Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate

SUBLANT Remarks to the Submarine Technology Symposium

There are two things that give our submarines a qualitative  advantage over those of other nations-our people,  and our advanced technology.  The people part of the equation is the responsibility of the Navy bluesuiters on active duty-to recruit, train and pass on the legacy of our predecessors to our future leaders. But the second key area, technology, is the province of you in this audience. Your expertise is critical to maintaining our world preeminence in undersea warfare. We need your help to improve our capabilities as the Navy transitions from the concepts of war on and under the high seas toward support of battle on land, concentrating on littoral warfare and maneuver “from the sea”.

In many cases, we need to field equipment and get it to the fleet as soon as possible, such as an operational unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV). My goal is for us to work as a team to pull it all together-science and engineering, with leaders from industry, academia, and government. In order for us to work efficiently and to the maximum benefit of the Navy and the Submarine Force, we all need to share a common vision and work toward common goals. To that end, rd like to share my thoughts with you as both an operational commander, and as the submarine community sponsor.

Let’s project ahead 10 years from now. What will the world look like, and what will our Navy and submarines face in opposition? Predicting the future may be inexact, but we must try if we are to provide our nation with the tools we believe we need to protect our vital interests and economic well-being over a wide range of possibilities. World-wide trends point toward continued regional instability driven by the pressures of economic hardship, mass migrations and ideological differences. There will be many more situations such as we have today in Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda and Haiti; there is danger of major regional conflicts in the Persian Gulf and the Korean peninsula; and a resurgent Russia could emerge at odds with the West if democratic reforms fail.

High technology weapons will be readily available throughout the word to anyone with the cash to pay for them. High performance supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles and sophisticated anti-air defenses will present formidable challenges to our surface and air forces. Nuclear weapons will be reduced within the United States and Russia, but may proliferate elsewhere. On the domestic side, our government and the American public will demand we minimize the risk to American military personnel in any potential conflict.

In order to deal effectively with an unstable world and protect our vital interests, it’s important that we maintain a strong Navy and Submarine Force able to deal decisively with any potential adversary. In particular, we will face more modem submarines around the world as undersea technology proliferates. The 688/6881 submarines that make up the bulk of our force today are relatively new, with an average age of 9 years. But, by 1005, the average age of our SSNs will be 16 years. Note that during a 9 year period between 1997 and 2005, assuming a third SEA-WOLF is authorized in FY 96 and the first New SSN is authorized in FY 98, only 3 new submarine will be delivered. By 2005, our attack submarine force will consist of about 50 SSNs 4 modern submarines (3 SEAWOLFs and 1 New SSN) and 46 688/688Is. If the third SEAWOLF is cancelled, and the New SSN delayed, we will have only 2 modem post-688 SSNs. Although the 688s and 688Is are fine submarines today, it’s clear that they are vulnerable to the projected threat, have no room for further major modifications, and need improvement in littoral warfare capabilities. They will be retired at a rate of 3 to 4 per year early next century. The bottom line is that an infusion of new technolo-gy is urgently required for the next generation SSN, an SSN which must not only serve us better in regional conflict but be able to also deal with the best competition it is likely to meet on the high seas. We also need to backfit new technology where we can to enhance the large numbers of 688s and 688Is in littoral warfare and rest-of-the-world missions since they will make up the bulk of our force well into the next century.

So, looking into my crystal ball, I’d like to make some observations on where we’re headed, what’s important to us, and where we need help in the technology areas. I’ll try not to steal anyone’s thunder from the presentations you will hear during this symposium, but rather provide a thumbnail sketch to set the stage for those who follow.

  • First, we need steady production of new SSNs. There are three main reasons why this is true.
  1. First, the threat of quieter, more modern submarines by potential adversaries. Our best submarines today will have an unacceptably low advantage compared to the submarines possessed by other countries by the next decade.
  2. Secondly, it’s the best way to preserve our critical industrial base of over 5000 vendors and the unique skills of our designers and builders.
  3. Finally, we must build now because of the impending high rate of 688 retirements later. It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to afford to build enough submarines to match the 3-4 per year retirement rate of 688s.
  • A production bridge is required until construction of the New SSN begins. Building the third SEAWOLF is the most cost effectie way to go. Unfortunately, a lot of people on Capitol Hill falsely believe there is no military requirement for this ship and it’s approval is in jeopardy. We can use all the help we can get in getting this message through loud and clear.
  • The spread of high technology weapons is increasing the risk to surface and air ASW forces faster than for submarines. We all know how difficult ASW is; after all, it was the Navy’s top priority for much of the Cold War, and we spend billions of dollars in the effort. It still is a very challenging problem for us. Very few countries in the world have any significant ASW capability, so our submarines offer our national command authority a low risk option, one that can be as covert or overt as desired, and can operate at will in the littoral waters of the world even if the battle space above the ocean surface is still unsecured .
  • Minefield detection and mapping is a real problem. You’ve heard me say this for years. Our hull-mounted submarine sonars are not good enough in detecting all bottom, moored or floating mines, and allow us to avoid them. The solution is an UUV that will allow us to stand off, and won’t put our people or ships at risk. Our highest priority is the development of a near term, less than 4 years, interim mine recoMaissance system. The fleet currently has no capability to conduct remote, unmanned minefield reconnaissance.
  • Offensive mining also remains a valid submarine require-ment. We need a follow-on to the Submarine Launched Mobile Mine to allow us to covertly lay minefields, particularly in or near harbors and in the shallow water littoral areas.
  • We need to enhance our ability to support the land battle. An area that needs examination is the use of submarines to launch and/or control unmanned aerial vehicles for land reconnaissance. Our ability to strike targets ashore must also keep pace with the rest of the Navy with Tomahawk Block N and follow-on strike weapons. This needs to include real time or rapid retargeting, and innovative ways to aid the troops ashore. It’s not too far fetched to think of troops ashore calling for anti-tank or bunker busting bombardment from the ship’s off-shore, and this being provided by a combination of submarines and surface ships using their strike weapons. And don’t discount the need for some silver bullets in the form of conventional SLBM strikes.
  • Communications is a critical area for integrated operations with submarines and other forces, joint and allied. The key problem here is achieving the higher data rates and compatibility with the rest of the fleet because of the limitations of submarine antennas. We must be able to communicate with anyone in a seamless and automatic fashion.
  • Acoustic sensors have been our bread and butter for decades, and they’re still as important as ever. We need better and more reliable towed arrays, improved hull-mounted arrays, more robust signal processing, and improved displays.
  • We need to enhance the ability of 688 class submarines to support special warfare forces since we will have so few SEA-WOLF and New SSNs by 2005. The requirement is for sufficient hulls to support either a dry deck shelter or the Advanced Seal Delivery System (ASD). Communications and imagery support are also key to our ability to operate satisfactorily with special warfare units.
  • Our periscopes today are the products of 1960s technology and need replacement. Many of our allies have submarines today with infra-red vision and/or laser range finders built in on their standard periscopes. Our commanding officers complain about not being able to see well at night, such as on counter-drug operations. The photonics mast/non-penetrating periscope offers the technolo-gy to use state-of-the-art devices to provide improved surveillance capability in all weather conditions, and give us greater freedom with sail location in submarine design as well . This technology must be perfected.
  • And speaking of the sail, there are several enhancements that need careful consideration, including low observable features to reduce radar cross section, storage of special warfare equip-ment, and possibly built-in antennas.
  • An anti-air weapon for self-defense against helicopters and ASW aircraft is also something we should be thinking about.Although our submarines still use their natural stealth well, even when they are at periscope depth nearly continuously, the mere threat of being able to take out an ASW aircraft would make a big difference to potential enemies, and subsequently in our ability to defend ourselves. It may not be a high priority now, but I would put it in the space and weight resented category.
  • Up to this point, I’ve concentrated almost exclusively on the attack submarine side of the house. Our SSBNs do their job so well, that we often take them for granted. I see no change in the requirement for us to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent force well into the foreseeable future. Rapid and flexible targeting, reliable communications, very high weapon system reliability, and of course the continued invulnerability of our submarines are essential. The D-5 missile system will not last forever, and nuclear weapons are not likely to go away. We need to begin thinking about what’s next 20 years down the road .
  • I’ve laid on the table a number of areas where technology is important to satisfying fleet requirements. I doubt that I need to remind you that we are being squeezed very hard for money. Affordability will drive most everything we do for years to come. We must take advantage of open architecture designs and commer-cial off-the-shelf components whenever possible. We simply don’t have the priority or funding to afford everything we would like, and  we’re being forced to make very hard choices on what to buy.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League