The concept of a submarine-based radar picket, as described by James Mandelblatt in the April 1995 issue’, grew in large measure from the fearsome toll taken by Kamikazes against U.S. Navy surface vessels during the Okinawa campaign in World War II: 13 carriers, 10 battleships, 5 cruisers, 88 destroyers, and 33 destroyer escorts heavily damaged; 12 destroyer types sunk outright2. However, in its execution, the submarine radar picket failed to achieve the results envisioned because of the limitations of the submarine platform and state~f-the-art electronics at the time. Primarily, those limitations were:
- Surface Ops: All radar missions/tasks initially had to be performed on the surface the same as with surface vessel pickets. Even with the advent of the specifically designed SSRs, SAILFISH (SSR 572) and SALMON (SSR 573), which had retractable radar/ECM masts, and therefore, could conduct operations at periscope depth, daunting limitations remained.
- Lack of speed/mobility/durability: With their diesel-electric/battery propulsion systems they have limited to essentially a static combat area, e.g., an amphibious objective area, such as Okinawa. They certainly could not reposition rapidly, even on the surface, in support, much less run with, fast carrier task groups (now battle groups) engaged in widely dispersed airstrikes against land targets.
- Lack of space: Attempting to squeeze bulky surface ship electronics equipment into a submarine hull was a formidable task that never quite fulfilled expectations. Even the specifically designed SSRs could not accommodate both the requisite equipment and the essential personnel required of a first-class radar picket.
- Incompatible electronics equipment: The usually bulky, exclusively vacuum tube, exceedingly high heat-producing electronics equipment of four decades ago simply were not compatible with a closed submarine development.
In short, the SSR concept of 1945-1959 was ahead of its time, technologically speaking. But technological and tactical advances since then have eliminated all of the foregoing limitations on SSRs. In fact. they have now made the concept thoroughly practical and therefore. tactically compelling. Its time has finally come. Nuclear propulsion and large submarine hulls have resolved the speed/mobility/durability/space limitations. Solid-state electronics with their resultant compact, energy-efficient. low heat-producing components have resolved the former constraints in that area. And speedy. reliable and secure communications by way of satellites have made even the most complex coordinated environment tactics a reality. For example. at an advanced position. an SSRN, without AA W armament, could now make contact with an incoming threat, A/C or missile, and relay that information directly to the fire control system aboard an AA W weapons platform, e.g., CGN. which as yet does not have contact, but which could immediately take the hostile threat under fire.
Thus. in addition to all of the advantages of yore of an advanced SSR radar picket, those inherent in recent tactical innovations are now technologically achievable. Moreover, they can now be had in a relatively short time and at a relatively low cost simply by adopting Commander Haselton’s recommendation in the same issue to “imaginatively develop meaningful alternative uses” for the four Trident SSBNs that may soon be mothballed or converted to other uses.’ To his “Missions” list, add SSRN.
A Trident hull would make a superb platform for a submersible, multi-purpose, advance station, early warning command and control coordination platform. Removing the missile tubes from the missile compartment required by the treaty would provide space for a truly first-class command and control center. Deletion of the billets required by the missiles should leave room for personnel required by the new mission. Those modifications alone should provide a significant tactical improvement in fleet early warning and tactical coordination capability.
Additional capability could be achieved by installing, say. two vertical launch tubes in the forward torpedo room for Tomahawk or AA W missiles. Then, the SSRN could employ the advantage of its forward station to actually engage shore, sea, or even threatening air targets.
Those four Trident hulls, as well as the four battleships. are invaluable assets that should not be laid up or scrapped. In fact, in these times of budgetary constraints, those assets must be used to their fullest potential. which is considerable. Concurrently, we must continue to improve our AA W posture in an ever-increasing threat environment. Both objectives could be met by converting one of the Tridents to an SSRN.
It is difficult to improve on Commander Haselton’s admonition “Use it or lose it!”
1. James L. Mandelblatt, Radar Pickets and the Migraine Program, THE SUBMARINE REVIEW, April 1995, pp. 85-89.
2. Samuel E. Morison, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. XIV, Victory in the Pacific, pp. 233-39, 244, 251-62, 267-80, 281-82, 390-92.
3. Commander F.R. Haselton, Post Cold War Boomer Utilization, THE SUBMARINE REVIEW, April 1995, pp. 96-100.
Publisher John Wiley and Sons of New York have announced the publication of a new book by Vice Admiral Jim Calvert, USN(Ret.)
It is entitled Silent Running and covers the nine war patrols that Jim made during World War II in the Pacific. In addition to his eight patrols in JACK, which saw that submarine finish the war in the top ten of all U.S. submarines in tonnage sunk, Jim tells of his last patrol in HADDO and its presence in Tokyo Bay for the surrender. He had a most unusual and interesting experience there.