Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


[Lieutenant Walker wrote this article while a student at SOAC. Upon completion of the course, he reported to USS BUFF ALO (SSN 715) as Navigation/Operations Officer.]

On January 16, 1991, the Submarine Force launched the first shots fired in anger since the end of World War D. The war shots were not traditional torpedoes but were instead the Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missile (fLAM). Besides the obvious implications of war shots being fired, this event marked another important milestone for the Submarine Force. This milestone was that the submarine could indeed perform more missions than the traditional undersea and surface warfare missions (USW and ASUW respectively) that we have trained for over the past 100 years. We had been saying that we had this capability for years, but the Submarine Force had come into its own as a very effective platform working in support of the battle group.

The submarine brings to the table a variety of unique capabilities that make it probably the most suited platform for TLAM employment. First, the submarine equipped with the vertical launch system (VLS) can employ a maximum salvo comparable to the Aegis cruiser or the Spruce destroyer. Second, the submarine can do this while remaining undetected. The submarine can covertly ingress and egress a launch area. Third, submarines have the added capability of rapidly being able to swap missions among different missiles without incurring significant time penalty. At this time, surface platforms do not have this capability. Current hardware and software configurations of the surface platform fire control systems do not allow for changes to a mission stored on a missile to occur without incurring significant time delays.This capability makes the submarine an excellent choice as a backup shooter. Fourth and finally, the submarine because of its flexibility can subsequently turn around and perform a variety of other missions while in the area. Whether that mission be indication and warning (I and W), special warfare insertion, mining, or traditional USW and ASUW, the submarine is truly the most versatile platform in the inventory. Versatility is an important consideration when faced with the fact that we as a Navy will have to work within a force structure that can support two major regional conflicts (MRCs) simultaneously.

There is probably not one of our leaders that denies the force multiplication that the submarine brings to the battle group. However, are we truly preparing our submarine crews as well as we could to allow them to be successful in the strike warfare arena? I don’t think that we are. We as a Navy are promulgating guidance that is broad, diffuse, and sometimes conflicting. We are providing training that is disjointed and at times conflicting with how strike warfare is actually conducted in theater. I believe that we are setting our submarine crews up to fail. Specifically, I would like to address the two most important issues that are facing us not only as a Navy but as a Submarine Force as well. Those issues are the guidance that we are promulgating and the training that we are providing.


There is not one Navy-wide central authority on the submarine employment of land attack cruise missiles. There are many hands in the pie and each theater of operations has a different shade on how business is to be conducted in their area of operations. For instance, the Pacific Fleet does things a little differently than does the Atlantic Fleet. For that matter, the Seventh Fleet does business differently from the Sixth Fleet who in tum does business different from the Fifth Fleet. To successfully participate in the cruise missile strike arena, we in the Submarine Force must be familiar with at least eight different documents and Naval War Publications (NWPs). In some cases depending on the theater of operations, the content of the documents changes. This, at the very least could be a very confusing task. If the guidance and procedures for the strategic missile program were as varied and disjointed as is the guidance and procedures in place for the submarine employment of Tomahawk cruise missiles, the Cold War would not be over. A meeting of the minds must occur to consolidate all applicable guidance. The other part of the problem with regard to the guidance applicable to the Submarine Force is that procedures and for that matter the basic technology of the missile itself changes so rapidly, the applicable changes to the NWPs are very slow to be promulgated. All of this combined, leads to a very serious training problem for the submarine. What is applicable and what is not? Type Commanders (TYCOMs) have tried to put their hands around the problem, but the results have been as varied as the guidance that has been promulgated. For example, the TYCOMs have published a Readiness and Training Memorandum (RTM) that summarizes all the reporting procedures during the course of a TLAM strike. This document in itself is a very good summary for the reporting procedures contained in both of the Fifth Fleet and Seventh Fleet Concept of Operations but should not replace the source documents. Those source documents need to be as concise and consistent as is the RTM. We have in sense, created another piece of paper with which we expect the submarine to be familiar. There has to be one central authority on how we conduct strike warfare. The one consistent factor here is that we in the Submarine Force are training to a different standard titan what we are expected to produce.


We need to be a more consolidated Navy in our training of submarine crews on the command and control topics for cruise missile employment. What does this mean you might ask? Specifically, submarine crews in the conduct of TLAM training, typically receive their training from the submarine school house and their parent squadron. What this leads to is an incestuous relationship of sorts where we have submariners training submariners in much the same manner as we have done for the more traditional submarine topics for years. I pose the question, whose procedures have we used in real world conflicts where TLAMs were actually shot? The answer is easy. Those procedures belong to the battle group and theater commanders who have at their disposal many different warfare communities. The result is a very wide spectrum of resources with regard to TLAM command and control. In order for the submarine to be able to participate in this arena we need to understand command and control. How better to do this than by opening our doors a little and exposing our wardrooms to some of the excellent training vehicles that are available from the other communities. Part of this is accomplished by the submarine actually participating in the battle group workup. More and more submarines that are tasked to deploy with battle groups are getting the benefit of the battle group work-up. This was not always the case and the result was a very steep learning curve for the submarine. Another excellent training vehicle for submarine officers is the outstanding command and control type courses’ that are offered by the Fleet Training Centers and the Afloat Training groups. These are great courses, not so much because of the curriculum of the course (which is very good), but more because we are shifting away from the incestuous relationship that we are so used to in submarine training. The course is typically taught by someone outside the Submarine Force and the students themselves come from a wide variety of warfare specialties. We need that infusion of fresh blood. I do not believe, however. that the whole problem lies with the Submarine Force not understanding command and control. Part of the responsibility lies with the battle group commander. Not only does he need to understand the capabilities that the submarine can bring to his area of responsibility. but he needs to understand the limitations and operational constraints of the submarine as well. We are still experiencing growing pains in this area. The issue of training jointly is important because as long as the TLAM is to be a National Command Authority asset, we need to be as joint as we possibly can be.

For the most part, we do a very good job training our submarines in the fundamentals of TLAM employment. The school houses recognize that the cruise missile arena is ever changing and they will try to incorporate the lessons learned and the deviations from promulgated guidance as they occur. The TYCO Ms have done a very good job with the weekly strike exercises as well as promulgating the lessons learned from these exercises. Each of the above venues does a very good job in teaching the fundamentals but there are some significant shortfalls that are making it hard for the submarine to utilize its full potential as a TLAM shooter. We do well at providing segmented training on various aspects of the missile problem, but we currently have no mechanism available to train our submarine crews from start to finish (more specifically from copying a tactical mission data update (MDU) to launching a maximum salvo of missiles). It would be nice if we had some sort of onboard simulation that would actually allow us to exercise the full salvo capability that the submarine bas to offer without actually shooting real missiles.6 For that matter, we can’t even test the entire VLS system without completely energizing the tube and powering up the missile. The submarine commanding officer will not know if there is a problem with his launch system until the very last moment. We need to have the ability to exercise the entire system so that not only will we know how it works, but will it work.

A large percentage of the problems that we are experiencing in the fleet have to do with the training of our crew on the VLS. Currently, we are limited in our ability to train our fire control technicians (FTs) and torpedomen (TMs) in the procedures and functions of the VLS tube. We have three tools available to us that can provide at least some training. First, there is a training VLS tube at NUWC in Rhode Island that is used for a specific VLS course that local area boats can send their Frs and TMs to. This course trains our sailors on the fundamental operation and maintenance of the VLS tube. This is great for local area sailors but for west coast sailors in these times of limited TAD funds, it is many times impractical for the average submarine sailor homeported in San Diego or Pearl Harbor to attend this course.Second, Naval Submarine Training Center Pacific and the Submarine School in Groton have a trainer called WLSOT which stands for weapons launch simulation operator trainer. With the new software upgrades, this is actually becoming a very good training tool. This trainer allows simulation of tube power-up, to include various casualty scenarios. Third, there are some submarine onboard trainer (SOBT) programs that are decent. Unfortunately, each of these tools, although good at teaching the fundamentals, fall short of the mark. Without the ability to fully exercise our tubes without aligning the missile and powering the tube up we are setting ourselves up for problems down the road. This again makes a strong case for incorporating an onboard trainer that will simulate powering-up multiple tubes.

Another training issue has to do with the instruction that is provided in regard to how we operate our fire control systems. With the many variants of fire control systems in the fleet there are also as many variants to the different procedures on how these systems are to be operated. Specifically, there are certain glitches in all of the different fire control systems that require a workaround to fix the glitches. What I am referring to is the dreaded tribal knowledge syndrome. Some of these work-arounds are provided for in the procedures, some are not. The result is that we end up trusting our sailors to be so familiar with the systems that these work-arounds can be applied when the rubber meets the road. As we all know, this cannot always be done. We have got to do a better job in not only training our sailors on their respective fire control systems, but also in promulgating these workarounds to the fleet.

There has been much progress with regard to the consolidation of the varied guidance that exists in the fleet. As of this writing there are only three concepts of operations (CONOPs). Each contains roughly the same format and information. There are some subtle differences with regard to required reports as well as guidance regarding fly-out altitude, however the content of the three CONOPs are roughly the same. The one problem that we are still ruMing into is that lessons learned are not getting promulgated into the NWPs rapidly enough to make a difference. Other problems lie with the changes in missile technology. For example, the fueling of the missile has not been an issue for the last two years. However, the flow diagram used for missile mission matching still addresses the issue of partially fueled missiles. There are other examples too numerous to mention but the lag time in both guidance and lessons learned is presenting a significant training problem to the fleet.

Regarding training, we have to make every effort to insure we put our best foot forward when it comes to sending our submarines to shoot cruise missiles. I propose the following:

1. We make every effort to insure that we are breaking the submarine away to participate in the battle group work-up. Right now this is the very best training that we can offer the submarine in terms of the employment of cruise missiles. This is the only way that we can truly integrate the submarine into the battle group role. Some homeports have a significantly harder challenge fitting the battle group work-ups and exercises into the already jam packed POM period of the submarine. The other side to this is the money consideration. In these austere time of funding cuts and downsizing, it is getting increasingly harder to break our submarines away from other than basic training needs of the TYCOM and parent squadrons. To alleviate some of these problems the Navy is utilizing existing technologies, such as local area networks (LAN) or visual tactical training (VTT or VTC) to configure the existing attack trainers such that we in the Navy can conduct exercises over the network. Such trainers like the Battle Force Tactical Trainer (BF1T) specifically are utilizing this technology. The great thing about this is that the submarines can participate in battle group exercises without ever leaving port.

2. Cruise missile employment is a mission that the surface community seriously trains for. The surface community has a dedicated work-up for cruise missile employment. The work-up involves a training group that is solely dedicated to insuring the surface ship is ready to employ its TLAM. Following the dedicated training availability. there is a certification period where the ship has to be certified to employ its cruise missiles. Without imposing additional training requirements on the submarine, we need to broaden the submarine POM period to include a more intensive work-up to better prepare the submarine for cruise missile employment. We do not do a very good job of this.

3. Part of the proposal in number 2 above does not have to do with the training that we provide, but more with our ability to provide onboard simulation so that the submarine crew, and for that matter the submarine, can be tested from start to finish. Specifically, from receiving the mission data update all the way through the launching of a maximum salvo, the submarine should be able to test both the procedures as well as the launch system so that problems can be solved prior to time of launch. However, providing onboard simulation, is not the only answer. We need to also be able to provide training on our weapons launch systems to our sailors. Mock-ups such as those at NUWC need to be more accessible to our sailors.

The picture that I present is not as dire as it appears. We as a Submarine Force and a Navy as well have done wonderful things in a very short period of time. What we really need to do now is take a hard look at those processes and material issues that really need attention.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League