LT Hartsfield’s essay was written while he was a student at the Submarine Officers’ Advanced Course 99060.
In less than 300 years and through the sweat and ingenuity of countless Americans, our isolated geographical union of states has grown into the most powerful nation on earth. In the beginning, the expanse of two great oceans bred self-reliant, independent thinkers who transformed abundant natural resources into products, both for internal use and export. Out of necessity, forces on land and sea were developed to protect young national interests both at home and eventually abroad. Realizing large territorial growths and miraculously surviving civil war, this country entered the 20111 century as a nation with huge economic and military potential. Over the next hundred years, America’s enormous production capability and application of solid technologies survived depression and boosted her worldly position through two World Wars, a Cold War, and numerous regional conflicts.
We submariners, and the machines we master, were spawned from this 20th century explosion of production and technology. As a prime contributor, the Submarine Force faces its second century challenged to correctly apply feasible technologies toward solutions.
To remain an economically prosperous world power in the 21st century, our country has to anticipate future threats and evolve produceable technologies to keep them in check. To meet future challenges, Americans must realize the true basis of past American victories, develop effective means to monitor the threatening technologies evolving around us, and integrate both of these ideas into a vision for wise military investments of the future.
Historical Influence: Production/Technology Balance in World Wars
As with any good step toward the future, a mindful glance must be made to the past. Throughout the 20th century America’s development into a great nation has always hinged upon the ability to mass produce good technology. Though individual technology levels and production rates have been different in critical conflicts, the sum total of both has always been key.
Although new to the trenches and late in the conflict, American dough boys affected German morale profoundly in World War I. Even posthumously, fallen American soldiers intimidated tattered Germans with warm uniforms, thick leather belts, and pockets full of chewing gum. These small signs represented overwhelming evidence of an invincible foe that could continue to provide long after the German war machine could not.
On the other hand, the World War II Sherman tanks that stormed across Europe toward Berlin, even though reasonably built to fight in the rough and tumble, were strikingly outmatched by the German Tiger and Panther tanks. Running on narrow tracks and burning volatile gasoline vice diesel, the Shermans carried their short, inferior guns into every engagement with an engineering disadvantage. Competently led, these tanks significantly contributed to allied victory despite hoggish fuel requirements that threatened to slow American advances. However, massive American production of this passable design ensured that a Sherman would hardly ever face a superior German tank alone. Likewise, those who did and failed could quickly be replaced.
From hand grenades to liberty ships, America’s full swing war machine of World War II remains legendary today. Strategically applying the same ideology against the Axis powers, allied bombers and U.S. submarines destroyed enemy production capabilities by leveling factories and sinking vital merchant supply links. These actions decimated enemy forces in the field who desperately needed means to fight.
While production was important, it had to be coupled with solid, sometimes even brilliant, technology. Not surprisingly, areas where hardware was extremely poor or nonexistent sustained heavy losses. Heavy bombers over Europe suffered enormous casualties before the P-51 Mustang went into production as a long range escort. Similarly, technological shortfalls in U.S. torpedo design prior to 1943 were responsible for many submarine losses and ultimately prolonged the war with Japan.
At the other extreme, and in some rare exceptions, a technical advantage can be so astounding that production is nearly irrelevant. History’s best example of low production/high technology effectiveness was the atomic bomb. Although American resources and ingenuity could only gather enough uranium and plutonium for two bombs, this technology ended the war with Japan swiftly and launched the Atomic Age, thus letting in the cold air of a new war. However, such rare technological windfalls are usually short lived because they rely upon secrets that can be very hard to keep.
Although somewhat obvious and simplistic, the ratio of technology to production applied to counter an enemy’s capability makes an effective and efficient war machine. Yes, sometimes lags in technology can be overcome by producing higher numbers. Other times, ingenuity can allow a smaller force. However, by and large, the middle of the spectrum is the best hope for the future. In recent decades, America has tended towards low volume/high technology answers, depending, almost subconsciously, that ultimate salvation in time of serious strife could be rediscovered by jump-starting our industrial base to bridge any shortfall. However, Americans should never underestimate the increasing capabilities of Third World nations to threaten our borders rapidly and deny us that capability.
Production and Technology Threats on the American Horizon
Mass production of Third World ballistic missile systems over the next decades will threaten U.S. consolidated industrial centers, thereby ending one of America’s most historical and important natural resources: oceanic isolation from formidable enemies. As in the Cold War, success depends on accessing and anticipating enemy capability while adjusting technologies and their production to achieve deterrence and tactical advantage within economical means.
Adjustment of American military posture depends heavily on ground-truth assessments of foreign capability and maintenance of military means to counter these technologies. Sometimes indicators to adopt new methods and materials are hard to accept when so many American dollars are invested in the current status quo. In 1941, it took a surprise demonstration of carrier airpower and the near destruction of the Pacific Fleet to father modem methods of U.S. power projection. What will it take to shift the paradigm in today’s Navy? The former Soviet Union spent Cold War years developing very sophisticated weapon systems to counter attack from American carrier battlegroups. In this vein, the Soviets developed a wide range of extremely sophisticated long range cruise missiles. Unlike any U.S. variants, these systems approach capital ships in large salvos at supersonic speeds and overwhelm battlegroup air defenses with shear numbers and momentum. Future variants of these missiles are incorporating even faster speeds, better jamming techniques, and stealth shapes-all exotic characteristics by current U.S. standards. Those nations who can’t afford the Russian standard can easily settle for Chinese systems that are still quite formidable and much cheaper to stockpile.
Even larger than this current tactical threat to U.S. deployed naval forces is the ROW (Rest of the World) race to master theater ballistic missile technology. In fact, North Korean demonstrated missile capabilities have potentially surpassed theater expectations and now represent credible threats to U.S. territories throughout the Pacific. As seen with India and Pakistan, evidence of nuclear intentions coupled with these delivery vehicles can produce volatile arms races that affect politics and economics around the globe. Other, even cheaper, biological and chemical potentials are expected to top these rapidly proliferating missile systems. Whether these systems and their warhead technologies were indigenously developed, secretly bartered from a former superpower, or leaked from our own national laboratories, their exponential growth as military options to rogue states cannot be denied. Yearly increased productions, the technologies for achieving across-ocean ranges, and the number of nations graduating to master both cannot be underestimated by misdevelopment of American forces. As mentioned earlier, increased tactical prowess by foreign powers will continue to undermine effective use of carrier force projection to eradicate these ballistic threats to our borders. Likewise, fears of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) attacks on innocent U.S. and Western cities will dictate how Americans wage war. If Iraqi floating mines and short range, lumbering SCUD rockets (both essentially World War II technologies) opened surprised eyes 10 years ago, imagine what submarine launched cruise missiles and anthrax-laden ICBM’s would do today.
Resting easily on the laurels of a confidently slain communist dragon, we could lull into a future where many smaller, no less reptilian, entities have collectively harnessed a production/technology ratio that rivals our own. As in the Cuban Missile Crisis, American must intelligently gauge foreign production and technology threats while maintaining the on-station ability to deter, influence, or destroy these means with immunity from local tactical dangers. Safeguarding the American culture in the 21st century is an extraordinarily varied task encompassing everything from an integrated national missile defense system to continued success of our economy. Each sector of society, as in World War II, will have to coordinate efforts for continued success. The Navy and, as an important subset, the Submarine Force, are no exceptions.
One Submarine Investment Necessary to Answer the Threat
Hard choices are made by the leadership of this country day in and day out to secure military stability in the next century. Even in my own short career, I have seen many once sacred cows slain to force budget numbers into affordable limits. Thinning the herd has become more and more difficult as we stare down potential losses in core capabilities with realized increases in required responsibilities. The Virginia class submarine is an example of a submarine situation in which correct, but painful, decisions had to be made to field reasonable technology coupled with acceptable production possibilities. Situations worsen as different uniformed services. both internally and externally, position against one another to win limited resources.
How then can submariners maintain the technology/production ratio necessary to defend our nation from proliferating threats around the globe? Although many answers must be found. a glaring example of submarine optimization involves Trident SSGN conversions and continued investments in increased capability cruise missile payloads. Computer design. stealth techniques. and warhead improvements have made cruise missile salvos effective and nearly unstoppable threats that risk no pilot. Tomahawk successes in the Gulf War and every major U.S. conflict since have proven that relatively cheap, although comparatively simple and slow, strike cruise missiles can inflict heavy enemy losses. These systems can, and should, be upgraded to keep pace with Russian systems currently being developed for export.
In fact, ROW procurement of antiship cruise missiles threaten our own Tomahawk shooters that cruise above the waves. This fact succinctly illustrates why a submarine with sustained salvo capacity for cruise missile strike is so essential. Trident SSGNs could sail into areas of extreme hostile action to unload capable cruise missiles on target to destroy WMD product facilities and missile launch sites that threaten our shores. This concentration of close-in fire power will allow surface ships to picket farther off shore and use their powerful Aegis radars to track any ballistic threats that erupt skyward to threaten American shores. These ships can then launch advanced missiles to intercept the ballistic threat in its vulnerable boost phase, sending the WMD seeds crashing back onto enemy territory. In an ironic role reversal, the converted Tridents could assume an effective tactical role allowing cruisers and destroyers a turn at ballistic missile deterrence and neutralization. This symbiosis would allow the U.S. Navy to continue theater power projection with less fear of local enemy threat and, even more importantly, exo-atmospheric reprisal for our citizens. Without this capability, rogue nations could continue well guarded production of death and disease in a virtual vacuum with little fear of the once powerful naval presence near their shores.
The SSGN concept is an exceptional balance of affordable technology applied to capable, modem platforms that have already been produced. As with the often resurrected Iowa class battleships, use of an existing design will send a powerful and important message to American taxpayers who remember numerous and expensive Seawolf development woes. The message being that the Submarine Force does not always have to start from scratch to quantum leap our capability and that we make efficient use of the tools we are given. Additionally, START II negotiations with the Soviet Union concerning retention of former SSBNs are well leveraged since many of the tactical threats mandating a submerged cruise missile salvo shooter stem directly from weapon systems proliferated from her own borders. Extra effort concerning the SSGN concept and furure commitment to cruise missile design and production in general can provide an affordable and survivable strike platform that is integral to continental self defense. Wise choices now will become future examples of American technology/production concepts that keep America safe and economically strong.
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