Capt. Jim Patton is a retired submarine officer who commanded PARGO and in retirement is The President of Submarine Tactics and Technology, Inc. of North Stoning/on, CT. He is a frequent contributor lo THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.
After a hiatus of a decade or so, Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) is having a resurgence, especially in the Pacific, and threatens to wrest the most important submarine mission (except, as always, for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance -ISR) title back away from Land Attack. Fortunately, the US Submarine Force remains as adaptable and flexible as ever, and has become used to switching most important missions several times during the lifetime of a given boat. This switch will involve more, however, than just asking the graybeards how they did it during the Cold War then emulating their same tactics, techniques and procedures. The playing field has changed, the modus operendi of the probable adversary is different and perhaps the greatest mutation is that the tactical time constant of the associated Orient, Observe, Decide, Act (OODA) loop is shorter.
Rather than being faced with the legacy prospect of deep water one-on-one engagements in a target-rich environment of aggressive, relatively noisy targets (and one where heroic actions would be noted after patrol report submission upon returning to port), the current perceived scenario is different; it is one acted out in near real time by a multitude of netted BLUE assets against a single (or few) slow and quiet RED platforms that are hunkered down in shallow water waiting for High Value Assets to come to them. These opposing submarines are likely to possess some type of Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP), enabling them to avoid snorkeling for weeks if they remain at very slow speeds, and other Anti-Access/ Area Denial (AA/ AD) features such as sea mines, and superior air defense systems may be in place to provide them cover and protection. Although there were and are many variants of both these then and now ASW encounters, some of the key changes are summarized in Figure (1) for generalized norms in order to get at some systemic operational changes:
|ASW THEN||ASW NOW|
|OTHER AA/AD FACTORS||Few||Many|
|SUPPORTING BLUE ASSETS||Many||Few|
|COORDINATION COMMS LOAD||Minor||Moderate|
Now, even though the differences are non-trivial, and” … this is not your Father’s ASW”, there are some commonalities that should be acknowledged in order that efforts not be diluted from coping with the more significant changes.
Proceeding category by category, although the Cold War was ostensibly conducted in deep ocean areas, there was no small degree of operations in waters shallower than the ship was long. There is no shortage of vintage 60s-80s submariners who spent months at a time at periscope depth (P/D) with land visible on one bearing or another. In fact, operating in a hostile Persian Gulf is actually a far less traumatic affair for submariners than for most surface warfare officers.
In conducting many missions, there was no lack of targets, but there were others for which there were very large ocean areas within which but one contact of interest existed, and the search, detection and classification phases could be very time consuming. Fortunately, there was generally cueing assistance from air or shore-based assets that made a difficult search task easier, but it was not unusual to consume a week massaging SOS US information or a few days of VP data before initial contact was achieved.
Typically, foreign nuclear powered submarines trying to get somewhere coupled enough acoustic energy to the environment to create credible search and detection expectations in relatively large ocean expanses. However, purposely operated very quietly at slow speeds in established bastions close to home shores, newer nuclear submarines presented a search and detection problem not unlike that of a slow and quiet AIP diesel-electric submarine.
A significant ASW threat to BLUE capital ships were fast, mobile and aggressive submarines offensively maneuvering with technique-associated skills to position themselves for attack with torpedoes or short-range Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs). A more typical scenario in today’s environment is a slow and defensively-oriented platform standing well off and launching, in a procedural vice technique-oriented method, long-range and low-observable ASCMs down bearings as directed by a third party targeteer. The defensive stand-off posture and as directed, procedural attack with wooden rounds greatly simplifies the training and execution of this attack, and allows the employment of top-notch weapons and weapon platforms with relatively inexperienced personnel and without a Submarine Force culture that has matured through several generations.
Although any submarine vs. submarine engagement has an inherent level of associated stress upon personnel, Cold War engagements tended to be very benign as regards the time domain, in that consummation of the search, detection and tracking phases could take many days without raising the pucker factor of seniors ashore. In today’s environment, local non-submariner commanders, seeing the uncertainty of the ASW picture as a significant impediment to overall operational tempo, are likely to have a greater sense of urgency (often reflecting itself through outgoing inquiries about status), with the threshold of pain moving toward a few hours versus many days. This sense of urgency, of course, has little effect on the sonar equation, but will tend to distract the attention of the BLUE submarine CO away from the sonar shack and into the radio shack.
It was stated earlier that the BLUE Cold War submarine had significant cueing assets assisting him that were not impacted by RED AA/ AD assets. This was true in open ocean, but became less and less the case as the BLUE submarine moved closer to an opponent’s home waters. In today’s environment it is expected that cooperative assistance will be available in the littoral until tensions escalate to high-DEFCON conditions, at which time in-place and available RED AA/ AD assets could make continued support by air or surface navy assets an unacceptable risk.
|ASW THEN||LAND ATTACK NOW|
|OTHER AA/AD FACTORS||Few||Many|
|SUPPORTING BLUE ASSETS||Many||Many|
|COORDINATION COMMS LOAD||Minor||Major|
The most striking differences between Figure (1) and Figure (2) is that the Land Attack mission involves more targets of varied type, more other BLUE assets to coordinate with, and a shorter required CODA loop-all of which magnify the connectivity needs by perhaps an additional order of magnitude above that which current littoral ASW requires.
The communication load (time-bandwidth product) for Cold War coordinated ASW operations was extremely small. With advances in technology and communication pipes of exponentially increasing diameter, the perceived current need is significantly larger. Much of what older submariners wished they had had to improve ASW-associated connectivity then is now available, but the expectations bar has tended to rise faster than the vaulting pole of available technology. In actuality, however, and with due diligence given to the delta between needs and wants, present and easily achievable near-term (i.e. small expendable fiber-optic UHF/IRIDIUM buoys) means could support (for all present and planned hulls) the order of magnitude connectivity increase presently required for ASW in the littorals. In fact, when Land Attack-the other currently most important mission is considered-its connectivity requirements involve about a two order of magnitude improvement in time-bandwidth products and persistence when compared to legacy Cold War needs. Clearly, although neither set of requirements are presently achieved, meeting those of the current ASW problem is a lesser included step towards meeting the higher demands of Land Attack-therefore part of the larger solution and not in competition with it.