It is heartening to see how innovative and farsighted recent submarine operational commanders-Hank Chiles, Hank McKinney. George Emery and Mike Barr-have been in operating our nuclear submarines in ways relevant to fleet needs. In tune with ” …From tbe Sea”. but more importantly in tune with the requirements of unified, numbered fleet and battle group commanders, adoption of what used to be secondary missions has been an important change for the Submarine Force.
A viable future for the nuclear submarine program, however, demands a great deal more than a change in submarine operations at sea. While the term paradigm shift has been over-used, it is fair to say that submariners need to effect paradigm shifts to a far greater extent than we have thus far, across a spectrum of activities from operations to acquisition strategy and process; to submarine design and flexibility; and to the selection and promot-ion of visionaries who can lead us to an assured future role for submarines which will be of equal value to our past contributions.
As has been described, and as you all know, Congress is presently debating a third SEAWOLF to bridge the construction gap until a new SSN Class (NSSN) design is complete and construction can begin. As of now, neither SSN 23 nor the NSSN is at all assured. Of importance is the fact the Administration, SecDef, SecNav and CNO strongly support the requirement to maintain the nation’s capability to design and build nuclear powered submarines. While the arguments to maintain the industrial base are persuasive and have survived the scrutiny of the Bottom Up Review. submariners must develop the same strategy and aggressiveness in selling our program and addressing ques-tions on the Hill that have worked to win approval of CVN 76 and continued DDG-51 construction at three ships, per year. All submarine people, civilian, retired and active-and submarine flag officers in particular-must become more proactive. There is little question that the Naval Submarine League’s first, and perhaps only priority for the moment, should be to encourage Congres-sional approval of the Administration’s submarine industrial base and military requirement program for SSN 23 and the NSSN. Presently, we seem to be supporting the actions of others. OLA and ONI efforts, and the Congressional submarine embarkations and tours of the Regional Crisis Demonstrator have all been helpful, but more, much more, must be done! There remain congressmen and senators, including some on the key committees, as well as influential Hill staffers, who don’t yet understand the operational realities of real world submarine warfare developments or why new submarines are required independent or the industrial base issues. It is essential that we be as well organized as any other community in being ready and anxious to answer questions before they are asked.
The Number Problem
Having said that an effective near term Hill strategy is the obvious priority of the moment, many other issues compete for near term attention. Acting as requirements spokesman for the Submarine Force, Vice Admiral (now Admiral) Hank Chiles and Vice Admiral George Emery have articulated the importance of maintaining the number of nuclear attack submarine required to respond to projected national joint military requirements in peace and/or conflict. Many recent studies have examined the number requirement, including several conducted outside the Navy Department. The low end of the number range for the post-2000 era coming out of a JCS study was 52 SSNs. Other credible studies favor future SSN force levels of 55-70 SSNs.
The question we need to be concerned about is not what the right number is; rather, how can we assure any number.
Most would agree that the Administration’s FY-95 budget request now on the Hill may shrink in the late 90s, but it probably won’t grow. If we assume that the FY~95 submission even roughly resembles what is to follow, then about $6 to $11 billion, or an average of $8.5 billion, of constant FY-94 dollars will be available to fund Navy Department ship construction. This, of course, must provide for everything from aircraft carriers to surface combatants to amphibious ships to auxiUaries, as well as nuclear attack submarines. If we are able to achieve a low end cost of $1.5 billion per NSSN, (FY-94 dollars), and we assume the Department of Defense routinely requests, and Congress authorizes, 1-1/2 SSNs per year, the Navy would have to program about 20-25 percent of its long term ship construction plan for nuclear submarines. This is unrealistically high, whether com-pared to history or any other barometer. I might add the 25 percent is based on some very optimistic out-year considerations. Even if the Navy’s efforts to reduce infrastructure are fully successful and the procurement budget grows in relative terms, it is unlikely the Navy could afford the low end number of l-112 submarine authorizations per year. If true, an eventual force level of even 45 SSNs (l-l/2 per year x 30 year life) might be unachievable.
Granted, there are many ifs in this prognostication, but it is troubling that such a pessimistic outcome is not the result of worst case arithmetic.
Need for visionaries
While the budget squeeze is the forcing function for inovative thought within the submarine community, there are plenty of other factors which suggest the need for introspection by a group which takes pride in not doing things simply because “We’ve always done it that way”.
The CNO staff realign according to joint mission areas, “… From the Sea”, and a general thirst for new ideas combine to create an environment where changes are possible.
Most believe we could benefit from some changes in the way we do business, although there is no consensus on what those changes should be.
Whether they are most needed in affordable submarine system acquisition, persuasive requirements articulation or operational matters is neither here nor there. But whatever the case, we have a need to identify the visionaries in our midst who can chart a successful way ahead.
While we want to maintain the professionalism and high standards which have typified our rich history, we also need to seek new ideas and new ways to do things so we can assure that the submariners’ conviction that nuclear submarines are bound to be an essential component of our Navy’s future becomes a reality.
In order to do this, change is essential. Retaining the qualities that brought us to the forefront is a great idea, but resting on our laurels is not.
We need to get out in front rather than defend yesterday’s positions. What follows are some unrelated ideas, including, no doubt, some very bad ones. If they serve to stir up debate, they will be useful because out of such debate will surely surface (no pun intended) the innovativeness which will make nuclear submarines the consensus cornerstone of future defense planning that submarines proved to be in both WW II and the defeat of communism and the Soviet Empire in the Cold War.
Submariners argue that the cost of operating nuclear submarines is low. Given that this is certainly true relative to their design, R&D and overhaul costs, this argument seems to have kept us from pressing to effect significant reductions in crew size.
People are obviously expensive to recruit, train, retain and eventually, retire. But while the rest of the submarine forces around the world have generally halved crew size through the advances of automation and technology, we have improved our technology and fighting effectiveness with little change in manning. It’s time to get on with it instead of explaining why not.
Why do we still have radio, ESM and sonar rooms? Why do we need about 25 men in the attack team at battle stations vice 6-8?
Why don’t we take more complete advantage of technology already available to use operator/supervisory consoles which are identical and fully redundant for all of the functions associated with operating and fighting our nuclear submarines? We need to move well to the right of the welcome initiatives now being proposed.
The Commanding Officer should supervise a control room populated with several such consoles which display, control and coordinate information. Eliminate the manned radio room! Communications, both incoming and outgoing, should be managed in connection with command and control of the submarine as a member of a battle group (or not). N87, N6 and SPA WAR have moved communications rapidly in response to the urgent need to put submarines on the same switchboard as the rest of the joint force. We must encourage and further accelerate this effort.
The manipulation of sonar information and equipment should be done from the same kind of console asC’I and ESM/surveillance functions.
Similar displays and controls would be available for depth and course control of the submarine, long ago consolidated into a single automated station in most other navies ‘ submarines. And usually with the X control surface configuration we first experimented with in ALBACORE decades ago! The same or a separate console could control shifting or expelling variable ballast, the hydraulics and air systems and the operation and monitoring of hull openings.
Adoption of navigation, radar plot and visual display coordination of navigation charts and information from global positioning systems and laser gyro navigators would be identical to systems used commercially.
When the tactical situation requires, these same consoles would be devoted to the control and management of contact and weapons systems.
Since all consoles would be identical, the arrangement of displays and operators would be at the discretion of the commanding officer.
All of the hardware and as much of the software as possible would be commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS). Architecture would presumably capture the lessons of our own as well as those of successful commercial users who must have similar reliability and flexibility requirements, protected by logic that precludes software flaws in one logic chain affecting the total system’s central nervous system.
Of course, the NSSN will pursue the direction of economy and increased redundancy advocated here. But is suggested that we need to run very fast vice jog. And our trend toward COTS should be greatly accelerated outside the nuclear propulsion plant.
So the stovepipes of a radio union, ESM union, ship control/diving party union, fire control, sonar and navigation unions would all disappear in favor of a single space populated with identical consoles which display and control all of the information necessary to operate and fight the submarine.
Reduction of Personnel Stovepipes
One would hope the people stovepipes could also be reduced. One enlisted rating or NEC for each of dozens of systems is unaffordable and unnecessary. In principle, at least, it is suggest-ed that submarines might be manned by three rating groups: one mechanic~, one electronic and one general support. The first wo might receive additional training in nuclear propulsion or not. Only a few would have the advanced maintenance training required for sophisticated trouble shooting, since little such work would be done at sea except in the mechanical and plumbing systems which are not as easily patched around as electronics and computerized hardware.
The crew size would be greatly reduced and training reduced in breadth, if not length. The ratio of officers to enlisted might be richer and assignment of LDOs and Warrant Officers might be advisable.
Women in Submarines
I recognize and applaud CNO’s decision to study this matter carefully before leaping to precipitous conclusions. Speaking strictly for myself, however, I believe submarines should lead, not lag, in the recruitment and assignment of women. The high overall quality of people in our force more than offsets the challenge of a two gender submarine. Tridents are already better designed for gender privacy than most surface combatants and SSNs present no insurmountable challenges.
If submariners are as smart as we claim to be, we should be smart enough to make this work rather than be at the end of the queue looking very reluctant to get on board the train.
Fuel cell technology bears watching. Not as a substitute for nuclear power, but as a complement to the SSN’s traditional energy system. The efficiency is double that of the Sterling engine Air-Independent Propulsion system and reliability and safety have increased. U.S. leadership in technology should increase our interest in advanced energy systems, not decrease it. We must demonstrate this leadership outside, not just within, the nuclear area.
Unmanned Underwater Vehicles
UUVs will be a huge force multiplier for SSNs. We have employed UUVs in the past and, in connection with our counter-mine warfare efforts, the Navy is working this important R&D initiative now. But the timetable is slow and restricted to UUVs which are launched and recovered into submarine 21″ torpedo tubes.
Why not bigger UUVs with longer endurance and range? We employed UUVs in the past and, in connection with our counter-mine warfare efforts, the Navy is working this important R&D initiative now. But the t imetable is slow and restricted to UUVs which are launched and recovered into submarine 21″ torpedo tubes.
Why not bigger UUVs with longer endurance and range? We can garage them in huge, stealthy sails or dry deck shelters or modules within the submarine hulls’ outer envelope.
There are many missions for UUVs, but their principal advantage will be to extend the mother submarine’s effectiveness in littoral warfare by allowing the SSN to operate where its survivability is greatest, yet reach into shallow, and perhaps mined, waters with its sensors and/or weapons to neutralize the threat and extend greatly the submarines operating envelope.
The UUV will be of great importance to the Joint Task Force Commander whose willingness to sail a nuclear reactor into shallow, potentially mined waters, can be expected to be a lot lower than the submarine’s brave commanding officer.
Endurance and Flexibility
In trading space and weight to make room for UUVs or mission modules, consideration can be given not only to the aforementioned smaller crew size but also to bunks for two vice three sections and sustenance for 60 vice 90 days.
Stealthy sails are being studied and may permit the opposite of the expected elimination ofthe.fin. With reduced visual and radar crosssections, the sail may provide space for anti-air or expedi-tionary force support weapons or gear for embarked special operating forces or room for wide band antennas or even a return to the conning tower. More simply, in an age of no penetrating masts, the sail may become the nesting place for a tailored mission module.
Ideas are cheap , but some new ones are needed. They may affect submarine employment, design, flexibility, affordability or business practices. But we need speed on this ball, not just polish. If you agree there is a sense of urgency to do more, look for and promote the visionaries. We are blessed with wonderful people from whom they may be picked .