The topic of SSN roles and needs for the future has stimulated a lot of discussion in the past, but with the dramatic shift of world events within the last year, this subject has drawn even more attention. Of interest, the current discussion of roles and needs for attack submarines often gravitates immediately to potential tactical employments without examining the strategic underpinnings which dictate the basis for submarines as an element of a nation’s seapower. I intend to develop in this short presentation a framework against which SSN roles and requirements should be considered.
The emergence of the euphemisms Low Intensity Conflict (UC) or Contingency and Limited Objective Warfare (CALOW) supports a presumption that Global Warfare is no longer a viable course of action among nations and that UC or CALOW define the most likely scenarios in which seapower will be exercised in the future. We tend to leap to this conclusion because our experience of the last 45 years, during which the world has been dominated by the two superpowers, substantiates this projection of conflict. What we often overlook, however, is the fact that during this period our command of the sea has never been seriously challenged and the conflicts in which we have been involved have not required the United States to engage a major naval power at sea. With the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact and the turmoil in the Soviet Union there are those who now dismiss the Soviet Navy as a threat to our supremacy at sea and, seeing no other maritime power equal to the United States, call for a systematic dismantling of our naval forces. This reduction of naval power to match limited conflict scenarios is deemed to be the appropriate measure of maritime superiority by those who favor a limitation of naval forces. These same advocates of a smaller Navy argue that we should ignore the unchanged capabilities of the Soviet submarine fleet and tum our attention to justifying a Navy force structure based on Third World capabilities – a path which could invite a major conflict at sea between the U.S. and belligerents.
A contrary thesis and one which history and Mahan’s writings support is that seapower has its genesis as a national characteristic in peaceful and extensive commerce. Turbulence in commercial activities, changing trade relationships between nations and uncertainty in the world marketplace stimulate the factors which call for naval power. The free passage of commerce on the world’s seas, the existence of stable trade relationships and reduced competition for new markets have the opposite effect — diminished interest in the maintenance of a large fleet and a desire to limit naval power of competing states to a level which will assure continued stability.
If we examine the world’s situation today, what we see are conditions of economic turbulence, shifting trade relationships between traditional trading partners, the emergence of new socio-economic spheres, ethnic unrest which portends new national boundaries and intense competition for new markets. In Mahan’s view, the uncertainty for a continuation of peaceful and uninterrupted commerce should compel a maritime power to reassess its ability to guarantee free economic access to the world’s markets. The United States as the world’s foremost naval power must specifically concern itself with global economic stability during the period when these new market alignments are being formed.
Just how does the attack submarine’s role fit into this backdrop of changing world events and what is its place in the maintenance of maritime superiority?
First, maintenance of maritime superiority dictates undersea superiority as a necessary adjuncl Furthermore, undersea superiority is more than simply countering an enemy’s undersea threal It requires a capability for our submarines to operate covertly and to penetrate maritime defenses anywhere in the world should hostilities dictate. The implicit offensive character of a submarine to operate anywhere is an important element of deterrence which will become more important in the future.
The deterrent nature of a submarine stems from the submarine’s inherent covertness. An adversary knows that a modem nuclear submarine can dictate the time and place of attack; that the submarine has the ability to fix an opponent’s defensive posture in reaction to an attack and, finally, the submarine imposes on a potential enemy the requirement to invest substantial resources in antisubmarine warfare if he is to provide any countervailing force. One anti-attack submarine strategy, commonly referred to as bastion strategy, is testimony to the extensive character and reactive nature of defenses against a modem nuclear attack submarine. Since very few nations have the resources or technology to defend against the nuclear attack submarine, many would choose the course of action adopted by the Argentine Navy when confronted by a nuclear attack submarine force during the Falklands conflict – withdrawal from the battlefield. For those adversaries choosing to confront a nuclear attack submarine force with a bastion-like strategy, the wlnerability of a fixed defensive system, .or undersea Maginot Line, if you will, must remain a nagging concern. Just as the Germans neutralized the effectiveness of the French Maginot Line in 1940, a fixed defense is susceptible to being bypassed or to units delivering attacks along unexpected axes. These concerns in the mind of an enemy are the elements of deterrence that a nuclear attack submarine produces when war at sea or war from the sea is contemplated.
The offensive capability of a submarine which translates to deterrence can be applied in a number of ways by an attack submarine. In the traditional manner, submarines may be employed covertly against a nation’s seaborne commerce, regulating the flow of resources if a covert imposition of a blockade is required. Or a submarine can be employed against the naval forces of a nation, interdicting their activities before they can be applied against U.S. naval forces. Submarines may be employed in a non-conventional sense in a variety of ways including introduction of special warfare forces, implanting of mines, collection of military or economic intelligence and covert removal of personnel from high risk areas. Finally, use of submarines to project power ashore with submarine launched cruise missiles can give the on-scene operational commander the ability to destroy or suppress key military or economic targets early in a conflict without exposing manned aircraft or other less covert power projection forces.
In the next ten years, the challenge of the U.S. submarine force will be to capitalize on the qualities which compel an adversary to react to a submarine’s presence in conflict and those capabilities which permit the submarine to deliver unalerted attacks. We are currently developing the vehicle to penetrate maritime defenses in the SSN-21. This combination of stealth, sensors, and firepower will prove to be a serious deterrent to future conflict; however, the SSN-21 is well-suited for winning at sea or projecting power ashore in the event that deterrence should fail. It is essential that we as a nation maintain this commitment to the SSN-21. This ship represents not only an investment in technology but an investment in maritime superiority which America must not relinquish. And this investment in maritime superiority is more than just an insurance policy; it is a statement that the United States will not retire from the world scene and rest comfortably in a 21st century form of isolationism.
By the turn of the century, our attack submarine force level is projected to decline. The numerical reduction represents a level of risk incurred by this nation, as we see no indication that Soviet submarine capabilities are being reduced to match the stated intentions of a restructured society. Worse, the pace of change in that society is introducing an instability which is difficult to assess. Unless we offset this risk by introducing a more capable submarine, we will relinquish by inaction a position of undersea superiority which has been achieved by more than a half century of commitment and determination, not by accident. We emerged from World War n with superb ships, highly-refined tactics and well-trained and battle-tested crews. We have built on that heritage for the last 4S years evolving the design of the submarine from the fleet boat to the SSN-21 and stressing the lessons of training and readiness — proven in World War II and equally applicable today. This has been a success story of the first magnitude.
We need to continue to pursue that proven strategy of success. The first step, and a crucial one in the next ten years, is bringing the SSN-21 to the fleet and developing the tactics to take advantage of the tremendous capabilities which we are incorporating in the ship. Our focus on this critical issue should be sharp. I am not talking today about new submarine designs — we will not produce another new design submarine in the next ten years. I am not talking about exotic new weapon systems — the weapon systems for the next ten-year period are either in the fleet or already under development. I am not talking about exotic new missions — the SSN-21 has the capacity to undertake any mission projected for nuclear attack submarines for the next ten years. I am talking about a very well-defined objective – bringing tbe SSN-21 to the fleet and training submariners to fight her. Let me close with an observation on missions for submarines in the next ten years. I said earlier that the SSN-21 had the capacity to undertake any new mission for attack submarines which we can anticipate within the next ten years. I am aware, as are many of you, that there are new technologies with which our submarines will have to contend in the next decade. We are certainly not ignoring these potential undersea applications of advanced technology which you will probably hear more of during this symposium. As many of you know, we maintain an aggressive R&D program to pursue the technologies to increase our striking power and to develop countermeasures to emerging detection systems. In close association and cooperation with DARPA and Navy laboratories, we are sponsoring a range of new developments to enhance the multi-mission capability of the SSN-21. My statement which highlighted the SSN-21’s versatility for new mission assignments is intended to provide not a barrier to adapting the SSN-21 to future roles but a springboard for expanded employment opportunities.
I said early in this presentation that I intended to provide a framework against which SSN roles and requirements should be considered. That framework is a familiar one, for it has been the legacy of almost a century of submarining:
• Dictate tbe time and place or attack.
• Fix the adversary’s defensive posture.
• Require massive expenditure or resources to counter. How do we achieve these goals? By maintaining the offensive character of a submarine to operate in any level of conflict within enemy-controlled waters. Stealth, Mobility, Firepower, Endurance and Sustainability – the sine qua non of submarine warfare.