Captain Patton is a retired submarine officer who is a frequent contributor to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.
There is no lack of examples of maritime areas where a littoral nation possessing the necessary assets could implement an Anti Access/Area Denial zone (Al/AD) to protect his ocean flanks from other nations’ naval forces. For example, these include the Barents Sea, one or another of the Mediterranean basins, the Black Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the South China Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Yellow Sea. The physical capabilities of the sensors and weapons capable of being included in the A2/AD portfolio have increased dramatically through the years and include: sophisticated mines at the entry points to the A2/AD zone, modem Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs) fired from land, surface vessels, aircraft or submarines, very effective long range land or sea-based Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs), exotic sensors such as Over-The-Horizon (OTH) radars and even Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBMs).
An additional complicating factor is the probable ability of technologically advanced adversaries to seriously degrade or deny access to satellite-based navigation, communications and intelligence gathering/dissemination functions within or near such A2/AD zones. A bit of good news is that submarines are largely invulnerable to many of these impediments, and are intrinsically capable of penetrating into these zones. However, there are a not insignificant number of preparations that these submarines must have taken if they are to optimize their chances of getting in- and more importantly, using that interior position to degrade the A2/AD zone and facilitate entry by larger and stronger air and surface forces. It also must be taken into consideration that there will likely exist a much needed coalition of the willing, and that both advance preparations and actual execution of these submarine missions will involve different types of submarines from different allied countries.
In enabling access for larger and stronger air and surface forces, submarines will utilize traditional and non-traditional means and methods, both during the pre-hostilities phase and after hostilities have commenced. Also, some actions which seem intuitive will not be actively pursued because evolving technologies and an adversary’s operational options have made them nonproductive. For example, very slow and quiet adversary submarines armed with ASCMs are likely to be holding in some relatively safe locations, perhaps behind acoustic trip-wire sensor barriers and under shore-based SAM coverage, awaiting targeting information and launch orders from shore. These platforms would not be subject to detection in a reasonable period of time by any conceivable Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) search plan let alone be successfully engaged if hunkered down in bastions.
With a few notable exceptions, most countries find it hard to justify maintaining a Submarine Force simply on the basis of defending their home waters. Justification for most includes having a reasonable expectation of successfully, on short notice, being a part of a coalition of the willing and conducting a transit to and operations within distant waters. These distant waters will, in all likelihood, be within an adversary’s littoral spaces and probably involve A2/AD zones.
Interoperability and Commonality
In generating this reasonable expectation that one’s submarines would be able to operate effectively (and safely) within a distant A2/AD zone, there are several discrete issues that must be addressed. For example:
- Material-the hull, propulsion plant and installed sensors and weapons must be of a nature that will not only support the mission, but be of adequate compatibility with others in coalitions of the willing.
- Training-attached personnel must have been taught, and practiced, the operational skills necessary to operate and maintain the systems, sensors and weapons provided, preferably under the same conditions (and ideally in the same geographic location) as expected in the A2/ AD zone.
- Interoperability-units that are expected to play well with other nations’ units within the coalition of the willing should preferably been involved in recent exercises with these units, using the same Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) as would be used in the A2/AD zone.
All of the above issues are simplified if there is a high degree of commonality within the tactical equipments (particularly as regards connectivity) of participants within any proposed coalition of the willing. There has always been a concern on the part of the developers and owners of high-end equipments that if they allow the proliferation of these equipments and technologies to even what are currently friendly entities, that political upheaval or a regime change might put these equipments and technologies in the hands of a potential adversary. Although there are credible considerations in this point of view there are also mitigating historical precedents that reduce this concern. For example, the United States sold top-of-the-line Fl4 Tomcats to Iran under the Shah. After the 1979 theocratic revolution however, not only did the combat readiness of these aircraft readily degrade due to the lack of spare parts, but there was also some comfort in knowing the actual capabilities and limitations of a possible opponent’s equipment.
If there is a piece of equipment or type of equipment that is not needed for local operations but would be needed for expeditionary operations, it is foolhardy to assume that it would be installed only when and if it is needed. At the time it is needed there will not be time to install, check out, and train personnel let alone practice employing the equipment under realistic conditions. In many cases, it makes little operational sense than to do other than include such equipments during initial construction of the hull rather than economize by rationalizing that the capability could or would be backfitted (more expensively) later.
Interoperability is extremely important if a coalition of the willing is to effectively perform together. Again, interoperability exists on many levels, and as with most things involving conditional probabilities where the final probability of success is the product of a number of lesser included probabilities, a whole string of 0.99s can be ruined by just one 0.0 I. Interoperability generally equates to a large degree to commonality- commonality not only in equipment, but also training and TTPs. As far as commonality of equipment is concerned, it is not necessary that all of the equipments are identical as long as the least capable of equipments is a subset of the most capable and all others in between. Microsoft would describe this as a new operating system being backwards compatible.
Commonality in training is one of the easier things to orchestrate-after the non-trivial accomplishment of agreeing (within the actual or proposed coalition of the willing) upon the TTPs which will be the foundation of such training. The implication of this commonality, however, is that although the scenario requiring the rapid deployment of such a coalition to distant waters may be sudden and unexpected, the preparatory steps among prospective members of such a coalition must be well in advance of the implementing scenario. Latecomers to the group can be tacked on, but a lesser relative contribution would be expected of them.
Missions – Definition and Practicing of
Some specific skills that prospective members of a coalition of the wilting should jointly define and practice in support of expected missions would include:
- Injection, support, and extraction of Special Operating Forces (SOF) across a broad range of potential missions, the goal being that any member of the coalition could successfully operate with any other’s SOF personnel.
- Mine detection/localization and avoidance, and minefield mapping in support of follow-on forces, the goal being able to not only get one’s own submarine safely through a minefield, but to compile and relay back to other forces mine localization information, using such as UUVs as necessary.
- Offensive mining to deny an adversary’s naval forces exodus from or return to operating bases and/or to lock ASCM-armed SSGs into their deployed bastions while other actions deny them externally provided targeting information.
All human skills, whether they are individual or team-oriented, consist of three components which have to be conducted or acquired in the proper sequence. These are concepts, procedures and techniques. Concepts have to be taught (or identified, as they have loosely been in the above paragraphs), procedures must be developed (solidly based on good, fully described concepts) and then studied, and techniques must be practiced after the procedures have been learned. If the issue of multinational joint operations within an A2/AD zone is the identified concept, than the associated procedures have not even begun to be defined and promulgated, let alone the R&D for equipments to facilitate these joint operations been started. The practicing of these procedures, through joint multinational exercises, necessarily has to wait for the concepts to be refined and the procedures written and promulgated. The clock is ticking.
Since there would be clearly much for submarines to do (with a sense of urgency) once inside an A2/AD zone, the concept of a coalition of the willing is a valuable and needed one. The list of countries that are potential members of this coalition is long, and these countries have most of the world’s best submarines and submariners- including many platforms with the most modem of Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) systems. The process of developing and practicing TTPs is a non-trivial one- especially considering the commonality and interoperability issues that arise when many different platforms from many different countries are to be successfully integrated in a common effort.
It would be appropriate if preliminary studies and multinational meetings began defining the problems to be solved and the way ahead that would facilitate the timely deployment of such a coalition if required at some time in the future. The very existence and demonstrated (in exercises) effectiveness of such a capability would, in itself, be a deterrent against its ever being needed to employ.
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