(Ed. Note: Emphasis added]
Tbe end of the Cold War, Desert Storm, and problems here at home have dramatically cast national security issues in a different light. People are looking to the defense budget as a source of funds – but also concerned about the effect of sudden cutbacks on local economies, how to avoid losing critical skills, and how best to protect U.S. interests under a stream-lined budget.
Years before the industrial base picture got as bleak as it is now, we made sure that our naval nuclear suppliers faced up to the prospects of dramatic reductions – and we took action to downsize. A fuel factory, a core factory, a uranium enrichment plant, a chemical reprocessing plant are now either shut down or in the process of being shut down – other firms are following suit. Survivors are cutting back sharply.
This was and is a painful process – severing ties that reach back to the early days of nuclear power; watching the breakup of teams of the nation’s most highly skilled workers. But companies and employees have done a pretty good job of facing facts, sizing up the new situation, reassessing strengths, and adapting.
We need to do the same in restructuring our defense effort. As we cbaage from a bipolar world to a multipolar world, the focus shirts from deterring global coanlct oa a regioaal basis to deterring regional conOid oa a global basis. This calls for a significantly different approach to forces, roles and missions than that which won the Cold War.
Faced with competing interests and tight budgets, there is a tendency to pro rate – to continue doing the same things the same way, but on a reduced level. But to get maximum return, we have to reexamine traditional roles and missions and look for different, more cost-effective approaches.
Desert Storm, while a military success, is not something we would likely try again short of the most extreme provocation. But the performance of high-tech weapons there paves the way for a wide variety of new conventional deterrence options short of landing troops or stationing armadas on the horizon.
Quiet submarines are logical candidates for this ldnd of work. What else can operate alone and unsupported in hostile waters for months at a time – with the ability to destroy targets ashore, surface ships, and submarines; to gather Intelligence, to laud special fon:es, and the like — all with a crew of a little more than a hundred?
Unfortunately, after four decades ofsuccessful preoccupation with the Soviet submarine threat, we have created an impres-sion that submarines exist primarily to fight other submarines – a job no longer in great demand. And they seem to be very expensive. This is the core of the discussion that must be aggressively and broadly engaged.
Nuclear-powered submarines are expensive to build, but cheap to operate. They are cost-effective. Considering what one or two attack submarines can do on their own, they are one of the great bargains in 1he defense budget. Consider some obvious points; a submarine:
- Requires no foreign bases, no tankers, no escorts, no air cover.
- Is inwlnerable on station – low risk of accidental escala-tion; low risk to the crew.
- Can be deployed covertly – no need to justify each move on the stage of world opinion.
Small nations tend to want submarines – either diesel or nuclear-powered because they provide so much clout for the money. The Soviets specialized in submarines for the same reason. Fortunately, through technology and personnel, the U.S. Submarine Force was always able to hold the edge despite larger numbers and a variety of experimental designs on the other side.
Instead of being able to threaten U.S. supply lines and fleet units, the Cold War Soviet submarine force was reduced to staying near home and running escort duty for its strategic missile submarines tucked away in, by their own admission, bastions to avoid U.S. submarines. This is a prime example of why initial acquisition cost is not always a fair measure of value.
The U.S. attack submarine force may be the best example of competitive strategy to emerge from the Cold War.
Some defense officials are skeptical about the need for CENTURION, the lower-cost, next generation alternative to SEAWOLF. They point out that our top-line submarines should be able to handle their Russian counterparts and that no Third World nation will, in the foreseeable future, be able to field submarines competitive with even our 25 year old SSN-688 design.
The threat is not that Third World submarines will be able to find and defeat our submarines in the open ocean. Tbe threat is that other countries will inevitably get access to improved signal-processing equipment, computers, and software. Even unsophisticated platforms with improved detection capability could seriously reduce the value of a relatively noisy submarine.
History can provide some solace.
Over the years, missions for submarines have evolved probably more than for any other miUtary platform. In almost every case, there was resistance to change – and concern about the relatively high acquisition costs.
- U.S. submarines moved from naval novelty to fleet scouting force; then quickly to commerce/warship killer with the loss of the fleet at Pearl Harbor. Although submariners comprised less than two percent of the U.S. Navy, submarines sank more than half the Japanese merchantmen and almost 40 percent of its naval veseles — another example of cost-effectiveness.
- The nuclear-powered submarine revolutionalized naval warfare, but did not come on the scene without objection. Many, including some seasoned submariners, favored larger buys of less capable diesel boats, and challenged the need for improved speed and endurance. Then NAUTILUS went to sea, running circles around our own anti-submarine forces and demonstrating the ability to undertake unprecedented missions. Once again, acquisi-tion cost proved to be an inappropriate measure of cost-effectiveness.
- Cost was not a factor in the race to put forty-one POLARIS submarines to sea. But they came in under budget and quickly proved to be the most invulnerable, practical and cost effective leg of the TRIAD.
- The TRIDENT submarines that replaced Polaris were criticized at the outset for high acquisition cost. Today, they are widely recognized as one of the best bargains ever.
After World War II, the Navy eagerly experimented with alternate missions for submarines. It converted diesel subma-rines to radar pickets, cruise missile platforms, transports, oilers and hunter-killers. It established Submarine Development Group TWO, a spawning ground and test bed for anti-subma-rine warfare doctrine.
Today, we need the same kind of broad thinking and disciplined approach to meld SSN capabilities with current national security needs. After several decades of optimizing an established system, theme and concept, we are facing a funda-mental change and we need a broader perspective.
The primary focus must shift toward conventional deter-rence ~- the persuasion of one’s opponents that the costs and risks of a given course of action outweigh the benefits.
While this focus obviously finds its teeth primarily in conventional cruise missile land attack, we cannot ignore mine-laying and special forces operations. Neither should we overlook other possibilities like enforcing quarantines and blockades with weapons that would disable, but not otherwise harm, those who challenge them. Overlaying this all Is the submariner’s highly developed skill in tactical Intelligence gathering and disciplined communication regime. The Commander has a unit in the opponent’s backyard, watching, listening, reporting and ready to cock the gun and then shoot or uncock as ordered.
We have the potential to develop a menu of credible options that can be triggered with minimal risk to U.S. servicemen and non-combatants. With increasingly effective satellite coverage, moving fire power underseas makes good sense. It greatly complicates an opponent’s problems — he has to assume he is wlnerable without knowing there is actually a submarine in the area.
Ideally the objective is always to commit the smallest practical force that will not risk defeat or embarrassment. Why deploy ground forces if a carrier battle group will do? Why use a carrier battle group if a smaller group will do? Why risk surface ships if a submarine or two could do the job?
Practically, however, there is a heavy penalty for underesti-mating the ground forces or fleet units required. Experience in the Middle East shows the difficulty of keeping ships on station in trouble spots — trying not to be provocative while at the same time defending against attack from seemingly innocuous sources.
With submarines, this tends to be Jess of a problem. The unit generally remains secure even if the mission is unsuccessful and the mission need not be carried out under the glare of world wide media coverage.
We need to get people outside the SUent Servia thinldng, writing, and talldng about ways to lighten the load on the battle groups and about alternate methods of deterrence that lessen the likelihood of having to commit troops or entire battle groups.
To involve the public, Congress, scholars, and other military communities, we need to stop talking in jargon – Pillars,
Mission Needs Statements, Forward Presence, Reconstitution, and so on. It is hard to think clearly in acronyms and cliches.
There is a lot of submarine expertise in the Submarine League and you benefit from your detachment. This forum must begin to grapple with the issue and help educate others as to the possibilities.
Others should be able to help. For example:
- There are lessons to be learned about deterrence theory from the new Strategic Command — heavily populated by submariners.
- The War Colleges could develop conventional deterrence target sets and strategy.
- The Think Tanks could try to come up with a better measure of effectiveness that takes into account unique submarine characteristics – one that measures afforda-bility in terms of total assets required to conduct a mission, not just initial acquisition cost and historical budget shares. Then apply that metric to the 1986 Libyan raid — as carried out and as it could be done today with two SSNs.
- Navy and Air Force Strike Schools and staffs, RAND, Center for Naval Analysis, etc. all have something to offer.
Vice Admiral Roger Bacon, ACNO for Undersea Warfare, bas already started Navy wheels in motion – to refocus, to review organizational structure, operating doctrine, and so on. I am encouraged by his efforts and those of the Type Commanders. This Issue Is as much about form as It Is about substance. Fortunately, form Is easier to aain than substance.
We are, whether we understand it or not, at one of the historic points in the continuum of submarine warfare. It is not unlike the post ww n period. Then we faced a large potential capability in a dormant Russian Navy. We bad a large subma-rine force with no real recognized mission and we were at the beginning of a realization for what a new technology (nuclear power) might offer.
Out of that setting came preeminence in ASW and strategic deterrence and a large share of credit for victory in the Cold War.
Now we must draw on our strengths: institutional loyalty and cohesion, broad but unfocused public support, and a keen sense of where we have been and where we must .:o. In this endeavor, there Is great potential to contribute to the defense of this country’s Interests worldwide In a responsible, cost effective manner. TODAY’S SUBMARINE FORCE
NSL has distributed to each Chapter copies of the Navy’s new 19 minute VHS video: Today’s Submarine Force. The video highlights the important role of submarines in our new national defense policy and is intended to be shown to groups not fully familiar with today’s modem Submarine Force. The video contains some· excellent original submarine underway footage which should be of great assistance to us in our efforts to help the American public understand submarine missions, capabilities and employment. Contact your local Chapter to borrow this important educational visual aid Copies are also available for loan from NSL Headquarters.