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Dr. Cote is the Associate Director of the MIT Security Studies Program. This speech was delivered at the Submarine Technology Symposium on May 16, 2000.

Why will the Submarine Force be pulled into making contributions to the mobile target problem that was illustrated both during the great SCUD hunt of Desert Storm, and in operations against mobile SAMs and ground vehicles during Allied Force in Kosovo?

In particular, what are the technical and geopolitical trends that are creating this demand, and which also will make submarines pan of the solution?

How, as an organization, will the Navy and the Submarine Force know when it is time to begin aggressively making it so?

What arguments do you make to demonstrate the need for this kind of innovation?

My basic argument is that comparative, qualitative analysis demonstrates that traditional modes of conducting strike warfare are, to varying degrees depending on the platforms, encountering diminishing returns, while submarines face nothing but increasing returns in this mission area.

What Are the Qualitative Trends in Each Box of the Matrix?

Expeditionary Air Wing Global Reach, Global Power Carrier Battle Groups Subnwincs
Obtain Secure Base
Establish and Maintain Connectivity
Find and Identify Targets
Penetrate Target Defense
Destroy Target

Annual Cost Per Forward Delayed 21 Inch Diameter Weapon

Lifetime (years) Acquisition Cos($ millions) Lifetime O&S ($ millions) Presence Factor #21 Inch Weapons Annual Cost Per Forward Weapon ($ millions)
DD-21 35 550 525 2 100 1.5
SSGN Conversion(non treaty compliant) 22 500 800 .5 154 .8

Annual Cost Per Forward Weapon on 20 Years?

DD-21 50 3.0
SSGN Conversion 308 .4

The key to this analysis is this matrix, whose vertical axis comprises five operational hurdles, all of which must be cleared in a successful strike mission. The horizontal axis lists the four main modes of conducting strike warfare today. distinguished by the platform which dominates in each mode.

I want to briefly discuss in a qualitative way the trends in each box in the matrix. In doing this, I’m going to be particularly sensitive to two issues. First, in the area in question, what is the balance between opposing forces today, and is this balance symmetrical, or if not, who is on the wrong side of the asymmetry? Second, looking at the future technology trends in this area, will efforts to improve this balance encounter increasing or decreasing returns on investment?

Let’s look first at the land-based, tactical Air Expeditionary Wing, the traditional source of the majority of strike assets, and focus on the trends in penetrating defenses and obtaining a secure base. In both cases, we are, or soon will be on the wrong side of an asymmetrical relationship, and will face diminishing returns in our efforts to improve this relationship.

This is already clear in the case of penetrating defenses, as demonstrated by the following two quotes.

“The Air Force needs to find and kill non-cooperative defensive systems much more effectively than it can today .” LTGEN Marvin Esmond, DCS, USAF in 10/19/99 testimony before the HASC.

“We would have had to fight our way in with brute force because we don’t have the techniques to adequately defend ourselves against SAM-10s and 12s.” GEN John Jumper, CINC USAFE during Allied Force, Aviation Week 11/1/99.

The first quote is an acknowledgment that our current techniques are designed to destroy a cooperative target, but only suppress a non-cooperative target. A cooperative target is one that seeks to complete a SAM engagement, which creates a continuous radar signal that we then locate within 100s-1000s of feet, jam to reduce its range and fire an antiradiation missile at. If the SAM operator stays on the air in an effort to complete the engagement, the missile will hopefully destroy the engagement radar before the engagement is completed and the missile will go silly. If the SAM operator shuts down, i.e. if he is non-cooperative, both the SAM missile and the HARM go silly, and both the SAM radar and the aircraft he’s shooting at survive. In the first case, the defense system is destroyed, in the second it is only suppressed.

Iraqi SAM operators during the early days of Desert Storm were by and large cooperative, meaning that early in the war their engagement radars were essentially destroyed, and after that allied air operated freely at medium altitude without need for close SAM suppression escorts. Serbian SAM operators were non-cooperative in Allied Force, meaning that every Allied strike package needed the full panoply of SAM suppression escorts, and because those escorts have become so-called high demand/low density (HD/LO) assets, this put an upper bound on the rate at which the campaign could be prosecuted.

Now, this was against an air defense system that was based on the SAM-6, the first Soviet mobile, radar-guided SAM, which we first saw in action in the ’73 Yorn Kippur war. Gen. Jumper’s reference to the SAM-10 shows that more modem mobile SAMs, which we have yet to encounter even though they were first deployed in the 1980s, will defeat current defense suppression assets. This is because their phased array engagement radar and 80-100 mile range missiles (vice 25 for the SAM-6) can complete an engagement well before being hit by a HARM, and can also probably defend itself against HARMs.

The best analogy to the situation we face here should be familiar to this audience. Existing mobile SAMs are like modem non-nuclear submarines, they may be relatively easy to suppress, but are very hard to kill, so you can’t ever do without your ASW assets, and the ratio between the cost of mounting the threat and the cost of countering it is deeply unfavorable to the ASW operator. That’s today. Double-digit SAMs, which are around the comer, is the fast, quiet nuke, armed with wake homers or sea-skimming anti-ship missiles. Here, the problem is that ASW is well nigh impossible, as it was for the Soviets during the entire Cold War, and as it was finally becoming for us before we were saved by the bell by the end of the Cold War.

So that’s where we stand, and note that there is a doctrinal problem here as well. SAM suppression assets are HD/LO because the Air Force is focused on the air-to-air aspect of defense suppression, witness the retirement of both the F-40 Wild Weasel and EF-111 communities. And the Air Force’s answer to the SAM-10 problem is likely to be to replace today’s F-16 Wild Weasels with an F-22 Wild Weasel and to develop a faster, longer-legged HARM. In other words, replace a $50 million platform with a $150 platform, and replace a $250K weapon with one that will probably approach the cost of today’s $500K Tactical Tomahawk. All the while remaining satisfied with a defense suppression capability that will still not prevent a non-cooperative target from surviving and fighting another day.

Now let’s look at the trends in obtaining a secure base for tactical air expeditionary wings. In the near term, we have already encountered some political constraints on obtaining access to such bases, witnessed as just one example Operation Desen Fox against Iraq, in which the Saudis forbade strike missions flown from their territory. More important in the longer term are likely military threats to such access.

There are two trends here. First, most countries do not make the $billion investment required to harden their bases, as we did in Europe, Japan, and Saudi Arabia during the Cold War. Thus, the ramps filled wingtip to wingtip with tactical aircraft parked out in the open, and the acres of tent cities that are both ubiquitous in current land-based tactical air operations overseas. No better target is imaginable for submunition-dispensing, GPS-guided, cruise, and ballistic missiles. These are soft, fixed, very high-value targets that exist in very small numbers and are not particularly time urgent, and can be geolocated precisely well in advance of a conflict. Now this threat lies a little further down the road, but it is clearly coming, and it will result in tremendous asymmetries in favor of the opponent if we continue with our current emphasis on this mode of strike warfare.

The trends in these two boxes, defense suppression, and secure base access, demonstrate the demand side of the technology pull I talked about at the beginning. We will need to pursue alternative modes of conducting strike warfare because the dominant traditional mode is well into a spiral of diminishing returns on investment.

Now let’s look briefly at the submarine in these two boxes on the matrix. Briefly, because the trends are so clearly running in the opposite direction. Standoff precision weapons like Tomahawk operate with impunity against even the most modem air defenses, and future trends will continue to favor such weapons; witness the efforts now being mounted on our side to counter fast, low cross-section anti-ship missiles. Likewise with obtaining a secure base. The base is the submarine, and to threaten that base you need an ASW capability against a fast, quiet nuke. Who has such a capability today, and what would be necessary to develop one? In the interest of time, and with this audience, I’m not even going to bother answering the question.

The story with intercontinental bombers and carrier battle groups is also simple to summarize. They will face the same trends in penetrating defenses that tactical aircraft will, but they will face fewer obstacles in obtaining a secure base. On the other hand, in neither case are the long-term trends regarding base access and security as favorable as they are with submarines. So bombers and carriers occupy an intermediate position between land-based Tacair and submarines.

What about the other boxes on the matrix, keeping our focus on expeditionary land-based T ACAIR and submarines? How about the trends in destroying the target? Here, there used to be an enormous advantage for TACAIR, in that real precision weapons generally required man-in-the-loop guidance, either with a laser illuminator or a line-of-sight data link to a weapon with a terminal seeker. But GPS has already begun changing that because it is even cheaper and yet gives an all-weather capability. Thus, before too long, almost all weapons will be so guided, and indeed the Air Force has already decided post-Kosovo to add such a capability to its Paveway series laser-guided bomb kits. By taking the man out of the loop of the weapon gui~e process, you take away the need to put aircrews within line of sight of the target in order to achieve precision in attacks against that target.

How about the trends in finding and identifying the target? Again, there is little or no basis any longer to distinguish between alternate strike platforms. Against fixed targets, the answer is a GPS-guided weapon using traditional intelligence sources for target info. Against mobile targets, the answer is that no strike platform today is effective at finding and identifying mobile targets ashore, especially non-cooperative ones. Here, creating the ability to find and identify such targets will put us on the wrong side of an asymmetric relationship. It will require the development and deployment of sophisticated and expensive of board networks consisting of multispectral sensors, able to operate within line-of-sight of their targets, and linked together by jam-resistant, LPI data links.

This is a truly formidable challenge, but it is not one that is unique to any particular strike platform. All strike platforms will exploit such networks, should they be developed, using reliable connectivity, and here again, there is no longer much basis to distinguish submarines from other strike platforms in this area. For example, compare submarines and land-based TACAIR-the latter has EHF, SHF, and UHF Satcom, while the former is largely limited to line-of-sight UHF voice and simple data modems. (Remember here that I said land-based T ACAIR. Fortunately, naval aviation does not have the allergy to dedicated, high capacity, digital data links that the Air Force seems to have.)

But what about continuous connectivity? Here I would make two points. In the near term, as Admiral Fages quoted Admiral Murphy in the most recent issue of Undersea Warfare, “Submarines are now better than surface ships at strike. They had better launch reliability during Kosovo.” And here’s the key point: “They also seemed better able to react to the targeting.” So the fastest way to put a weapon on a time urgent target in Allied Force was with a sub-launched TLAM, which tells you something about the continuous connectivity that was available to SSNs like USS MIAMI. In the longer term, perhaps in a more challenging ASW environment, there is obviously a demand for continuous submarine connectivity to UHF Satcom and Link 16 using a wet antenna; demand that it is encouraging to see both APL and Lincoln Lab working hard to meet today.

So where do we stand? Do you remember Ross Perot during the ’92 election debate about NAFTA? He used to talk about the giant sucking sound of American jobs that would be pulled south of the border with Mexico. Well, I think we’re all going to begin hearing a similar sound pulling on the technology for striking mobile targets from under the sea the first time we face an air defense system based on the SAM-10, or the first time somebody lands a submunition dispensing TBM on a ramp full of F-16s.

Now I recommended in Mobile Targets From Under the Sea (an MIT Security Studies report available at that the Submarine Force anticipate this demand by looking first at the defense suppression mission against modem, mobile SAMs. SAM engagement radars are both a finite and very high-value part of the mobile target set, particularly because their destruction enables the full exploitation of the one main advantage left for combat aircraft, the essentially infinite size of their magazines when they can ignore air defense systems. Thus, there is a wonderful potential division of labor here between submarines and both long-range bombers and carrier battle groups, whose bases of operations will remain more secure than land-based their for some period of time, but which today face the same constraints in penetrating modem air defenses.

Leaving that particular recommendation aside, I want to close by talking more generally about submarine sensors and payloads, and particularly about why the Submarine Force needs to be aggressive in moving down both these avenues as part of the pursuit of a significant mobile target from under the sea capability.

Start first with the sensor part. We all dearly hope that long-endurance UAVs and satellite systems like Discoverer II will solve the problem of finding and identifying non-cooperative mobile targets with their SAR/MTI radars. But remember three things: two obvious and one not so obvious. Obviously, these platforms will need to operate and survive within line of sight of their targets, and many sensor phenomenologies are not available on an air or space-based platform. Less obviously, is it wise to rely completely on such national or joint systems? Here is a quote from Admiral Harold Gehman, the current CINC JointForces Command:

“We are experimenting with processes that call into question the very strategy of the U.S. military in ISR, which currently is putting enormous amounts of money into reach back capability or more satellites. It ain’t working. The intelligence is not getting down to the guys who need it. It may be that tactical-level guys need to get tactical intelligence themselves. This would drive an entirely new investment strategy by the U.S. military.” Aviation Week 5/8/00

One way for the Submarine Force to respond to this challenge in the mobile target area is to experiment with the great potential latent in the marriage between unattended ground sensors, covert RF communication networks, SOCOM, and submarines.

Now on to the payload part. I’ll frame this discussion with a question. Is a large payload submarine an opportunity or an imperative? In other words, can the submarine force afford to assume that it will not bear a primary weapon launching role 20 years from now in precision strikes from the sea?

My second and last graphic is an attempt to show why I think it cannot. It compares the cost of forward deploying 21″ diameter standoff precision weapons on submarine and surface platforms, both of which were designed from the start as dedicated strike platforms. The first comparison is today, and it shows that even when a DD-21 devotes almost all of its magazine to strike weapons, it is less cost-effective than a Trident SSGN that uses only half its magazine volume. The second comparison is tomorrow, and it shows what happens if DD-21 needs to start defending itself more vigorously , and if Trident SSGNs fully exploit their payload volume.

Now the only purpose of this slide is to demonstrate a simple quantitative trend in precision strike operations from the sea, which is that surface ships will face more formidable defenses than submarines in the close-in battle early in a future conflict. This act, combined with the cheapness and long life of Admiral Bowman’s fuel, and the fact that submarine crews are relatively small, making for very low operating costs, and, therefore, low life cycle costs as well, produces what for me was a stunning result when I first saw it.

Now, this is a very small piece of primitive quantitative analysis in what has been a qualitative discussion. I will close by arguing that both the Submarine Force and the Navy will need much more rigorous, quantitative analyses of the trends and comparisons I have discussed here, both to decide what path to take in the future and to convince others of the viability of that path once it is chosen.


Mr. Arthur R. Cecelski
CAPT Enders P. Huey, USN(Ret.)
Mr. Thomas N. Jones
CAPT Richard B. Laning, USN(Ret.)
CAPT Don Millar, USN(Ret.)
Mr. Douglass Y. Nichols
HMCM(SS) Ralph T. Riley, USN(Ret.)
CAPT Robert E. Schlenzig, USN(Ret.)
CAPT William L. Siple, USN(Ret.)
CAPT Douglas N. Syverson, USN(Ret.)
CAPT Charles E. White, USN(Ret.)

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