Commentators on defense matters have a tendency to deal with communications as a singular mechanism in isolation from the ends being accomplished by the operational process in which it acts. Dealing with communications in isolation from the scenario, task and process is a continuing source of serious error. Before describing what a communications system ought to be able to do, one must be clear as to the forces to be supported, the scenario in which they are to operate, and the command and control (c2) process which will control them.
Because these considerations are difficult to predict and define, they are often ignored. Though communications for infantry battalions are manifestly different than for fighter planes, such distinctions are often missing in analyzing requirements. In particular, communications supporting submarines are often characterized as difficult or impossible without regard to the mission to be performed or the command and control process appropriate to the forces to be employed.
No more serious error exists in the command and control field than that made by those who prescribe requirements for sea based strategic forces identical to those for land based forces. The most glaring example of this failure is translating the need to launch bombers and ICBMs quickly before they are destroyed in an attack (launch under attack) to demands for two way instantaneous full time communication to submarines which are invulnerable. Communications supporting ballistic missile submarines ON ALERT bind those weapons as tightly to the National Command Authority as any Launch Control Center in Wyoming or Missouri. But the procedures for submarines are as different from those used to control SAC’s bombers and missiles as the geography of the sea is different from the land. Those who expect the communications which support the two to be the same don’t understand the process of either.
Communications are an integral part of a particular command and control process. The whole process needs to be examined and understood before one can make judgements on the utility of any part of it. The procedures and arrangements of military command and control vary with the forces involved, react to different scenarios in different ways, and need communications based as much on tactical doctrine as on equipment or technology. The end-to-end command process includes not only the forces and their commanders but also the environments in which the process will operate and the scenarios in which it will play.
The interaction by radio of armored forces’ commanders in Desert Storm would have been markedly different had there been an opposing Electronic Warfare (EW) structure which could have targeted and exploited those transmissions. Command and control and communications (CJ) processes differ with each scenario, each environment, and in some ways with individual commanders. The function of doctrine and training is to create a cJ process able to perform adequately in the widest ranges of situations within the physical limits of environment and equipment. To generalize one situation into a requirement applicable to all invariably leads to error.
A careful examination of communication systems supporting various forces discloses that submarine communications appear very robust, adaptable to a wide range of scenarios and with fewer limitations than most. This analysis holds even when faced with the inability to transmit messages throughout the submarine’s entire operating envelope or to receive high data rate messages while fast and deep or under the ice. In the past twenty years, technological advances have given submarines some communications capability even in these most limiting situations.
A major reason that submarine communications are so capable is that the C2 process in which they operate demands much less of its communications than arrangements controlling other forces. In submarine C2, there exists a very large data base which is common to the commander and commanded. This data base is not only informational but cultural. As data bases in interacting nodes grow, the amount of communications needed to connect them decreases. If two entities had infinitely large data bases, there would be no need to ever exchange data – both would know everything. Moving away from this ideal, information exchange increases in relation to the differences between the data bases. If, as in the case with most submarine operations, the data base difference is usually ONLY new information, then the amount of data exchange required is small. Furthermore, creating rule-based systems for operations and information exchange, as submariners have, makes negative information useful. Such arrangements allow conclusions to be drawn without information being exchanged overtly.
Submarine command and control processes capitalize on these features. Rule-based systems for operations provide positive knowledge to the initiated. “How do you know the submarine is there?” asks the General. “Because he didn’t tell me he wasn’t!” replies the Submarine Operating Authority. This sort of procedure is second nature to those working in artificial intelligence but is rare in other militacy environments. Such mechanisms work where the common data base is cultural as well as informational. Here the process of command becomes more important in determining the type and nature of communications than the type or nature of the data to be exchanged. In his book Command. Control. and the Common Defense, (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1990) Lieutenant Colonel C. Kenneth Allard, USA, examines the phenomena in detail. He points out the limits of jointness and demonstrates the additional burden on a ~ process when commanders are not familiar with the tactics or competent in the disciplines of the missions being conducted. Submariners have long recognized this difficulty. The processes for submarine ~ are best exploited by commanders who are submariners. The cultural bond between commander and commanded is vital in exploiting the advantages a common data base provides while intrinsic to limiting communications between the parties. Such schemes are not unique to submarines: special forces and spies demand similar considerations.
The common data base feature helps explain the effectiveness of a command and control process which uses what appears to be one way communications. This is perhaps the least well understood feature of the submarine command and control process because it seems foreign to other ~systems, particularly those constructed by less well trained and disciplined forces or which support more loosely organized hierarchies. The model for the submarine system is not the telephone but commercial broadcast radio. Management of American farms has depended on radio-delivered weather and farm price reports for years. Traffic reports in all large cities influence vehicular flow in the event of accidents or other impediments. In these scenarios, hundreds of independent decisions are made without any acknowledgement of either information received or the actions decided.
Submarine communications have grown over the past 40 years to provide for a multiplicity of paths and mechanisms. Their equipments are adaptable to a wide range of missions. Critics often draw scenarios to illustrate fragility of submarine communications by presuming the submarine is performing one task while creating requirements appropriate to a different mission. A submarine is fast and deep while the war breaks out so he is ignorant of tlult for (fill in the blank) hours. Such descriptions are created to show how submarines are inadequate for some task or as justification for expensive equipments to fill a particularly narrow mission.
But in describing the communication systems to be needed, one must be careful to define the missions and the environment in which they will be used. In Third World Conflict/Limited Intensity Conflict (TWC/LIC), not only is the submarine most likely to be operating in the near surface boundary but there will not be any ASW threat In this, as in the vast majority of situations needing real-time two-way communications between submarine and the next echelon, no ASW threat worthy of the name exists. Reasonable antenna exposure will be perfectly acceptable and constant antenna exposure may be the norm. Submariners have overstated the threat to themselves by antenna exposure – even in the presence of a good ASW capability. All who have worked against American surface and air ASW forces – the world’s best — know from experience that the probability of detection of masts and antennae by surface and air ASW forces is relatively low.
Command and control and communications (cl) is a package. When examined together, submarine cl is as good as, and in many instances superior to, other American military cl systems. The large common experiential and doctrinal data base permit low data rate communications to be adequate and limit requirements for transmissions from front line forces to a minimum. The redundant and repetitive paths for communications provide a reliability and adaptability which is the envy of other services and warfare specialties. The careful screening of information sent to the ships on the one hand, and the conscious effort to provide all useful information to the ship at sea on the other, avoids data constipation and the need for huge circuits while providing all necessary tactical information. Keeping individual unit commanders well informed of the plans and intentions of the higher levels of command keep the data bases at sea and ashore common and in synch. Well trained forces and highly experienced commanders are the final ingredients to the success of this command and control process.
Contrary to popular opinion, communications for submarines are very robust. The entire radio spectrum is used save the SHF band (see Figure 1.). Each portion has its special utility. The flexibility and capability of this array is a tribute to those who have been responsible for its development over the past thirty years.
As good as the system is, it would be improved if communications to and from the submarine were possible throughout its operating envelope. In moving toward this ultimate objective, i.e., at all speeds and any operating depth, radio remains the only real hope in the near term. Alternatives proposed are acoustic or laser – both schemes have their promoters.
The discovery of a workable underwater laser receiver demonstrated that mechanism to be scientifically possible. However transmitters capable of operation from a space based platform – necessary to achieve wide area coverage – have yet to be proven. And as difficult as the transmission from space to the ship may be, transmission from a submarine below the surface to a space based receiver will be many more times as difficult. Bottom deployed arrays using acoustic links are feasible but deployment is difficult and such a system could be vulnerable to covert exploitation. Both acoustic and laser mechanisms are expensive. A space based laser one-way system has been estimated to cost on the order of two to four billion dollars.
Radio remains a proven, understood, reasonably economic technology, at least for this century. Efforts in this medium should provide better antennae, mechanisms to deploy antennae from greater depth and at higher speed, data compression and signal processing improvements. All these improvements are feasible, though substantial engineering effort is required.
More important than communications data rate will be the employment of the vastly larger and much more useful informational data bases now being created. The increased capabilities of optical imaging data system (familiar as the compact disk recording) permit such action now. Already capable of storing the Encyclopedia Britannica in the volume of a couple of 12″ record disks, this technology promises to explode the growth of the common data base criteria described above. It will not be long before every submarine could have the ability to store every fJXed target for land-attack weapons in the world. Coupling this target location with precision location available from the Global Positioning System, cJ related to such attacks will be reduced to a Maxwell Smart style order, Execute Plan B. Prepositioned information wiH be limited only by planners’ imagination and preparation time. Information management systems will permit easy alterations to prepared plans. Communications requirements will go down because the ends of the communication path will be in possession of a wide variety of easily found doctrine, plans and proposals.
These improvements in information systems handling, stowage and retrieval will lessen the burden on communications. Reducing the amount of information which must be transmitted between parties also reduces the vulnerability of that information to intercept, exploitation and countermeasures. The present cl system represents a superb design, perfected over many years. Even if instantaneous, secure, low probability of intercept, two way communications were offered, submariners would be wise to be cautious in changing their cl philosophy.
In World War II, the German submarine campaign was brought to a halt by Allied exploitation of communications from the U-boats to support the German’s highly centralized, rigid, information-hungry command. Few lessons in history have been so clear. American submariners have learned this lesson and the present command and control system has been fashioned to avoid just such a mistake in the future. That system should not be jeopardized for the sake of reassuring commanders or their staffs who are ignorant of the environment, tactics or methodology involved. Just the opposite should prevail in an era where electronic warfare capabilities promise to be ubiquitous. Submarine systems and procedures offer a model for other forces interested in operating stealthily in an environment in wmcn e1ecuomagnettc transmiSSions of any kind will draw fire.