As we returned to Pearl on the surface in WW II, we scrambled to pop the bridge identification flare as a B-24 dropped out of the overcast headed directly toward us with bomb-bay doors open. He passed over at about 100 feet. It was difficult for him to identify us even with our distinctive submarine shape and flying stars and stripes.
The recent tragic downing or a passenger jet by VINCENNES might have been avoided had the jet properly shown IFF to the cruiser’s radar. By showing an ambiguous double IFF, the Jet had evidently failed adequately to cooperate. Those in air warfare and anti-air warfare have at least provided the technical means for a potential target to cooperate in identification.
In WWII we in submarines in the Pacific bad a minor problem in this respect. We went in close enough to see the target in most cases, and without a red cross it was fair game on the basis or geographical position.
The consequences or error in the sinking or ships can be enormous. The LUSITANIA sinking in WWII had a lot to do with getting the u.s. into the war. It was a mistake in policy rather than identification, but the result can be the same next time.
With longer ranged weapons and possibly more complex political situations of the future, we may in the next fracas produce much more tragic results unless we somehow come up with better means of identification of ships within firing range. We may not have sufficient knowledge of the routing of thousands of ships to safely do the long range job.
Sonar classification of warships may prove adequate but even this seems doubtful as a potential enemy provides his ships to possible neutrals. The use of cooperating friendly air to make visual identification can do much but is limited by a variety of factors. The use of submarine launched remotely-piloted aircraft shows much promise but it too faces limitations.
It would seem in the interest of the submarine community to develop for those ships which do not desire to be targets, the technical devices by which they can indicate their friendly character. It might be an electronic radio signal for reception through the air or a sonia signal received through the water, or a combination.
We submariners will have the degree of control over an identification system consistent with the trust we put in it. The system must contain characteristics which make it undesirable for use by enemies as a ruse. It might, for example, vastly increase the detectability of the using ship.Or, it might severely interfere with the enemy ship’s detection gear. Since we must proceed covertly, the system must not require emission by the submarine which decides not to fire. These are areas where such a system must differ from the radar-activated IFF systems used by aircraft.
Practical matters such as cost and reliability are probably best left to others. But with modern technology it is difficult to believe the goal is not achievable . Portable towed sonic devices and/or coded radio beacons are not much removed from what we now do.
The utility of the system would be much greater if it also protected the user ship from attack by air or surface ship and also informed satellites.
To those submariners who might think it’s not our responsibility, one need only think of the political fallout should we sink another LUSITANIA. I think we must at least give the subject our best thought. We should provide for the proper cooperation so that errors in sinking are the fault of the victims.