U.S. submarine warfare, as pictured today can be readily and simplistically described. Our submarines will respond to the Maritime Strategy by conducting independent forward barrier operations or go into Soviet bastions to rapidly attrite enemy submarines including strategic ones and thereby critically reduce the enemy’s high seas threat to u.s. battle groups and merchant convoys carrying vital support to overseas U.S. forces –while also reducing the enemy’s strategic submarine threat. At the same time, our submarines would provide a screening function for surface battle groups, and our ballistic missile submarines would ensure their survival by laying doggo in the vast reaches of the world’s oceans.
Simple? — very — and readily played in wargames and trained for in peacetime, with u.s. submarines specifically and well designed for such operations.
Despite our best planning, submarine warfare is unlikely to follow exactly this pattern if history is to be reckoned with. First, today’s war of attrition against enemy submarines has to be quickly accomplished to be consistent with the u.s. Maritime Strategy. Yet, decisiveness by our submarines in World War II. in their primary mission of destroying Japanese merchant shipping, was gained only after long, drawn-out operations.
Second, U.S. submarines before World War II trained for and were played in exercises as “fleet” pickets. Yet when WW II started, u.s. submarines were used in other roles different from their planned primary mission — that of attriting the Japanese merchant fleet.
Third, although submarine commands in the past (particularly the German and Japanese) seemingly recognized the best way to use their submarines in war, when war actually started a higher command overrode the submarine command which had been responsible to meet war requirements and called for some missions which were different than those planned for, or higher commands changed the way planned-for missions were to be carried out. The Japanese high command, for example, called for a different use of their submarines — responsive to fleet requirements than the submarine commanders had contemplated.
Fourth, the u.s. submarine mission of today is focussed on the Atlantic and the Pacific. They are of equal importance, but the submarine operations in the Pacific proved in WW II to be quite different than those in the Atlantic. With the Arctic and Indian Oceans now also important theaters of submarine warfare, the concept of a quick U.S. attrition of enemy submarines is being considered on a worldwide basis.
Fifth, attriting the enemy’s strategic nuclear submarines is necessarily a political decision and will not always follow military planning. In the past, International Law for wartime military operations and Rules of Engagement for peacetime restriction of military action have been subject to civilian interpretation and change. At the start of WW II, the shift to unrestricted submarine warfare — away from International Law’s clearly defined requirement to warn an enemy merchant ship before submarine attack, and to render assistance to survivors after attack — illustrates the difficulty of submarine planning for conflict.
Sixth, today’s expectation that there will be several days of strategic warning before the onset of a big war should be temporized by the total surprise of Pearl Harbor and the Soviet emphasis on a surprise “first salvo” to initiate a war at sea.
Submarine policy and planning, then, are developed to produce submarines of the highest achievable quality in certain vital characteristics, keeping in mind other capabilities whose quality may necessarily be limited both by funding and by the optimizing of the special qualities particularly desired. This makes good sense based upon the past.
For example, the “fleet submarine” designed just before WW II was optimized for: extremely long surfaced range– about 16,000 miles (with converted ballast tanks); long endurance at sea-over 60 days; a great load of weapons — up to 26 torpedoes; high speed on the surface — about 21 knots; high stability surfaced and submerged; very good survivability against the types of weapons visualized at that time; and very good maintainability of machinery while at sea. As a consequence of emphasizing these characteristics over others, the fleet boat was able to adapt extremely well to the changed nature of the warfare environment in which they actually operated and not inflexible to changed missions.
Similarly, today, the optimized characteristics of u.s. nuclear submarines are responsive to the possibility that our submarines will be employed in ways other than currently envisioned. To minimize too wide a variance, our submarines are being designed for: great quietness even at relatively high speeds; extremely long detection and tracking capability on enemy ships; unlimited range; high mobility and great endurance totally submerged; high operating reliability; very good under-ice capability; and a very large load of offensive weapons.