“Strategic ASW” as presently used implies anti-submarine warfare against strategic submarines — i.e. ballistic missile submarines, both nuclear (SSBNs) and conventional (SSBs). If, however, the word “strategic” is used in the dictionary sense, then “strategic ASW” more correctly means the way to combat the entire enemy submarine threat.
“Strategic” as used in classic terminology pertains to the word strategy and “strategy” is the art of directing the military movements and operations of a campaign — in this case, an anti-Submarine campaign. And for this campaign, a strategic ASW plan should be required to bring an enemy’s submarines under control. In the case of the Soviet Navy this would mean a Plan to decimate a submarine force or almost 400 submarines.
Is the proper use of the term “strategic ASW” which would include ~ enemy submarines, not just ballistic missile ones — important?
Yes, it probably is, because it makes evident a need to have a comprehensive plan for significantly reducing the Soviet submarine threat, and it focuses attention on the requirement to do this in a time-urgent fashion in accordance with “The Maritime Strategy” recently outlined by Admiral Watkins. the former Chief of Naval Operations. What is called for by Admiral Watkins is a quick destruction of the Soviet submarine force in order to permit u.s. surface battle groups to operate close to Soviet land objectives so they can, by projection of power from the seas, create a decisive effect on the conduct of a big war with the Soviets. To carry out such offensive operations calls for the operating areas or the u.s. carrier forces to be swept relatively free of opposing enemy submarines.
To do this quickly and efficiently requires a well-laid Plan. It is not enough to have a plan for air ASW, a plan for surface ASW and a separate plan for submarine ASW. Without a coordinated single integrated ASW plan, the ultimate goals called for by Admiral Watkins are not likely to be achieved — in a major war at sea. Reasonably, the developers of such a single Plan should be the Submarine Force since submarines have to make the major contribution in achieving a quick decimation or enemy submarines at the initiation or a conflict with the Soviets. Surface and air ASW are not likely to be effective as rapid means for bringing the enemy submarine threat under control — except where their efforts are closely coordinated with the submarine effort. Undeniably, surface and air ASW are effective means or destroying submarines — but basically, only in a drawn-out attrition manner. Quick attrition or neutralizing or enemy submarines is required. This takes a submariner-generated Plan.
If the Soviets choose not to send their submarines to sea at the initiation or hostilities, or if a significant portion or their sub force has been based overseas, or if their bastions are not used for the protection or their submarines, or if it is evident that a Soviet “first salvo” strategy is likely to be employed — then a “strategic ASW Plan” becomes a requirement to adapt to such options and still rapidly bring the Soviet submarine threat under control.
The u.s. Submarine Force might prefer to limit its responsibility for controlling the enemy submarine threat to only a lone-wolf type or submerged effort against deployed enemy .submarines. But this effort in itself will not do the job called for. u.s. submarines in a sound, “Strategic ASW Plan” will have to: be sure that enemy surveillance and communication satellites are destroyed if air and surface ASW is to function efficiently in coordination with submarine activity; be capable or destroying enemy submarines in port areas or shallow waters; have the proper guidance capability on their cruise missiles for destroying submarine facilities ashore; be able to mine submarine base areas to prevent submarines from getting to sea; be capable or interdicting submarine support activities including their support ships; ensure the necessary intelligence on enemy submarines, wherever; even, possibly, shoot down threatening enemy aircraft which could affect the rapid destruction of the enemy submarine force; and coordinate the Allied ASW effort with that of the United States.
Are these submarine activities at the start of a war unreasonable? . . . . Or essential to an ASW Plan to do the job called for in “The Maritime Strategy?”
Why should so vital an issue as the development of a strategic plan to counter the Soviet submarine threat be in question? The answer seems fairly straight-forward. In an armed conflict with the Soviet Union, the u.s. might not have sufficient resources or time to adequately contain the Soviet submarine threat on the tactical level by means of forward U.S. submarine operations, as well as carrier battle group outer inner zone ASW operations.
The Soviets have enjoyed a numerical superiority in total number of submarines for several decades. In the past,most western naval analysts generally agreed that the West’s qualitative advantages in anti-submarine technologies would be adequate to off-set the Soviet’s quantitative edge. With the introduction of seven new Soviet submarine classes in the last five years, these views are changing.
The latest Soviet submarines present U.S. ASW forces with some grave problems. Since the introduction of the Victor III-Class SSN, the Soviets have steadily reduced the technological gap with their American counterparts especially in the area of acoustic silencing.
The Soviet’s narrowing of the submarine technology gap is the result of a combination of uniquely-Soviet innovations (titanium hull construction, liquid-metal reactors,more efficient bulls, etc.)and acquired western technologies (acoustic silencing, computerized sonar systems, etc.). The end result is that the Soviet submarine force seriously threatens the superiority of the United States’ primary ASW sensor — its fixed-array, long-range passive acoustic sonar system known as SOSUS. Also, the vulnerablilty of the SOSUS system to overt or covert attacks makes possible a wartime shift in the advantage held by the u.s. in controlling the oceans depths.
Since the United States mightlack sufficient forces and resources (attack submarines, torpedoes, sonobuoys, etc.) to deal with the Soviet submarine threat on a continuum of tactical warfare scenarios, what are the available options? The optimal solution appears to be the establish-ment of a comprehensive strategic ASW policy involving the overal Plan.
The first, and foremost. requirement of an effective u.s. strategic ASW policy is the ability to obtain and maintain intelligence on the posture of the Soviets’ submarine and supporting forces. With a declining effectiveness of SOSUS, the u.s. would need to evaluate the expanded use of shorter-range acoustic sensors. Additionally, the u.s. might be wise to take a page from the Soviets and broaden its exploration of the use of non-acoustic ASW sensors, (e.g. space-based synthetic aperture radar, etc.).
Secondly, the Soviets best-case surge capability, outside Soviet waters, should see a large portion of its SSBNs and SSNs moving quickly to sea at the initiation of a conflict. Thus, it would be vital to initiate attacks on Soviet submarine bases and support facilities prior to the large-scale deployment of their submarines. When this fact is coupled with the Soviet strategy of using defended ocean bastions, a “strategic” ASW operation becomes potentially more valuable. Combined overt (aircraft) and covert (submarine) mining operations of enemy ports and choke points, aircraft strikes, and cruise missile attacks, may significantly reduce the effective Soviet submarine threat. When one expands the targeting list to include Soviet C3I networks, ocean surveillance and communication systems, and supporting forces, the capability of deployed Soviet submarines should also suffer markedly.
It is important to note that regardless of the amount of “strategic warning” the U.S. and her Allies might have, the lack of a strategic ASW contingency plan in being would likely present the West from containing the Soviet submarine threat. Additionally, to count on having adequate warning prior to the initiation of a conflict, as the solution to the problem, runs contrary to the history of modern warfare.
The priority of strategic ASW activities reflects an emphasis on immediate, near-term goals. However, some might argue that strategic ASW should be geared toward longer-range implications.This could result in a complete reversal of mission priority. But regardless of mission priority, the all-inclusive definition of strategic ASW would involve more than tactical ASW operations against enemy SSBNs.
So if a strategic plan is necessary to “quickly” counter the Soviet submarine threat, are any of the existing ASW plans sufficiently comprehensive to do the job? It may be useful to engage in an open discussion and debate on the potential value of a United States strategic ASW policy, spearheaded by the submarine community.
In sum, the Soviet submarine fleet — with its numerical superiority and approaching qualitative parity with their western counterparts is such a threat to the naval objectives of the West, that the United States Navy can no longer expect to adequately contain the Soviet submarine threat on the tactical level. A strategic ASW plan is indicated, along with a broad based discussion to gain valuable insight into the best approach to meet this critical national problem.