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[Ed. Note: This article is taken from Dr. Brooke’s presentation at the Sixth Submarine Technology Symposium in May.]

The Need for a Covert Strike Capability

The  question  has  been  asked:   Why  should  this  nation  continue to  invest in  technology for  undersea precision strike?  One answer, in the opinion of this author, lies in the  ever  increasing proliferation  of advanced  conventional  and special weapon technology into the hands of so-called rogue nations. This threat, according to the new Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), R. James Woolsey, has the alarming potential of placing future naval forces deployed forward at risk. During testimony at a recent Senate Government Affairs Committee hearing, the DCI made the following points to back up that assertion:

  • Advanced surface-to-air missiles that can detect U.S. stealth aircraft and cruise missiles are part of a growing list of technologies seeping into the Third World.
  • The Allied victory over Iraq triggered Third World demand for advanced conventional weapons.
  • Some precision guided weapons (PGM) now on the market are more capable than certain U .S. systems.
  • Already Iran, Syria and Libya are fielding cruise missiles with precision guidance and countermeasures effective enough to threaten U.S. naval forces.
  • Advanced conventional weapons may have a “more pronounced impact on the military outcome of future regional conflicts than weapons of mass destruction” .1 The DCI concluded his remarks by outlining future threats as single-stage, Scud-type missiles mated with chemical weapons, two-stage missiles with the range to threaten Europe and American forces overseas, and in as little as 10 years, an ICBM threat to the Continental U.S.

Likewise, then-Congressman Les Aspin in his January 1992 paper, From Deterrence to Denuking: A New Nuclear Policy for the 1990s, warned:

“Nuclear weapons would likely be the only way a nation with inferior conventional forces could hope to counter our superiority. It is in our supreme national interest to stem the spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons technologies, and their associated delivery systems.”

Now-Secretary of Defense Aspin lists the proliferation of nuclear weapons as the first of four “dangers” confronting the United States. Speaking at his welcoming ceremony on February 1, 1993, Aspin said, “the new nuclear danger stems from a hand-ful of warheads in the hands of terrorists or terrorist states.”

These new threats-advanced conventional weapons, weapons of mass te”or and nuclear weapons-threats that could put U.S. ground and naval forces at risk, will undoubtedly motivate new risk-minimizing ways to deploy our forces overseas. The concept of preemption-in light of this new class of weapons-is now spoken of more frequently. Again, in the same paper of January 1992, Congressman Aspin wrote:

“We must confront and work through together the prospect that force may be the only way in some instances to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

The element of surprise-to shutdown or preempt an adversary’s ability to deliver advanced conventional or nuclear weapons either within a theater of conflict against alies, or in placing U.S. forces at risk-has now re-emerged in the lexicon of necessary crisis response actions within the new strategic environment.

The element of surprise is, and always has been, just one or a myriad or enduring characteristics or the attack submarine. An ability to be propositioned in-close to a shoreline, undetected, for indefinite periods of time, loaded with stand-off precision weapons to be fired on authorization after all diplomatic activity has proved fruitless, at little or no risk to the platform or lives on it, is now a compelling option of choice when deterrence of advanced conventional or nuclear weapons is the declaratory policy.

Precision Strike

The goal of the precision strike mission, one of the seven announced science and technology thrusts, was articulated by the Department of Defense in a July 1992 briefing document as follows:

“The desire for reduced casualties, economy of force, and fewer weapons platforms demands that we locate high-value, time-sensitive fixed and mobile targets and destroy them with a high degree of confidence within tactically useful timelines.”

Descriptive terms such as reduced casualties, economy of force, time-sensitive fixed and mobile targets, high degree of confidence, and tactically useful timelines, fit exceptionally welt with the enduring complementary characteristics of attack submarines and advanced technology cruise missiles. The ultimate goal of undersea strike should be the denial of refuge for any adversary.

The attack submarine force exists to provide the theater commander with a range of warfighting options, including precision strike. One may begin to sense the utility of such an option if the problem happens to be one of weapons of mass terror, regional intimidation, and the capability to deliver such weapons. As the U.S. declaratory policy is deterrence, the option to pre-position strike forces in a covert manner, inserted or withdrawn without fanfare while diplomatic activity continues, with the capability to attack with surprise against “time-sensitive fixed and mobile targets” with “tactically useful timelines”, the utility and complementary nature of cruise missile and submarine technology is readily apparent. However, describing the utility of the attack submarine in the precision strike role and measuring that utility are, of course, two different issues. Quantifying the usefulness of cruise missiles launched from under the sea is a challenge but one worthy of exploration and study. The following section describes one attempt to quantifiably measure the utility of attack submarine precision strike.

Measuring SSN Precision Strike Utility;  A Three-Step Process This section describes the methodology used in attempting to quantifiably define the value-added of attack submarine precision strike operations.

Step One. The first step in building a model that will illustrate a measure of effectiveness is to make some basic assumptions regarding the target. These assumptions include:

  • For every target set (such as an airbase, for example) there is a percentage of specific targets that are dispersible (aircraft, missiles, etc.) and some that are fixed (plants, command posts).
  • The dispersible targets will commence relocating after a time period (t.) representing preparation following alert of an impending attack.
  • Moveable targets are dispersed rapidly at first, then slower until all that are moveable are relocated; i.e., relative dispersal rate decreases with time.

Step Two. The second step adds to the dispersal rate a normalized scale of range and time. The scale is normalized at .65M representing the average speed of a Tomahawk cruise missile. Through this methodology one can begin to link range, time and percentage of targets dispersed. If the alert time is 20 minutes and all 20 percent of the targets that are moveable are dispersed by approximately 75 minutes, then any surprise or preemptive strike occurring at less than 200 nm will strike the target set during the movement preparation phase when 100 percent of the target set is at the mission planned location.

Step Three. In step three. after computing some basic weaponeering figures based on a known probability of kill (PJ for a derived target set. we can compute the number of TLAM sorties required. Additionally. if we assume that each aircraft is loaded with two JDAM. the equivalent of two cruise missiles. we can also compute the number of aircraft sorties required for the same target. Aircraft success rate is assumed to be 80 percent (20 percent factor for maintenance, in-flight abort. etc.).

Completed Model. After all three steps are completed, we can now link the three elements of the model to illustrate the advantages of surprise, or in-close land attack. covert precision strike.

A less than 200 nm strike could be accomplished by a sub-merged, prepositioned strike asset with minimal risk from an increasing threat of conventional weapon delivery. Greater than 500 nm delivery could be accomplished by any naval force asset (TLAM or aircraft or combination) without risk to the platform due to being outside an advanced conventional weapon delivery threat. By assuming two aircraft sorties required for each dispersed threat (one for the preplanned position, the other to find the dispersed target), we can see the nominal increase in strike sorties required as a function of range and dispersed targets.

Model Results. To have a capability that can penetrate increasingly lethal advanced conventional weapon delivery threat envelopes, to be prepositioned off the coast for a preemptive strike prior to any target being dispersed, to be covertly present in close striking distance during on-going diplomatic activity, would seem to be a deployment option offering unique utility to any theater commander. Minimizing life or POW risk, minimizing target dispersal potential, maximizing cruise missile lethality and sur-vivability by penetrating unalerted or misaligned defenses, enabling maximum CVBG TACAIR launch options through elimination (or delaying) of conventional weapon delivery and minimizing the potential for retaliation either against allies in the region or naval forces in the littoral are the inherent significant advantages of in-close covert strike. Another potential advantage is the possibility for operational synergy with other stealth assets (B-2, F-117, AF/X) in combining for an effective stealth attack.

The following scenario, using unclassified references to describe the future advanced conventional weapon delivery threat serves a useful purpose in applying this model to a hypothetical crisis


This scenario involves all the potential threat warning signs that were described at the beginning of this paper: a Third World nation that has accumulated advanced conventional weaponry as well as a nascent nuclear capability, delivery systems that put the region as well as naval forces at risk, and a belligerent government that does not hesitate to use these assets to intimidate and influence regional behavior for personal gain.

Of concern is the increasing trend in advanced conventional and nuclear technology accumulation for a representative Third World nation. SU-24 possession is of keen interest due to its long-range delivery capability that affects not only the region but forward deployed naval forces as well.

Our hypothetical scenario emphasizes deterrence and covert strike planning. The operative threat in this case is the SU-24 aircraft loaded with an air-launched cruise missile that can be either nuclear, chemical, or biological warhead-capable, potentially placing naval forces deployed in the area at increased risk. Joint forces such as the B-2 squadron at Whiteman AFB and the Air Combat Command’s Intervention Wing are also brought into play.

The primary operational objective is to employ a 6-SSN strike force to pre-emptively attack (after diplomatic activity has proved fruitless) the potential aggressor’s conventional weapon delivery capability-both air and ground launched-in order to enable a CVBG task force multiple launch points to attack infrastructure. A preemptory attack also minimizes the risk of retaliation by them against pro-Western allies in the region.

The threat is of both air and ground. SU-24 with an air-launched cruise missile gives it an approximate 700 om combat radius. The surface-to-surface missile threat (estimated by Ian§ to be exportable by North Korea in 1994) bas a reach of 620 om. The areas of influence with just these two delivery systems alone is considerable. The U.S. decides to dispatch a 6-SSN strike force and various joint forces for response. The decision is made to retain the CVBG outside the SU-24 threat radius, minimizing the risk of an air-launched leaker.

The actual SSN/B-2 preemptive strike is made against delivery bases and critical weapons staging areas. Utilizing our a fore-mentioned elementary weaponeering calculations against a generic airbase and missile sites, we can determine that 144 TLAM are required leaving 24 TLAM remaining for possible air defense suppression strikes.

To reiterate, the primary objective of U.S . forces in this scenario is to strike the delivery capability before there is potential for target dispersal, launch or retaliation. Surprise is crucial to this operational concept and suggests a compelling role for the attack submarine in a covert land attack.


The results of scenario development can be analyzed in terms of the measure of effectiveness model. The assumption is made that for the basic target set we have chosen (1 airbase, 2 surface-to-surface bases) 10 percent of the individual target elements are dispersible after an alert time of 20 minutes. Using the .65M normalized range/time scale, we can determine that 20 minutes (t2)equates to approximately 130 om. Therefore, to ensure ordnance  arrives at the target prior to dispersement initiation, an attack – maximized by the element of surprise offered by an SSN – must be launched at a target range of less than 130 nm .

As is current naval warfighting policy, most strike plans would include a combination of cruise missiles and aircraft. Cruise missiles would normally hit highly defended targets or air defense nodes to enable a more effective tactical aircraft strike. That operational concept can be taken one step further: with a potential advanced conventional or nuclear weapon threat radius (in this case, 700nm), there may arise a necessity for a surprise or pre-emption strike against delivery systems prior to dispersement which, if successful, would free up the carrier to launch follow-on strikes from a number of locations. Any increase in strike range greater than 130 nm would force the theater commander to contend with dispersed targets-increasing sorties required, increasing risk of life, and possibly decreasing mission effective-ness. Medium- to long-range naval force strikes-inherently foregoing the element of surprise-would also allow the adversary opportunity to retaliate either against naval forces or against other allies in the region in addition to increasing the likelihood of targets not being at planned locations.


This paper has attempted to describe one possible MOE model that quantifies the utility of surprise in SSN precision strike operations. Acknowledging that this is a somewhat rough attempt -and that more refinement is required-this author would nonetheless conclude that in an age of increasing proliferation of advanced conventional weapon technology as well as nuclear components, it will be imperative for the theater commander to have on-scene, covert strike options. Preemptive attack, prior to threat launch or relocation, will assume a higher strike option priority as the risk from advanced conventional and nuclear  weaponry becomes greater.

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