by Frank L. "Skip"
|When I assumed command of the Pacific Fleet on 31 December 1941, our submarines
were already operating against the enemy, the only units of the fleet that could come to
grips with the Japanese for months to come. It was to the Submarine Force that I looked to
carry the load.... It is to the everlasting honor and glory of our submarine personnel
that they never failed us in our days of great peril.
Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz
|The exploits of our World War II Submarine Force are a
source of legend, pride, and legacy. Two previous issues of UNDERSEA WARFARE have
recounted the heroic exploits of Medal of Honor skippers Commander Dick OKane of USS
Tang and Commander Eugene "Lucky" Fluckey of USS Barb. Our World War II
Submarine Force produced five other Medal of Honor winners and scores of Navy Cross and
Silver Star winners real heroes who laid their lives on the line to preserve our
nation in those "days of great peril." Admiral Nimitzs submariners did
carry the load when no one else could do it. Our World War II submarine crews, with only
two percent of the Navys sailors, were responsible for 55 percent of the
enemys maritime losses.
More recently, many of the somewhat "saltier" (read older) sailors among us, who served in post-World War II diesel boats and in the nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, can recall with pride the singular role we played in bringing the Cold War to a successful conclusion. Lately, that role is becoming better known to the public, as weve seen the submarine story featured on 60 Minutes, Nova, The Discovery Channel, in numerous books, and on the Internet.
Submarines Today Stressed And
Fleet requirements for submarines on the front lines have not gone down. In fact, theyve gone up, and they continue to increase. As our SSN force has been cut nearly in half since 1989, the volume of ISR mission tasking undertaken by submarines has doubled, due to the increased national need for information uniquely obtainable by submarines in many new trouble spots around the globe. With 58 SSNs today, and still falling toward 50, were already stretched thin by our efforts to meet all the demands. As I said earlier, you submariners who are doing it, know it. Our national leaders are fighting over you, to get enough submarine mission time to meet their needs, and our Fleet Commanders-in-Chief have repeatedly stated needs for a force level of more than 70 SSNs to carry out their heavy, multi-mission tasking. They know that our stealth, endurance, agility, and firepower make SSNs crucial assets in an unstable world, today and for the future. You respond rapidly to any crisis anywhere in the world, giving our national leadership great flexibility. You do what no other platform can do while on station and forward deployed continuously for months you can operate either covertly when required, or overtly if desired.
There are numerous real-world examples of submarines executing crucial missions during the past decade. Most are highly classified, but a few have been selectively made public knowledge, like the important and responsive role of our SSNs in helping face down the crisis in the Taiwan Straits in March 1996, as well as some of the various Tomahawk strikes our SSNs have launched. And the pace is still going up, not down. We continue to be called into action in the Persian Gulf, the Adriatic, the South China Sea, and other regional hot spots, every day of the year and without question, the SSN represents our own premier ASW capability.
Although we currently have an advantage in ASW causing some, dangerously, to assume away a future threat we cannot afford to become complacent and lose our edge. Also, as those of you who have done it understand well, the very skills you develop in practicing ASW are put to frequent use in executing many of the other missions you alone can do so well.
SSNs bring powerful advantages to our national leaders and our military commanders. But theyre beginning to feel the pinch as our numbers drop, and theyre faced with gapping some of those SSN missions. A 1998 Defense Science Board task force looked hard at our national security needs for submarines today and tomorrow and at how (and even whether) submarines should play in the force structure needed as the next century unfolds. That study on the "Submarine of the Future" concluded:
I cant say it any better than that. Fifty SSNs just arent enough to do all the things youre needed for today, and 50 surely wont be enough to do all the jobs tomorrow. Our submarines are hard-pressed and using every bit of their multi-mission flexibility and endurance, stretching to meet the Nations needs with an under-sized force.
The submarines's broad range
of capabilities can be employed
Submarines Tomorrow The
Imperative of Innovation
There are two types of innovation that are the linchpins of Submarine Force success tactical innovation and technical innovation. OKane and Fluckey were standouts in wartime, because they were tactical innovators. Once the lines were over and the ship was underway, they had what they had. So they never stopped looking for a better way to solve the problem or conduct the approach and attack and they were their own harshest critics. Today as well, our best COs are innovators the thoughtful risk-takers from whom we should all be learning.
Although it is undeniable that the face of warfare has changed in the 20th century, it is also important to reflect on another aspect of history, which has driven submarines and submariners to evolve, changing in step with advancements in warfare. Three major submarine wars have taken place in this century: two U-boat campaigns in the Atlantic, 1914-1918 and 1939-1945; and our own Pacific Submarine Forces campaign, 1941-1945. The Cold War can count here too, in many respects. For submarines as with other weapons war itself has truly been the engine of innovation. And thus, history records that these conflicts were instrumental in leveraging the inherent characteristics of submarines for innovative roles well beyond those for which they were originally conceived.
That is why innovation is a central theme of this UNDERSEA WARFARE issue were laying the groundwork today to ensure we will have the ability to effectively incorporate technological improvements into our submarines as we proceed into the next century.
This is not a new resolution for submariners. Looking back, the repeated willingness and ability to embrace technological innovation and put it to full use have been a hallmark of the Submarine Force. Some of our advances, like the transition to nuclear propulsion, the deployment of submarine-launched ballistic missile systems, and the more recent addition of land-attack cruise missiles, have resulted in revolutionary changes in submarine employment and national defense doctrine. Other changes have been more evolutionary less dramatic, but nonetheless vitally important to the continued advancement of our Submarine Forces capabilities. The considerable improvements in our 688-class submarines, from USS Los Angeles through USS Cheyenne, are good examples of the incremental incorporation of technology to maintain our edge.
As I look to the 21st century challenges facing us, I see five key areas of innovation which well need to work on, in order for submarines to continue to evolve and maintain the capabilities needed to carry out the broad and significant roles we are being called upon to perform. In simplest terms, we need to do more to:
In one sense, this means getting better connected to receive and process input from the outside world, using new high-fidelity on-board and off-board sensors. Examples of this include high-resolution sonar systems, mast-mounted electro-optics, more comprehensive electronic support measures (ESM), and novel miniature sensors, such as those that could provide information on nuclear, chemical, or biological agents. It also means better exploiting our use of and access to new earth-observing satellites and manned and unmanned tactical reconnaissance platforms, including Unmanned Aerial and Undersea Vehicles (UAVs and UUVs).
Additionally, it means that we must develop information systems capable of assembling all this information on board and converting it into knowledge for use in tactical operations; and then breaking our historic "radio silence" a little more often sharing this large volume, "spectacular, multi-sensor take" with battlegroup, theater, and national-level decision-makers, who require it to plan and act on a timely basis. In turn, those external commands and agencies must process and turn around selected portions of their own broader knowledge of direct and timely importance to our submarines to better enhance our own tactical picture in real time.
Even while getting better connected and breaking radio silence when it is warranted, maintaining our inherent stealth will remain central to our submarines unique value as warfighting platforms as the next century unfolds. Frankly, its what gives us a prime seat at the table. Innovative concepts are under development to enhance electromagnetic and acoustical information exchange, while remaining stealthy. These include smaller, more efficient mast-mounted antennas, long-range acoustic modems, and towed communications buoys, to permit higher data rates and broader bandwidths at speed and depth. Todays funded modernization programs will field many of these new sensors and information exchange systems. Purposeful research and development initiatives are also necessary here, as the pace and complexity of technological innovations continue to accelerate.
While stealth continues to be our inherent virtue, let me suggest that we can do more to help the CNO with his peacetime forward presence requirements than we are. There are times when making our presence known would and will make sense: Covert when required, overt if desired. Planting the seeds of doubt in a mischief-makers mind ("Where did he go? Whats he up to? How many are there?") has some obvious advantages. This is not technological innovation, but another example of tactical innovation. In fact, we used this technique effectively during the blockade of Haiphong during the Vietnam War. In addition to aerial mining of the harbor, a few of our submarines made their presence known overtly, then "disappeared." Using their speed, they approached all the ships moving toward the port, and word quickly spread about the dozen or so submarines surrounding Haiphong. The merchant traffic abruptly stopped mission accomplished.
Early in a conflict, forward deployed submarines will likely be operated closer to potential adversaries than our sister forces. For this reason, we are becoming ever more valuable participants in the planning, sensor, and engagement networks upon which future command, control, and coordination of the sea-air-land battle will depend. Weve got to get better connected with each other, with the Battlegroup, with the Joint Commander, and with the National Authorities.
Flexible firepower. The
flexibility of US submarines allows for rapid
The Defense Science Board study I cited earlier recommended overthrowing what has been described as the "tyranny of the 21-inch torpedo tube," by employing systems having a more flexible interface with the undersea environment. By removing the size and configuration restrictions imposed by torpedo tube deployment schemes, we will enable submarines to handle more payload and more different types of payloads. Admiral Fages recently signed an agreement with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to study new attack submarine design concepts, with emphasis on innovative attack submarine payload options and the structural means to accommodate them. Even for our present submarine designs, we will need to explore how vertical launch system (VLS) tubes can be adapted to handle a variety of land-attack (or anti-air or even anti-missile) weapons, and how existing torpedo tubes can be best used to deploy UUVs, or eventually, miniaturized and podded UAVs, in addition to their more traditional payloads of missiles, mines, and torpedoes.
The miniaturization of conventional sensors and the creation of wholly new types, such as nuclear, biological, and chemical detectors, suggest new possibilities for comprehensive submarine-based covert surveillance and monitoring of the littoral battlespace. For example, a network of drifting or subsurface buoys deployed from sub-launched UUVs, along with corresponding air/land sensors carried or dropped by sub-launched UAVs, could be continuously monitored in real time by satellite or submarine telemetry packages.
In the near term, we are also studying potential payload options which could be made available by converting a limited number of excess Trident ballistic missile submarines to SSGNs large, conventionally-armed attack boats. The available volume of these large submarines with significant remaining service lifetimes could be applied to accommodate a variety of new payload concepts, unhinged from the "tyranny of the torpedo tube." They include but are not limited to providing capacity for deploying over 100 offensive precision-strike weapons and offering greatly enhanced capacities and capabilities for the transportation and delivery of Special Operating Forces (SOF).
This innovative look at cost-effective, alternative applications for a small number of Tridents does not affect our continuing national reliance on Trident SSBNs as our reliable, survivable, and premier strategic deterrent well into the next century an era which is, unfortunately, likely to feature further proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Our Trident submarines deploy 54 percent of this Nations strategic warheads, using only 34 percent of the strategic budget and less than 1.5 percent of the Navys personnel. All this, rolled into a patrolling platform whose whereabouts remain completely unknown to those who would contemplate unleashing terror upon our Nations interests, make our Tridents an irreplaceable element of our national security posture for the foreseeable future.
With modular construction, we will also be able to deploy significant payload variations in our submarines using a single basic design. The modular architectural approach implements a basic, standardized structural "shell" that contains the nuclear propulsion plant and ship control functions, along with fundamental self-defense capabilities. Variable payloads can then be configured as "plug-and-fight" modules that would mate with the basic hull form, using standardized electrical and mechanical interfaces. This approach is similar to that used in configuring the Space Shuttle, where interchangeable payload modules are swapped in and out to best support the specific mission needs of each flight. These SSNs with optimized special payloads must preserve the submarines core advantages of stealth, mobility, and endurance and retain their important multi-mission capability. But the added flexibility to substantially enhance a chosen mission area or set of mission areas would offer a significant advantage over what Ive called our traditional "Noahs Ark" submarine design concept, in which "small numbers of everything" are carried aboard each submarine all the time, potentially to accomplish any conceivable submarine mission.
A truly modular design would permit unprecedented flexibility for operational commanders to tailor their fleets. They would be able to use their current and projected mission requirements to determine the optimum mix of specialized submarines (with volume-dominating, special-purpose payloads) versus other, more broadly configured multi-mission submarines without incurring the operational inefficiencies and high costs of building and maintaining a number of less flexible, specialized submarines built from the keel up.
These prophetic words were spoken by one of the worlds most legendary submarine skippers Captain Nemo, in Jules Vernes fictional 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Today our Navys ships particularly, our nuclear-powered warships with their "unlimited" reservoirs of stored energy stand at the threshold of access to remarkable capabilities that Jules Verne could barely have imagined. There are significant operational advancements which could be made possible by emerging technologies, but they require harnessing very large quantities of electrical power. To realize this potential for a step improvement in capabilities, we must pursue the development of modern all-electric ships, incorporating electric drive technology. This initiative stands to yield significant growth potential to advance warfighting technologies.
Just how would electric drive and an "all-electric ship" give us new abilities to do all of this? Well, take a walk into your submarine engine room. Today, on the order of 75-80 percent of the useful power of a submarine reactor is solely dedicated to propulsion; it is either used for speed, or it is not used but in any event, it is not available to apply to other uses. Obviously then, only 20-25 percent of the reactors useful power can be used for other purposes. With electric drive, 100 percent of the power generated would be placed on an electrical bus, from which the skipper would be free to allocate energy wherever, whenever, and however he needs to, in order to meet requirements dictated by the tactical situation. Examples of future uses which would be made possible by this type of increased flexibility in distributing the ships generated energy include:
The Navys future fossil-fueled surface ships might benefit from this technology as well, even without a nuclear reactor to provide a large power source, because the same type of flexibility in the allocation of available energy would be realized, along with tremendous naval architectural flexibility and substantial cost savings in fuel efficiency and manning reductions. In short, most of our Navys ships might be substantially enhanced by "getting electric."
Submarines stand to gain a crucial additional advantage by using electric drive the next big step in improved acoustic stealth. As quiet as our submarines already are, we will require further advances here, to keep pace with the proliferation of rapidly advancing acoustic sensor and processor technologies. We have already achieved most of the acoustic quieting that is physically available using current, mechanical drive technology. To do better, we need to change the overall approach to delivering propulsion and on-board power generation.
Maturing technologies such as high power semiconductors, permanent magnet motors, and magnetic bearings can be exploited in the near term, to provide the necessary high- torque, power-dense, quiet on-board machinery we will need. Emerging technologies including high temperature superconductivity and direct energy conversion offer promising future possibilities of proceeding even farther down this road, achieving very low-loss energy transport and storage, along with the prospect of a simpler propulsion plant, with few moving parts and no steam in the engine room.
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Our World War II heroes set the
We have made, and continue to achieve, substantial cost reductions in the Virginia-class submarine in areas such as a life-of-the-ship reactor core; a simpler plant design that reduces pumps, valves, and piping by over 40 percent; reduced numbers of watch stations; disciplined incorporation of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment; and a fully computerized design-then-build process of construction.
Methods to reduce the costs of upgrading and maintaining systems in existing submarine classes are also well underway. An example of this is the Acoustic Rapid COTS Insertion (ARCI) "state-of-the-shelf" upgrade for sonar systems, first evaluated in USS Augusta (SSN-710) in 1997 and scheduled for full installation in the fleet by 2005.
We are committed to continuing this cost-limiting approach into the future. Modularity in both power systems and payloads, for example, will be a key factor in containing the cost of submarine construction and subsequent upgrades, as well as permitting a much shorter cycle time for implementing new design concepts. In a low-build-rate environment, this is the most feasible and cost-effective way to field new capabilities quickly to respond to new threats.
But our partners in industry need to do more. They should, and must, understand what is core, and what is process or culture then challenge any part of the process and culture where we are not maximizing efficiency. For my part, I need to find industrial partners willing to do this and bid a fond adieu to the others.
I began this article reflecting on our heroes from World War II. I dont think thats being nostalgic or wistfully recalling faded glory. I recount the stories of those heroes repeatedly, because they set our standards. They developed the culture of our Submarine Force they led the way. In the crucible of an extended world war, numerous technologies emerged at a blinding rate, and those new technologies demanded new tactics to employ them. Our World War II submariners took the products of new technologies (the sonars, the radars, the improved torpedo exploders, and more), put them into their boats with welding rods, baling wire, and white line and then they figured out how to best employ their gadgets, sharing what they learned with one another and telling their leadership what more they needed to do their job. Using every bit of technology and innovation available and a whole lot of courage they regained lost territory, developed a lead, and finally prevailed. Anything less would not have been enough. And our submariners of the 60s, 70s, and 80s continued this legacy. The public is just beginning to understand their enormous contributions during those crucial years of nuclear gridlock with the Soviet Union. Study after study after study has concluded that our country will continue to rely on its submariners far into the 21st century.
Thats where you who are operating our submarines come in. We have a lot of people working on developing and incorporating new technologies as they become available to ensure the highest quality in the face of diminishing quantity. Its up to you to take them to sea, though, and figure out how to use them to our best advantage and to share them with one another, and tell our Submarine Force leadership what works, what doesnt work, and what you need most in the very integrated and Joint world today.
Theres a long, uninterrupted linkage between our submarines of World War II, our Cold War submarines, our submarines today, and the submarines well operate into the next century. When our Nation needs the Submarine Force, nothing else will do:
We have always answered the bell, just as we are in all parts of the world today. These are busy and exciting times for our submarines and our submariners. Were doing the important and irreplaceable job our Nation needs us to do today, and were putting in place the means to maintain our value to our Nations arsenal into the next century.