The end of the Cold War has been a watershed in the U.S. national security environment. The Soviet Union no longer exists as a global threat to our vital interests. The uncer-tain threat of regional crises and contingencies has replaced that of global war as the basis for U.S. defense planning. This funda-mental change, as enunciated in the National Security Strategy of the United States and the National Militar.y Strate&)’, requires a reexamination of service strategies and programming. This examination is well underway as each service struggles to determine its contribution in the post-Cold War world.
The U.S. Navy has outlined its vision for the future in ,.From the Sea: Preparing the Naval Service for the 21st Century. This paper develops a framework for the contributions of naval forces to the new regional defense strategy. What that paper leaves largely unsaid however, is the exact contribution of each element of U.S. naval forces. The Submarine Force, in particular, is striving to effect a smooth transition from a Cold War posture to a regional defense posture. This transition must include the specific delineation of roles and missions in order to determine the force structure, future submarine design, and institutional changes necessary to support this new strategy.
The discussion of evolving roles and missions for U.S. submarines is important for a number of reasons. First, it disproves the notion that submarines are an exclusively Cold War weapon. The submarine is an errective weapons system for regional warfare and forward presence missions. Second, the submarine is not solely an ASW platform. Even during the Cold War, the submarine was designed to have a multi-mission capability. Articulation and demonstration of this multi-mission capability is vital.
Roles and Missions
This articulation of the roles and missions of the Submarine Force cannot be perceived as merely a rationalizing of force structure, but rather as an honest, professional appraisal of submarine potential in the regional defense strategy. The National Military Strategy is based upon forward presence, crisis response, strategic deterrence and defense, and reconstitution. Although these terms have been used to describe strategy in the past, their current use carries specific connotations.
The Navy probably will assume a greater share of responsi-bility for forward presence due to the rapid pace of ground-based force withdrawals and overseas base closures. With the declining numbers of ships in the Navy the submarine can be expected to assume a greater role in that forward presence.
The submarine has significant potential as an instrument of naval diplomacy. [Ed. Note: See Submarine Diplomacy in the Falklands by LT Brent Ditz.ler in the April 1993 SUBMARINE REVIEW.] In addition to its role in alliance building, the submarine can be used for signaling by the United States as either an independent platform capable of conducting cruise missile attacks, or as an element of an even stronger naval force, such as a Maritime Action Group (MAG) or Carrier Battle Group (CVBG). The submarine is valuable as a force multiplier for a MAG, and offers a U.S. -unique comparative advantage as a rapid response-capable forward element for a crisis response force.
The traditional dual role of the forward deployed submarine to enhance crisis response capability is especially useful for regional contingencies. This provides the operational commander with additional capabilities and significant flexibility in periods of rising tensions. The submarine’s flexibility allows it to assume independent or joint roles in support of forward presence.
The submarine’s unique and multiple capabilities make it a significant contributor to the national objective of crisis response. The submarine can have many roles in crisis response with the more important ones being 1) rapid response for selective strike and offense suppression, 2) joint task force and ground support, and 3) integrated strike operations. The submarine can arrive on the scene of a crisis faster than any other naval force due to its ability to conduct sustained independent high speed transits. The transit of a CVBG, on the other hand, is constrained by the slowest ship in the formation and the need to conduct periodic refueling of non-nuclear powered ships.
The ability of submarines to perform offense suppression of sea and land based threats helps the joint task force (JTF) commander in two ways. First, it can reduce the threat to follow-on U.S. forces by destruction or degradation of the adversary’s capabilities. Second, it forces the adversary to divert his forces from operations against those U.S. follow-on forces to operations against the U.S. submarines. The submarine is the ideal platform for these roles because its ability to remain undetected allows it to be inserted into a hostile region without the need for significant defensive support.
The submarine’s role in joint task force and ground warfare support is complementary in nature. The submarine can be tasked with missions from either the joint task force commander or unified commander in chief (CINC), or the local battle group or naval expeditionary force commander. In both cases, this support would occur in situations where follow-on forces have arrived and established themselves in the region. Additionally, the submarine will continue its offense suppression efforts, using its ability to operate far forward. The submarine’s unique capabilities also provide the operational naval forces and ground forces command-ers with real-time covert intelligence that could prove invaluable to coordination and defense of follow-on forces.
In joint operations, the submarine can simultaneously support both defensive and offensive tasks as designated by the operational commander. ,From the Sea, the Navy’s strategy paper, has articulated the joint missions of joint strike, joint littoral warfare, joint surveillance, and joint SEW (Space and Electronic Warfare) intelligence. These missions are supported by the submarine performing the fundamental tasks of anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASUW), strike, and mine and anti-mine warfare as well as the supporting tasks of special warfare, surveillance, combat search and rescue (CSAR), and intelligence collection.
The ability of the submarine to employ cruise missiles provides the operational commander with additional flexibility and strike capability. “Submarines will not replace traditional carrier aircraft heavy-strike ordnance, but submarine-launched cruise missiles could be the vanguard element that attacks air-defense, early-warning, and communications facilities to reduce the threat against follow-on aircraft. “1 These potential roles of the submarine in crisis response illustrate the applicability of the submarine to regional warfare and demonstrate that the submarine is not solely an ASW weapon.
The submarine force has played a major role in nuclear deterrence, and that role wiU continue. With the recent agree-ments on nuclear weapons between the United States and Russia, the importance of the SSBN is growing as ICBMs are de-MIRVed and destroyed. The SSBN in this post-Cold War era will increas-ingly shoulder the entire burden of nuclear deterrence. One SSN role that may be unique among U.S. forces involves the ability to employ the nuclear variant of the Tomahawk cruise missile (TLAM-N). That SSN/SLCM nuclear capability appears to be well suited to deterring regional conflicts involving weapons of mass destruction.
The role of the submarine in strategic ASW has not yet changed nor should it as long as potentially hostile countries possess capable SSBN forces. Similarly, as long as the United States maintains nuclear arms control agreements with other countries, the submarine will have value as an ireplaceable national technical means (NTM) of verification.
Despite its inability to be reconstituted with 8-10 years from a standing start~ the submarine is still a factor in the national objective of reconstitution. [Ed. Note: See Submarine andustryJ Survival, by CDR Vernon Hunon in the April 1993 SUBMARINE REVIEW.] The primary goal of reconstitution is to deter an emergent global threat. By maintaining a viable submarine industrial base and maintaining our technological advantages in undersea superiority, the submarine remains a significant contribu-tor to this goal of deterrence. If deterrence fails, the submarine will provide a means of verifying the existence of an emergent global threat.
The submarine’s unique characteristics of stealth, endurance, mobility and responsiveness as well as its multi-mission capabili-ties make it an important contributor to forward presence, crisis response, deterrence, and reconstitution. Table 1 summarizes these contributions .
In looking at these roles and missions for the submarine, one should realize that the hierarchy of the four foundations of the regional defense strategy is in a state of transition. During the Cold War, nuclear deterrence and forward presence were the high priorities. Now, with the focus on regional warfare, forward presence and crisis response are becoming the highest priorities. The changing emphasis for roles and missions requires a continuing reevaluation of submarine force structure and submarine design.
The issue of force structure is more contentious now than in the recent past. The debate continues in the Pentagon and in the halls of Congress. The debate over force structure, however, does not simply involve raw numbers of ships. It involves the question of how the Navy should utilize its diminishing assets. The Navy headquarters has been reorganized to respond to the changing national security situation. Similar efforts are being considered at the fleet level to better integrate a smaller Navy. These efforts have led to the strengthening of deploying battle groups by integrating submarines into their operational organization. In addition, the ability of submarines to operate independently for fleet, JTF, and unified CINC disposal is being maintained using the current submarine organization.
The future size of the Submarine Force depends on short term and long term factors. In the short term, the concern will be how to effect the transition from Cold War force levels to regional defense force levels. The main factors that will affect the rate of force level reduction in the short term are primarily political or economic. Concerns over the effect of submarine industrial base shrinkage on local economies in New England and Virginia will be taken into consideration.
Three main factors wiJI affect the size of the Submarine Force in the long term. Perhaps the most important of these is the submarine industrial base. Ongoing studies of this issue should determine a baseline below which submarine procurement cannot fall without affecting the viability of the industrial base. A second factor in long term Submarine Force levels will be the impact of declining resources on both the overall portion of the federal budget and the defense budget. Efforts to contain a persistent budget deficit, and consolidation of roles and missions to reduce inter-service redundancy may contribute to Umiting submarine force levels. The third factor affecting long term force levels will be the input from the military, primarily based upon the require-ments of the Navy and the unified CINCs.
Future Submarine Design
The issue of submarine design is currently a hot topic due to the decision to cancel the SEAWOLF submarine program. Besides the current political arguments, submarine design is important because it reflects the long term direction of the submarine force. The issue of submarine design also must be looked at from both short term and ‘tong term perspectives.
Submarine design in the short term will be affected primarily by the issue of the submarine industrial base. Since the current size of the Submarine Force exceeds existing requirements, the question of when the new submarine must be constructed will hinge on maintaining the viability of the industrial base. This time factor will determine the magnitude of change that can be included in the new submarine design.
A second related factor will be afford ability. The need to provide a submarine that is both capable and affordable is as vital as it is obvious. A third factor is the ability of the new submarine design to incorporate changes that increase the regional warfight-ing capability of the submarine.
These factors are distinct but interrelated. They reflect the critical short term requirement of maintaining U.S. submarine capability through the production of affordable submarines that ensure the viability of the submarine industrial base. The short term requirement is !lQ1 to maintain submarine force levels which are shrinking. It is to retain a U.S. comparative advantage.
In the long term, the approach to submarine design must deflect criticism that it is stuck in the Cold War. Designers must concentrate on producing a regional warfighting submarine.
The regional warfighting submarine must have a design emphasis on those weapons that will be used in joint regional conflict. This translates into the ability to carry large numbers of cruise missiles and to fire them rapidly. Relatively few heavy torpedoes will be needed. One other consideration is the develop-ment of a proportional response weapon capable of disabling, vice destroying, vessels engaging in drug/weapon smuggling, minelay-ing, or piracy. [Ed Note: See SSN’s and Low lntenM Conflict by J. C. Hay in July 1990 SUBMARINE REVIEW.]
To be an effective contributor in a regional conflict strategy, the submarine must be able to expand its battlespace and maintain contact with other forces. The current battlespace of the subma-rine appears to be platform limited. Further expansion of the battlespace can be done through the use of unmanned vehicles. These vehicles can be used both underwater (UUVs) or in the air (UAVs). The need for the submarine to maintain contact with other forces is paramount in this emerging era of joint integrated operations.
The submarine’s best defense is its ability to remain undetected. As a result, the current stealth performance characteristics of the SEAWOLF should be maintained as a baseline, while research and development should focus on the means to maintain that perfor-mance while reducing costs.
Finally, in the rush to redirect the submarine design process towards a regional warfighting emphasis, it Is important to note that the submarine always has been able to adapt to tremendous changes in the international environment. This is due to its flexibility in design. While additions were made in submarine capability, old capabilities were maintained. The result has been a multi-mission capable platform that is flexible enough to respond to the demands of the post-Cold War world.
In designing the regional wartighting submarine of the future, there are three options to ensure that design flexibility is main-tained. One is to continue current practice and design a multipur-pose platform capable of operating across the spectrum of conflict. A second option is to design two classes of submarine, one to deal with the specific requirements of regional warfare, the other to maintain design flexibility and multipurpose, full warfare spectrum capability. A third option is to apply modular construction techniques to a basic submarine design.
The individual issues of submarine roles and missions, force structure, and design are important and vital to the future of the submarine force. They are however, simply parts of a larger issue: the justification of the submarine as on instrument of notional security for the United States.
Now that the Cold War is over, the focus of the defense debate is changing to the justification of specific forces. The Submarine Force has become the first subject of this debate, due to a perception of enormous procurement costs. The frame of reference for the entire submarine community has to be focused solidly on the larger justification of the submarine’s contribution to U.S . national security, rather than on narrow reasons for the procurement of a particular type of submarine.
For the entire submarine community, uniformed and civilian, military and industrial, to participate fully in the ongoing defense debate, some changes will be very helpful. Declassifying some past submarine operations that demonstrate the utility of the submarine in regional warfare and crises will help to correct the misperceptions surrounding the submarine. Similarly, efforts to publicize the capabilities and missions of the submarine will help to alleviate misperceptions and strengthen the declarative role of the submarine in naval diplomacy. In addition, efforts must be made to emphasize the enormous comparative advantage that the U.S. has in submarine technology over potential adversaries. This advantage has resulted in the relative invulnerability of the U.S. submarine in regional contingencies.
Having begun to participate fully in the defense debates, it is equally vital that the entire submarine community actively engage the Congress in the initial stages of the decision making process involving the future of the Submarine Force. This will ensure that Congress will make educated decisions concerning the future of submarines, and will also serve to develop and maintain the credibility of the submarine community in the eyes of Congress. Absent that total effort, Congress will still affect the future of the submarine force through decisions based not on the input of the submarine community but with a focus on individual issues vice long term vision.