From Under
the Sea

On the Maritime Battlefield of the future, the rule of thumb will be "if you can be seen, you can be killed."

RADM Malcolm I. Fages

The vision paper, Forward...From the Sea, shifted the operational focus of our Navy from warfare on the high seas against a single, well-understood enemy to potential conflicts with a wide range of littoral-based enemies about whom we may know very little. Our Navy is, and will be, expected to execute missions from peacetime presence to land attack on short notice and with consistently successful results. Our enemies, whether nation-states, terrorist groups, or world-class criminals, will grow in technological sophistication as an increasingly competitive arms market seeks to sell them the latest weaponry and sensors. Since U.S. forces will operate closer to the shore, often within visual, much less radar range, our growing littoral focus will make our adversaries’ detection and targeting tasks easier. Finally, the shrinking number of Navy ships, combined with the political impact of near real-time coverage of our actions by media, such as CNN, will place an ever greater premium on protecting our forces from attack.
On the maritime battlefield of the future, the rule of thumb will be “If you can be seen, you can be killed.” The enemy “eyes” in question will include a network of:

  • Sophisticated land and airborne radars and commercially available or organic satellite imagery

  • Unmanned surveillance vehicles, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs)

  • Bottom-mounted acoustic and non-acoustic arrays

  • Personnel reporting from military and commercial aircraft and shipping

The offensive weapons U.S. forces will face may well include:

  • Coastal cruise missiles

  • Tactical ballistic missiles

  • Quiet diesel submarines operating submerged for extended periods using Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP)

  • Increasingly intelligent mines

  • Information warfare

  • Weapons of mass destruction including nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons

Operating in the littorals will become synonymous with operating within an enemy’s weapons range, allowing the enemy to choose the time, place, and manner of his attack.

Thus, our strategic vision places the modern Navy in a unique and very challenging environment. Fortunately, the Navy and the nation will be able to rely on the unique combination of attributes brought to bear by America’s nuclear submarines. Submarines provide America’s warfighting commanders unparalleled stealth, endurance, agility, and firepower.

The Original Stealth Platform
The fundamental characteristic of our nuclear submarines is stealth. From humble beginnings nearly a century ago, submariners have asked for, and submarine designers have sought, an increasingly stealthy platform capable of exploiting the ocean depths for its self-protection and significant tactical advantage. Even with small and slow diesel-electric submarines, whose operations submerged were strictly limited by their battery capacity, the overwhelming tactical advantages of stealth changed the course of modern warfare.

Stealth allows the imposition of force at the time and place of one’s choosing. It creates uncertainty in the mind of an adversary, and it imposes financial and operational costs to counter the submarine that may be lurking in his littorals.

Milestones of Submarine Stealth

These examples clearly show that stealth is an important element of combat power, crucial to both strategic and tactical surprise.

1914: Primitive German U-boats sank three Royal Navy cruisers in the English Channel in the opening days of the First World War and contributed directly to the demise of the dreadnought in naval warfare.

1917: Later in World War I, the adoption of unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans posed such a threat to American trade and security that President Wilson, who campaigned on a peace platform in 1916, asked Congress to declare war in April 1917.

1943: In World War II, during the Battle of the Atlantic, the Allied victory against German U-boats was due at least in part to the Germans trading off their submarines’ stealth. In order to use “Wolf-Pack” tactics, the German submarines were required to communicate frequently using high-frequency radio transmissions, which were exploited by allied anti-submarine warfare (ASW) forces.

1941-1945: The United States conducted unrestricted submarine warfare against the Empire of Japan. Depending largely on their stealth and exploiting intelligence broadcasts from ashore, American submarines – without U.S. air superiority – wreaked havoc on Japanese merchant shipping and naval targets in Japanese home waters. Submarines brought the fight to Japan long before any other U.S. assets could operate there.

1954: With the commissioning of USS Nautilus (SSN-571), nuclear propulsion opened the era of the true submersible, allowing unprecedented exploitation of the stealth inherent in unlimited submerged operations.

1961: USS George Washington (SSBN-598) commenced the first ballistic missile strategic deterrent patrol. This marked the beginning of the move of U.S. strategic assets to submarines at sea, where they are considered the most survivable leg of the strategic triad.

Endurance – The Submarine and Naval Maneuver Warfare
The United States is a maritime nation with global security and economic interests. As a result, the mobility and agility of our armed forces is vitally important. Operationally, U.S. fleets, armies, and air forces must be able to maneuver wherever and whenever needed by warfighting commanders. This ability provides a powerful tool that can preempt conflict, lock out an adversary’s options, or allow U.S. commanders to fight and win on terms of their own choosing.

The nuclear submarine fulfills this need. Her stealth allows non-provocative, unobserved access to all ocean areas. Her nuclear propulsion permits high transit speeds for extended periods without the need to refuel. Her small, highly trained crew can operate, maintain, fight, and repair her while on station. Her small logistics “footprint” eliminates the need for an elaborate supply train – as long as the food (and the mess specialists’ imagination) hold out. And, her high state of readiness allows rapid surge capabilities when crisis looms.

What does this mean for the theater commander?

  • Submarines can get to the fight quickly, unobserved, and often unopposed.

  • Submarines can reposition as needed, without staged logistics.

  • Submarines can remain on station for extended periods, providing intelligence, indications and warning, and reconnaissance data.

  • Submarines can conduct precision land-attack strikes.

In a real sense, like the frigates of Nelson’s era or the cruisers of the age of steam, submarines are key elements of naval maneuver, able to roam the oceans and take the fight to the enemy. Of greater value, submarines can accomplish this with an impunity unknown to their historic forebears.

The Agile Teammate
Stealth and endurance, qualities which have made U. S. nuclear submarines the world’s premier ASW assets, are only two of many attributes which our submarines enjoy. Today’s submarines also possess agility, which allows them to respond quickly to a variety of taskings by operational commanders. In fact, submarines throughout their history have proven to be highly agile and flexible platforms. In World War II, they were used to lay mines, to launch special warfare raids, to conduct reconnaissance, and to rescue downed aviators, in addition to their devastating role as commerce raiders. In the post-war years, submarines became cruise missile pioneers, radar pickets, and strategic platforms carrying nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.

This tradition of building multi-mission capability and of fostering hardware research and development, and tactical innovation continues today. Submarines, with their inherent stealth, are the only truly covert method for inserting Special Operations Forces (SOF). The Advanced Swimmer Delivery System (ASDS), currently under construction, provides SOF with a true “mini-sub,” capable of significantly extending their combat radius by providing a dry, climate-controlled environment. The nine-man lock-out chamber in the New Attack Submarine (NSSN) will allow the entire ASDS complement to lock-out in one operation.

Developments in Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUVs) will provide a much improved, organic mine reconnaissance capability, with the promise of even more exciting undersea warfare opportunities as we develop UUV expertise. Extending their reach above the surface, submarines have successfully controlled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and received their real-time imagery downlinks to conduct Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions, as well as allowing SOF commanders on board the submarine to better monitor and control their missions. Submarines also provide commanders with a unique covert offensive mining capability, which could allow U.S. commanders to bottle up opposing forces in harbors prior to the initiation of conflict.

To maintain our submarine fleet combat ready, we have implemented a program to back-fit and forward-fit new capabilities. Many of the technologies and improvements discussed above will be back-fit into our Los Angeles-, Seawolf-, and Ohio-class submarines. On the forward-fit side, these and other advanced technologies will be built into the NSSN, the first of which is under construction at the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, Connecticut. NSSN will be capable of conducting all of the missions our SSNs currently perform, and she will be able to do them with unparalleled stealth and survivability. NSSN is the first submarine specifically designed to fight in the world’s littorals. Stealthier than the Seawolf-class, she is our first submarine to have non-acoustic quieting requirements. Because she will operate in more constrained waters, considerable effort has gone into reducing inadvertant non-acoustic radiation, such as her electrical and magnetic signatures, to minimize the chances of detection by non-acoustic ASW sensors.

Some of the most exciting and innovative developments are coming in the area of submarine connectivity and interoperability with other Navy and Joint forces. High data-rate antennas will allow the transmission of submarine intelligence and reconnaissance data, such as real-time periscope imagery, to commanders ashore and afloat. No longer will commanders and analysts have to wait for the mission report to be delivered by courier to get useful submarine intelligence – they will be able to access it in real time. These improved communication links provide new horizons for tactical innovation. The submarine’s ability to participate in coordinated battle group operations has never been better. Several ongoing advanced technology demonstrations, working toward improved two-way connectivity while the ship is submerged, will enable even greater flexibility in operating with surface force and air assets.

In all of these areas, the submarine is building on her legacy as an agile teammate, able to perform missions for which she was always capable, but often down-played by our Cold War ASW focus.

Submarine Firepower – The Naval Sniper
Stealthy, mobile, connected: U.S. nuclear submarines are typically operating on the forward edge of the maritime battlefield. Their ability to covertly monitor situations of concern to our National Command Authority is unparalleled. Fully integrated into the Navy’s evolving network-centric warfare command and control system, they can deliver the first blinding blows required by warfighting commanders if deterrence fails. Protected by their stealth, and with their magazines filled with offensive weaponry, submarines are uniquely prepared to take the fight to an adversary’s ships, submarines, and targets ashore.

Stealth/Precision/Forward Operations:
The sniper's effectiveness offsets the size of his magazine

The submarine’s contributions to strike warfare can be particularly useful. Able to operate inside the enemy’s area- denial umbrella, her strike weapons can be launched close to shore, maximizing the number of targets within range and minimizing flight time to close-in targets, an important concern when some of the most important targets are mobile. As a result, she can help clear the field for follow-on attacks by strike aircraft, dramatically reducing the risk and increasing the effectiveness of their sorties.

The Submarine Force is moving in tandem with our surface counterparts in developing the Navy’s strike weapons. Today, submarine-launched Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles fill a significant proportion of strike requirements around the world, as was amply demonstrated during Operation Southern Watch in the Persian Gulf in early 1998. Tactical Tomahawk, the next generation of a battle-tested missile, will reach the Fleet after the turn of the 21st century. In addition to the Tomahawk’s precision strike capability, Tactical Tomahawk will have a built-in reconnaissance and retargeting capability to allow real-time intelligence and battle damage assessment to guide strike planning, rather than relying solely on pre-planned missions.

The ultimate expression of submarine firepower can be found in the Strike/SOF Ohio-class Trident ballistic missile submarine (SSBN-726) conversion concept. This concept, which is under review, envisions the conversion of Trident submarines no longer required for strategic service to a combined Strike and Special Operations platform. Missile tubes would be either converted to accommodate Navy Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) Advanced Swimmer Delivery Systems, or loaded with containers carrying up to seven Tomahawk vertical launch cruise missiles. Armed with up to 154 Tomahawks and deploying about 100 SEALs, a Strike/SOF submarine would provide the National Command Authority with a powerful theater asset whose massive firepower could be used in combination with other Joint strike assets.

Lurking far forward in the world’s littorals, submarines contribute significantly to U.S. presence operations in peacetime and to preparation of the battlespace as conflict approaches. If diplomatic efforts fail, submarines can strike key land targets quickly and effectively, reducing the risk to follow-on strike assets. The submarine can be viewed as a naval sniper, capable of striking with deadly precision at the heart of the enemy’s command and control networks, severely diminishing his ability to strike back, even before he knows U.S. forces are in town.

Making a Difference –The People of the Submarine Force
Despite the enormous progress that we’ve made in our ships and their weapons, the Sailors of the Submarine Force are what make the difference in achieving mission success. Since the first submarine was commissioned nearly 100 years ago, our boats have been manned entirely by volunteer personnel, resulting in a team of some of the most qualified people in the Navy. This highly skilled community, comprised of surprisingly young people, is responsible for a wide variety of platforms, support facilities, and other assets, including ballistic missile and attack submarines, submarine tenders, submarine rescue ships, deep-diving submersibles, floating dry docks, and a responsive shore infrastructure.

The process of becoming a submariner is one of the most rigorous in the military, and applicants are only accepted after careful screening and evaluation. Successful candidates attend the Naval Submarine School/New London, in Groton, Connecticut, and later receive more specialized technical training throughout their careers. Once at sea, hands-on training and formal qualification tests are required to earn the prized “dolphins” insignia. The dolphins, silver for enlisted and gold for officers, indicate that a new submariner has successfully demonstrated an overall knowledge of the ship and her systems, damage control equipment and procedures in any compartment, and most importantly, his ability to perform in a highly dynamic and stressful environment. They are a great source of pride within the service, as they represent the successful culmination of a demanding, but rewarding journey.

Submarines, with their inherent stealth, are the only
truly covert method for inserting Special Operating Forces (SOF)

Mission Ready
Our submarines, the stealthiest platforms in America’s vast arsenal, are forward deployed and mission ready. Our inherent stealth allows us to prepare the battlespace for follow-on Navy and Joint forces, while simulneously prevailing over any likely threat. Our endurance and survivability allow us to operate “in harm’s way” while preserving our most important asset, our people. Our stealthy forward presence allows us to remain on station almost indefinitely, maintaining sea dominance, collecting intelligence, and inserting and supporting Special Forces whenever necessary. Our multi-mission capability enables critical contributions throughout the phases of conflict. Finally, on-board firepower gives us the ability to engage virtually any target, with a suite of weapons ranging from mines and torpedoes through cruise and ballistic missiles. Together, these capabilities provide America’s leaders with a flexible, rapid-response force able to exercise both non-provocative forward presence and lethal firepower.

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