The U.S . Navy is looking to the idyllic concept of network-centric warfare (NCW) to maintain our maritime force supremacy. A concept is an information-based approach to warfare that depends on the capabilities of all platforms and sensors acting in concert rather than as single units. 1 On a small scale this is not revolutionary-an E-2C Hawkeye can vector a F/A-18 to an incoming bogey; one Aegis ship can launch another ship’s weapons at a target held by a third, but this is new territory for the Submarine Force. Although the submarine is an integrated member of the carrier battlegroup, it cannot share information, direct weapons employment, or coordinate engagement in the same manner. If NCW is fully embraced by the U.S. Navy, the Submarine Force faces significant issues regarding connectivity, stealth, and tactical employment. (Whether NCW is wise to pursue as a Navy is under scrutiny. Unresolved concerns include information quality, network reliability, and centralized decision making; these are not discussed in this paper as they are not particular to the Submarine Force.)
Recent improvements in submarine connectivity are numerous. The installations of UHF demand-assigned-multiplexing (DAMA) and EHF spectrum systems have hollowed out a bigger communications pipe than we previously imagined. Yet penetration of the ocean with anything other than a low frequency, low data rate signal eludes us. At depth, our communication capabilities rely entirely on one-way bellringers and voice or hard-copy UHF buoys. This prevents a submarine from participating as an equal partner in a unified command and control system. A submarine participating with the carrier battlegroup clearly recognizes this disadvantage. Even with the most advanced submarine communications suite deployed today, upon arrival at communications depth, a requ~ is sent to the Command and Control Warfare Commander’s staff for a contact data dump. The entire tactical and intelligence picture for the past six to ten hours must be crafted for the submarine and sent out separately to be quickly digested by the sub commander and his advisors. Furthermore, the primary warfare commander is missing the piece of the puzzle the submarine holds. Real-time data exchange between information systems is virtually non-existent with the exception of the 1970s technology of Link-11. The limitation of connectivity will only be solved by new technology to allow two-way satellite communications while operating deep and fast, or mitigated by a new generation of towed and expendable buoys with transmitting and receive capability (UHF/EHF SATCOM voice and data). Our communication advances to date have not addressed these limitations.
Our modem role runs the gamut of intelligence gatherer, submarine hunter, ship killer, and Tomahawk shooter. Each role leverages off the advantage of stealth to varying degrees. It is our stealth that reduces our vulnerability to attack and even a general knowledge of our location is devastating, especially in the shallow confines of the littoral. Although NCW will certainly address concerns regarding emissions control, these controls will unlikely be restricted enough for submarines due to our extreme reliance on stealth. To maintain our covert posture our submarines primarily will be a recipient of the fused battlespace depiction, but wary to add more information.
The connectivity limitations and concerns regarding platform employment make the submarine an anomaly in the NCW concept. This is not to presuppose that NCW is folly for the Submarine Force; on the contrary, our submarine commanders will rely on the fused battlespace picture to dominate effectively the undersea battlespace. The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Johnson, stated that 11With declining defense budgets, a combined arms approach that integrates our ASW systems and sensors into a network-centric architecture is imperative … “This observation may hold true across the entire spectrum of warfare not just ASW, but the submarine is not just another member of the networked team. Our role is similar to that of a field scout or hidden sniper.
We achieve superior results with a clearly defined mission, accurate environmental intelligence, stealth, and proper on-scene decision-making. The mission is lost if presence is revealed. Similarly, effective employment or a submarine through NCW, and with the battlegroup in general, demands that it be treated as the unique platform it is, and not just another ship with a limited communications suite.
Our stealth and independence make us the platform of choice for high-risk Tomahawk launch baskets, littoral, and blue water undersea warfare, special warfare insertion, and coastal intelligence gathering. Accomplishing these missions demands operating at depth in some cases and with stealth in every case. Submarine operations in a network-centric warfare environment will accentuate severe submarine limitations. Nevertheless, we must leverage NCW advantages, build our future information systems with the submarine in mind, and design in enough flexibility to support the undersea guerrilla warrior.
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