Silence in Our Wake

By Rear Admiral E.P. Giambastiani, Jr., U.S. Navy

This change in submarine command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C 4 I) philosophy, culture, doctrine, and systems will not come easily or without controversy. In the past, the submarine commanding officer may have locked radio equipment fuses in a safe to prevent inadvertent transmissions of low-data-rate systems. In the future, that officer will be equipped with standard automated systems capable of operating at data rates high enough to transmit full-motion video. That is a dramatic change. In addition, we must work within the laws of physics and the bounds of smaller budgets to deliver links, automation, high data rates, and information management systems to a platform that has space limitations and an underwater operational domain.

This is one of the greatest challenges facing the submarine force over the next decade, but a comprehensive plan is emerging to meet it.

Where We Are

The submarine's stealth enables it to operate effectively for sustained periods in areas where the risk is high for less stealthy platforms or where a non-provocative presence is required. It can provide near-real-time information to the operational commander for intelligence preparation of the battlespace and can transition quickly to a strike or antisubmarine warfare role to support follow-on forces. Seamless communications with each element in a task force is essential to the success of these operations.

Submarine connectivity architecture is developing along the same lines as that of the rest of the Navy, to ensure commonality with other joint forces. Deploying with the latest systems used by carrier battle groups, virtually all of our submarines today share the same tactical picture—the common operational picture created by the Joint Maritime Command and Information System (JMCIS)—as the battle group and amphibious ready group commanders. Submarines currently are equipped with UNIXbased TAC-3 and TAC-4 computers, which receive contact information from the battle group and display this information in a user-friendly windows-based operator interface. As the Navy's tactical information becomes interoperable throughout the joint community, the submarine will be connected through JMCIS.

Submarines also are maintaining pace with the rest of the battle group in the use of tactical data links. Submarines today use the familiar LINK 11 interface, but many are routinely deploying with LINK 16 capability, which greatly increases the quality of information passed. By remaining connected to the rest of the battle group or amphibious ready group through LINK 16, the submarine force will be connected to joint forces as the Navy's LINK 16 migrates toward the joint tactical data link (TADIL-J). Combined with JMCIS, these data links make the submarine force a full partner with the rest of the battle group and joint force in sharing tactical information, much of which the submarine will be providing in its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance role.

Inclusion in wide-area networks is essential to the submarine's complete integration within battle groups and amphibious ready groups. The submarine must be capable of participating in whichever mode of communication the group commander selects. One relatively new system uses extremely high frequency (EHF) from the MILSTAR satellite constellation. Low-data-rate EHF satellite systems, at sea today on many attack and ballistic-missile submarines, provide a more covert means of communicating than any other satellite system and give the submarine additional frequency-spectrum coverage in its connectivity scheme.

Also at sea today on board the Annapolis (SSN-760) is a prototype automated internal signal-routing system called the Baseband Switch (BBS). Based on commercial off-the-shelf technology, it automates submarine radio room assets, provides remote control switching operation, allows preset configurations for quick reaction times, and reduces equipment rack space in the radio room. This is the first step in full automation of the submarine radio room.

Change and innovation do not come without obstacles, and one of the biggest challenges we are working on is communicating with submarines when they are at speeds and depths that maximize their acoustic superiority but are not conducive to two-way transfer of data at tactically significant rates.

Another challenge concerns submarine antennas. A key component of data transfer rate is determined by antenna aperture size, which is limited by the submarine-unique communications antennas at sea today. The greatest impact currently is in support of Tomahawk mission planning, as submarines must remain at periscope depth for long periods of time while copying lengthy, high-density streams of information needed to retarget the missile.

We have a two-pronged strategy in the works to address this problem. First, in concert with the surface warfare community, the submarine force has developed an improved computer-based system for the mission planning and execution of Tomahawk strikes. The Advanced Tomahawk Weapons Control System replaces obsolete equipment and provides an improved human-computer interface that will simplify the process of Tomahawk retargeting. The system is at sea today on the Charlotte (SSN-766) and Alexandria (SSN-757). The Charlotte conducted the first operational test launch with the system in March 1997, launching two Block III Tomahawk missiles off the California coast.

Second, to make the Tomahawk more responsive, the capability of retargeting using only global positioning system coordinates is under development. When this improvement is brought to the fleet, the lengthy retargeting message no longer will be required for many strike missions. In addition, higher-data-rate initiatives will allow for more rapid receipt of retargeting information.

Submarine C 4 I is on track, and to ensure it stays that way, the community has created the Submarine Connectivity Review Team, under the direction of retired Admiral Hank Chiles. This team will conduct independent assessments of our connectivity efforts—including tactical communications, man-machine interface and training, and information fusion and management—to ensure that programs of record are adequate to meet the future needs of the submarine force and the fleet. The team also will evaluate submarine force plans and help identify those areas that are not aligned with the overall direction of a fully integrated submarine force of the future.

Where We're Going

Communicating via radio frequencies or acoustically at much higher data rates is one of the most pressing needs for the future. Part of the solution lies in the Submarine High Data Rate (HDR) system, which is nearing completion and will be tested within the next year. The HDR system will consist of a new non-penetrating mast/antenna group and receiver capable of operating in both the super high frequency (SHF) and EHF spectra. The multiband antenna will allow the submarine, while at periscope depth, to transmit and receive voice, data, video, and imagery and will be capable of attaining data rates up to 1.544 megabits per second (T1 capacity full-motion video). This improved submarine communications suite, which will provide a 200-fold increase in the submarine data transmission rate, will enable the submarine to receive lengthy data messages quicker and will enable the conduct of real-time video transmission from the submarine to the joint task force commander—or any other commander that some future mission may require.

We also are investigating other ways to increase data rate capability, such as changing the size and shape of the submarine sail, which would allow for installation of antennas with much wider apertures. This larger sail also would expand the submarine's payload and give greater flexibility for the size and types of weapons carried.

In addition to higher data rate capabilities, submarine communications systems are heading toward increased automation, leading ultimately to an unmanned radio equipment space. Besides automated message preparation and signal routing, the submarine radio room of the future will include remote control of communications equipment and an automated antenna distribution system. This capability should be in the fleet before 2000.

In July, the Navy had the opportunity to take the future to sea during the Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration 1997 (JWID97). This annual exercise focuses on the C 4 I aspects of war fighting and brings government and private industry together to demonstrate new and emerging technologies that could shape the battlefield of the future. A U.S. and allied coalition operation led by Commander, Carrier Group Six, acting as Commander, Coalition Task Force (CCTF), JWID97 conducted combined operations at the joint component commander level. Navy participants included the John C. Stennis (CVN-74), San Jacinto (CG-56), Nassau (LHA-4), Atlanta (SSN-712), Scranton (SSN-756), and Coronado (AGF-11), in addition to Marine, Army, Air Force, and allied units.

For the exercise, the Atlanta operated under the tactical command of the CCTF. Special installations provided for seamless participation on the common operating picture with full connectivity on all three networks used in JWID97. This connectivity allowed key data and information exchange, including real-time imagery and enhanced data delivery, collaborative planning, and integrated sensor-to-sensor and sensor-to-shooter technologies. The end result was the previously unavailable ability for commanders to plan and conduct military operations taking full advantage of the submarine's unique warfighting capabilities.

What Does This Mean?

JWID97 was a peek into the future, when we will have moved beyond the question of how to integrate submarines into the battle group and into full realization of the submarine's potential. The propellant that will get us there is seamless C4I interoperability with sufficient bandwidth to eliminate the operational pause when there is a problem communicating with a submarine. The push to modernize and enhance mission performance through innovation and new technologies creates the potential for new mission areas that will expand the overall capability of the joint force. Of course, this cannot be done at the expense of undersea warfare or by relinquishing the margin of stealth. The submarine's primary advantage is stealth, and the operational benefit of any new technology or mission must be weighed against any loss of covertness. Radio silence is a measure of stealth, but it is not a binary relationship—there are varying degrees that can be chosen, based on mission needs. Submarines are silent today when silence is required, and they are active on the net and communicating when it is operationally necessary.

The silent movie and the Silent Service arrived on the scene at about the same time, nearly 100 years ago. The introduction of sound ended the silent movie era abruptly, and the multimedia phenomenon that followed changed the entertainment industry completely. A similar change occurred in the submarine force with the end of the Cold War. Now, submarine connectivity and operational requirements, which demand the timely transfer of submarine-unique information, have caused us to leave communications silence in our wake as well.

Rear Admiral Giambastiani is Director, Submarine Warfare Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

 

 
 

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