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To paraphrase John Naisbitt’s best seller MEGATRENDS, “In ASW, we have been moving from the old to the new. And we are still in motion. Caught between eras, we experience turbulence, yet amid the sometimes painful and uncertain present, we proceed unrelentingly.”

Many of the concepts in the book, MEGATRENDS, also apply to the future status of Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). We need to assess the Navy’s most difficult and challenging warfare area. By doing so, we can determine if our current efforts, and the directions of those efforts, are sufficient to defeat the ASW threat through the next decade and to successfully conduct ASW operations in the next century. It will require a rethink of all aspects of our current submarine ASW efforts. More money in larger active and passive acoustic systems may very well not be the key to success.

  • THE MOST RELIABLE WAY TO ANTICIPATE THE FUTURE IS BY UNDERSTANDING THE PRESENT. A comparison of Soviet/U.S. efforts in submarine construction quickly focuses this concept. In the past ten years the Soviets have constructed fourteen different classes of submarines, while the u.s. has constructed only two classes; one SSN and one SSBN. While the projected ratio of Soviet to U.S. submarines remains approximately 3:1, the more alarming bench mark is the overall decrease in detectability of each class of submarine. The average reduction in radiated noise for Soviet nuclear submarines which have undergone recent overhaul or are of new construction bas been significant. Where we once considered detection ranges of nautical miles, we now worry about hundreds of yards. The topic of “acoustic parity” has received well deserved attention recently through the realization that as detection and counter detection ranges converge, all phases of ASW are affected.
  • SOCIETIES, LIKE INDIVIDUALS, CAN HANDLE ONLY SO MANY CONCERNS AT ONE TIME. ASW is the major warfare concern of the 1980’s and will continue to be for the near and distant future. We have sufficiently bounded the problems associated with other forms of warfare — Amphibious, Electronic, Surface and Anti-Air — because they are physically and intrinsically easier to address. Beginning in 1984, however, both the Atlantic and Pacific CINCs identified ASW as their #1 priority and CNO has clearly stated that ASW was his primary concern. Barring some unforeseen breakthrough, ASW will remain the top priority because of the inherent difficulties associated with detecting, classifying, localizing and prosecuting submarines in the ocean medium.
  • TRENDS, LIKE HORSES ARE EASIER TO RIDE IN THE DIRECTION THEY ARE ALREADY GOING. An excellent indicator of the Navy’s trend in ASW is the recent ASW Continuum of 1985. This Continuum was structured to evaluate “own community” ASW knowledge, and was derived from interviews with over 2,500 Navy personnel reflecting the knowledge of other related ASW communities. In all, over 11,000 data points were used in the analysis which identified three major weaknesses; 1) the fleet ASW knowledge was below expected standards; 2) there was little continuum of ASW knowledge and 3) the knowledge and skill levels to conduct effective coordinated ASW operations was insufficient. These results were dramatic, realizing that, as detection ranges and acoustic search rates for individual ASW platforms decrease, the need for coordinated, or “combined arms” ASW skills is not only required, but essential.
  • HIGH TECH TECHNOLOGY PRODUCES HIGH TOUCH RESPONSE. Whenever new technology is introduced, there must be a counterbalancing human response -high touch — or the technology is rejected. This High Tech/High Touch concept applied to ASW is best reflected in the debate as to whether ASW is an art or a technological problem. To many, ASW is the purest warfare art form since it involves engaging an adversary who may never be detected until too late. VADM Metcalf, for one, believes in the art form definition. He states: “Knowing how to fight in this (ASW) realm is ••• an art acquired through training and old fashioned experience. ASW Surface Warriors are ••• ARTISTS.” On the other hand, there are those who believe that the answer lies primarily in signal processing: that enough time integration, filtering, and signal amplification of an acoustic signature will result in detection and recognition of submarines.

Why this warfare area is so difficult lies in the fact that, from the acoustic, and equally the non-acoustic factors, the ocean favors the submarine. In the ocean environment, sound normally bends toward colder water initially and therefore bends toward the ocean bottom where it is likely to be scattered or absorbed. Even with “good” sound propagation, the inherent spreading absorption and scattering losses associated with sound travelling through the oceans often makes acoustic detection improbable. The ocean, moreover, continues to get noisier while threat submarines get quieter.

Another difficulty is the current limits to accurately predict acoustic conditions. The underseas battlefield is hardly surveyed in the acoustic detail necessary. Therefore, the true conditions in an operating area may be recognized too late.

  • THERE ARE THREE STAGES OF NEW TECHNOLOGY. During the first stage or technological innovation, technology usually takes the path or least resistance, that is, it is applied in ways that do not threaten people. This reduces the chance that the technology will be rejected. This low risk approach applies to current efforts to build bigger acoustic systems. Even with movement into the second stage of new technology, submariners still cling to the belief that the ASW answer must lie in acoustic detection. In this second stage or technology, the microprocessor is used to improve what we already have — but that will not effectively solve the growing ASW problem. It is thus, the third stage of technology which needs to be aggressively pursued — using inventions scarcely appreciated now. Acceleration of the third stage and reduction of time in the acquisition process are called for. While the ASW “breakthrough” has been awaited for over forty years, the sad truth is that if it becomes a reality it will take another decade, under current acquisition procedures, to become a fleet asset.
  • LONG RANGE PLANS MUST REPLACE SHORT TERM PROFIT. Since it has taken the Navy many years to give ASW its number one priority, ASW efforts should be focused on long term objectives, while addressing short term and immediate shortfalls. The blind acceptance that larger and more powerful acoustic sensors are the key is the easy and short term viewpoint. The future of on acoustic means or detection is not- clear. The CNO’ s thoughts on the subject, however, are: “OUr advantages are decreasing. Soviet submarines are getting quieter and harder to detect. At some point in the future, it can be postulated that they will become as quiet as the ambient sea, and then ~e will have to turn to other methods of detection. We must continue to make good decisions about the kind or ASW forces we want in the future.”

To combat a quiet opponent, the future submarine force will require non-acoustic sensors for initial submarine detection. Where is there a long term investment directed at solving this unavoidable acoustic predicament?

  • CONCLUSION: ASW IS IN THE “TIME OF PARENTHESIS,” THE TIME BETWEEN ERAS. The acoustic means or detection are still believed in, even though the acoustic signature is evaporating while our training, command and control structures and R&D efforts are centered on the high tech, short term, low risk solutions. The application or MEGATRENDS’ concepts to current ASW efforts illustrates these facts. The future has not been embraced, as the known past has been clung to in favor or the unknown future.

We are in the second stage of ASW technology and need to be in the third stage, aggressively pursuing unimagined acoustic and non-acoustic sensors, systems and weapons. We need an ASW program that parallels the current SDI effort. Also, no matter how sophisticated ASW technology will become, success will still depend on the ASW team interaction and experience. Knowledge or, and the ability to predict the acoustic and nonacoustic battlefield will be a key to success.

Even MEGATRENDS’ conclusion applies to our current efforts. In this time of uncertainty we have extraordinary leverage and influence individually and institutionally — if we can only get a clear conception, a clear vision of the challenges ahead. There can be no hesitation, NOW is the time for bold initiatives. The Naval Submarine League can provide an invaluable service by maintaining the information flow to the public on anti-submarine matters as well as encouraging innovative directions for ASW solutions.

LCDR Thomas Q. Donaldson, V, USN
and LT Doyle P. Riley, USN

Naval Submarine League

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