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By Captain William H. J. Manthorpe, Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired)
Rethinking Forces and Operations for *nti-SLOC Warfare '
With the adoption of a “new defensive doctrine” and the acceptance of a policy °f “reasonable sufficiency” as the basis f°r structuring current and future force tevels, the Soviet military received new Tussions and must now rethink the roles, strategy, and operational art necessary to accomplish them. At times like these, the Soviet Navy traditionally makes the results of its rethinking available through books published in the name of the Com- tnander-in-Chief and by articles in the uionthly naval digest, Morskoy Sbornik.
For example, in 1988, after the announcement of the “new defensive doctrine” the Soviet Navy published The Navy: Its Prospects for Development and Employment under the auspices of former Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy, Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union, Sergei G. Gorshkov. In the book, the So- vtet Navy attempted to show how well its long-held desire for more important foies, greater independence of command, and increased open-ocean operations within Soviet military strategy, as well as >ts hopes for improved capabilities to accomplish them, would fit within the new defensive doctrine.
Since that time, however, it has become clearer that the defensive military doctrine and stringent resource policy being imposed by the political-military leadership will not support the advocated offensive posture and enhanced capabilities. Thus, the Soviet Navy has, again, been forced to reconsider its roles within the combined arms missions of the Soviet military and its operations as part of a unified national military strategy.
Europe remains the focus of Soviet defense and military strategy. Given the current unilateral force reductions and negotiations for further reductions, any future war in that theater will require major mobilization and movement to the theater by both sides. Whether such a war starts unexpectedly, before either side can fully mobilize, or whether it will simply be prolonged because both sides started fully mobilized, sea lines of communication (SLOCs) will be vital to the West’s ability to fight in Europe. Therefore, the Soviet Navy has turned attention to rethinking its capabilities and plans for the conduct of anti-SLOC warfare.
As a result, the January and February issues of Morskoi Sbornik carried excerpts from a forthcoming book about SLOCs by the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy, Admiral of the Fleet, Vladimir N. Chemavin. Those excerpts entitled The Battle on the Sea Lines of Communications: The Lessons of War and the Present provided insights into current Soviet naval views of anti-SLOC warfare.
The January article reviewed the history of World War II SLOC campaigns and drew some conclusions, highlighting the types of forces and operations preferred by the Soviet Navy in anti-SLOC warfare.
“ [Submarines . . . were the main service component in operations to interdict SLOCs. . . .
“Operating against heavily protected shipping, they achieved the greatest results during group employment.
“Torpedoes and mines were the main weapons of submarines. Minelaying from submarines turned out to be particularly advisable in remote areas. ...”
In addition to submarines,
“Aviation proved to be a new operational-strategic factor in the struggle for the SLOCs. . . . However, tasking air forces not trained for operations on maritime axes to combat shipping . . . limited their use primarily against ships in ports. During the final stage of the war in the Pacific, carrier aviation achieved major successes. . . . Aircraft mine weapons played a major role. . . .
“Combat experience on the SLOCs demonstrated that protracted interdiction of enemy maritime shipping is most reliable accomplished through the use of different types of forces which coordinate among themselves.”
Admiral Chernavin’s lessons learned provide guidance for future naval planners.
“The adventuristic conception . . . of destroying a strong maritime enemy by using submarine forces alone collapsed.
“The fact that purposeful, massive, and systematic strikes were not organized against ship loading and transshipment ports . . . was an undoubted miscalculation . . .
“All types of reconnaissance, especially aerial reconnaissance, were poorly supplied. ...”
The second article emphasizes NATO maritime strategy and the importance of SLOCs to NATO, describes the NATO threat to Soviet SLOCs in closed seas and discusses the role of maritime blockade in warfare. Having thus provided the background, Admiral Chernavin goes on to present Soviet Navy views, thinly veiling them as the views of “western experts”.
“ . . . Views on the role and place of SLOCs in modern war are being reviewed. . . .
“In the event a world war is unleashed, the significance of SLOCs to NATO . . . will be increased. . . .
“[MJaritime shipping is an important factor that impacts the capabilities of NATO countries to maintain their economic and military potential. . .
“[I ]n the event of a war of a protracted nature, disruption of SLOCs . . . will constitute the main content
of warfare at sea. . .
Komsomolets Controversy Continues
On 15 March, the daily military newspaper Red Star published a letter from five surviving officers of the sunken Soviet submarine Komsomolets. The officers said,
“We have been forced to turn to your military newspaper because we have discovered to our confusion and dismay that, during the glasnost era, glasnost is by no means available to everyone. We found that out for ourselves when we sent a letter to (the communist youth newspaper) Kom- somolskaya Pravda. . . . The letter was published on 8 February ... in a brief and emasculated form, and, alongside of it, on the rest of the page, the newspaper published another viewpoint . . . that literally overwhelmed the reader with its breadth of further assumptions, conjectures and opinions.” The complaining naval officers claimed that;
“Almost all Komsomolskaya Pravda articles on this subject (the Komsomolets sinking) display not merely a lack of competence, not merely lack of any attempt to thoroughly probe the matter, but also blatant factual errors, totally unjustified conjecture and references to former and serving naval officers who have only a vague idea about the accident.”
The survivors concluded that the youth newspaper is;
“ . . . striving to pin the blame for everything that happened aboard our vessel on the crew, the dead commander and the Navy, (and) . . . trying to exert deliberate pressure on public opinion without waiting for the conclusions of the State Commission, and rather, anticipating them.”
Red Star, in its turn, filled the rest of its page with an extended article by the editor of its naval department. That article began by accusing Komsomolskaya Pravda tor having a view that “ultimately boils down to claiming that an inadequately trained crew and the Navy are to blame for the tragedy.” The author then stated that
“justice demands that we lift the veil slightly on another aspect too—the design and technical shortcomings of the material which preordained the
accident and the course of its development.”
The author asserted,
“It is a longstanding phenomenon that the Navy receives ships which are not in accord with our established image of sophisticated, reliable, high quality combat equipment.”
To illustrate his case, he provided “a few
examples from 1985-89.”
“During this period, Ministry of Shipbuilding enterprises were the subject of 529 complaints incurring compulsory fines amounting to more than three million rubles for delivering substandard equipment.
“One submarine spent more than half of its warranty period being repaired and modified.
“ ■ • the operation of two ships was prohibited entirely in 1989.
“ . . . a defect in the main turbine system on one submarine under warranty led to an unsanctioned buildup of engine speed which resulted in the boat running aground . . . another boat . . . had been returning to base from the plant where further work had just been done on the main turbine system (when this occurred)”.
Speaking more specifically, he turned to the material causes of the Komsomolets incident.
“The bulkheads on the Komsomolets did not provide a water tight seal between the three aft compartments . . . and the main shaft line when the vessel was underway.
“The main ballast tanks on the Komsomolets had no Kingston valves, which reduce a boat's reserve buoyancy in a rough sea or if trim differences arise during an emergency.
"The firefighting system on this ship was not centrally controlled . . . in any case freon as a firefighting agent is not effective in major fires, since it ignites at temperatures above 580°C.
“The lack of an information system and the unreliability of shipboard communications systems prevented the main command post from having accurate information on the actual conditions of the compartments in order to make the necessary decisions.
“Certain electrical networks were unprotected against shortcircuiting which led to fires in other compartments and a loss of control over gen
eral ship systems. . . .
“Instead of saving submariners’ lives in the gas contaminated compartments, the (emergency breathing) systems killed those people who used it as specifically intended.
“Yes, there are plenty of reasons behind the loss of the Komsomolets, but the primary reason is fire.”
Then, asking why fires start on submarines,’ the author shifted to a more general discussion of fire. He pointed out that;
”... analysis of 26 fires on nuclear submarines in recent years shows that they were linked with short circuits in the main distribution boards. And the cause of production and technological defects in the automatic circuit breakers due to the poor quality of their assembly.”
Asking why these small fires turn into serious fires, the author explained that
“There are no effective systems to extinguish fires on electrical equipment that is under load. During a fire it is virtually impossible to switch off the power supply to boards and panels. There is no system to provide early warning and accident notification and to stop the fire from spreading. . . .
Submarines, of course, are not the only Soviet ships suffering from poor equipment and workmanship. The author also cites a few examples of problems on major surface combatants:
“The boiler pipes on the cruiser Baku began breaking down even during state sea trials.
“The Kirov, our first nuclear- powered cruiser suffered a great deal in this respect. After ten years of use, its main reduction gear broke down—• this is a mechanism which usually outlasts the ship. . . . No provision is made for the repair of the main reduction gear, therefore no provision is made for removing the unit from the ship.
“ ... we have found ourselves with a whole series of ships nicknamed ‘doves of peace’ . . . because they were accepted with non-functional guns.”
The author concluded: “The problems boil down to a single cause, the poor quality of equipment.”
Proceedings / June 1990