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On one hand, the future is very bright. The United States is not just the dominant world power but has no peer or even serious threat. This rosy picture makes the future difficult for warriors convinced that the end to war is not yet in sight. The present Administration has made it clear there will not be significantly more money for defense and indeed, it takes no special prescience to recognize that present programs will have to be reduced in order to fund the Administration’s chief defense priority, National Missile Defense. Every component of every service already complains about their inadequate force size to execute present missions and the shortage of funds to accomplish the necessary modernization. These conditions won’t change: the technological emphasis of the present administration will be on space and national missile defense, not on conventional forces, submarines or strategic arms.

Whether infantry divisions or submarines, it is safe to predict that the force sizes that exist now are the largest we will see during this administration. Attempts to enlarge the force will probably be fruitless no matter how eloquently and convincingly portrayed. Recognizing this environment does not mean those with knowledge and experience should shrink from promoting submarines. Because the government of a democracy operates on advocacy not truth, those who understand the problems must attempt to make their concerns clear to responsible officials and to their fellow citizens. Within this context, the collective and individual advocacy for larger forces should continue.

David Rosenberg, the historian, observed that by the late ’70s the submarine had become the capital ship of the Navy because submarines were to lead the rest of the fleet into enemy waters. Every war game set in the 2020 or later time period demonstrates the same characteristic continues. Access to the places the United States is likely to be needed is not always going to be uncontested. The list of places where the Navy will have to fight its way into the littorals will grow. But a Navy of less than 100 surface ships, 8 to 10 carriers and about the same number of amphibious ready groups will be too small to use its customarily cavalier Nelsonian tactics. Too few to be risked lightly, the surface ships will either be too busy with area missile defense or too vulnerable to be able to force that access until the submarine has reduced the opposition to manageable numbers.

Submariners should not be fooled by their own propaganda into believing that submarines will be rewarded for their unique character. There are some aspects of that character that are not well understood or appreciated even within the submarine community itself and where misrepresentations are allowed to stand because of politeness or political comity. However, acquiescence is agreement: it is important to challenge unfounded beliefs and half-truths regardless of their author.

First and foremost, the pressure for smaller, cheaper, less fully capable submarines will never die. The arguments for properly sized and effective submarines must be made clearly and distinctly, not by claiming to be all things at all times but by being very clear as to what submarines can do. Even well grounded analysis will not convince some who prefer not to understand, but to hear naval officers on active duty suggest the United States invest in conventionally powered submarines indicates submarine advocates’ arguments have been ineffective.

Navy planners, strategists and policy makers do not appreciate that the speed and endurance of nuclear submarines give them an unmatched ability to bring mass to the scene of action-not in individual platforms but in their ability to aggregate large numbers of platforms and thereby large numbers of weapons quickly. Dispatching every submarine not in overhaul in a day, each fully armed and outfitted for three months, is a capability that has been demonstrated in both oceans. Because others cannot match this performance, air and surface warfare specialists remain ignorant of its ramifications while submariners do not appreciate how truly unique it is. But in times of conflict, submarines will not only be on the scene early in their normal deployed stance, but if useful or needed their numbers can be multiplied quickly with the new arrivals coming armed with the weapon load tailored for the particular conflict.

The durability and resiliency of submarine stealth is not well understood or appreciated. While only occasionally will some ignoramus suggest submarines launching missiles are threatened by counter-battery fire after a missile launch, many have been led to think that the submarine conducting operations at periscope depth or communicating with a satellite is somehow readily apparent. In truth the submarine, even in these situations, is next to invisible. Most vulnerable to the human eye, detection is limited to relatively near and narrow fields. (Most feared are helicopters and how many of them are around?) Further more, the submarines’ stealth comes not from their shape or padding but from the medium in which they maneuver. Hard to detect in the first place, difficult to classify even when detected, able to clear datum quickly, submarine operations are not particularly hampered by concerns about stealth-a concern voiced most often by Rand planners, Air Force advocates, and others without experience in the field. In an earlier age, Hollywood Art Van Saun demonstrated these truisms on BARBEL by snorkeling through an ASW foundation without being detected.

As early as 1923, submarine officers began to preach that submarines were best used not as scouts for the battle line but independently far in advance of the fleet to disrupt enemy preparations, assembly and logistics. The logic of that design ought to be revisited. There won’t be enough submarines to be allocated to battle group operations and provide the forward presence that is the submarines’ forte. Submarines in a real conflict will be working directly for the numbered fleet commander or the naval component commander-not the battle group commanders.

Communications limits are as much process related as technically limited. Being like any other small combatant platform is a poor slogan. First because any antenna improvement that gives the submarine more capability will also give an order of magnitude more gain for a platform operating well clear of the air-water plane interface. But more imponantly, submarines don’t need the kind of communications that air defense or amphibious ships do-but only enough to properly plan and execute the assigned operations, perform as the forward sensor nodes in the sensor network and to fire the fast reaction, early on target weapons. Comparisons in bit rate or poor mouthing communications capabilities only disguise the nature of the command and control issues inherent in operating submarines. Communications can be arranged and executed without compromise to stealth, have been that way since early in 1942 and can be in the future. Kow-towing to the dreams of commanders raised in cultures where communications involve a steady flow of chatter disguises the real issues.

Admiral Stan Arthur’s proposition that the first action in mine warfare must be to sink the minelayers should be reinforced at every opportunity. Laying mines in international waters is an act of war and should be responded to just as vigorously and immediately as if a gun was fired . Wary policy makers in the safety of the nation’s capital shied away from such actions in the past and will in the future unless the groundwork for this kind of response is laid well in advance of the need for such a decision. Every CINC plan ought to have Arthur’s admonition as the first line of the Rules of Engagement. Submarines will be especially effective in executing this mission-obtaining weapons that will allow accomplishment should be a near term priority.

Submarine roles and missions are fairly well understood within the Force and by the Department of Defense leadership. Education of those in between remains an effon that needs to continue.

Naval Submarine League

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