Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


Naval Postgraduate School
Monterey, Colifornia


Dr. Tritten is an Associate Professor in the National Security Affairs Department at the Naval Postgraduate School. Professor Tritten holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Southern California. He is the recipient ofthe Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Literary Achievement from the Navy League ofthe United States and two prize essay medals from the U.S. Naval Institute. He is cumntly engaged in research for the Director of Naval lnteUigence.


Roles for the armed forces of the United States are being recast into a more benign international security environ-ment that will change service and combat arms roles and missions as well as influence our worldwide command and control structure. These new environments will result in both diminished roles as well as new opportunities to exercise submarines to their full potential

There are a few general approaches to arguments which justify maintaining a submarine force. One approach is to concentrate on the deployed and emerging technologies and argue for the most capable submarine that can be built. Another approach is to concentrate on stated requirements.

Strategic Planning

Planners today are faced with the unenviable task of attempting to adjust to near-simultaneous changes in aU three elements (threat, goals and resources) that drive strategy. This strategic planning construct drives the roles and missions of the future fleet.

Our new regional defense strategy is very much top-down and driven by budgets and the breakup of the Soviet empire. The 1990 budget summit’s 25% reduction over five years was due to Congress watching the old threat crumble and the perceived need to reallocate resources from defense to other sectors of the budget. The President’s new strategic concept was developed in response to the budget agreement rather than as a result of a long-term formal, bottom-up study involving the inputs of the CinCs and services that focused on goals, objec-tives, or available technologies.

The Base Force, therefore, was designed to support the new national security strategy which was developed to fit within the agreed 25% budget reduction. The new regionally-focused defense strategy does not ask the armed forces to perform missions which the Bose Force cannot handle. Scenarios associated with the new regional defense strategy call for programmed responses that can be met by forces that do not exceed the Base Force. The submarine force’s future program-ming roles and missions, by the same token, derive from budget assumptions rather than serve as an input to them.

Submarine program planning, therefore, revolves around on nppreciotfon for a changed threat perception, a new regionally-focused defense strategy, and the resource limits of the Bose Force.

Military Threats

The direct military threat to Western Europe that drove program planning for years has simply gone away. On the other hand, there obviously are existing Russian and other former Soviet republics’ nuclear and conventional capabilities still facing the United States and its allies and which far exceed those necessary for self-defense. Existing allied and American forces meet that challenge and interim plans will govern their use during the transition period from the confrontational world of the 1980s to the programmed world of 1995 and beyond. The real problem is to be largely focused on the programming world of 1995 and beyond, and not on the residual threats facing current forces today.

Resurgent/Emergent Global Threat

Leaks of the administration’s planning scenarios in the February 17, 1992 New York Times indicate that the Pentagon may be using the phrase “resurgent/emergent global threat” (REGT) to describe a generic (non-Russian/Soviet) threat which requires a U.S. global war fighting capability similar to that of our military force structure of the 1980s.

Within the new strategy construe~ programmed forces for a global war, and perhaps even a major regional war, are put into the category of reconstitution; i.e. wholly new forces that are developed once strategic warning is recognized and appropriate decisions are made. According to the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (VJCS), “…we can now expect eight-to-ten years’ warning (emphasis added) time, in which to reconstitute larger forces.”

The point to all this is that for programming purposes, the strategy does not require the military to develop active or even reserve forces to meet the challenge of the old European-centered global war. The new missions for the adive and reserve progrummed ron:e are, instead, strategic deterrence and defense, forward presence, aDd crisis response.

Regional Threats

Threats less than that of a global war, generally assumed in the past to be handled by forces procured to globally fight the former Soviet Union, now occupy the mainstream of program-ming warfighting contingencies. A series of conventional conflict scenarios used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff were contained in the 1991 Joint Milital}’ Net Assessment (JMNA). These threats range from generic counterinsurgency (COIN) to lesser regional contingencies (LRC), to major regional contin-gencies (MRC). An MRC might, if not properly handled, escalate into a regional war. Regional war Is not viewed as a smaller version or the old global war.

The point to be made is that current discussions of wars or crises in Europe do not contain any discussion of responses that shift the conflict to a new theater or sub-theater as geographic escalation over time.

A complete schematic of programming military threats based upon administration sources and the leaked scenarios is contained in Figure 1.

The LRC threat scenarios are at the tactical-level of warfare, not the operational-level of warfare.

The Navy and the submarine force must be able to explain how their traditional operations and missions support scenarios such as these in the programming world of today.

View full article for table data

All of the MRCs, including the European contingency and war, present threats at the operational-level of warfare — below the strategic-level of warfare.1

Planning Goals and ObJectives

The new regionally-focused defense strategy has four elements: (1) strategic deterrence and defense, (2) forward presence, (3) crisis response, and (4) reconstitution. Although the first three of these appear to be terms with which we are well familiar, a careful reading of the administration’s words on these subjects reveals significant differences that will impact on fleet and submarine programming.

Strategic Deterrence and Defense

The cornerstone of American defense strategy will remain deterrence of aggression and coercion against the U.S., its allies, and friends.

One new area for strategic nuclear warfare will be to respond flexibly to lower levels of aggression. Strategic defenses can be effective in countering the growing threat of ballistic missiles from nations other than the former USSR. Indeed, Secretary Cheney used the term “extended protection” instead of “extended Deterrence” in his 1992 Congressional testimony when he referred. to the role of deterrent forces providing coverage for American friends and allies.

Forward Presence

According to Secretary Cheney’s February 1991 Congres-sional testimony, the U.S. will also devise a dynamic peacetime engagement strategy to deter low intensity conflict and support international stability. The August 1991 National Security StrateK)’ of the United States says that the U.S. “…cannot be the world’s policeman with responsibility for solving all the world’s security problems.” Indeed, America’s presence and crisis response role under the new national security strategy should not be akin to that of a policeman but rather a fireman. The U .S. armed forces will participate in that strategy largely in the form of overseas presence.

Expanded definitions of presence should be viewed as attempts by the administration to ensure that all planned future activities will satisfy the requirement to maintain an overseas presence with a smaller force, the Base Force. Simply put under the new grammar, presence no longer primarily conjures up the image or forward-deployed combat.capable forces.

Generally, the submarine force has been excluded from American discussions on presence and naval diplomacy. Foreign governments, however, have not always turned a blind eye to our including submarines in foreign exercises or in port visits. An argument to include submarines as a presence force will not be accepted easily by other parts of the Navy or even other services or the Departments Clf Defense or State. Presence as a mission for the submarine force will not be a force builder and will not drive the problem unless It is tied to an effective concurrent role iD crisis response.

Crisis Response

There is a risk that the end of the Cold War may bring an increased risk of regional conflicts and greater unpredictability in the international security environment Today’s crises are extremely dangerous due to the proliferation of advanced weaponry and weapons of mass destruction and the demonstrat-ed willingness of Third World nations to use them.

U.S. crisis response forces will provide presence and the ability to reinforce with adequate forces to prevent a potentially major crisis from escalating or to resolve favorably less demand-ing regional conflicts. The U.S. crisis response strategy focuses on the use of decisive force for swift termination and containing the conflict to the theater of origin.

Naval crisis response goals have been descn’bed as using peacetime presence forces to respond to a crisis area within seven days. Forward-deployed and surge forces are expected to combine into Expeditionary Strike Fletlts within thirty days. If the crisis is not contained by these efforts, the combined air, land, and sea forces would be organized within sixty days.

The submarine force must explain bow its traditional operations and missions support contingency operations such as these in the programming world of today.


A fundamental component of the President’s new national security strategy is that, assuming a significant warning of a Europe-centered global war, the U.S. can generate wholly new forces – rebuild or “reconstitute” them if necessary — in order to deter aggression. Reconstitution is considered as the ability to provide a deterrent against a REGT, not necessarily a 1980s global warfighting capability.

The Base Force

The Base Force, or the new force structure advocated by General Colin L Powell, USA. CJCS, will be organized into four basic military cmponents: Strategic nuclear offensive and defensive; Atlantic; Pacific; and a Contingency Force.

The Strategic Force

According to the START Treaty, and under President Bush’s 1992 State of the Union proposal, the U.S. will deploy ten OHIO-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines {SSBNs) with the TRIDENT II (D-5) missile and the first eight OHIO class with the older TRIDENT I (C-4) SLBM. These actions are consistent with a direction in favor of relying primarily on SSBNs with a survivable, non-prompt, counter-value targeting strategy.

In his February 1991 testimony to Congress and subsequent written report to Congress, Secretary Cheney outlined a reorientation of the Strategic Defense Initiative {SDI) to a system of Global Protection Against Limited Strikes {GPALS) providing protection from limited ballistic missile strikes against the U.S., its forces overseas, and friends and allies– indicating that it would be space, ground, and sea-based. There is no reason that the submarine force cannot be a major contributor to the sea-based component of GPALS.

The Atlantic Force

The Atlantic Force will include residual forces in Europe, those forward-deployed to Europe and Southwest Asia {SWA), and the continental U.S.-based reinforcing force (including heavy ground forces). This force would be responsible for Europe, the Middle East, and SWA.

To set the Atlantic Force into the context of the missions outlined in the new regional defense strategy, we find the following military forces recommended by the administration in early 1992:

  • Presence – One corps with two divisions, slightly more than three Air Force fighter wing equivalents (FWEs ), one carrier battle group {CVBG), a Marine Expeditionary Unit {MEU), and prepositioned material in Europe; one carrier battle group (CVBG), a MEU, some air defense batteries, and prepositioned material in SWA. Presumably the Navy’s current Middle East Force is also included.
  • Crisis Response – three AC roundup divisions, 6 RC divisions, 2 AC FWEs, 6 RC FWEs, 4 CVBGs, and 1 Marine Expeditionary Force {MEF).
  • Reconstitution — 2 RC cadre divisions, 1 training carrier, 32 frigates, and probably the Marine Corps Reserve component.

The Atlantic Force would be responsible for the most demanding scenario — that of an European crisis escalating into a regional war. According to the Washington Post report of the DPG, in this scenario, the U.S. would spearhead a NATO counterattack with a minimal force of 7 1/3 heavy Army divisions, a MEF, 49 Air Force squadrons, and 6 CVBGs. After 89 days of combat, including 21 days of very high intensity counterattack, NATO was expected to win.

The Pacific Force

To set the Pacific Force into the context of the missions outlined in the new national security strategy, we find the following military forces recommended by the administration in early 1992:

  • Presence – Slightly less than one division and one FWE in Korea; slightly more than one FWE and one home-based CVBG in Japan; a MEF headquarters and a MEB on Japanese territory; and a forward-deployed at-sea MEU.
  • Crisis Response – one AC light division, 1 reduced capabili-ty RC division, 1 AC FWE, 5 CVBGs, and 1 MEB.

The Pacific Force will be responsible for the MRC in Korea. The U.S. response included 5 Army divisions, 2 MEFs, 20 Air Force squadrons, and 5 CVBGs. U.S. and Korean forces are expected to win after 91 days of combat, including days of very high intensity counterattack.

Contingency Force

Perhaps the most dramatic innovation of the Chairman’s recommended force structure is the idea of a Contingency Force based in the continental U.S. {CONUS). For the present, existing CinCs will still retain their own forward-stationed and deployed forces for immediate contingency response. CONUS-based contingency forces will be available, as a quick-response force, to assist CinCs as well as to provide significant conven-tional capabilities for those areas of the world not covered by the Atlantic or Pacific Forces.

According to General Powell’s Congressional testimony in September 1991, the Army will commit 5 divisions and the Air Force 7 wings to the Contingency Force. A MEF, most of the rapid response sealift and inter-theater airlift will also be available to the Contingency Force. The Navy will apparently provide dual-committed forces from the Atlantic and Pacific Forces. Special operations forces (SO F) appear to have a role both with the Contingency Force and the CinCs.

It appears that the forward-deployed Atlantic and Pacific forces will perform tactical-level crisis response while the reinforcing units assigned to these forces and the Contingency Force are primarily dedicated to the operational-level of warfare. Most of these forward deployed crisis response forces will probably remain maritime forces and there is no reason to ignore the capabilities that the submarine force can bring to bear. The sea services should, however, be prepared to participate in joint crisis response operations with light Army divisions, Air Force composite wings, and SOF.

With their advantage of speed and endurance, forward-deployed submarine forces might well be the first maritime forces on the scene.

Bose Force Revisions

The concept of the Base Force precedes that of the DPG associated scenarios. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the sizes of the military responses associated with each of the scenarios do not exceed that contained in the overall Base Force. If the Base Force is dependent upon a strategy that is largely budget driven, then the existing scenarios are subject to considerable fluctuation if the 25% budget agreement fails to hold.

Despite the best efforts of the administration to hold the line at the Base Force, there have already been public discussions of possible revisions to the composition of the Base Force. The administration has already said that the number of attack submarines will not remain at 80. An on-going JCS submarine requirements study will report out with some number less than navy flag officers have recently hinted at numbers like 50-65, while recent Congressional debate seems to center between 20-50.

In this election year, it appears that the administration is attempting to hold the line at the 25% budget cut by daring Congress to take the actions that might put more ex-servicemen and defense contractors on the street and in the unemployment lines. One might conclude that no matter who wins the elections in November 1992, the military will be cut again. Either Congress will take the initiative in order to fund domes-tic programs which it views with a higher priority, or the re-elected or a new administration will recommend cuts again. The Base Force, which was originally viewed as the ceiling for the new force structure, has become a temporary floor. At best, it will survive until the elections of 1992.

The challenge for industry is not to make submarines more capable and quieter but rather to find ways to reduce prices without sacrificing our technological edge. This is not a minor challenge and will take our best and tbe brightest.

Exercising the Submarine Force to its Fullest Potential

The submarine force of the future  must consider a  new international security environment, a major change in overall roles and missions for the armed forces, and a greatly con-strained ftscal environment It must also be designed in line with the new emphasis on jointness.

Submarine Forces for Strategic Deterrence and Defense.

The mission of day-to-day deterrence is gradually being assumed more by the submarine force. The new U.S. Strategic Command will involve Navy assets.

The submarine force will have a continued important role to play in the verification of arms control agreements and the unilateral measures being taken in our great disarmament race. All too often, non-specialists equate national technical means (NTMs) of verification solely to unmanned overhead systems without a recognition of the key role played by the undersea service.

Strategic Offensive Forces

The U.S. has not yet announced a basic shift in nuclear targeting, but clearly such a shift must be contemplated. As we reduce in overall warheads, our strategic nuclear forces will be unable to seTVice all the military, leadership, and other targets associated with our countervailing strategy and we will be forced to consider a shift to countervalue targeting. If the U.S. shifts to countervalue, non-time-urgent targeting, there will be no reason to retain a land-based or air-breathing nuclear force — nuclear deterrence can and should be totally accomplished by the sea-based force.

As we reduce the overall numbers of strategic nuclear warheads, and if we simultaneously place more emphasis on our sea-based forces, there will be those that again raise the issue of the few numbers of SSBNs being magnets for attack since the payoff could be so high. In the new international security environment, the burden of proof is on detractors who need to demonstrate that an at-sea threat exists to the OHIO-class SSBN. It surely does not exist today. We will need to monitor, however, the evolving technologies of foreign nations and take the obvious prudent steps necessary to ensure that our deter-rent forces at sea remain invulnerable.

Strategic Defensive Forces

The President’s restructuring of SDI into a mobile OPALS may not be a viable program if one assumes an even more austere fJScal climate. Submarines carrying mobile theater or strategic ballistic defenses are but one possibility for the future. Submarines deployed well-forward offer the opportunity to catch a ballistic missile in its relatively vulnerable boost phase where an interception would net all warheads and not just one. Related missions could include submarine-launched satellites as attrition fillers or the use of submarines for anti-satellite attack.

The dispersal of Russian SSBNs, and other nuclear offensive forces, from known peacetime locations can be used by the Russian government or CIS during a crisis to send a message of political resolve. With fewer nuclear warheads expected in the Russian arsenal in the future, the U.S. must consider strategic ASW more seriously than when each side had over 10,000 warheads to manage.

But one can make a strong case that strategic ASW as a declaratory programming mission should be dropped. The only real programming threat that requires attacks against enemy SSBNs is the REGT. Despite our programmed threats and programmed response, however, if a global war were to actually occur, our submarine force would and should be tasked with the conduct of strategic ASW.

One should also consider how high in priority strategic ASW is in the programming crisis/contingency scenarios developed previously. The issue is one of priorities: do we approach the problem from the perspective of what submarines are currently optimized for, or do we deal with the threat, strategy, and fJScal resources that we have been given. Submarine Forces for Forward Presence

Admiral Frank Kelso’s 1991 annual report talked in terms of fourteen SSNs on forward deployment with a Base Force of 450 ships. If the total numbers of ships or simply the total numbers of submarines is reduced, it will be difficult to sustain such high numbers on forward presence.

The obvious other alternative is a higMow mix. The French Navy has maintained a forward presence for years in the South Pacific and used low-capability units to accomplish this mission. This option will need to be considered for the fleet, in full recognition that these forces will have little or no combat capability for crises or in war.

The issue here is the new, less robust, words that the administration has associated with the phrase presence and whether the submarine force wishes to participate under those terms. The risk, of course, is that the submarine required will have only a marginal military capability. The benefit is that the numbers of units will be greater with a higMow mix.

The U.S. maintains a strategic nuclear deterrent and shore bombardment presence in the world that is significant and often overlooked. Are there opportunities to make the submarine force more visible and help reassure allies? Are there opportu-nities for standing regional naval forces, outside of NATO, in our new regionally-focused defense strategy?

Submarine Forces for Crisis Response

Crisis response, in an era of no significant opposition on the high seas, means that the Oeet can assume an essentially unopposed transit to the area of conflict and shift its emphasis to power projection ashore. The focus for naval warfare’s battle space has shifted to the littoral. This power projection will be at the operational and tactical levels of warfare and set into the context of a joint response — not the old “Navy/Marine Corps Team.” The submarine force must now become an integral part of the “Air Land Battle” as well as battle group defense.

Forward-deployed submarines can arrive in a crisis area rapidly and be positioned to launch unmanned surveillance systems and deliver shore bombardment prior to the arrival of the Air Force composite wing or the Navy CVBG. Submarines are the best platforms for the rapid search and location of foreign submarines that must be identified prior to the introduc-tion of an amphibious ready group. Simply put, the submarine can accomplish the limited sea superiority that will be required for LRCs or even initially in an MRC.

Submarines have been generally underrated for their contribution to presence and crisis response. The submarine force will need to fund the studies that will correct that perception. Rather than just focus on the ability to respond. however. naval officers should also obtain the historical short-term and long-term political effect of the commitment of various types of armed forces before they have the President asking “Where are the submarines?” instead of “where are the carriers?” The submarine force must also explain the historical role that it has played in successfully resolving past crises — not just responding to them.

Submarine Forces for Reconstitution

Perhaps the most controversial aspect for the future subma-rine force will be its role in reconstitution. With a lengthening of the warning time for a REGT to 8-10 years and the lack of a high seas threat over the next decade that cannot be handled by the Improved LOS ANGELES class submarine. keeping the existing industrial base intact will be extremely difficult. Industry and the submarine force will need to present new alternatives for keeping critical skills honed and our deployed technology ahead of any potential competitor.

The whole subject of decision-making and reconstitution is one that does not bode well for actual responses to an REGT. The armed forces should develop contingency plans for a response to an REGT that does not include courageous decision-making by democratic governments and the need to provide a rapid deterrent response.

Traditional Roles and Missions

This paper has largely been cast in terms that are new to most submarine officers. That has been done by design. The old Cold War logic of warfare has changed. We must now change the grammar as well.

The submarine force appears to be a key element in our overall new national security strategy. It has a premiere role in deterrence that most of us both understand and can foretell. The submarine force also has major roles to play in presence and crisis response.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League