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[Ed. Note: This article is taken from RADM Holland’s presentation at the Sixth Submarine Technology Symposium in May.]

Nowhere in warfare has the paradigm shift of 1990 been as large  and  dramatic  as  in  submarine  warfare.   These changes can be translated into operational terms related to command and control.  Vice Admiral Bill Owens stated the situa-tion succinctly in the March PROCEEDINGS saying, “When it is outfitted with the right kind of communications-the right links to important national systems-the Maritime Action Group {MAG) can provide us a real warfighting edge.”   Notice Vice Admiral Owens says nothing about endurance,  speed,  explosive power, delivery  potential.    Vice  Admiral  Roger  Bacon  coined  the operative phrase for  this model,  “If you  can’t talk,  you  can’t play.”

The maritime strategy declared submarines the predominant naval weapons of both deterrence and suasion. There are those of us who argue that though the Soviets may have disappeared, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the Russian submarine fleet because it is the only military force which can hold the United States hostage. However valid our argument may be, no one is listening to it. The only model now being addressed is not the Battle of the Barents Sea, but Desert Storm.

In the giant step between these two, we move from environ-ments expected to be target rich ones to target poor; from an enemy with some naval forces to one in which ASW is non-existent and electronic countermeasures rudimentary at best. Submarines come up from deep and fast to operate most of the time at periscope depth, actually not a new mode for us, but one in which we now can openly address situations in which mast and antenna exposure will be generous and continuous. .

The ability to execute these new roles and missions will depend in large part on the communications capability of the submarine and the command and control schemes and equipments employed to exploit the submarines’ unique capabilities.

If we translate the descriptions of the changed roles and mission into C3 terminology we see:

  • from short clear messages on assured dedicated circuits, we go to high volumes of high data rate tactical messages in a crowded electromagnetic spectrum;
  • from a few messages a week sent to the ships, needing no reply, authored or reviewed by other submariners, to continuous two-way communications which will have to cover echelons from the President down to Coast Guard Petty Officers on independent anti-drug operations;
  • from little or no off-board intelligence, and most of that time late, to direct down-links from space-based assets and by imme-diate updates of information from land based sensors and analysts;
  • from terse descriptions and directions sent only when required from a Captain rank to Commander, to a continuous stream of conflicting information from a variety of sources each with peculiarities unknown to submarine recipients and many of the pieces of data originated, sorted or screened by a third class operations specialist or generated and sent by a machine without the benefit of human intervention.

So attack submariners can expect to move from a self contained service with the most efficient and effective command and control system in all the world’s military forces to one in which we may be hamstrung because we lack the experience, procedures and equipment to perform all the tasks which the platform permits.

This does not mean abandoning the present superb C system. Characterized by short clear messages on dedicated circuits with assured connectivity, these remain clearly the best in the strategic TRIAD and perfect to support submarines in transit, under the ice or involved in ASW operations in the ocean or on its littoral. But while our submarine power plants are superb, our weapons unsurpassed and improving, the internal habitability and damage control adequate, available C3 seems marginal to meet the expected needs.

If submarines are to be first on the scene then as one who has been in the room, I can assure you the Chairman of the JCS won’t wait patiently for reports on what the submarine sees and hears. The HICOM net of the future will have stations in the White House, the National Military Command Center, the CINC’s Headquarters, the Joint Task Force Commander’s War Room and the control rooms of the submarines on station. And it won’t be long before the video saturated commanders and staffs will expect to see the periscope picture on video in the command center.

Furthermore, we ought to expect the NCA to give rudder orders directly to the submarine’s Commanding Officer. This may not be what military professionals, especially CINCs and Com-manders of Joint Task Forces would like, but in the Falklands Campaign, CONQUEROR did not shove off from Portsmouth with a patrol area assignment and orders to “Operate in the Best Interests of the Queen”. On the contrary, with BELGRANO in sight, the command to “shoot” went from the Prime Minister to the First Sea Lord to Flag Officer Submarines, who was in the chain only because he was the Broadcast Control Authority who owned the radio, to CONQUEROR’s Commanding Officer. This design, orders from the cabinet room of the War Council, or the National Security Council chambers, can be expected to be a likely one in the new era.

If all the predictions about covert strike warfare are correct, they are only to the extent that the triggers can be pulled in near real time when the Chief of State says to do so. If the submarine is to be able to do this, there must be a C3 doctrine, procedures and equipment which will support this aim.

Additionally, when forces, naval or otherwise, join the submarine at the front, there have to be mechanisms to coordinate operations because time will not allow having well thought out actions or well understood plans in place well in advance of their need, so as to eliminate or reduce the amount of information which needs to be passed. And while there is validity to the argument that not everything needs to interoperate with everything else-a situation in which GEORGIA has to talk to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment is hard to envision-these will be the rare exception. The rule will be, if you are going to play, you have to be on the net.

In summary, all of this claims that since the Berlin Wall came down, the most important aspect of submarine research, design, and construction has been information management and transfer systems.

In this new game, will orders be clearer?  Probably not.

Will mission be easier? Probably not very often.

Will submarines be more effective in this new C3 environment than before? Probably not for awhile.

Will change come easily?  Absolutely not!

Will we have choices about how to operate?  If we can’t talk, we won’t play.

[RADM W.J. Holland, Jr., USN(Ret.) is the President of the AFCEA Education Foundation. The Foundation , a non-profit tax exempt organization subsidized by the Anned Forces Communica-tions and Electronics Association, sponsors scholarships in civilian educational institutions and provides awards and prhes in military training activities, and provides professional education in the Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence fields.

Admiral Holland served 32 years on active duty, mostly in submarines. He served on the staff of the Chief of Naval Opera-tions as the Deputy Director for Space, Command and Control and as the director for Strategic and Theater Nuclear Waifare.

Admiral Holland commanded Submarine Group FIVE based in San Diego; Submarine School, New London, Connecticut; Submarine Squadron ONE in Pearl Harbor; and the submarines USS PINTADO and USS PLUNGER.]

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