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Lieutenant Joseph McKnight Thompson was commissioned in 1989 via the NECP program after receiving a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Science from the University of Texas at Austin. His first assignment after commissioning was aboard USS HENRY M. JACKSON, where he served in numerous division officer jobs. He then was assigned to HQ USSPACECOM where he served from 1993-1995. He currently is assigned to USS ALABAMA (GOLD) as Navigator.

“Service members involved in joint and combined operations dissociate themselves from the inherent biases of parochial concerns to work together for the common good. The color purple symbolizes the intermingling of all the whites, blues, greens, tans, reds, gold, and silver found in the Service uniforms and insignia. Purple is joint and combined.” – The Joint Staff Officer’s Guide

Ever since the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, the future of submarines and the need to support joint matters have become steadily and inexorably intertwined. Joint Pub 1-02 defines joint matters as “matters relating to the integrated employment of land, sea, and air forces, including matters relating to national military strategy, strategic and contingency planning, and command and control of combat operations under a unified command”.’ A weapon system’s ability to be used in support of joint matters has become a litmus test for continued funding and political support. Submarines are no exception to this litmus test, and in order to remain a premier fighting force the silent service must embrace the concept of jointness. In short, our submarines, and the crews that man them, must become purple.

There are three major components that must be addressed in order to become purple: people, procedures, and platforms. Each of these areas must be examined to see bow the submarine community can better meet the definition of joint matters. In the first area-people-there are many actions which can be taken to promote a joint mentality. First and foremost is the detailing of more joint duty assignments to submariners. These assignments are crucial to the purple process because they are the catalyst that allows people to “dissociate themselves from the inherent bias of parochial concerns”. It is also important to realize that in order for our submarines to become truly purple, the joint mentality must be integrated into all aspects of the silent service down to the deckplate level. This will require detailing more joint duty assignments to submarine enlisted personnel as well as to officers.

Joint duty assignments allow submariners to better understand the needs of the joint warfighter and allow them to develop submarine unique solutions to fill those needs. These solutions, in turn, will allow unified Commander-in-Chiefs (CINCs) to make the best use of current submarine capabilities during combat operations. These solutions will also help shape and define the future roles and missions of submarines. In this manner, not only will new submarines be better orientated towards providing joint support, but our personnel will develop a better sense of how submarines are integrated into the big picture. This knowledge will foster a purple mentality and will promote the integrated employment of land, sea, and air forces.

In addition to the benefits gained by the joint warfighter, the submariner gains benefits in the area of professional development by interacting and exchanging ideas with members of other services as well as other parts of the Navy. This interaction enables the submariner to better understand the capabilities and limitations of other military forces. It also encourages viewing other services as peers-not as competitors. Professional development is also gained by virtue of the fact that the majority of joint billets are at major unified command headquarters. Working at these headquarters provides invaluable experience in the areas of national strategy, budgetary processes, strategic and contingency planning, global command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C41), and other such macro issues that affect joint operations.

The number of joint duty assignments is fixed by law, therefore, detailing more billets to submariners will require transferring some existing billets from other services or warfare specialities. As an example, Headquarters United States Space Command recently converted several emergency actions billets from the surface warfare community to the submarine warfare community. This change benefited the unified command by matching more qualified, better experienced personnel to a mission requirement and benefited the Submarine Force by providing it with additional joint billets. In addition to converting existing billets, the Navy also could create new billets (albeit without joint credit) at joint commands. For example, Submarine Liaison Officer billets could be created at all unified command headquarters to promote the integration of submarines into joint planning and to provide additional joint opportunities for submariners.

Another action which can be taken to help people become purple is placing more emphasis on completing Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) phases I and II. While the Navy currently offers access to JPME phases, consideration should be given to making these courses an integral part of the submarine officer pipeline. Not only would the completion of IPME phases broaden knowledge of joint matters, it would also ensure submarine officers receive the same level of joint instruction as their counterparts in other services.

Lastly, becoming purple will require the cooperation of the other services as well. One way to promote this cooperation would be to ensure joint duty officers from other services and warfare areas are placed onboard submarines during joint exercises and missions. This would allow them to gain a firsthand appreciation of the unique capabilities of submarines and to see the pride and professionalism of the Submarine Force. This firsthand experience would help the other services view submarines as unique and valuable assets-not just another weapons system competing for budget dollars.

The second major component of the submarine community that must be addressed to become purple is procedures. The procedures which must be addressed are those that enable submarines to interface with unified CINCs. The emphasis must be placed on viewing the unified CINC as the customer for the submarine product. Too often today, the group or squadron commander is seen as the customer. This distinction is important because a customer cannot adequately use a product they do not understand, and submarines are often misunderstood by personnel from other services. In part, this misunderstanding is because submarines use a different lexicon than do other services. For example, the relationships between task forces, task groups, and task units are as confusing to an Air Force officer as the relationships between squadrons, wings, and flights are to a submarine officer. In addition to these vocabulary differences, misunderstandings can be caused by other services not understanding submarine operating restrictions such as the inability to receive communications while running deep or fast. Even items that submarine crews take for granted can become potential stumbling blocks to the joint planner.

The Navy should remove these stumbling blocks by developing a consolidated submarine reference manual written for other services and warfare specialities. This manual should be similar in nature to the current Submarine Warfare Tactics Handbook with the exception that it would cover U.S. forces. The scope of the reference should include discussions of submarine unique terms (e.g., the difference between patrol areas and launch baskets), basic submarine operations and limitations, communications capabilities, and of the different operational chain-of-commands.In addition, this guide should contain a cross-referenced listing of all submarines, hull numbers, squadrons, and message routing indicators. This listing should also include the specific communication suites and weapon systems each submarine has. The level of detail in this reference should be sufficient to allow CINC support staffs to understand the pros and cons of using submarines for particular mission assignments.

Other procedural areas that should be looked at are those dealing with the employment of submarine launched weapons in support of joint operations. While procedures for strategic weapon employment are well understood, the procedures for tactical weapon employment are not. This is an unacceptable obstacle to the purple process because it impedes the unified command’s ability to perform contingency planning of the tactical weapons which are most likely to be used in joint littoral war-fare-submarine launched cruise missiles (SLCMs). From planning to execution, there is little written guidance available to the replanner regarding SLCM employment. What guidance is available is usually in the form of tribal knowledge. This is especially true regarding the crucial subjects of launch window determination and platform selection. It is also difficult for the replanner to determine who the tasking message should be addressed to (i.e., the boat itself, a task force commander. or a higher command center). This issue is further complicated by the fact that not all assets in the chain-of-command have the same ciphers and authenticators. As a result, many joint planners are reluctant to utilize SLCMs because they do not feel comfortable with the replanning process. This does a great disservice to the submarine community and limits the use of an outstanding response option. Standardized procedures would eliminate these problems and would ensure today’s forces can train for tomorrow’s missions.

The last major area the Submarine Force must address to become purple is the platform itself. Clearly, the submarine is an outstanding asset with which to control the undersea battlespace. When combined with the ability of the submarine to control the littoral battlespace as well, the submarine’s usefulness in the joint arena is unquestioned. There are some changes though that will make the submarines more joint-friendly.

Perhaps the most important platform change concerns communications. All submarines should have MILSTAR terminals onboard. This would ensure direct connectivity with the nodes of the National Military Command System (NMCS), alternative fixed command centers, and ground mobile command centers. Currently, submarines must rely on intervening airborne assets or fixed ground telecommunication stations for this connectivity. During a protracted conventional war, or during the trans- and post-SIOP phases of a nuclear war, these intervening assets may not be readily available. This connectivity is crucial to the ability of submarines to execute tactical and strategic nuclear strikes. MILSTAR terminals would also allow the submarine to relay time- critical information directly to the unified CINCs and the NMCS during joint operations.

Another area of communications that would help provide support to the joint warfighter is the development of a system capable of downloading SLCM terrain mapping profiles. Today, if a preplanned profile is not onboard the shooting platform when it puts to sea, the replanner must resort to using strategic weapons in response to a CINC request for a weapon of mass destruction. Downloadable profiles would allow the replanner the choice of using tactical weapons or strategic weapons. In this fashion, the response can be better tailored to the threat. It would also allow attack submarines to be utilized against targets that have either emerged after the ship has deployed or are in locations that were not within range of the submarine’s original operating area. This would give the theater CINC greater flexibility in repositioning assets and in responding to new threats.

Joint littoral warfare also requires “rigid two-way command and control employing real-time, fused, all-source intelligence”. This requirement could be met if submarines were equipped with a two-way communications system between the submarine and other U.S. forces. With this communications link, submarines could provide direct fire support to ground units using either SLCMs or, as recently proposed, semi-ballistic missiles., Currently, direct fire support can only be provided by surface units. Submarine direct fire support would be less vulnerable to enemy attack and would provide the theater CINC with additional support assets. This two-way communications ability would also allow submarines to call in air strikes and report battle damage assessments while conducting covert reconnaissance.

A final platform modification that would help support joint matters would be the conversion of Trident I submarines into so- called strike submarines. The conversion would involve replacing the current C4 missile system with magazines of Harpoon missiles, Tomahawk missiles, and possibly even the Anny Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). The missile loadout could include conventional warheads or a mixture of conventional and nuclear war- heads. A single such strike submarine would be a tremendous force multiplier in any littoral engagement and would increase the response options available to the unified CINC. With the proper over-the-horizon targeting downlinks, these submarines could become “battlespace control ships” and perform most of the missions envisioned for the Future Strike Cruiser proposed by Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf III. In addition, this submarine would free fast attack boats to pursue other tasks such as shallow water anti-submarine warfare or battlegroup support thereby acting as an additional force multiplier. Finally, these strike submarines would provide an outstanding deterrent value by forcing potential adversaries to contend with the threat of large numbers of different weapons being launched from a platform they may not be able to detect or destroy.

In conclusion, the future of the Submarine Force relies on its ability to provide support for joint matters. In order to provide this support, submarines and submariners must embrace the concept of jointness and become purple. The purple process will require the commitment of the entire chain-of-command. All submariners must look for ways that submarines can better serve the unified Commander-in-Chief. Becoming purple will require encouraging personnel to seek joint experiences and educations, developing procedures with the joint warfighter in mind, and designing submarines that are not just joint-friendly but are an integral part of the joint battlescape.


1. Joint Publication 1-02, The DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms.
2. CAPT James H. Patton, Jr., USN{Ret.). “The Synergy of Stealth”, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, July 1995, pp. 28.
3. LCDR Joseph N. Giaquinto, USN, Lawrence L. McDonald, and LCDR J. Patrick Madden, Jr., USN, “The Quick Strike Submarine”, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, June 1995, pp. 41-44.
4. Ibid.
S. Nick Nichols, “Battlecruiser 2000”, Popular Mechanics. July 1988, pp. 56-67.

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