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The U.S. attack submarine force has actively participated in Third World contingencies and conflicts in the past and can expect an expanded role in such operations in the future. To assess that role, nearly twenty primary SSN missions related to Third World operations were evaluated. SSN utilization is more likely if a Third World adversary has any of the following:

  • A moderate-to-large naval force including mini-subs or submarines and capital ships that it highly values.
  • Integrated air defenses and anti-ship capability able to place U.S. aircraft and surface combatants at significant risk.
  • Militarily valuable fiXed land targets within submarine launched cruise missile (SLCM) range of water navigable to SSNs.
  • Vulnerable coastlines that warrant clandestine operations off their coasts by submarines, e.g., related to surveillance, special warfare, etc.

SSN attributes that provide advantages over other platforms include the following:

  • Mobility Speed: During a 1989 Lebanon crisis, a U.S. SSN underwent a complete change in weapons load-out overnight and then transited from the East Coast to the Mediterranean in 6 days.
  • Self-Sustainability/Endurance: SSNs can operate independently and unsupported for months.
  • Covertness/Stealth: SSNs are capable of high tactical surprise or can provide a non-provocative presence.
  • Survivability: SSN inherent stealth combined with lack of ASW proficiency of many Third World adversaries enhances SSN survivability.
  • Offensjve Fireoower including lethal torpedoes makes an SSN an Effective Deterrent.
  • The Flexible. Multi-Mission Capability that an SSN can bring to far forward areas (denied to ether forces) makes it a Cost-Effective investment, particularly in view of its relatively small crew compared to other warships and the fact that no other units are required to protect an SSN.

SSN utilization (past and future) can be addressed in seven broad mission/role categories:

1. covert intelligence collection/real time surveillance I indications and warning (I& W);
2 combat search and rescue (SAR)/non-combatant evacuation operations (NEO);
3. offensive mining and mine defenses;
4. anti-surface warfare (ASUW);
5. special warfare force insertion/support/withdrawal;
6. covert land attack missile strike (STK); and
7. anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and ASW defenses.

In addition, two special topics must be addressed to complete the SSN/new world picture: SSN wlnerability in very shallow/confined seas and SSN coordination in battle group operations.

The stealth of an SSN and its array of sensors make it an ideal platform for many surveillance/intelligence missions. The British used their SSNs for coastal surveillance in the Falklands, providing tactical I&W against Argentine aircraft raids. U.S. SSNs have been employed to perform port/harbor surveillance operations or to track individual units during contingencies.

The stealth and covertness of SSNs and their normal deployments in forward areas make them well-suited for combat search and rescue operations, usually on an ad hoc basis, e.g., with a report of a downed aircraft at sea near a hostile coast More than 500 aviators were saved by submarine SAR operations in the Pacific theater during WWII, including the USS FINBACK (SS-230) rescue of LTGg) George Bush. In a related role, submarines can be used to extract individuals from ashore in cases in which clandestine non-combatant evacuation operations (NEO) are required.

Submarine offensive mining was done extensively in the Pacific theater in WWII. SSNs provide a safe and effective method of laying mines in areas defended by adversary forces.

[Ed. Note: Mines are deployed today for use in Third World contingencies if necessary.]

Conversely, ASW mines are a potential Achilles Heel to U.S. SSN operations in shallow coastal and littoral seas. Minefields could either make coastal regions inaccessible or, by funneling SSN movements, enhance other ASW force operations. Adequate SSN signature reduction/control and effective means of detecting and avoiding mines are key.

The classic mission for submarines is ASUW, primarily due to the inherent lethality of anti-ship torpedoes and submarine ability to survive when making attacks on adversary warships and shipping in heavily defended coastal regions. Other SSN advantages in ASUW are the ability to identify warships (vice commercial ships) in congested seas, and covertness that allows plausible denial if waging guerrilla warfare.

The commerce warfare conducted by U.S. submarines in the Pacific in WWII was a spectacular success, but applicability to limited conflicts is uncertain, e.g., the legality of unrestricted submarine warfare on merchants. Additionally, other means of neutralizing shipping exist such as blockades/quarantines. It is not clear to what extent submarines would participate in these operations. [Ed. Note: Many senior submariners feel that SSNs are a valuable deterrent to Blockade running.]

A clear ASUW role for SSNs was demonstrated by the British submarine HMS CONQUEROR sinking of the Argentine cruiser BELGRANO. This served as a deterrent to keep the remainder of Argentine’s surface navy largely in territorial waters for the rest of the conflict.

Another ASUW role could involve U.S. submarines employed in a gate guard role. For example, they could provide the first line of defense against fast patrol boats (FPBs) attempting to attack U.S. surface combatants, i.e., providing early warning and locating information to allow aircraft and surface units to prosecute these targets as required.

SSNs have a variety of ASUW weapons available, such as the MK 48 torpedo, Harpoon, and the Tomahawk anti-ship missile (TASM). In the latter case, the SSN requires timely over-thehorizon targeting (OTH-T) for long range attacks.

Submarines have an extremely covert capability to insert and extract special warfare forces. Covertness is often essential either to avoid mission compromise or to allow plausible denial. Small numbers of special purpose troops inserted into enemy territory from the sea are capable of performing a host of functions including surveillance I reconnaissance I intelligence tasks, targeting support (including naval gunfire spotting}, and attacks on shore facilities or ships in port, e.g., using limpet mines.

Numerous examples of submarine special warfare operations have occurred in both general and limited conflicts. In wwn, 298 special missions were performed. In both the Korean War and the Vietnam War, coastal surveillance/reconnaissance and landing of special forces were conducted This included the use of three specially configured transport submarines (USS PERCH, USS TUNNY, USS ORA YBACK) in Vietnam for various operations including covert beach contour reconnaissance prior to amphibious operations.

In the Falklands War, both sides used submarines for special operations. In future U.S. contingencies, an SSN could be used to insert SEALS, employing 2-man wet mini-subs or 6-man dry mini-subs (carried in compartments atop the SSN). Two former SSBNs have been converted for special warfare by the addition of two dry deck shelters (DDS) to each platform. Selected SSN-637 units have also been fitted with special DDSs.

Without question, the evolving strike role for submarines will be an enduring one for Third World contingencJes and conOlcts. As long as there is a need for covert, surprise, closein cruise missile strikes {e.g., for air defense suppression), submarines will have a key strike role — operating either independently or as part of a coordinated and distributed force of a carrier air wing, surface combatants, and submarines. Use of SSNs for land attack missile strikes reduces the risk to ships, aircraft and airmen. A leading argument for the use of missiles, vice manned aircraft, in such strikes is that the risk of loss of airmen is avoided.

Recent examples of U.S. Navy strike operations are instructive. In the 1986 strike on Libya, a massive air strike was conducted despite difficulties in securing overflight rights for USAF stationed in the U.K.. Tomahawk, although available on SSNs and surface combatants at the time, was not employed. Nearly five years later during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, over 200 Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAMs) were used by various warships including two attack submarines, one from the Red Sea and one from the Eastern Mediterranean.

Various fixed point targets are appropriate for TLAM including command/communication centers, dams, bridges, airfields, air defenses, ports, industrial complexes, etc. According to Vice Admiral Metcalrs article in the March 1991 U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. “‘The most significant shortfaU in today’s Tomahawk system is mission planning. It is awkward, overly complex, and unresponsive, and it cannot meet the battlefield’s flexibility requirements. • It can take months (days in the best case) to plan TLAM missions if terrestrial mapping is not available. Furthermore, the current guidance systems (TERCOM map-matching and DSMAC scene-matching) can only attack known, fiXed locations. There is also a lack of Tomahawk at-sea replenishment capability for both surface combatants and submarines.

Current submarines have additional constraints; they have only a modest payload (8-16 per SSN). Submarines that rely on torpedo tube launch vice vertical launch systems at present suffer a significant launch range constraint (500 versus 700 nmi). Increased connectivity with the Commander in Chief in a crisis or conflict may also impose speed and depth restrictions on the SSN that could impede simultaneous prosecution of other missions, such as ASW.

The February 1991, SECNAV Posture Statement remarks that ” … the proliferation of submarine technology in the Third World adds a new challenge. We wiJJ have to counter quiet, modern non-nuclear submarines in shallow and littoral waters to support power projection operations. It will be one of our toughest problems in the future.” Twenty Third World countries have submarines greater than mini-sub size, for a total of more than 200 worldwide. By the year 2000, approximately 40% of these are expected to be relatively modem.

Several factors magnify the Third World submarine threatFirst, anti-ship torpedoes are lethal and will likely cause sinking and high casualties. Submarines present an ubiquitous threat to surface forces which are at risk during contingencies and conflicts because of that lethality and stealthy nature as well as the difficulty of conducting ASW (particularly in shallow water). This was apparent in the Falklands by the high leverage of a single Argentine submarine on British force deployments and asset allocations. The success of the SAN LUIS Type 209 submarine in surviving British ASW defenses, along with the complete neutralization of Argentine surface forces, may have encouraged other Third World countries to acquire submarines.

A comparison of anti·ship torpedo lethality to other weapon· ry in various Third World conflicts points up the catastrophic potential of the submarine threat to surface ships in a Third World conflicl The combined U.S. combat deaths in Grenada, Libya, Panama, and the 1991 Persian Gulf War totaled 133. The British lost approximately twice this number in the Falklands (air, land and at·sea engagements). By comparison, a single Pakistani Daphne submarine attack on an Indian warship, KHUKRI, in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, resulted in 191 deaths. The BELGRANO sinking in the Falklands killed 368 Argentine sailors.

These are startling numbers compared to experience with other anti·ship weapons. No deaths occurred in either the USS ROBERTS or USS PRINCETON hits by contact and influence mines, respectively. The USS STARK lost 37 crew members after two Exocet missile hits.

SSNs should be a large part of the solution to the Third World submarine problem. SSNs have several attributes that enhance their ASW utility including the fact that there are some places that only SSNs can conduct ASW and expect to survive, such as in far forward regions in which air superiority in contested.

Their covertness also enhances operational security in certain roles such as the conduct of area clearance prior to the arrival of an amphibious assault force. The covertness and sustainability of SSNs make them ideal for ASW tracking operations during crises. Surface ships are either overt by using active sonars, or if relying on passive sonars for close-in tracking, are easily exposed by periscope checks from the diesel submarine being tracked. ASW aircraft are not as sustainable. In addition, effective ASW tracking by submarines should be non-provocative but if suspected, allow for plausible denial.

The purpose of SSN tracking operations of potentially hostile Third World submarines during contingencies would be to establish their location and intent against U.S. surface forces in the region. This is particularly demanding if operations are protracted and rules of engagement are restrictive. In addition, all non-adversary submarines in the contingency region need to be accounted for (possibly by similar tracking operations against these neutral targets). Sustained close-tracking operations could be required to provide prudent risk for surface forces on the scene.

In addition to the tracking operation, a number of other ASW roles are evident for SSNs in Third World operations. Forward presence off an adversary submarine port (possibly announced) could serve as an ASW deterrent or, if that fails, would allow the SSN to act in a galt guard role to initiate tracking/prosecution against an egressing diesel submarine. An SSN could maintain a barrier or attempt to control a choke point for the same purpose. Defensive ASW operations by SSNs could include area clearance in an intended operating area prior to task force arrival; or protecting a designated haven area for surface forces from submarine perpetrators; or defending a port/coastal facility.

INCREASED SSN COORDINATION I CONNECTIVITY WITH BATTLE GROUP (BG)- PROS/CONS. Increased coordination/connectivity capability with battle groups in Third World operations allows SSNs to be more responsive to the CINC/BG Commander, and to be used in more robust roles by avoiding the need for strict geographic separation as occurred in the Falldands. It also affords an opportunity to develop a more coherent ASW tactical picture. Third World operations may be more amenable to increased SSN coordination/connectivity than was the case in a general war scenario with the Soviets.

Also, Third World operations are characterized by protracted Battle Group Operations in a fixed location. This has the advantage of less time-criticality and less dynamic force movements, making it more feasible to get the needed eli (Command and Control Communications and Intelligence) and tactical doctrine in place.

Waters like the Persian Gulf are an ideal environment for mini-subs. It is unclear whether a CVBG would venture into these waters during a contingency (1986-1988 escort operations) or a regional conflict (1991 P.G. War) if a heavyweight torpedo threat was present, particularly if location and intent was uncertain.

From the previous discussion, it is clear that SSNs require high mobility/readiness for Third World crisis response. They must be able to respond rapidly and effectively, often in a comeas-you-are mode. It is desirable for SSNs to be able to operate effectively and with prudent risk in shallow/confined seas. Future SSN tactics development and technicaVoperational training need to focus on Third World operations in addition to Soviet only situations.

Third World contingencies/conflicts reinforce the need for high covertness/survivability for the SSN. Improved selfdefenses (active/passive protection measures) may be warranted to counter a variety of ASW mine and torpedo systems to be consistent with the high survivability goals for limited objective operations in Third World contingencies. Adequate signature reduction and control is essential if SSNs expect to operate in shallow/confined seas with coastal threats such as ASW mines and ASW aircraft employing a variety of acoustic and nonacoustic sensors. Off-board systems are required to increase the surveillance horizon for the SSN and as a means of increasing SSN stand-off distance from hostile, littoral waters.

Finally, high Oexibility/multl-mlsslon effectiveness is required for SSNs that expect to be valuable participants in the diverse and often unpredictable Third World contingencies and conflicts in the future. Flexibility is the key – SSNs that can operate independently without forward basing or in close coordination with other forces via the requisite cJI. It also includes flexible off-board system and weapon load-out/reload capability to enhance SSN effectiveness in assigned missions. In addition, SSN sensor, weapon, and other combat system features may need to be adapted to adverse Third World threats and operating environments to avoid unacceptable degradation in mission effectiveness. SSNs must be able to go in harm~ way (e.g., mine infested waters) and conduct difficult operations (e.g., close ASW tracking). They must also be capable of calibrated response capability (in addition to target destruction) to neutralize various threats under restrictive Rules of Engagement .

In summary, U.S. attack submarines have a significant background in Third World operations performing a variety of roles. Enhancing SSN contributions in future contingencies and regional conflicts will require continuing emphasis on high technology solutions. Many of these solutions such as those related to improved mine defenses, utilization of off-board systems, flexible targeting techniques, and ASW tracking of stealthy targets in shallow seas will be beneficial in Soviet as well as Third World conflicts. Our challenge Is to focus more on Third World contingencies and emerging threats and still account for tbe Soviets, Including tbelr possible IDvolvemeut on the opposite side or a future regional conflict.

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