Having recently attended the 1998 Submarine Symposium and having had subsequent opportunity to reflect upon the proceedings of that meeting in the light of some years detachment from the daily imperatives of the Force, I want to share what may be certain unpopular views with The League membership. I could not avoid an eerie feeling of deja vu in listening to the distinguished speakers of the Symposium-a feeling that the occasion resembled much too closely an imagined conference of battleship admirals in the 1920s, faced with a wave of disarmament on the heels of great victory, long on self-congratulation for past exploits but short on incisive thought for the wars of the future. In the admonition of a senior submariner not to allow submarines to be decoupled from the modem battlegroup was the echo of failed pre-WWD battle fleet concepts of submarine employment, as well as of the surface Navy’s desperate embrace of the carrier as their Cold War force level salvation. Such budgetary tactics of weakness may help hold the line in the short term, but ultimately will cost us the respect of the Congress and our uniformed peers.
It is time to abandon the rearguard effort and seize the initiative in redefining undersea warfare for the future. The central objective cannot be the preservation of the general purpose submarine per se, although there will be ample roles and missions for these in the future still. The overriding objective must be the most effective and efficient waging of future wars at and from the sea. I found it disturbing that the thoughtful challenge issued to the assembly by a distinguished member of our fraternity, now a senior member of the Secretariat, was met with near derision. Equally troubling is the aversion to any broadening of the Force’s charter lest it syphon limited resources from the submarine core. In the end, it is our responsibility to defend the nation, not to protect the submarine.
Modern warfare concepts are built upon force synergies and a grasp of the entire battlespace. They are no longer platform-centric. The undersea dimension cries out for someone to take charge of the total picture, a commander who will focus on a strategy for winning the war beneath the sea, not just for the employment of submarines or for their budgetary justification. There are some encouraging signs of a gradual drift of the Force in this direction, the assumption of responsibility for undersea surveillance systems, and more recently, the responsibility for operation of small special forces submersibles and COMSUBLANT’s assumption of the role of COMASWFORLANT, CTF 84. Each of these new roles was, I perceive, forced upon a reluctant Submarine Force, rather than seized by the Force as an opportunity.
The largest single missing dimension of the undersea battle not yet consolidated in submarine hands is mine warfare. While anathema to submariners since Our WWII experience, mine warfare has a role in beyond-surf zone ASW and undersea warfare generally. In frustration over Gulf War failures the Congress has for the moment consolidated mine warfare under Marine cognizance, but would readily accede to someone else who had a concept stepping up to the plate. While surf zone mine warfare may in fact have more in common with riverine, swamp and beach mine warfare than with that practiced in deeper waters, and thus perhaps rightly belongs with the Marines, clearly mining and mine countermeasures in deeper waters have little to do with the Marines and much indeed to do with undersea warfare as a whole.
Organizationally, I would like to see submarine vice admirals ensconced as Commander of ASW and Undersea Warfare in each fleet with rear admirals in charge of strategic and attack submarines, surveillance, mine warfare and special forces/deep submergence operations subordinated to them. It should be the responsibility of those undersea warfare commanders to develop broad strategy for response to the full spectrum of undersea challenges, from traditional forward area operations to strategic open ocean sea denial and SSBN security, to anti-diesel and manned submersibles in confined seas. Such strategies must employ to full advantage all the assets available. Mines and surveillance systems may very well be our most effective response to diesel submarines and other small submersibles in shallow littoral waters, with submarine operations directed toward longer-ranged targets in deeper waters.
With all due respect to my friends who are laboring mightily to solve the submarine’s communications problem, the continued employment of submarines in integrated direct support of fast moving battlegroups is a waste of scarce and expensive assets. Where battlegroups can afford to operate on relatively fixed geographic stations, submarines and tactical surveillance systems can be usefully employed in associated ASW operations, communicating intemittently in high data rate information bursts. Transiting battlegroups are better served by speed and longer-termed submarine and area surveillance ASW operations conducted in advance of the transit.
Despite recent demonstrations, submarines are best employed in the land attack role when pre strike stealth and surprise are at a premium, or in those situations wherein the air and surface to-surface missile threat is so severe at launch ranges offshore as to raise the cost of surface ship or carrier-launched strikes to unacceptable levels. Even then, the submarine is a one time punch designed to gain access for surface forces to follow. The inherent logistical problem of rearming a missile-launching submarine obviates its use in a sustained bombardment.
Those responsible for developing strategies for submarine employment, and the more generalized issues of undersea warfare, must use a scalpel when carving out roles and missions. The submarine is an expensive instrument, to be used skillfully in specialized tasks for which it is uniquely fitted, in a broader matrix of applications for which other elements may be better suited. Above an, we must expand our vision and command to include the entire panoply of undersea warfare applications and weaponry, from the surf line and harbors to the deepest ocean reaches.