The Design for Undersea Warfare (DUSW) Update 1 calls for “new capabilities that trick, jam, or blind adversary sensors, disrupt cyber systems, [and] cripple targets without killing them.” 1 For this and other reasons, the submarine force needs to expand “Neptune’s reach” into the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum and cyber-warfare domains. We must enlist the disruptive technology of directed-energy weapons—the game-changing technologies that give the joint commander more options for submarine employment than ever before—to establish sea control in denied areas and facilitate follow-on joint-force access. 2
Submarines need to move beyond conventional torpedoes and cruise missiles inside an anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) environment. They need a stand-and-fight capability and a deeper magazine. They must be able to engage multiple targets with a single launch. All of these requirements point to directed-energy weapons.
The submarine force should not be satisfied with small steps; instead, it must lead the charge to incorporate innovative payloads: high-energy laser (on-hull) and high-powered radio frequency (off-hull). In the past, we have known that incorporating technological leaps was necessary to establish a warfighting edge. Now we need to draw on that same bold spirit that led to advanced sonar, sound silencing, and nuclear power—the foundations of our undersea dominance.
Encouraging innovation in a fiscally constrained environment involves using current platforms in game-changing ways. Rapid advances in technology require more agile payloads, and as the fight moves into the EM spectrum and cyber domains, payloads capable of quick upgrades and reach (the ability to bring those assets forward) will be key for sustaining theater dominance. Submarines will open strike corridors, initiate enemy disruption and confusion, create doubt, and sample the EM environment. Using current platforms with new payloads can help mitigate budget concerns and make submarines more adaptable to future technological changes. Directed-energy weapons will add muscle to the submarine’s electronic-attack capabilities and deepen its magazine. Adding submarines to the arsenal of electronic warfare, information operations, and cyber operations will give us a more asymmetric advantage.