The Applicability of Certain Concepts
As in any post-crisis era, we are awash in Desert Storm lessons learned, lessons not learned, and other analyses, some learned and valid, some self-serving, but aU focused on the meaning of the Gulf Crisis of ’90-91 and about the manner in which the U.S. conducted its operations. In the interest of bringing to our members a submarine perspective on the conflict, we prepared a menu of topics which served as the catalyst for discussion and debate among senior retired submariners conducted at League headquarters in June, 1991. For convenience, a number of the subject areas were condensed and categorized by major theme, or concept. As a starting point for comment and discussion, a brief introductory paragraph was offered, and for each general topic several specific questions were presented.
In addition to Desert Storm originated issues, the continuing Soviet threat and the recently published vision of the future by the Navy Department leadership were both offered as subjects of related interest.
As we have defined and practiced it over the past thirtysome years, this cornerstone of our national security policy has meant that the U.S. must maintain the credible capability to inflict a level of damage to any potential aggressor which is unacceptable to him, and therefore keeps him from acting against our vital interests.
The world has changed from the Cold War days of bi-polar superpower confrontation to a more unstable multi-polar scenario. In fact, it may be a mono-polar world with the U.S. generally responsible for maintaining some semblance of order in situations where United States vital interests are involved. The question is whether or not deterrence is applicable to problems in the Third World.
- Was deterrence applicable to the Gulf situation? H so, was it effectively employed?
- If not, why didn’t the Iraqis continue into Saudi Arabia when they had the chance? Why didn’t they use chemical or biological weapons?
- In general, is deterrence an effective premise for Third World situations?
- How will the U.S. military organizational changes currently being discussed effect our reliance on deterrence? Will this impact on the role of the submarine?
- Will there be an increased role for the strategic submarine (SSBN)? Or for an SSBN with non-nuclear weapons?
- Is the submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) a credible/viable deterrent weapon?
- What improvements to the SLCM system are technically feasable and required to provide a significant contribution to the Navy’s striking force?
Uniqueness of the Gulf War:
The Persian Gulf War was unique in that several significant elements differed fundamentally from campaigns in our recent past, and from those for which we have been planning over the past several decades. Specifically, we bad on scene an accessible and sufficient supply of POL; there were ready-to-use modem airfields and seaport facilities; there was no primary and active sponsor for the enemy, such as the USSR and the PRC had been during our Vietnam operations; we did not have to protect against a major outbreak elsewhere in the world; we had a known and overwhelming technological advantage; etc.
The question here is what lessons should we learn outright – and what lessons are so dependent on that uniqueness that we should ensure they are not indelibly incorporated into our planning, our doctrine, and the lore which makes up the body of our corporate military memory?
- Are there Third World situations (perhaps like Libya) which present circumstances such that the approach, mix and use of force would be much different from that employed in the Gulf?
- How does the geography of Iraq (short coastline, location well inside a restricted seaway, major target sets at a fair range inland, etc.) compare with other probable sites of Third World action for U.S. forces?
There was no submarine threat (nuclear, non-nuclear, real or perceived) to either our combatant sea forces on station in the Gulf theater or to our sea lines of communication. Neither was there a submarine threat which had to be faced during our Vietnam operations.
Does our body of military experience (the general body, not the Submarine Force talking to itself) discount the threat of enemy submarines outside of the Soviet context? If not, does that same body recognize that the best counter to any enemy submarine threat is our own SSN force? Is it?
- How would the presence of an Iraqi submarine force have effected coalition operations? How about the presence of any non-friendly submarines?
- What if Libya (or Algeria, or India) bad taken the same stance as Jordan in support of Iraq, and sent their submarines into the areas through which our insertion/resupply/reinforcement shipping had to pass?
- What if the Soviets had, with unstated intentions, sailed six attack submarines into the Atlantic; or had put even one into the indian Ocean’/
- We have described in general terms the totality of the Third World submarine threat. Have we ever quantified the actual threat we would face in a specific instance?
- How might the Third World submarine threat be described, characterized and/or quantified so that we can use it as a factor to justify force levels’/
Although sea-launched cruise missiles have been present on ships and submarines for several years, they had not been used in a land-attack role until this conflict. Specific Weapons System Effectiveness conclusions await the completion of analyses.
The main question here seems to be whether or not these fairly expensive expendable weapons are to be used on relatively cheap targets.
- Is it valuable to national defense planners to have the potential which a submarine can offer to launch a covert cruise missile attack from an unsuspected/unguarded azimuth?
- Is the concept of strike by unmanned missiles (with follow-on satellite and RPV battle damage assessment) more acceptable than attack by manned aircraft flying in harms way’! If the answer is one of scale, should we be investing in SSGNs loaded with hundreds of sub-launched missiles 85 recommended in the NAVY 21 study’!
- Are the planned improvements in SLCM sufficient to make this a viable weapons system, and are there any other improvements needed’!
- What is the role of the submarine launched land-attack cruise missile, both as a weapon in Third World conflicts and 85 a deterrent to big war? (Surgical Strike or shore bombardment’!)
- Can the SLCM system reduce the attrition of U.S. and allied aircraft ships and manpower in Third World conflicts’!
The Gulf forces were not prepared to handle the Iraqi mine threat. It is believed that Third World countries will likely use mines as an inexpensive and effective deterrent to naval operations in their regional waters. What mine warfare role can submarines perform in future Third World contingencies to counter the mine threat’!
- Will submarine launched unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) be helpful in countering the mine threat?
- Could submarine-borne special operating forces (SOF) be useful in clearing shallow water and beach approaches for amphibious operations?
The Impact of Gulf Lessons on Force Structure:
Can the multi-faceted capability of the modem attack submarine gain credibility and recognition in the wake of this victory, as force levels are reduced, weapon stocks are drawn down and joint operations are heralded as the way of the future?
- Will the presence ofPGMs (Precision Guided Munitions) and unmanned vehicles such as the Pioneer RPV have a long-term effect on force levels? That is, will there be a force-offset for increased use of smart and remotely operated weapons systems? Will that offset be considered as part of the 25% drawdown now in the works or will it be in excess of that?
- Will the man-in-the-loop be a mandatory requirement for the U.S. main strike force?
- Can the submarine maintain a credible role in near-war embargoes, war-time blockades and/or non-crises presence?
Command. Control, Communications and Intelligence (C3I):
There is a general perception among Fleet and Task Force Commanders that operations with submarines pose problems because of communications, safety, water management, targeting, mission planning, etc., and that submarines are not sufficiently responsive to Battle Group and Operational Commander’s requirements.
Is this a real problem or a lack of understanding of the requirements and operational procedures that have been so successful?
What, in general, should be done to upgrade eli architecture to permit submarines to be more responsive to the operational commanders?
Submarine Value Added:
The Submarine Force can claim, justifiably, a multi-mission capability and platform cost-effectiveness as a result of a wide spectrum of utility in very diverse scenarios (with or without air superiority). Among those capabilities are Anti-Submarine Warfare, SOF delivery, mining, intelligence collection and surveillance, and increasingly, our contributions to Strike Warfare.
Could these have been better utilized in the Desert Shield and/or Desert Storm operations?
- How useful are these current capabilities?
- How should submarine capabilities be enhanced for use in Third World contingencies?
- Which of the following add-on possibilities would warrant investment in full-scale development?
• Submarine covert minefield neutralization.
• Submarine launched and controlled Unmanned Air Vehicle for recon, RDA, comms relay, etc.
• Soft-kill UUV for use in disabling ships attempting to run a blockade or breach a maritime exclusion area.
• Large, long-range swimmer delivery vehicle that would give the submarine a stand-off capability to insert at least a squad-size force.
• Enhancement of the submarine launched land attack cruise missile.
The real question is how can the SSN make a major contribution to naval warfare In the future?
The Importance of the Continuing Threat
The general perception in the U.S. is that the Soviet threat has been significantly reduced, in terms of intent if not in capability; a result of a lack of coherent leadership caused by preoccupation with internal Soviet economic and political problems. To the extent that trends in capability reflect underlying intentions however, it must be recognized that the Soviet submarine capability is continuing to grow: in 1989 they launched nine submarines and in 1990 they launched ten. No knowledgeable observer disagrees that by the year 2000 the Soviets will have a very modern, though slightly smaller, submarine force, most of which will have been built since 1970. They will have about 60 SSNs, 40 to 50 SSGNs, 40 or so SSBNs and 60+ diesels.
Although no Soviet submarines played a part in the Gulf War, should this force be considered a potential threat to our participation in Third World events for at least the next 10 to 15 years?
- Is the assumption of an improvement in overall Soviet submarine capability (and therefore threat) valid? Is the threat to our vital interests great enough to continue to justify priority investment in ASW by the U.S. Navy?
- How can this threat be quantified and explained to the U.S. public, media and Congress?
- For a specific example, what would have been the effect on Desert Shield/Desert Storm if the Soviets had not been cooperative and their submarine force had been positioned in the vicinity of our sea lines of communication?
THE WAY AHEAD and the future of the Submarine Force.
The Secretary of the Navy, Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps recently published ~ WAY AHEAD, their vision of the future based on the President’s statement of the four major elements of our defense policy: deterrence, forward presence, crisis response and force reconstitution. They supported a Navy of approximately 450 ships, discussed reduced tensions, changed length and locations of deployments, and reduced levels of specific forces. They cited the near term requirements upon which they have to base decisions as: affordability, capability, industrial base, technology advantage — and people (quality of life and morale).
The Ultimate Question
Given this outline of the future, and the lessons emerging from the Persian Gulf conflict, how do you see the Submarine Force, its opportunities and its pitfalls, as it wends its way through the ’90s and into the 21st century? As to:
Roles – Advanced Cruise Missiles
Missions – Sub Launched RPVs
Levels – Integration with other Forces
Capabilities – Perceptions
The ability of submarines to reduce attrition of friendly forces in Third World Conflicts .
Any other points?