The end of the Cold War will greatly change the future role of the military, perhaps affecting no branch of service more than the U .S. submarine force. The recent decline of the Soviet underwater threat has raised new questions about the future roles and missions of this force, especially attack submarines. Additionally, new submarine procurement must now compete against other programs in an era of declining defense budgets. Facing such uncertainty, what should we expect from our post-cold war Submarine Force in the future?
While Congress is and should be more involved in weapons procurement than in developing roles and missions, the strategy and tactics developed by the Department of Defense contribute greatly to the emphasis Congress places on certain systems and, in tum, certain branches of service. In order to maintain a preeminent role in future U.S. military force structure, I offer the following suggestions for the Navy to contemplate in developing roles and missions for our Submarine Force in the future.
Strategic Nuclear Deterrence: The ballistic missile subma-rine has emerged from the nuclear TRIAD of the sixties as the preeminent arm of the U.S. nuclear force. This is a direct result of advances in precision guided weapons technology, namely the deployment of the Trident D-5 missile, which gives our submarine fleet the accuracy of land-based ICBMs. This accuracy, coupled with a submarine’s inherent survivability as a mobile, stealthy undersea missile platform, makes our Trident fleet the primary U.S. offensive force today and well into the next century. Modernization of this fleet is nearly complete, with funding already approved for eighteen total Trident boats. However, with the prospect of further arms control reductions with the republics of the former Soviet Union, opposition against further production of the D-5 missile is growing. In order to maintain public confidence in the stability and flexibility of submarines in the U.S. 1RIAD, the Navy should immediately examine the following options regarding future Trident and other submarine force structure and operations:
Present Congress and the President with detailed options for downloading Trident SLBMs to single warhead missiles. Although most U.S. warheads are based on subs, the majority of post~Soviet warheads are still based on MIRVed ICBMs. A comprehensive plan outlining how the U.S. could download SLBMs to single warhead missiles would give our government a strong bargaining chip in negotiations for further strategic arms reductions. Additionally, such a plan would demonstrate the inherent flexibility of the Trident system, which can be used not only as a platform for single warhead SLBMs but also as a platform for re~MIRVed SLBMs in case of rapid geopolitical change. Our offensive nuclear force will definitely grow smaller; single warhead ballistic missiles appear to be the weapon of choice for future nuclear arsenals. In order to size the initiative, the Navy should develop its own single warhead SLBM plan.
Examine the feasibility of rearming the Trident fleet with anti~ballistic While the threat of a massive nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Soviet Union has declined, a new nuclear threat bas emerged in the form of ballistic missile proliferation throughout the Third World. Unlike superpower threats, Third World threats may not be so easily deterred through massive retaliation. A strategic missile defense against such an attack may be the best answer to counter this new threat. Most emphasis in this area has been on Air Force strategic space systems and Army theater ground systems. Recently, however, there have been new discussions regarding a naval role in SDI. Recent language from SDIO (The Strategic Defense Initiative Office) has directed that the new Theater High Altitude Area defense system (TIIAAD) be evaluated not only for Army, but also for Navy use. This would include studies regarding the utilization ofTHAAD interceptors with vertical launch systems on board Navy Aegis cruisers and destroyers. The submarine community should also investigate the possibility of deploying TIIAAD or other interceptors on board undersea vessels including the Trident. Not only do submarines posses the same range and station time as surface ships, but they also can be deployed without detection to trouble spots, providing U.S. forces and allies with ballistic missile defense coverage. Such undetected coverage could help deter potential adversaries from using or even acquiring ballistic missiles.
Strategic Convention Deterrence: Whether it is a naval quarantine of Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis or a naval blockade of Iraq in 1990 as part of economic sanctions, U.S. naval forces, including submarines, have been extremely effective in providing conventional deterrence against aggres-sors. Because of their conventional strike capability with cruise missiles, submarines can also threaten to actually engage enemy targets in order to deter a specific action. To capitalize most effectively on these conventional capabilities, the following actions should be taken:
The Navy should increase the use of submarines in naval blockade/quarantine missions, especially in tracking potential adversaries and directing surface combatants towards intercep-tion of these ships. Even actual interception and boarding of vessels should be An American submarine surfacing out of nowhere to intercept and board a ship attempting to run a blockade would leave great question with the enemy regarding where and how such blockades could be broken. Unlike surface ships which could be easily detected by these blockade manners, submarines could cover a much larger area with far fewer ships. Submarines can also be used to lay mines and/or monitor previously deployed mines. Again, the ability to slip undetected into enemy waters would prove quite useful in such operations.
Increase emphasis on new conventional cruise missiles that can accurately strike inland targets at long range and supersonic speed. While everyone was amazed at the precision with which cruise missiles launched from sea struck targets in Iraq, these systems must be improved for future strike missions against high priority targets such as nuclear, biological or chemical sites. If the President is to consider using submarines against such targets, he must have a high degree of confidence that the mission can be accomplished at long range without enemy detection or interception. A supersonic capability is the next logical step for this revolutionary weapon system.
An equally important mission in the post-Cold War era will be intelligence gathering. Submarines, as mobile stealth platforms, are especially well suited for such missions. How-ever, minor improvements could help make subs even more valuable in the future as reconnaissance systems.
Develop unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capability for submarines. Submarines are currently very effective in monitor-ing activity in sea lanes, harbors and on shorelines. However, subs are limited in their ability to monitor activity inland. One way to extend coverage of submarine reconnaissance is through UAVs. UAVs could be used to provide both visual and electronic intelligence of inland activities including missile locations, troop movements, and radio communications. Additionally, these UAVs could be used to detect surface to air missile sites in operations similar to those used by the Israelis in the Middle East. Such a capability could prove vital in future power projection missions involving long range air operations.
Increase use of submarines in special forces operations. The submarine is a natural platform for long range special forces insertion and extraction missions. Special forces can provide very valuable human intelligence on inland operations. Unlike air insertion which may be detected by radar, submarine insertion would be undetectable. Additionally, submarines can remain on station to immediately relay intelligence from these ground teams to the national command authority. If these teams encounter enemy forces, submarines are also readily available for fire support of extraction operations. We should expand the role of submarines in such missions through increased training and additional construction of unique special forces submarine equipment.
Conventional Fire Support
A major mission for surface combatants is fire support for ground forces, both Army and Marine. With the continued development of precision guided conventional munitions, submarine operations could be expanded to include fire support for ground forces. Keys to expanding this role include:
Increased joint training with Army and Marine ground forces. Liaison officers have proven to be extremely valuable in coordinating close air support for ground forces. The Navy, especially the Submarine Force, should offer liaison officers to ground units to increase the knowledge and coordination of naval fire support in Army and Marine operations. Many times
naval fire support will not even be considered due to a lack of understanding about the capabi1ities of naval systems or how to even request such support. Liaison officers can greatly improve Army and Marine understanding of what submarines can offer, as well as return to the submarine community a better under-standing of the type of support ground units need.
New development of submarine launched conventional munitions. Submarine weapons must be expanded beyond cruise missiles capable of striking specific point targets. New emphasis must be placed on cruise missiles capable of engaging tank formations with submunition warheads. Research should also be conducted on larger, long range missiles such as those used by MLRS (Multiple Launcher Rocket System) artillery batteries. New conventional missiles could be deployed on current or former SLBM boats and provide ground commanders with a quick and devastating artillery In future long range deployments where close air support and ground artillery capability is limited, such a sea-based force could provide the needed edge in firepower for both defensive and offensive operations.
Submarines will remain a key force in maintaining sea superiority. Operating in a role similar to that envisioned by the Air Force F-22 air superiority fighter jet, Navy attack subma-rines will be counted on in the future to take the fight directly to the enemy by either denying access to sea lanes or actually destroying other subs and ships. Emphasis must be placed in the future on utilizing American attack submarines in this sea superiority role. As Third World submarine and surface ship proliferation continues, we cannot afford to wait for a potential enemy to strike our surface ships, including carriers and sealift. We must be prepared to utilize attack subs in preemptive offensive operations against hostile vessels within their own waters. Such strategy may require a new emphasis on shallow water operations, conventional torpedo engagements, and multi-sub attack engagements. H necessary, equipment procurement should be changed to reflect such emphasis.
Unlike surface ships, especially battleships and aircraft
carries, submarines do not seem especially useful in gunboat diplomacy operations. [Ed. Note: See Jan Breemer’s Deterrence, Naval Presence, and the Submarine Fleet in the October 1992 SUBMARINE REVIEW.] However, in the post-cold war world, such show the flag operations will likely grown in importance. The Navy should expand the role of submarines in these operations through new and creative deployment schemes. While battleships and carriers may be impressive in size, the sudden appearance of a Trident or a group of six attack boast in a harbor could have an equally impressive diplomatic effect In a crisis situation, sometimes the element of surprise is more desirable than a slow deliberate deployment
Additionally, the National Command Authority, based upon the capabilJtles previously mentioned, should expand the stated use of submarines in deployments. By announcing a specific intent to deploy a certain number of subs for ballistic missile defense, surveillance, or conventional strike missions, a great deal of uncertainty could be introduced into the planning considerations of our enemies. Unlike surface combatants, however, submarines would remain protected by stealth since only a general area of operations would be known to the adversary.
These are only suggestions for the Navy to consider. Navy officials, especially Vice Admiral Roger F. Bacon, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Undersea Warfare, have already done tremendous work in identifying new roles and missions for the submarine force. However, the submarine community must continue to evolve and look towards the future in reshaping its operations. A changing threat and declining budget are only the tip ofthe iceberg that stands in the way of smooth sailing for the Submarine Force here in Congress. By carefully weaving the roles and missions of the Submarine Force with those expected from the rest of the military, we can ensure that the U.S. maintains undersea and world military superiority well into the next century.
[Congressnwn Doman is a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and current member of the House Armed Services Committee, including the Subcommittee on Seapower. He is also a senior member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.]