As a product of, and complement to, the Submarine Vision, we can now outline where we are going with capabilities and technologies and how we are proceeding to take this vision to reality.
First of all, we can say what’s revolutionary about this, and hopefully, it will be apparent that we are proposing to do things quite differently than we do today. We see five major areas of technology that are important in this revolution. The first one, and one of the most important, is this whole idea of getting outboard. We’re talking about sensors in the water, on the bottom, on the sea, on the surface, on the land, but away from the submarine. And why do we do this? Because it gives us an order of magnitude more coverage in the Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Targeting (ISRT) arena. It allows us to use sensors that are quite different from today. Today we talk about SIGINT and visual sensors, but for the future, we also talk about acoustics, vibration sensors, and perhaps chemical and biological sensors for WMD. The idea of this sensor network is that its covert-it defeats enemy efforts of denial and deception against our satellites and against today’s other assets that they can see and avoid. Importantly we think in the future that it fits into targeting. The whole idea is that this sensor network can be used not only to provide information about what’s going on but to provide localization information for follow-on targeting either from ourselves or follow-on forces.
The next revolution is offboarded vehicles-the way we buy extended reach with the sensors is to put them on vehicles that swim, that fly, and that walk on the ground to get them off and away from the submarine. Doing this covertly with a wide range of payloads enhances the stealth of the submarine. Submarines do not have to operate close to shore and at periscope depth in order to make these things possible. And when we need a man in the loop for high-priority missions such as when you need a guy on the ground, we have the Advanced SEAL Delivery System and our SOF forces.
To make all this work, we need dramatic improvements in processing back on the submarine. The submarine needs to be able to monitor the networks we put in, it needs to react to the information that comes from them, it needs to move the sensors around when necessary to cover the right areas, and it needs to do this in near real-time. Lots of times today we don’t see the results of ISR for months afterward. In this vision, we will have to react in seconds and minutes and provide the information back to follow-on forces. Not all the processing will be done on board, but enough processing to send the relevant nuggets back to the follow-on forces. All of these things are also available to the follow-on forces when they arrive, particularly the ground sensor network.
The fourth area is connectivity; it has been said that submarines don’t have a connectivity problem-they have a stealth problem. The issue is how do we get high data rate connectivity while maintaining stealth for a long period of time. Concepts such as high bandwidth fiber optic with a remote surface buoy that can communicate at high data rates back to the joint forces or back to CONUS are potential solutions to this problem. In addition to communicating with other forces, we have to communicate with the sensor network. The combination of advanced microcomputer technology, wide bandwidth, low power, hard-to-detect RF communications systems, and then perhaps connecting fiber-optic networks under the sea provide another solution to this.
And the final area is payload-we need more volume, we need more flexibility in that payload … we’re not going to send everything out of a 21-inch tube. Miniaturization is going to help expand the capacity of the payload that we buy-a a big piece of this is adaptability. The submarine itself is going to be adaptable with payloads installed in a matter of hours or days using the modularity concept. Of more significance, the whole force will be extremely adaptable at the theater level to do the missions that we are tasked to do. And the weapons we carry can be a much wider variety than we talk about today: potentially to neutralize mines, not just to detect them but be able to counter them, to attack swans of small surface craft with small weapons, and to take out coastal defenses. All of these things we talk about are our challenges and are clearly revolutionary capabilities and technologies. However, what impressed us when we looked at this list is that all of these things build on the strengths that we already have in the Submarine Force or that our American commercial technology is already developing. Small, powerful computers, miniaturization, electronics, communications … all these things are heading in that direction, which we think is the right direction to go.
We also need a corresponding revolution in the way we use our human resources onboard. The strategic concepts by their nature are demanding: increasing levels of effort on board the submarine, controlling all these offboard vehicles, monitoring and placing all these sensors, and significantly increased data throughput back into the hull. We need to do that without arbitrarily increasing the number of people we carry on board and, more importantly, not overloading the people we already have. Some of this is technological; computers and automation are going to help. More importantly, we really have to take to heart the kinds of things that Secretary Danzig is saying and aggressively remove barriers to improve the quality of work. It’s not a nice to have, but it is essential to meet the missions in the future. And what we are going to lever on here are the traditions of the Submarine Force: the technical proficiency of our people, their ability to innovate, and their personal initiative are going to be critical in the future.
Now that we have articulated a vision, the question is how are we going to take this long-range vision and mold it back into budget submits, to acquisition plans, etc. And we are starting to do just that … the Future Studies Group stood up four strategic concepts working groups. In the figure on the following page are the areas the working groups reviewed: the first group comprised of fleet representatives looked at submarine tasks and capabilities; a second group looked at the submarine platform; a third group looked at the offboard concept-sensors vehicles, and communications, and the last working group assessed submarine effects (weapons). We are conducting these reviews over a short term in parallel with the DARPA-Navy Payloads and Sensors Program. The Payload and Sensors Program efforts are at a time when most of what they work on are proprietary so we’re trying to set the umbrella in place now to be able to pick up what’s coming out of those efforts.
These groups are small groups and we’ve stuffed them with members of industry, government, and the fleet. The fleet involvement here has been critically important to what we are doing. These groups have been validating what we have done to date with the strategic concepts and submarine tasks and going forward to validate the technical feasibility of the concepts. Our intent is not to set up a new process; our intent is for these groups to disband this summer, and turn over the results to our existing Submarine Technology process. Supporting this, we have recently realigned the entire SUBTECH process to match the strategic concepts, and we have also directed that the DARPA-Navy consortia become part of that SUBTECH planning process. Our intention is to meld together the things that are going on within the processes we have today.
I will discuss each of these four groups quickly and talk about what they have been doing. In the first group, submarine tasks, we had heavy involvement from the fleets-both SUBLANT and SUBPAC. They reviewed, in detail, the strategic concepts and the submarine task list. They validated these, modified them slightly, and produced an extensive list of desired capabilities for 2020 that the fleet has identified as needed for the future to execute the strategic concepts and submarine tasks. A critical element identified by the TYCOMS is the adaptability-that concept of adaptability through modularity is very important.
This adaptability concept that we talk about is enabled by modularity on the submarine. The platform group has looked at this and there are two areas that they focused on. One, is what we’re calling payload modules. It must be emphasized that this is just an example and has not been through an extensive design effort. The idea is those fairly large payloads can be of different types and are rapidly deployable. The idea is that these things can be installed and removed from a submarine while forward deployed, to completely reconfigure a submarine’s payload. The modules are extremely flexible in their interface with the ocean and they may be interchangeable with other forces such as surface ships.
In addition, the group identified platform modularity as an important piece of the future. The idea here is that the submarine itself would be made up of modules. When major changes to one of these modules were required, instead of laying the ship up in a major overhaul for years, one could go in and cut out a section of the boat and replace it perhaps in a matter of months. Again, we think this is a key for where we may go in the future, and concepts like making an all-electric ship are going to be an important enabler to be able to do this.
So what do you get out of all this if you have modular submarines? No longer does every submarine have to be able to do every mission all the time, but we have the capability to change out individual modules as part of an overall strategy for how we outfit the Force to meet the missions at that particular time.
The group looking at offboard sensors is looking notionally at whether or not these concepts we talk about are really feasible. For example, in terms of offboard sensors, they’ve looked at whether in 15 or 20 years we can take something the size of a cell phone, add a sensor capability, a communications capability, and a lifetime duration on the order of months. Basically, there are technologies that we think will be able to do that. They then looked at an ongoing UAV program. They looked at a DARPA LOCAS vehicle-about $30,000 or $40,000 to build one of these that with its current design could deploy about 50 of these types of sensors. And while the vehicle duration is relatively soon, the duration of the sensors is very long and aligns with the concepts that we’re talking about.
Next, is communications-this group looked at the feasibility of a submarine to carry and lay small fiber optic cables to establish links back to the joint forces. Buoys to talk to the land-based sensors, underwater connectivity to these links, and RF links in the air-and concluded that these are feasible with the types of technology that is coming out today.
Overall, we concluded that near-term technologies are supportive of our long-term visions.
The weapons or effects group is looking at how submarine carried weapons can play in joint fires. A key driver for submarine fires is what we call non-provocative dwell. The idea is that we can bring in weapons to augment, not supplant, but to augment our joint forces that the enemy doesn’t see and therefore doesn’t react to. Submarines can fire from close in and with great surprise. This group has conducted some first-order analysis through wargaming and what we are seeing is that we have the potential to blunt the enemy early as they start to conduct operations and that could effectively shorten the war. And so we think we could contribute to joint fires with this capability.
This group is also looking at weapons to defend against swarms of small craft, possible weapons to neutralize mines and do it covertly, and they are also beginning to look at what we could do to counter weapons of mass destruction. My first takeaway is that offboard vehicles and sensors are the key and at the heart of what we’re talking about in these strategic concepts to extend the reach of the submarines.
Connectivity is critical-it’s not just important but it is absolutely required … both connectivity back to the joint forces as well as to our networks.
And finally, modularity is really crucial in the platform in order to provide the adaptability we need across the Force, and we believe that this is doable.
We see no-show stoppers from the work that is going on today and we think this is achievable considering the direction of current technology.
Today, and over the last few years, we have developed the SUBTECH process. I think we are all very proud of that process and how it’s working and particularly its interaction with the R&D and the S&T communities. But it has been primarily focused on the POM today.
Our vision for the future has been set by the Future Studies Group and endorsed by Submarine Force leadership for the 2020 timeframe.
Our challenge is bow do we tie those two things together. What we are looking at and what we are already achieving success in is coupling across from the POM to the vision for 2020. In the Future Naval Capabilities process, we have been successful in getting funding for UUVs. We’re also getting funding from the ASN chief technology officer for the Navy to provide demos for technologies like CAVES, which we think is going to be critical for where we are going. 1be buoyant cable antenna with DARPA, the DARPA-Navy payloads, and sensors program are all critical to where we’re going. As I mentioned before we have realigned the SUBTECH process. It now encompasses and is reflective of the joint strategic concepts. DARPA, ONR, and the consortia are going to be members of that team going forward. We have made commitments now to an industry that DARPA is going to continue beyond the current level of contract in the payloads and sensors program and that the Navy has committed to the industry to make proposals and to fund demonstrations of their concepts beyond the end of this work in the fall.
So the bottom line is we’re excited about this but we’re serious about this, and this is where we’re really going