Submarine warfare today is vastly dirferent from the conventional submarine operations of WWI and II.
Present submarine technology, conversion to nuclear power, the advances in environmental control (fresh air to breathe), and supporting activities (including missile development), which extend to the outer reaches of space have all contributed to radical improvements in efficiency and capability.
Such advances and changes which have been introduced in the past few years certainly call for a review of the role of the submarine in sea power.
Our strategy planners are confronted with problems so diverse that the submarine has been taken for granted– i.e., it must be a better ship than its counterpart in the Soviet Navy. So long as our planners and politicians believe that we do have better submarines, their attention is directed to other needs and applications of sea power.
From recent press reports summarizing a Russian appraisal of sea power, entitled “The Navy: Its Role, Prospects for Development and Employment,” the Soviet Union intends to continue emphasis on its submarine forces. They have set goals for the future with regard to speed, depth, and futuristic weapons that appear somewhat unattainable in the near future, but the fact remains that they are pursuing new ideas.
Our Naval forces must be prepared to respond to a wide variety of crisis situations. Recent examples come readily to mind: The Cuban Missile crisis, the Persian Gulf intervention, the Falkland Islands War. They not only place a burden and strain on international relations, but they have perplexed the planners with a confused pattern of ship design and what used to be called gunboat diplomacy, a show of force, and task force composition. Ship design and technology — to include naval aviation — have advanced so rapidly in the past few years, it is obvious that sea power strategy must be continuously reviewed and revised.
Some examples from the history of sea warfare provide a perspective for present problems of strategy planning.
The Battle of Navarino, October 26, 1827, was the last fleet action wholly under sail. It was probably the most chaotic naval engagement of major forces in “recent” history. Naval forces of England, France and Russia engaged the naval forces of Turkey and Egypt. The political justification was to defend Greece’s independence. The allied forces were considerably outnumbered but destroyed the Turk/Egyptian forces. The Turks had only 3 “line-of-battle” ships but a total of 1962 guns against 1294 allied guns.
Visibility was so bad from smoke and haze, that recognition of friend or foe was almost impossible. Communications were primitive or none at all.
The wind dropped to near zero and the ships all under sail could not maneuver — whether to join in combat or to escape.
It was a classic example of the need to provide ships with “sea power,” (i.e.), propulsion not dependent on the vagaries of the elements. The classic ship of the line evolved over the years. Sails gave way to steam turbines. Ships became truly mobile. And today the submarine is the most mobile of all ships — and its mobility is least affected by weather.
The Battle of Tsou-shima (1905) between the naval forces of Russia and Japan demonstrated the value of communications, surveillance, and intelligence.
The Paris magazine Le Mende, published the sea route of the Russian force in advance. The Jap ships had radios and maintained almost continuous data on the location of their enemy. There was no element of surprise.
Until WWII lack of knowledge of the location of ships — the movement of naval task forces played havoc with opposing forces. Witness the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Until that memorable day, hardly anyone would dispute that mighty surface ships would ensure mastery of the seas. Battleships with heavy armor were the centerpiece of fleet operations. But as war at sea evolved, the Battle of Midway established the pre-eminence of the carrier. Our u.s. present-day strategy now dictates a battleship- carrier task group with the ships-ofthe-line protected by “anti” units: anti missile, anti submarine, anti aircraft, anti mine, and perhaps anti satellite capability and a capability for electronic warfare.
Alfred Thayer ~fahan wrote authoritatively of the value of sea power. His books stressed that lessons of history were not changed by replacing sails by steam power. Yet there have been decisive examples of armadas and fleets severely damaged by the ravages of storms which were not foreseen. Weather can still be a factor, but it is predictable.
Impressive as the battleship-carrier task group appears, we need to appreciate that surface ships can no longer remain invisible. Satellites give us accurate information on weather, navigation and precise location and movement of units.
Advances in technology have imposed new hazards to surface ships-of-the-line and have raised embarrassing questions relative to u.s. strategy planning.
Sea power is not confined to the seas. The dimensions of space must now be added. The combination of missiles and both land-based and sea-based, air, nuclear powered submarines, satellite-surveillance, electronic-warfare, and sophisticated “smart” weapons has inevitably lead one to the conclusion that control of the seas can not be achieved by merely adding more ships. To try to do so puts too heavy a strain on national defense budgets.
Submarine planners will not argue against the unique characteristics of the submarine, but strategy planners, at least in the u.s., have seemingly limited th6 role of the submarine to (A) Deterrence by means of strategic ballistic or cruise missile carrying submarines, and (B) to Jn11 submarine Warfare using mainly SSNs.
The mobility, stealth and fire power of the submarine, even the diesel-electric submarine, deserves far more attention by strategy planners.
Other countries with far less experience in submarine warfare are experimenting with midget subs, non nuclear propulsion, mining, robots, the destruction of shore facilities, arctic operations, and the Russians, with many nuclear submarines still foresee a role for the conventional submarine. What are they planning by sending conventional subs into the well defended fjords of Sweden?
If the navies of the world have even a handful of disciplined, well trained submarines, there is a diminishing future for carriers and other high value warships. The submarine has attained the status of capital ship on an equal footing with the high visibility large surface ships which have no place to hide.
Admiral Lockwood assembled a small group of experie.nced commanding officers immediately after WWII and posed the question “What improvements do you want in the next generation of subs?”
The impossible “pie in the sky” desires of the WWII submarine skippers included a full-time propulsion plant not dependent on the diesel engine; environmental control of the atmosphere to preclude the need to ventilate; a missile capability — a long-range stand-off weapon; a better torpedo — “smart”; a long range sonar; and highly accurate navigation.
It appeared in 1945 to be an exercise in futility. but when the nuclear submarine NAUTILUS sent her message “underway on nuclear power” in 1955 most of these were approaching reality — and the ALBACORE single screw torpedo-like hull allowed SKIPJACK and the follow-on SSN’s to dive deeper and go faster than any other submarine at that time. Later in 1960 the nuclear powered POLARIS missile- submarine GEORGE WASHINGTON sailed on her first patrol. Both were the pathfinders for a new revolutionary submarine capability in the world’s navies.
Other nations obviously have differing views of the role of the Navy in international affairs and due to fiscal restraint cannot maintain high visibility forces. Many have relied on the U.S. umbrella. In turn. others are examining the potential of small ships. with considerable attention to submarines. They may not be highly visible. but they can be formidable and strategy planners must take this into account.
Strategy planners. War Colleges. and Submarine Schools as well as submarine staffs should establish units to develop the impossible.