Antisubmarine warfare (ASW) is a key tenet of U.S. force protection. If the U.S. Navy does not take steps to revitalize ASW, it risks losing the ability to gain sea control in strategic areas.
The end of the Cold War significantly reduced the challenge to the U.S. Navy on the world's oceans, especially by Soviet submarines. Accordingly, the Navy has downsized in platforms and capabilities, focusing on missions other than antisubmarine warfare while assuming unfettered access to the littorals as well as the high seas. Recent conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Somalia have nudged the Navy toward missions that project power over land.
IfASW is not revitalized soon, however, the United States will lose the ability to project power in strategic areas. Resources and training dedicated to ASW will be insufficient to counter a growing threat, especially from the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) in the East Asian littoral and the South China Sea.
The Nature of the Problem
The secretary of Defense in January 2000 noted the importance of antisubmarine warfare; however, his proposed force cuts and naval missions belied his words. By 2001, traditional ASW aircraft such as P-3s had decreased to 50% of their Cold War numbers and were focused on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, as well as shooting SLAM-ER missiles overland in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Other aircraft such as the S-3 no longer are funded or trained for acoustic ASW missions and are used mostly for aerial refueling. The SH-60 helicopter fleet has shifted significantly from ASW to combat search and rescue and other missions.1
Surface platforms that are less multimission capable but still are excellent ASW platforms are being phased out. Five Spruance (DD-963)-class destroyers are being accelerated for decommissioning, as are four ocean surveillance (T-AGOS) ships.2 For newer cruisers and destroyers, mission creep is the challenge. More missions means increased competition for space, training time, and money, and ships are forced to disperse to carry out these diverse !askings. Again, this has come at the expense of effective ASW, which generally requires a concentration of platforms, unity of effort, and proximity to the target submarine for successful tracking and prosecution.3
Submarines, too, have been lured by the siren call of other missions. U.S. Navy nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) are more than a match for any submarine in the world, but they are being called on for multiple missions that compete with ASW for training, space, and funding. In addition, a recent Joint Chiefs of Staff study noted 55-68 attack submarines would be needed by 2015 and 65-78 by 2025 to meet emerging requirements. With only one Virginia (SSN-774)-class submarine being built per year, the Navy will be short 30 attack submarines within 18 years.4
Focusing on non-ASW missions has been the norm for the past ten years. Strike warfare was an easy way to justify and acquire funds for upgrades and training, and compared to ASW, it is media friendly and relevant to current conflicts. But letting ASW atrophy could have dire results. Modern, ultraquiet diesel-electric submarines are proliferating quickly. Shipyards in Russia, Germany, France, and Sweden all sell very capable platforms with accurate weapon systems to nations all over the world. In fact, conventional diesel-electric submarine sales are predicted to double by 2010.5 The Chinese in particular have taken advantage of an upswing in their economy to buy submarines, including the Russian Kilo 636 class, which was not exported in the past (see sidebar).
These modern diesel submarines are quiet, especially when powered only by batteries. They also tend to operate in shallow-water areas that have relatively noisy environmental conditions. Although most nations can afford only a few diesel submarines, it takes a disproportionate number of ASW ships, aircraft, and submarines to counter them. This will continue to be a problem for a smaller and lighter U.S. Navy that is increasingly shaped to perform missions other than ASW
Recommendations to Solve the ASW Problem
One challenge to revitalizing antisubmarine warfare is the perception that the Navy is spending much more on ASW than the mission deserves; this view is coupled with an urgency to find a "silver bullet" that will perform the mission at a fraction of the cost.6 Unfortunately, there are no cheap, easy answers. To regain ASW competence, the Navy must train against the new potential threat-competent diesel submarines in environments such as the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait—using every means available.
The U.S. Navy has conducted exercises with Chilean, Australian, Japanese, and South Korean diesel boats, but these have focused on improving competence and capabilities in allied navies. Such multinational exercises are huge morale and public affairs boosts, but the U.S. Navy needs more than communications drills and maneuvers. An initiative was forwarded by the fleet commanders to the Chief of Naval Operations to spend $2.6 million to provide diesel submarine opposition forces for battle group exercises; however, no action has been taken to fund the initiative.7
There also are promising technologies to be exploited. Low-frequency active sonar, new acoustic processors, networked distributed sensors, and unmanned underwater vehicles will help offset ASW challenges.8 Space-based systems that can detect electromagnetic effects are promising. Current satellites usually are limited to capturing nonmoving objects, making them ideal for finding submarines in port, but once submarines have sailed they are difficult to track from space. Taking advantage of phenomena such as surface waves, internal waves, bioluminescence, and temperature or chemical wakes could make the oceans more transparent and reveal submarines.9
In the littoral, detailed understanding of the ocean environment is critical to locating submarines. The three T-AGOS ships that are not being decommissioned are being used for counterdrug operations, rather than for detailing the ocean environments in the littorals.10 Better tasking of T-AGOS ships is critical to mastering the environmental conditions in the littorals.
Admiral Walter Doran, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, recently expressed concerns about ASW readiness and required all carrier battle groups to conduct an ASW exercise prior to deployment; this is a step in the right direction.11 ASW should be rigorously trained, graded, and accurately debriefed during all phases of the interdeployment training cycle and at all operational levels. Scheduling and exercising against challenging diesel opponents in waters similar to potential combat littorals will give U.S. platforms the ability to conduct an effective ASW offensive.
Submarines are not the only platforms that can perform ASW. Other traditional ASW platforms such as P-3s, SH60s, destroyers, and frigates also must allocate time and money to reestablish ASW excellence. In addition, forward-deployed assets from other services must be considered to defeat the submarine threat. ASW has become such an important warfare skill, especially in the Pacific, that the United States no longer has the luxury of using solely naval forces. ASW is a key component of force protection, given that the bulk of all services' forces and logistics will come by ship for sustained global operations, and if we are denied access to key littoral regions, highly coordinated timelines for major regional conflicts could fall apart. Unlocated submarines could force commanders to put plans on hold, reducing the services' ability to conduct other missions and diluting our forces' effectiveness in a major regional conflict. During contingency and limited operations, the loss of even one ship as a result of a failure in ASW could endanger the political success of the operation.
The U.S. Air Force's doctrine to support countersea operations includes ASW as a collateral mission to be accomplished under the direction of a maritime commander.12 Air Force and Marine Corps squadrons do not train or organize specifically to operate as part of an ASW group, so it is incumbent on the Navy to create and schedule training for countersea operations. Air Force squadrons in Kadena and Marine Corps squadrons deploying to Iwakuni could be trained in their ready rooms and in the air by naval officers with ASW experience. Getting aircrews up to speed would not be difficult. Almost all dieselelectric submarines are vulnerable to visual and radar detection while on the surface. A submarine running with masts above the surface leaves a wake behind the masts called a "feather." Feather recognition is not difficult and would be easily attainable for all aircrews in all services. The first major hurdle to achieving joint ASW efforts is to train non-ASW crews on what to look for and how to pass the location of the submarine to the ASW commanders. This training initially could be given at the various weapons schools and periodically reinforced in theater.
A standing destroyer squadron commander and staff should be established immediately in the Seventh Fleet, on the same lines as Destroyer Squadron 50 in the Arabian Gulf, to focus on the Chinese submarine threat. They could set into motion unit-level exercises against Japanese diesel submarines as well as schedule joint service ASW exercises for Seventh Fleet.
Finally, we must create an ASW doctrine that bridges all communities and conducts ASW jointly. The U.S. Joint Forces Command is the logical choice to jump-start this challenge. Twenty-first century ASW must rise to the combatant commander level to be effective. As a result of Joint Forces Command training, the various combatant commanders could mandate theater-specific ASW training for all units transiting through their areas of responsibility. Operational commanders should mandate a joint force ASW capability that receives the same attention and focus as the strike warfare mission.
ASW is a key tenet of U.S. force protection and cannot be neglected, especially in the East Asian littoral. Many of the world's busiest sea-lanes pass through this region, an area the Chinese want very much to control and where billions of American investment dollars will almost guarantee U.S. involvement.
While U.S. ASW capabilities continue to shrink, our potential enemies are working to improve their antiaccess capabilities. The threat of submarines can be solved only if the operational commanders seize control of this challenge and use all services and platforms.
1 Department of Defense, Annual Report to the President and to the Congress (Washington, DC: Office of the Executive secretary, January 2000); available at www.dod.mil/execsec/adr2000/chap5.html [accessed 21 March 2003], pp. 14, 15.
2 RAdm. A. T. Church, FY04 President's Budget Overview (Washington, DC: Office of the secretary of the Navy, 31 January 2003); available at www.navweb.secnav.navy.mil/pubbud/04pres/highbook/31 Jan_Budget_Rollout_Brief.pdf !accessed 18 April 2003], p. 10.
3 Owen Cote and Harvey Sapolsky, "Antisubmarine Warfare after the Cold War," Massachusetts Institute of Technology security Studies Conference Series, Lexington, MA, 11-12 june 1997, p. 18.
4 Chuck McCutcheon, "The Shrinking Navy: Build-Down to Breakdown?" Free Republic (Conservative News Discussion Forum, 15 April 2000); available at www.freerepublic.com/forum/a38fblaOf37de.htm [accessed 22 March 2003], p. 6.
5 Andrew Krepinevich, "Navy Strike Operations in lhe 21st Century," Strategic and Budgetary Analysis Online (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis, November 1997); available at www.csbaonline.org/4Publications/Archive/ H. 19971100.Navy_Strike_Operat/H. 19971100.Navy_Strike_Operat.htm [accessed 21 March 2003], p. 4.
6 Jason Ma, "SUBLANT Official: Sea Power 21 Could Shrink Navy's ASW Funding," lnsideDefense.com (Washington, DC: Inside Washington Publishing, 31 March 2003); available at www.insidedefense.com/securc/defense_docunuin.asp?f-dcfense_2002.ask&docunum=NAVY-16-13-ll [accessed 8 April 2003].
7 Christopher J. Castelli, "Realism of ASW Training Linked to Unfunded Diesel Sub Initiative," lnsideDefense.com (Washington, DC: Inside Washington Publishing, 18 March 2002); available at www.insidedefen.se.com/securc/defense_docunum.asp?f=defense_2002.ask&docnum=defense_9202 [accessed 8 April 2003].
8 VAdm. Mike Bucchi, USN, and VAdm. Mike Mullen, USN, "Sea Shield: Projecting Global Defensive Assurance," Sea Power 21 Series, part 2, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, November 2002, p. 58.
9 W. J. R. Garner, Antisubmarine Warfare, vol. 1 1 of Brassey's Sea Power: Naval Vessels, Weapons Systems and Technology Series (Washington, DC: 1996), p. 149.
10 Military Sealift Command, Office of Public Affairs, "Counter-Drug Operations/Ocean Surveillance Ships - T-AGOS" (Washington, DC: Chief of Naval Information, 24 May 1999); available at www.chinfo.navy.inil/navpalib/faclfilc/ ships/ship-tagos.html [accessed 24 March 2003].
11 Jason Ma, "Doran: Advances in Diesel Sub Technology Require ASW Emphasis," lnsideDefense.com (Washington, DC: Inside Washington Publishing, 20 January 2003); available at www.insidedefense.coni/secure/dei'ense_docunum.asp?f=dcfense_2002.ask&docunum=NAVY-16-3-12 [accessed 8 April 2003].
12 U.S. Air Force, Countersea Operations, Air Force Doctrine Document 2-1.4 (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Headquarters, U.S. Air Force Doctrine Command, 4 june 1999), pp 17-28.
Commander Farrell, a naval flight officer, has served in several A-6 and S-3 squadrons. he was the commanding officer of Sea Control Squadron 21, forward deployed to Japan, prior to attending the College of Naval Warfare in Newport, Rhode Island in November 2002. He currently is assigned to U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs.