Editor’s Note: These remarks were to be presented at the annual Clambake in September but Admiral Suggs was grounded in Tampa due to the hurricane.
As we look forward to the political and military challenges of the next century, there is a need for a forward-deployed credible conventional deterrence. Control of the world’s littoral regions and projection of power ashore is a cornerstone of joint strategy and will be essential to success in any conflict. Our potential adversaries are aided by the inexorable spread of advanced technology that can pose significant threats to U.S. Joint Forces operating near their shores. Access to new information technologies and sensors, such as commercial satellite imaging, coupled with the availability of advanced weapons, including sea skimming cruise missiles, can allow remote targeting of our surface fleet. In effect, hostile nations can establish a denied area creating a significant threat to our littoral forces. Real time intelligence, warning, reconnaissance, and battle space mapping ashore, above and below the sea would be deficient in an area where our forces could not operate safely. The potential losses resulting from establishing control of the littoral seas, the realities of hostile modem diesel submarines equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles, mine threats in coastal waters, and other significant impediments to our future ability to project power ashore must be considered.
A more sobering reality concerns the vulnerability of our littoral surface and air forces to . Proliferating weapons of mass destruction. As the umbrella of danger reaches further out from hostile shores, the need for stealth, flexibility, endurance, battle space preparation and early nodal-centered firepower projected ashore increases asymmetrically. A self-contained and self-protecting platform, the SSGN can operate independently for prolonged periods without the need for outside support. The ability to operate clandestinely complements the covert operations associated with Special Operations Force (SOF) direct action. The SSGN can effectively undertake national intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The ability to maintain station undetected in hostile locations that are denied to other less stealthy platforms with no forward infrastructure or logistic requirements enables the SSGN to launch missiles, conduct SOF operations, and gather intelligence from locations where other platforms cannot or would not prudently operate.
The development of a SSGN presents enormous capabilities not available in current systems. In many cases, targets are protected with a pre-conceived idea of a threat axis or trajectory. The ability to locate the strike platform off of the predisposed threat axis opens the enemy to new vulnerabilities. The major advantage of a sub-surface strike platform is covertness. In the crucial opening moments of conflict the ability to strike from an unpredictable location and direction and then relocate to fire securely again provides an enormous element of surprise which may prove decisive. The existence of the platform at sea may be sufficient to achieve deterrence or it may force the enemy to allocate critical resources to the elimination of the platform’s potential threat. In addition, during a slowly building crisis the SSGN could preposition non-provocatively to continuously gather intelligence, direct battlefield preparation, and conduct preventive actions and then may either withdraw if diplomacy resolves the crisis or strike before the enemy has fully elevated its alert status. The addition of the ability to conduct long range SOF insertions through the use of the Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) tremendously enhances the precision strike capability of the SSGN. No other strike platform can act as covertly and swiftly as the SSGN.
The most controversial portion of the SSGN concept appears to be a large resistance to maintaining a SOF presence onboard for a full 90-days deployment. The ability to remain onboard for a full 90 days is not intended to imply an unused presence onboard but to illustrate the capability to conduct long-term campaigns from onboard the vessel. The SSGN will have the space for planning and the capability to do so on board. In addition there will be sufficient exercise facilities to ensure fitness may be maintained. The ability to sustain SOF at sea for up to 90 days without having to change out personnel and/or equipment is a significant improvement over SSN host submarines.
The SSGN/ ASDS system with SOF and cruise missile capability allows military planners to achieve a precisely measured effect at a specific vulnerability in the enemy’s strategic plan or warfighting infrastructure. The SOF support and land attack missile capabilities, coupled with the submarine’s stealth characteristics, provides the warfighting commander with operational capabilities not previously available in any platform. It is a platform that not only acts as a force multiplier, but also contributes to the Maritime Component Commander’s ability to implement operational concepts of dominant maneuver, precision engagement, full-dimensional protection and focused logistics. The SSGN is the only platform that will allow the full utilization of the ASDS system.
The SSGN when coupled with the ASDS provides the most important strike, intelligence gathering, and special operations platform ever conceived. The potential overwhelming capacity of this platform will never be understood until the capability to synergistically exploit every attribute of the platform has been explored. The brief list of capabilities discussed provides an insignificant glimpse at the SSGN’s potential.
The submarine and SOF is a logical progression. The two communities share:
- Battlespace preparation and shaping
- Peace time missions that reflect wartime efforts
- Desire for stealth
- Force provider to overall warplans
- Recruit/retain/promote top quality personnel
SOF operations need to be part of the base level of training for the Submarine Force. This will ensure the submarine is more than just a bus to deliver SOF. It is this shift in mindset that will allow the vast potential of the SOF/Submarine marriage to by realized.