Nobody Asked Me, But. . . - Practice Where You Play

By Lieutenant Jason Chuma, U.S. Navy

One way allied submarine presence can be increased is through expanding NATO sub-on-sub antisubmarine warfare (ASW) exercises within this strategic transit lane to include not just submarines in the Sixth Fleet area of responsibility (AOR), but also U.S. submarines stationed in Norfolk or Groton still in their deployment workup cycles.

Using Norfolk as the more limiting case, it is approximately 2,500 nautical miles to the GIUK Gap, so at 16 knots that is approximately one week of transit time each way. A typical time for an ASW exercise is three to four days, so in total less than 20 days at sea. Another option would be to meet halfway at the Grand Banks of Newfoundland (made famous by The Hunt for Red October [Naval Institute Press, 1984]). Exercising at the Grand Banks would reduce the transit to approximately 1,400 nautical miles, so at 16 knots the transit time is reduced to approximately four days.

Only so much can be gained through ASW exercises involving just U.S. submarines. Engagements between captains and crews who have been trained at the same submarine school, using the same doctrine, in the same well-known local waters present only a limited test of skill. Compare this with the opportunity to test tactics and technology against an ally with different training and experiences. The data and lessons learned could prove beneficial to future tactical and technical development.

Understanding acoustics and the ocean environment are vital to successful peacetime and wartime ASW engagements. The environments of the Grand Banks and GIUK Gap are different and orders of magnitude more challenging than those seen in local waters off of the U.S. East Coast. The opportunity allotted to captains and crews for area familiarization and learning the acoustic environment within these challenging areas could pay dividends if subsequently tasked to find and track a Russian submarine headed toward the United States.

As Russian submarine activity continues to rise, coordinated ASW exercises with our NATO partners and between the geographic AORs of U.S. European and Northern commands will become increasingly important. Full command and control for such an operation has not been exercised since the Cold War. NATO antisubmarine exercises in the Grand Banks or GIUK Gap would expand opportunities to test current doctrine and experiment with different ASW techniques. Once the best methods are found, then they can be practiced. NATO submarines having routinely conducted exercises together that cross between geographic AORs, under a well-established command-and-control system, will execute seamlessly when they are needed for real-world operations.

Expanding NATO ASW exercises will improve readiness and increase allied submarine presence in key strategic areas. Submarines will not just be present, but postured to find other submarines (only for the exercise, of course).

Lieutenant Chuma is the navigation/operations officer in the USS Springfield (SSN-761).


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