Although touted as a model for any application requiring ~avoidance of detection, the submarine command and control methodologies developed since 1942 and perfected in the last twenty years may not be optimum for submarine operations in the immediate future. While present systems are robust and the command and control relationships vibrant, the conditions in which submarines are likely to be employed in the 1990’s and early 21st century promise to be dramatically different than the ones for which these systems and methods have been built.
The present systems were erected assuming that the subma-ine campaign, either anti-submarine or anti-surface ship warfare or both, would be conducted on the high seas. The design assumes opposition, that an ASW capability would exist in the targets attacked and areas penetrated. And finally the procedures assume the potential enemy would be able to field effective electronic countermeasures. These conditions still exist when addressing the maritime forces of Russia, Britain, and in some circumstances, France. However, it is hard to envision any other country able to mount an effective ASW threat or a sophisticated ECCM effort.
The lack of an enemy ASW capability changes the nature of submarine conduct When coupled with the absence of electronics countermeasures, the submarine can take a wide range of actions otherwise avoided in order to remain undetect-ed. Finally, in foreseeable circumstances, submarine operations are more likely to be conducted as part of an area campaign, close inshore in support of power projection or covert actions.
In conducting some of the operations outlined in the ACNO (Undersea Warfare) white paper, Submarine Roles in the 199<ts and Beyond of January 1992 (summarized in the SUBMARINE REVIEW, April 1992), two way real-time communications may be very helpful, perhaps even vital. Examining the roles and accompanying scenarios outlined in the Navy’s paper, five of the seven areas described seem to be prime candidates where such capability would be useful. Peacetime Engagement and Deterrence remain functions best satisfied by the present mechanisms. The other five,
- Surveillance • Precision Strike
- Sea Denial • Task Group Support
- Ground Warfare Support (covert insertion)
are situations in which real-time two way communications may be very helpful. Probably most importantly because these are scenarios in which current intelligence is at a premium and in which command authorities rarely make up their collective mind in a timely manner.
The actions leading up to the sinking of the Argentine cruiser BELGRANO during the Falkland Campaign evidence the difficulty attendant to submarine warfare in a limited war. In that case, the highest levels of government were involved in a decision to fire a torpedo, thereby initiating the major violence. Even with such a dynamic leader as Mrs. Thatcher, the decision was not easy to reach, was formulated in an aura of false intelligence and had to accommodate improper direc-tives from the on-scene Task Force Commander. Communica-tion limitations prevented direct communication among all involved and imposed significant time barriers in transmissions between the various actors.
While most of the difficulties in this case arose from social problems endemic to any political process and to all military command and control arrangements, technological improve-ments both caused some and solved many. Technology permit-ted government authorities at a national level to make real time decisions about the amount and type of force to be applied in a limited conflicl Those who suffered through selection of bombing targets in the White House during the Viet-Nam War may object strenuously to such decision making, but it is more likely to grow than to disappear. Submarines, which probably will be first on the scene and the closest-in observers, will be concerned about such processes because they will be a prime gatherer of information are very likely to be the first shooters in such a contest.
Some of the questions and cross talk exemplified in the BELGRANO episode can be eliminated. Two developments make possible highly accurate information exchange without the time delays and errors inherent in prose reports. First, data bases of immense size are now routine and promise to get larger as well as more easily and swiftly accessible. Second, the networking of computers, their use as communication devices and the concomitant display of information as symbols rather than as text, allow integration of vast amounts of information. Much is clarified by allowing all the players, wherever they may be, to view the same display.
The Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) pioneered this world even though limited to small computer memories and relatively slow data rates inherent in HF radio communications. These technical limitations have been dramatically overcome. Communication satellites expanded the use of the higher frequency bands, which travel only in the line of sight, to long ranges. With this higher frequency, vastly more data can be transmitted per unit time. This move from HF to UHF increased the data rate by an order of magnitude.
Submarines were among the earliest beneficiaries of the opening of these higher spectra. The Submarine Satellite Exchange System (SSIXS) was among the earliest of the UHF Satellite users and became a model for other information exchange systems. Over-the-horizon targeting systems for submarine launched TOMAHAWK pioneered data exchange through this medium and launched the Tactical Data Exchange Systems (TADIXS).
Even higher data rates are available in the SHF and EHF bands above UHF. While limitations of the space segment essentially eliminate SHF from submarine support, the MILSTAR satellite which exploits the EHF band, conceived as a communications system for strategic nuclear systems, con-tained a dedicated link for SSBNs. Procurement of EHF receivers for submarines was planned early in this slowly developing program. MILSTAR is now being modified to serve more tactical uses and the last two UHF Satellites put into orbit carried EHF transceivers to test systems. The combination of these actions will put the submarine force into the EHF band wen ahead of other service components.
The high data rate available in EHF will open the door to computer networking and wtll permit transmission of near real-time video. The Gulf War spawned a taste for video in command centers as well as in living rooms. Remotely piloted vehicles (RPV) carrying 1V cameras became instruments for scouting and spotting naval gunfire. The manufacturers of this device advertise their product showing video tapes of Iraqi soldiers surrendering to an RPV. This taste for real-time intelligence will grow as technology closes in on Dick Tracy wrist watches and cameras the size of cigarette packages.
The pervasiveness of CNN is likely to lead military and political leaders to expect video from submarines performing surveillance and reconnaissance operations. Data compression techniques coupled with EHF transmission capability make this expectation possible. Such data probably will have two effects. First, decision makers will become believers in what is being reported. And then they will demand more.
While it is almost inevitable that senior levels will over-manage the scene of action in situations where communications are readily available, the models of Desert Storm and Grenada testify that such dangers can be avoided or at least diminished by good information flow from the scene to the headquarters. The real dangers in such a situation are that the senior manag-ers, primarily political actors, will not recognize messages which are not sent or will be unable to realistically estimate the time necessary to respond to an ordered action. These dangers do not, in themselves, argue to artificially limit communications. In any event, the submariners’ historic response to these difficul-ties, “Lower all masts and antennas. Make your depth 150 feet”, will not be an available option in the inshore waters and small-sea-area campaigns of the next ten years.
The result of all of these political, operational and technical circumstances will be to cause the submarine to work in the surface duct with antennae exposed most of the time. Such operating conditions are not novel. But in addition to listening, looking and recording, the submarine will be able to report with impunity and receive instructions almost instantaneously.
Much of the technology involved in these changes has or will come from outside the submarine force and its historically associated research and development centers. A Navy-wide information exchange architecture, labelled Copernicus, has been developed to absorb the immense demands of the intelligence system into a finite electromagnetic spectrum and physically limited communications capability. The architecture links headquarters, including those afloat, providing an operat-ing medium in which real-time high value information can be shared quickly among a vast audience.
The chief advance in Copernicus is its emphasis on the product users. Copernicus is essentially a large computer network in which information is exchanged in digits and displayed in symbols not in words. Messages are sent from one computer terminal to others through communications systems transparent to the user. These computers create new problems – interface compatibility, security of displays and data bases,virus protection, and more. But the concept has been proven in the Joint Visual Indications Display System, a JCS develop-ment which grew from the computer link pioneered in the Atlantic Fleet as JOTS. The Cruise Missile On-Board Targeting System in surface ships was a similarly successful scheme.
The submarine Over-the-Horizon Targeting System was an early scheme which linked computers through high data rate communications. The pilot effort in this regard, OUI1..AW SHARK, was more expensive and more cumbersome than JOTS chiefly because it was a generation earlier in computer technol-ogy and was built using the customary defense acquisition process. JOTS, on the other hand, a jury rig of commercial computers in the hands of smart operators, was inexpensive and effective. The computer programs which ran JOTS were developed incrementally under the immediate direction of the users. Adaptation of these design philosophies in Copernicus related developments are sure to discomfort the Systems Commands and the Naval Laboratories but similar schemes have produced useful equipment at low cost with few of the drastic side effects predicted by the detractors.
Advances in data base manipulation are deluging civil applications. Military applications are just beginning – and not without growing pains. But replacement of paper and then tape by compact disks and other memory devices containing vast amounts of information in a tiny space at next to no cost is occurring now in specific applications. Conversion of military systems to these very large, very dense media is just a matter of time.
Shared data bases have always been a feature of the subma-rine command and control designs – even when such sharing was only in the minds of the commanders. The advantages in such systems are not always appreciated. With huge data bases residing at each end of a communications path, only tiny amounts of information have to be transmitted electronically to update resident data to reflect current status.
Video is probably the best example of how these two technologies, high data rate transmission and common data bases of great dimensions have application. Instead of sending the data necessary to construct a whole picture, only changes to an existing picture are transmitted. This reduces the amount of data immensely and permits small camera apertures and small transmitters to send useful data over limited band widths. In application, a video-reconnaissance report of a previously surveyed beach would involve comparing the video recorded at the time with the picture residing in the common data base and sending only the changes to headquarters. The scene on the screen at the end of the path would present the amalgamation of the video in the data base with the changes transmitted from the reconnaissance vehicle. The presentation on the screen at both ends would be the current picture.
To make this sort of reporting work, the location of the reporter and reported must be accurately known by the computers which will assemble the picture from the two data bases. The Geographic Positioning System, GPS, a satellite navigation system provides just this capability. GPS represents a vast leap forward in command and control and coordination. The significance of having everyone know their own location is appreciated most by those with experience in command and control of coordinated arms. “I wonder where he really is?” is a routine question in such situations at sea. GPS makes these concerns disappear. For all scouts so equipped, reporting of precise locations is now possible. Targeting by using simple offsets – much like gunfire spotting – can be achieved easily.
With all of these considerations, where are submarine command and control and communications likely to go? Easy to envision is a return to Direct Support, with a Submarine Element Commander serving as a Submarine Operating Authority for some local area in the Flagship or Theater Headquarters. Supporting communications for this and more customary arrangements where battle groups or other forces are not in close proximity are likely to change as the threat to American submarines is recognized to be small or non-existent. Past efforts to extend communications coverage further into the submarine’s operating envelope, i.e. deeper into the ocean, will give way to demands for higher data rates, more reliable antennae which can be used at higher speeds and improvements in data base configurations, manipulations and size.
VLF radio will continue to provide the backbone of the communications for routine operations, long transits and support of the strategic submarine force. Its reliability and long range cannot be duplicated. VLFs lower register sister, ELF, now requires only maintenance costs while providing a full time alerting system for SSBN operations and communications under the icecap. These two systems must be maintained because they are the only ones which can reach into the ocean and which can provide the surety which is a hallmark of strategic deterrence.
However the new backboM for submarine operations in the five roles described above will become satellite communications.
The UHF Satellites, FLEETSAT and LEASAT, provide that service now. Submarines continue to own a dedicated slice of what has become a severely limited national resource. The techniques to get more capacity out of this part of the spectrum through shared time and demand multiplication (DAMA) can be expected to heighten as ever more services and forces try to exploit this system. When MILSTAR finaUy achieves orbit, submarineS will be an early user for the reasons outlined earlier.
Learning how to use commercial communication satellites will have to be examined as well. Commercial links were vital in Desert Shield/Desert Storm logistics and opened the door to Defense Department use of a wide range of commercial communications systems. Of particular interest will be a commercial telephone satellite system, planned by Motorola, which promises to link cellular telephones throughout the land masses of the world by the year 2000. A call home from the Crew’s Mess will not be unrealistic for the next generation of submariners.
Finally HF radio – those short wave frequencies which not too many years ago were the only path for submarine originated messages – will remain a useful and necessary backup. This frequency band is simple to use, equipment is inexpensive, and use is world wide. The medium is fickle however. Reliable paths have been hard to find, impossible to guarantee. The problem has been attacked vigorously over the past few years and real progress has been made in developing equipment which identifies paths which are reliable. Desert Storm rejuvenated military HF when the Army and Air Force found themselves on a battle ground much larger than expected, one in which the ranges of UHF and VHF were inadequate to keep the tooth and tail of fast moving armored columns tied together. Similar battlefield conditions are sure to be settings in the campaigns ahead.
Because procurement will be small in number, submarines must avoid equipments which are peculiar or unique. Common hardware and software has the advantage of promoting inter-operability. While this may delay introduction of new technolo-gy, homogeneity of communications among all forces will become an increasingly important requirement in the future as joint operations become the norm.
In this new climate, exotic systems for communicating with submarines at speed and depth are less attractive than ever. On the other hand, better submarine antennae will be in big demand. Getting more gain and wider bandwidth out of smaller size is a real engineering challenge because the physics works against this combination. Improved mechanical reliability wiD always be sought and of great importance to operations concentrated at periscope depth wiD be the ability to use the masts at higher speeds.
Direct downlinks from space based sensors is an advance not related to submarines themselves but one which will effect the submarine operations significantly. Direct communications from some satellites to some ships are present now but generally these have been ignored by submarines built and trained for war in the great seas. The natural marriage of submarines and space based sensors will be consummated in operations where periscope depth operations are the norm and not the excep-tion. This development will live the submarine the ability to get over-the-horizon observations In real time.
With all of these improvements there will remain some limitations on submarine operations caused by lack of communi-cations. Such areas offer opportunities for future invention. While not vitally necessary, it would be nice to have a really good long range underwater telephone — even nicer if it was secure. Acoustic IFF and covert ranging devices would permit cooperative engagements and reduce water management problems. Autonomous or remotely piloted vehicles launched from submarines, which could serve as couriers and as sensors, are obvious areas of opportunity. However, the likelihood of large new investment in any of these fields seems remote.
The submarine’s role in the inventory of a single superpower is less substantial than it was in the old order. However, the submarine is by no means passe. It offers great advantages to any nation other than the super power in a guetre de course. It is the one conventional weapon system with which a small navy, if it can master the tool, can intimidate or inhibit a much larger one. The nuclear submarine dominates the seas: no ship can operate very long where a nuclear submarine opposes it. Where employed, the submarine denies the sea to the enemy and opens it to the friend. These are all traditional missions. In the other missions of the new order for which it is fitted, submarines can make the real contributions. In these applica-tions, advances in information transmission and management technology wiD be among the most important improvements in the capabilities to be pursued. ID the c:ampalgns of the next thirty years, Information Is likely to be more important than ordnance.