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Reprinted with permission from the March 9’h issue of Jane’s Defence Weekly.

The US Navy is reviewing how it is organized and equipped to conduct combat operations under the sea, spurred by the growing realization that its ability to fend off attacks by enemy submarines requires enhancement.

The moves include a new concept of operations for conducting anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and the development of technologies to enable it. The concept “is calling for a different approach to the way we even think about conducting ASW operations”, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vernon Clark told JDW.

The new vision includes “distributed sensor systems that can be rapidly fielded by of I board systems” and tied together with a communications network “that will allow you to bring all of your forces to bear in the entire detect-to-engage scenario,” Admiral Clark said. “It is going to change what the enemy is going to have to deal with. We are going to close on the enemy with speed in multiple ways.”

The concept calls for using widely dispersed sensors networked together with not only US submarines but also surface vessels and aircraft, with the latter two playing an increasingly important ASW role. The idea is to reduce the navy’s reliance on force-on-force engagements-typically conducted by attack submarines-and go to a new concept similar to that used on the networked battlefield, which takes advantage of all available forces to rapidly attack enemies when they are detected.

Key question -One key question in the development of new ASW technology is how $600 million set aside over five years for an undersea superiority system would be spent. Admiral Clark said: “It is a number of things … those kinds of capabilities that are in the new concept with distributed systems and advancing our speed timeline in the detect-to-engage sequence.” Such systems include immobile equipment like the Advanced Deployable System (ADS) and its follow-on Deployable Autonomous Distributed System which are intended to provide long-term surveillance of an area but are not mobile. Others, such as technologies being developed under the Mobile Undersea Distributed Systems programme, are intended for faster deployment and can be re-used. Sources said a number of armed and sensor-carrying unmanned vehicles are also being explored as part of this vision. An ASW Master Plan that will outline how the Navy intends to field these and other enabling systems is being drafted.

Other Navy officials and some members of Congress, however, are pushing for funds to be used to design a possible follow-on to the Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarine. John Young, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, told JDW earlier this year: “I can’t hide from the fact that the Virginia is a $2.5 billion submarine … I think it is very worthwhile to study whether there is an option, beyond VIRGINIA or parallel with VIRGINIA, so we might be able build a more affordable submarine.” Two other senior navy officials said they expected the service to conduct a study in Fiscal Year 2006 looking at submarine roles and missions, after which design work on “a smaller, more focused sub” would begin. That new effort would use technologies from a four-year, $97 million Navy-Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency programme called Tango-Bravo, which is developing five key technologies useful for reducing the size and cost of future submarines.

While several officials said such a new design could ultimately lead to the end of the Virginia-class, most said it would likely augment those boats. “My feeling is that it will augment the VIRGINIA but I don’t know that yet,” Allison Stiller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Ships, told JDW. Suggestions that the Navy plans to replace the Virginia-class “is too far to go right now … I’m not looking at an alternate platform,” Admiral Clark noted.

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