In the early 1960s Rear Admiral George H. Hiller’s “Great Circle Group” was an ad hog committee to study possible naval contributions to the strategy of “damage limitation,” or ballisticmissile defense (BHD). One of the group’s concepts was the Sea-Based Anti-Ballistic Missile Intercept Ship (SABHIS). This was to be a forward based surface ship system capable or intercepting ballistic missiles in their boost or mid-course phase. SABHIS would add sea power to continental defense, while avoiding the complications or land deployment of ABMs.
The system was to operate in the far north, be equipped with phased array radars to detect and track enemy missiles, and guide interceptor missiles at them. A weakness or the concept was the proposed use ot the PHOENIX missile as an interceptor rather than an extremely high speed missile such as SPRINT, or a modification thereof.
The idea may have been “right” for U.S. national strategy, but was not a favorite in naval circles or in the u.s. defense community in general. Traditionally, defensive systems have had few proponents, despite the fact many combat seasoned admirals, generals and sports coaches will say it’s difficult, if not impossible, to win without a strong defense. Recognizing that all required technologies for SABMIS had yet to be proven, Admiral Tom Moorer contended that it was a complement to other defensive systems — providing a better defense in depth. The concept was thus stillborn!
With today•s “on the shelf” and “cutting edge” technologies, a new SABMIS may be possible in both the tactical and strategic arenas. Why not consider the “phased out” Polaris/Posaidon SSBNs tor a strategic defensive role? Patrolling in the marginal ice zones, equipped with antiballistic missiles or modified Sprint design, or long-range I.R. homing missiles of Stinger type configuration appear possible. Real time target data could be provided from satellites, or perhaps from NORAD via satellite or a commo~user communications and strategic information system.
On board computers could generate fire control solutions. If SABMIS SSBNs were attacked by the enemy before a preemptive strategic strike, then strategic surprise would be lost. In line with the SABMIS of the 1960s and 1970s, this new SABMIS system would be supportive of the strategic defense initiatives (SDI), not a replacement for them.
Tactically, the fire power possibilities of nuclear submarines suggests the converted SSBN as a candidate for fleet (battle-group) defense against cruise missile attack. Working with the Aegis or DDG-51 type guided missile ships for target acquisition and tracking, the converted SSBN might be equipped with sail or mast-mounted laser-beam, nuclear-powered X-ray beam or charge~ particle-beam weapons.
Also, the vertical launch tubes designed for Tomahawk in the SSN-688 class might be adapted for terminal defense weapons. Radical? Yes. Possible? Probably.
“Parochial” planners will argue that this is a waste of submarine assets, that NORAD might obtain operational control of the SABHIS SSBNs, and that their conversion funds are needed for ~etter naval purposes. The crux of the matter is, however, that submarine forces do not operate in isolation. What they do at sea can be related directly to gaining advantages ashore by affecting land operations. If sea-based damage limitation, as a supplement to SDI, serves the national interest, we should extend the traditional submarine “can-do” spirit into this “new” mission area.
If the “Silent Service” is no longer to be silent, then it can develop, by open discussions, new applications for submarine support of U.S. national objectives.