Amidst allegations of the S-3A Viking being only marginally effective, the battle lines have been drawn for a fight between the Navy and the Defense Department which will decide the aircraft’s future. Before anyone takes a torch to the Navy’s existing Vikings to make room for the mail, then tacks on a tanker package for good measure, let us examine the problems that have prompted these radical proposals and some less drastic solutions.
The multi-mission carrier (CV) concept and the air antisubmarine (VS) squadrons were pushed on a well-established tactical air world in 1975. The Viking squadrons were faced with the task of preaching the need for antisubmarine warfare (ASW) to people who had little knowledge of or respect for the undersea threat. The attack carrier commander was given the solution before he really had an in-depth knowledge of the submarine problem. With high-level opposition and parochialism blocking the path to rapid VS integration into the carrier air wing, ASW fell to a low priority. A snowball effect began to take form as the novice S-3 crews suffered from inexperience in performing their primary mission and a lack of systems-capable aircraft to fly their missions. It was an uphill battle for the first five years. Now, within the Navy, the VS community and its aircraft are respected and are integral members of the deployed air wings. The Viking’s advanced sensors package figures strongly in the carrier’s antiair warfare (AAW), airborne early warning (AEW), and mine warfare missions which were never before associated with VS. The S-3s, in conjunction with other sophisticated electronic wizards, such as the E-2C Hawkeyes, now offer the carrier a wider spectrum of command and control over the electronic warfare scenario, as well as the ASW threat, than has ever existed before.
The S-3’s progression has been one of trial and error, for both aircraft and aircrew. The software modifications and program changes have enhanced the aircraft’s capability and compatibility with other Navy systems. The manning problems that surfaced in staffing a fleet replacement squadron (FRS) and fleet squadrons for the transition from the S-2 Tracker to the S-3 were far-reaching. The initial cadre of personnel for the S-3s had to be drawn from other communities such as tactical air for pilot training and patrol (VP) and carrier airborne early warning (VAW) for naval flight officer (NFO) training. This diversity of instructor backgrounds, coupled with the inexperience of VS tactical coordinators (TACCOs), had the effect of diluting VS ASW thinking and tactics. The VP TACCO and the carrier-based TACCO, by the nature of their respective missions and capabilities, must stalk submarines in different ways, as was brought out in Commander P. T. Lonsdale’s July 1979 Proceedings article, “ASW’s Passive Trap.” With time often the crucial element of survival for the carrier, VS must play a more aggressive game than maritime patrol aircraft. The identification of this subtle but all-important difference has been the main ‘'lesson-learned" in the first five years of operational use and points to the weakest link in the overall S-3 training program. There is a need to increase the basic knowledge of the new TACCOs to a proficiency level more in step with the aircraft’s multi-mission demands and the present manning. The responsibility for this training cannot be delegated to the individual fleet squadron’s training program with trial and error missions as the only teacher. An effort should be made to supply the FRS with enlightened TACCO candidates capable of approaching VS training on a high instructional level with an emphasis on the tactical use of the S-3’s systems. The Advanced Tactical Navigation (TACNAV) pipeline at Training Squadron Eighty-Six (VT-86) has proved to be a less than ideal source for such candidates.
Presently, the S-3 TACCO is selected from the graduates of the TACNAV syllabus at VT-86, which is centered around low-level visual and radar navigation. The course is geared to the attack community, and, although there is a need for the S-3 TACCO to be proficient in these areas, it does little for the S-3 candidate but give him a needed identification with other tactical air communities. When the S-3 program was in its infancy, VT-86 was a logical source from which to draw the nucleus of jet-trained navigators. Now, as more S-3s are manned with naval flight officers in the copilot seat, VS is making a larger demand on the TACNAV syllabus than any other jet community. A possible solution to this problem might be the earlier identification of S-3 NFOs at Training Squadron 10 (VT-10) as is done with E-2 NFOs. Certainly the S-3’s missions are specialized and unique enough to warrant consideration of an intensive specialized ground school emphasizing the basics of antisubmarine warfare. The simple increased demand in numbers would seem to be ample justification for such a program.
Because there is no need for aircraft at such a proposed school, it could be independent of the FRS which could avoid extending that already lengthy syllabus. Establishment at Pensacola would blend well with any plans to commission an East Coast FRS in the future. However, “intensive” is the key word in the description. The minimum curriculum should consist of oceanography, tactics, other ASW systems and platforms, and acoustic analysis. All S-3 naval flight officers should be trained acoustic analysts because, with the OL-82 acoustic system in the S-3, acoustic information is perishable. The present Viking configuration does not afford its crew the same luxury that patrol counterparts have of obtaining a second or third opinion before making a classification. The S-3 sensor operator (SENSO) is responsible for a disproportionate amount of the ASW mission. The constant strain of acoustic analysis during a four-hour ASW mission generates a tremendous fatigue factor which can severely degrade analytical effectiveness. The VP community has proven that the backup of experience and expertise available with three sensor operators on board the P-3 is an invaluable asset to draw on while airborne. Training the S-3 NFO in acoustics would enhance the Viking weapon system capability and allow the TACCO to interpret, firsthand, tactical information which may or may not have been developed by the SENSO. The acoustics-trained TACCO is not meant as a replacement for the SENSO. On the contrary, such training would establish a team that would augment the system’s monitoring capability when necessary, increase accuracy, and provide an invaluable backup without making any modifications to the present aircraft’s hardware or software.
The ground school proposed here would give the fleet replacement squadron a better-informed foundation on which to build. It would allow the FRS to concentrate its efforts on teaching aircraft systems, emphasizing tactical use at a higher instructional level to students who have a better working knowledge of the end result that must be achieved. To ignore the problem will only compound it to a point where the VS community will be inundated with undertrained personnel.
The past five years have served to create an ASW awareness in the carrier world, and the S-3A and its crews have grown in capability through use. Yet, without proper tasking and use, and without a properly trained crew capable of exploiting all the aircraft’s sensors to their maximum tactical advantage, we are only deluding ourselves in thinking the Viking is adequately protecting our carrier battle groups from a subsurface threat.
Efforts by the Defense Department to severely limit a now proven and accepted multi-mission aircraft in the carrier environment can only result in a diminished capability for the air wing and the carrier battle group. Failure by the Navy to take the appropriate action necessary to upgrade S-3 training will only serve as justification for the Defense Department’s cause.