HOW MANY SOVIET NUCLEAR ATTACK SUBMARINES?
Just for general information and to clarify box scores of Soviet submarines, the following numbers of nuclear attack submarines are derived from unclassified sources:
- From Jane’s Fighting Shies. 1986-87, the Soviets apparently have 84 nuclear attack submarines in commission today. These submarines carry 20 or more torpedoes and probably the SS-N-16 as well — a missile with an ASW torpedo warhead. (13 of these are converted YANKEE SSBNs)
- additionally, the Soviets have 52 missilecarrying nuclear submarines (cruise missiles) which also carry a big load of torpedoes and ~ nuclear attack submarines by any definition. (Would anyone reclassify the 688s which have twelve cruise missiles, in vertical tubes up forward, as SSGNs, instead of nuclear attack submarines?)
- in addition to the 136 nuclear attack submarines listed above, there are possibly a few more Soviet nuclear submarines which are not clearly identified, which might be nuclear attack submarines.
The uninitiated (into submarine matters) tend to believe that only SSNs are nuclear attack submarines. This is because of the vague way in which submarine box scores are frequently presented — in unclassified documents. Don’t be fooled. Refer to the above figures and order your thinking about the Soviet submarine threat accordingly.
ON THE “SILENT SERVICE”
I can’t tell you how impressed I was with the ideas W. P. Gruner brought up in his article “Enough of This Silent Service Bunk” in the October 1986 SUBMARINE REVIEW. Or what delicate memories it touched in me, reaching back to my service in World War II. I too resented being “shut out” of information I really deserved to have. I know it impaired my effectiveness as an enlisted man and always felt I could have done a much better job if I had only known what was going on.
I was one of those early SD radar men Mr. Gruner mentioned. I went aboard GATO in mid ’42, and was given a ten-minute “course” in radar -which I had never even heard about before. I never could understand why I didn’t get a single contact on that patrol until we were just outside Dutch Harbor. Somebody hit the control room deck from the conning tower just as I saw a blip on the radar. When I reported it, I was informed that it was “friendly” planes strafing us. Great morale builder, right?
Before the war we were told that SSs were the “eyes of the fleet” — the fleet’s scouting force. We were supposed to duQk under the enemy’s screen, locate their big ships and radio back the information. But we understood that if a DD spotted us or even our periscope, or if an aircraft reported our silhouette we were as good as dead. I’m sure that this brain-washed lots of our SS officers and men — even while the Germans were at the same time proving that theory was false. But such information learned in the Atlantic War wasn’t getting to the Pacific.
I especially liked Mr. Gruner’s statement, “Secrecy is counter-productive in this age of rapid technological advance.” How difficult it must be for people to work cooperatively in a “silent service.”
YADM DeMARS SPEECH AT THE SUBMARINE SYMPOSIUM, LIMA
VADM DeMars’ fine speech in Lima mentioned the “tight fraternity” of submariners. It brought on fond memories of the 50’s when our wardroom hosted competent and charming submarine officers from Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and the Netherlands. It could well be that some of these men, as senior officers, heard his speech.
Among the important points he made were:
- the USSR has many Non-NUCS as well as many NUCS.
- the USSR is building greater variety and numbers of NUC1s than NATO.
- the USN concentrates on NUCs relying on Allies for Non-NUCs.
- By maintaining technical and personnel superiority, the USN can, with its Allies, maintain adequate submarine strength with about 100 SSNa.
It seems clear that in the years since the introduction of SSNs there has been great progress in improving not only SSNs but also in the improvement of SSs. Areas of improvement include: silencing, shock-proofing, sensors, hull strength, submerged endurance, etc. Further, producibility of SSs may have held up better than that of SSNs.
Thus, estimating a future “correlation” of submarine forces is a very complex function of exchange rates between SSNs, SSs, and SSNs vs SSs, (including multiple SSs and enemy subs in coordinated ops with other ASW forces — all in appropriate geographic settings. It is assumed that SSBN safety on both sides will depend largely on the above correlation.)
The adequacy of 100 USN SSNs will depend, perhaps critically, on the complex correlations above. Yet, most of the discussion I’ve heard has involved estimates only of the SSN vs SSN exchange.
It seems important, then, to conduct exercises within the various submarine types in NATO — particularly for SSNs vs SSs — to more accurately estimate the complex correlation above and to respond realistically in future force plans.
The design of exercises from which improved estimates of exchange rates can be made will obviously require the most subtle analysis and planning. The conduct of exercises and analysis of results will be equally subtle to include the necessary submarine-class and geographic diversity and statistical significance. And, it may prove difficult to exclude participation by the unwanted.
Further difficulty in design and analysis of exercises arises when one considers the contributions made by non-submarine forces such as air, surface, mine, and c3r forces.
Finally, the resolution to win in any set of exercises short of war may be the most important factor of all in a dynamically changing technological world. Propaganda effect and political subversion are definitely influences affecting resolution.
The ceiling of 100 SSNs, long embedded in political stone, could be the formula for defeat.
FIGHTING IN DEFENDED WATERS
How great to bear from Henry Young again! in his most thought provoking article, in the January issue.
At risk of over simplification, Henry explores certain aspects of a submarine campaign in defended waters in consideration of planning implications. He brilliantly shows that in a campaign focused on destroying SSBNs while facing a constantly acting defense, the exchange rate of SSBNs for SSNs will be degraded as successful attacks reduce desired engagement opportunities with the defensive forces remaining strong.
Some of his conclusions:
- SSNs should avoid the SSBNs defenses.
- increasing the number of SSNs committed to the campaign will not overcome the effect of a modest defense.
- a fast start of the SSN campaign will not materially increase effectiveness.
I would conclude that: making the destruction of SSBNs the objective of the campaign seems to be a distorted strategy. The objective is to win the war as soon as possible. The way to do that is to attack as vigorously as possible any thing that may get in the way of u.s. objectives. Attacking SSBNs early in a war may be a mistake from other directions. It could destabilize the deterrence, put off the destruction of more accessible targets leading to loss of the sea war to forces which attack SLOCs; and as Henry points out, failure to attack what he defines as submarine defenses even reduces the chance of destroying the SSBNs.
I agree with his last paragraph:
“Fighting an undersea campaign in defended waters is shrouded in uncertainties that should challenge SSU force planning at the levels of strategy, operations and tactics for a long time to come. Sound insight into the nature of such operations is a pt•erequisite for effective force development and employment plans.”