Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD 2000
$42.50, 336 pgs., 30 photos, 30 line drawings
Reviewed by Dr. Richard B. Thompson
Norman Friedman has written a splendid addition to his outstanding series of warship design histories. In Sea: power and Space he details the vital importance of space systems to present-day naval warfare. This is a subject of surpassing importance, especially for the Submarine Force.
As he has in his previous design histories, Dr. Friedman describes the development of space and naval warfare systems as a co-evolutionary process, wherein spaceborne systems evolve in response not only to new technological capabilities, but to new threats as well. Thus the Soviet radar and passive ELINT ocean reconnaissance satellites (RORSAT and EORSAT, respectively) were developed in part because the radar horizon of Soviet naval aviation aircraft was limited enough to bring them in range of a carrier battle group’s combat air patrol. The tandem of BORSA T and RO RSA T provided over-the-horizon targeting for missile-armed supersonic bombers (and submarines). requiring the development of the F-14 fighter and Phoenix missile to fight the Outer Air Battle. and later the development of U.S. space-based surveillance capabilities to alert the battle group to incoming threats. Dr. Friedman tries very hard not only to detail the technical developments themselves but also to reconstruct the thought processes that drove the decision-making of the developers. In this reviewer’s opinion. this is useful as well as fascinating. as we now know that in some cases the Soviets perceived the tactical employment of our systems and their relative importance much differently than we did.
The book has 14 chapters. beginning with an introduction and brief summary of satellite characteristics, followed by a chapter on booster development in the U.S. and Russia. Three chapters discuss the advents of precise navigation systems and satellites as applied to the U.S. Polaris missile system; satellite and other long-haul telecommunications; and optical. radar. and passive electronic reconnaissance satellites. These chapters are all among the best hon treatments of these subjects I am aware of. My only complaint is the dearth of illustrations compared to Dr. Friedman’s previous design histories. which may be forgiven inasmuch as many of the U.S. and Soviet spacecraft have not been illustrated publicly.
The heart of the book deals with the emergence of the Soviet naval threat employing space-based targeting, and the development of U.S. space-based assets in response. particularly satellite communications. ocean surveillance. and ultimately netcentric warfare. Dr. Friedman makes abundantly clear not only the advantages we enjoy in navigation, communications. and reconnaissance with satellite systems, but that the new style of netcentric warfare is nearly impossible without them. In particular, fusing data from many sensors into an integrated picture is very difficult if the sensors do not know where they are with respect to the battlespace and each other, updating such a picture in detail at any useful speed requires high bandwidth, multimode, jam-resistant. low probability of intercept communications; and over-the-horizon. targeting and guidance for cruise missiles requires space-based
terrain contour mapping or GPS guidance. All this has made the Navy the principal user of U.S. space-based assets among the armed forces. Moreover, the Navy is also a large user of non-U.S. space-based assets, consuming more than three million minutes of INMARSAT satellite telephone time in 1995, with the demise of the Iridium system, the Navy will increasingly rely on international satellite systems.
The book contains 48 pages of notes to the text (in very fine print), a glossary, a bibliography, and a useful index. I enjoyed the descriptions of a number of systems I had not seen described in any detail, including the Spacer system, HULTEC radar fingerprinting, the U.S. and Soviet ocean reconnaissance satellite systems, and the BRIGAND bistatic radar development. The book uses only open-source material, with the information on classified U.S. systems coming in part from Soviet and Russian sources.
This book is of importance to the Submarine Force and its supporters for three reasons. First, it is a lucid description of a number of technical developments whose value has often been obscured by the hype surrounding them. Second, it makes abundantly clear that space-based assets are important or indispensable to the Submarine Force’s ability to carry out several important missions, including strategic deterrence, precision strike, intelligence collection, and mine countermeasures. The corollary is that the Submarine Force and the Navy must assure that future space systems meet their needs, which would appear unlikely if space asset development and operation were controlled by the Air Force exclusively. It also suggests that the Navy should be enthusiastic supporters of space systems. Finally, it is the reviewer’s opinion (and not the author’s) that space-based ocean reconnaissance for the purposes of search and targeting is now much simpler than when the U.S. and Soviet Union were developing their respective ocean reconnaissance systems, in particular, because high-resolution imaging infrared sensors and the computational power for image analysis and target recognition is now much more available than 15 years ago. If so married to a missile-firing submarine, such a capability could place surface vessels at risk essentially anywhere on earth, and indeed nothing that floated would be safe. As Dr. Friedman points out, if that time comes a few decades hence, submarines will be all that are left.