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In the past, the control of the “tempo” of operations was so erratic and chancy that it could not be considered essential for military success in battle. Today, however, with good communications, all-weather systems, computer aids for decision making, accurate navigation, well-trained men, devastating weapons and highly mobile units, control of the tempo of warfare has become so important for battle results as to be thought of as a “principle of war,” and submarines have good control of the tempo of their operations.

Tempo is defined as the rate of activity, the speed at which events occur. That sounds like a scalar quantity but, in warfare, it would apply to speed of movement, speed of action, and concentration of effort, which makes tempo a more complicated concept. Tempo is very much at play with the u.s. Maritime Strategy which depends on a rapid decimation of enemy submarines by U.S. submarines in forward barrier positions.

In warfare, control of tempo provides the space-time-power advantages of position, initiation, and intensity which are critical to success. Being truly dynamic, the elements of tempo interact and therefore it must be treated as a system rather than as a singular aspect of action.

Tempo is particularly critical to the probability of escalating to the use of nuclear weapons rapid, decisive action can create a cessation of war before nuclear weapons might be brought into play.

In the days of frigate battles, the quickness in obtaining the weather-gage and to deliver rapid, accurate gunfire were the elements of tempo that produced victory. In World War II, wolfpacks, submarine stealth, communications, surfaced mobility and torpedo fire-power provided the control of tempo that gave the advantage over convoy defenses. In today’s environment of high speed computers and electronics, submarines, it will be shown, have better control of tempo in wartime operations than any other naval unit.

For many years, the mobility of carrier groups and the speed of their aircraft have given them good control of tempo in operations against surface ships and land targets. However, surveillance from satellites and space stations has greatly increased the carrier’s detectability and, together with the threat of long-range missile attack, has severely restricted its ability to control tempo in order to reduce its detectability by enemy naval forces. Moreover, surface ships must eliminate or minimize their energy radiations produced by propulsion, search and communications — all of which are needed for their control of tempo.

But submarines need not present any visual or radar target; they are designed for minimum acoustic radiation; they can use high speeds at depth without cavitation; can operate effectively without radio transmissions; and are equipped with high-performance passive acoustic detection systems. Maintaining these advantages gives the submarine good control of tempo during tactical operations against surface forces.

Against other submarines, the game becomes more difficult. In World War II, successful attacks on other submarines usually depended on advance intelligence information which allowed optimum search to be conducted and firing positions obtained. In today’s sub-vs-sub operations, this advantage cannot be assured. Against enemy SSBNa, while “bastion” operating areas may be deduced, their defenses can be expected to be formidable, including measures to confuse the searcher as well as having equally capable SSNs to attack the searcher. Penetration of enemy waters can be expected to be opposed by various ASW forces, including smaller, quiet diesel or airindependent submarines. Tempo here can be expected to involve a long-duration process as the SSN strives to achieve undetected transit and, failing that, to get the advantages of first detection and first fire-control solution. A thorough understanding of the elements that affect control of tempo will be as vital to success as tenacity and quick reaction.

Against SSNs which are a threat to friendly surface forces, whether battle groups, logistic support ships, or overseas transports, the tempo may well be different. Here the end-game is not necessarily the destruction of a prime target, but rather the elimination of its threat to the surface forces. Keeping enemy SSNs outside their effective firing range, eliminating their chance for surprise, and reducing the efficiency of their attacks may be the primary ASW objectives. Instead of a limited-area bastion, our SSNs would have a moving “sanctuary” to defend, thereby introducing changing environmental conditions into the equation which controls the tempo of the operation. Knowing the areas of poor sonar conditions and the prospects for adverse weather conditions are important factors in the timing of tactical options.

Surprise has always been a key factor in successful combat, but in the future it may not always mean catching an enemy unaware — as may be the situation just prior to the outbreak of hostilities, where surprise is likely to come as a result of confusion or misinterpretation of enemy intelligence. D-Day in Normandy is an example. ADM Gorshkov notes that with computer collation of data and computer-aided decision-making, staffs can now make plans for complex operations so rapidly that, when an opportunity is presented, a staff plan can be generated to exploit it almost immediately. This kind of surprise is a product of rapid staff planning and rapid movement of forces, and will be available to the side with the strongest computer support and the fastest allweather weapon delivery systems. The effect of speed on tempo is well illustrated by the arrival of four British SSNs off the Falklands almost at the start of combat operations. Their high tempo of response helped have a decisive effect on limiting the plans of the Argentine Navy, illustrating the truth of cavalry General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s dictum “Git thar fustest with the mostestl”

A great change has occurred in surface ship operations as a result of incoming air and missile attacks at about Mach-1 or above. Before the Vietnam War, release of battery for air defense was the prerogative of the c.o. or, if surprised, by the OOD of CDO on watch. With the advent of radar detectors as the first warning of missile attack, and with only seconds to initiate counteraction, the control necessarily passed to CIC and in some cases, to junior personnel. Recent actions, i.e., SHEFFIELD off the Falklands, STARK and VINCENNES in the Persian Gulf, give testimony to the extremely rapid tempo of surface ship air defense. Consider, then, the effects on control of tempo which would result from multiple missile attacks designed to saturate defense systems. Without an AEGIS system, human brains and older fire-control systems would be quickly overloaded. Even AEGIS has design limits, which may be stressed if faced with multiple attacks of Mach-2 and 3 missiles.

The tempo of submarine combat operations against surface ships is leisurely by comparison. The high mobility of the nuclear submarine and its capability to attack with surprise allows for precise timing for gaining a weapon launch position. For torpedo attack, tracking time and fire control solution can be long and deliberate without degrading the probability of success. The attack tempo increases with bearing rate near the firing point, but remains well within the capability of the submarine to control. Torpedo travel is relatively slow, and there is sufficient time to assess attack results while taking countering or evasive action. Minutes are involved, not seconds as with surface ships responding to ocean-hugging missiles. The tempo of defensive action is leisurely by comparison. For missile attacks, however, a considerable acceleration of tempo can be expected, particularly in closing for coordinated multiple missile launches. The high speed arrival at firing positions, the concentration of firings to achieve nearsimultaneous missile impacts, and the high speed of the weapons create a high tempo of attack. Even so, with the submarine’s speed capability. low detectability, and rapid fire-control solutions, it remains in control of the tempo of operations by establishing a time for attack well ahead of weapon launch. Surprise in attack minimizes external pressures which would change the planned tempo. That’s important — if one recalls how bombing operations were hurried by the arrival of enemy fighters.

The capability to provide a very low, deliberate tempo for the employment of strategic weapons is crucial to the political decision makers to allow them to make proper and adequate response to strategic threats. Only the SSBN leg of the triad can provide the deliberate, slowtimed use of strategic weapons. Missile silos and bombers must respond rapidly to a possible nuclear attack or risk destruction — a use-them-or-losethem pressured tempo. Today’s SSBNs are sufficiently survivable to ensure control of tempo of response to a nuclear threat, whether it be false, limited, accidental or full scale — and this means that SSBNs can be used aovtime during a long war.

All of the above critically depends on another aspect of the control of tempo, and that is the performance of personnel. The well-trained crew gives a much higher probability of getting the information and taking the actions promptly for success in combat. The well-motivated, healthy crew stands a much greater chance of maintaining capability under the stress of longduration penetrations of enemy waters and of providing the quick reactions needed when contact is made. Minimizing the effects of fatigue on the judgment and reactions of commanders and crews will be an important aspect of assuring a high tempo of operations. Submarine crews are selected and trained efficiently to control the tempo of warfare and get optimum results.

In conducting its operations, the important factor of tempo is well-controlled by the submarine; better by far than by any other sea system. Coupled with the capability to deliver a variety of weapons, both short and long range, against surface, land, and submarine targets, the submarine’s potential to exert seapower, mainly at times of its own choosing, is more credible than for other systems and can be planned with greater reliability. SSBNs have a slow deliberateness in their tempo of operations; SSNs attrite other submarines at a high tempo; SSNs destroy shipping at a high tempo; SSNs project cruise missile power against the shore at a discreet, planned tempo; and, SSNs in other missions can meet tempo expectations to produce the best results.

Charles B. Bishop

Naval Submarine League

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