USW: We Can't Wish It Away

By Captain George Galdorisi, U.S. Navy

With the 500-pound Soviet gorilla gone from the scene, the Navy faces a worldwide submarine threat that presents, in many ways, a more complex USW problem. More than 40 countries possess hundreds of submarines, many of which are modern, quiet diesels, such as the Russian Kilo and the German Type 209. Several of these countries, such as North Korea and Iran, have been hostile to the United States in the past and could be again. In addition, submarine building and export continues to flourish among such arms producers as Germany, France, and China. Given this proliferation of submarines, many of which are in potentially hostile hands, it would not appear prudent to wish away our undersea warfare mission.

Those who argue for cutbacks in USW would say that these submarines are smaller and much less capable than the boats of the former Soviet Union, and thus that the threat is diminished radically, requiring far less of the Navy's attention and resources. They also would argue that the nations possessing these lower-end submarines are not as adept at operating them as the Soviet Union was at operating its boats, and that the professionalism and support and training infrastructure that sustained the potent Soviet submarine force are virtually nonexistent in these Third World countries. Finally, these individuals would argue that the lack of operating time for these submarines, a quantum level below what former Soviet Union and U.S. boats are accustomed to, makes their ability to complete their missions extremely suspect.

These arguments appear to have merit; but in the end they miss the mark. The way in which these submarines would be used overcomes many of their inherent disadvantages. Soviet boats needed to be able to roam the seas to hunt and attack carrier battle groups and interdict resupply convoys; Third World threat submarines may never need to leave the littorals. Slower and less capable diesel boats can loiter at strategic choke points or in near-shore home waters, often in territorial seas, where they can present an unacceptable threat to naval expeditionary forces attempting to influence events or control a crisis. The professionalism and training of these crews may not be up to former Soviet Union standards, but their motivation may exceed them. We anticipated fighting Soviet submarines—and the professionals that crewed them—in a "cat and mouse" equation, with each boat attempting to complete its mission while having due regard for its own survival. In future hostilities against some Third World countries, it might not be beyond the realm of possibility to face a submarine manned by a suicide crew. Such an eventuality would alter the tactical calculus radically.

Thus, the U.S. Navy must reorient itself to a more diverse submarine threat fielded by a growing number of countries. The issue is not whether to focus on USW, but how to achieve the proper focus and the right degree of leverage in employing the assets we have—and procuring the right assets for the future—to counter threats that would inhibit our ability to execute our "Forward. . . from the Sea" strategy.

Promising Developments, Daunting Challenges

The Navy has recognized the complexity of the undersea warfare challenge and has moved out smartly to enhance its capabilities. These promising developments are a huge step in the right direction, and include:

The Navy has streamlined its highest-echelon USW guidance. This top-level guidance used to be found in a highly classified "ASW Master Plan," a thick compendium covering every aspect of this warfare area. It was very difficult to compile, let alone chop through the Pentagon, and was a procurement-oriented document unknown to virtually everyone in the fleet. It has been replaced by a streamlined "ASW Assessment," a much more usable paper that is widely circulated for fleet concurrence and provides direction to our USW procurement policies, strategy, and tactics.

For several years, the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets maintained distinct ASW Improvement Programs, to generate lists of ASW concerns that then were filtered—separately—into the procurement process to attempt to influence platform, system, sensor, and weapon purchase decisions. Unfortunately, any disconnect between these two lists gave those wishing to put procurement dollars elsewhere an opportunity to delay allocating money to the ASW account. In 1995, the Fleets amalgamated these two programs into a Fleet ASW Improvement Program, which now allows the operational Navy to speak with one, coordinated voice regarding its priorities for ASW/USW investment.

Recognizing that USW is an important warfare area needing his level of oversight and attention, the Chief of Naval Operations convened an Executive Board in late 1995 to report on the state of ASW in the fleet and to make recommendations for improvement. This was the only warfare area scrutinized in this manner, and it highlights our senior leadership's recognition of the need to sharpen our focus in this area.

One of the key recommendations of recent Fleet ASW Improvement Programs was to establish an "ASW Czar" within the Navy Staff to coordinate and oversee programmatic and doctrinal improvements to the Navy's ASW posture. The newly created N84—currently headed by a post-major command captain who is dual-qualified in submarine and surface warfare—has been extremely active in carrying out its role, and this step alone has the potential to pay huge dividends.

The Sea Combat Commander concept—having the destroyer squadron commander assume responsibility for both undersea and surface warfare—has gained momentum in both fleet exercises and forward deployments. This consolidation has strengthened the battle group's ability to conduct effective USW by linking the surface and subsurface problems in a way that ensures that maximum leverage is realized from all battle group efforts.

The Navy's investment in USW training and especially USW trainers has remained firm. Every Navy USW-capable aircraft has a full-motion tactical simulator that provides extraordinary flying fidelity, closely replicating the P-3, S-3, SH-60B, or SH-60F aircraft. These trainers allow the aircrew to participate in the most dynamic USW problems, whose complexity is limited only by the instructor's imagination. Flight crews "flying" these high-fidelity trainers can be exposed to every conceivable ocean environment; encounter every submarine threat possessed by any navy; employ every possible system, sensor, or weapon; and simulate coordinating with every other USW platform. Once the USW problem is completed, the flight crews can watch a detailed playback that recreates the entire problem minute by minute.

Shipboard USW trainers are becoming more realistic, too. These mobile training units act as simulators/stimulators and allow shipboard USW operators to use their own consoles and equipment to conduct sophisticated USW problems, whether pier side or under way. These trainers also offer complete playback after the completion of each USW problem.

Recognizing the high cost of getting ships, submarines, and aircraft to sea to practice USW, the Navy has begun to capitalize on USW trainers in a more holistic way, conducting realistic training inport using the individual capabilities of many of these trainers. Dubbed "CUEX" for Cue-to-Engage, this multi-unit, battle-group-level training exercise tests the capability of the entire carrier task group to conduct USW detection, classification, and localization and to attack in a fully simulated environment using fleet and schoolhouse USW training assets.

The Navy has moved to take advantage of opportunities to train with diesel submarines of allied and friendly countries. During several summers in the mid-to-late 1990s, Commander Third Fleet conducted Operation Teamwork South. Under the command of a Pacific Fleet destroyer squadron, P-3 and S-3 aircraft deployed to Chile and operated for several weeks against very capable Chilean diesel submarines. This training was lauded by the aircrews as the best actual ASW/USW training in which they had ever been involved.

Clearly, the Navy recognizes that this is a critical warfare area and is moving aggressively to enhance its capabilities across the board. Navy leaders and USW advocates must not stop here; many challenges remain. Fortunately, there are ample opportunities to leverage actions that can have an enormous payoff.

Daunting Challenges, High-Leverage Opportunities

There are a number of high-leverage ways to enhance our USW effectiveness. Taking advantage of as many of them as possible can go a long way toward making USW a warfare area where the U.S. Navy has the dominant advantage:

Our military leaders must devote more time, energy, and expertise to explaining the threat posed by new submarine designs and especially new propulsion systems. Few Americans understand how relatively inexpensive this advanced technology is and how readily it can be purchased by most Third World countries, nor do they realize that remaining Russian submarine capability is significant.

USW doctrine needs to be promulgated more rapidly. Partly because USW involves so many platforms, USW doctrine must pass through many hands before it is approved. For example, most Naval Warfare Publications (NWPs) of the Composite Warfare Commander series have been on the street for almost a decade. As of this writing, however, NWP 3.21.1, the Anti-Submarine Warfare Commander's Handbook, has not yet been disseminated to the fleet, even though a final draft was in the chop chain in 1984. Without such top-level guidance, it is difficult to coordinate efforts at lower echelons.

New systems, sensors, and weapons have to pass muster with so many different constituencies that their delivery to the fleet often is delayed inordinately. For example, a new aircraft and surface ship torpedo to replace the antiquated Mk-46 has been under development for quite some time but has not yet been fielded. In addition, because many improvements in USW capability involve upgrades to software and leveraging digital technology, these improvements should be prime candidates for advanced procurement strategies that field them faster than the normal procurement methodologies do.

Many fleet operators focus on USW hardware improvements that affect their particular community, but there should be more focus, perhaps at the N84 level, on pulling together USW systems, sensors, and weapons under an omnibus C4I umbrella in a way that maximizes their capabilities and minimizes their deficiencies.

Many more opportunities need to be created to exercise our forces against diesel submarines. Operation Teamwork South exercises with Chile are a promising start, but these operations should be made routine, and perhaps should become the focal point of such combined naval exercises as RIMPAC. Allied and friendly navies derive great benefit from operating with U.S. Navy forces, and we would be well served to push for operating time against their capable diesel submarines as a matter of priority. There is no other way to obtain this training.

We have made a tremendous capital investment in USW simulators but must take the last few steps to fully capitalize on their capabilities. During recent CUEXs, for example, there was only one way for an SH-60B LAMPS helicopter to work with its pierside parent Aegis cruiser. Because there were no actual submarines and no immediately adjacent ranges to drop sonobuoys and torpedoes on, having the helicopter fly and data link to the ship was a less-than-desirable option. Therefore, the SH-60B landed on the cruiser's flight deck and via a hard-wire link, used a simulator/stimulator box to pretend it was dropping sonobuoys and gaining contact on a sub. This provided good training for the ship's USW team but almost none for the flight crews. Within sight of the ship, across the bay, was the LAMPS training facility with its full-motion, high-fidelity trainers, but there is no way yet to link these simulators—or any other aircraft simulators—to ships or their onboard trainers. This is fertile ground for enhanced USW training opportunities.

USW is—and will continue to be—a critical core competency for the nation. In an era of diminishing resources, the Navy no longer can carry the ball alone. For example, U.S. Air Force long-range aircraft may be able to contribute in nonacoustic search techniques, and overhead sensors and systems may be exploited more fully to contribute to battle group or theater USW efforts.

The future of USW can be exceptionally bright. We have the systems, sensors, and weapons to excel and the talented people to move USW smartly into the next century. We must shed some of our old paradigms, acknowledge the new threat, and come up with innovative solutions, to return this core competency to its place of importance in our overall naval—and national—strategy.

Captain Galdorisi is chief of staff, Cruiser-Destroyer Group. He has commanded LAMPS Mk III squadrons, the amphibious assault ship Cleveland (LPD-7), and Amphibious Squadron Seven.

 

 
 

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