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In the current budget debates each program must be substantiated with regard to the vital interests of the United States.

To do so they must be evaluated as to their capabilities and cost effectiveness. The SEAWOLF is still under consideration (currently a two ship class) and a detailed review of the CENTURION program is underway. At the minimum, any in-depth analysis should include a comparison of cost, capability, and versatility with other major weapons systems.

Those in opposition to the fast attack nuclear submarines (SSNs) usually do not include in their ana1ysis the numerous capabilities built into every SSN and the inherent flexibility provided by a competent SSN force. A fast attack nuclear submarine is a very versatile and capable platform for carrying out almost any mission.

The Modern Fast Attack Nuclear Submarine

Cosider the capabilities of a modern American fast attack nuclear submarine. An Improved LOS ANGELES (6881) class submarine has 12 vertical launch system (VLS) tubes in addition to the four torpedo tubes. The torpedo room can hold 22 weapons for reloading the torpedo tubes. A 6881 can employ aJI U.S. submarine weapons: the Tomahawk land attack missile (fLAM) with the unitary 1000 pound high explosive warhead (fLAM-C) or with the cluster bomb warhead (fLAM-D)~ the long range Tomahawk anti-ship missile (fASM); the medium range Harpoon anti-ship missile; the heavyweight multipurpose MK 48 advanced capability (ADCAP) torpedo; and the submarine launched mobile mine (SLMM). The sonar system is the best in the world for detecting any ship or submarine. The insta1led electronic support measure (ESM) equipment provides an Improved LOS ANGELES class submarine with the capability to monitor the electromagnetic spectrum. The periscope gives the Commanding Officer the ability to visually scrutinize an area while remaining undetected, and its high powered optics aJiow detailed inspections with still photogra-phy and video recording capabilities. The standard communication equipment provides the submarine with the capacity to establish communications with any ship or military communication post anywhere in the world.

The crew of a 6881 totals about 120 enlisted and 15 officers. These sailors are accustomed to protracted deployments beneath the ocean’s surface. Unlike earlier counterparts who never went out for more than 30 days prior to the 7th of December in 1941, these submariners from Jules Vernes’ imagination are trained to conduct continuous submerged operations for several months.

To support the weapons systems and the crew, the nuclear propulsion plant of the submarine can supply almost unlimited electrical and propulsion power. The reactor provides the energy which allows the ship to produce its own oxygen and water and also revitalize the air. All of these systems give the modern nuclear submarine the ability to stay submerged for extended periods of time with the only practical limit being the amount of food carried on board. An SSN usually carries provisions and stores for 90 days of continuous submerged operations. This normally means about a 90 day maximum between port calls, but the time can be increased by carrying more supplies if an extended operation is planned, or by simple rationing if the extension is unplanned.

An Illustrative Deployment

An example deployment has the submarine leaving its homeport of Groton, Connecticut and proceeding to Europe for numerous show the flag port visits and routine operations with a carrier battle group {CVBG). On this deployment the SSN is an integrat-ed member of the CVBG as the group steams from one assignment to the next. Since no particular non-exercise mission is envi-sioned, she is loaded with a variety of weapons; namely, twelve TLAM-Cs and TLAM-Ds in the VLS tubes, and in the torpedo room there is a mixture of Harpoons, TASMs, TLAM-Cs, TLAM-Ds, and MK 48 ADCAP torpedoes. In all, the ship may be armed with more land attack missiles than torpedoes.

While enroute to England with the CVBG, the 6881 receives new orders to proceed into the Mediterranean Sea for surveillance operations. The Captain orders the ship to patrol depth at flank speed. As always, within about two weeks of leaving its home-port, a LOS ANGELES class submarine can be just about anywhere in the world. Several days after leaving the CVBG the submarine comes to periscope depth and the CO looks out the scope at the coastline of a high interest nation. The ship is now in a position to monitor coastal defense units and their movements, observe near-shore aircraft operations, and record all shipping movements around several ports. Sending non-submarine units on this type of mission is normally not an option because the presence of surface ships or aircraft often produces a change in the activity of the forces being monitored. The submariners have the advantage of being able to monitor a nation’s routine operations due to their inherent stealth. The ability of an SSN to proceed to a surveillance station undetected, and remain on the station for an extended period, gives the United States a powerful reconnais-sance platform and an effective intelligence gathering capability.

After three weeks of monitoring all events in the region, the 6881 receives a message to prepare to conduct coordinated strike operations with another CVBG . Iraq has lined up several divisions on the border of Kuwait and has threatened to attack again. In less than 48 hours, the submarine is in position to launch a salvo of 16 TLAMs against selected targets in Iraq. A salvo of 16 missiles can be devastating, but in conjunction with TLAMs and aircraft from the CVBG, the resulting destruction of a single strike operation can cripple a nation. A Tomahawk missile can accurately hit one particular room in a given building from a distance of over 500 miles. This means that the targets that can be attacked are quite numerous and they can be of either political or military significance. As seen in the 1991 war with Iraq, the missiles can hit the nation’s infrastructure (electric production plants, oil processing facilities, government buildings, etc.) or its military bases and equipment (airfields, aircraft, coastal defense units, anti-aircraft batteries, ammunition warehouses, etc.). In this example, Iraq continues to rattle its sabres and the President decides that a limited missile strike is necessary to convince the Iraqi military of the extreme nature of these events. The strike is assigned to the 6881 with its 16 missiles. The SSN launches all 16 TLAMs against military supply depots. This strike also could have been aimed at the Iraqi airfields or against the surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries to clear the way for a U.S. air strike.

Even after this salvo uses all the missiles in the submarine’s VLS tubes, this 6881 is still a very useful platform. While still at sea, the submarine is ordered to monitor shipping around the north entrance to the Suez Canal, looking for a freighter that is carrying critical contraband to Iraq. After two weeks of monitor-ing all ships that pass through the Suez, a different problem develops near Cyprus. A U.S. freighter is being shot at by patrol boats and boarded by pirates. The submarine is tasked with the mission of intercepting the freighter and the patrol boats, an anti-surface warfare (ASUW) operation. In a few short hours, the SSN has located the patrol boats attempting to tow the freighter. The submarine CO orders an attack on the patrol boats with two Harpoon missiles and one MK 48 torpedo. Within minutes one patrol boat is in flames from the Harpoons and the other has been destroyed by the powerful MK 48 warhead. The freighter crew then takes the ship safely to the nearest port as the SSN vanishes into the dark waters.

Several hours later the submarine receives a message to proceed to an area in the middle of the Mediterranean for a special warfare operation. A 20 member SEAL team is being sent to perform a reconnaissance of an island. To prevent the island’s defending military units from being alerted by an aircraft or surface ship coming close to the coast, the SEALs have opted to conduct a covert insertion from a submarine. To save time, the SEAL team carries out an open-ocean parachute drop to be picked up by the SSN. Two hundred miles from the nearest land, the submarine surfaces and in less than 15 minutes, the SEALs are all on board. Immediately the stealthy SSN disappears beneath the ocean’s surface and heads toward the island’s coastline. The 6881 then covertly takes the SEALs within sight of the beach. Only the most sophisticated detection gear can now detect the SSN as it closes the coastline. By the late afternoon the submarine is at periscope depth and reconnoitering the intended landing area for the SEALs. After sunset the SEAL team starts an underwater disembarkation through the escape hatches. A short time later the lock-out procedure has been completed and the SSN is heading out to sea. The entire mission was conducted submerged without any chance of being detected by even the most observant defenders.

During this time Libya has become very belligerent toward the U.S. and Great Britain. President Khadafi has declared an exclusion zone abound Libya and he has stated that Libya will stop all American and British passing within 100 miles of Libya. To aid them in this effort, the Libyan Navy sends out several patrol boats and prepares to deploy their Soviet-built diesel submarines outside the Gulf of Sidra. The Libyan Air Force begins patrolling the area with several squadrons around-the-clock. The SSN is ordered to the area to conduct an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operation against the Libyan submarines in the east part of the Gulf of Sidra. The Captain of the U.S. submarine knows that searching for a diesel electric submarine is not easy, but the SSN is by far the most effective platform for this mission. The submerged submarine does not need air cover or protection from shore batteries and can easily search large sections of ocean while remaining undetected. The CVBG has been tasked with patrolling the exclusion zone and protecting American and British shipping. Two days after beginning its search the fast attack nuclear submarine detects one of the Libyan submarines. The SSN quickly launches a communications buoy that reports the position of the diesel submarine. A short time later, after a Libyan jet attacked an innocent merchant ship, the Captain of the nuclear submarine is ordered to sink the Libyan submarine and fires one MK 48 ADCAP torpedo. The ADCAP, the most advanced ASW weapon in the world, quickly starts homing on the Libyan submarine. As he speeds up and tries to avoid the torpedo, the Libyan Command-ing Officer realizes that his submarine’s maneuverability is no match for the ADCAP and within minutes the diesel submarine is broken apart by the explosion of the 1000 pound warhead of the MK48.

While reporting the destruction, the Captain of the SSN is informed that a U.S. reconnaissance plane has detected a Libyan surface action group (SAG) of three frigates and three corvettes about 200 hundred miles to the east. The submarine and two U.S. destroyers from the CVBG that is several hundred miles northeast are tasked with a coordinated TASM attack against the SAG. Within an hour the destroyers have launched eight missiles and the 6881 has launched four T ASMs from its torpedo tubes. The defenses of the Libyan destroyers are overwhelmed by the number of incoming missiles, and the different directions from which they approach; 100 percent of the ships in the SAG are hit. The Libyan ships start to burn and in a short time several are abandoned and sinking. The surviving Libyans quickly realize the futility of their purpose and withdraw their remaining forces with no loss of life to the Americans.

This particular 6881 has been in the Mediterranean for almost eight weeks and has yet to need logistical support. The SSN still has sufficient weaons available to conduct further operations and enough supplies to remain submerged and independent for several more weeks.

Most of these missions could have been conducted by aircraft and/or surface ships. but the SSN provides all these capabilities with only a negligible threat to American lives. Aircraft have extremely limited on-station time and surface ships are susceptible to attack. While a CVBG can provide anti-air warfare (AA W) protection for the surface ships. and it has a significant ASUW capability. it is extremely costly when compared to an SSN force that does not require the same AAW and ASUW capabilities for a given ASW and STRIKE capacity.

Another four to six weeks of submerged operations would not be uncommon for an American submarine at this point. but to emphasize the flexibility of the Submarine Force. there is yet another possibility; mine warfare. A border dispute flares up between two nations. The SSN is ordered to conduct a rendezvous with the submarine tender USS SIMON LAKE (AS-33) to load SLMMs. During one day alongside the tender, ten SLMMs are loaded into the torpedo room along with 12 more TLAMs in the VLS tubes. The 6881 then proceeds to the designated area. Within a few hours. ten SLMMs are launched by the submarine. With a well planned minefield in place. the SSN proceeds away from the area. The hostile nation is informed of the minefield and quickly calls an end to the fighting.


The above scenario demonstrates the versatility of an Improved LOS ANGELES class submarine. The SSN is a cost-effective and capable platform with inherent flexibility that allows it to perform many different missions. There are no other platforms which provide the peacetime surveillance, intelligence collection. or special operations capabilities that is built into every SSN. Combine these with the ASW. ASUW, STRIKE warfare, and MINE warfare abilities and the uniqueness of the SSN becomes clear to those considering the best force mix for the future. SSNs are vital to our national interests whether we are in a time of tranquil peace, total war. or any level of turmoil between these extremes.

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