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Surface Ship ASW: Modern Technology—Outdated Procedures

By Lieutenant David R. Klain, U.S. Navy

At a time when crew levels are being reduced and the Smart Ship program's key goal is to find ways to operate more effectively with fewer sailors, the time has come to take advantage of technology at sea today. All P-3 and S-3 aircraft are equipped with Link 11. Cruisers and destroyers deploy with LAMPS IIIs and use the SRQ4 Hawklink to exchange data with them. Both fixed-wing and helicopters can down-link their buoy positions and bearing lines to a surface ship. The SQQ-89 sonar suite interfaces directly with the ship's command-and-decision computer system; bearing lines are displayed on consoles and updated in real time—and the same goes for sonobuoys. In addition, the Mark 116 ASW Fire Control System was designed to interface directly with both the command-and-decision computer and the sonar suite, displaying and evaluating data from both systems.

Given these advances, why are surface ship crews still plotting sonobouy fields on paper?

Training personnel respond with: "What will you do if your computers or consoles go down?" or "You won't always have Link 11." Such utterances, however, seem to be limited to the ASW field. Antiair warfare (AAW) personnel would cringe at the thought of doing their job without Link 11 and probably respond (quite honestly) by saying: "If the computers go down, we can no longer conduct AAW—that's why the system has so much redundancy built in." They recognize the benefits of using a system's capability to its full potential. The displays and data links ensure that everyone has the same—almost real time—tactical picture. When working with allied or coalition forces that do not have Link 11, the link-capable ships still maintain their common link picture and the players without links interface using a designated coordination ship.

Why did the AAW community embrace the benefits of technology while the ASW community virtually ignored them? I suggest there are three reasons.

The rapid-reaction times the cruise missile threat presented demanded a shift to an automated system that could present virtually a real-time picture. In fact, as reaction times have continued to decrease, the Navy has spent enormous sums to develop automated systems capable of dealing with the threat (Aegis and Link 16 come immediately to mind). Antisubmarine warfare has never demanded these short reaction times and thus there has been no sense of urgency to automate or computerize the process. What little automation has been done generally has been a corollary capability to what was primarily an AAW system—thus the Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) and the command-and-decision and combat direction systems of today have an ASW-automation capability.

Senior personnel, officer and enlisted, who run the ASW teams and train the ships learned how to do ASW the old way. "If it was good enough then, it must be good enough today," is all too often the thought process. In many cases, they are not familiar with the capabilities of the new equipment in use today. One of the root causes of this is the pipeline training our officers receive. The great emphasis is on AAW—where the threat is evolving so quickly that the technology is changing rapidly—and strike warfare. Antisubmarine warfare training in both procedures and tactics is almost identical to the training received by officers 10 or 15 years ago.

The fleet has made no concerted effort to demand a change. Individual ships with commanding officers who recognize the capabilities of their ships have successfully told the afloat training groups (ATGs) that "We're going to use our systems to the full extent." But this is more the exception than the rule. Why? In many cases "doing it ATG's way" is the path of least resistance. In other cases the ship's commanding officer either doesn't know his ship has the capability because the pipeline training never addressed it; or he doesn't know his crew is being trained to do the same kind of ASW he did as an ensign, because his people do not tell him what's happening.

The Navy is stuck in a stagnation loop. Surface Warfare Officer School teaches ASW to the tune of enabling and training objectives laid down by the Chief of Naval Education and Training (CNET). In turn, CNET makes great efforts to ensure those objectives match what the Afloat Training Organization is holding the fleet to. As a result, officers learn to plot everything on the DRT (including time spent in trainers) and spend little or no time exploiting the automated capabilities of the ships on which they are slated to serve.

When the officers report to their ships, they find ASW teams in CICs (trained by the ATG) conducting operations the same way they saw it done back in SWOS. "It looks familiar so it must be right," is often the attitude. So the ships complete their training cycles and deploy. If they are lucky enough to get some dedicated ASW time, the CICs will look remarkably similar to that on the Knox -class frigate back in 1977.

The cycle is stagnant because at no point are the officers trained on what their systems can do for them. This is in sharp contrast to the advanced training on Tomahawk and Aegis the Navy provides officers going to those platforms with these systems. As a result, there has been no fleet-wide outcry to force the training communities (both ashore and afloat) to update training objectives and standards to match the capabilities of our combatants. Since there is no negative feedback from the fleet, the training community assumes it is doing the job correctly, the cycle repeats itself—and the fleet stagnates.

Are the capabilities mentioned above beyond the reach of all but our newest combatants? Hardly—every NTDS-equipped surface combatant can do what I described. The older ships can display only a limited number of tracks, buoys, and bearing lines, but a real-time ASW picture certainly can be displayed.

One argument against moving too rapidly has some validity. Today, in some cases, the consoles cannot perform all the DDRT functions. While the Mark 116 ASW Fire Control System can perform automated target motion analysis (TMA), it cannot do it as well as a team with paper plots. Until better systems are provided to the fleet, TMA will remain labor-intensive.

The DDRT, in addition, can plot geographic data. Our combat-direction systems are getting more capable at doing this as we have progressed from a landmass drawn by a few lines in NTDS to a landmass drawn with many lines to a land outline on large-screen displays. Even so, they still cannot do enough. When working in the littoral, our consoles must be able to display geographically accurate land contours and depth curves for ASW. Whether this is a chart projection on the console overlaid by symbology or a computer-generated chart, the fleet should demand this capability.

Some also argue that the DDRT provides a true picture while a console provides a relative picture. Yet AAW personnel have learned to carry out their tasks while looking at a relative picture and still consider "true" issues such as geographically fixed airways and reference points. It requires only a shift in mindset and training. Just as an experienced commanding officer can look at a surface contact on a console and see both its relative and true motion in his mind's eye, an ASW evaluator can do the same with a series of passive cross-fixes or active sonar returns from a submarine.

If we do not break the cycle now, as we are building the Navy for the 21st century—our successors will be facing the same problem when Tiger Woods is drawing Social Security.

Lieutenant Klain , a surface warfare officer, is attending the Department Head Course at the Surface Warfare Officers School, Newport, Rhode Island. He is slated to become the Weapons Officer on the USS The Sullivans (DDG-68). He has served on the USS Thach (FFG-43) and the USS Vella Gulf (CG-72).

 

 
 

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