Undersea Warfare The Official Magazine of the U.S. Submarine Force. Winter 2004 U.S. Submarines... Because Stealth Matters Cover for Winter 2004
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Sea Shiel: VADM Donald Addresses Pivotal Seapower 21 Concept
by JOC(SW/AW) Mark O. Piggott, USN

VADM Kirkland H. Donald, Commander Naval Submarine Forces (CNSF), recently addressed the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) 2003 Joint Undersea Warfare Technical Conference in Groton, Connecticut. He spoke about the current status of the Submarine Force and what lies ahead for submariners in conjunction with the Chief of Naval Operations “Sea Power 21” concept for the Navy.

“We have a new class of attack submarine, led by the Virginia, that’s very nearly ready for sea,” he said. “We have Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines being converted to SSGNs, a platform with capability potential we have only begun to imagine.

“You have, we all have, very much to be excited and proud about,” he concluded. The NDIA’s primary areas of interest are the business and technical aspects of the government-industry relationship, encompassing government policies and practices in the entire acquisition process, including research and development, procurement, logistics support, and many technical areas.

In looking at the recent conflict in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom, VADM Donald noted the Navy’s capability to form a “Sea Shield,” enabling our forces to amass unprecedented firepower within range to support the campaign. The submarine’s role in the Sea Shield concept is to prepare and dominate the undersea battle space by denying an adversary’s use of warships, submarines, and mines.

“We must be able to operate, with impunity, across our mission spectrum, in the contested littoral,” he stated.

To VADM Donald, this means collecting accurate intelligence, neutralizing any threats, and ensuring a clear path to the enemy through stealth.

“A submarine’s stealth and endurance will be essential to early and persistent access to the increasingly important pre-hostilities phase of any operation. We can’t be deterred by the presence of mines. We can’t be deterred by enemy submarines.

“Whether operating independently or as an element of a combined arms task force, we must be able to locate, hold at risk, and destroy on call, any submarine that leaves port to threaten our forces,” he continued. “We must use our honed surveillance capabilities and the resultant profound situational awareness we develop to inform and advise the Joint Force Commander of the capabilities and intentions of our adversaries.”

Looking across the globe, VADM Donald knows that the U.S. Navy has the edge in technology and advances in all areas of undersea warfare, especially special operations.

“We in the United States do have a competitive advantage in undersea warfare,” he said. “We have the best littoral torpedo in the world with the MK 48 ADCAP, and it is getting better.

“Our relationship with special operations forces has never been closer,” he continued. “We’ve got an aggressive experimentation effort; it’s a leader among the services in integrating innovative technology into submarines and testing them in realistic joint operating concepts.

“We are pursuing a disciplined, determined, problem-solving approach with focused management attention in all of these areas as we build ever more robust, real capability,” he added. “We must not just get better – we must dominate in this area.”

VADM Donald challenged the defense industry to help make SSGNs the leading platform for special operations forces and joint forces operations.

“What I need for you to do is open your apertures looking for opportunities to exploit what we have in the huge undersea volume and large ocean interface of the SSGN and to demonstrate the true joint warfighting capability it brings,” he said.

“ADM Bowman has urged us to ‘get real’ with technology and get real hardware and software in the operating environment quickly, test it, and build on successes. This is particularly applicable to the SSGN.”

He suggested, “That same attitude applies to development of joint operating concepts. We need smart people looking beyond the obvious, developing and testing new ways to integrate into the joint force and ensuring that our solutions remain compatible in the joint architectures of the future.”

The one thing needed to ensure communication in these types of operations is connectivity. According to VADM Donald, lessons from Operation Iraqi Freedom have shown the need for effective communication.

“If we are going to be effective in this joint force, we not only have to be there, but we have to be connected and able to exchange information with it,” he said.“Warfighting today demands real time, high-bandwidth communications, and that demand is only going to increase.”

The submarine’s role in the Sea Shield concept is to prepare and dominate the undersea battle space by denying an adversary’s use of warships, submarines, and mines.

“Further, we are going to have to be able to communicate without yielding our stealth. We have to continue to pursue communications at speed and depth. We need technology to increase our communications capacity and make more efficient use of the bandwidth we have.

“This connectivity is not only critical outside the hull; it is critical inside the hull as well,” VADM Donald added. “What I mean by that is our tactical systems must be fully integrated inside the ship. The days of developing and delivering independently operating and single-function tactical decision aids should be over.”

Maintaining and updating weapon systems to conform to each mission requirement is essential to the Sea Shield concept.

“If submarines are going to be a persistent force in the contested littoral… we are going to need a wider variety of sensors and weapons that give us more response options and keep us in the fight longer,” VADM Donald said.

“For instance, we should be able to engage small, high-speed vessels or aircraft that could threaten our battle forces or be impediments to either our freedom of movement or the movement of our Special Operations Forces,” he added. “We need a fires capability that is immediately responsive, at the tactical level, to the land component commander’s requirements at any time in the campaign.”

“Off-board sensors, aerial, underwater, unattended, which expand our reach and accelerate our sweep rate, will significantly improve our effectiveness.”

According to VADM Donald, the most valuable resource is not the technology, but the Sailors operating it. System engineers have to think of the Sailor first when designing a new technology for future submarines.

“I marvel every time I go on one of our ships and see the proliferation of advanced technology and the exponential progression of capability that it brings with it. However, in the same vein, I am concerned with that same explosion of capability and what it means in terms of preparing our fine Sailors to get the most warfighting utility from what it is we are giving them.

“If you combine the multi-mission responsibility we put on our crews these days and add to that the rate of change of capability that we are now able to deliver to our ships, I question whether we can achieve true competence in our employment if we train the way most ships are training today,” VADM Donald continued. “It’s kind of the same way I was doing it when I was in their shoes. There’s a little more automation. But I think we’re only nibbling around the edges.”

“ADM Bowman’s folks at Naval Reactors are taking a bite out of it with the Interactive Display Equipment for propulsion plant training,” he stated. “Similarly, higher fidelity shore tactical and navigation trainers have great potential.

“But along with those, we need better sharing of knowledge and best practices among our crews, better tools and techniques for self assessment, and better leveraging on knowledge residing in our shore school and in our technical institutions.”

VADM Donald concluded with a few final thoughts, first noting that the Submarine Force has a vital role to play in the CNO’s Sea Power 21 concept. Then he stated, “We need to be careful shepherds of the Force’s fiscal resources as we embark on spiral development projects to rapidly field capability to the fleet.” And finally, he challenged the industry to always think about the operators. “If we haven’t made it measurably more capable, easier to operate and more efficient, then we probably need to take another look at it before we deliver it to the fleet. We owe it to our Sailors.”

Chief Piggott is the Force Journalist serving under Commander, Naval Submarine Forces.