Seapower is a nation’s ability to make use of the oceans in furtherance of its economic and political interests in time of peace and war. Its exercise entails both the projection of power against the enemy shore and sea control — the ability to use the seas without hindrance and to deny that use to one’s enemies. The initial applications of seapower were confined exclusively to power projection against the shore. The ancient Greeks first used sailing vessels to carry their armies across the Mediterranean. Likewise, the Norsemen used their longboats to carry raiding parties across the seas to loot and plunder. War at sea — and the notion of sea control — did not develop until after ships had become capable of fighting against each other with boarding parties, missileprojectiles, and rams. Archaeological evidence suggests that this was not generally the case until roughly the 7th Century B.C.
Many centuries followed, with ships on the seas preventing the movement of enemy sea resupply and troop reinforcement to their forces ashore. Maintaining control of the seas became of first importance. Naval warfare for the most part was confined to the seas with only small efforts directed against the shore through short-range cannon bombardment of shore objectives and the landing of troops to take or destroy shoreline installations.
Thus, submarines, developed many centuries later, were initially thought of solely as weapons of naval warfare. The first successful submarine, David Bushnell’s TURTLE, was intended to sink British ships-of-the-line in New York Harbor during the War of the American Revolution. Subsequent submarine developments followed this pattern, and by the Second World War submarines had become one of the most fearsome weapons of war at sea. Nevertheless, it was perhaps inevitable that submarines would in time become instruments of power projection. This evolution in the concept of submarine employment began slowly in the mid-20th Century and, paralleling the evolution of submarine capabilities, mushroomed rapidly after the close of World War II. It has developed to the point that today submarines armed with continent-spanning missiles fitted with highly accurate thermonuclear warheads may be considered the ultimate means of projecting seapower against the shore.
It should not be surprising that the development of submarines as instruments of power projection followed the same pattern as surface ships. Specifically, as with the ancient Greeks and Norsemen, the earliest uses of submarines in the projection of seapower were in landing troops on the enemy’s shore. Unlike traditional amphibious operations from surface ships, however, submarines have never been able to land large numbers of troops. Instead, submarines have been used to insert small numbers of special purpose troops and other covert action or guerrilla warfare operatives into enemy territory from the sea.
Importantly, small landing parties have to have a considerable element of “surprise” in their operations in order to succeed. Radar coverage of shore areas is likely to be so effective that supposedly covert landings from small craft or air-dropped forces would be discovered and destroyed before having a chance to attain their objective. Landings from submarines thus have a higher probability of success.
During the Second World War, most of the major belligerents on both sides undertook such “amphibious” submarine operations. In the Mediterranean, British submarines put Special Boat Party teams ashore in Italy to sabotage the railways. The Italian railroads ran very close to the shore through numerous tunnels in seaside cliffs — which could be blocked by detonated demolition charges.
The United States Navy used submarines to place inteJJigence operatives, coast watchers, and military personnel ashore throughout the Pacific theater. In the Philippines, submarines were repeatedly used to reinforce and resupply guerilla forces during the Japanese occupation. Between February 1943 and January 1945, 41 such special submarine operations were carried out by 19 tleet submarines — the lion’s share of which were carried out by two U.S. submarines, the NARWHAL and the NAUTILUS.
The NARWHAL and NAUTILUS also were used to land Army patrols on Attu in the Aleutians, and the NAUTILUS conducted a similar mission at Tarawa. In August 1942, the NAUTILUS and another submarine, the ARGONAUT, transported a 221 man Marine Corps Raiding Battalion to Makin Island in the central Pacific where a successful raid was carried out against the Japanese garrison.
The ARGONAUT was the only U.S. submarine specially converted for troop carrying during World War II. After the war, however, three other United States tleet submarines were converted and operated as submarine transports — the PERCH, SEALION, and TUNNY. Each was capable of carrying 111 troops, a tracked landing vehicle, a jeep, and over 85 tons of equipment. The PERCH actually saw combat as a submarine transport in Korea and Vietnam, being used to land small numbers of Marines and commandos.
Although large-scale submarine-launched amphibious operations of the Makin type appear to be a thing of the past, small-scale operations remain very much a reality of the modem world. Many nations have the capability to project power against the shore with special purpose units operating from standard patrol or coastal submarines. These units can come ashore from surfaced submarines in inflatable boats or from submerged submarine.c; with scuba gear. In most cases, these special purpose units are a component of a larger naval or marine force, such as the Kampfshwimmer companies of the German Democratic Republic’s Volksmarine. Moreover, a British Special Boat Squadron recently saw combat during the 1982 Falklands campaign. Boat Squadron personnel were flown from the United Kingdom to the South Atlantic where they parachuted to a waiting submarine. The submarine then transported them to the Argentine-occupied islands where they carried out reconnaissance and harassed Argentine troops.
The United States and the Soviet Union maintain larger units of submarine-capable amphibious troops. The U.S. Underwater Demolition Teams and Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) units are trained to operate from submarines against critical enemy targets near the coast such as port and harbor facilities and bridges. The Soviet Spetsnaz – troops of the Soviet General Staffs Main Intelligence Directorate — have naval brigades assigned to each of the Soviet Navy’s four fleets. The brigades each have a parachute battalion, two or three battalions of combat swimmers, and a mini-submarine group. In addition to a substantial inventory of mini-submarines, the Soviet Navy has two India-class auxiliary submarines capable of carrying two small submersibles each. It is generally believed that Soviet special purpose forces using full-size and minisubmarines — including an as yet unidentified tracked submersible – have carried out operations along the Swedish coast
The Inland Reach of Submarines
A submarine, like any other naval vessel, can reach inland only as far as the range of its armament. Traditionally, this direct projection of power ashore was performed by bombardment with a ship’s guns. Indeed, the concept of naval bombardment is as old as the first ship’s cannon. In general, submarines were less capable in this regard than most surface combatants since their gun armament was almost invariably limited to relatively small caliber cannon. Notable exceptions were the French Surcouf and British M.1 submarines built after the First World war. The Surcouf mounted two 8-inch cruiser guns while the M.l carried a single 12·inch battleship cannon. Neither design proved to be tactically successful, however, and the large caliber gun submarine experiment was not repeated.
Despite being undergunned for the shore bombardment role, submarines nevertheless exercised this aspect of power projection from time-to·time. For example, during World War ll, British submarines shelled Axis trains and bridges in Italy and north Africa. In June and July 1945, the U.S. BARB shelled six Japanese towns, including the port of Shari on the north coast of Hokkaido. The BARB employed its 5-inch deck gun and a 5·inch rocket launcher that had been specially fitted on the submarine’s deck for that purpose.
Extending the Inland Reach
Toward the close of World War ll, efforts were underway to extend the inland, power·projecting reach of submarines. These efforts were undertaken not by the victorious Allies, but by the crumbling Axis. The Japanese built four specialpurpose submarines designed to carry seaplane torpedo· bombers — the 1-13, 1-14, 1-400, and 1-401. The first two of these could carry two seaplanes apiece, while the latter two could each carry three. The Japanese planned to send these submarine aircraft carriers in a concerted attack against the locks of the Panama Canal — but the plan was abandoned.
The Germans took a different approach and sought to marry their successful rocket technologies to a submarine delivery system. The plan called for V -2 rockets in waterproof launch canisters to be towed beneath the surface by U-Boats. When the U-Boats reached their launch points– off the coast of the United States – the canisters would be ballasted into an upright position and the rockets launched. This idea presaged the development of the submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
The first experimental launch of an SLBM from a submarine was carried out by the Soviet Union in 1955. Between 1955 and 1958, seven Soviet Zulu-class diesel-electric attack submarines were converted to the world’s first ballistic missile submarines.
The conversions involved enlarging the sail to accommodate two liquid-fueled SS-N-4 SLBMs. The SS-N-4, with a range of about 350 n.m., could only be launched while the submarine was on the surface. The Zula conversions were soon followed by the Golf-class submarines. Originally deployed with the SS-N-4, in 1963 they were retrofitted with the more advanced SS-N-5 – fired submerged and with twice the range of its predecessor.
The United States entered the SLBM arena with the solidfuel POLARIS which was successfully launched from a submerged submarine in 1960. The POLARIS entered into operational service the same year aboard the GEORGE WASHINGTON, the world’s first nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine – which carried 16 missiles of 1,370 n.m. range.
Thereafter, SLBM/SSBN developments followed rapidly one upon another. Today, the Soviet Union has the 16-tube DELTA-class SSBN carrying liquid-fuel SS-N-18s and SS-N23s and solid-fuel SS-N-20s with ranges of over 4,000 miles. The U.S. now deploys the 24-tube TRIDENT SSBN with C4 missiles of at least 4,000 n.mi. range and will shortly load D-5s of a range well in excess of 4,000 n.mi. and with exceptional accuracy. For the first time in history, such submarines operating submerged in distant waters could now strike deep into an enemy’s homeland. The United Kingdom with four RESOLUTION-class SSBNs can use the POSEIDON C3, while France uses a relatively short range ballistic missile on its six SSBNs and the People’s Republic of China employs a variant of an intermediate range ballistic missile, the CSS-2 of over 1,000 n.mi. range in its XIA-class SSBN. The range of these SLBMs is still insufficient to allow the submarines to strike deep inland. As a result, such submarine launch platforms are compelled to operate near the shores of their potential enemies and to limit their target coverage to coastal areas.
The Proliferation of Submarine Power Proiection Capabilities
With the development of global-range SLBMs and their deployment aboard submarine launch platforms, the submarine became the preeminent naval system for the projection of seapower against the shore. Notwithstanding this fact, few nations presently have this capability, and it is unlikely that many more will be able to devote the necessary resources to attain it. In contrast, the development of long-range, landattack, submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) –with or without nuclear warheads — holds considerable promise for the worldwide proliferation of submarine power projection capabilities.
The first operational land-attack SLCMs — the nuclear warhead REGULUS missiles of 400 n.mi. range — were deployed aboard submarines by the United States in the mid 1950s.
The Soviet Union’s first land-attack SLCM was the SS-N-3 SHADDOCK. Introduced in 1962, it was intended primarily as an antiship weapon but had a built-in land attack capability. It had a range of about 650 nautical miles, and was deployed on a variety of submarines — initially the WHISKEY “TwinCylinder” -class. Although it could carry a nuclear warhead, in the land-attack role the SHADDOCK’s accuracy was poor.
Today, the United States deploys TOMAHAWK in three variants — the antiship SLCM, the nuclear-armed land-attack SLCM, and the conventionally-armed land-attack SLCM. The land-attack models have a range of about 1,350 nautical miles and an accuracy reportedly measured in feet. Current planning calls for eventual deployment of TOMAHAWKs aboard 26 nuclear-powered attack submarines.
The Soviets developed two modem, nuclear-armed, landattack SLCMs –the SS-N-21 and SS-NX-24, which is not yet operational. The SS-N-21 is equivalent in range to the U.S. torpedo-tube launched TOMAHAWK, and could be deployed aboard a variety of nuclear-powered attack submarines and conventional subs and specially converted YANKEE-class units.
Although the reach of these SLCMs is considerably less than that of the most modem SLBMs, they are capable of striking targets with little or no warning. The low-altitude flight profile achieved by terrain-contour matching, or altimeter and inertial guidance, make the SLCMs exceedingly difficult to detect and destroy. Moreover, their range is no less than that of the earlier generations of SLBMs and, like them, they are capable of striking land targets from multiple and potentially unexpected axes of attack. SLCMs also hold out the prospect of pinpoint accuracy. Indeed, the accuracy of the U.S. TOMAHAWK is estimated as sufficient to destroy certain categories of hard targets with conventional warheads.
Unlike SSBNs, therefore, submarines fitted with conventionally-armed land-attack SLCMs will be able to project seapower against the shore in a non-nuclear environment. Naval missions that today can only be accomplished by carrier-borne aircraft – at potentially prohibitive attrition rates in the case of heavily defended targets — can now be undertaken by SLCM-armed submarines. Not only will this benefit the carrier navies, allowing them to employ their manned aircraft against less heavily defended targets or in consort with SLCMs for improved, synergistic effects, but it will expand the power projection capabilities of the non-carrier navies — i.e., most of the world’s naval forces.
The conventionally-armed, land-attack SLCM with its highaccuracy and small size, making it capable of launch from a standard size torpedo tube, offers unparalleled power projection capabilities for submarine forces worldwide. These cruise missiles and their attendant fire control systems could be readily deployed aboard a variety of submarine types, including diesel-electrics. Such a proliferation of power projection capabilities would not be unprecedented. The global spread of modern antiship missile systems that has occurred in recent years offers ample precedent. Indeed, the probability that future SLCMs will be developed in families, like the TOMAHAWK, including both antiship and land-attack variants makes this proliferation all but inevitable.
In the late 20th century, after over two hundred years of development, the submarine has become the predominant naval weapon for the projection of power against the shore. It is capable, in its modem SSBN form, of raining thermonuclear destruction down upon land targets virtually anywhere on the face of the globe. At the low end of the conflict spectrum, the submarine is capable of deploying troops on enemy shores for a variety of combat operations. In between these two extremes, the land-attack cruise missile offers the submarine forces of the world the fleXIbility to launch surgical strikes against select facilities at medium ranges, or large-scale bombardment of enemy shores with either nuclear or conventional munitions. In short, the increasing inland reach of submarine weapons coupled with the essentially unrestricted access of submarines to offshore areas worldwide, guarantees submarines will continue to dominate the projection of seapower against the shore well into the next century.
Dr. Edward J. Lacey