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Four years ago, the Submarine Force defined its path to the future with four concepts:

  • Gain and Sustain Battle force access
  • Develop and Share Knowledge
  • Project power from close in
  • Deter and Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The validity of that work was apparent in the recent Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) of September 2001. In this review, the Secretary of Defense stated six operational goals for the focus of DOD’s transformational efforts; these incorporated the four submarine concepts:

  • Protecting critical bases of operation at home and abroad and defeating CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological Nuclear Material, or High Field Explosives) weapons and delivery means
  • Assuring information systems in the face of attack and conducting effective information operations
  • Protecting and sustaining U.S. forces in distant anti-access or area-denial environments
  • Denying enemy sanctuary by providing persistent surveil-lance tracking and rapid engagement with high volume strike
  • Enhancing the capability and survivability of space systems
  • Leveraging information technology and illllovative concepts to develop an interoperable, joint C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) architecture.

The Submarine Force continued on to give an operational flavor to its four concepts and developed a listing of 23 high priority submarine tasks for 2020, embedded within these were the highest priority tasks followed by other high priority tasks. The prevailing sentiment appears to have been that the longer the task list, the greater the likely inferred importance of the submarine.

It may be time to revisit this approach.

Even with a move in place to trim the submarine task list to 21, a military platform task list of this magnitude strains the credibility of the Force (both inside and out) and also causes real strain on the ability of the Force to accommodate its mission requirements.

Outside Credibility

The military requirement of course is the fundamental issue raised here. In a resource constrained environment, missions or tasks can’t be readily accepted unless they pass through at least two distinct filters. First, there must be the conviction that resources are well allocated because the output or program will be the basis of compelling military CONOPs (Concept of Operations) as implemented by the CINCs and the Joint Staff.

That is, when the capability to accomplish a task is fielded, this capability must be attractive and of utility in contexts likely to be encountered by the ultimate customer (the CINC). From a Submarine Force perspective it should also allow best integration of submarine capabilities into the joint force and Navy as a whole.

Secondly, comes the important filter of cost-benefit from the viewpoint of both the service and overall Defense Department; simply stated this filter asks the following question at both levels: “Among alternatives before me is the submarine the most militarily cost-effective means of accomplishing this task?” At first blush, this evaluation is also enlightened by the fact that in about half the submarine tasks proposed as follow-ons to the four strategic concepts, there is no stated joint or Navy requirement for submarine resource expenditure, also some tasks are simply standard overhead.

Quite apart from acceptability in CONOPs or cost-benefit are the pragmatic effects of such an extensive task list. These include of course, the difficulty in long-range planning and turbulence in programming as priorities change or the list itself is revisited; also it inevitably wastes precious ship volume. Such lists also lead to fine targets for budget cuts.

Inside Credibility

Viewed by submariners, in particular junior officers, the striving to be all things to all people (or mission creep) may give both an unfortunate and fairly strong signal of mission insecurity within the community. It can also lead to frustration among a group of highly trained and motivated officers who routinely expect to accomplish every task perfectly.


The submarine has unequaled and unchallenged attributes. Within these attributes rest the opportunity for unquestioned, unique and essential contributions to joint force effectiveness. The aircraft carrier is a large ship and is the queen of our fleets. While it is far less payload limited than the submarine it still does not boast of 20, nor 15, nor five tasks, but three: Presence, Joint C2, and Power projection. In the past decade the carrier and its air wing have improved their capability dramatically in each of these areas, witness the ongoing performance in operation Enduring Freedom. Each of these is intuitive, of proven benefit to the nation and has passed through the cost-benefit filter (albeit not always without inter-service debate) and the CONOP filter from the CINC and JCS viewpoints. As a further example, the DD(X) is tasked not with 20, 15, 10 or 5 but with the two tasks of assuring littoral access and maritime dominance.

Submarine Tasks

Strategic Deterrence. From the submarine viewpoint Strategic Deterrence has clearly passed the tests required and stands out as a present and likely a future national mission; in addition, the cost-benefit and military CONOPs aspects are well documented.
ASW. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, more than ever before, the U.S. nuclear submarine role is central to the Navy’s forward ASW capability. Along with the new generation of ASW sensors being fielded, it is the core of future Undersea Dominance and central to the Navy’s mission of Sea Control.
Special Operations. The submarine has a proven track record of contributions to national security through Special Operations both in the arena of ISR, and now with the SSGN, it increases its ability in the special operations (SOF) arena by nearly an order of magnitude. Additional requirements are emerging in the area of special operations in support of the NCA (National Command Authority), to be added to those that already exist. Submarines will also best undertake these operations.
Strike. In the past decade the submarine has become a full panner in the joint Strike mission. With the arrival of the SSGN, the submarine can impact strike warfare CONOPs noticeably. The figure below suggests increasing percentage use of TLAM (Toma-hawk Land Attack Missile) during the decade. It also displays the increasing role precision munitions played as the decade matured.

Added to the chan of course, would be that in Resolute Response 79 TLAM were used, and in Desen Fox 325, in other operations fewer were used. This puts the capability of the SSGN in perspective with its potential load of missiles. Most imponantly, though, the numbers in the chan make the point that the submarine’s overall capability must be very carefully selected and employed. 4 For the purpose of this anicle the notional SSGN missile loads were considered to be up to 154 missiles.

The SSGN is transformational. But we should not fall into the trap of considering it as merely an enhancement or extension of submarine strike. A system may be considered transformational of itself; on the other hand, what is of paramount importance is the combination of the system and the Concept of Operation associated with it.

In the case of the SSGN, there are two unexploited (i.e. Transformational) areas within CONOPs that can now be devel-oped, tested and brought to fruition. These are meaningful early and covert strike. For the Submarine Force, this will mean allowing the CINC and OPLANS to leverage the submarine’s qualities of stealth and endurance.

Unlike at the outset of Enduring Freedom, and other operations of the past decade, the SSGN will allow the NCA the option of moving into place a substantial strike platform without telegraphing its intention to the adversary. thereby not allowing the adversary to prepare for the first blow. In addition, because of its ability to strike early, in many situations the SSGN with proper C41 support will be the only U.S. military asset able to negate part of the time-critical-target (TCT) set in any theater before they become time critical. Also. this same (early/coven) CONOP will enable the SSGN to provide indirect fire support for a Joint strike Force (JSF) or SOP. In addition it will allow the SSGN to focus on destroying targets that are focused on impeding the deployment or employment of follow-on joint forces.

This will only be the case. however. if providing effective early and coven firepower is a central submarine task. The keys to this capability of course. will be the right analysis, planning and investmenc in weapons and C41. Distraction by 20 other high priority tasks lower the likelihood of success.

An early, coven strike CON OP is more viable and also operationally more important than the pursuit of the general category of time-critical targets from SSGNs. As a capability which no other platfonn brings to the CINC; this is in sharp contrast with the continuing pursuit of TCTs from submarines that brings with it the burden of showing that the submarine adds benefit rather than complexity to the TCT problem.


As an alternative to the current approach. in order to obtain the benefits of both programmatic and operational focus the Submarine Force should consider bringing to the table four core mission (task) areas in support of the Secretary of Defense’s transformational goals. these missions are enduring. unique and leverage the special qualities of the submarine. They are:

  • Special Operations
  • Strike (early, coven)
  • Undersea Dominance
  • Strategic Deterrence

The U.S. Submarine Force bas a history of national level contributions in three of these task areas for over five decades. The addition of strike as a primary mission area provides both an enonnous and expansive challenge to the Force in its own right.

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