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As you read this, some of you may be wondering what a special operator might have to say to the submarine community, but I offer that there are many similarities between my world and yours.

When one considers the operating parameters within which special operations forces (SOF) and submarines work-small numbers; stealthy quite often in the dark and in adverse weather; reliant on surprise; specially selected, trained, and dedicated people-especially great people, because once we launch our units, we can’t control them-those connections become obvious.

In fact, our definition of special operations seems to apply to the Submarine Force; “….operations which encompass the use of small units in indirect or direct military actions that are focused on strategic or operational objectives. They require units with combinations of specialized personnel, equipment, training, or tactics that exceed the routine capabilities of conventional military forces.”

The relationship between submarines and SOF goes back 50 years, but beyond the typical operations we conduct together, I’d like to examine how we both support operations by offering the Theater or JTF commander options outside what many consider the normal operating box-that environment in which we are most comfortable-and in doing so, how we provide answers to some of the unique challenges facing the nation.

A fact of our new world disorder is that our mission focus seems to be converging-as the Navy continues to replace the organizational vision spelled out in the Maritime Strategy with that found in Forward … From the Sea, operations in the littoral come to the fore, and the opportunity for joint work between our forces is more frequent and enlarged.

Indeed, our subordinate units report a greatly increased willingness of sub skippers to explore new means of solving old interoperability issues. That trend will only increase as we find more synergistic answers to challenges. Internationally, probably the most profound challenge that we confront is dealing with two competing and different types of threat. One is a well-equipped nation-state which requires high tech capabilities that can quickly.

and precisely attack high value targets. But we also face threats which have no viable conventional military or national centers of gravity, as was the case in Somalia, Rwanda, and Haiti. Here threats are sub national groups, disintegrating social structures, disease, and environmental degradation.

Some classify such threats as fourth generation warfare-where the forces needed to fight a nation-state are usually not appropriate to address these latter threats. As the world watched the performance of our high tech forces, armed with precision weaponry, the likelihood of being challenged in fourth generation warfare is increasingly likely. It is safe to say that future aggressors would indeed be foolish to attack our strengths, but will target vulnerabilities. Indeed, our experience in Somalia is a case in point, in which our Achilles Heel was our political will to sustain the effort-our national objectives could not be accomplished in Somalia without further bloodshed that would be unacceptable to the American people.

The task is to find sufficiently flexible, adaptable forces that can operate effectively against both types of threat. In nation-state, or maneuver war, both SOF and the Submarine Force clearly provide an answer along with other, conventionally armed and organized forces, sometimes as a force multiplier, and sometimes in an economy of force role. Conversely, both our communities play roles in fourth generation warfare; in SOF, our language capabilities, cultural awareness, and regional orientation make us highly effective in these sensitive, often ambiguous environments. The submarine provides an ideal platform for clandestine infiltration, exfiltration, and C2; and, as a visible-with its presence announced-manifestation of American commitment, it could influence combatants to attempt to find political solutions. The combination of our credible, and sometimes incredible people, harnessing of new wave technologies, and high states of readiness are constant reminders to potential adversaries that there will be consequences to their actions.

We both bring an aspect to warfare that allows the attack of strategic and operational targets in unconventional ways, and do so by thinking outside the normal operating box. I do not mean that we ignore the teachings of Mahan, Doubet, or Clausewitz, but that the Chinese general Sun Tzu holds greater relevance to small communities like ours which seek selective engagement.

Sun Tzu suggests to us the indirect approach, which attacks enemy vulnerabilities rather than strengths; deception, which shows an enemy what he expects to see, rather than what is; the requirement to know and understand an enemy {and ourselves) that transcends intelligence preparation of the battlefield; and the use of the unorthodox to complement the orthodox.

The National Defense University will soon publish an interesting piece by Commander Frank Borik entitled Sun Tzu and the Art of Submarine Warfare. In it, Borik posits a successful Chinese naval engagement against the U.S. Navy based on the 2,500 year old teachings of Sun Tzu. The essence of this clever essay is that the indirect approach will offer unique options that can help limit the conflict by bringing it to an early end; and that ” … while submarines can’t command the sea in the Mahanian sense, they can deny command to our enemy, and thus be decisive in his defeat.” Just as neither submarines nor SOF are war winners, they play a significant role in war termination.

Borik suggests any number of means to attack the vulnerabilities ties of a high tech, modem navy-ours, in this case. Running through his essay is a psychological theme; namely, that with a perfect understanding of the behemoth, the upstart Chinese Navy could use the enemy’s own strength against him, and ultimately defeat the enemy’s strategy. Just as mines in the Persian Gulf exerted a certain psychological influence on our actions, the possibility of submarines in one’s AOR [Ed. Note: Area of Responsibility} engenders a whole set of concerns, and thus actions.

In special operations, we bring similar pressures to bear on an adversary. Sometimes just the presence or suggestion of SOF in his rear areas causes the enemy to engage in self-defeating behavior. We also exploit his fears through the use of psychological operations, or PSYOP. In wartime, PSYOP seeks to defeat the enemy-to reach the pinnacle of military excellence as Sun Tzu saw it, which is to subjugate the enemy’s force without fighting. Some of you may have seen a particular theme we used to great effect in our leaflet campaign in the Gulf War, when we targeted specific Iraqi units for B 52 attack,-we told those units we would bomb them, and then did exactly that. The result was a definite loss of confidence in the Iraqi’s chain of command, which was powerless to protect their soldiers from pre-announced attacks.

Of greater significance was the influence this process had on adjoining units who witnessed the entire action-and then were targeted themselves. Our market research among POWS after the fact showed us that 98 percent of the scores of thousands of Iraqi POWs saw leaflets, 80 percent believed, and 70 percent were induced to surrender by them. We think Madison Avenue would love to have those kinds of numbers to sell soap! It’s important to note that the bombing effort would have happened with or without the PSYOP connection; that addition, however, was an excellent example of the force multiplier effect PSYOP had on the larger effort, and how SOF complemented a conventional operation to great synergistic effect, just as the British submarine force did during the Falklands/Malvinas War, and as did our own submarines during the Gulf War with TLAMs.

I am struck by the great similarities between submarines and special operations; as the columnist George Will says, submarines demonstrate how crucial, subtle, and varied the political use of armed force can be-submarines can be covert, meaning non-provocative, and sustained. An adversary might know they are there, but never where, which is exactly the situation the Iraqis faced when we put special reconnaissance patrols behind the lines in Desert Storm. Similarly, geographic CINCs or Ambassadors also quite often use SOF when a small presence or host country deniability is desirable, which a large conventional force would preclude. SOF is quite often the only force which is politically, and sometimes psychologically, acceptable. A hallmark of our special operators is their understanding of the sometimes strategic nature of individual actions; we will only accept and retain people with the maturity to understand their role in the larger picture, and act accordingly.

The unorthodox nature of undersea warfare strikes a resonant chord, as well; David Bushnell’s TURTLE of the American Revolution; the Confederate HUNLEY UDT launches in WWII and Korea; SEAL operations in Vietnam; British submarine infiltration of special reconnaissance elements into Argentina; in all, submarine operations have been integral partners with special operations in offering complementary options to the Theater Commander. Surgical, fast, and world-wide attack capabilities are also strikingly similar characteristics of our forces.

In preparing for this article, I was interested to read that the U.S. Submarine Force in WWII was only two percent of the Navy, yet had an influence against our enemies all out of proportion to its size. Today’s SOF is also a minute element of our force structure, accounting for only 1.4 percent of DoD manpower and 1.2 percent of the budget, but SOF is quite often the force of choice in politically sensitive environments. One need only consider the year old operation in Haiti to see where SOF complemented the initial effort, and then became the vanguard in helping to restore a democratic government, responsive to the people of that troubled nation.

The most striking commonality between submarines and SOF, however, is the independent nature of your operations, in which each boat is launched to accomplish its solitary mission, just as we launch our forces-properly trained, equipped, and supported, to be sure, but on their own. Mission orders are supplemented by the freedom to use one’s initiative within the parameters of the commander’s intent. In WWII, submarines carried out surveil-lance, reconnaissance, evacuation and resupply, infiltration and exfiltration of agents, and combat search and rescue-all of which are doctrinal missions for SOF.

In fact, throughout modem history, submarines have supported special operations; during Korea, submarines launched and recovered people into North Korea; in Vietnam, similar missions were executed successfully. And several submarines were dedicated SOF support platforms, like PERCH, TUNNEY, or GRA YBACK. Today, POLK on the East Coast, and KAMEHAMEHA in WestPac provide dedicated support to theater SOF.

We have our own fleet of free-flooding wet submersibles in Navy Special Warfare. SEAL Delivery Vehicles, or SDVs, are craft that allow infiltration of very small numbers of SEALs. But we anticipate a surge in mission effectiveness when we receive the newest platform, the Advanced SEAL Delivery System, or ASDS. The prototype is scheduled for delivery in 1997, with Initial Operational Capability in 1999. The ASDS is a dry submersible-a true mini-submarine that uses Deep Submersible Rescue Vehicle technologies-that will allow us to infiltrate a SEAL squad to an enemy harbor and act as a host for up to several days, as compared to hours in the current SDV; and in which the SEALs are exposed to a very unforgiving environment for the entire transit to and from the objective area. Of course, these are not stand-alone capabilities-they require the submarine fleet in direct support, without which it would truly be mission impossible.

That relationship is both tactical and intellectual. Last November we co-hosted a conference with the Fletcher School at Tufts University on the Roles and Missions of SOF in the Aftermath of the Cold War. One of our speakers, and a contributor to the collection of essays that came from the conference was Jim Turner, the President of Electric Boat.

In it, Jim explores the commonalities between SOF and submarines I’ve mentioned earlier, and lays out the special warfare capabilities being designed into the new SSN 21 class. As many of you know, SEA WOLF will go beyond the current ad hoc, or retrofitted nature of our current designs. And as importantly, the New Attack Submarine now being designed will offer an integral nine man lock out chamber, dedicated stowage space for SOF equipment-which is a very real blessing if you’ve ever seen Klepper Canoes or CRRCs stowed in current subs-and space reserved for a special purpose mast or antenna.

Jim also posits a New Attack Submarine variant that would be designed with hull plugs for specific missions. A special warfare variant could accommodate a large number of special forces personnel, their gear, and even vehicles! Beyond the delivery and recovery of these troops, the vessel could be a viable C2 platform for the mission commander, offering a clandestine or covert option to the warfighting CINC that no other platform could deliver.

Other innovations in future designs could put a chamber in the sail for undersea, surface, or even air vehicles; and could embed high-data-rate antennae in the skin of the vessel, all of which make the submarine a much more stealthy and versatile platform. I have even heard of a proposal that would put as many as 100 special operations troops aboard a future submarine.

My point is that these are not merely examples of making submarines more effective and flexible-no, these innovations are the product of the type of thinking that has given the. submarine community the reputation it enjoys and deserves. Unconventional, pushing the envelope, independent, and utterly professional-qualities that we believe fairly describes special operators as well. As we look to the future, we see a continuing, close relationship between our communities of like-minded operators as we develop new tactics and techniques to exploit our unique capabilities.

And finally, I want to talk about our greatest asset-those people out there, in every ocean, with every fleet, and in countries and environments most alien to our culture and sensibilities,
Again, our paths converge, as we attract, or perhaps they self-select in equal measure, wonderfully talented and adventurous people to join our ranks. Indeed, even the names we use-the Silent Service or the Quiet Professionals-bespeak a psychological kinship beyond coincidence. It is no coincidence that we both have very rigorous selection programs for our personnel. Given our operating parameters-independent, long range, sustained duration-we simply must have people whom we trust to do the right thing without fail, and without exception.

I began this piece by stating that some may wonder what a special operator would have to offer the submarine community, and I hope I’ve answered that question; our operating parameters, flexibility, and the range of options we offer to support conventional operations guarantee our continued viability. As long as we collectively offer the nation the courageous and creative likes of the David Bushnells and Francis Marians the Hunleys and the John Singleton Mosbys and the Hyman Rickovers and the William Donovans, our place is secure. As our interests, and indeed our utility to the nation coverage, I dare you to be unconventional about the challenges that face us-push the envelope, and keep thinking outside the box.


USS BLUEFISH (SSN 675) on February 1, 1996 at Pearl Harbor.

USS NEW YORK CITY (SSN 696) on February 1, 1996 at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

If any members of the League are former shipmates of the above ships, or if you live in the vicinity of the yards, please consider showing your support by attending the ceremonies.

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