A Fleet Submarine for the 90’s and Beyond
Rear Admiral Edgeman’ was relaxing In his office reflecting on his naval carrier, a lifetime made evident by the myriad of photographs scattered throughout his large office. There were snapshots of Individual ships and battle groups to which he had been assigned. There were obvious differences between the photos of battle groups of the 70s and the joint task forces of the ’90s. The photograph of the REAGAN task force, which he had the distinction of commanding, displayed how these forces have grown leaner and become more joint In the last decade. This picture also showed something much more distinct-leading the way of the mighty REAGAN was the sleek outline and large wake of an improved Los Angeles class fast attack submarine (6881). Also prominent In this snapshot were the additional two 6881s flanking the carrier. Rear Admiral Edgeman remembered that fall day when his task force assembled off the coast of Virginia. He also recalled the feeling he had when the trio of submarines were ordered to break formation. As the submarine drew away from his flag ship he couldn’t help but see the three SSNs as his personal wolf pack. He realized he was experiencing some of the same emotions Grand Admiral Doenitz had felt during World War II.
This moment of reflection was suddenly born when Captain Steve Jones, The admiral’s Chief of Staff, and Commodore Brian Smith, the Destroyer Squadron Commander, entered his office. The Chief of Staff handed him an urgent message from the Fleet Commander. These orders gave direction for the REAGAN Battle Group to prepare for Immediate sortie. It seemed that the President had opted for military action against the radical fundamental of Vulgaria. The Vulgar’s kidnapping and torture of 150 foreign nationals, many of whom were Americans, was more than the Commander-In-chief could endure.
Although the first words out of the President’s mouth had been, “Where is the nearest carrier?”, the first words out of the admiral’s mouth were, “Where l.s our nearest submarine” “HAWKBlLL Ls Just two days out and… “The admiral cut off the Chief of staff in mid sentence. “That’s nice, Steve, but I want to know about ow nearest submarine” ‘The boss was not using the term our to mean a collective United States asset but a possessive our, to mean his asset. “Well, HAMPTON is four days out, three if we pushed her hard”, responded Commander Ray, who himself had been In Just such a postilion six months ago as Commanding Officer of SPRINGFIELD during the last Vulgarian uprising. “well, call SUBLANT and get her headed that ways” barad the admiral, “and have SEAL Team Nine embark BOISE. We will need them In postilion at least three days before D-day. Get everyone working this problem, Steve. Brian, bring your Chief staff Officer over here to work the sea combat aspects of this operation with my people. ”
None of the admiral’s statements were meant to demean or Insult HAWKBILL. It was Just that the admiral wanted his submarines In this fight. & was a sports oriented man and blew the benefits of good teamwork. His submarines were members of the REAGAN team,· maybe even the most Valuable members. These 688Is had operated extensively with the battle group over the last year. The admiral was familiar with the commanding officers and knew the capabilities and limitations of each crew. The boats In nun knew what was opened of them by the battlegroup commander and each of his warfare commanders, and felt extremely conformable operating with the men anti women of REAGAN, her aircraft and escorts.
The staff Immediately broke up Into separate elements and began to tackle the huge task of getting the force to sea and developing the plan that would send a definite message to the Vulgarians. Although the country of Vulgaria was not a super power, like most Third World countries their naval capability was not significant. Tow new diesel submarines with capable torpedoes, four aging frigates and 25 fast patrol boats equipped with surface to surface missile and 30 fighter bombers, which recently have been observed conducting anti-shipping exercises, were Just a few of the problem the staff would have to developed potential counter for In the next week. Meanwhile. Lieutenant Commander Dell. the battelgroup submarine liaison officer. picked up the secure phone and called SUBLANT. He concisely described what would be needed from HAMPTON and BOISE. The COMSUBUNT watch officer had the subs headed In the right direction within a few hours and control of the boats would be shifted entirely to the battleground commander within 24 hours.
Although this scenario is fictitious, and may appear more lib a Hollywood script than an actual dialogue within a naval organization, this feeling of ownership and respect for submarines’ capabilities could well be repeated by any current battlegroup commander. The fast attack submarine in overall, improved 6881 in specific, have literally burst on the battlegroup scene. The 688I’s stealth and unlimited endurance have immediately opened up the commander’s options. To coin a well used phrase, the SSN is a true fora multiplier. Even George Will has become a submarine proponent. declaring that, after the victories in tho Cold War, submarines may have replaced aircraft carriers u the capital ship, “‘those vessels that when present, control the sea”.2 As the focus of the Navy shifted from blue water to littoral warfare the contribution of the submarine to force defense has increased significantly. Rear Admiral Yaari, of the Israeli Navy, described the benefit that a submarine in the littoral provides u one of “bidimeosional maneuverability”‘. Surface units, who must deal with extremely short detect-to-engage timelines, are much more at risk in the littoral while “a submarine’s unique maneuverability can reduce exposure dramatically while maintaining a constant effective presence offshore. This brings the risk imbalance back to a workable equilibrium”.
A 6881 submarine brings more to the table in terms of capability than any other single platform within the battlegroup. Submarine builders are openly marketing 6881s as battlegroup assets proclaiming, “‘Every battleground commander should. bring a concealed weapon. A submarine.” And .. Why assign submarines to battlegroups? It’s simple, they add depth.”‘ A 6881 can play a significant role for any warfare commander, whether it is undersea warfare (USW), surface warfare (SUW), strike warfare (STW), air warfare (AW), or command and control warfare (C2W). The 6881 can also play an extensive role in special operations. This submarine, in a short time period, has become totally integrated into the mind set of battlegroup staffs and can only continue to expand their role in the future. Before discussing the advantages of a 6881 in detail, it might be useful to discuss the general issues associated with recent Submarine Force integration into coordinated operations.
How is it that the Submarine Force, with improved 688s leading the way, experienced success integrating into battlegroups while other forces, P-3s for example, continued to stay on the periphery of coordinated operations, never really breaking out of the Cold War mold? This success can be grouped into three distinct categories. First, the ground work for success was put into place by insightful senior leadership who recognized the need for and benefits of coordinated operations. Secondly, key players accepted the challenge of this totally new mission and immediately displayed innovative tactical thought and flawless execution. Lastly, and most importantly, the 6881s which have conducted integrated operations are extremely efficient warships capable of carrying out the most demanding assignments.
Early in the development of coordinated operations it was recognized that it was beneficial to assign experienced submarine officers as advisors to the principal commanders who would have the most control over submarines. To ensure the safety of the waterspace management of assigned submarines a post-command submarine officer was added to the battlegroup staff. This officer provided a submarine presence of equal seniority to the other principal advisors on the Admiral’s staff. These dynamic commanders and captains provided the fire power necessary to maintain maximum utilization of battlegroup submarines. These officers, through bard work and charisma, greatly expanded their roles on the battlegroup staff beyond what was originally envisioned. Currently, many of these officers bold the position of Command and Control Warfare Commander. In becoming not only senior advisors but warfare commanders they have established themselves as peers of the Air Wing Commanded, Cruiser Commanding Officers, and Destroyer Squadron Commanders.
Senior submarine leadership also directed extensive review and development of tactics associated with the conduct of coordinated operations. The current version of the Coordinated Operational Manual is one of the best written and most understandable tactical documents in the fleet. Additionally, Submarine Development Squadron Twelve continues to work with other warfare centers of excellence to provide new and innovative tactics for use in coordinated operations. In general terms, senior submarine leadership embraced coordinated operations u another SSN mission area and provided the necessary effort to ensure its success. It is only a matter of time before a submarine flag officer will command a battlegroup.
Throughout the Cold War, SSN commanding officers relied heavily on internship teamwork to become successful.. As an offshoot, battlegroup submarines have bad minimal trouble adapting to the internship teamwork characteristic of coordinated operations. This environment relies on each platform to provide the give and take necessary to maximize the capability of the Force. All SSNs which have conducted extensive coordinated operations have shown the capability to change an operational mind set. Officers and senior enlisted personnel became involved in planning with their battlearoup counterparts. This direct interaction and teamwork greatly advanced coordinated operations.
Much of the day-to-day control of submarine tasking and water space management is conducted by the Battlegroup Submarine Liaison Officer (SLO). The SLO, in combination with the Destroyer Squadron USW Officer, are the principal submarine officers who work with their counterparts to develop warfare plans. Much like the post-command submarine officer, these individuals have expanded the scope of their involvement in tactical decisions. As tacticians they developed into more than just a liaison officer or advisor. Using extensive knowledge of force capabilities they became key planners in the areas of undersea, surface, and strike warfare.
In the past two years, improved 688s greatly extended the support role characteristic of the first years of coordinated operations. Examining each mission area it rapidly becomes obvious why the 6881 became totally integrated in task forces and grew into such an important component of battlegroup littoral warfare. In addition to the below mentioned factors, add the important aspect that the SSN is the only platform which can conduct any of these missions prior to the achievement of air supremacy/superiority.
The SSN is the perennial leader in this area of warfare. Very few battlegroup commanders will take surface ships purposely into known submarine operating areas. Recent advances in anti-diesel tactics coupled with the 6881’1 BSY1 sonar have allowed for rapid shifting from open ocean USW to littoral operations. The ADCAP torpedo remains the weapon of choice against a diesel submarine in deep or shallow water.
Surface Warfare. The SSN provides the capability directly to observe sorties from port and engage surface units prior to their coming within range of surface assets. The heavyweight torpedo, in most circumstances, is the weapon of choice against medium to large surface combatants. Anyone who has seen the video of a Mk 48 torpedo versus a destroyer will understand why.
Strike Warfare. A 6881 with vertical launch capability routinely carries a substantial percentage of the battlearoup”s Tomahawk inventory. In addition, SSNs are the only· platform which can rapidly shift missions. As a result, 688Is became the strike planners choice for last minute changes or backup assignments.
Air Warfare. The forwared SSN’s ability to detect early the launch and intentions of hostile aircraft gives the A WC a great advantage in the near land air battle.
Command and Control warfare. The surveillance capability of the SSN remains one of the principal missions assigned to battlegroup submarines. The capability to exploit signals propagating within the evaporation duct remains unique to SSNs.
Special Operations. The SSN is the platform of choice for SEAL and Marine Force Recon insertion/extraction. Special forca are confident that if they are inserted by an SSN then the submarine will be there to extract them. Important to the carrier aviators, the SSN can provide combat search and rescue operations.
Given the constraints of the current Navy and government budgets, building enough new submarines (Seawolf class and New SSNs) to continue with current mission loading while decommissioning 688 class submarines with useful ship life remaining may not be viable. Currently there are several innovative programs which if implemented on 688Is would greatly benefit submarines working within a battlegroup and extend their useful lifetime well into the next century.
Advanced Communication System. Higher frequency communication systems are already being installed on surface ships and submarines. These systems will eventually allow voice and video communications ship to ship and ship to shore at much higher data rates than are currently available.
Off Hull Sensors. Recently a submarine demonstrated the ability to video link with and control an unmanned aerial vehicle. In addition, a plan is envisioned to equip SSNs with an unmanned undersea vehicle.’ Both of these sensors will greatly enhance a submarine’s surveillance capability.
Naval Surface fire Support. The Navy is conducting a feasibility study to determine if the Army Tactical Missile System can be launched from a SSN. 6 This will provide a 6881 with not only a deep strike capability (Tomahawk) but also a capacity to provide real time support to ground forces, expanding the already growing SSN support of amphibious and joint operations.
The 6881 is currently a significant battlegroup asset, and will remain so in the foreseeable future. Although this platform’s capabilities and the men who operate them are phenomenal, this rapid and smooth integration into fleet operations could not have happened without a radical change in submarine tactical perspective. From senior leadership to the key players involved in coordinated operations everyone recognized an opportunity was at band to realize the long-held dream of submarines to work directly with the main battle line of the Navy. Maximizing the synergy of the Force required a change of the Cold War mentality and paradigms of submarine operations of that era. The bottom line is that littoral warfare is a team sport. Submarines tasked to conduct coordinated operations must realize, like those who have made coordinated operations successful to this point, the importance of team work. Whether the assigned mission is inserting SEALs, conducting a multi-sensor search for diesel submarines, eliminating hostile surface vessels, or maintaining continuous surveillance of a port, a 6881 will remain the weapon of choice for battlegroup commanders into the 21st century. In sports terms, 688Is have allowed the submarine community to evolve from a last round draft pick a few years ago into the most valuable player of littoral battlegroup operations. Move over Aegis, there is a new favorite on the team!