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Rear Admiral William J. (Jerry) Holland is an adviser and consultant on command, co11trol, commu11icatio11s, 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 Naval Submarine School. He edited The United States Navy (Washington, DC: Naval Historical Foundation, 2000).

In his otherwise excellent overview of the current state of ASW in the United States Navy and his prescriptions for its improvement (see Anti-Submarine War(are in the 21st Century. in the October 2004 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW), Lieutenant Commander Tim Ketter offers a number of questionable propositions. To sailors who have served in conventionally powered submarines, these propositions seem to stem from a lack of experience and understanding of the limitations of such propulsion and from an over-zealous advocacy of the importance of ASW.

“When operating on batteries or in congested shipping lanes they are extremely difficult to detect.” True, but all submarines are hard to detect in shipping lanes and are found in the open ocean only incidentally unless cued. With mobility limited by the capacity of the battery, conventionally powered submarine are much more difficult to maneuver and remain stealthy in crowded waterways. In turn, the need to conserve the stowed energy limits the ability to move away from datum, a fatal defect when facing helicopter ASW forces.

“Battery improvements over time have resulted in shorter recharge times, greater efficiencies in maintaining a charge, and miniaturization has allowed a greater number to be installed.” This is probably true for advanced batteries available in the West but not universally applicable. High quality big batteries are not readily available in the Third World or the open market. Batteries have a finite lifetime and require regular and careful maintenance to maintain their capacity. How many submarine batteries in the world get this maintenance and care is problematical.

“These improvements have significantly reduced a diesel submarine’s exposure time during battery recharge operations, historically the time when they are most vulnerable.” Probably true where the improvements have been made in batteries but significantly implies a greater change to the condition than seems warranted.

But the breath taker for old battery boat sailors is Lieutenant Ketter’s statement that, “Air Independent Propulsion systems currently under development by many countries threaten to make the diesel submarine nearly equal with nuclear submarines regarding submerged endurance.”

AIP does not provide more than minimum headway, two or maybe three knots. It handles the hotel load and not a very big one at that (303kw).

The overriding and pervasive demands of husbanding the battery capacity are lost in LCDR Ketter’s description of the modem conventionally powered battery boat. The nature of and concern for this single factor drives every decision on such a submarine. The limits that battery capacity put on the ship’s operations, not just mobility but timing of snorkel operations, cannot be overstated. While AIP adds stealth, it does not add mobility. With modem sensors, once a datum is established on a diesel powered submarine, his position is essentially fixed for hours.

As Lieutenant Commander Ketter correctly observes, only submarines can challenge American dominance on the sea. The importance of ASW to the United States outweighs all other facets of our maritime position but receives decidedly less attention than many other demands on the Navy’s resources. Those who argue for a greater attention to ASW in resources, training and operational training run the danger of coming to believe our own propaganda. In doing so, there is a danger of being intimidated by a threat of our making, e.g. caught in the muzzle of Magruder Guns.

There is a difference between intelligence, estimates and advocacy.

Advocates must describe the situation in the most abject terms. Lawyers are advocates and so are admirals. When the advocacy overwhelms the intelligence, strategic mistakes and tactical failure can follow.

Any submarine can be dangerous but so can any bayonet. Bringing the instrument to bear remains the issue. We must not fool ourselves as to the limits of our potential adversaries or credit them with abilities that are not real.


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