by CAPT (Sel.) Dave Duryea, USN
The year is 2012, and the President has directed USS Georgia (SSGN-729) to position rapidly off the coast of a potential adversary. There, with a Joint Commander embarked and loaded with advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs ), unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), Tactical Tomahawk Missiles (TACTOMs), and Special Operations Forces (SOF), Georgia waits patiently for the right moment to execute her mission. At the order of the regional commander, the ship springs into action, launching remote vehicles to gather intelligence while SOF personnel prepare to disembark, and TACTOMs are spun up to be ready for launch at a moment’s notice.
Is this fact or fiction? Actually, the year is 2004, and these were the opening events of exercise Silent Hammer. Let’s talk more about it.
Conducted off the coast of San Diego, from 4 to 14 October, the Sea Trial experiment Silent Hammer provided a timely opportunity to demonstrate recently developed Joint Warfare capabilities. Onboard Georgia for the event were the Commanders of Naval Submarine Forces, the Naval Sea Systems Command, Second Fleet, the Navy Network
Warfare Command, the Naval Warfare Development Command, and Submarine Group 9, along with a support team drawn from fleet units and industry and university-affiliated research centers. Silent Hammer was coordinated with a second Sea Trial experiment, Trident Warrior, and other participating elements including SOF units, USS La Jolla (SSN-701), USS Pittsburgh (SSN-720), USS Tarawa (LHA-1), EA-6B and EP-3 aircraft, two UAV surrogates, the Air Force/MIT Lincoln Laboratory Boeing 707 aircraft, “Paul Revere,” equipped with the Lincoln Multi-Mission ISR Testbed (LiMIT), the Air Force’s space-based radar surrogate, Air National Guard HH-60 helicopters, and a UUV.
“Silent Hammer demonstrated how a networked force, including sea-based SOF from an SSGN, can fill joint gaps – Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) and Time Sensitive Strike – by conducting large–scale clandestine operations, supported by advanced unmanned systems, to reduce risk and increase capability,” said CAPT J. S. Davidson, experiment director for Silent Hammer.
The ability to collect, analyze, and act rapidly on ISR information is essential to the warfighter’s ability to make decisions and take actions inside the enemy’s command/control time-line. Silent Hammer explored our ability within a tactical scenario to develop persistent ISR using National Sensor information, Space Based Radar (SBR) with ground target-motion detection, UAV video, a network of unattended ground sensors, advanced ship sensors, and information operations to synthesize the most comprehensive and effective tactical picture available to support the warfighter.
Georgia, awaiting her planned conversion to an SSGN, served as Silent Hammer’s clandestine sea-base platform, providing the headquarters node from which command and control operations and logistic support were conducted. For the first time, an embarked commander was taken to sea on a submarine, where he exercised control over a wide variety of forces and technologies. Installed onboard were a Flexible Payload Module (FPM) and a Stealthy Affordable Capsule System (SACS), a prototype battle management center, and a robust command and control network which allowed for the direction and monitoring of remote forces and sensors.
Silent Hammer was a key milestone in the spiral development of “universal encapsulation,” the technology which will permit affordable deployment of unmanned sensors, such as UUVs and UAVs, and the Submarine Littoral Warfare Weapon, a submarine-launched, subsurface-to-air or surface missile. The FPM and SACS comprise an encapsulation system that facilitates the launch of non-marinized payloads and weapons from a submarine. This allows the use of Navy air- or surface-launched payloads – plus those from other services – without the need to redesign them for launching in an undersea environment. Ultimately, this approach will provide a “wooden round” adaptable for long-term storage, variable release depths, launching under broaching or surface-loitering conditions, and the ability to encapsulate small or large payloads.
During Silent Hammer, an FPM installed in one of Georgia’s ballistic missile tubes released two SACS, each containing an inert test shape simulating a UAV. This was the second SSGN Payloads and Sensors Demonstration that tested the SSGN’s capability to employ new delivery methods – based on technologies developed by others – in supporting joint mission capabilities at a fraction of the cost of a new program.
“A demonstration battle-management center was installed onboard Georgia,” explained RDML Mel G. Williams, Jr., Commander, Submarine Group 9. “This enabled an embarked Joint Commander access to real-time persistent intelligence in support of command and control of multiple SOF missions and time-sensitive strike. Additionally, the embarked commander was able to maintain near-continuous connectivity with the Theater Commander via the Global Information Grid.”
High-speed and special communications, overhead and ground ISR sensors, and innovative information operations were among the other technologies and capabilities integrated into Silent Hammer. The exercise provided real-world experience with the new and improved capabilities for supporting extended littoral, terrestrial, and strike operations lent to the SOF and SSGN team by a network of off-board assets. A carefully-conceived data collection and analysis plan, formulated by MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, will ensure that these new capabilities and technologies are thoroughly evaluated, thus providing the Navy with key information for supporting future investment decisions.
Georgia, commanded by CDR John Tammen, is scheduled to commence refueling, overhaul, and SSGN conversion this spring at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. She will join USS Ohio (SSGN-726), USS Michigan (SSGN-727), and USS Florida (SSGN-728) in a conversion process, which for them has already begun.
“This was an experiment with many successes,” said RADM Paul F. Sullivan, Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. “It added greatly to our understanding of the true warfighting potential of the SSGN and the development of a credible concept of operations for the Joint warfighter. If anything, we’ve underestimated the potential of the SSGN for supporting the Joint warfighter in the Global War on Terrorism. Silent Hammer showed us that SSGN will be a crucial future capability in our nation’s defense when Ohio first becomes operational in 2007.”
CAPT (Sel) Duryea is the Program Manager, Advanced Submarine Systems Development Office, Naval Sea Systems Command. He has served in a number of assignments including command of the USS Florida (SSGN-728), which conducted the first SSGN Limited Objective Experiment, Giant Shadow.