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In the late 40s, when making plowshares from swords was a growth industry, virtually the entire Submarine Force was on the chopping block. All historical evidence at that time was that the submarine’s single meaningful mission was seaborne commerce raiding, and although it was recognized by some that these units had literally brought Japan to its knees, the new potential adversary– the Soviet Union – had interior lines of communication, no significant merchant marine, and its expan-sionism could be inhibited by the threat of air-delivered nuclear weapons. The common wisdom of the time all too often took the following form:

The threat no longer exists, and even though the Submarine Force played a major role in its demise, an evaluation of existing military needs indicates that there remains no compelling requirement for anything more than a token force level, since no real warfighting role remains for submarines. Submariners arguing for continued strong support of these weapon systems are accused of engaging in parochial invent-a-threat tactics, and even many in the rest of the Navy remain unconvinced of any future for these single-mission platforms.

A brief historical note about the war then just ended is appropriate here. The incredible successes of the Submarine Force in the Pacific during WWll are somewhat general knowledge– 55 percent of all Japanese merchant ships and 38 percent of all their naval vessels destroyed were sunk by submariners, who never exceeded 1.6 percent of U.S. naval personnel. Not quite as well known is that the intended employment of the Submarine Force on the eve of Pearl Harbor was not interdiction of merchant shipping and indepen-dent operations in enemy waters (the skippers had been taught, in fact, that to operate a submarine within 500 miles of an enemy airbase was virtually suicide!). The primary mission (identical to that of Japanese submarines, incidentally), with attendant tactics and doctrine, was to be operations with the Fleet as Fleet Scouts — a tasking made somewhat academic by mid-morning of 7 December 1941. Submarines were then turned loose in “unrestricted submarine warfare” because it was the only naval option available at the time – having been deliberately ignored during the air strike as non-threats. Tactics and doctrine largely had to be invented in real time, and as Oay Blair, Jr. descnDed so well in Silent Victory, shaking the Submarine Force loose of deeply imbedded conservative training and cautious assumptions did not come easy. Many skippers were relieved in the first year of the war for having “failed to engage the enemy.”

After WWII, submariners made note of the large Soviet Submarine Force that threatened trans-Atlantic Sea Lines of Communications {SLOCs) in support of any future European war, and constructed a case that U.S. submarines could conduct anti-submarine warfare {ASW). As might be expected, this concept was not universally embraced by the Navy. By about 1948, the case had been built marginally enough to grudgingly justify the establishment of Submarine Development Group Two (now Submarine Development Squadron Twelve) in New London, Connecticut, to develop the concepts and tactics of submarine ASW. Even before the quantum leap in capability provided by NAUTILUS and her subsequent sisters starting in the mid-50s, DEVGRUTWO had put together viable and effective guidance which enabled the U.S. submarine to assume a vital role in protection of SLOCs against a Soviet submarine threat.

The history of the U.S. Submarine Force development between 1950 and 1990 and its superior military capability relative to that of the Soviets has been previously told so often and so well that to repeat it again here would be redundant. Let it suffice to say that on the eve of the physical collapse of the Berlin Wal~ their critically important sea-based nuclear strategic reserve had been driven out of the deep oceans and was still held at great risk even while backed into heavily defended bastions close to Soviet shores. Our fleet ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) were, for all practical purposes, immune from any credible offensive action, and operated wherever and however national strategy deemed most useful. As for tactical units, U.S. nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) could operate virtually anywhere at will, were the irresistible force which had driven Soviet SSBNs into (target rich!) bastions, and had presented the Soviets with the planning problem of almost assured destruction of uy significant naval units out of port at the beginning of a NATO/Warsaw pact conflict Not only were the Soviet SSNs largely relegated to a defensive role in support of the bastioned SSBNs and therefore mostly neutralized as a threat to the SLOCs, but when they did venture out of home waters, they bad to have felt the eyes and ears of an integrated, combined arms systems designed to deny them stealth and covertness, and therefore, military effectiveness. It should be no surprise that our thoughtful, chess-playing ex-adversaries, with this arrangement of men on the board, chose to resign rather than playing out the match. Whether the ASW mission was thrust upon or invented by submariners in the late 40s, there is little disagreement that the role was adapted to and played to an award-worthy excellence -just as between 1941 to 1945.

There no longer exists any credible doubt that the SSN has any competitor for the effective engagement of targets on or under the oceans surface. That fact should not imply, however that the submarine is a single-mission platform. The point is that there is often a siagle most important mission that no other platform can undertake in a meaningful way; therefore priority of employment often detracts from secondary missions. That was the case with the escalating U.S. submarine attacks against the Japanese SLOCs to their newly-acquired conquests. The critical nature of this mission and the success with which it was executed, as it was again to be with the anti-Soviet ASW mission from 1960-1990, resulted in a near-total commitment of all submarine assets. Looking beyond the two diverse missions themselves, however, the common enabling characteristic in both cases which permitted adapting to, then executing the superbly unexpected tasking was stealth – ability to selectively deny an opponent knowledge of their presence.

In a Deja vu all over again manner, the common wisdom of the late 40s cited earlier has again become popular. Again, submariners are striving to articulate the fact that their plat-form’s basic enabling characteristic of stealth provides just that capability required to dramatically contribute towards those Dew requirements of a multi-polar and regional-conflict-prone post-cold war world. In a published policy statement titled Submarine Roles in the 1990s and Beyond. of31 January 1992, VADM Roger Bacon, the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, Under-sea Warfare, describes how intrinsic capabilities of the U.S. SSN suda as stealth, agility and endurance provide options to the National Command Authority that are at once unique to the platform, but at the same time are complementary and synergistic with other key components of a reduced but balanced U.S. military force structure.

A major change in the U.S. military is felt by most to be necessary because the overriding strategic requirement is no longer to deter global war on a regional basis (i.e. the periph-ery of the Soviet Union), but rather to deter regional war on a global basis. This is by no means a lesser included requirement of what submarines and the rest of the U.S. armed forces have been doing for the last 40 plus years. Another significant change of the past few years is the redefinition of the very word strategic which, since 1945, has really meant nuclear. There will be no participation in regional conOict by U.S. forces if there are not vital interests involved, as clear a definition of strategic as is possible, but it is extremely unlikely that the use of nuclear weapons will be considered. Nuclear weaponry remains a critical factor in the stralegic algorithm, however, and they will remain in the back row of the chessboard.

The ability of an SSN to quickly proceed, without need for a critical mass of supporting and logistic forces, to any point on the globe and to remain as a ubiquitous but not necessarily provocative force for periods measured in months is a valuable and unique asset for the transitionary and unstable period of world history now unfolding. For the third time in this century, the enabling characteristic which permits this new employment is the Intrinsic stealth of the platform. As demonstrated in Desert Storm, because of weapons such as Tomahawk, the SSN in a strike role is no longer limited to naval or maritime targets.

Those that would point out that there is no longer a credible threat to defend against are probably correct in the strictest semantic sense of the word defend. For two generations we truly did have to defend against the announced intention of Soviet communism to expand globally. The issue is now deterrence, and though defense can be accomplished from a position of parity, deterrence cannot. Deterrence could be thought of as the clear and unambiguous capability for implementing armed litigation ofinternational law (when so mandated both domestically and internationally). AJthougb it may appear contradiction in terms, the future roles of the Department of Defense are really based on a clearly credible offensive capability which Is rapid, mobile, siii”Vivable and free of dependence upon foreign Tbis credence can proceed from massive quantities of normal military equipment, or it can be generated from reasonable numbers of systems which exploit the unfair technological ad\’&ntages intrinsic to sucb as a modern, ubiquitous, U.S. SSN.

In Submarine Roles in the 1990s and Beyond, it is noted that an existence of what could be called the great black fleet, a constellation of 14-16 SSNs deployed and moving somewhat homogeneously throughout the world’s oceans, would result in a high probability that a unit would always be within two days (reportedly the degree of clear warning available concerning the invasion of Kuwait) steaming of any shoreline, where it could survivably observe or engage. Others, of course, including units in U.S. ports not currently deployed, could arrive on station in a serial fashion with time.

In response to the argument that one SSN is not going to stop an armored column, it must be noted that with the assumption of the role of a strategic platform comes all the strategic logic developed in support of nuclear weapons. Counterforce and countervalue do have real meaning in a non-nuclear sense. A survivable platform is not obliged to employ its weaponry in a tactical, unit-versus-unit sense against an adversary’s force, but can credibly threaten targets of economic value to him, such things as economic, communications, transportation or power nodes. There are few countries in the world that could be cavalier about losing twelve carefully selected targets in these categories to Tomahawks a couple of days into some aggressive adventurism. In fact, the largely aviation term sortie generation begins to have some meaning for submarine strike operations in regional conflict, since as subsequent units roll in to their launch points, previous units are enroute to some location for rearming. An objective analysis would concern what sortie generation rate could be expected from what force level for how long, while other types of assets (Carrier Battle Groups, USAF TACAIR, Amphibious Forces, heavy Army Divisions, etc) are forming and enroute.

Submarine Roles in the 1990s and Beyond goes on to descn’be other credible post-cold war roles and missions for the SSN, but in the final analysis, there is no difference between submarine employment in 1943, 1973, or 1993. In each case, the platform assumes those tasks that its stealth and mobility make it better suited to perform (often uniquely so) and appropriate concepts, tactics, doctrine and Clare developed and implemented. As a logical extrapolation of the old more bang for the buck theology, and as has been demonstrated repeatedly this century, there is little that can compete with the cost effectiveness of a submarine in the traditional maritime role of Sea Denial, and now with the advent of advanced conventional munitions (ACMs), precise and Selective Strike ashore. Just as is taught regarding furniture, the long-term cost of ownership for a credible deterrent force does not have to be prohibitive if one doesn’t scrimp on the initial investment. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the demise of the Submarine Force are greatly exaggerated.

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