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The Problem

We as a Navy have a significant problem with developing effective tactics to counter the Second and Third World diesel submarine (henceforth diesel boat) threat in the littorals. Though I speak from a submariner’s perspective, this is as true for the surface and air community as it is for the submarine community. There are two main difficulties in solving this problem, the environment of the littorals and the targets themselves. The focus of this paper is on the latter, the modem diesel boat threat.

There is a huge standard deviation of capability amongst our potential diesel boat adversaries, making tactics development a tricky business. There have been ongoing efforts to rectify the situation, through exercises and computer modeling, but none have developed what we need: clear guidance that, given some discernable input parameters, will give us a tried and true set of tactics to apply with confidence in a given situation.

One cause of our lack of confidence against diesel boats is a lack of experience. We have all, either in exercises against our own or during operations against others, searched out and tracked nuclear submarines for decades. We have also tried, over the last few years, to conduct exercises in which one of our SSNs simulates a diesel boat. Though this may satisfy the most basic level of introductory level training, it falls short of the mark for the professional training upon which mission success may depend. For example, how do we know if we would have been counter detected during a certain maneuver? We know whether or not our SSNcum-SS counter detected us, but is that realistic enough to depend upon in a real situation? Most submariners don’t think so. We get much more valuable experience against real diesel boats during exercises with our allies, but they are not at our beck and call. We cannot conduct the necessary detailed, repeated, controlled testing of tactics, sensors, and especially weapons, against them.

Another problem we face with anti-diesel tactics is a lack of the requisite perspective. To better fight an enemy, one must be able to understand his capabilities, limitations, and priorities, but very few of us have ever served on a small diesel boat. Even against those most similar to us, with modem sonar, a towed array, long-life batteries, and USW torpedoes, our starting assumptions are very different. Our missions, sensors, weapons capabilities and loadout, crew size, training level, propulsion, electrical power, C41, and atmospheric controls differences all add up to a completely foreign set of priorities and mindset.

The Solution

To overcome our lack of experience and perspective, we need a new solution. We must create an aggressor unit, the mission of which would be to portray, as accurately as possible, the capabilities of those diesel submarine forces about which we are most concerned. This aggressor unit must operate on one of the those submarines of concern, preferably a Kilo or Type 209. It’s time for the U.S. Navy to build or buy one or more of these submarines. They are, after all, available on the open market. How many should we acquire? We should start with just one, assigned to DEVRON 12, for tactics development. If the concept proved workable, we should expand to two per coast, in Groton, Norfolk, San Diego and Pearl Harbor. This would provide on demand, realistic anti-diesel training services for the major SSN bases, surface fleets, and USW patrol squadrons.


It is not the intent of this paper to conduct a detailed feasibility study, but we may discuss the costs and benefits in a general sense. First and most obvious, the submarine itself will cost a significant amount. Though detailed costs were not available, estimates range from $100 to $200 million dollars, depending on the type of boat, the equipment installed, the maintenance support required, etc. There are also options that would allow U.S. shipyards to manufacture foreign designs under license. This option is also relevant to maintenance costs, and the availability of spare parts. The cost of maintenance should be fairly low, when compared to our nuclear boats. The cost of operating, on the other hand, might be higher, given fuel consumption and battery depletion. A detailed study by acquisition experts would reveal the most cost effective arrangement, but it is safe to say that, as far as submarines are concerned, these would not be expensive boats.

If this concept proves workable, one can foresee that the services of this boat would be in very high demand, from not only the SSN community but the surface and air communities as well. This high OPTEMPO would strain the crew, but we have solved that problem before. There may need to be two crews per boat, at least until sufficient boats were available to meet all of the demands. This is not as heavy a cost as one might imagine, however, since the crew size would be less than half that of a SSN crew.

Another cost would be crew training. The Intelligence Community would need to provide the necessary input for training the crews on enemy tactics periodically. Crew members would need to have an aggressive exchange program with allied diesel boat navies, to gain a feel for how they operate, so as to better simulate our adversaries. Technical training on the operation and maintenance of the new equipment would have to come from the manufacturers, which would not be inexpensive, but may be able to be wrapped into the purchase and maintenance deal.


The most obvious benefit of this idea is tactics development. We would have the capability to run unlimited planned geometries and free plays against an actual diesel boat, using actual threat diesel boat parameters. We could debrief the aggressor crew, which would be trained to think like the enemy, not like us. Currently this can only be done on deployment, a single wardroom at a time, trying to develop tactics and test them against an ally during valuable exercise time. Obviously we would not want to curb these exercises with our allies, but the focus of a pre-trained SSN could be more on tactic verification and practice than on development.

The same applies for weapons and sensor testing. I doubt that many of our allies would allow us to engage their small diesel boats with Mk 48 or even Mk 46 exercise torpedoes. With an aggressor boat, we could verify that our weapons and sensors work against a target with the actual acoustic values, counter detection capabilities, and evasion capabilities we can expect.

As was mentioned above, there is a lack of diesel boat perspective in our wardrooms. With one or two of these aggressor boats, we would develop a corps of extremely experienced personnel. As these personnel rolled back onto the fleet, this experience would become part of wardrooms (and sonar shacks) everywhere. Not only that, but whenever the aggressor boat goes to sea to provide target service, personnel from the opposing SSN (or DD, or VP, etc.) could cross-deck to the diesel boat, gain personal experience, and also debrief their own crew on lessons learned. An aggressor crewmembet cross-decked to the opposing platform could provide real time training during the exercise, the inputs like .. this threat likes to hide in areas like this one”, or “he’ll snorkel within the next two hours”, or even, “yes, that’s what his torpedo tubes sound like, you’re in trouble now.”

One of these aggressor boats in each of the above ports would take a tremendous load off the SSNs in the fleet. As a dedicated, non-deploying rabbit most if not all of the diesel boat services required from our SSNs could be turned over to them. This would free up the rest of our fleet for more dedicated independent steaming time, or more inport time. Our deploying SSNs and battlegroups could be trained and certified for deployment against the aggressor unit, simulating diesel boats of threat countries in the area of the deployment.

Finally, the addition of these boats to the fleet will create more CO and XO billets. It may not be the command of a nuclear submarine for which we are all striving, but it beats unemployment by a long shot. Given its small crew size, and non-deploying, not-really-a-warship status, it is even conceivable to give command of an aggressor unit to hot-running, third sea tour submariners, who could skip their XO tour, and get two opportunities for command.


One of the difficulties in trying to develop tactics against Second and Third World diesel boats is the huge variation in the quality of their subs, their missions, and their crew proficiency. The tactics used by a highly proficient, quiet, USW capable Kilo submarine are completely different from those used by a 25 year old Romeo with a crew that rarely goes to sea, and which carries only USW torpedoes. These variables can only be mastered and simulated by a dedicated aggressor boat and crew, and even then it might not be possible with only one type of boat with one equipment loadout. This begs the question: “What type of boat should we get, and what equipment?” The answer is: buy the best, and install calibrated degradations to simulate down to the worst.

A well trained aggressor crew will be able to simulate different conditions of proficiency by making more or less noise, or reacting quickly or slowly, but there are limits. For example, if your top-of-the-line sonar display shows a contact, but you are supposed to simulate a less powerful sonar set, is that a realistic simulation? Probably not. The advantage of having a dedicated aggressor boat is that one could buy the top-of-the-line equipment, and then install variable degradation settings on the equipment (keeping ship’s safety in mind, of course) that would simulate less capable suites. An OPORD might read “simulate country A Kilo with moderate crew proficiency, type X sonar, type Y ESM, and type Z weapons.” This would tell the aggressor boat what tactics and crew response delays times to use, and what pieces of equipment in what degradation modes.

This opens another question. Should we buy threat weapons, and modify them for exercise use? If so, what types should we buy? There are many more types of torpedoes on the market than submarines. For starters, the weapon selection, procurement, and modification process seems to fall into the not worth the trouble category. If the program proves to be successful, but it is found that exercise weapons are needed, then perhaps this should be reconsidered, but not as an initial investment.

As the greatest potential threat to our naval forces, don’t diesel submarines deserve the greatest efforts of tactics, sensors, and weapons development? Why have we gone on so long using only simulations and computer modeling when the real item is available on the open market? This seems to be a second rate effort. When our battlegroups and SSNs deploy, don’t they deserve to be trained against the closest we can get to the threat they may actually face? The time is ripe to create a realistic aggressor SS program, staffed with dedicated personnel, and equipped with the real thing.

The Submarine Centennial Commemorative’s Survey

The Submarine Centennial Memorabilia Committee is seeking your ideas and suggestions for commemorative items in connection with the Submarine Centennial. Specifically, the Committee is looking at three categories of items: (1) Inexpensive “giveaways” such as bookmarks, pins, bumper stickers, etc.; (2) Items that would be sold such as coffee cups, baseball caps, flags, coasters, cocktail glasses, cards, etc.; and (3) A permanent Submarine Centennial “leave behind”, i.e., a memorial, plaque, painting, statue, sculpture, time capsule, display or similar item that would be a permanent commemoration of the Centennial. All suggestions will be considered carefully to determine appropriateness, cost vs. interest, ability to execute, etc. Please send your ideas to the Naval Submarine League. If appropriate, please include points of contact and any supporting information.


July 30-August 2, 1998, Charleston, SC.
Contact: Peter Swiderski, 3704 Lighthouse Way
Holiday, FL 34691 (813) 844–0630


August 13-16, 1998, Ramada Inn, Norwich, CT.
Contact: Paul Wm. Orstad, 30 Surey Lane
Norwich, CT 06360-6541 (860) 889-4750
(860) 433-3972 (fax)


September 18-21, 1998, Pittsburgh, PA.
Contact: Robert Garlock, 207 S. 7th Street
McConnellsburg, PA 17233


September 9, 1998, Hagerstown, MD.
Contact: Larry Yano, 8528 Bauer Drive
Springfield, VA 22152 (703) 913-0565


September 10-12, 1998, Hagerstown, MD.
Contact: William Gerber, 344 Blueridge Drive
Levittown, PA 19057-3024 (215) 946-3907


June 26-28, 1998 , Mystic, CT.
Contact: Ralph A. Kennedy, 89 Laurel wood
Road, Groton, CT 06340 (860) 445-6567.

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