Rear Admiral William J. (Jerry) Holland is an adviser and consultant on command, control, communications, computers, intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4/SR) matters, submarine warfare, and nuclear weapons policy for a number of individual clients, government agencies, and policy organizations. He retired after 32 years of naval service, including 13 years in command of nuclear submarines, submarine squadrons and group, and the Submarine School. He is currently Vice President of the Naval Historical Foundation and recently edited The United States Navy (Washington, DC: Naval Historical Foundation, 2000).
This essay is a chapter in Captain Sam Tangredi ‘s book, “Globalization and Maritime Power”. Captain Tangredi’s over-view, the first chapter in that book, was the lead essay in the October issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW. Admiral Holland’s essay is that chapter of the book that deals with the issues related to undersea warfare.
The new realms of space and under the sea are the hallmarks of the globalization of the U.S. Navy that began after the end of World War II. These elements differentiate today’s maritime reality from that experienced by the Royal Navy in the previous two centuries. Submarines, nuclear power, and mines make today’s world much more problematical than the one the Royal Navy ruled. When coupled with Earth orbiting satellites, nuclear submarines make the current and future global maritime environment substantially different than even that which existed in the first part of the 20lh century.
While distance has yielded to technology, the ocean’s complexity remains challenging. Scientists who deal with the ocean attest:
The ocean is not transparent. This bold, flat statement, eminently testable and tirelessly tested, carries a truth that has far-reaching, even global implications. Both a blessing and a curse to undersea warfare, it may, indeed, be the preeminent Catch-22 of geopolitical strategy today.
The opaqueness of the ocean to light and electromagnetic energy make it a singular environment. Operations in this medium have a character unlike any other. Invisible from all but the most sophisticated sensors, which have to be based in the same medium, ships operating inside the ocean generally disclose their presence only by leaving their adversary “a flaming datum, n a sinking or severely damaged opponent. No technology is even forecast that will change this situation.
Thus visibility in the ocean is asymmetric in two ways. The ocean is more visible to advanced powers than to others. The combination of space-based sensors, sea-bottom sensors, wide area mobile sensor arrays, and long-range acoustic detection by submarine sonars make the oceans vastly more visible to the United States than to any other country. This visibility extends even into the littorals of other countries. 2 Submarines, the other facet of this asymmetry of visibility, like space-based sensors, are expensive and require skilled work forces to operate. This is not a description of systems likely to be available to Second and Third World nations. While the interior of the sea will remain a challenging environment for all, the asymmetry in this global environment will likely continue to favor the United States for years to come. The proliferation of anti-access sensors and weapons systems that may be a characteristic of military globalization has not penetrated the open ocean.
The Nuclear Powered Submarine-Queen of the Seas
The foremost change in maritime warfare since World War II has been the appearance of a new capital ship. Operating as a true submersible with an endurance of months at high speed, submarines propelled by nuclear power have the ability to go to every part of the ocean. No place is too far. Forces need not be dispatched far in advance of a perceived need, nor is a global infrastructure of logistic ports necessary. The nuclear powered submarines dominate the maritime scene to an extent never before seen. This situation has few precedents and thus far only one war, the Falkland Islands campaign, to demonstrate this change to maritime affairs. This war demonstrated that other forces can operate in the vicinity of nuclear powered submarines only with the submarines’ acquiescence.
Properly operated, a nuclear submarine wishing to remain undetected is undetectable by any surface-or space-based platform except for chance encounters.4 Submarines are not now and for the foreseeable future will not be subject to attack by cruise or ballistic missiles, chemical or biological weapons, or electromagnetic pulse. This characteristic makes these submerged platforms ideal bases for strategic weapons and allows them to conduct operations in areas otherwise denied or sensitive. (Emphasis by Editor.)
In 1988, the editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships, a world authority on the subject, declared that the mark of a first-class navy was possession of nuclear submarines.’ So pervasive is the ability of the nuclear submarine to dominate the sea that the first and most dramatic effect has been disappearance of surface warships in other than the dominant Navy and America’s allies. Just the existence of the American fleet of nuclear submarines makes surface warships of all other nations poor investments. American nuclear submarines deter naval arms races more effectively than any line of battleships has in the past. The size of this modem fleet and its continuing improvement set a standard that no one else can reach or sustain and so few try-the so-called dissuasion effect. 6 Even in the United States, surface warships are not designed to fight other surface warships and have abdicated most antisubmarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, making little pretense that they can operate in the vicinity of submarines.
This inherently stealthy platform, unlike a surface ship or aircraft, can operate with impunity in a high threat area without the need for self-defense. Invulnerability is inherent in the medium. This remarkable feature, available in any submarine and demonstrated in every maritime theater since 1914, becomes truly formidable when coupled with advantages of high speed and unlimited endurance. Nuclear submarines have long been used for sensitive operations in littorals because of their ability to operate undetected and to remain unsupported for long periods of time. These kinds of operations, cloaked in much secrecy and double talk, are sufficiently important that, according to public pronouncements and documents, the time devoted to them has increased since the end of the Cold War.
Nuclear power enables submarines to deploy to the ends of the Earth without dependence on any infrastructure for months. This precludes the need to preposition stocks in theater, provides the flexibility to go to whatever area is deemed advisable, and allows the ship to stay as long as necessary. Submarine deployments can be conducted in relative obscurity if desired, and forces can be in place in any littoral of the Atlantic, Mediterranean, or Pacific within a week. 8 Coupling routine operations in areas of interest with this ability for rapid deployment of reinforcements of forces gives the United States great flexibility in shaping the battlespace. Undersea assets are panicularly effective in sensing enemy intentions, observing ports and lines of communications, laying the basis for the sensor grid, negating the effect of antiaccess preparations-including sinking minelayers. While submarines are unlikely to field antiaircraft weapons, the ability of their weapons to interdict airfields is excellent. Versions of the Tomahawk missiles that are designed for just such efforts are particularly effective against unbunkered aircraft. With their short time of flight to target and the launch from unsuspected locations and azimuths, missiles from submarines can be crucial weapons in the first days of operations against an enemy land-based air force, missile launchers, and air defenses.
High speed, unlimited endurance, and logistic independence allow massing of weapons in a theater before an engagement, at the first outbreak, or later as desired. Because submarines can so swiftly close the area of operations, they can bring large numbers of weapons to bear-not in a single platform-but in a number of platforms. During the Cold War, the Navy demonstrated the ability to sortie virtually the entire Submarine Force not in the shipyard in 2 or 3 days. As a result, this whole Force is an available reserve that can mass weapons on scene very quickly and totally independently of political considerations or overseas infrastructure. In a world punctuated by unexpected and unanticipated crises, speed of response and the ability to manage risk become highly sought commodities. These are the forte of nuclear submarines that possess the stealth and agility to deploy without fanfare, adding nothing to media pressures to heighten tensions or shorten time lines.
Future submarines will be expected to carry “countermine capabilities, unmanned undersea vehicles, [and] strike weapons,” as well as all the necessary weapons and sensors to conduct antisubmarine warfare.10 Such hulls will not be smaller or less costly until some technical breakthrough such as direct conversion of fission to electricity comes to fruition, reducing equipment size.
Diesel Boats Forever … but Not For Us
As Paul Scully-Powers states, ocean opaqueness is a double-edged sword. While not every country with a navy can build or operate nuclear powered submarines, conventionally powered submarines are a realistic mechanism for many nations without an otherwise functioning navy to challenge, locally and for some finite time, the dominance of the United States. While the piston engine and the biplane are anachronisms in the air, conventionally powered submarines represent a weapon system that can be thwarted only after substantial investment of resources and time by even the most advanced navy. Though lacking the mobility, endurance, and sensor suite of modem nuclear powered submarines, conventionally powered submarines operate in the same opaque medium and, at least for a time, can be as stealthy, difficult to detect, and lethal a threat to surface ship operation in their vicinity. The obvious disadvantages of slow speed, time limitations to their stealth, and restricted endurance severely inhibit the utility of the conventional submarine. But where the area of conflict can be predicted or is geographically constrained, these submarines are a substantial challenge to even the most dominant maritime power.
However dangerous in their areas of operations, conventional submarines are essentially “mobile minefields” lacking both the endurance and the speed to be useful in maintaining forward presence or power projection. With a speed of advance of 10 or 12 knots when stealthy (and that is very wearing on the crew) or even 18 to 20 knots surfaced, conventional submarines are slow to reach station. Once on station, they cannot be easily moved or quickly reinforced. For the United States, a country that expects to fight in distant oceans or deep seas, conventionally powered submarines are expensive anachronisms. The fate of the Royal Navy’s Upholders class (fine conventional submarines constructed under the rubric of “more conventional is better than fewer nukes”) is a lesson in economics. These submarines served for a very short time before being laid up and offered for sale, cheap, to any buyer. Those who advocate that the United States should buy or build conventional submarines are heirs to the traditions of Thomas Jefferson’s gunboats or the coast defense battleships that served no purpose. Though less costly to build than nuclear powered submarines, with no utility these ships are very expensive.
ASW is Still Job One
The only serious threat to America’s sea lines of communications/commerce (SLOCs) comes from submarines. With the Navy’s emphasis shift to strike warfare, antisubmarine warfare has died as a matter of priority in every warfare community. Only the Maritime Patrol Air and the Submarine Forces pay more than lip service to ASW. Maritime air faces a problematical future as its aircraft, the venerable P-3C, begins to reach the end of service life in 2005 with no evidence of a program to replace the aircraft. 13 This leaves submarines as the primary Navy ASW vehicle and the only carrier of a reliable and proven ASW weapon.
This deficiency in naval capability bothers few in the Navy and even fewer leaders in the Government. American dominance at sea has been unchallenged for so long that most are dazzled by the illusion of instantaneous and total American naval hegemony. However, no navy can cope in a short period with even a few diesel submarines, particularly if they are positioned along a SLOC before a crisis. With no ability to confront the U.S. fleet directly the only recourse that nations have in trying to oppose this country at sea is either to attempt to interdict the SLOCs or to make it difficult to establish a blockade or strike the homeland from close ashore.
Antisubmarine warfare is as much a matter of time and endurance as of technology and operational procedure. The conventionally powered submarine can be thwarted, but only through patient endurance and careful use of resources on the side of the dominant navy.14 One observer comments that “Even if the U.S. Navy can detect and destroy enemy submarines it is unlikely that it could do so before they inflict unacceptable damage on both the U. S. fleet and allied shipping.”
Should a forehanded enemy choose, deployment of conventional submarines to choke points or harbor exits distant from the area of conflict can be devastating as the Germans proved in 1942 and 1943. Properly operated and adequately armed, two not unsubstantial or easily satisfied requirements, conventional submarines could be major deterrents in flow of forces out of the United States and into theater. Karl Doenitz did not defend his littorals by holding his U-boats in the North Sea; he did it by sending them to the east coast of the United States and the middle Atlantic. Sooner or later an opponent with submarines, probably conventional ones much like those used by the Germans 60 years ago, will challenge U.S. maritime dominance off Savannah, Sandy Hook, the Straits of Gibrallar, the channels into the Straits of Malacca, or any one of a dozen other sites where trade routes pass. When that occurs, the calls for ASW forces will be frantic, and no one will respond but the Submarine Force and its auxiliaries, the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System’s towed array ships. The ability to counter submarines depends on training, equipment, and weapons. Such investments are being made only in the Submarine Force of the U.S. Navy.
The Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine: Invulnerable Base for Strategic Arms
Nuclear submarines are the ideal bases for strategic weapons and will remain so as long as nuclear weapons exist and the oceans remain opaque. Undetectable and invulnerable, they offer no incentive for an enemy to try to strike first because the ocean provides complete concealment. Equally important, by basing missiles in an invulnerable mode, any enemy is assured that the owners of such forces will be able to strike back after an attack of any kind. Now that the characteristics of the missiles carried on submarines (for example, range, accuracy, readiness, and communication connectivity) are as good or better than those based on land, there is little reason to support other weapons systems. Able to attack any point on Earth from their operating areas, fleet ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) will continue to provide the most effective disincentive to the use of nuclear weapons.
The British have led the way toward rationalization of national nuclear weapons forces by moving all of their deterrent weapons to sea, never having seriously considered land-based weapons and retiring their bombers as strategic weapons delivery systems. Land-based missiles are natural targets both for missiles and terrorists while no longer having any attribute superior to their sea-based brethren. Every country having nuclear weapons that can build and operate nuclear powered submarines will probably imitate this British initiative except perhaps Russia. Because of its continental mentality and vast space allowing land-based missiles to be mobile, Russia may remain an exception.17 There the ratio of land-to sea-based weapons will be as much a matter of cultural heritage as any military or political analysis. China has been trying to make a sea-based missile system work for a number of years and will, eventually, deploy an operative missile on a submarine. Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and missiles, operate conventional submarines, and have hopes of someday being able to operate nuclear submarines. It is not unreasonable to assume that they will eventually achieve the goal of putting their strategic nuclear weapons on a submarine platform.
The extent to which one country is seen as being able to hold at risk an-other’s seaborne strategic weapons is a major issue in this equation. While this is a matter of perception as well as expertise, there is no question that the United States believed that it could threaten the sea-based strategic forces of the former Soviet Union. At the same time, the United States also believed that its SSBNs were absolutely secure and invulnerable to interdiction by any foreign power. Exercises at sea under real conditions indicated both of these beliefs were well founded.
Unless there is an abolition of nuclear weapons, a most doubtful scenario, the next fleet ballistic missile submarine will be designed in the coming decade. As the total number of weapons deployed decreases, questions about the number of needed ships will be in the forefront of this design. Part of the equation that makes up the invulnerability of these weapons is the number of platforms at sea at any time and the difficulty inherent in trying to threaten all of those simultaneously to create a convincing first-strike scenario. Ten submarines is generally accepted as the very minimum to deploy an untargetable mass while allowing some maintenance.
Scouting: Watching Without Being Seen
Submarine ability to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance has long been veiled in mystery-as any good intelligence operation should be. But the present emphasis on design of hull number 5 of the Virginia class as a platform dedicated to intelligence gathering and reconnaissance gives some indication of past successes and future expectations. While the exact nature of the modem submarine’s intelligence gathering, scouting, and reconnaissance functions remains closely held, a current statement of the capability by Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet gives some indication of the capability: “We now have the ability to collect information in ways that no one else can … stay on station a long time … (and) integrate what they collect at a level of sophistication that you just can’t do with a machine.
Submarine sensors complement space-based sensors and in some cases can detect activities that space-based or air-based sensors cannot. The synergism between space sensors and the sensors carried on and deployed by submarines grows as their complementary abilities are exploited and respective limitations recognized. While some space-based systems will become more capable in detecting emissions of interest on Earth, detection will continue to depend upon a cooperative target, that is, one big enough, loud enough, in the frequency being watched, and so forth. The presence of a space-based system sensor can be predicted well in advance of its arrival. The submarine on the other hand operates without notice and even when suspected to be in the vicinity is often ignored by those targeted. In addition to finding information on manners and mechanisms that would be concealed if their operators were conscious of the presence of an observer, the submarine can detect and act upon data found in real time. Low power communications, for example, are more likely to be intercepted by small antennae close aboard than by a large antenna hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Some submarines, USS JIMMY CARTER for example, will have a flexible ocean interface that will allow submerged launches of a number of various kinds of payloads. Special Forces unmanned and manned underwater vehicles are part of these. Other capabilities that hold great promise in the globalized world include sensor devices on the ocean bottom, communications links using fiber cable laid on the seabed, and ocean engineering machinery for retrieving and planting equipment.
Submarine Reconnaissance: Forward Node of the Expeditionary Sensor Grid
Submarine intelligence gathering and scouting, normally started long before the battlespace has begun to blossom, are not the same as serving as a node of a sensor network providing near-real-time data. Submarines can bring a synergistic combination of on-board sensors, manned and unmanned deployable vehicles, off-hull land, sea, and air sensors, and special forces that can become the forward elements of the theater’s expeditionary sensor grid. Unlike space-based sensors and long-range airborne assets, submarine sensors have agility and staying power. Submarine sensors form a segment of this sensor network that can be moved wherever needed with little regard to threat or logistics considerations. In the Falklands campaign, for example, a submarine operating close inshore off the Argentine airbase served as the air early warning sensor.
In addition to on-board sensors and analytical personnel, the submarine promises to bring a number of sensors to the preparation of the battlespace by deploying families of unmanned devices. Exploitation of the undersea environment and coupling to space-based assets promise to make any part of the globe as visible as home waters. Among the future prospects are unattended ground sensors to detect radio frequency transmissions, particularly low-level personal communications, acoustic and seismic sensors to indicate movement, and thermal sensors to indicate presence of people or machinery. Increasingly sophisticated small unmanned undersea vehicles for mine detection and oceanographic survey are projected. Unattended sensors on the sea bottom and afloat will become key sensors in observing enemy maritime operations in areas of potential conflicts, important to cue ASW actions and countennining. With lives of hours or days and refurbishment without risk to the delivery platform, these devices can be covertly laid to allow preparation of the battlespace in near real time without alerting the enemy.
Improvements in signal recognition, data stowage, knowledge-based comparison, data compression computer processing, and communications will allow sensors to be deployed in small packages yet be able to describe where they are and much of what they detect without transmitting data for analysis. Such capabilities will open a new realm of tactics. Combining data from both space and submarines in near real time is a technique perfected years ago when the targets were the Soviet surface fleet and the weapon was the anti-surface Tomahawk Attack (Sea) Missile. The same techniques can provide inputs to the expeditionary sensor grid. Since the platform doing the sensing is also capable of launching weapons and supporting Special Forces operations, the reaction time to developments sensed is reduced to a minimum.
Special Forces: Getting In and Out Without Being Seen
No more avid proponent of exploitation under the sea exists than the Special Forces that use the submarine as a delivery system for surreptitious entry ashore. The submarine provides adequate space, sufficient communications for planning and execution, and assured access to the area of employment. This capability will be more important in areas where land bases within aircraft operational range of targets is unavailable or is denied by political considerations. The ability to place Special Forces near targets, without exhausting the physical condition of the forces and without alerting the enemy, is likely to grow in importance. Where operatives provide intelligence from ashore, low probability of intercept (low power spread spectrum) communications directly to the submarine and then to the special forces is realistic and particularly attractive.
With the advent of advanced swimmer delivery vehicles, a small battery-powered submarine, accomplishing these tasks is easier because the submarine can remain funher from shore while putting the special forces close to the beach before having to swim. The limitations of past miniature submarines are addressed by the mother ship-a stealthy source of electrical charging, air, and equipment space.
Beyond the well-recognized special forces operations against land targets, submarines can also bring ocean engineering tech-niques to exploit the ocean bottom. Panicularly intriguing for these diver operations are schemes to exploit enemy sensors or to move enemy mines.
Thwarting Antiaccess Strategies-Penetrating the Defended Littoral
Much of the current promotion of shon wars through rapid attack assumes the United States will control the air and sea before the conflict begins. But access to a defended littoral-like most battles-will be sequential, not simultaneous. The United States and its allies will have to fight their way in, sometimes against heavy odds. Countries intending to defend themselves against attack will create perimeters fonified by submarines, mines, land-based over-the-horizon sensors, antiship cruise missiles, theater ballistic missiles, antiair defenses, tactical aircraft, and command and control systems secure from distant interception. Eventually technologies already identified will allow defense to seaward of 100 miles or more by any moderately adept country. In this environment, the survivability of surface ships in the littoral becomes problematic at best.
Submarines and their associated underwater vehicles offer the necessary mechanisms to overcome an anti-access strategy. The advantages of the stealthy nature of the submarine in this situation cannot be overstated. Development of a capability to detect submarines, let alone classify and attack them, is immensely expensive and difficult. Few countries have mastered it and then only for limited periods of time and after great expense. It does not exist today.
Stealth pennits submarines to act as the key that unlocks the door when opponents adopt antiaccess strategies. With no ability even to detect a submarine, an opponent is helpless to defend itself against the threats that such a vehicle can present. “Pushing back entry points and interdicting forces”23 have no meaning for submarines. The stealthy aspect of the submarine allows it to operate with impunity in areas that are too hazardous for other forces. The strike weapons that the submarine can bring to bear raises the assured cost of opposition limiting the effectiveness of an antiaccess strategy. Further, open literature demonstrates that the presence of U.S. submarines can be inferred in any country that has a littoral, and the threat from submarine launched strike weapons will be limited only by the time to deploy a number of submarines into the threatened area and to reload them after their initial salvos are expended.
Strike from Inside the Def ended Peri.meter and the Real Arsenal Ships
The current Navy vision document, Forward … From the Sea, recognizing that there is no competition on the high seas, empha-sizes strikes against shore targets. The combination of the strate-gies advocating early strikes of great precision and concerns for surface ship operations in defended littorals give weight to provid-ing such strikes from secure vehicles (that is, submarines).
Unlike surface ships, the submarine needs no antiair/antimissile protection and, against likely maritime opponents, few torpedoes. Almost every ammunition stowage, certainly every missile space, can contain a strike weapon. The advantages of nuclear power, enumerated earlier, allow these ships to be deployed, redeployed, or held in readiness, able to transit to any theater quickly. No matter where these ships may be located at the beginning of a crisis or how well defended a littoral may be, any potential enemy will have to consider the weapons that these ships carry will be delivered on their territory and from locations well inside the horizon line of their shores.
The greatest benefits arise when the submarine platform operates for some period of time in a littoral area during crisis buildup and before conflict begins. Conducting clandestine surveillance of the enemy coast and littoral, coupling information from on-board sensors to data from space and air sensors directly with intelligence from databases on board and information supplied from theater headquarters, the submarine and, if embarked, special forces can plan optimum missions well before shooting begins. Should a crisis develop into a conflict, the submarine can approach close to shore ready on 0-Day to deliver the initial salvos to shock enemy command systems, to overwhelm and suppress the enemy air defenses enhancing the effectiveness of air strikes, and to destroy surface sensors and anti-ship weapons enabling entry of surface ships into the defended littoral.
Submarines can enhance the effectiveness of other forces in several ways. Attacking air defenses (for example, suppressing them) makes air strikes more effective because fewer planes need be devoted to force protection. Destruction of the enemy theater cruise and ballistic missile weapons, launchers, arsenals, and planes reduces the sizes of subsequent salvos with which the anti-air/anti-missile forces must contend and reduces the demands on the theater inventory of anti-air/anti-missile weapons.
Missile inventory is one of a theater commander’s major concerns, particularly in the early stages of conflict. Today, attack submarines bring a significant contribution to the land attack capabilities because 80 percent of the magazines of missile-armed surface ships contain anti-air/anti-missile weapons. In any crisis in which a potential enemy can field ballistic or cruise missiles, this ratio is likely to tip toward more anti-air/anti-missile weapons. Magazine spaces in surface ships will be most important in defending the ports of entry and in-theater forces logistics bases. Land-and air-based missile defenses are likely to be limited or absent in the opening days of a campaign and during the flow of air and ground forces to the theater. In such cases, missile and air defense will have to be exercised almost completely by the Navy. The most important mission of the Aegis and its follow systems will be defending the movement of follow-on forces: there will be few missile spaces available for strike in air defense capable ships.
With submarines furnishing much of the land attack missile capacity needed, surface ship design can be optimized for anti-mis-sile defense or other purposes. Furthermore, with submarines clearing the littoral for follow-on forces; suppressing first any enemy warship operations and then air defenses; and attacking land-based sensors, command and control facilities, and missile launchers, the design requirements for surface ships operating in the littoral are greatly eased. Stealth is advantageous, but the expense of design and construction of stealthy vehicles is exponen-tial; cost increases by several orders of magnitude for each incremental gain in target cross-section reduction. For a subma-rine, stealth is provided by the medium, and while reduction in noise levels to improve stealth is expensive, the order of expense for vehicles operating on or above the surface of the ocean is much greater. No surface ship can ever be as stealthy as a submarine no matter the expenditure, but using submarines to crack open a defended littoral, no surface ship needs to be.
Among the advantages that submarine launched strike weapons bring is their short time of flight. Able to attack from relatively close inshore, these weapons can respond to urgent targets-those that may move or disperse-or highly valuable, strongly defended ones. Weapons launched from submarines inside the perimeter of a defended littoral have the shortest distance to travel, can come from a wide azimuth, and so provide little warning to the defender.
The ultimate shore strike vehicle is, of course, the fleet ballistic missile submarine. With the end of the Cold War, 4 of the 18 Trident hulls were declared excess to American’s strategic needs. These redundant hulls, each with about 20 years of ship life left, offer the opportunity to convert them to tactical land attack platforms. The advantages offered by this kind of platform now and even more in the future suggest that these Tridents will be the model for future submarines designed specifically, although not exclusively, for this task. With a crew half the size of Arleigh Burke class destroyers and no requirement for fueling or other logistic support until the magazine is exhausted, the submarine embodies all the attributes desired for the arsenal ship plus invulnerability and sustainability not possible in a surface ship.
Finally, the very existence of the submarines capable of entering any littoral and attacking targets afloat and ashore with powerful weapons should serve as a deterrent to construction of littoral defenses. Like the dominance of the nuclear submarine on the high seas, little can be done to prevent these submarines from accomplishing their mission; discouraging endeavors to fortify the littorals.
Command and Control of Stealthy Forces: Works in Progress
Today’s passion for jointness contains a danger in employing stealth vehicles. Submarines, the prototype stealth vehicle, are best employed independently, not tied tightly to the movements of other forces. Submarines can enhance the effectiveness of joint opera-tions (for example, improving the efficiency of tactical air by suppressing enemy air defenses or by counterrnine operations enabling access by follow on amphibious forces). but even in doing so need not, indeed should not, be maneuvered as units to remain fixed on station or in constant communication. Invariably, attempts to employ submarines by officers not familiar with their attributes are limited by unnecessary requirements placed on operation so that they look like surface ships or communicate like combat air patrol units.
Direct downlink from space-based sensors will inevitably link the sensitive on-scene sensors deployed on and by the submarine with the big picture from overhead. Together, these inputs can confirm or contradict, allow immediate on-scene analysis of data, and provide a basis for immediate action. Rules of engagement for vehicles with these kinds of capabilities will eventually need to incorporate directions to fire on indications at predetermined types of targets and to maneuver without further orders to improve the probability of successful accomplishment of their mission. Development of the tactical concepts for use of these kind of vehicles, whether under the sea or airborne, are still being devel-oped. This development, though, is hindered by the traditional concepts of hierarchical command and control in spite of the doctrinal advocates of decentralized execution.
Space was not the only place where wide area sensors were developed during the Cold War. The threat from the Soviet submarine fleet led the United States to discover and exploit the phenomenon oflow frequency sound propagation in the sea, wiring the North Atlantic and North Pacific for sound. Then came movable arrays for use in areas that the fixed detectors could not reach because of geographic shielding or that were outside of the coverage of the fixed arrays. The combination of space-based and in-the-sea sensors created a new information habitat that permitted near-real-time direction of the fleet to avoid or engage likely opponents both on and under the sea. Maritime patrol aircraft and nuclear powered submarines can move rapidly to any area and remain there for long periods unattended became a potent combina-tion that could over time classify and attack, sanitizing an area to allow surface forces to operate there. The Integrated Undersea Surveillance System was the Navy’s first sensor grid. This command showed the way to develop remotely sensed data into tactical procedures for others to exploit.
The difficulties of optimizing naval fires with tactical air and coordination with the Air Tasking Order have been identified even in leisurely campaigns. In a major campaign, where weight of explosive, inventory, and target mobility become important issues, the difficulty in trying to optimize utility of individual platforms and weapons will have to be addressed. Not all cruise missiles are equal. In a defended littoral, for example, submarine weapons will have a shorter time of flight than those from surface ships or aircraft that launch outside the defensive perimeter. For small salvo sizes, weapons in a submarine torpedo room should be preferred over those in other ships because they can be reloaded. Presently no mechanism or process takes these considerations into account. As the numbers and types of weapons proliferate, and as total missile inventories decline because of resource constraints, these considerations will complicate weapons allocations and strike command and control.
One of the challenges for operating a fleet that includes dispersed and stealthy forces such as submarines and special forces will be development of command and control processes that optimize the use of each component and coordinate individual capabilities to maximize the total effort. Even within a single service, understanding the contributions and limitations of individ-ual arms is sufficiently parochial that coordination of employment is a skill set hard to develop. As yet, the mechanics of developing the broad understanding for application of force among components while maintaining the necessary skills in the specific warfare specialties have not been achieved. The difficulties are not only related to submarines (though especially acute there) but also to other stealthy vehicles, independent operators such as special forces, and network information systems. Procedures to optimize fires from a variety of platforms on a variety of targets and to employ stealthy vehicles in a centralized decision/decentralized execution mode remain to be created.
Mines and Countermining
Thwarting of amphibious attacks by mines at Wonsan in Korea and off Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm demonstrated the effectiveness of mines in the hands of even primitive powers. Proliferation of mines into the hands of many is a well-identified problem for the dominant navy. Mining is not a trivial undertak-ing, regardless of mine availability. Far less complex or costly than other anti-access strategies, unless the field is very thick or defended by other forces, mine utility is limited, and it will eventually be breached. The essence of the problem is time.
The most successful and efficient countennining operation is to sink the minelayers. As Admiral Stan Arthur stated, “First of all, you should never let the other guys lay mines if you can prevent them. “28 Laying mines in international waters is an act of war. While obtaining political pennission to execute such action may be difficult, submarines have a particular value in their ability to linger, observe, and act. By lying inshore, alert to moves of a potential enemy, linked to space-based or air-deployed platforms that are able to conduct wide area surveillance and thereby able to direct the submarine to the appropriate area, and then to act with short time of flight weapons to sink or totally disable a minelayer, the submarine form~ the first line of offense against minelaying.
To make this tactic effective, however, the mindset of the Navy and Department of Defense (DOD) political leadership needs to recognize that laying mines in international waters is an act of war. Attempts to get permission to sink the minelayers during Desert Storm failed at high levels of government. 29 Establishing the conditions necessary for offensive action against minelayers before a hostile environment exists is vital. The rules of engagement to be implemented when minelayers are detected must be widely advertised in order to lay the groundwork for a timely decision that may have to be made in the heat of battle-something upper-level leaderships do particularly poorly. The United States should seize the very first occasion in the future when someone lays mines in international waters as an opportunity to demonstrate that such actions are acts of war and will be responded to immediately as such.
Next to sinking the minelayers, the next most effective countermining tactic is sanitization (that is, the process of finding where the mines have or have not been laid). Not entering mined waters is the best defense against an existing minefield. Combina-tions of space assets, airborne observers, and submarine surveil-lance can observe the laying of mines with some precision so that major fields can be avoided. Finding and avoiding covertly laid mines that are sparsely separated or drift mines is more chalJeng-ing. In the presence of minefields with known characteristics but unknown dimensions, approaching from seaward takes time to locate, disable, or move the defenders’ mines. Submarines can start covertly before D-Day or even in the absence of a conflict or crisis. Among their advantages, submarines are built to withstand great pressures. Also, operating in the sea rather than at water interface (half in, half out), submarines are not as vulnerable to pressure mines as surface ships.
Mine reconnaissance by covert vehicles keeps the enemy in the dark or at least confused as to the location of an intended landing or penetration. Scouting by unmanned vehicles will be vital, and their entry into suspect waters will be an early priority task in any operation against a defended littoral. If the fields can be mapped, attackers can maneuver rather than having to attrite the mines. Using the sea as a maneuver space requires early detection so avoidance paths can be established, gaps can be exploited, and countermining plans can be developed. Finding poorly mined areas may require a multitude of sensors-here small, unmanned underwater vehicles will be at their best keys to preparation of the battlespace. This reconnaissance is best conducted in a clandestine manner so as not to alert the enemy of the proposed penetrations. Unmanned vehicles, covertly launched from submarines, are now being proposed to examine the near shore, surf zone, and beaches. The procedures and processes to permit follow-ships to penetrate enemy minefields have still to be explored when submarines scout waters.
Mines present a number of interesting tactical opportunities when covert resources are used to exploit them. Ideas are in a fledgling state as to how countermining conducted by stealthy activities can contribute to U.S. control of a defended littoral. Moving an enemy mine from where it was planted into an area that the enemy plans to use, for example, complicates not only enemy use of the area but also confounds the command and control system that laid the mine in the first place. Permutations for this sort of mental warfare are large and can be effected using covert and overt methods.
The submarine offers great potential as a minelayer in its own right. To mine into port an enemy’s seagoing assets is a stroke of great worth when the enemy needs harbor egress or littoral access for military or economic reasons. Covert mining requires only a few mines to be effective, and the ability to resow the field after minesweeping operations have begun can demoralize a countermine force. The capability for covert mining by submarines is present today and does not require unique skills or expensive technology.
The Potential Enemy Under the Sea
No submarine force has ever gone to war with a torpedo that worked. This sorry history is particularly embedded in the ethos of the American Submarine Force. Armed today with the best torpedo in the world, the MK 48 ADCAP, the Submarine Force continues the practice of expending real torpedoes on real targets at regular intervals expressly to provide confidence that if this torpedo is to be used in war, it will explode when it is supposed to. Expensive underwater ranges and regular exercise by every submarine guarantee that capability in each unit of the American Submarine Force. Few nations have the resources or are willing to afford the expense involved with this kind of program. That expense marks the difference between owning a submarine and having a Submarine Force.
Similar practices with other weapons are necessary to achieve the assurance that weapons, when employed, will accomplish the tasks necessary. This historic track record must be considered when deciding what sort of threat is represented by a nation possessing submarines. Simple possession of a hull is no more than the first step in acquiring the ability to use submarines and other undersea resources.
In addition to having an adequate platform and useful technol-ogy, the ability to employ submarine platforms relies on the competence of the operators, intelligent command and control processes that have been practiced, and familiarity with the sea, particularly its internal environment and the geography of the area in which they are operating. These are not casual skills gained by schooling or sitting in port. A submarine that does not go to sea regularly and for reasonable periods of time is a monument, not a military asset. This description applies to most of the submarine forces of the world.
The performance of the Argentine Navy’s submarines in the Falkland campaigns indicates the truth of these descriptions. The Argentine Navy was well regarded before the war, and in some other respects, particularly strike aircraft, it performed well against the Royal Navy. But of the submarines that got under way, only one -reached a position where it could take action, and of the many torpedoes fired, none ran true. To find that the fire control system is wired improperly only after going into action is indicative of the obstacles in the way of creating effective undersea forces.
Interactions With Other Navies-Unifying Under the Global Seas
Similar to other parts of the U.S. Navy, submarines have contributed to globalizing functions. A unique application arises in operations under the sea: the prevention of collisions by submerged submarines. Over the past five decades, the Navy has developed careful and elegant procedures to prevent such accidents. Coopera-tion with other navies operating submarines to share these processes has expanded steadily.
In the Cold War battle of the North Atlantic, the Royal Navy’s Submarine Force became a total partner with the U.S. Atlantic Fleet Submarine Force. In the Mediterranean, Italian, Greek, and Spanish submarines managed their operations in close cooperation with the U.S. Sixth Fleet submarine commander. Similarly in Japan, the Imperial Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force subma-rine operations outside their local immediate operation areas were conducted in close association with the Seventh Fleet submarine headquarters in Yokosuka. For almost 20 years, a major fleet exercise in the Pacific annually has brought together ships from the Pacific Rim, including submarines from Japan, Australia, Canada, and Chile, under the operational direction of the Pacific Fleet submarine force. The annual UNIT AS cruise around South America has included submarines of most of the littoral countries for more than 30 years. The resulting interoperability of the submarine forces and recognition of strengths and abilities of each country’s navy is enhanced in these relationships.
Hammers and Mosquitoes-Submarines in Operations Other Than War
The submarine’s roles in counterterrorism and operations other than war are fairly minimal. Scouting and reconnaissance are performed in many circumstances and have been declared very effective. The perceived need has grown as more operations take place in the immediate vicinity of other naval forces. “Now that lots of people know what submarines do, everybody wants one!” declared then Vice ChiefofNaval Operations Admiral Arthur. But as the number of submarines has declined, these less central operations have been suspended, indicating their value is less important than other ongoing missions. In general, submarines, like bombers and armored divisions, have only marginal relevancy to operations other than war, but, like a tuxedo, when you need one, hardly anything else will do.
Control of the sea has been American for so long that it is taken for granted. Few officers on active duty have actual wanime experience and then only against enemies with very limited capabilities. One could wish for this condition to last forever, but history suggests it will not. Someday this control will not be given but will have to be earned or taken. In that fight, warfare under sea surface will play a major role. British historian John Keegan characterizes such a war and the ability of nuclear submarines to so dominate the sea and throttle surface forces as “An Empty Ocean. ” While conventionally powered submarines do not pose the same threat, the concentration of movement into superports offer tempting targets for any nation bent on interdicting a general trade route. Submarines are not restricted to the dominant navy, the defended littorals, or supponing anti-access strategies. They may be most effective by operating as offensive systems deployed off the coast of their opponent, read the United States, or along the sea lines between ports of embarkation and debarkation. Control of the sea in the future will involve dominating the depths before being able to exploit the surface as the broad commons described by Mahan. Submarines will be the primary vehicles in this endeavor, the first requirement upon which all else follows. [Emphasis added by Editor.]