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SSBN SECURITY

Jerry Rozmus

Mr.Rozmus has spent 35 years in SLBM and SSBN test, evaluation and assessment. He began his career at The Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Laboratory where he performed SSBN patrol, OT, and DASO assessments. He was technical advisor to COMSUBLANT and CINCLANI where he conceived and developed the COMCONEX and contributed to CINCLANI OPLAN 2134. He is a plank owner in the SSBN Security Program and contributed to establishing its philosophy, objectives and management plan.

He conducted SSBN Security Assessments at Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. where he co-developed the SCOOP Project. Mr.Rozmus continues to contribute to the SSBN Security Program as an independent consultant to JHU/APL.

This is a two part article on the origin and conduct of the SSBN Security Program. This installment will trace the evolution of the Cold War and how that affected thinking about nuclear weapon systems’ vulnerabilities. That thinking eventually led to the formation of the SSBN Security Program. The second installment will describe the formation, management, research projects, and accomplishments of the program and the spin off SSBN Survivability and SSN Security programs.

Origin of the SSBN Security Program

The focus of my comments, of course, is the pre-launch survivability of SSBNs, but I will begin my story before that was a real concern to show how context drives how we think about system vulnerabilities. We all know how critically important SSBN pre-launch survivability was during the Cold War, but we may not all know why, and some of us at least wonder whether it continues to be in this new era. I will address both of those questions by first reviewing the context within which assessments of SLBM system survivability were performed, and then offering some comments on what may lie in the future for your consideration.

History

In the beginning-roughly 1952 through 1962-two factors dominated U.S.strategic nuclear planning. Namely, the large numerical superiority in weapons and delivery systems enjoyed by the U.S. and the culture established in SAC by General Curtis LeMay. His experience, convictions and position enabled him to personally control nuclear war planning. The plans he devised were for a single massive attack employing every deployed nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal immediately upon authorization. Only the President could authorize the attack (Presidential nuclear release was established by National Security Council Document No. 30 in 1948). General LeMay’s approach, which led to a requirement for large force levels, was supported by the conviction of President Eisenhower that any retaliatory strike with nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union must be massive and decisive. Thus the U.S. nuclear weapons inventory rose from 1,000 weapons in 1955 to 18,000 weapons in 1960.

The advent of thermonuclear weapons prompted authorization of a new generation of U.S. strategic nuclear weapons systems in the 1955-1960 time period. These were the B-52 heavy bomber, the Atlas, Titan and Minuteman land-based missile systems and the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile System (SLBM), Polaris. Production and deployment of these systems were accelerated by the twin shocks to the U.S. national psyche of Sputnik and the spurious missile gap as well as the intemperate pronouncements of Mr. Khrushchev. Accelerated production and deployment of these systems was in full swing when the defining event of the nuclear confrontation of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, occurred.

Without restating the details of that confrontation, the result is well known, namely the U.S. and the Soviet Union both peered over the cliff of nuclear exchange, did not like what they saw and backed off. But, importantly, both determined to stay away from that cliff from then on and with one exception did so throughout the duration or the Cold War. That exception was the action by the U.S. to operationally signal its nuclear determination during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The U.S. went to DEFCON 3 which put the nuclear forces on Alert. U.S. SSBNs sortied and 60 B-52s were ordered back to the U.S. mainland from Guam. After the crisis ended it was admitted by the NSC participants who ordered the alert that it was probably unnecessary. Significantly, it was an action taken without the President’s knowledge or approval.

After the Cuban Missile crisis Secretary of Defense McNamara and bis civilian analysts weighed in heavily on the nuclear deterrence issue. The advertised principal question was bow much is enough? I believe we will eventually learn, however, the crucial question be was struggling with was how to convincingly deter without resorting to brinkmanship. That is, without going to an advanced readiness posture that triggers myriad actions throughout the operational and operational support commands, giving the impression the U.S. is preparing for a first strike, whenever a crisis arose. That was done during the Cuban Missile Crisis and once begun rapidly got out of control. SAC, for instance, on its own, began conducting its war plan precursor missions to do its own signalling to the Soviets. Remember that at the time our war plan was still fundamentally designed for a single massive strike immediately on upon authorization. After the crisis ended, both sides understood just how dangerous the nuclear confrontation had become and bow difficult the control of forces became once put in motion. At any rate, it took Mr. McNamara three years to produce the measuring stick for deterrence that came to dominate the debate that followed: the criterion of assured-destruction. As he left office in 1968 he stated his position with clarity: Here I quote:

“One must begin with precise definitions. The cornerstone of our strategic policy continues to be to deter deliberate nuclear attack upon the United States or its Allies. We do this by maintaining a highly reliable ability to inflict unacceptable damage upon any single aggressor or combination of aggressors at any time during the course of a strategic nuclear exchange, even after absorbing a surprise first strike. This can be described as our assured-destruction capability.

“…Assured-destruction is the very essence of the whole deterrence concept. We must posses an actual assured- destruction capability, and that capability also must be credible… If the United States is to deter a nuclear attack on itself or its allies, it must possess an actual and a credible assured-destruction capability.

“When calculating the force required, we must be conservative in all our estimates of both a potential aggressor’s capabilities and his intentions. Security depends upon assuming the worst plausible case, and having the ability to cope with it. In that eventuality we must be able to absorb the total weight of nuclear attack on our country-on our retaliatory forces, on our command and control apparatus, on our industrial capacity, on our cities and on our population and still be capable of damaging the aggressor to the point that his society would be simply no longer viable in twentieth-century terms. That is what deterrence of nuclear aggression means. It means the certainty of suicide to the aggressor, not merely his military forces, but to his society as a whole.”

While this concept was explained in detail to the public in 1968, it was the basis of deterrent system evaluation, assessment, and planning beginning in 1965. The most significant effect the criterion bad on assessment of strategic ·nuclear systems was to elevate system pre-launch survivability to the highest priority characteristic. That began the transition of the SLBM force to the premier force of the Triad.

When U.S .S. GEORGE WASHINGTON deployed in November of 1960 on the first operational patrol of a U.S. SSBN, it, and subsequently those that followed, could operate with impunity anywhere in the world’s oceans. SSBN pre-launch survivability was understood to be an important characteristic of the SLBM force but was not viewed as a distinguishing characteristic because, at the time, there were no identified ASW threats and the operative strategic nuclear war plan called for immediate launch of all weapons, thus pre-launch survivability of all strategic systems was of secondary importance. That war plan character was reflected in the Alert Status priorities established for SSBNs and the vulnerability assessments of the SLBM force.

Until 1968 Atlantic Fleet SSBNs operated under CINCLANT OPLAN 2-YR which specified Alert status priorities as (1) maintain continuous receive communications (2) maintain weapons system readiness condition 2SQ, and (3) remain undetected. That is, the emphasis of the operational priorities was on rapid response for an immediate strike. That placed some constraints on SSBN operational flexibility for detection avoidance and transit within assigned patrol areas, because submarine speed limitations and preferred headings were required for communications reliability. In 1968, when CINCLANT OPLAN 2134 was promulgated, these priorities were reordered to (1) remain undetected (2) maintain continuous receive communications, and (3) maintain weapons system readiness condition 2SQ. The two crew operating concept developed and employed in SSBN operations was originally designed to maximize the ratio of SLBM alert missile days to total missile days. That was predicated on the then valid assumptions that the Alert force was the only significant contributor to the war plan and total cost for an alert missile day would be a key determinant for SLBM versus land based missile force level trade-offs. After the Assured Destruction deterrence criterion was established, the two crew operating concept became fundamental to maintaining the maximum sustainable OPTEMPO to maximize SSBN at-sea time and thus pre-launch survivability.

The vulnerability assessments in the early 60’s were almost exclusively related to missile in flight and reentry.body penetration threats. First there was the Anti-Launch Phase Ballistic Missile Intercept (ALBIS) project. That project culminated with a live firing of a Terrier missile against a submerged launched Polaris A2. It missed! Then there was the EMP pindown tactic invented by the Defense Science Board. The quick operational fix was Project LOOK, a receiver tuned to detect an EMP pulse on the output of the trailing wire antenna. The crew of the SSBN was supposed to monitor the receiver output, determine a pattern of EMP bursts and launch their missiles between them. Project Look was completely successful in confirming that indeed there are approximately 1100 thunder storms in progress on earth at all times. The longer term technical solution was an A3 missile hardening program, TOPSY. Finally there were continual RB penetration studies as well as substantial intelligence collection and analysis of Soviet ABM development. The response, developed as a hedge against an ABM deployment was the Poseidon missile, the first MIRVED missile.

Mr. McNamara’s analysis, articulation and directives that assured-destruction capability was to be the cornerstone of our deterrent posture gave rise to a virtual avalanche of pre-launch survivability assessments in the 1965-1970 time period. The Vulnerability Task Force of the Defense Science Board turned its attention from in-flight and penetration assessments to pre launch vulnerability. Among the conclusions of their studies-our land based missiles would become vulnerable to the Soviet land based missiles that were rapidly being deployed with improved reliability and accuracy (the Soviets deployed 750 ICBMs between 1966 and 1969), our bomber bases were vulnerable to Soviet SLBMs with their short time-of-flight, the Soviets were embarked on a massive build up of their strategic and attack nuclear submarine forces, and the nation did not possess the technical capability to evaluate the pre-launch survivability of the SSBN rorce. That final VTF conclusion was stated as follows: “In most areas of SSBN vulnerability (that is their susceptibility to detection, trailing, and attack) there is ¬∑insufficient data and understanding to permit one to make a reliable estimate of the threat posed by potential Soviet ASW developments. It is also apparent that intelligent development of countermeasures to these threats cannot be undertaken in many cases, since the physical nature of the problem is not well understood. In most cases inadequate data or inadequate analytical models prevent any definitive statements to be made regarding the ultimate survivability of the SSBNs.” That is how the world looked when the revered Foster Letter that initiated the SSBN Security Program was drafted in 1968.

Over time the Soviets developed and deployed an array of strategic nuclear weapons systems with characteristics that tended to make one believe they had made a conclusion similar to Mr. McNamara’s. Thus we arrived at the deterrent posture of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), a term first coined in 1972. From 1972 through the end of the cold war, that remained the strategic deterrence posture of both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Much intellectual effort and resource expenditure on both sides was committed seeking a more palatable approach to nuclear deterrence, but none was really ever found.

However, there were attempts to develop nuclear deterrence doctrines that avoided the single massive retaliatory strike. Indeed, every President from John Kennedy to Ronald Reagan demanded additional response options in our nuclear war plans. In the seventies options were developed for measured responses under the assumption that nuclear war, if it came, could be controlled. That approach gave rise to the potential for partial SSBN battery launches or the so called split launches. That in turm prompted a series of split-launch vulnerability assessments
which by the very nature of the process contained both pre-launch and in-flight threats. They were conducted by SSP in their Vulnerability and Effectiveness Program. Strategic Nuclear C2 Wargames, however, demonstrated that MAD was not a policy but a fact, as long as both sides, maintained sufficient survivable strategic nuclear systems that their destructive potential after a first strike was deemed suicidal by the initiating nation. Clearly, in that case pre-launch survivability was the paramount strategic nuclear system characteristic.

SSBN Security As.ussments

Beginning in 1968 a contractor in the newly established SSBN Security Program, Operations Research Incorporated (ORI), under the direction of SSP, began developing analytical models to evaluate the survivability of SSBNs. Two fundamental assumptions incorporated in ORI’s assessment formulation captured the environment at the time. First, was that the Soviets would commit whatever resources were required to counter the U.S. SSBN force. At that time it was estimated that the Soviets had invested the equivalent of $125 billion in air defense to counter our strategic bomber force and were on a track to invest $75 billion in land based missiles to counter our ICBMs. And that was in 1970 dollars I Second, the only operative strategic planning scenario at the time was the worst plausible scenario, the bolt-from-the-blue. Therefore, the focus of the assessments was solely on the at-sea portion of the SSBN force and attrition was not considered a viable Soviet tactic. In general the analyses assumed if detection and localization could be accomplished and an attack mechanism identified, the problem was solved. That is, little effort was placed on detailed examination of the effectiveness of the attack systems. The analyses were intended for internal SSBN Security program use and were never designed nor produced to portray an authoritative Navy statement on the survivability of the SLBM force. The methodology however, was in place to address the never ending what-if questions posed by the DSB, OSD, Congress, etc. Frequently, that methodology was exercised to assist in preparation of the Navy response.

From the mid-70s until the program was transferred to OPNAV in 1983, systems operational analyses, engineering analysis and threat assessments of a variety of potential threat systems that could be synthesized from both acoustic and non-acoustic technology were vigorously pursued. Efforts were based upon operational considerations of both the U.S. and postulated threat forces and upon technical intelligence. The technical activities of the program were prioritized, in part, by maintaining a continuous and iterative interplay among technology, analysis and intelligence. The assessments identified significant potential vulnerabilities associated with specific narrow band components in the SSBN radiated noise signature, periscope and mast exposure routines, certain wake contaminants, and certain acoustic transients. In each case, countermeasure systems or tactics were developed and deployed to mitigate the potential vulnerability.

In the late 70s and early 80s the suicidal result of any nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union finally became internalized by war planners on both sides but the ideological competition continued. In order to prevent psychological paralysis the U.S. developed a scenario involving a protracted general conventional war prior to any nuclear exchange and required of the strategic nuclear forces the ability to fight a protracted nuclear war (more options again). That approach bad the effect of exposing the weaknesses in our C2 systems and it reaffirmed the pre launch survivability requirement for our weapons systems. This time they had to be able to survive repeated attacks and the requirement became known as endurance. The Navy contribution to that planning scenario was the revised Maritime Strategy. Since the survivability of U.S. SSBNs in a protracted conventional general war had never been evaluated, the SSBN Security Program initiated a new series of force security assessments in 1985-1986. That series of assessments was conducted by Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. (SPA) and EPL Analysis, under the direction of OP-21T1, Dr. Holmboe. Unlike the technology assessments conducted by ORI, these were far more limited in the time span considered, employed threat systems and forces that existed or were projected by the intelligence community and, clearly, attrition was a viable tactic. Those assessments were focussed on operational rather than technology considerations, and potentially serious SLBM force operational vulnerabilities were identified. Those vulnerabilities existed because the SSBN concept of operations remained predicated exclusively on the bolt-from-the- blue scenario with a single massive retaliatory strike. The SSBN Continuity of Operations Project (SCOOP) was established to address those vulnerabilities and develop a concept of operations and operational countermeasures for a protracted war scenario. SCOOP was successful and the current SSBN OPLANs incorporate the SCOOP developed procedures. The protracted nuclear war aspect of the concept also resurrected the nuclear barrage and split-launch threat assessments for update and refinement.

What of the Future?

In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended. So the issue now is bow do we even think about the survivability of strategic nuclear systems absent a superpower confrontation?

Since that collapse the U.S. has been on a track to reduce its strategic nuclear force levels consistent with maintaining an assured destruction capability against the remnants of the Former Soviet Union while carefully controlling the rate of that reduction and modernizing the remaining forces as a hedge against Russian hostility or a Former Soviet Union resurgence. That approach also provides forces adequate for nuclear deterrence against any other nation or alliance that can currently be envisioned. While the remnants of the strategic nuclear forces of the FSU represent a capability to destroy the U.S., absent today is any nation or aggregation of nations that possess plausible resources or intent to strategically confront the U.S. and threaten our autonomy. For the near term that is comforting, nuclear tension and urgency for strategic nuclear system attention are both reduced. But, neither have gone away.

Beyond a very short time horizon no one can predict what issues, alliances, or misguided leaders will provoke the next global confrontation. But history has taught us two extremely relevant things. First, history tells us there will be another major power confrontation. Every time a major war has ended in modem times there were those who naively espoused that peace for all time had been achieved. They were always wrong[ Second, recent history has taught us that an aggressor nation that has been utterly defeated, disarmed and left with an economy in chaos and a society near anarchy can recover, be stronger and even more aggressive in less than 20 years.

The U.S. has already taken the decisions that place on the Trident system the responsibility of being the ultimate guarantor of its survival and freedom of action for the next 30 years. That decision was taken because the distinguishing characteristic of the Trident system is its pre launch survivability. The single mission of the Trident system remains deterrence of nuclear aggression. For over 30 years the best strategic thinkers of this nation have sought alternatives to the concept of assured-destruction to deter nuclear threats against the U.S. and its allies but as I have already reported none has been found. Therefore, I believe maintaining Trident system pre-launch survivability remains paramount in this post-Cold War world.

Having said that, I believe, we, who are charged with insuring that characteristic of the Trident force, must redouble our efforts to think through all aspects of the longer term what-ifs, beginning with-what if we missed something? I believe we have. Because of lack of wisdom, courage or humility we completely overlooked the Walker effect. Yes, John Walker, the spy who for three years sat in the submarine OPCON center in Norfolk. We simply did not adequately evaluate the ramifications of compromise of SSBN Top Secret operational data. Related to the damage a spy could inflict, we are already experiencing the early realities of information warfare techniques. I can foresee a constant pressure to incorporate SSBN operational information in massive data bases that will be available to many levels of command and support in order to capitalize on the advantages blue force information will provide. Clearly such data bases will be prime targets for adversary penetration attempts. What if we assumed then that a potential future adversary had available to him in near real time each individual SSBN Patrol Order and the SSBN patrol area designations? Could the SSBN concept of operations be redesigned so that eventuality would provide no more information than could be obtained by watching activity in the refit site? Or better yet, could we negate any value that may be obtained by refit site observation also?

I believe some attention should be placed on what that next confrontation might look like and what that portends for Trident survivability. What if it leads not to another Cold War, but rather a major conventional war employing advanced platforms, proliferated sensors and precision weapons? There is precedent for a nation starting a major war it knew it could not win outright. Japan in WWII for instance. What if the aggressor in that instance possessed no nuclear weapons? The U.S. would be loathe to respond with nuclear weapons unless it became obvious its survival was at stake. The Trident system in that eventuality may have to survive a lengthy conventional war-an attrition war– while still performing its nuclear deterrent mission against whatever nuclear powers exist. I believe attention to an attrition scenario is also warranted because of the tremendous strides made by the Russians with their newest submarines. Previous analyses have shown that a protracted conventional war of attrition is not a Trident survivability strong suit and, within that difficult scenario, Trident acoustic FOM advantage against threat submarines is a critical parameter for success. We are losing that advantage.

What if the Tofflers are right and information warfare per se becomes a reality? Could the Trident system be negated by disruption or deception of its automated communications, navigation, targeting, or launch preparation software? Could the continually evolving capacity to acquire, store and manipulate extremely large amounts of data and information reduce the uncertainty area of at-sea Trident submarines to ASW system manageable proportions? CIPS, a Security Program Project in the mid-70s was a fledgling attempt to explore that approach. Should the concept be looked at anew? What else does the Revolution in Military Affairs portend for Trident survivability?

What if the Trident priority for resources continues to decline within the Navy? What would be the effects on survivability of reduced maintenance and monitoring, reduced training, reduced manning, reduced operational support such as intelligence, surveys, environmental data and predictions and communications? Would there be any? Could they be mitigated?

I certainly do not pretend that this brief list of what-ifs is exhaustive or even on the mark. My only objective is to suggest that continued confidence in pre-launch survivability or the Trident SSBN is or such importance to the nation throughout its projected lifetime, that we must maintain our commitment to excellence in the pursuits or the SSBN Security Program objectives. We must continue to think through all aspects of Trident technical and operational characteristics in the context of our understanding of this post-Cold War era.

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