The power projection doctrine outlined in the current maritime strategy is uniquely tailored to the capabilities of the nuclear attack submarine. It defines a mission in an environment which submarines have been operating in for many years. A significant difference exists, however, in the character of the command and control capability required to effectively respond to this mission. The dependence of the current strategy on an adequate command and control capability to support its implementation appears to be under-emphasized. This weakness could be a missing element in the chemistry of its content, and a limiting factor in the effectiveness of the submarine’s role in supporting its objectives.
The submarine command and control requirement has always required special attention. While the one way multi-opportunity broadcast concept adequately responded to the post World War II operational need, technological advances in platform, sensor, and weapon capabilities, implemented in response to an increasing threat, mandated improvement.
The decision to deploy the sea-based POLARIS strategic missile system was supported by a major submarine command and control improvement program. This effort recognized that the credibility of this new deterrent system was directly related to our ability to convince national and world leaders that the capability to command this force was assured.
Dedicated strategic command and control program management, a comprehensive research program, and intensified communication training initiatives were key parts of the strategic command and control enhancement program. The VLF upgrades, TACAMO, floating wire and buoy antenna, and ELF projects initiated in this era form the backbone of the system in use today.
Communication improvements for attack submarines have not enjoyed the priority of the strategic initiatives. While some “flow down” benefits occurred in broadcast and floating wire antenna systems shared by both SSBNs and SSNs, no significant support for SSN command and control improvement occurred until the late 1960s. At this time the “SSN Escort” concept focused attention on the SSN tactical communication need.
An SSN tactical communication workshop sponsored by ARPA at Lincoln Laboratories late in 1970 provided the foundation for a comprehensive SSN communication improvement effort. A baseline program of radio frequency, acoustic, optical, and antenna research initiatives evolved ~rom this meeting. Projects recommended included: expendable communication buoys, communicating floating wire and advanced towed buoy antenna systems, an integrated (Air-SSN-DD) acoustic communication system, high speed store and forward on demand satellite communications, and research on submarine laser communications.
The sponsorship or these initiatives was initially provided under the authority of OP-02 -Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Submarines. It soon became apparent, however, that the SSN command and control improvement program directly impacted the characteristics and capabilities of the other platforms on the ASW team. It was not surprising, therefore, to experience resistance from surface and air sponsors to allocate funding for platform improvements dedicated to improve the command and control of the SSN.
A multi-platform sponsored coordination effort was required. This was accomplished in 1975 through the establishment of the Coordination in Direct Support Program, under the sponsorship of the Director of Command and Control (OP -094). The contributions of this program, until ita disestablishment in 1982, were significant. The program served as a forum to validate and prioritize program expenditures and provided a value judgement focus on the impact of Command and Control improvement on the effectiveness or coordinated ASW operations.
The disestablishment of the Coordination in Direct Support program reflected a lack of warfare sponsor determination in support of communication improvements which has been a longstanding Navy problem. Programs which produce ships, aircraft, and weapons understandably enjoy higher priorities. This has forced many command and control improvement efforts to be justified on fleet needs and deficiencies on a “catch up” basis rather than in “consonance” with the development of new warfare platform capabilities.
The situation faced by the submarine force today in supporting the power projection strategy is much the same as that faced at the time POLARIS was deployed. The TRIDENT, TOMAHAWK, SSN-688 and SSN-21 programs represent powerful new capabilities which can and will enhance the effectiveness of the Navy’s maritime strategy.
But, the full potential of these capabilities may not be attained without major improvements in our submarine command and control capability.
This improvement should begin with establishment of single point submarine command and control progr~ management authority within the systems command and the CNO staffs. It is understood that the new Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Organization will re-establish a dedicated submarine program manager. This position should be utilized to focus and direct the broad spectrum of submarine program activity.
Equally important to strengthened program management is the need to establish an integrated and dynamic communication development program. This must focus top level technical attention on improvements which directly support the submarine’s contribution to the current maritime doctrine.
This program should address as a matter of importance questions of improved antennae: the mast mounted, expendable buoy, floating wire, and towed buoy systems which bridge the critical sea/air interface and are vital links in our capability to communicate. They serve a function in the SSN external command and control similar to that which the towed sonar array serves in passive acquisition and tracking. Has our best technological attention been applied to achieve optimal antenna capabilities and configurations? What applications from the fields of robotic, deep ocean exploration and high speed integrated circuit technologies can be applied to improve the reliability of current systems and expand capabilities?
The risk to a supporting SSN exposed in a communicating posture is as significant now as it was in the days of “sub-air” coordination. This risk must either be accepted or minimized through attainment of effective low risk command and control for the role of the SSN to be of maximum value.
The submarine community must become more vocal and supportive in many of the ongoing Navy command and control upgrade programs which have the potential to support the SSN mission. The capability of the terminal planned for submarine use in the milstar satellite communications program should be carefully reviewed to insure that this most survivable system will optimally support the flexible targeting and shore connection requirements to accomplish SSN missions in the power projection strategy.
In 1958 and again in 1970 special efforts were required to insure that the submarine communications capability was adequate to meet the challenge of important new mission requirements. The current maritime strategy poses a similar challenge and justifies a need for special attention.
The “Silent Service” motto which so appropriately describes the quiet professionalism of our warfare community can no longer apply as well to our attention to command and control. It is time for us to recognize the importance of this requirement and increase the content of this element in the chemistry of our capabilities developmental program.