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LT Rodney Luck, USN

Lieutenant Rodney Kevin Luck was commissioned In 1988 after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy where he received a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. His junior officer tour was aboard USS NORFOLK, where he served in numerous division officer jobs from 1990 to 1993. He then went to Naval Post Graduate School, where he received his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering. He currently is assigned to PCU LOUISIANA as the Combat Systems Officer.

Imagine a wargame involving Aegis equipped destroyers and cruisers. The wargame could involve a Surface Action Group or a Carrier Battlegroup. The exercise could be any number of missions such as a coordinated cruise missile assault, action against an enemy SAG, or providing air defenses for a landing force in an environment with a high threat of cruise missiles. The Aegis ships of today are highly capable in these types of missions; they can project power into all spheres of the battlespace and dominate. The Aegis ship’s major features include: approximately 100 vertical launch tubes with standard MR missiles, land attack cruise missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, and (in the future) anti-ballistic missile defenses; a highly capable radar; and a coordinated sensor and weapons control system. Now, for this wargame exercise add one more feature: this ship has the ability to submerge. This feature may not be desired in all scenarios. In that case, this capable warship will remain surfaced. For most uses of a warship in today’s hostile environments, think of all the powerful strategic and tactical variations that this would add. For all modem threats faced by U.S. warships, except mines, placing the platform in the subsurfaced area of the battlespace makes it almost invulnerable. A warship that can exploit this strength and yet project power like the DDG 51 has an enhanced tactical advantage. The biggest hurdle to overcome is effective communications.

This can be achieved by incorporating a communications plan into the tactics, and understanding that anytime the advantage of submerged operations is exploited, communication and coordination will be more challenging.

Is it possible to build a platform today that can project power like the DOG 51 and operate submerged? A grossly limited and simple example would be the following: convert an Ohio class SSBN hull into a platform that can launch 50+ missiles with vertical launch; equip the ship with an advanced radar, install a CIC; and crew the ship with a combined submarine crew and surface ship operations department. However limited and rash, this example would still be a potent power projector and would be a platform that could be inserted into extremely hostile environments with little vulnerability.

Both the surface warfare community and the submarine community are at a crossroads looking for the next direction in which to take warship design. What is proposed is a new direction for the design of the next submarine/surface warship. A warship that dominates all spheres of the battlespace-including the ability to exploit the subsurfaced environment if desired.

The term, warfare platform, is preferred to the classifications of surface ship or submarine since the ability to submerge is intended as one of many potential characteristics of the platform to be discussed. The ability to submerge will be a key feature in this discussion, but the traditional rote of the U.S. Navy submarine will be challenged. The innovation presented is not a technological innovation, but an innovation in the tactical and operational implementation of a submerged platform. A new warship design is required, but the design needs only the combination of existing operational warship components and capabilities. The point that the name submarine is to be avoided cannot be overemphasized; the missions of the platform to be discussed are traditionally cruiser, destroyer, or frigate missions. The ability to submerge is an obviously desirable addition based upon the threats that are faced by these platforms.

Two articles in the July and August 1994 issues of the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings have focused on the design of the future surface combatants of the 21st century. The Right Ship by Commander Maiorano cites many important factors in the design of the surface combatant. Multimission capability is a priority, and the ship must be able to operate in the threat environment:

“Naval forces operate extensively in a near-land environment characterized by reduced battlespace, less reaction time, and a complex mix of high-speed, low radar cross-section anti- ship cruise missiles.”

He later quotes the Chief of Naval Operations’ Twenty-First Century Surface Combatant Study:

“The 21st century surface combatant must be multimission capable to deploy forward for independent operations in the face of a variety of threats, including antiship cruise missiles launched from the air, surface, and shore; theater ballistic missiles; mines, gunfire emanating from shore batteries, ships, or small craft; torpedoes, and various types of chemical, biological, and radiological weapons. The future combatant must also contribute to offensive power projection, establish battlespace dominance, and be fully interoperable with other naval expeditionary, joint, and allied forces in support of U.S. security interest.”

Rueven Leopold’s article, The Next U.S. Warship Design, concludes that production must continue on the DOG 51 Flight IIA and that we should use a “clean-sheet-of-paper warship design” to address the new missions and priorities of our Navy.

The capabilities mentioned above are the design criteria for the proposed submerged warfare platform. The ability to submerge would allow for covert entry and exit into a variety of hostile situations. It would allow positioning of advanced forces in front of a carrier battlegroup, amphibious task force, or surface action group. It would need little support from tactical air, and would have the fire power to engage various threats to the force. The clean-sheet-of-paper warship design of this concept will be easy to criticize from both a technical and an operational point of view. However, the concept is feasible and powerful.

Today’s warfare platforms have pieces of the proposed warfare platform’s characteristics. Today’s platforms, like DOG 51 and SSN 6881, are currently performing the missions discussed in the CNO’s study for the 21st Century. However, both of these platforms have major weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The DOG 51 is placed at risk when performing independent operations in a high air threat environment. Operating within 100 miles of shore, against adversaries equipped with significant shore based strike aircraft or long ranges cruise missiles, requires significant U.S.shore or carrier based aviation to provide air superiority. Surface ships are performing missions independent of significant air cover, but the efficacy of anti-ship cruise missiles, even in the hands of Third World countries, is indisputable. Submarines are also performing independent missions to provide area commanders with intelligence and close-in strike capability. Submarines are experts at operating independently, but they are lacking in C41 capabilities, have limited strike capability, and have no capability to engage air targets for self protection or to protect other assets. The best attributes of these two platforms can and should be combined.

In the current fiscally constrained Defense budget, there may be limited room for innovative concepts; this discussion, right or wrong, will be devoid of an analysis of the costs or the cost to value ratio. Some mention will be given to ideas to make the design simpler. The concept is the important point.

What are the characteristics of this warship? Some basic characteristics could include:

1. The ship should be capable of extended surf ace operations. Seakeeping is a big concern for a ship that is also designed to submerge. Obviously, trade-offs would have to be made in the hull design to achieve acceptably high surfaced and submerged speeds. The ship should be capable of at least 25 knots surfaced or submerged-similar to a frigate. The design should present an extremely low cross-section, being close to the water, using stealth technology.

For seakeeping, the ship should be in a condition to submerge at all times (always rigged for dive). Except in low threat environments, with excellent weather, the ship should be ready to submerge. To achieve this goal, the ship could have an enclosed, submergible bridge that has windows, and can accommodate a sufficient surface watch. The sealed bridge could be designed to submerge only a few hundred feet. While the ship is submerging, the bridge is cleared, sealed, and flooded to become a free-flood space. Nuclear power and current submarine atmosphere and ventilation systems would allow indefinite operations in the submerged condition. For very heavy seas, the ship would have the option to submerge and ride out the storm in the calm depths like any nuclear powered submarine.

Submerging to avoid incoming missiles is not an acceptable tactical plan; submerging in a controlled manner takes several minutes and only if the ship is properly compensated. Submerging in a high threat environment to hide is an option, but this gives up the option to fight the incoming threats. The ship will be designed to defend itself while surfaced with an air search radar, anti-air missiles, and close-in defense systems.

2. The ship must contribute to offensive power projection, and be fully interoperable with other naval forces. As previously mentioned, the ship should have a highly capable air-search radar, a CIC, a large communications suite with multiple antennas, and all tactical data links. This ship is capable of independent operations, but the design should ensure the ability to coordinate with traditional surface units. One limitation is the lack of a helicopter. This deficiency only increases the need to operate with traditional surface units.

Weapons should include anti-air, anti-ship, and anti-submarine vertically launched missiles, as well as torpedoes. Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAM) and the ballistic Army Tactical Missile System {ATACMS) will be used for long range shore strike missions. The design could include an anti-ballistic missile defense system. A fully automated 76mm or 5 inch gun could be mounted aft of the superstructure/sail in a hydrodynamically chosen location.

3. As a submarine, the design wiU be challenging. Submerged communications and missile launch capabilities developed for SSBNs could be incorporated. A big concern wi11 be the size, the draft, and crew complement necessary for this warship. Will it all fit and be effective? This is a large submarine. At least the size of the SEA WOLF, it would be a deep draft vessel like any SSN. Since the cost of traditional submarines tends to be proportional to size, it would imply a prohibitive cost. However, a shallower depth capability, lower submerged speed, and less quieting sensitivity could cut the cost. The change in the primary mission of this warfare platform away from traditional deepwater ASW should allow trade-offs in many of the expensive, traditional submarine design characteristics.

The manning required for the extensive surface operations requires a mix of submarine and surface warfare specialties. The crew size should be minimized for living space and atmosphere control considerations. The proper mix would be a careful trade-off minimizing warfighting capability while maintaining the manning for safe submarine and reactor operations.

These ideas are provided only to help the reader envision the concept, and are based on at sea experiences. This is not a formal design proposal. The details should be solved by ship designers. The concept is the issue.

Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. Navy submarine officers have been busy attempting to justify the cost to build and operate nuclear attack submarines. The Cold War priority mission of the attack Submarine Force, anti-submarine warfare-specifically against Soviet SSBNs, has diminished with the demise of the Soviet Union. New emphasis in submarine operations has begun to include strike warfare with cruise missiles, operations with special forces, fighting diesel powered submarines in the littoral environment, and carrier battlegroup support. Although the Los Angeles class submarine is capable of performing these missions, there are other platforms in the carrier battlegroup designed to perform each of them. Covert surveillance is one of the few jobs that only an SSN in a battlegroup can perform.

In Winning the Next War. Innovation and the Modem Military’, author Stephen P. Rosen devotes a chapter to the analysis of the development of the tank as an innovation in warfare during World War I. The tank was recognized as a potentially potent weapon by the highest ranking officers in the British Army before it was fully tested in warfare. Nonetheless, in hindsight, it did not achieve overwhelming battlefield success in World War I that would have been expected based on the success of the tank in later wars. The problem was that “a conception of how to use the tank at the tactical and operational level was not delineated until later in 1918”.

The failure of the British Army was their inability to develop the potential of an extremely capable weapon. Short on infantry soldiers due to battlefield losses in 1916, the British generals decided that manning new tank divisions could not be risked. They failed to see the force multiplier presented by the technological innovation of the tank. Similarly, the U.S. Navy has failed to fully develop the potential of a warfare platform that incorporates the latest advances in weaponry with the invulnerability, flexibility, and stealth of a nuclear powered submarine.

Stephen Rosen also discusses the successes of the U.S. fleet submarines in WWII. Two details that he mentions are pertinent to this discussion. First, in the 1930s the designers of the fleet submarine were given no definitive plan for the use of the submarine in the Pacific. However, the designers produced a warfare platform that was very successful. “The designers emphasized the special characteristics of submarine warfare against all conceivable enemies.” They emphasized the dominant characteristics of a submarine to include the ability to penetrate enemy waters, perform reconnaissance, and conduct attacks upon the enemy. These characteristics are still true today except that the battlespace for warfare has grown from tens of miles to several hundreds of miles and includes the air, the sea, the depths, and the land. Second, Rosen points to the innovation in the tactical use of the submarine during WWII. Pre-war doctrine emphasized staying undetected. Minimum scope use, staying submerged, and performing sonar only attacks was Submarine Force doctrine. During the war, these tactics failed, and submarine captains who failed to adapt were relieved. The submarine had to risk possible detection in order to be able to engage the enemy effectively. The primary battlespace was above the surface, not below. The submarine still, however, retained the ability to exploit the subsurface environment. These facts are still true today.

A very comprehensive discussion of the current and future role of the submarine in the U.S. Navy based upon the national security environment is written by John T. Hartley, a submariner, and contained in the August 1993 issue of the Naval War College Review. Implications of the Changing Nature of Conflict for the Submarine Force spends 15 of 20 pages assessing the current world order and the roles of the U.S. military. With basically no mention of the submarine in this discussion, he proceeds to address the impact for the Submarine Force. He begins, “The fact that this discussion has seemingly wandered well away from the Submarine Force illustrates its major implication for that arm.” He concludes that based on the dominance of U.S. Navy air and surface assets, the case to build SSNs is weak. SSNs are not thought to be cost effective, and the only way to ensure future SSN procurement is to reduce the cost to build them. He judges the value of a SSN based on its current emphasis in ASW and its weak performance in other missions.

Similarly, according to The U.S. Navy Submarines in a Minefield (USNI Proceedings, April 1994), the then Director of the Submarine Warfare Division in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Rear Admiral Ryan, bhas drawn the same conclusion. As the Seawolf program faltered in 1990, the Centurion and now the New Attack Submarine programs have officially replaced it. The main design criteria is low cost. However, despite many opinions in the submarine community to enhance the strike capability of the design, Rear Admiral Ryan announced in 1993 that the New Attack Submarine would be optimized for four missions: 1) covert intelligence collection and surveillance; 2) covert mine detection; 3) covert insertion and support of special forces, and 4) antisubmarine warfare.

Like the pre WWII Submarine Force, the current direction of submarine warfare is locked in the wrong region of the battlespace -below the waves. The U.S. should maintain a force of attack submarines that concentrate on ASW superiority, but this need not be the only role for a submerged platform. The failure is that a warship that is immune to most of the modem threats is not being exploited to its potential. As countries worldwide develop more cruise missiles, chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, U.S. warships that are sent to represent U.S. interests will be increasingly vulnerable. Is the concept presented too expensive? perhaps, but is a concept that combines the most powerful warship attributes into a package that could assure continued dominance of the seas.

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