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By Rear Admiral W. J. Holland, Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired)
Despite the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia and Ukraine recently reached an agreement regarding the disposition of parts of the former Soviet Navy. Its force of submarines—ten from the Northern Fleet appear here—is still capable of severing our sea lines of communication. The naval profession needs to maintain means of reckoning with this threat ... or lose control of the sea.
Power projection is clearly the mission of interest for all services, as the Soviet Union seems to dissolve. But while that may be the mission, sea control is its oundation. And at sea, submarines are the only challenge j to the maritime supremacy of the United States.
Since World War II, the Navy and Marine Corps have j had to wrestle with a dilemma characterized by Vice i Admiral Henry Mustin, U.S. Navy (Retired), as a di- | chotomy between the “NATO Navy” and “The Real avy. In his terms, the first was primarily an antisub- J marine warfare (ASW) force designed to fight the Soviets in the North Atlantic and Pacific. The other, centered
on carrier-based air power, operated every day to further and protect U.S. interests in the Mediterranean. Persian Gulf, and South China Sea.1
The breakup of the Soviet Union and the Persian Gulf War certainly have accentuated the role of Mustin’s “Real Navy.” But fixation on a specific scenario or current fad is always wasteful and sometimes dangerous. In this case, considerations revolving around the most probable mission mask the need to pay attention to the real hazards. For the United States, only two have real substance: The Soviet I strategic rocket forces still can destroy this country in one hour; the submarines of
the former Soviet Union—all based on Russian territory and manned overwhelmingly by Great Russians—still can sever our lines of communication with the world beyond North America for an inestimable period—measured in months.
While academics and politicians profoundly announce the disappearance of the Soviet Union as a political and military danger, the surprising events on which they based these pronouncements have demonstrated repeatedly that Western ability to predict Soviet and Russian behavior has been extraordinarily poor. At the same time, for reasons not evident 0r explainable, modernization of both their submarines and rocket forces appears to be continuing, albeit at a slower pace than two years ago. It is easy to forget that in 1990 they produced more new submarines than nil the Western nations combined—for the fourth year in a row.’
At the same time, acquisition and operation of submarines by °fher countries also continue to grow.1 No nation can hope to build a battle fleet to challenge the U.S.
Navy at sea, but many have the potential to develop some capa- dity to challenge free nse of the sea with submarines. They are obvious vehicles for countries who wish to dissuade others from meddling close to their shores. Submarine war- are allows area denial: in future conflicts, third-party na- hons may engage without acknowledging belligerency, as Was done during the Spanish Civil War. Submarines execute state terrorism at sea relatively easily. Meanwhile, most of the U.S. Navy has lost sight of ASW’s difficulty and importance. Admiral Isaac Kidd. U.S. Navy (Retired), Preaches that. “We have had too many campaigns in benign environments since World War II at sea. We have °n§ ago come to expect it.”4
Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Frank B. Kelso • attributed the sea supremacy enjoyed and needed in esert Storm to the fact that “. . . we can move 500 merc ant ships anywhere in the world we want to and no one c°uld do a damn thing about it.”5 But this capability will lsappear if the enemy or its friends operate submarines.
ust a handful of them can disrupt the United States’s ability to use the oceans. Its ability to move anything, to Project power globally, and to maintain logistics support 0 ‘mportant allies depends upon its ability to defeat a submarine threat—an ability that is marginal at best and could degrade rapidly if professional attention begins to focus in other directions. Few consider this limitation, and fewer still acknowledge it.
The difficulty in conducting effective antisubmarine warfare has been underestimated ever since the invention of the submarine. All of those who have ever gone up against a submarine have overestimated their own ability to counter the threat and underestimated the potential of submarines to interdict their lines of communication. This same overconfidence exists today. A majority of naval
officers, with no experience in ASW, consider the submarine threat to be overstated.
Such a general air of inflated overconfidence is evident in the Navy’s own publications. The Antisubmarine Warfare Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations pamphlet of April 1990 indicates that the submarines’ advantages against opponents have decreased steadily since 1963.6 This departure from reality astonishes those who have any experience in ASW. Such claims arise from a want of practice throughout the Navy. This same lack of operational experience allows operational analysis specialists to make crucial judgments based upon their own often shaky academic assumptions, and prevents refutation of comfortable but fallacious judgments.
To others, not so enamored with such self-serving analysis, the ability of the submarine to dominate the maritime environment seems evident. Military historian John Keegan declares it most bluntly.
“The era of the submarine as the predominant weapon of power at sea must therefore be recognized as having begun. It is already the ultimate deterrent. ... It is now also the ultimate capital ship, deploying the means to destroy any surface fleet that enters its zone of operations.”7
This potential is not accepted widely, in spite of operational evidence, because most of that evidence is personal and anecdotal. Strike-minded aviators suggest removing S-3 ASW aircraft from carriers, where ASW helicopters are regarded primarily as utility vehicles. Officers even question the wisdom of “siphoning off’ funds from important tasks into ASW. These officers are marked by their common lack of experience in an environment containing unfriendly submarines—real or in exercise.8
Those who have faced a submarine threat, in actuality or in practice, agree with the diagnosis of the Chief of Naval Operations in his 1990 Posture Statement: “Detecting and killing modem quiet submarines (nuclear and diesel) is the most difficult task in modem warfare.”9 Those who have been involved more than casually with ASW recognize that no defense can be foolproof and that effective defense against submarines requires a great amount of resources. Further, effective ASW cannot evolve swiftly, regardless of how overwhelming the odds against the submarines may be. Neither of these factors is appreciated by the nonprofessional or even many naval practitioners who get little opportunity to experience the problem. This reflects a serious defect in naval training and experience, of many years standing.
Soviet Navy Admiral Sergei Gorshkov drew a historical analogy to explain that the force ratios required for effective ASW will be even greater in the future:
“. . . The ratio of submarine to antisubmarine forces is of great interest even under present-day conditions, since if ASW forces which were so numerous and technically up to date for that time (World War II), possessing a vast superiority, turned out to be capable of only partially limiting operations of diesel submarines, then what must this superiority be today to counter nuclear-powered submarines, whose combat abilities cannot be compared with the capabilities of World War II submarines?”10
This gap between the submarine and its adversaries will continue to widen. The submarine, already a high-technology vehicle with substantial advantages against opponents, stands to gain more from advancing technologies than almost any other force, component, or system. Advances in sensors, processing, propulsion, quieting, and weapons have made today’s submarine a more formidable opponent now than ever. No known phenomenon promises to counter this imbalance. At the same time the growing capability of surveillance from space, grouped with precise navigation, direct communications, and concentrated processing equipment, at once threatens all targets on the face of the earth while aiding the submarine in finding and attacking those targets.
Technology is more important and more expensive in ASW than almost anywhere else. Despite their attractiveness to the “Real Navy,” building smart bombs and longer-range air-to-air missiles does not address any threat to sea control. Long-term research-and-development in undersea warfare cannot be ignored. Few outside the Navy will concern themselves with this area, which means that the members of the profession must pay close attention to it. Only the Navy will push many of the technologies that carry the fight in this medium—e.g., acoustics, oceanography, high-density power generation, and high-strength metallurgy.
Conducting research will not be enough. Impetus for and application of new technology comes only through development and operational deployment. Research must be followed by development and accompanied by modernization. Without real results at sea, research will become narrow and sterile, development will atrophy, and modernization will become a lost skill.
For the foreseeable future, the United States will have to have capable and ready ASW forces of reasonable size. Numbers are less important than quality, but adequate forces still must be on the scene. In those spaces to be contested, ASW forces have to be overwhelmingly superior in numbers and ability. These ready ASW forces will have to include ASW arms of every kind, since the nature and location of the action to be taken will be in someone else’s hands—not those of the United States.
Most important, these ASW forces should be practiced and skilled so they may be injected early in any campaign. ASW cannot be accomplished swiftly, no matter how overwhelming the forces. Time elements in ASW are unrelated to enemy numbers but conditioned by the oceanography of the area, the command structure to be used, and the operational interstices among the forces combined to conduct the mission. A week on station to sort these things out and get the lay of the land is not excessive—but the public will cry for results sooner. Everything else maritime will have to stand in line while the contested areas are sanitized.
Beyond the tactical impact, delay has severe political effects. Enemy submarine opposition can make the United States appear impotent: it may be impossible to conduct other maritime operations until the submarine threat is reduced or eliminated. Desert Storm has conditioned the U.S. media and the public to expect quick victory— without significant losses. In a conflict with less than a superpower, public or political patience will run thin concerning losses or delays by submarines. The magnitude of the political catastrophe arising from the torpedoing of an aircraft carrier in a limited conflict can hardly be overestimated.
The difficulty in ASW involves much more than adequate sensors and experienced operators—both in short supply even in the most advanced navies. Almost no task group commanders have operated in an environment against opposing submarines—and even then not for very long. Experienced antisubmarine warfare coordinators are virtually nonexistent. Few department heads in ASW platforms outside submarines have actual experience against an aggressive submarine, or even a passive one. ASW division officers in surface ships can spend full tours without participating in any exercise in which submarine opposition is not artificially constrained. Sonar operators can go more than a year without listening to of echo-ranging on real targets.
There are no ASW equivalents to the Navy’s “Top Gun,” and “Strike U.,” the Air Force’s “Red Flag,” or the Army’s Fort Irwin. In air-to-air and air-strike warfare, the Navy paid in blood because of its lack of realistic training. The dramatic improvement in combat performance after Top Gun proved the necessity for and cost-effec-
The Ups and Downs of Commonwealth Submarines
By Rear Admiral Edward D. Sheafer, Jr., U.S. Navy
The following was edited from testimony given on 5 February 1992 by Rear Admiral Sheafer, Director of Naval Intelligence, before the Seapower, Strategic, and Critical Materials Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.
The key issue for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Navy over the winter of 1991-1992 Was simply to survive. The true test will emerge in 1992 when the CIS and Russia will have implemented market and industrial reforms and We begin to see how quickly and in what priority they begin to restore support to their armed forces.
Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) remain a formidable and vital component of the Russian- controlled Strategic Deterrent Forces. Most of the Yankee-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) have now been dismantled, lost, or converted to other functions, and the remainder ln SSBN configuration are expected
to be retired in 1992.
The CIS Navy is building general-purpose submarines at a rate of about six per year. The six submarines launched in 1991 probably include Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs), Oscar II- class nuclear-powered cruise-missile attack submarines (SSGNs),the final Victor III SSN, and Kilo-class diesel-electric attack submarines (SSs). Despite the disastrous economic problems in the CIS, these submarines constitute by far the most launched by any country in the world last year.
The 26th—and probably the last—Victor III SSN was launched at the Admiralty Shipyard in St. Petersburg, a yard scheduled for conversion to civilian purposes. The fourth Sierra-class SSN is believed to be under construction at Nizhniy Novgorod, formerly Gorkiy. Production of the Akula, the most advanced and quietest Russian SSN, probably continues at Komsomolsk and at Severodinsk.
Oscar II SSGN construction also is believed to continue at Severodinsk. Kilo-class diesel electric submarine production continues at Nizhniy Novgorod, Komsomolsk, and St. Petersburg, with units under construction for the CIS Navy and for export; two of the Kilo building yards are scheduled for conversion to civilian use.
Submarine programs have suffered, however, and will suffer more. During the period 1988-1990, marginal programs were cut and new programs were delayed. The program to produce submarines capable of firing the SS-NX-24 cruise missile never emerged.
Fleet Admiral Konstantin Cher- navin recently stated that the CIS Navy hopes to produce two general- purpose nuclear-powered submarines per year but that the likely forsee- able rate will be three every two years. He also indicated that only one diesel boat could be built for the Russian Navy each year with a second boat each year for export.
dveness of such training.
The few fleet ASW exercises are too small, too short. a,1d too circumscribed. The services formerly provided Fy the Soviet Union have all but vanished. Opportunities l<) Practice on live targets are restricted by range and cost, target availability, and inadequate numbers of exercise Weapons. Underway and flight-hour restrictions constrain development of all at-sea skills. Yet nothing pays oft better than training. As equipment and environments become JTiore complex, individual and collective operator skills become more important. .
Among the most severe challenges to Navy leadership will be to develop and maintain real ASW skills in times
want, when it has not been entirely effective in building such expertise in times of plenty. The first and most •niportant action is to maintain an adequate base ot tech- n'ca' knowledge and experience in the officer corps. At °ne end of this spectrum is simple awareness on the part °f officers who are rarely directly engaged in ASW e.g., tactica! aviation pilots. At the other end is detailed knowledge and practiced expertise in individuals who will conduct and participate in ASW—from sensor operators to ASW coordinators.
Enough time, services, and weapons will have to be allocated to develop personal skills in individual units. Fleet commanders will then have to organize and direct fleet exercises to use and prove these skills in exercises at sea. Simulators are not enough, and using understudies for the real commanders could be disastrous. Major exercises at sea—with reasonable frequency and with wide participation—are necessary to show all hands how hard ASW is and how many resources are required to do the job. Finally, such exercises are the only ways in peacetime to validate assumptions on which strategy, tactics, war games, studies, and analyses are based.
ASW is a team game, from individual equipment operators through combinations of platforms designed to overwhelm submarine opponents. Exercises at sea develop real skills in command and control, determine if doctrine and procedures will really work, and test communications. The Navy could learn much from the Army’s model at Fort Irwin. There, battalions exercise as units in realistic encounters with an expert mock enemy. The odds are stacked against the exercising unit, expected to lose.
In contrast to this realism, most naval exercises artificially force encounters to provide opportunities that would not otherwise exist. Such operations should count as basic, not advanced training. Just such procedures have created false analytical assumptions, e.g., that every opportunity will result in an encounter." These techniques have no place in advanced or major fleet games. Only in realistic environments can the real ability of various systems, procedures, and people be evaluated and the officer corps become knowledgeable enough to plan for future developments. Such exercises develop real skills. Without these large, real, hard exercises, all other investments are buying the nautical equivalent of junk bonds.
The immense expense in time and resources to conduct realistic ASW training is only one reason for expertise to be less than equipment capability allows. The aviation and surface warfare communities pay only lip service to the importance of the ASW mission, as opposed to the operation of the aircraft or the platform. Submarine commanders too often tell of wasted exercise opportunities because the opposing commanders had other, more urgent missions to fulfill than to take advantage of available submarine exercise time. On the other hand, submarine commanders prefer to do almost anything rather than provide “ping time” basic-training services absolutely vital to developing first-rate sonarmen.
Strategically, large numbers of resources, relative to the submarines present, are needed. Their coordination requires great skill, and the certainty of coverage is always low. Tactically, the ocean environment is impenetrable and unpredictable such that submarines are hard to detect and, once detected, hard to locate. No known or expected development in science or engineering will change these conditions. In fact, most technological developments—at hand or predicted—promise to make the situation even more one-sided. In such an environment, individual skill levels become very important.'2
Lack of experience and expertise in this environment cuts two ways. First is the inability to conduct effective ASW. The second is a widespread lack of understanding which deludes the corporate comprehension of the problem. Without such comprehension, the whole area tends to be shelved to the specialists and ignored. Serious damage is possible if the United States faces an enemy that, according to Jane's Fighting Ships, “understands better the significance of sea-control and is properly equipped to contest it, particularly by submarine warfare.”13 In such a campaign, the Navy could suffer losses of capital warships and valuable merchant bottoms. Such losses could become sources of great public outcry and debate, resulting in a military campaign lost on the political front while the Navy was getting up to speed in ASW. No other warfare area contains this trap.
In what Lieutenant General Brent Skowcroft calls “this rapid and dramatic transition from one historical epoch to another.” It is the job of the professional services to keep an eye on the long-term issues that include the laws of physics and general theory of warfare. It is the professional military that must stay alert for enemies where none is obvious; that must evaluate threats for their real potential, not their apparent importance; and must understand the nature of the next war it may have to fight. This i is especially difficult when—again in General Skowcroft’s words—“The framework of our experience is no longer relevant.”14
Admiral Kelso advises that, “As the size of the U.S. military forces declines, greater emphasis will be placed on integrating complimentary capabilities of each of our other military services to meet specific crises.”15 But in ASW, no help will come from anyone else; whatever capability exists will reside in the Navy. As the United States begins to reshape its forces for peacetime presence, maintenance of an effective ASW capability is manifestly the most important task of the naval profession.
These truths are not self-evident; if the Navy is not knowledgeable about ASW, it cannot articulate these truths. Without such argument, it should not be surprising if the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Army, the Air Force, and the body politic fail to recognize them. Those who understand the submarine threat must coalesce to prevent a potential maritime disaster, to do those things that will keep the rest of the profession alert to and aware of the danger. If the United States expects to use the sea, it will have to ensure first that it can defeat its only threat in that realm— the submarine.
'VAdm. Henry B. Mustin, USN (Ret.), U.S. Naval Institute “Fleet and Industry” Seminar, San Diego, CA, 7 September 1989.
’Charles W. Coordry, “Even as Navy Builds Up Its Middle East Forces, A Drastic Build Down Is Being Eyed By Planners,” Seapower, January 1991, p. 13.
3Diesel Submarines (Less U.S.,U.K.,USSR, and France): 1954-1984—Number of Nations Operating: 20-40—Number of Submarines in Operation: 89-358. From John Benedict, “Proliferation of Submarines In the Third World,” Submarine League Convention, Arlington, VA, 13 June 1991.
Adm. Isaac Kidd, USN (Ret.), “Gulf Lessons Reinforcing Lessons of Maritime History,” Seapower, January 1990, p.53.
Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, USN, Chief of Naval Operations, Remarks, National Defense University, May 1991.
'U.S.Government, Department of Defense, U.S. Navy, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Director of Naval Warfare, Antisubmarine Warfare Division, “Anti- i submarine Warfare, Meeting the Challenge,” April 1990, p. 17.
’John Keegan, The Price of Admiralty,(New York: Viking Penguin, 1988).
"Scott Truver, “Why ASW,” ASW Log, March 1991, p. 7.
'Adm. C. A. H. Trost, USN (Ret.), Posture Statement, Chief of Naval Operations, to U.S. Congress, 1990.
“Adm. of the Fit. S. G. Gorshkov, “Navies in War and Peace,” Morskoi Sbomik. No. 1L 1972, p. 28, quoted in Norman Polmar and J. Root, Submarines and the Soviet Navy, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991), p. 182.
RAdm. J. R. Hill, Antisubmarine Warfare, Second Edition (Annapolis, MD- Naval Institute Press, 1989).
R. P. Haffa and J. H. Patton, “Analogues of Stealth: Submarines and Stealth,” j Comparative Strategy, (London: Taylor and Francis, Vol. 10, 1991), pp. 257- ,
' CaPj Richard Sharpe, RN (Ret.), Foreword, Jane’s Fighting Ships 1991-1992, i quoted in Seapower, July 1991, p. 22.
LtGen. Brent Skowcroft, USAF (Ret.), National Security Adviser to the Presi- ”nt SPeech to Washington Chapter, AFCEA, 11 October 1991.
m. Frank B. Kelso II, Chief of Naval Operations, “A Report on the Posture and the Fiscal Year 1992-1993 Budget of the U.S. Navy,” (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1991).
Rear Admiral Holland has been President of the Armed Forces Coin- munications and Electronics Association Education Foundation since retiring from the Navy in 1987. He served 27 years of his 32-year career in submarines or submarine-related assignments.