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The changes in the world situation in the past few months have been electrifying. The collapse of Soviet power has greatly alleviated the Soviet threat to Western Europe and, because of announced military force reductions, the Soviet threat on land and sea is seemingly diminished. The cold war is at an end? But at the same time, the instability in many countries of the world, created by the decrease of Soviet military and political influence, may result in Third World upheavals, such as: insurgencies, revolutions, and attempts, through armed connict, to settle long-standing disputes between rival countries. Thus, for the next decade at least, it seems reasonable for the United States to plan for military involvement in some of these Third World crisis situations -while still recognizing that Soviet military forces may also be protecting Soviet interests in a contraposition.

Under these circumstances, weapons for U.S. submarines must have the capability to fight in connicts which involve mainly third world nations, while at the same time being able to handle Soviet submarines and their supporting elements when encountered as an opposing threat, independently or with the Third World.

U.S. submarines continue to be able to respond effectively to Soviet threats, even if the Soviets are not actually crippled by declared drawdowns of military forces or peaceful overtures. But, to fight effectively in this developing environment of Third World wars, the U.S. submarine community must now focus some of its efforts on weapons which are unlike those aboard our submarines for use against the Soviets – ones which should be effective under a different set of conditions. Our submarines’ targets will be different: they will have to fight in shallow water; their rules of engagement are likely to be different and the political objectives fought over will be at great variance with those to be achieved in the potential conflicts which in the past have been planned against the Soviet Union. The character of U.S. submarine weapons will be based upon different philosophy of development. The submarine community is indeed conducting research into many aspects of weapons improvements, many of which are applicable to today’s unstable world situation. But still it seems useful to think about the kinds of weapons which are effective under evolving world conditions.

Does it make any sense, however, to consider acquiring new or improved weapons for the submarine fleet in light of expected reductions in military budgets? It does – from a requirements viewpoint and from the cost effectiveness aspects. One can’t forget the dictum of Karl von Clausewitz that “the conduct of war is determined by the nature of weapons available,” while also recognizing that relatively low-cost, stateof-the-art weapons can be produced to meet the expected new set of conflict circumstances — even during this period of austerity.

The nuclear submarine provides the best and most rapid response to crisis situations in all areas of the World Ocean. It can be on station, ready to take appropriate action well ahead of surface forces and even land based air forces — which in most situations are so hampered by overflight and basing rights as to be impractical for remote areas of the world where no treaty rights exist for the basing of U.S. aircraft. It can remain on station without third party support for long periods of time. This, particularly, enhances the submarine’s ubiquitous quality which produces a psychological effect on opposing forces that can be decisive in effecting a political settlement.

The several weapons which should be attractive to U.S. submarines to meet the revised challenges of the ’90s are examined below.

For Nuclear Threats
The growing number of countries having a nuclear weapons capability suggests that it might be advantageous to have a nuclear, single-warhead ballistic missile capability in U.S. strategic submarines. Having a very long-range, highly accurate weapon of this sort could deter the use of nuclear weapons in third power conflicts. A single warhead on a D-5 missile would promise a surgical, discriminating accuracy, necessary to fit the crime of nuclear weapon use. This may seem an outlandish solution to a third world nuclear aggression, but it may be the only way to bring some sanity to limited wars where at least one of the antagonists has nuclear weapons. Moreover, detection and follow-up action against a firing submarine employing this weapon in limited war is so improbable as to pose no significant risk. (The use of a nuclear warhead on a long range cruise missile is likely to be ruled out by START agreements early in this decade.)

For Antisubmarine Efforts
While accepting the more than satisfactory present U.S. weapon blue water capability against Soviet submarines -nuclear as well as conventional — it still should be recognized that, in third power conflicts, a U.S. submarine’s weapon system will have to function efficiently in geographic areas which are unfavorable for the use of existing weapons systems. Shallow water, high ambient noise, heavy reverberations, omnipresent coastal anomalies, a high density of surveillance efforts, and far more rapid response to a submarine’s overt actions, are some of the factors which must be reckoned with.

World War II experience showed that a noisy torpedo with a heavy bubble-wake was too often easily spotted and avoided by warships. Furthermore, the wake so accurately revealed the submarine’s firing position that “the dogs” frequently meted out a merciless beating of the submarine. In fact, using a noisy, wake-making ASW torpedo in shallow waters seems out of the question today because of the virtually assured consequences. Additionally, using a shallow running torpedo with a hot wake — generated by a thermal power plant in the torpedo — seems illogical. Observation of the infrared scar produced on the sea’s surface, is likely, by airborne or shipborne means, during darkness as well as in daylight, with today’s IR surveillance technology. Compromising a submarine’s firing position in shallow waters, by using a “hot” torpedo is just as risky as using a wake-maker. Similarly, firing a noisy torpedo – with the shortened sonar ranges inherent in shallow waters – at a conventional submarine using a quiet torpedo reactively, is also asking for great trouble. Such an ASW attack equalizes the contest. (Moreover, because of the greatly reduced sonar detection ranges experienced in shallow waters, the use of a long-range ASW weapon like the cancelled SEA LANCE appears to be impractical.)

The German 12,000 meter SUT, a wakeless, cool, quiet electric torpedo is a natural for U.S. use in third power conflicts. (A closed-cycle thermal powered ASW torpedo might also be applicable, but the development costs for such a torpedo in this budget environment seem to rule it out now as a candidate for ASW.) Electric torpedoes are objected to mainly on the basis that they lack sufficient speed. Significantly, third party conflicts are unlikely to see enemy submarines of high sustained speed. But drag reduction measures, if used on today,s electric torpedoes to increase speed, are feasible. They also have the bonus of reducing self noise — from skin cavitation and vortex production – so that they function far better in a passive sonar listening mode. Use of improved higher energy density batteries can significantly increase torpedo speed. Finally, a panoramic sonar for both passive and active detection – to solve the depth problem -is indicated.

It should be emphasized that the torpedo employed in third world conflicts should be as covert in its trajectory as its firing platform is in gaining an attack position and in moving clear after firing. When attacking an enemy conventional submarine, although it may have been detected due to its overt actions, a note of caution must be injected. There might be another “quiet” conventional submarine acting in concert with the targeted submarine and in close proximity to it, and it might take a deadly countering action by firing a quiet homing torpedo at the firing submarine,s compromised location.

Antiship Weapons
For the destruction of surface ships, both merchant and warships, a low-cost relatively simple, quiet, cool, medium range, big-warhead homing torpedo which capitalizes on the nuclear submarine,s stealth and great mobility — to attack with a high degree of surprise — is appropriate. The recent program to buy Whitehead A 184 electric torpedoes for antiship use takes on added significance. The reported cost of $200 K for an A 184 with its wire guidance and passive and active homing makes it an attractive candidate for U.S. submarine employment in the ’90s and beyond. It is a hereand-now weapon that should be promoted to a high priority status. Fired from a 21-inch torpedo tube, it is readily made compatible with U.S. nuclear submarine fire control systems. In a pinch, it might also function as an antisubmarine weapon. It is, however, a seemingly poor candidate for backfitted improvements to make it a truly good ASW torpedo for shallow water use.

A second antiship option is the 1470-lb HARPOON cruise missile as presently configured. HARPOON is a 35-mile, high subsonic speed, “hot” weapon with a sea-skimming trajectory, active radar homing and a 570 lb warhead. In coastal waters it is likely to lack attack-surprise because of its delectability by shore-based radars, infrared detection and other surveillance systems, particularly the human eyebaJI. It is also likely to disclose the submarine’s tiring position, greatly increasing counter-attack risk for the submarine. Very importantly, the nuclear submarine represents such a costly investment that putting it at unnecessary risk is foolhardy. (This tends to eliminate the nuclear submarine’s mine-laying mission, even if the 12,000-yard, mobile Mk-27 mine were resurrected.)

For Attack Against Shore Objectives
Conceivably, the most effective weapon in a limited conflict may be the submarine-launched land attack cruise missile. Fired from a submerged nuclear submarine far at sea and distant from a land battle, it can be safely employed with a considerable degree of surprise. It can also be so accurate in hitting land targets that decisive political effects may be derived from the destruction of high-value land objectives. Manned aircraft attacks against similar targets run the political risk of losing military personnel. The adverse repercussions from the loss of a single F-111 in the Libyan raid and the loss of several manned aircraft over Lebanon illustrate the political hazards of using manned aircraft in low intensity conflicts. Additionally, the reduction in manned aircraft domination of a battlefield when confronted by insurgents using shoulderheld, simple STINGER missiles, as in Afghanistan, emphasizes the desirability of using unmanned aircraft — cruise missiles – in low-key conflicts. The psychological effects produced by cruise missile attacks need to be stressed. Again, Oausewitz in his book On War is worth quoting. “All military action is intertwined with psychological forces and effects,” and historically, “what mattered (in battles) was the vital but incalculable factor of morale. In the last analysis, it was at morale, not physical strength that all military action was (best) directed.”

The TOMAHAWK conventional land attack cruise missile with a 1,000-lb warhead and a range of about BOO miles seems well designed to play an essential role in the projection of power against shore objectives. With an accurate terminalhoming feature using scene-matching correlation, it is particularly useful for airfield and port-area interdiction. It does have the drawback of using a TERCOM terrain matching mid-course guidance system — the data for which may be lacking for those areas of the world where third world conflicts are likely to be prosecuted. To make TOMAHAWK more flexible for conflicts of the ’90s, a mid-course guidance system with inertial guidance and a continuous, accurate-position supplied by two-satellite fixes derived from Navstar global positioning satellites, is presently being developed by CoUins Radio Co.

The land attack cruise missile also needs to be less costly than the present $2 million for a single copy of TOMAHAWK. Compromise in the features of TOMAHAWK’s design which might make it more applicable for a third worJd conflict might be: a one-time expendable engine; less “gold plating”; simplified trajectory control; less counter-countermeasures; reduced range — all are suggested as possibilities to bring down unit cost.

It should also be recognized that a submarine-launched land attack cruise missile can provide a necessary assist to carrier aircraft strikes on coastal installations. Preceding sea-based air attacks, this missile can suppress enemy air defenses and disorganize an enemy’s command and control functions so as to reduce the hazard to follow-on manned aircraft and the adverse political implications from loss of personnel.

One other submarine weapon that should be considered for the ’90s is one for use in an ASW “melee” — where the detection range of the submarines involved is under 6,000 yards. A new sort of very high speed torpedo with a short arming range {the Germans in WW II developed a 192 knot rocket propelled torpedo which was stable in its trajectory) may be the answer, or a battery of rapidly dischargeable underwater rockets — like a Phalanx gun — may be required to meet the challenge of modem submarines if they become so quiet that long range acoustic detections are virtually eliminated. (The proliferation of quiet closed-cycle, nonnuclear power plants in fuel cells in third world submarines can be expected soon.)

Funding limitations preclude an all-new submarine weapons mix. We suggest a priority approach: the land attack cruise missile should have first priority; the wakeless, quiet, cool antiship torpedo, second; the quiet ASW torpedo, third; the single-warhead nuclear ballistic missile, fourth; and not to be forgotten is the ASW “melee” weapon and other discussed weapons at some lesser priority.

In summary; in today’s peacetime end of cold war environment, the submarine warrior — faced with a likely slowdown in building programs — should profitably use these “hard times” to (in the words of the 17th century samurai Musashi), “sharpen” his weapons and produce weapons which “cut well” in the battles ahead. Such a demonstrated interest in a submarine’s weapons is a best argument for a submariner’s belief that the nuclear submarine through the next decade and beyond is the essential element in a U.S. Maritime Strategy which is adapted for third world conflicts.


The submarine force celebrates it’s 90th Birthday this year. If you have not received an invitation to your local area birthday ball, and you wish to attend, we suggest you call one the local Submarine Force Staffs listed in your 1988 Fad Book. To get invited to the Washington Metro area birthday ball on 21 April 1990, call LCDR Steve Weilbacher at (202) 697-1565 .

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