One of the key determinants of the Navy's ability to execute the Maritime Strategy will be the tactical and strategic efficiency of antisubmarine warfare (ASW) efforts. The Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, and numerous flag officers all have pointed to ASW as a top priority in all warfighting operations. An unfolding and variable Soviet submarine strategy may require a combination of barrier operations against nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines (SSGNs) and highly offensive ASW campaigns against nuclear-powered fleet ballistic submarines (SSBNs). The effective execution of ASW tactics and strategy will require a high degree of interoperability among sensors and weapon systems. One way to do this will be to establish a set of killing zones in areas where Soviet submarines are likely to be concentrated and to assign coordinated packages of sensors and weapon systems to each zone. One key addition to current ASW forces will be squadrons built around new surface ships that can act as linebackers and mobile attack groups in the ASW battle. With proper timing, ASW efforts can be directed through the killing zones in sequential waves, permitting mutual support, enhancing kill opportunity and accomplishment, and ensuring a minimal level of either interference or costly blue-on-blue engagements (i.e., encounters with friendly forces) in the high-tempo operations that the Maritime Strategy envisions. Essentially, both tactical and strategic ASW will need to be executed as part of a coordinated ASW battle.
The Role of ASW in the Maritime Strategy: The basic outline of the Maritime Strategy has been well-publicized by now. In Phase I—Deterrence/Transition to War—major blocks of U. S. forces, especially ASW platforms, will deploy forward into attack positions. In Phase II—Seizing the Initiative—seacontrol will be established in forward zones. Finally, Phase III—Carrying the Fight to the Enemy—includes projection of power against the Soviet homeland.
ASW will be the most difficult task in the strategy's execution. In the unclassified description of the strategy published as a supplement to the Naval Institute Proceedings in January 1986, ASW operations in Phase I are described generally as a process by which "aggressive forward movement of ASW forces, both submarines and maritime patrol aircraft, will force Soviet submarines to retreat into defensive bastions to protect their ballistic missile submarines." In Phase II, "It will be essential to conduct forward operations with attack submarines, as well as to establish barriers at key world choke points using maritime patrol aircraft, mines, attack submarines, or sono-buoys, to prevent leakage of enemy forces to the open ocean where the Western Alliance's resupply lines can be threatened." Finally, Phase III indicates that "antisubmarine warfare forces would continue to destroy Soviet submarines, including ballistic missile submarines, thus reducing the attractiveness of nuclear escalation by changing the nuclear balance in our favor."
Most analysts believe that the Soviet SSNs and SSBNs will probably withdraw together into bastions under the ice near the Soviet homeland, and that the top NATO priority will then become finding and killing them. As one observer recently pointed out in Proceedings "U. S. ASW forces will need to expedite their campaign against Soviet SSBNs. Altering the nuclear balance by destroying submarines is a chief source of war termination leverage. Other ASW missions should remain a lower priority."
All of this is sound—if risky—strategy. Beyond the risks of executing the basic anti-SSBN strategy is the unpredictability of Soviet response to the potential loss of their SSBN deterrent. Simply put, the Soviets may not follow the plan outlined above. War is uncertainty. The Soviets may indeed take a conservative approach and withdraw assets under the ice close to their homeland. On the other hand, they may choose to rely to a great degree on their other strategic forces and use their submarines (notably their SSNs and SSGNs) very differently. A few Soviet alternatives include the following:
- Send their SSBNs farther into open waters with one to two SSNs or SSGNs in a shotgun role. This would free the SSNs to break off momentarily and attack allied warships or commercial shipping. The Soviets have more than 60 modern SSBNs and roughly 120 SSNs and SSGNs—enough to allow them to execute such a strategy easily. Because of the flexibility of putting SSNs and SSGNs in forward positions, they could use these submarines in both an offensive (against carrier battle groups [CYBGs] and allied sea lines of communication [SLOCs]) and a defensive (pro-SSBN) role. Naturally, this would entail a higher degree of risk to their SSBNs, at least until more and quieter Typhoons appear with the newer SSNs and SSGNs. If the new Akula-class submarines are as formidable as many observers think, such a strategy may be attractive to the Soviets because it would effectively set up traps against the U. S. SSNs pursuing their SSBNs.
- Leave SSBNs in bastions, but defend them with a minimal number of SSNs and rely principally upon other means to protect them (such as the improving Soviet ASW air and surface forces). This would free up a number of SSNs to attack allied warships or commercial shipping.
- Send SSGNs to sea in land-attack roles against peripheralU. S. and allied installations and bases in key locations—Subic Bay, Rota, Holy Loch, and Diego Garcia.
- Attempt to limit any conflict to strictly conventional weapons and send all SSNs and SSGNs into open waters in a classic anti-shipping campaign, as did Germany in both world wars. The Soviets could then threaten vertical escalation if the United States undertook strikes against their SSBNs.
- Wage an anti-choke point campaign with a limited number of SSGNs and SSNs, while still leaving significant forces behind in a "shotgun" role. This might offer the Soviets the most "bang for the buck."
- Execute some combination of the above strategies—dividing the forces either by time, geography, or mission.
The only certainty is that the Soviet strategy will be variable and unpredictable. The key for U. S. ASW forces will be flexibility, offensive punch, and coordination. ASW operations will be intrinsically tied to the national strategy as the war escalates-more so than any other warfare area. This is because of the obvious linkages between the fate of Soviet strategic assets (their SSBNs) and the basic conflict. If the war continues to escalate, and for example, encompasses the sinking of many Soviet SSBNs, the Soviets will be faced with very difficult and dangerous decisions. Our ASW efforts must be carefully tied to the Soviet strategy and to our own national policy goals.
Killing Zones: Given the opening argument that the Soviet submarine strategy will not remain predictable, U. S. forces must establish an offensive frame of mind and a geographic reference system for flexible attack options. The point, of course, is that the Maritime Strategy must be prepared to respond to a variety of scenarios. It might be helpful to establish a set of geographically defined ASW areas and to prioritize the application of sensors, weapon systems, and general forces in each.
- Red Zone: If the Soviets opt for a classic bastion strategy, these critical areas will probably contain the Soviet SSBNs, primarily the longer-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-equipped Delta and Typhoon classes. They will be located in the protected regional waters near the Soviet Union, including the under-ice and open areas of the Arctic Ocean, the White Sea, the Barents Sea, the Kara Sea, the Laptev Sea, the East Siberian Sea, and the Sea of Okhotsk.
- Orange Zone: In the bastion strategy, Soviet SSNs would probably operate in the Orange Zone in a barrier operation to protect the entrances to Red Zone bastions and to destroy any U. S. strike forces (CVBG or Tomahawk battleship, guided-missile cruiser, or destroyer strike groups) seeking to close on the Soviet Union. These areas include the Sea of Japan, the Bering Sea, the waters north of the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom Gap, and the Beaufort Sea.
- Yellow Zone: Soviet SSNs and SSGNs operating in the Yellow Zone would be able to attack allied SLOCs. The Yellow Zone might comprise the Northern Pacific, including sea lanes between the United States and Japan; the Northern Atlantic, including the vital SLOCs between the United States and Europe; the Indian Ocean; and the South China Sea. In addition, Soviet SSNs could attack allied warships and commercial shipping in the Mediterranean, the Baltic, and other ASW theaters. Soviet SSGNs may also operate here in a land-attack role against peripheral U. S. installations.
In each of the zones; U. S. ASW forces would be keyed to proceed and commence attacking Soviet submarine forces, as necessary, given the overall war situations. By keying operations to such zones, ASW efforts can be better coordinated as follows:
- Toreduce or eliminate blue-on-blue engagements, large geographic areas can be established as keep-out zones for certain classes of U. S. ASW forces. Red Zones, for example, could be assigned to SSBNs, Orange to long-range maritime patrol aircraft (LRMP), and Yellow to CYBGI ASW squadrons. In addition, allied ASW forces could be assigned certain portions of various zones.
- Timing decisions could be keyed to the geographic areas. For example, U. S. SSNs could sweep the Yellow and Orange Zones on their way to the free-fire Red Zone. Contacts in prosecution can be turned-over to LRMP or surface forces as necessary.
- ASW Operations Centers (ASWOCs) could manage contacts through the zones, ensuring more efficient placement of sensors and weapons on targets.
- In the event of command-and-control problems, preplanned responses, as required by time or in response to Soviet action, could be tied to the zones.
- Individual units could be assigned to train and operate in each geographic area during peacetime to allow for greater in-area expertise.
Coordinated Operations: The real key to executing the ASW portion of the Maritime Strategy will be coordination through the killing zones by very disparate forces. This coordination will be based on critical timing decisions. All of the actions will be tied to the Maritime Strategy. One possible time line, which illustrates this complexity and is written to respond to an initial Soviet bastion strategy followed by an open ocean break, might appear as follows:
Phase I: Transition to War:
- U. S. SSNs sweep through Yellow and Orange zones, and proceed to the Red Zone.
- Sonar surveillance system (SOSUS) stations are keyed.
- SSN contacts in Orange Zone are turned over to LRMP.
- ASW squadrons (Ticonderoga [CG-47]-class guided-missile cruisers for antiair warfare, two Spruance [DD-963]-class destroyers with LAMPS Mk III and sonar towed arrays , and two Oliver Hazard Perry [FFG-7]-class guided-missile frigates with LAMPS Mk III and sonar tails move into linebacker station at edge of Orange Zone.
- CVBG (if available) prepares to move into Yellow Zones as required for strikes in larger conflict. If assets are available, prepare strikes at SSN and SSBN bases.
- Mobile logistics support force (MLSF) 'with all possible torpedoes' moves to edge of Yellow Zone to perform delivery-boy services to ASW squadrons and CVBGs.
Phase II: Seize the Initiative:
- Assess Soviet plan for use of their SSNs and SSBNs. (This is probably the key step in the process.)
- Make national-level decisions concerning kill/no kill of Soviet SSBNs in bastions or elsewhere.
- If strategy is anti-bastion, U. S. SSNs begin killing Soviet subs in the Red Zone.
- LRMPs begin killing in Orange Zones.
- ASW squadrons establish barriers at edges of Orange and Yellow Zones and kill all contacts.
- CVBGs move to positions as required for strikes against SSBN bases (Kola, Petrovskiy, Vladivostok) and submarine-capable shipyards and docks (Severodvinsk in the Arctic, Admiralty in the Baltic, Sudomeh in the Baltic, and Komosomolsk in the Pacific). Ensure that strikes eliminate all Soviet submarine bases and sources of SSN and SSBN support.
- MLSF undertakes resupply of ASW forces, as required.
Phase III: Carrying the Fight to the Enemy:
- Reassess Soviet plan, which may have changed, based on events in Phase II, to include open ocean warfighting.
- Continue SSN campaigns in forward areas or pull back to cleared sectors in the Orange Zones.
- Shift LRMP forces into linebacker role with ASW squadrons to await possible open-ocean break of Soviet SSNs.
- Station CVBG to respond to tasking of war termination.
- ASW squadrons launch coordinated geographic operations with remaining LRMP to establish barriers.
- MLSF await resupply operations.
ASW Squadrons: As indicated, ASW squadrons can undertake many key linebacker missions. This is a concept the United States has flirted with for many years. An excellent mix of ships is currently available for such a mission, including the Spruance class, some of which are being converted to operate the superb LAMPS Mk III ASW helicopter; the Oliver Perry Hazard class, most of which are LAMPS Mk III-capable; and the Ticonderoga class, which offers excellent ASW and good AAW protection in low-medium air threat areas. The major advantages of standing up four compact ASW squadrons of four to five ships each include:
- Better results by training in an essentially single warfare area
- Excellent coordination and teamwork from repeated team ASW operations (ASW is a team sport.)
- Carefully selected mix of complementary weapons and sensors
- Expertise in the complexities of modem ASW at the deck-plate level
- Multi-mission group that could undertake barrier operations, offensive hunter-killer tactics, shifts to convoy protection, and even pro-U. S. SSBN operations, if new Soviet (Akula-class, for example) SSNs moved to attack U. S. boats
Conclusions and Recommendations: All ASW warfighting must be coordinated by ASWOCs working under fleet commanders, who have the connections to the national level decision-making arena that will be required to execute the sensitive anti-SSBN strategic portions of the strategy. The difficulty will lie in assessing Soviet submarine strategy, which will change depending on the direction of the war, the objectives, and the decision-making process in the Kremlin.
Ultimately, ASW in support of the Maritime Strategy will require a high degree of flexibility, coordinated operations, and timing across a wide range of geographic areas. Further study of ASW operations in the Maritime Strategy must be undertaken. As a starting point:
- Examine more possible Soviet submarine options and strategies. Much of our current planning is fixed on the notion that the Soviets will automatically withdraw their SSBNs into bastions and protect them with virtually their entire SSN force. This might not be the case. The Maritime Strategy must be prepared to meet more options.
- Conduct major ocean coordinated ASW exercises to examine various tactical and strategic mixes of all of our ASW forces. Train to respond to a variety of Soviet submarine strategic approaches. Work to improve the interoperability among U. S. and allied ASW forces.
- Continue to develop ASW squadrons as CVBG and battleship surface-action-group force requirements permit. Mission training should be very flexible and should include open-ocean ASW, barrier operations, large-scale coordinated operations with LRMP and SSNs, and pro-U.S. SSBN operations.
- Implement Red-Orange-Yellow Zone as a method for geographic reference in the Maritime Strategy.
ASW will be the major challenge in the Maritime Strategy. It will demand the best in all the coordinated arms of the Navy to execute a wide variety of potential ASW plans against a massive and unpredictable Soviet submarine force.