The Naval Institute Proceedings or October 1987 is devoted to Submarines and ASW. It has articles by six nuclear submariners along with articles by non-submariners on submarine matters. Reviewing all or the pertinent articles and excerpting observations from them appears to be informative to the SUBMARINE REVIEW’s readership which rarely sees public expressions from the nuclear submarine community. Also, certain interesting generalizations are made about this collection of writings on submarines. (Note: the Editor does not confirm the validity or the quoted statements nor does he necessarily feel that the generalizations which fall out would be a consensus of today’s submarine force.)
Submarine Warfare and Strategy
LCDB M. N. Pocalyko, USN, in his Sinking Soyiet SSQNs declares that: “tactical nuclear war at sea may exist marginally but is highly implausible” — and, “the Soviets would not choose a naval tactical nuclear response to our strategic ASW” — “Soviet SSBNs must be sunk by conventional means” — and, “Soviet SSBNs are our leverage for ending the war.” “SSNs operate alone and indeed must operate alone.”
LT D. I. Nylen, USN, in his Melee Warfare says that the “high-kill criteria for success of the Maritime Strategy may be out of reach for our SSNs in the future,” and “The engagement rate will not be high,” — “The conclusion that must be drawn is that the current high-cost U.S. SSN seems destined to lose its preeminence as an ASW platform in the future.”
LT W. F. Hoeft, USN, in his Topfish; Tactics Firat writes: “effectiveness of the u.s. sub force was baaed on hypothetical one-on-one engage-ments between each force’s most capable submarine.
CDR D. W. Hearding, USN, in A Call to Combined Arms noted that: “As a result of the erosion of the U.S. technology edge, the mammoth size of the Soviet submarine force has become a more important determinant in the outcome of future submarine war,”– and, “U.S. sub attacks against Soviet submarines operating in consort with other forces will undoubtedly increase u.s. submarine losses.”
VADH Bruce DeMars. USN, in an Interview says: “We will have to stop regarding the submarine strictly as an ASW weapon.”– and, “Don’t ever take your eyes off the fact that submarine warfare is stealth warfare.” As for the Soviet bastion concept. “I think it is clearly their current concept because of implications of our Maritime Strategy.”
LCDR Pocalyko says, “nuclear war is a Soviet option only of last desperate resort.”
LT Nylen feels that in a melee “the engagement now seems somewhat even.” “Depth capability, where the Soviets again exceed the U.S., aids a submarine in avoiding the vertical width of the torpedo’s acoustic cone.” — “Speed, in which the Soviets excel, also helps a submarine evade the homing torpedo.” — “The submarine can be an effective ASUW platform, but its vulnerability once detected — may preclude this from becoming an important mission.”
CDR K. J. Reardon, USN, in his Ensuring the Undersea Adyantase says: “The top 3 characteristics of an SSN are quieting, quieting and quieting.” Also, “The SSN-21 will provide a revolutionary breakthrough in underwater stealth.”
LT Hoeft notes that “the tremendous routine workload submariners face on sea duty diverts their attention away from their individual tactical proficiency.”
LT T. J. Belke, USN, in Pushing the Limit notes that, “The submariner who thinks the primary advantages of stealth and concealment are invio-late courts disaster,” — and that “we promote blind faith in our cloak of invisibility.” Also, “Even shots that miss yield dividends because they put your opponent off balance and on the defensive.”
C.T. Urban in his Bringing Tactics to the Surface says: “Attack submarine wardrooms consider themselves tactical experts . . . . . However, the allotted time within the larger scheme of things relegate tactical training to more of a hobby.” “Today there may be too much misplaced trust and dependence on combat system and weapon capabilities.”
VADM DeMars says, “We have the potential to perform antiair warfare to a certain degree and help the battle group with our ability to launch antiair missiles from covert positions.”
LT Nylen writes: “the Soviet’s sonar system would certainly pick up the noisy Mk-48 torpedo within seconds of its launch.”
CDR Reardon says, “Unfortunately, U.S. torpedo developments have not kept pace, while, “The Navy currently has no anti-torpedo defense system.”
VADM DeMars notes that, “rather than making our heavyweight torpedo warhead better, we are making our lightweight torpedo better.” — “A new torpedo program? Eventually — but I don’t have the money right now.” — As for whether our torpe-does can defeat the threat, “Obviously I think so or we’d be working hard to change the heavyweight torpedoes.”
LT Hoeft notes: “The submarine force is losing far too many good officers who expected to contribute to a cause but found themselves jerked around — and overworked by contused and competing priorities.”. . . . “The Engineers Exam ensures that uniformly competent officers are supervising the propulsion plants of nuclear submarines — no equivalent challenge exists for individuals to prove their tactical competence.” — and, “Although an attitude of invincible arrogance pervades the submarine community, few submariners have the first hand knowledge to justify such an attitude.” . . . “Officers find themselves pursuing ‘urgent’ tasks that have no apparent relationship to ship safety or wartime readiness, and they become disillusioned.”
LT Belke says that “Some nuclear-trained officers without SSN experience are eventually assigned as executive and commanding officers with as few as 5 OOD watches under their belt.” . . . “Since GSOs have stood the lion’s share of OOD watches in SSBNs for two decades . . . . there are . . . . a number of nuclear trained officers with dangerously little shiphandling experience and only a shallow knowledge of their boat’s capabilities.”
C. D. Urban feels that, “Unless retention improves drastically there will never be enough second-tour officers to have significant impact on working conditions.”
CDR Hearding points out that “The current level of experience and expertise in combined arms ASW operations is low.”
- There seems to be scant belief within the submarine community that tactical nuclear weapons will see any use. Therefore, there is little regard for how they might change submarine strategy and tactics.
- All present weapons. including those air-delivered, are felt to be “lethal” against Soviet submarines despite their widely spaced double hulls.
- All submarine writers appear to take it for granted that the u.s. still holds the initiative against the Soviet submarine force. The corollary to this is that the u.s. SSN is the best submarine in the world today. VADM DeMars confirms this, saying: “I think we probably dwell too much on R&D and modernization . . . . It is the area that I put the least percentage of my money into.”
- “Avoid detection” — a dictum of the submarine force — is apparently a paradox. The articles show that for SSBNs this is absolutely correct; for SSNs it might seriously reduce their usefulness in combined operations. Specifically, LT Nylen says: “U.S. submarine groups would force individual subs to give up covertness.”
- Tactics are much discussed but there is little definition of what they are. Certainly, there is little recognition of how submarine weapons are being used and how they affect tactics.
- How the Soviets might destroy or counter our submarine weapons before their arrival on target seems to be lacking.
- There is a general recognition that all enemy submarines may be quieter than in the past — at least at low speeds . VADM DeMars recognized that, “Designing a submarine to be quiet at slow speeds is relatively easy nowadays.”