The good news is that with the awarding of a major Comms at Speed and Depth program, there seems to be imminent progress towards significantly improving connectivity to U.S. submarines throughout more of their speed-depth envelope. The bad news is that similar programs are underway in many other nations, and it is rare that technological developments in the defense industry don’t, fairly quickly, proliferate to potentially hostile entities. Slowing or withholding from use such developments is not a viable option. For example, during WWII, both Allied forces and the Germans independently developed the concept of anti-radar chaff (or window, as it was called by the British), but neither deployed it for an extended period of time for fear that the opponent would copy it and adversely impact aircraft raid detection and tracking. As a result, many more aircraft and crews were lost than would have, with the balance being decidedly against the Allies because of the far greater number of sorties being flown by them at the time.
Strangely enough, another interesting analogue exists in the Cold War competition between U.S. and Soviet submarines in the area of quieting. Figure ( 1) is a very simplified graphic based on one in a 1987 book by Tom Stefania-Strategic Antisubmarine Warfare and Naval Strategy-that shows what the author alleges is a historical race between superpowers as regards technological advances in support of submarine quieting. To put things in perspective, the difference between the loudest and quietest groups indicated is about 80 dB – a factor of l 00 million, and the approximately 20 dB (factor of 100) sudden drop in Soviet submarines between the Alfa and the Victor III classes was due to the proliferation of technologies associated with propeller design and fabrication. This breakout capability of Soviet submarines would have disastrously affected the Cold War strategic balance if the U.S. had opted to rest on the significant acoustic laurels of the SSN 637 Sturgeon class.
There is no less sense of urgency now to not only achieve a significant degree of U.S. submarine collectively Advantage, but to also assure a continuing edge as other entities improve their capabilities. This is particularly true when it come to potential adversaries who are less than peer competitors, since, as Figure (2) implies, submarines at the low end of the mobility and endurance spectrum, especially those who are armed with good Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs) but have none of the stealth, mobility, endurance, sensors and processing power to do their own detection and targeting of High Value Units, benefit far more from improved connectivity than those such as U.S. assets at the high end do .
The currently planned Comms at Speed and Depth connectivity initiatives will increase a submarine’s ability to quickly initiate non-persistent global connectivity from operationally significant speeds and depths and will also enable better coordination with nearby air and surface units. However, there are several goals needed to be pursued beyond these initial capabilities. They include the ability to quickly acquire above-surface visual, RF and Automated Information System (AIS) situational awareness from operationally significant speeds and depths and to acquire means through which persistent passive and (as required) active connectivity at speed and depth at data rates commensurate with the situational mission needs. In addition to these continuing improvements, significant intellectual capital needs to be invested into how to deny the employment of an opponent’s better means and methods of submarine connectivity.
The U.S. currently has superior connectivity with its deployed submarines, and this connectivity will get even better as recently approved developments are introduced to the fleet. However, as our experience in the area of submarine quieting has demonstrated, those faint noises heard in our baffles are potential adversaries, with far more to gain from an operational sense, improving their connectivity. As with the quieting analogue, our glide slope of continued improvement must be great enough to absorb and contain any sudden technological breakolil by a potential adversary.