Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


LT Carullo’s essay was written while he was a student at tile Submarine Officers Advanced Course 99060.

The strategic planning process, critical to the health of any organization, involves outlining an organization’s mission and future direction, and the strategic approach the organization will take in light of its internal and external situation. The strategic planning process balances near and long-term performance targets while sustaining a level of effectiveness throughout. The challenge faced by strategic planners is focusing on those performance targets that will best meet the organization’s mission. Choosing these performance targets requires the organization to forecast its internal and external future. The further into the future the planners attempt to forecast, the greater the unknown and the increased lack of clarity of what those performance targets should be. If the internal and external situation that influences the strategic planning process were static, planning would be fairly simple. The forecaster’s vision would be clear.

Due to this uncertain internal and external situation, the vision of the Navy planner is at best, and probably always will be, fogged. A resource-limited environment compounds this fogged vision, forcing the Navy planner to be more cautious in how he assesses the future. The Navy planner is forced to focus on the concept vice the platform that will meet future performance targets. The investment is placed in these concepts (i.e., stealth, payload, flexibility, etc.) not in the specific platform that will implement those concepts. This is actually a positive trait of this process, but (and this is the big but) implementation must come at some point. And implementation means deciding on a platform which will best integrate those concepts, as a whole, to make the chosen platform1 the most effective tool in carrying out the military’s near and long term mission.

Another compounding factor that fogs our vision of the future is the fact that forecasters hold on to past ideals. Strategy, tactics, weapons, and other military systems almost always fall out of favor if you wait long enough. The difficult part is determining the when. The timing of investment in near and long term concepts is as important as the investment itself.2 Some historical evidence:

  • During the pre-dawn days of World War II our Navy held a large amount of stock in the superiority of our battleship-centric battle fleets. Unknowingly, the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor cleared our vision and we shifted our investments towards a maturing platform, the aircraft carrier (the loss of our blue chip battleships made the decision an easy one). The years that followed showed that carrier aviation had come of age and was a significant platform used to defeat the Japanese. Our pre-war vision kept our position in the Pacific at a very fragile state during the first years of the war and if not for our industrial strength our recovery may have never come. The question for the strategic planners of our future is when will our investment in carrier aviation begin to dry up?
  • During the 1980’s we were swelling to a 600 ship Navy. The Cold War we were fighting was more of a political struggle than a conflict of arms and the chosen figure of 600 was the number we needed to keep the pressure on the Soviet Union. The need for such a large Navy allowed our ships to be single mission or single task platforms (single task since
    1Placform is the generic, non-romantic term for any weapon delivery system such as a ship, submarine, or aircraft.

    2For non-deterrent systems only, For deterrent systems, unrealized wealth is the goal.

    some ships were only designed to defend other ships). Not only did a 600 ship policy allow single mission platforms, it required it. We had to spread out the mission to justify such a large Navy. Our Cold War victory left a hollow force with many platforms struggling to find a mission and trying to survive … Ten years later… Are we still holding on to this lost ideal of single mission platforms? Can the land attack mission of the DD 21 be accomplished by another more capable, multi-mission platform?

Forecasting the Future

Performance targets are the outputs of an organization’s strategic vision. They are the units of measure for effectiveness when developing new systems to obtain future goals. The emering argument in forecasting an organization’s internal and external future and selecting performance targets is change as a constant. If an organization’s strategic vision ignores the likelihood of change, then that organization may select the wrong performance targets and be ill prepared for future circumstances. This is critical in selection of performance targets for future platform design.

Future Platform Performance Targets. Keeping the aspect of change central to the selection process for future platform performance targets does not make our vision clearer, but it keeps our options open. The selection of platform performance targets that are based on the aspect of change leads to platforms that have the greatest probability of meeting any future need. So the strategic planning question becomes, what platform performance targets should be integrated into each platform and, if these performance targets can not be effectively integrated, should we hold onto that type of platform? Future platforms will require:

  • Mission Flexibility. Platforms of the future will have to serve in a variety of roles and serve them well. Missions such as strike-warfare (land, sea and air strike), battlespace dominance, rapid force insertion, and undetectable intelligence and surveillance will be the standards used to measure platform flexibility. Each platform will be required to transition from one mission to the next without returning to port and able to perform these missions independent of other platforms.
  • Payload Flexibility. The prerequisite for mission flexibility. Multiple missions require multiple payloads. Future platforms must have sufficient size in order to carry a wide variety of payloads and in sufficient number. Payload flexibility must effectively answer the question: What can it carry and how many can it carry? An added benefit to payload flexibility is gender flexibility.
  • Integration Capability. Seamless integration into a larger combined force, working tangibly to accomplish the combined mission with all platforms providing support to each other. No single platform acting as the supported unit. Future connectivity will be a two-way street.3
  • Endurance in the Battlespace. Extended operations in hostile waters with no preparing or supporting force. Two critical factors that effect platform endurance are weapons inventory and multiple sensor stealth. Payload flexibility is again a prerequisite.
  • Minimum Risk to Personnel. The one performance target we’ve been both striving for and hiding from. Striving to satisfy the demands of the public while hiding from the fact that our past ideals for platform design may be lost. Our current strategy and tactics support this goal but most of our platforms don’t.

Platform Selection

Performance targets are the pieces of the puzzle that provide the blueprint for future platform design and investment. Performance targets also act as weighing factors that forecast a platform’s return on its investment. Cost alone isn’t enough to consider if we should
3Modern day example: battlegroup communications.

invest in a given design, but what those dollars will provide and how effectively they will provide it.

Impact on Submarine Design. This process of strategic planning impacts the design of our Submarine Force and the roles they will play in the future. The rapid pace of technological development along with the life span of modem submarines means the design we choose today will impact their effectiveness in the future. Future flexibility for change must be central to our current designs.

Most of the performance targets above point to a submarine that is larger in overall size with more disposable, mission usable, volume. The conversion of the first four Trident SSBNs into SSGNs is a step in the right direction. The SSGN can be a platform that integrates future concepts and provides a valuable test bed for how we will answer the unknown needs of the future. The thought of such a versatile platform brings excitement to the hearts of every submariner that recognizes what our past designs were missing and that was size. Size is the last major obstacle the submarine must overcome to be the next crown jewel of our fleet and any commitment to a platform that does not utilize the knowledge gained from the SSGN and the selected performance targets is destined to meet a fate of being obsolete before it is truly utilized.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League