[Ed. Note: The following is a response by RADM(sel) A.H. Konetzni, USN, Head, Attack Submarine Branch, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations to H. E. Payne’s article in the July 1993 Proceedings.]
Mr. Payne’s otherwise excellent article on the control and M maneuverability of submarines suffered from inaccurate statements regarding today’s U.S . attack submarine force.
Mr. Payne’s overall goal-increased maneuverability in submarines through technical innovation-deserves serious consideration by submarine designers . However, in building a case for such improvements, he frequently relied on examples that had little or nothing to do with the maneuverability of nuclear-powered attack submarines. For instance, Mr. Payne directly coupled recent, unfortunate incidents between Russian and U.S. submarines to a perceived maneuvering deficiency.
In and of themselves, collisions at sea or in the air-or on the highway for that matter-do not indicate a lack of platform maneuverability. The details surrounding the two events Mr. Payne refers to are classified, but it is worth noting that in neither case did the results of the official Navy investigations point to a lack of maneuverability on the part of the U.S. submarine. Is greater maneuverability desirable in future submarines? Yet bet! Would such improvements have prevented the incidents referred to? Almost certainly not.
In arguing for control improvements, Mr. Payne indicated that tomorrow’s most likely antisubmarine warfare threat-the diesel submarine-requires that submarines be designed and built to a different standard.
The fact, however, is that the difference between a diesel submarine operating on the battery and a nuclear submarine operating at slow speed is not tactically significant. That is to say modern submarines, whether nuclear- or diesel-powered, are very, very quiet. As is the case with most real-world problems, countering the diesel-submarine threat requires a wide range of technical, tactical, and training innovations-including the most advanced passive and active sonar systems, futuristic non-acoustic systems, comprehensive intelligence, and increased maneuverability.
The Navy”s current fast-attack submarines and their crews are fully capable of handling diesel submarines operating in coastal waters. They also can handle the worst-case ASW threat-a resurgent Russia with its fleet of more than 50 modern fast-attack submarines. Such a capability will continue to exist in future classes of U.S. attack submarines . It may be fiscally prudent to work to concentrate on the most likely threat, but it is incumbent on this nation’s leaders to ensure that the capability exists to deal with more challenging scenarios.
Furthermore, while important, the ASW role is only one of six primary naval-warfare missions assigned to U.S. attack subma-rines. Any proposed improvements also must better, in addition to ASW capabilities, those related to strike warfare, intelligence, and the other primary mission areas.
Finally, Mr. Payne repeated a myth that won’t go away: Because U.S . attack submarines are big, they are found wanting in their shallow-water capabilities. Because diesel submarines are small, they are the perfect littoral-warfare platforms.
The U.S. Submarine Force is unequaled in its ability to operate in shallow water-period. It has more than 14,000 days of experience operating in shallow water over the past 20 years. Contrary to Mr. Payne’s assertions, the maneuverability of modern U.S. attack submarines in shallow water is excellent. The real key to mastering the difficulties of shallow-water submarine operations revolves around crew experience. In real-world operations around the globe and around the clock, U.S. submariners continue to build on an already extensive base of shallow-water experience.
Improvements in submarine control and maneuverability are highly desirable. The Submarine Force and the Navy, however, must balance carefully all the platform requirements with the fiscal resources available to develop a submarine that will serve the nation in a wide variety of roles and missions, well into the next century. And that is exactly what we’re doing in the attack submarine headquarters today.