from several submarines or from submarines in concert with other weapon-firing platforms can be “massed” against major enemy targets, while producing a high element of “surprise” in weapon attack. In the case of missiles, a low trajectory after submarine launch along with sea-skimming in the terminal-homing phase of flight, tend to ensure that their detection is likely to be only in the last few seconds before arrival at an enemy target. In the case of torpedoes, the antiship torpedoes which are quiet and of relatively high speed in their trajectory can also be effectively “massed” against high value targets through the coordinated  tactical maneuvering  of several nuclear submarines. (Noisy antiship or antisubmarine torpedoes in an environment of enemy electronic countermeasures are likely to produce a diluted “massing” of weapons on targets.)

“Surprise” in weapon attack, it should be noted, is of considerable importance where weapons are dependent upon electronic guidance — because with ample forewarning of their approach, an enemy target using EW measures has a good chance of decoying or destroying the attacking weapons.

Why be interested in a “massing” or weapons against enemy submarines when a single torpedo hit can do the job on a single submarine. For one-on-one situations, “massing” is evidently of little importance. But for situations involving groupings of enemy submarines or groupings of enemy submarines in company with surface units, a “massed” attack by several nuclear submarines may be the only way to come out of the engagement as a winner. The likelihood of initial success by a single covert submarine against a group of enemy submarines. should be  good.  But theultimate result is likely to be a form of suicide. For a submarine navy which is greatly outnumbered by their enemy, this sort of attrition might be too costly as to its ultimate effect on a war.

Attaining a submarine capability to concentrate force against an enemy combination of forces — using torpedoes — is somewhat hampered by  the risk of  collision between friendly submarines, the possibility of attacking own forces, the susceptibility of torpedoes to be countered, the need for long-range relatively secure submerged communications and the wherewithal for an adequate command and control activity which can coordinate several nuclear submarines in their concentration or torpedo force. Significantly, having this operational capability should be greatly assisted by the need of    an  enemy grouping  of  submarines  for their own underwater communications, IFF measures, and doctrinal patterns of operations — all of which tend to make the enemy’s operations overt and more vulnerable to torpedo attack by several coordinated submarines.

On the other hand, the capability to conqentrate missile force on a grouping of enemy ships should be far more easily attained. Stand-off delivery ranges are likely to be at least ten times greater than for torpedoes. The risk of collision with own forces should be virtually non- existant. Delivery of weapons should be from geographic quadrants designated by an external command  authority.  And, evasion-safety  after firing should be easily solved by doctrine. IFF for individual friendly submarines is less likely to come into play in such situations. Even the missile-carried ASW standoff weapon should produce a simplified capability for concentrating ASW force against a grouping of enemy submarines.

Increased standoff weapon-delivery range seemingly tends to increase the submarine concentration of force rather than dilute it contrary to use of concentrated force in the past. Even long-range covert torpedoes should produce this result.

The most interesting and probably the most decisive use of submarine concentrated weapon force can result from a near-simultaneous use of missiles at long range against major targets, coordinated with torpedo attack from other nuclear submarines — much closer to the same targets. The damage accruing from missile attack will tend to assure torpedo hits — even with torpedoes which normally might be countermeasured by the enemy. And, torpedoes proved to be, in World War II, the most efficient weapons for sinking ships.


As appears evident today, the use of “concentration” — a “massing” or torpedoes or missiles  —  is            uncertain and  fragile  in seawarfare. But the payoff in decisive results could be great, if such kinds of attacks were put together with a good element of “surprise” being generated. Enemy defensive efforts against the concentration of force generated by several nuclear submarines might initially prevent a decisive effect from being achieved by coordinated attacking submarines. But, as at Midway, follow-on strikes with missiles or torpedoes, are likely to encounter exhausted enemy defenses which then permit the destruction of the submarine weapon-targets. Or, as at Trafalgar, the enemy is caused to “strike-her-colors” and submit to mop-up operations.

The “principles of war” dictate an appreciation of the potential of the nuclear submarine as a major player in determining the outcome of a sea war.


Naval Submarine League

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