CAPT Jim Patton is a retired submarine officer. He commanded PARGO (SSN 650). He currently lives in Connecticut and is a frequent_ contributor to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.
Although I consider myself to have been an SSN sailor, numbers two and four of the seven submarines served on were SSBNs, and the slightly different operational spin I was exposed to there has proven to be personally valuable ever since.
For example, I remember that there were a set of pre-defined weapon system readiness conditions that included, in addition to the weapons system hardware and software lineup as such, navigational accuracy specifications and requirements for specific external connectivity stances. These 4SQ through JSQ conditions were set as appropriate during different phases of the patrol cycle as a function of the degree of readiness required.
With the wide range of missions and tasking now existing for SSNs (plus soon to be SSGNs) and the vastly different types of connectivity required or appropriate for each, it would seem that some consideration be given to devising similar pre-defined states easily understood by submarines, Battle/Joint Force commanders and all others concerned. In a mission/ship-specific OPORD, the time/geographic/tactical triggers for establishing one or another condition would be clearly set down.
Similar to the SSBN case, these communications/connectivity requirements could be broken down into four “SC” (submerged connectivity) conditions, namely:
- Condition 4SC
- Condition 3SC
- Condition 2SC
- Condition 1SC
Although none of these conditions would normally refer to the alongside, in home port situation, given other established routine connectivities and reduced readiness status, there is no reason one couldn’t be imposed if a crisis existed (or when in a foreign port).
Condition 4SC would generally refer to all but the very last part of a transit phase, would impose no restrictions on depth or speed and could consist of something like:
- Passively (receive only) check the VLF/SA TCOM submarine broadcast for traffic at least every (8/12/24 as directed) hours. Conduct active (transmit} communications only as directed or as tactical situation or other documentation demands (i.e. MEDIV AC request et. al.).
- No state of land-attack weapons readiness would be directed.
- Commanders accept that in return for potentially high SOA, submarine is entirely incommunicado for up to as long a period as his assigned schedule period (i.e. 8/12/24 hours).
Condition 3SC could be set for those portions of a transit where some improved level of alertness is appropriate. For example, if during the last 1000 miles of a transit phase when embarked land attack missiles are within range of potential targets, condition 3SC would impose minimal restrictions on depth or speed while allowing the Regional Commander to target those missiles in less than an hour. To still reach station expeditiously but have its weapons so targetable, the submarine would:
- Operate within a speed/depth envelope that would allow continuous passive receipt of ELF bel/ringer signal on streamed buoyant cable antenna.
- If such a bellringer is received, proceed to periscope depth, or stream a buoy with MOR/HOR passive/active connectivity capability or launch an expendable two-way MDR/HDR buoy to establish connectivity within 30 minutes.
- In the absence of such a bellringer, passively (receive only) check the VLF/SATCOM submarine broadcast for traffic at least every (8/12/24) hours. Conduct active (transmit) communications only as directed or as tactical situation or other documentation demands (i.e.MEDIV AC request et.al.). Commanders accept that in return for a slightly lower SOA, submarine is available for tasking within 30 minutes
- Land attack weapons readiness would be such as to be capable of receiving aim and waypoint data upon commencement of passive connectivity (<30 minutes).
- Commanders accept that in return for being able to literally call it up, submarine SOA can be somewhat slowed to ensure ELF reception, and that excessive employment of this bellringer option will dramatically impact the submarine’s transit.
Condition 2SC could be set for those portions of a mission where continuous MDR/HDR passive (and immediate readiness for active) connectivity is essential. When 2SC is set, the submarine is immediately taskable, and would:
- From within the equipment’s operational envelope (up to15 kts and down to 400 feet desirable characteristics) stream a deploy-able floating wire or buoy capable of continuous two-way MDR/HDR operations and establish continuous passive connectivity.
- If a system such as the above is not available, than employ a mast-mounted HDR antenna, accepting the limitations of periscope depth and relatively slow speeds (<8 knots).
- Be prepared to immediately conduct active connectivity evolutions as directed or as appropriate.
- Land attack weapons would be in their maximum sustainable readiness condition, with aim and way point data entered if available.
- Commanders accept that in return for much better connectivity, submarine mobility and covertness can be somewhat affected -particularly those with none other than a mast-mounted MDR/HDR capability.
Condition I SC could be set for those portions of a mission where continuous MDR/HDR passive/active connectivity is essential, and direction to launch land attack weapons is imminent. It is a Battle Stations equivalent as regards total ship readiness, detracts from the submarine’s covert stance to a degree, and is not intended to be sustainable for more than several hours at a time. When I SC is set, the submarine is immediately taskable, and would:
- Establish continuous MDR/HDR passive/active connectivity from periscope depth, contributing to the Common Operational Picture (COP) as appropriate in real time.
- Land attack weapons would be in their maximum readiness condition, with aim and way point data entered if available.
- Commanders accept that in return for the highest possible level of connectivity, loss of submarine mobility and discretionary covertness is also at its greatest. Also, prolonged and/or excessive implementation of this condition could actually result in decreased personnel/weapon readiness due to fatigue and weapon system wear and tear.
The above SC conditions are entirely hypothetical and are meant only as an example. The important issue is that it be understood by all Joint Forces that (unlike most other forces) there are situationally specific optimum submarine connectivity stances, and that directing increased levels generally does adversely impact other desired platform characteristics such as mobility and covertness of operation. Exceptional judgement by operational commanders is appropriate if the goal is to realize a net aggregate benefit from conflicting cause and effect syndrome.