RETROSPECTION AND PROJECTION
In an attempt to depict where we have come with our attack submarine force, I enlisted the aid of two veteran submariners, Ken Cox and Tom Maloney, and asked them to rate the U.S. Submarine Force’s capabilities to accomplish pertinent missions at five-year intervals starting with 1950. Capabilities in each of six mission areas (anti-submarine warfare, intelligence collection, special warfare, offensive mining, anti-surface warfare, and land attack or strike) were scored on a scale of 0 to 10 for each mission area versus the global threat that existed at each time. The result, admittedly subjective, is shown in Figure 1, where some of the major factors and systems that influenced the capabilities are noted.
The introduction of nuclear propulsion over the 1955 to 1965 period resulted in a major increase in capabilities for all missions, while both sensor system (e.g., BQQ-2; towed arrays; BQQ-5} and weapon system (e.g., MK-48 Torpedo; anti-ship cruise missiles) introductions provided selective improvements. We show a capability reduction due to the Soviet quieting efforts of the 1980’s along with the emergence of strike as a viable mission with the introduction of submarine-launched TOMAHAWK cruise missiles. Our projection for the decade ahead shows continued increase of capabilities due to the introduction of the SSN-21, but a decrease in special warfare capabilities with the expected decommissioning of the SSN-637 long hulls.
The point of this is not to quibble about the validity of our specific ratings, but to illustrate the overall trends. What we see is a dramatic increase in capabilities (about three-fold from 1950 to 1990) despite the evolution of a formidable Soviet threat during that period. (We have not attempted to rate the Soviet capabilities in the same fashion, but estimate that their overall score on the same basis went from 5 or less in 1950 to about 25 in 1990).
At what cost? Using Ship Construction, Navy (SCN) funding as a surrogate for overall costs, we find, in constant dollars (Figure 2), that (at least for the period for which data were readily available), the attack submarine part of the budget is fairly constant at about $2B a year. The message is that our capabilities, versus a steadily growing threat, increased nearly three-fold with an essentially constant expenditure rate. That’s a remarkable achievement.
What you can do with the attack submarine is only part of the story. The other part is what you need to do with it. The need to do is driven by world events, the political situation, and the threat at any given time. Again, in each five-year snapshot, we estimated the relative emphasis on each mission of the U.S. attack submarine force (Figure 3). For example, in 1950, we said that 55% of the emphasis was ASUW and only about 15% ASW. Things changed. The Soviets started developing a bluewater navy including a large and capable submarine force of SSs, SSGs, and SSBs followed shortly by SSNs, SSGNs, and SSBNs. This resulted in ASW rising in importance. It’s not that ASUW decreased in importance in absolute terms, but when ASW rose in importance (as it did over the 70’s and SO’s), something had to give within a 100% total. A new trend developed in the 1980’s with the emergence of Strike as a major submarine mission. In fact, our projection says that Strike and ASW will be equal in importance somewhere around the year 2000.
The total story is the combination of these two things: what you can do and what you need to do with the attack submarine. To illustrate this, I have arbitrarily defined a quantity called dominance, which is simply the product of capability (on a 0 to 10 scale) from Figure 1, and emphasis (in percent) from Figure 3.The idea is to see what was driving the submarine force and what will be driving it If you designed a submarine in the 70’s, according to this analysis, it was driven very much by ASW along with intelligence gathering and ASUW considerations. Importantly, however, it still had to be capable of the other missions.
But if you look beyond the 1990’s, in the year 2000, we find much more equal importance attached to the various missions than ever before. Thus, the attack submarine force of the future will Deed more, Dot less, multi-mission capability.
Accompanying these multi-mission needs is a whole new strategic environment. As laid out by President Bush, our new national military strategy rests on the four pillars of deterrence, forward presence, crisis response, and force reconstitution. The militacy forces to implement that strategy must be flexible, capable of precise attack, and have assured survivability and global reach (range, endurance, mobility). Any objective analysis of this strategy calls for an increased naval role and a crucial role for submarines, which have exactly the above characteristics.
The relative importance of the ballistic missile submarine fleet will increase both for us and for the Soviets. This makes our counter-strategic force, principally an SSN function, of increasing national importance. The strategy of maintaining a forward presence and being able to respond to distant crises calls for control of the sea lanes – the submarine force is vital.
Indications and trends are that regional conflicts that would involve U.S. military participation are increasingly likely in the future. While many nations can buy or build rather effective AA W and ASUW systems, at this point and hopefully for the foreseeable future, the nations of likely concern cannot field effective ASW systems except for mining of their local waters.
The emergence of regional conflict scenarios suggests that we need new measures of effectiveness for attack submarines. The frequently used exchange ratios are meaningless in most, if not all, regional conflict scenarios. The numbers of units involved in plausible conflicts do not support meaningful exchange ratios. More importantly, in foreseeable scenarios, the U.S. cannot afford to lose any submarines. Similarly, the concepts of loose trail and fractional holding times lose pertinence.
So the challenge facing the submarine community is to provide multi-mission capabilities, where all of the missions are vitally important, while maintaining effective ASW capabilities against a still-improving Soviet threat, while adding new roles associated with regional conflicts all within the constraints of decreasing resources. Now that’s a challenge!
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
Plausible ingredients of a strategy to meet the challenge are affordability, risk minimization, and inter-operability. Adfordability dominates the defense procurement scene these days, not just in submarines. Everyone’s hope is that technology advances will result in lower costs, either through lower acquisition costs, greater reliability or more automation. So far, however, any loser costs due to technologically improved submarine designs, components, and production processes have been overshadowed by the demands in increased performance and associated complexity, particularly in combat systems. Can this be turned around? Also, we lack a credible life cycle cost model for submarines to be able to demonstrate that technology introductions that result, for example, in reduced maintenance costs, really are cost-effective in the long run. The submarine community’s efforts in this area appear to be inferior to what the aircraft community has accomplished.
Other approaches to affordability that have been proposed are single purpose submarines for either strike or regional conflicts and reconfigurable submarines. The problem with the former concept is a classical one for Navies or for that matter, for any forces that have long lead, construction, and service times. Designing a submarine for specific missions far in the future generally demands a degree of prescience that is not achievable, and in any event runs orthogonal to the conclusion reached earlier in this note regarding the need for multi-mission capability. The concept of configurability, wherein the submarine has a core ASW/ASUW capability augmented by missionspecific modules, is borrowed from aircraft Whether the obvious differences in sizes, weights, accessibility, sensor requirements, reconfiguration time-lines, and world-wide logistics chains permit application of the concept to submarines remains to be demonstrated. It appears to this author that affordability will have to be addressed as a classical trade-off between numbers of units and cost/capability of each unit, all within a multi-mission framework.
Risk minimization is driven simultaneously by the likelihood that regional conflicts will arise wherein a submarine role is called for, while politics and populace preclude losses, as well as by the sheer cost and manning level of the platform itself. Fruitful areas for research and development include mine avoidance, longer-reach sensors (e.g., bistatic low frequency active acoustics), stand-off weapons to go with the longer reach sensors, and off-loading of high-risk functions onto unmanned vehicles, either tethered or autonomous.
Finally, increased submarine interoperability with both surface and air assets is in the offing, especially in regional conflict scenarios. Enhancements in the submarine’s value and roles are on the horizon in ASW, anti-ship and land strike missions. Two developments that would accelerate progress in this area are improved covert two-way communications and improved near-real-time targeting for land strike.
The challenge now facing the U.S. attack submarine community is unique and as stressing as any faced within the second half of the twentieth century. A still-improving Soviet capability that must be countered, preparation for plausible assignments to regional conflicts including a need for assured survivability, along with more emphasis on a full spectrum of multi-mission capabilities all come at a time of unprecedented pressure to reduce expenditures. Tough choices need to be made while opportunities need to be pursued in affordability, risk minimization, and interoperability. Thankfully, the effectiveness of the accomplishments of the past forty years bodes well for the community’s ability to meet and beat the challenge.
Dr. Hoglund is Staff Yice President, Undersea Warfare Center of General Dynamics Corporation. He is a fonner Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy.]