Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate
THIS WEBSITE IS SPONSORED BY PROGENY, A CORPORATE MEMBER OF THE NSL

SUBMARINE TECHNOLOGY ASSESSMENT PANEL

The panel was charged by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition to provide an independent evaluation of available and future submarine technologies, as well as an assessment of the feasibility, cost, and potential benefits or drawbacks with respect to their incorporation into the new submarine platform. We were also tasked to recommend a technology insertion plan for submarines. We accomplished this task by examining the proposed Submarine Program and the supporting Technology Program.

The panel was comprised of 14 members possessing strong technical and operational credentials and a depth of experience in government, industry, and academe. A complete listing of panel members and their affiliations is attached.

In December 1995, the Navy solicited papers on state-of-the-art technologies for our panel to evaluate. We met over a two month period, while we performed an on-going evaluation of these responses. Meetings over the two month period were devoted to gaining an understanding of the projected threat, the Navy’s new submarine program, the missions for which it was designed, and the technology resident in the baseline design. We also met with distinguished submarine designers and managers to understand lessons learned from the past. Current and former operational commanders were consulted in an effort to understand their perspective of present submarine operations and future needs. We met individually with Dr. Wood, Mr. Battista, and Mr. Polmar, as well as with Mr. Ron O’Rourke and Dr. John Foster, all of whom testified before the House National Security Committee (HNSC) last September regarding submarine technology, in order to consider their perspectives on this subject. Finally, the panel considered technologies presently in the Navy’s new submarine design, those submitted in response to the December solicitation, those presented by the shipyards, and those technologies presently funded by the DoD and Navy technology community.

We found weaknesses, but also strengths in both the submarine program and the technology program. We evaluated technology candidate papers received from the December solicitation. Finally, we explored several special topic areas. From the findings in the submarine and technology programs, the technology candidate papers, and special topic areas, we derived conclusions and recommendations.

The Submarine Program

Strengths. The panel found several noteworthy strengths associated with the new submarine program. One was the ability to make the new submarine as acoustically quiet as SEA WOLF, but in a significantly smaller hull. This alone is no small technological feat and demonstrates a significant advance in quieting technology when compared with previous submarine classes. We found that the new submarine design incorporates new, higher performance systems. The elimination of penetrating masts, the change to an advanced DC electrical system, advanced Electronic Support Measures (ESM), and electromagnetic silencing are a few examples. The new submarine design also facilitates future mission reconfigurability. The design provides for insertion of mission specific hull sections during new construction. The panel noted that there is also flexibility inherent in the new submarine design as seen in the ability to reconfigure the torpedo room and the ability to changeout mast modules dockside.

One strength of the new submarine program was associated with the ability of the Navy to commit to the same shipyard for design and construction of the lead ship which allows the shipyard to commit to sub-tier vendors early, to incorporate producibility into the design early, and to work interactively with the Navy to produce a capable and affordable submarine. In addition, it was noteworthy that the Navy, in conjunction with both shipyards, achieved reductions in government unique requirements and specifications.

The new submarine program has been focused primarily on affordability while meeting stated missions. The panel noted a balanced approach to submerged signature, the use of Modular Isolated Deck Structures, and design simplification through component reduction as design strengths. The panel also noted the combat system open architecture approach as a strength in the program. The use of Commercial-Off-the-Shelf components in the Open System Architecture environment, along with contracted technology refresh updates should ensure that the combat system on the new submarine is the most capable combat system available.

Weaknesses. There also are weaknesses in the new submarine program. The emphasis on affordability precluded obtaining a higher performance multi-mission submarine, although, as I noted before, the desired operational performance levels will be attained with the current design. Affordability tradeoffs made early in the design resulted in performance tradeoffs which could limit the platform if radical changes occur in the threat or assigned mission. The result of these tradeoffs resulted in a design whose maximum speed, test depth, and firepower may not be as great as that exhibited, one feature at a time, in past designs, and whose signature may not be as low as the Navy can reach. The risk is that the design may not provide adequate performance margins as threats and missions evolve.

Another weakness that the panel noted was that the strategy for incorporation of future improvements is not clear. While the program noted there were plans for mission specific hull sections, preplanned product improvements, and technology insertion, the panel was unable to determine that these plans existed.

Through the review of the December solicitation papers, briefings from the shipbuilders, and discussions held with the DoD and Navy technical communities, the panel noted that the baseline design lacked certain desirable features which would probably be needed in the future and could still be incorporated into an early hull with vigorous action. These desired features could include an improved sail, a hybrid propulsor, and fiber optic towed arrays.

The Technology Program

Strengths. One strength of the submarine technology program was the availability of capable and talented people to develop and mature submarine technologies. In addition, the panel noted that extensive capital investments have been made in facilities to support developing and maturing submarine technology. Several examples include:

  • Lake Pend O’Reille in Idaho which hosts large scale vehicles that can prove out hydrodynamic concerns and issues
  • The Intermediate Scale Measurement System which provides unique and significant capability to evaluate signature components, and
  • The Hydrodynamic/Hydroacoustic Technology Center located at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Carderock, Maryland which provides the modeling and simulation capability to explore hydrodynamic and hydroacoustic issues.
  • The Large Cavitation Channel located in Memphis, Tennessee which can support evaluation of propulsor and hull form hydrodynamic performance.

Weaknesses. The panel noted that critics of this design fear that the next Russian submarine will be operationally superior to the new submarine. While the panel cannot determine with certainty that the Navy has been overtaken or surpassed in particular areas, it is significant to note that there have been instances in the past where the Navy has been surprised by Russian innovation and advances.

The panel noted that, historically, major technology development efforts have not had continuity and have been limited to the low risk options for the immediate submarine acquisition program. Funding for submarine technology can be classified as spiky-ramping up for the next specific acquisition program on the horizon and then rapidly falling off once the program has been formalized.

The panel noted that core submarine technology investments are generally too small to investigate important and/or revolutionary options in a timely manner. As a result, future modifications or new designs will be limited to evolutionary improvements over their predecessors.

We also found that the submarine requirements, acquisition, and technology communities lack both effective coordination and a common vision which would be expected to be documented in a formal long-range plan. There is no single organization with technical authority and accountability across all aspects of submarine science and technology maturation and insertion.

The panel also found that the shipyards are not continuing principal players in submarine technology planning and development until well into the design process. The panel noted that other technology-dependent communities, such as the Air Force, rely to a great extent on industry for their technical base.

Finally, we noted that only limited funding is available to utilize the vast and capable infrastructure of test assets and vehicles mentioned previously.

Technology Candidates

We performed a qualitative evaluation of the 257 December solicitation responses. Each response was reviewed by several panel members. Our evaluation of each candidate technology was based on the technology’s military utility, schedule, cost, and risk with respect to the Navy’s future submarine program. Technology candidates were categorized as possibly available in the near term (FY98-FY01), mid term (FY02-FY06), as well as far term (FY06+ ). We categorized the papers into 10 Congressional Interest areas (documented in the FY 1996 Defense Authorization Act) (Editor Note: See THE SUBMARINE REVIEW, April 1996. p. 13] and 18 additional topic areas (including acoustic sensors, non-acoustic sensors, precision navigation, acoustic signal processing, and regulatory compliance to name a few). From the Congressional Interest areas, the panel concluded that there were only seven technologies available in the near term (FY98-FY01), if resources were applied at an accelerated pace. Of these seven technologies, none were deemed to have high military utility. Of the 55 near term technologies in the 18 additional topic areas, only 18 were determined to have high military utility, but the majority of these were evaluated to have moderate to high cost and risk. From the technology candidate assessment, the panel proposed a technology insertion continuum based on the panel’s interpretation of the maturity of technologies in areas such as quiet launchers, fiber optic sensors, and electric drive.

Special Topics

The panel identified six special technology areas which can promote arrangement flexibility and potentially reduce the volume of the submarine, while providing enhanced performance. The panel considered these technologies as enablers for achieving revolutionary change and advancement in submarine design. In addition, the panel identified leadership and management of both the submarine and technology programs as a special topic that the Navy should consider.

The first special technology topic area was hydrodynamics. Hydrodynamic concepts and technologies were identified to the panel which may significantly improve submarine stealth, speed, and maneuverability. Reasonable evidence exists that several

hydrodynamic concepts have been successfully combined by others into integrated advance submarine designs to improve overall performance. These concepts are not fully understood in the U.S., nor are they being applied in the U.S. Navy. Hydrodynamic technology opportunities, coupled with newly developed research tools and large-scale testing facilities are available to conduct a vigorous hydrodynamics program to explore integrated approaches and to incorporate into submarines designs, as appropriate. The panel recommended that the Navy establish a robust hydrodynamics improvement program.

The second special topic area was improved sail. The panel was presented with several conceptual alternative sail designs which would provide additional volume for maintenance access, external stowage, and mission payload reconfigurability. Various geometries and materials were identified which could also provide improvements in hydrodynamic performance and reduced target strength. In addition, alternative sail geometries could provide space and surface area for embedded sensors and antennas in the long term. We recommended that potential enhancements be evaluated and an optimal alternative sail design be selected.

The third special technology topic area was sensors. The panel noted that fiber optic sensor technology promises increases in performance and reductions in weight, volume, and cost through applications of thin line arrays, billboard arrays, mine bunting sonars within the molded lines, and self monitoring. The panel noted that commercial-off-the-shelf electronics, open system architecture, and ease of installation make backfit of fiber optics reasonable. The panel noted that the program funding has been limited and recommended that development of advanced arrays incorporating fiber optic sensors be accelerated.

The fourth special technology topic area was electric drive. We found there are both internal and external electric drive concepts and technologies which may reduce radiated noise and provide more flexible machinery room space arrangements while significantly reducing ship volume and cost. Permanent magnet motor technology is available and could be developed into a submarine electric drive system in the FY02-FY06 timeframe. The panel recommended that the Navy explore the electric drive system, and, through a preplanned product improvement approach, incorporate electric drive technology into a submarine design.

The fifth special technology topic area was mission reconfigure ability and external weapons. As noted in the submarine program findings, the submarine is designed to easily accommodate mission specific modules at new construction. One possibility for these mission specific modules would allow the submarine to carry an increased number of weapons. However, the panel noted that mission reconfigurability could be achieved through the inclusion of external weapons into the existing hull. The panel recommended that the Navy pursue external weapons as an enabler to improve mission reconfigurability as submarine designs evolve.

The sixth special technology topic area was active controls and mounts. The technical community has a wide variety of active control and mount ideas to enhance mission capabilities and reduce cost. The panel recommended emphasis in this area.

The last special topic area was technical leadership and management. The panel noted that submarines are technology intensive, and therefore require a high degree of systems engineering and integration. As a result, technical leadership extending beyond the acquisition of a new design is necessary. The panel commented that this will be difficult during downsizing and in an environment that emphasizes acquisition skills. The panel noted that technical education is available and viable, but replacement, development and mentoring of technical experts appear to be random. Continual development of leading edge technology and the unique attributes of submarines mandate development and retention of talented knowledgeable technical experts. The panel recommended that the Navy emphasize technical expertise and continuity in selection of key managerial positions.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The panel determined that the new submarine, as presently designed, meets established requirements. The design provides a capable multi-mission submarine, with room and flexibility to incorporate some available and soon-to-be available technologies should they be required. We recommended that the Navy proceed with the new submarine, but commit to continuous evolution. In making this recommendation, the panel did not focus on considerations of budget, source structure, or industrial base. Instead, we relied on our finding that the design meets current requirements and has room for incorporating available and foreseeable technological advances, and there are no revolutionary advances on the near horizon which would justify delay.

The panel noted that the commitment to continuous evolution must include the formulation and maintenance of a technology insertion plan, including the consideration of technologies identified by the panel and others. for early technology maturation investments, as well as the periodic surveillance of potentially revolutionary technologies being explored in the technology base.

Although the new submarine design is appropriate, the panel noted that there are technologies which could be available in the far term and which may warrant a redesign of future submarines. We felt there were several areas that required stable and sustained programs in research and development to evolve these far term technologies. The Navy should program sufficient resources to investigate these technology areas including: hydrodynamics, improved sail, sensors, electric drive, mission reconfigurability and external weapons, and active controls and mounts. The panel strongly believes that these technologies will allow for arrangement flexibility and serve as enablers for revolutionary submarine designs of the future.

We concluded that the submarine R&D enterprise lacks prerequisites for an assured and viable future. A continuing, stable level of R&D funding, is especially critical. A better degree of stability in the R&D lines must be instituted, if longer term technologies are to be studied and matured, or eliminated, so that 10 years from now a similar panel will not see the technologies in the same undeveloped state. The R&D funding spikes have inhibited the insertion of state-of ┬Ěthe-art technology in current submarines and will prevent the maturation of advanced technology for future submarines. The Navy needs (1) substantial maturation investment early enough to meet the next design, (2) a refreshment strategy for current designs, and (3) a technology base developing options for future designs.

The panel also found mission analysis and systems engineering to be narrowly focused on the new submarine. Without future oriented analysis and engineering, and better communication with technology base management, it is unlikely that the Navy will be investing technology base funds well. The panel concluded that a formal, published, continually updated long range plan would be an effective coordination mechanism.

The panel concluded that separation of acquisition and life cycle support can inhibit the formulation and execution of cost-effective plans for technology maturation and insertion. In addition, we noted that some managers of the technology community seem to be so focused on early and visible transition of the work they sponsor, that they have lost the desire to support the high-risk, long-term efforts that could lead to revolutionary improvements in the performance of future submarines.

Based on our conclusions in this area, we recommended that the Navy define a single attack submarine product manager dedicated to acquisition and life-support, including the maturation and insertion of technology into existing, newly designed, and future submarines. This product manager should have clear authority and accountability of the attack submarine product throughout its lifetime, plus continuing coordination responsibility with Naval Reactors.

The panel recommends that, in addition to its acquisition responsibilities, the organization be held accountable for the performance of the future-oriented activities, including the formulation and maintenance of a long-range submarine technology plan.

Summary

The panel concluded that there are not near term technologies on the horizon which should preclude continuation with the new submarine as designed. The panel strongly encouraged the Navy to consider our recommendations regarding revolutionary technologies that should be pursued, the need for stability in R&D funding, and suggestions for improved management authority and accountability.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League