A s you think about the roles and missions of the U.S. submarine force in the future it is comforting for me to see you still paying attention to the threat. Those who claim the threat is gone fail to differentiate between intentions and capabilities and between current and future threats.
There is no doubt that, because of the internal political and economic problems faced by the Soviet Union today, the Soviet political leadership does not have the current intention of threatening the U.S. or the western world. Also, because of the economic problems and the turmoil in Eastern Europe, the Soviet political leadership is reducing it’s current capabilities for conducting ground offensive warfare in Europe.
Furthermore, it does not look like those internal political and economic problems will be solved soon. But the goal of perestroika is to solve them. If and when that happens, what will be the intentions of the Soviet leadership of the future? Can we depend on those intentions being benign? The answer, of course, is: “No, I would not bet my country’s security on it.”
The job of military strategists, planners and weapons developers, and all of us who support them, is to think, “What if Intentions change?”, and, then, prepare for that eventuality, by developing capabilities to match and counter the capabilities of the other side. That is an unpopular position to take today when “Peace has broken out”. But, as submariners you know that a submarine force cannot be built in a day, or a year. We can’t wait until we know that intentions have changed to prepare. The submarine force must be ready, in terms of capabilities, to thwart any intentions of the other side by matching and countering its capabilities.
The Soviets certainly understand that: Chief of the General Staff General Moiseyev said in February; Some … raise the question of whether … it is sensible to build heavy aircraftcanying cruisers, large nuclear submarines and other military equipmenL To me the answer is clear. The miser pays twice. Here, as in the development of space, you cannot lag behind.You cannot catch up later.
Admiral Chernavin, CINC of the Soviet Navy, noted in a recent article, it is diJ!icult to mass produce nuclear submarines during a war. Thus, despite aU the guidance from their political leaders to undertake unilateral force cuts, arms control agreements and defensive doctrine, Soviet military men are also thinking “What if!”
What I’d like to descnbe for you here, is not current intentions of the Soviet politicians, which we aU recognize and welcome as being more limited than in the pasL Nor do I want to focus on current Soviet military capabilities which are being seriously constrained by political guidance and economic drawdowns. What I want to highlight for you is what the Soviet Navy is thinking and doing to prepare their submarine force for the “What if!” of the future. I’m not going to do that based on wishful thinking or mirror-imaging.
I’m not going to do it as an intelligence estimate either. I’m going to do it by giving you the Soviet Navy’s own words and actions that illustrate how they would like their submarine force to be in the future. Of course, political restraints, economic problems and scientific and technological problems may preclude the Soviet submarine force from becoming all it would like to be. But, “What, if!”
The Soviet Navy is a submarine Navy. Since the days of Admiral Gorshkov, submarines (along with land-based naval aviation) have been repeatedly characterized as the “main striking forces of the fleeL” Indeed, the Soviet Navy asserts that; all principal indicators characterizing a modem Navy are concentrated in nuclear-powered submarines: great striking force, high mobility and concealment and the capability of conducting combat operations on a global scale ….
Admiral Chernavin, himself a submariner, has proudly pointed out that general purpose submarines constitute 30% of the Soviet Navy while the submarine force is only 21% of the U. S. Navy. Further, he has willingly acknowledged that, The USSR does indeed have more submarines than the United States. In fact, even in their various calculations of the naval balance intended to promote naval arms control, the Soviets have documented that they have more general purpose submarines than the U.S. and NATO combined in the Atlantic region and more than the U.S. in the Pacific.
It should also be noted that, under SALT, the Soviet Navy was permitted and has retained 62 modem ballistic missile submarines and even some older diesel ballistic missile submarines. That is, also, a much higher total than the U. S. Navy.
This pride of place for the submarine force in the Soviet Navy will not change in the era of perestroika, defensive doctrine and reasonable sufficiency. In 1987, when the full impact of those new political-military factors was just beginning to become apparent to the Soviet military, Admiral Chemavin was asked to what he would give priority in these new circumstances. He responded; as before, to nuclear submarine construction. He expanded; This includes ships with ballistic and auise missUes of various ranges capable of hitting any target on land or sea. In the future, we have no intention of increasing the quantity of nuclear submarines but we do envision taking all the necessary measures to substantially enhance their tactical and technical characteristics and quality. Indeed, as the true impact of “reasonable sufficiency” became even more apparent, the Deputy Commander in Chief of the Soviet Navy, Admiral Kapitanets, has admitted that there is even the possibility of a certain quantitative reduction, while at the same time improving the qualitative characteristics of ships, their armament and technical facilities. That is exactly what is happening in the Soviet submarine force today.
The Soviet submarine force is, indeed, taking quantitative reductions. In the early stages of naval arms control, the Soviets offered to reduce their submarine force by 100 units in exchange for the reduction of five to seven U.S. aircraft carriers. Fortunately, despite the enthusiasm of some for such a deal, the U.S. recognized that blatant Soviet attempt to get something for nothing and did not buy iL Oearly, those were subs that the Soviets intended to scrap anyway. Old, obsolete, inactive ships that were of no utility. So, not finding any takers, in late 1988, the Soviets began towing or barging those subs to foreign scrapping yards. So far, almost 40 diesel submarines of 1950’s vintage, mainly WHISKEY class units, have been scrapped. Those submarines weren’t operational before they were sent to the breakers yard!
Further, the Soviets have told us that after analyzing the conditions of (their subntllrines) in the wa~ of the accident involving an ECHO II class submarine off Bear Island a year ago, they have decided that nuclear-powered submarines of the first generation will be ta~n out of setvice ahead of schedule. Thus, in addition to uncounted numbers of old diesel submarines, the Soviets have at least SO old nuclear powered submarines to scrap over the next several years. aearly, they are reducing their submarine order of battle.
Order of Battle
In 1989 about one third of the SSN order of battle was comprised of the modem VICTOR m, AKULA, and SIERRA classes. That proportion of new nuclear submarines will increase significantly as the scrapping of diesels and old nucs continues.
But scrapping isn’t all that has been going on in 1989 and 1990. Six submarine classes are currently in series production: VICTOR ill, AKULA and SIERRA class SSNs, the OSCAR class SSGN, and KILO SS as well as DELTA IV SSBNs. There were nine submarines launched in 1989. That number equals or exceeds the number of subs launched any year since 1982. Included were a VICTOR ill, AKULA and SIERRA SSN, the last TYPHOON and a DELTA IV plus four KILOS. In terms of tonnage launched, production was the greatest since 1986. This same high level construction rate is expected to continue into 1990, indicating that perestroika has not yet affected submarine production. This, the overall number of these new classes in the Order of Battle could double over the next ten years.
The overall quality of this force will also be significantly improved over today. For example, the new SSNs are quieter than their predecessors. They can also carry the SS-N-211and attack cruise missile. The OSCAR SSGN has a significant speed and noise advantage over the ECHO n that it replaces. Furthermore, it mounts three times as many cruise missile tubes (24 vs 8) and it carries the SS-N-9 missile, a great improvement over the SS-N-3 or SS-N-12. The DELTA IV with its SS-N-23 gives the Soviets their first SSBNJSLBM combination with a potential hard target kill capability. Where do they go from here?
Fourth Generation Submarine
The MIKE or KOMSOMOLETS disaster has highlighted for us the status of development of the Soviet Navy’s next generation of nuclear submarine. The KOMSOMOLETS by all accounts, was an “experimental” submarine on which “twelve very important scientific-technical problems were being resolved.” Oearly, the KOMSOMOLETS was not a prototype of the next generation submarine. According to Admiral Chemavin, it bad been designed in the 1960s. However, it was not launched until 1983 and thus, had likely been completed as a test bed for materials, techniques and systems being considered for incorporation into the next generation submarine.
According to Admiral Chemavin OM specilll feature was a reinforced titanium hull enabling il to dive to 1000 meters. Associated with this deep-diving capability was the explosive deballasting system which played a role in the exacerbating the problems of an already endangered ship. It was also described as a highly automated submarine and had a small and mostly officer and warrant crew. That, of course, was another drawback when it came to fire fighting and damage control. The disaster also highlighted for the Soviets a myriad of submarine design problems: with their electrical distribution systems, their oxygen and high pressure air systems, compartmentation and water-tight fittings as well as the presence of combustible materials and numerous deficiencies in firefighting and damage control equipment and procedures. Is it any wonder that, one year after the KOMSOMOLETS disaster, the Soviet Minister of Shipbuilding Industry said, We are now revising a great deal in submarine design.
Those design revisions and current Soviet economic problems are likely to delay the construction and launch of the Soviet Navy’s next generation submarine. While, given the timing of the past three generations, the next generation might have been expected in the early 1990s; given the design and economic uncertainty today it could now be delayed until near the turn of the century.
Clearly, then, its specific characteristics cannot be identified in any detail. But we do have some idea of what Soviet Navy design goals are and what they think they can achieve. The navy laid out the “Prospects for the Development of Submarines” in a 1988 book on, The Nayy: Its Role, Employment and Prospects for Development.
Overall, the Soviet Navy expects that the future development of submarines will follow the path of an increase in depth and speed, a decrease in the amount of noise and wake, and an improvement in power plants. More specificaiJy, The Nayy claims; in the near future … submarines will reach diving depths of 2000 meters and more. Achieving such depths for submarines, they believe, reduces the possibility of their being detected. And, the probability of a submarine being destroyed by an ASW weapon decreases while their own capability to search for an enemy increases. In aiJ, an increase in the submergence depth of a submarine gives it important tactical advantages. Also The Navy announces; it is planned to achieve speeds of 50-60 knots. And, in conjunction with that, the main way of increasing power plant effectiveness will be to increase their power by reducing their specifzc weight .
Thus, as the Soviet Navy makes some progress toward its design goals, despite technological and economic restrictions, the next generation of submarine wiiJ be deeper diving and faster than the current generation: At least the next submarine should achieve the 1000 meters designed into the KOMSOMOLETS and, perhaps, approach 50 knots in burst speed.
Also, worth noting are some omissions in Soviet Navy design goals. There is nothing about quieting. Although they obviously hope to get quieter, the Soviets don’t seem to expect any breakthroughs. There is nothing about exotic power plants. Rather, they imply efficiencies through improvements to current power plants. FinaiJy, there is nothing about titanium huiJs, despite the KOMSOMOLE1S being a titanium huiJed submarine. Thus, it is not clear that the Soviet Navy has yet committed itself to only titanium hulled submarines for its next generation.
In terms of weapons for that next generation submarine, The Nayy calls for the further development of ASW missiles … increasing [Iring range to more than 50 /an and (thus increasing) the probability of destruction of enemy submarines. Further, torpedo speeds must increase with respect to cun-ent ones by a factor or 4 to 5 and reach 200-300 knots.
Clearly, the Soviet Navy has design goals for and has been planning a fourth generation nuclear submarine with, at least, significant depth, speed, and weapons advances over the current generation. Now, faced with the challenges of redesign and with economic constraints, that generation may be later in coming and not as advanced as had once been hoped by the Soviet Navy. Yet, it will surely be an advanced and capable submarine of which a submarine Navy can be proud.
But, how will the Soviets use that submarine Navy? A Navy which will be smaller, but more modern and more capable?
Today, in accordance with the Soviets “new defensive doctrine” and their long-standing concepts of having “a unified military strategy” and conducting “combined arms operations”; the Soviet Navy is tied, in war, to the Continental Theaters of Operations. The “basic missions of war of vital importance to the state” assigned to the Soviet combined arms forces are to:
- neutralize an enemy’s military-economic potential.
- repulse an enemy aerospace attack.
- destroy groupings of enemy forces. And the Soviet submarine force has a role in each of them:
- the first, of course, is strategic strike to which SSBNs make a contribution.
- in the second, the role of the submarine force is to strike enemy carriers and missile equipped ships before they can launch in order to reduce the level of such attacks that air defense forces must counter.
- in the third, the submarine role is primary against any threat from seaward either to the homeland, Soviet SSBNs or other forces.
But those roles, within the combined arms missions, tend to keep Soviet submarines close to home waters and tied to the war on land. The Soviet Navy has long been pushing for an independent mission distant from home waters in the maritime theaters of operation. A major try at justifying such a mission was one of the reasons Admiral Gorshkov published his book Seapower and The State in 1978. But, it failed. Within a year a second edition of the book was published with significant revisions highlighting that the “strategic employment of the navy” meant “coordinating its efforts with the actions of ~Jther branches of the armed forces to achieve common goals in an armed struggle on the basis of a unified military strategy.”
But the Navy did not give up. After the promulgation of the “new defensive doctrine” in 1988, Admiral Gorshkov’s supporters published the book I have already mentioned: The Navy: Its Role. Employment and Prospects for Development. That book, once again, tried to justify an independent mission for the Soviet Navy, far from home waters in the maritime theaters, even within a defensive doctrine. The Navy wrote that, within the combined arms mission of; repulsing an enemy aerospace attack. .. The primary role of navies … will consist of hunting and destroying in sea and ocean theaters the principal strategic weapons platfonns; i.e . strategic missile submarines, surface combatants armed wuh long range land attack cruise missiles as well as aircraft caniers.
Indeed, the book went so far to suggest that: in the immediate foreseeable future the mission of battling (SSBNs) can move to the level of a national mission and, then, one can speak fl[ national anti-submarine defense just as we can speak of natrona/ air defense.
What a great attempt to create a mission which provides justification and support for substantial increases to the Soviet submarine force! Unfortunately for the Soviet Navy, we have no evidence that their effort to acquire that national mission succeeded. On the other hand, it is probably fortunate for the Soviet Navy, because neither do we have any evidence that, if it had been assigned, they would have been able to accomplish it
But, the Soviet Navy has not been deterred in its search for an independent, distant mission. Recently Admiral Chernavin published two lengthy articles on anti-SLOC warfare. This may be the beginning of a new effort to create a new, distant, independent mission for the Navy within the current defensive strategy. If that mission were assigned, it would provide ample justification and support for substantial increases in the Soviet submarine force. Whether this effort will be any more successful in winning the Soviet Navy and submarine force the independence, distant operations, and increased force levels so long desired, is, as yet, unknown.
Meanwhile, not only assigned roles but economic constraints keep the Soviet Navy close to home. On Soviet Navy Day in 1989, the Deputy CINC of the Soviet Navy, Vice Admiral Makarov, announced that the Soviet Union has taken steps to reduce substantially the number of submarines (deployed) both in seas and oceans (specifically, the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea).
Indeed, based on the new defensive doctrine and economic constraints, Soviet naval optempo has been declining since 1986. The greatest decrease in 1989 was among nuclearpowered attack and cruise missile subs (SSN/SSGN). That decrease can be attributed, at least in part, to concerns about submarine reliability and safety in the wake of the MIKE accident in April and ECHO II accident in June. And, they were right to be concerned because there was another accident in December. The most visible indicator of this reduced submarine force optempo is a decrease in Soviet submarine presence in the Mediterranean; from a former average of 3 to 5 units to a level of 2 during 1989. There have been complete gaps in the deployment patterns of nuclear attack and cruise missile subs to the Mediterranean.
Thus, today, the roles assigned the Soviet Navy within the new defensive doctrine require the submarine force to conduct its wartime operations in waters close to home. Not only that, but the need to maintain high surge readiness during a period of economic austerity has required the submarine force to cut the number of submarines on distant deployments and reduce its optempo.
But, what if the Soviet submarine force is not employed in that manner in the future? And, it will not be, if the Soviet Navy can help it. After all, these are naval officers in command of a major world Navy. They want to act like that.
As I have indicated, the Soviet Navy has continued to press for an independent mtSSton which will let them operate, independently, on the high seas, distant from the homeland. So far, they have not had much success. But, come wartime, even if they are confined to their current roles within the strategically defensive strategy they certainly don’t expect to remain within sight of land. As Admiral Chernavin has said; What does defensive mean? Certainly people have a simplistic and primitive understanding of this. They think that since we have adopted this doctrine, we should be purely passive … How can a warship fight today if it sits in the trenches? Submarines should find the enemy’s ships and sink them.
Vice Admiral Markov is the Navy representative on the General Staff and clearly an officer who knows how the Navy will operate under the General Stafrs control in implementing the unified military strategy. Recently, he gave a speech to a group of westerners in which he extolled the defensive nature of Soviet strategy and the Navy. He said; … we see our four fleets having as their major task the conduct of defensive operations in those areas immediately adjacent to the USSR. .. These areas are the Barents, Baltic, Northern Sea of Japan and Sea of Okhotsk… . But he also said; Other factors which influence our naval strategy are lines which, when crossed by vessels armed with SLCMs…. Our response is a subnuuine buildup and we are obliged to send aircraft to intercept and monitor vessels that come into those areas.
The admiral then went on to warn that; A submarine can be, based on mission tasking, an offensive or defensive weapon. The tasks we set our submarines are: Prevent buildup of large groups of swface ships in areas sensitive to us and, in peacetime, the monitoring of such groups. Even more explicit were the statements in a recent article by a Captain First Rank. In defending Soviet acquisition of the aircraft carrier based on the wartime need for such a platform, he described the Soviet perceived U.S. naval threat to USSR and, then said; Only the Navy is capable of neutralizing this threat It would be impossible to accomplish it by concentrating our forces near the coast One must go to the areas where the enemy’s forces are deployed, squeeze them out of there and, if war begins, engage in combat with them.
In short, while Soviet submarines may be confined to areas close to home waters today, the Soviet Navy doesn’t expect to let that happen when the threat is imminent.
Summary and Conclusion
In summary then, the Soviet Navy remains a submarine Navy. In the future, the submarine force will become smaller, mainly because of the removal of old, obsolete and nonoperational diesel and first generation nuclear units from the force. But, it will be more modern, with an increasing portion of that force being third generation nuclear submarines. Those units are far more capable than the units they are replacing. Furthermore, a fourth generation of nuclear submarines will eventually enter the force. That generation will have a number of high tech advances over today’s submarines. In accordance with the “new defensive doctrine”, that smaller but more modem and more capable Soviet submarine force has been assigned roles within the new defensive strategy which require it to operate in areas close to home waters.
I conclude that, to the Soviet General Staff, all this makes sense. They consider themselves “military-scientists.” They use history and mathematics as the basis for the development of strategy and plans.
The Soviet General Staff military scientist assigns a value to each piece of military equipment and each unit to indicate its “combat potential.” Thus, it is mathematically possible for a small, modern and highly capable force to have an aggregate “combat potential” which is equal to or even higher than the “combat potential” of a large, obsolete and inoperative force.
That is what the Soviet Ministry of Defense and General Staff are striving for as they direct and guide the future development of the Soviet Navy and its submarine force: To maintain or somewhat improve its overall level of “combat potential” while reducing its size.
But the “military scientists” don’t end their calculations there. After having calculated the aggregate “combat potential” of their own forces, they try to calculate the “combat potential” of the expected enemy force. Then, they compare the two to determine which force has the greatest aggregate “combat potential” or which holds what they call the “correlation of forces.”
While they are now receiving guidance and funding to only maintain or somewhat improve the aggregate “combat potential” of the Soviet Navy, the Soviet military-scientists fear, in the worst-case, a dramatic increase in the aggregate “combat potential” of the U.S. Navy. Or, at least, no decrease. That’s why they are pushing naval arms control.
But, lacking success there, the military scientist of the General Staff needs to take further action to assure the Soviet Navy continues to hold the “correlation of forces” over the threat. That action is not to let the needed “combat potential” go cruising off into areas of the world’s oceans from which it cannot be quickly recalled to add to the “combat potential” of the defending forces and, thereby, assure the “correlation of forces” over an enemy threat. Also, it is not to disperse the “combat potential” of the Navy over a wide area where some of it may not be positioned to be brought to bear rapidly to assure the “correlation of forces” on the enemy axes of attack.
Rather, the best way in which a smaller force, with only some modest increase in “combat potential” can be assured of holding the “correlation of forces” over a perceived growing enemy threat, is to concentrate all of its “combat potential” more densely in the expected areas of attack. That is what the General Staff is striving for as it assigns the Soviet Navy its roles and directs its operations close to home waters in support of Soviet defensive strategy.
In short, in planning and guiding the future development and employment of the Soviet Navy and its submarine force, the “military-scientist” of the Soviet Ministry of Defense and General Staff will use their mathematical approach to assure that the Soviet Navy, despite being reduced in size, improves its “combat potential” by becoming more modem and capable and maintains the “correlation of forces” over the perceived U.S. naval threat by concentrating its forces at the point of expected attack. That is what they are doing now as they put the finishing touches on the naval portions of the next five year plan. The Soviet equivalents of SCN, R&D and O&MN are being set to assure the “correlation of forces” against the U.S. Navy as they see it today and as they expect it to evolve over that period and beyond. They intend to be able to meet the threat.
One last thought. What if we don’t maintain the U.S. Navy and pose the threat the Soviets expect and are planning for? What if we cut the Navy even further than now discussed? What if we pull back dramatically from our forward force posture? We, then, will be reducing our “combat potential” and limiting the axes on which we can pose a threat. As the Soviet “military scientists” see those actions and redo their calculations, they will see their “correlation of forces” improving, their advantage increasing. What if, then with some combat potential to spare, they let the Soviet Navy undertake some of those independent, open ocean operations for which they have been pushing for so long? Will we be able to meet the threat?