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FORCE COMMANDER’S FORUM – Vice Admiral Roger F. Bacon, USN


Today, I am not going to provide you with the normal recap of SUBLANT operations this past year. I won’t tell you about USS SIL VERSIDES’ operations in the Arctic and then in the Pacific or about their circumnavigation of the North American continent — the first in 30 years.

I don’t intend to go into the successful completion of our D-5 testing program or talk about the first deployment of USS TENNESSEE armed with the TRIDENT ll (D-5) missile. TENNESSEE is now on her second deterrent patrol.

I’m not here to make any bold new statements about the Soviet Navy. Despite the increased East-West dialogue, we aJI know that under President Gorbachev, the Soviet strategic arsenal has improved.

We all know that the Soviets have six classes of submarines in series production and that they are incorporating quieting technology into every new and overhauled submarine. We know that the Soviet Submarine Force outnumbers our own by a three to one margin and that the submarine is the capital ship of the Soviet Navy. My concern, is just as stated by Admiral Trost; the qualitative improvements they have made.

As our uniformed and civilian leaders work to educate the Congress to ensure we maintain a Navy and submarine force capable of prevailing against the increasing Soviet quality, there is another broad challenge we face — and it’s one we have faced before.

So, rather than talk with you about those trends and our significant events of the past year, I want to discuss a single operational event last year which provides much insight into the type of operations our submarines are conducting now, and will be ready to perform in the future.

That’s why I’ve titled my presentation “Back to the Future.” Today, I want to emphasize that our chaJienge in 1990, and in the years ahead, will be not only to stay proficient in our wellpracticed missions of sea control, ASW, anti-surface warfare, and strategic deterrence, but also to renew our emphasis on the built-in versatility of the nuclear-powered attack submarine for employment in other missions in what has come to be termed a multi-polar world.

As our CNO points out, submarines are players in this type of world. As we look to the future, we need to look back as we work to strengthen our proficiency in the spectrum of expanded missions that the nuclear submarine can uniquely perform. Many of these roles were performed by our boats in World War II … many by our boats since then, and as recently as the past year. Although I cannot give you all of the operational details, I can for the first time give you a general summary of a 1989 real world operation in which submarines played a vital role.

On 28 July 1989, the Israelis captured the Hisballah cleric Sheik Obeid. On 1 August, the hostage Colonel Rich Higgins was reported murdered by his terrorist captors in Lebanon. How did the Navy respond to this?

The world watched as USS CORAL SEA, and USS lOW A battle groups deployed off Lebanon; USS AMERICA returned to the North Arabian Sea; and USS RANGER and USS FORREST AL prepared for contingency operations.

As the CNO reported in his annual testimony, and I quote, The August 1989 marshalling of naval forces off Lebanon is only the most recent example of the often repeated story that when a crisis breaks out, the fust question is… “Where are the Carriers and when can they be on scene?'” Air superiority is the crucial ingredient.

But, the unseen capability during this contingency was our forward deployed submarines. I can think of no other recent real world event that illustrates our submarine strengths more than the hostage crisis. Our boats clearly demonstrated the point made by Admiral Cooper that The fundamental characteristics of a nuclear submarine — covertness, mobility, endurance and offensive [uepower — are ideally suited for support of U.S. policy in most Third World crisis.

But people, our submarine crews, are the main factor in employing those inherent submarine attributes. Our people have always been our greatest asset and they always will be. They performed superbly in this contingency, doing the difficult tasks with seeming ease and making the impossible, possible.

Stealth – The on scene operations of our six, multi-mission capable, fast attack submarines were all accomplished totally undetected, but were absolutely vital to the U.S. Navy presence. Our boats proved the true meaning of stealth in the Eastern Mediterranean in 1989, just as they continue to demonstrate it every day.

Mobility/Speed – I sailed a submarine from the East Coast, with a complete change in weapons loadout – overnight — and she transited to the Med in six days, less than half the normal transit time. Another submarine joined the operation from the North Atlantic. The speed is there, and we use it when needed.

Endurance – Nuclear submarines, as you well know, can operate unsupported for months in contingency situations, which is of great value to an operational commander far removed from bases and logistics support. Our 46-year old tender USS ORION operated in the Eastern Med along with our 43-year old submarine rescue ship USS KI1TIW AKE for 41 days, supporting the submarines and even some of the surface ships involved in this contingency.

Firepower – The firepower of an SSN in a low intensity conflict role encompasses much more than the traditional torpedo. We can not only successfully engage all targets at sea, we can complement and support carrier striking power ashore.

Of course, as a maritime Nation, the main mission of our attack submarine force, at any level of conflict, will be to provide the forward defense necessary to ensure the sea lines of communication remain uninterrupted. If necessary, in the event of hostilities, our SSN mission will be this simple; to sink ships.

In addition, the TOMAHAWK cruise missile on our boats provides a credible long range surface and shore strike capability. The mere possibility that a TOMAHAWK capable submarine is operating in a given theater, has no doubt already been an effective deterrent and peace keeper. As land based forces are drawn down in Europe, the concept of the forward strategy, the unrestricted use of the seas and the deterrent value of submarine launched cruise missiles will become even more important.

The TOMAHAWK capability reminds us that the fast attack nuclear submarine is a great force multiplier. Although I cannot tell you about specific contingency missions which were assigned, I can tell you the type of support these submarines were trained and on-station ready to provide:

• Our bread and butter missions — ASW and ASUW;
• Strike Warfare, through our TOMAHAWK capability;
• Special operations support;
• Mine Warfare;
• and Surveillance.

In the early phase of a regional conflict, we can all envision a potential requirement for surveillance and special operations. This is another capability we had on scene in the Eastern Mediterranean. The ability to deliver special operation forces — completely covertly — is an important factor in a crisis such as this.

The capability to launch special operations forces from our attack boats adds to the already high credibility of the undetected submarine.

Once launched, these forces can perform virtually any mission required: from surveillance, intelligence gathering and target designation planning; to actual missions against enemy shipping or shore targets.

Insertion of special forces by rubber raiding craft, as opposed to air insertion, is much less susceptible to counter detection either visually or by air search radar.

Clearly, the submarine’s ability to operate undetected while remaining ready to perform these missions is unique. No other platform or area of warfare can claim the multi-mission effectiveness and stealth built-in to our submarines. The unparalleled effectiveness of the submarine in low intensity conflict has been proven in a recent real world situation. And should the need arise again, in any corner of the world, we will be prepared to do the same.

We cannot afford to gamble on the likelihood or non-likelihood of a regional crisis. If we have ]earned anything from the past, it’s that the only predictable thing in the world events is their inherent unpredictability. Again, as Admiral Trost has emphasized, we live in an unstable, competitive world.

As we retlect on the SSN capabilities we quickly and quietly assembled in response to the 1989 hostage crisis, we can envision the potential requirement to provide the same support for a battle group commander in this or some other corner of the world.

Looking Back to the Future, our SSNs should remain in demand for a variety of missions; including everything from their traditional roles to a convincing but undetected response to a variety of threats.

Just as in the crises which have occurred in the past decade in which the Navy has responded, COMSIXTIIFLT, Vice Admiral J. D. Williams’, Carrier Battle Group was there in 1989 to provide that visible stabilizing influence of raw power if it were needed. In the Med, there is an axiom — wbere the battle group goes, the submarine force goes with it. Our covertness prevents a heightening of tensions while having an on-scene capability. The implicit threat of a multimission capable forward deployed SSN, serves a great deterrent to would be regional aggression. But if the deterrence fails, in times of heightened tension, the SSN has the capability to conduct long term covert surveillance or presence missions and rapid on-scene response when ordered. SSNs have an important role in a low intensity conflict scenario. We have the capability and must continue to work to refine it in this era of violent peace.

All of you in the Naval Submarine League are well familiar with our way of life embodied by the words — stealth, mobility, firepower, speed and endurance. This past year, I would add readiness, submarine force readiness to go in Harm’s Way. We were ready last August and we will stay that way.

As we look to the future, the significance of submarines in executing national policy during Third World crisis will increase as Third World nations acquire First-World sophisticated weapons and submarine platforms.

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