[Ed. Note: 1his article is taken from RADM Dorman ‘s presenta· lion at the Sixth Submarine Technology Symposium in May.]
…From the Sea says it all. Submarines have their work cut out to perform what’s planned for them in the joint littoral operation (JLO) environment where at least one, and in many cases all three spatial dimensions are severely restricted.
When thinking about changes as dramatic as those we’re addressing in the new security environment (especially the JLO environment) it’s usually a good idea to retreat to history and puzzle out what lessons we have (or at least should have) learned. Let me suggest you start with Michael Gannon’s OPERATION DRUMBEAT: The Dramatic True Story of Germany’s First U· Boat Attacks (1990 Harper & Row, NY). Then, since Gannon makes it sound too easy for the submarine, you should review the last few months’ newspaper articles about our encounters with the Russian in the Barents Sea (no book yeti). And, since in the littoral area we’re closer than submariners usually are to the population that live just beyond the coastline, it may pay to consider their nature and their motivation. Varied as these may be in detail, the mindset we can expect to encounter in most of today”s scenarios is beautifully captured in Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer: Thou2hts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1991, Borgo Press: first published in 1951).
In support of littoral operations our normal eyes and ears, acoustics, are severely dimmed; we face emplaced (mines) and moving (mini-subs to coastal diesel boats) weapons that are stealthy, cheap, mean, nasty, clever, and hard to find; our basic navigational safety is encumbered if not imperiled; and our own trusty weapons, designed to counter peers in deep water, are degraded at best.
While OPERATION DRUMBEAT and our own operational experience in shallow or restricted waters give us reason to expect that the ASW problem is at least as tough as what faces the submarine, our JLO objective is to provide full, totally reliable, timely, and unencumbered tactical mission support to Allied units with minimal or !!Q loss to own forces. We may need, therefore, to consider a few improvements.
Let me lead off by talking first a bit about the environ-ment-after all I represent an oceanographic institution-and then by briefly describing some technologies that are evolving from ocean research and may make the littoral environment of a decade from now vastly different than it is today.
First, there is little that one can briefly say about local coastal oceans as operational environments for submarines other than that they are hostile, dangerous, and extremely variable in space and time. Our explicit knowledge of most of them is poor, since international maritime law limits our access to other nations’ home waters. On the other hand, to those into whose land we will be coming from the sea, they are usually of fundamental economic and social importance, and heavily used. We can expect that the maritime part of the enemy knows them the way a farmer does his fields, cares as deeply about them, and has had adequate time and resource to prepare them with rugged, even if unsophisticated, defenses.
There are also a lot of ambient characteristics of littoral waters which can influence submarines; and in most cases there are sufficient niche environments that predictions and estimates lack both accuracy and reliability. Most waters aren’t even well charted; and as we’re now finding with GPS, gross positional inaccuracies are common. Taking just one parameter-shelf currents-as example, we can say that our state of knowledge is good enough for general planning purposes, but by no means adequate to preclude some really nasty surprises.
From an operational perspective, the bottom line is that the adversary usually has the information edge and a good defensive advantage. Thus, pre-mission reconnaissance is essential simply to avoid disaster (let alone secure success). The question of course is how to do that clandestinely and effectively.
Here is where some of our ocean technology comes into play. Simply stated, we’re learning how to wire the oceans much as we have the land and air. Starting with deep water and moving in, our scientists are learning to model the acoustic channel and exploit it for communications. The best way to think of what we’re trying to do for JLOs is to consider a private, wide band, cellular telephone system …to which one can attach a variety of sensors. What makes it so interesting compared to any earlier in-water sensor network system I’ve heard of is that there are no wires, so it is easy to seed and maintain; it’s quiet when it doesn’t need to pass information, is robust and low probability of intercept (LPI). And it’s unclassified (many of the Principal Investigators (Pis) are new or non-U.S . nationals), so we’re all making a lot of fast progress.
The JLO utility of this engineering construct becomes consider-ably more powerful when some of the nodes are moving. This is where, in my mind, unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) technology will have an enormous impact on littoral warfare. Briefly tracing how we started with manned submersibles and simple towed sleds, think about how we’ve learned a lot about the forces involved and both sensing and mobility requirements. We are now developing and starting to routinely use both tethered and free swimming vehicles in research and education (some ground breaking results have come from undergraduate involvement in Sea Grant programs). As one example of an end-point design consider ABE, our Autonomous Benthic Explorer, which can sit on the bottom for a year, make preplanned or commanded excursions, and then relay its findings over the telemetry net.
Conceptually, this type of a network can monitor and diagnose virtually all significant changes in the characteristics of the littoral acoustic channel, the water mass, and the bottom. It could become an extremely powerful reconnaissance and early warning tool. Similarly, however, it would be very hard to penetrate without detection.
In summary. the JLO environment reduces or eliminates many of the tactical and technological advantages we have worked so
long and hard to provide for our SSNs. It gives the recipient of our thrust from the sea a host of opportunities to compound the many natural problems caused by the environment itself. And, within a decade or so, technology may well transform our and their ability to monitor and penetrate. Perhaps it is time to seriously consider the value of the submarine systems we are willing to expose to those risks. Traditional U.S. SSNs and their multi-billion dollar crews (the intellectual value of each boat exceeds that of the steel and silicon if we rated these commodities as they do on Wall Street)-those we now operate and even more those we are planning-are not (necessarily) an appropriate match to what they will face in JLOs. It might be important to start talking about the options.
[RADM Craig E. Dorman, USN(Ret.) is the Director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. RADM Dorman served in the U.S. Navy from 1962 to 1989. He was on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations as a specialist in anti-submarine warfare and was the Ccmmanding Officer, Underwater Demolition Team Eleven.
RADM Dorman received a Bachelor of Science in Geography from Dartmouth, a Masters of Science in Oceanography from the Naval Postgraduate School, and his Doctorate from MIT in Oceanography.]