Deep below the ocean’s depths, a game of cat and mouse is played…a hunt with players waiting silently for one another to make the first move…and hear the first sound. It’s a battle of metal and might between nuclear-powered and diesel-electric submarines.
With dim green illumination, sonar technicians study acoustic signatures
in search of the latest threat…watching, listening, waiting…as the submarine
quietly approaches…closing to within firing range.
While these might sound like underwater adversaries, they’re actually allies working together to train and test undersea warfare capabilities. Their partnership through the Diesel Electric Submarine Initiative (DESI) provides each country with opportunities to train their crews and test capabilities while helping their partner nations do the same.
“DESI provides training opportunities against the real world threat – a modern, quiet, diesel-electric submarine,” said Juan Fernandez, tactical analysis director and DESI Program Manager for Commander Naval Submarine Forces. “Through annual bilateral deployments to each coast, foreign diesel-electric submarines help us attain our fleet ASW exercise objectives. And we share with the participating nations post-exercise results, reconstruction analysis, and lessons learned. That helps them better assess their capabilities and training readiness. It’s a great fleet-training support program with excellent return on investment, while fostering theater-wide naval interoperability.”
“We don’t have enough of our own subs to train these battle groups. Working with submarines from other countries helps us fill a void for ASW training,” said Rick Current, deputy director for training, tactical weapons and tactical development for Commander Naval Submarine Forces. “Each country’s participation in this program is a contribution to the coalition effort.”
The DESI program has predominately concentrated on partnerships with South American countries operating submarines. These conventional boats comprise nearly 15 percent of the 224 submarines operated in the free world today by 27 different countries. Established in 2001, the program has engaged several navies operating conventional diesel-electric submarines (SSKs) to provide a series of U.S.-sponsored deployments to support fleet training exercises and tactical development events. The program enters its fifth year with active participation from Colombia, Peru, and Chile. DESI expansion efforts are currently underway to include Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and possibly Norway and Germany. Over the past five years, the DESI SSKs have provided over 450 engagement days to the fleet on both the east and west coasts. In a related program, the year-long bilateral training effort between the U.S Navy’s ASW forces and the Swedish attack submarine HMS Gotland in San Diego provided about 160 training days to the Pacific Fleet. The DESI program is primarily engaged in providing Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) ASW training. As a participating nation’s naval capabilities improve, they will also be able to contribute more effectively as Allied forces.
In the past, battle group training was done in preparation for upcoming deployments by pitting groups of U.S. ships against each other in a series of simulations. That approach provided opportunities for commanders to practice tactics in a variety of combat scenarios. In the post-Cold War environment, however, today’s threat is more likely to come from a modern, quiet diesel-electric submarine. And since the U.S. Navy hasn’t operated diesel submarines for over 30 years, it’s beneficial to work with partner nations operating diesel submarines to obtain realistic opposing forces for training. Moreover, this alternative better prepares each of the participating navies for operations anywhere in the world.
Diesel-electric submarines are prevalent in many third world countries, and what they lack in firepower, speed, and endurance, they make up for in quiet and stealth. They transit quietly at low speeds, can run on diesels at periscope depth, and are capable of running exclusively on battery power for eight to 24 hours (depending on speed and other factors).
Building Relationships Across The Seas
“This provides a realistic tactical environment which validates undersea warfare training and certifications attained during and after unit-level training,” said Lt. Cmdr. Rick Hughes from Commander, Destroyer Squadron TWO FOUR.
Diesel submarines have proven to be difficult sub-surface targets to track., and due to their world-wide proliferation, they are a tactical challenge that cannot be dismissed. “We were able to employ all of our tactics and give each officer the much needed training against highly capable ASW platforms,” stated Capitan de Fragata Jimmy Yusti Robles, Commanding Officer of the Colombian submarine ARC Pijao (S-28). Yusti was involved in several exercises in support of U.S. strike group training initiatives in 2005.
“It’s a great idea to have them participate,” said Lt. Cmdr. Robert Hudson, Executive Officer of USS Springfield (SSN-761). “Our crew had the chance to identify them while they were surfaced, submerged, recharging batteries, and even try to track them while they were in stealth mode. It is good to work with them and to realize what capable platforms diesels can be.”
The exercises were equally beneficial for the Peruvian submarine BAP Antofagasta’s (SS-32) crew. The submarine and crew experimented with various engagement tactics, tested their torpedo firing systems, and worked on close encounter operations. “Some of the tactics worked, but we learned some new aspects, and the training highlighted exactly the type of things we hoped to learn,” said Capitan de Fragata James S. Thornberry, Commanding Officer of Antofagasta during the first Peruvian submarine DESI deployment (circa 2002). “This is a very good opportunity for us to train in anti-surface and anti-submarine tactics. It is also an opportunity to train in large battle group situations with a high level of realism. These exercises are more advanced and more real than other maneuvers we’ve been involved in, and we hope to continue these types of operations in future years. We are gaining a lot of knowledge. This exercise has been carried out at a high level of proficiency and we want to achieve that level.”
“These newly-forged relationships are bearing success at a very rapid pace,” said Vice Adm. Chuck Munns, Commander Naval Submarine Forces. “They’re providing mutually beneficial fleet ASW training and operational readiness while supporting theater and regional security cooperation and interoperability goals.” And that demonstration of international submarine force cooperation and interoperability ties into an even bigger issue.
The Thousand-Ship International Navy
“I’m after that proverbial thousand-ship Navy,” said the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Mullen, in an August 2005 speech at the Naval War College. “A fleet-in-being, if you will, composed of ships from all freedom-loving nations, standing watch over the seas, standing watch over each other.”
Adm. Mullen’s concept of an “International Navy” builds on existing partnerships, like DESI, to extend the global reach of sea power with the ability to “share and unite” nations. The U.S. Submarine Force is a member of an international community of submarine-operating nations from 27 countries. Together, these nations help each other improve undersea warfare capabilities while ensuring safety of the seas.
“We conduct bi- and multi-national exercises with 17 submarine-operating nations, and have three countries participating in DESI providing valuable ASW training services to our Fleet,” said Vice Adm. Munns. “Additionally, we conduct submarine-to-submarine flag-officer level staff talks with our Allied partners to further improve and enhance cooperation and sharing of operational tactics and lessons learned.”
A Global Transformation after 9/11
The events of September 11, 2001, have done more to make the United States a
international security partner than any other event in recent history. In their Nov. 2005 U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article, Vice Adm. John G. Morgan Jr., and Rear Adm. Charles W. Martoglio noted, “It will take a fleet in excess of 1,000 ships to address all the new challenges, more complex contingencies, and broader range of maritime missions. The challenge is for individual nations to come together by determining where their national interests intersect and to determine what contribution they can make to this already-emerging network to meet those common interests. Plugging into a regional or global maritime network will not be a one-size-fits-all proposition.”
“Capabilities that cover the spectrum from blue-water operations to maritime law enforcement will play important roles in delivering the kind of maritime security that is helpful to the global community, and that means virtually every nation can contribute in some way to security in the maritime domain,” the Proceedings article noted. “While individual navies have vastly different capabilities, it is their synergy when voluntarily coordinating maritime activities that yields a network in which regional and local results are determined by regional and local interests.”
“Maritime Security” used to begin and end at a country’s territorial waters or national boarders. Transnational threats, environmental attacks, human trafficking, or failed states weren’t expected. But the days of relatively simple maritime security and well defined threats are gone.
“I think the real potential of Sea Power lies in exploring those kinds of possibilities, while developing global awareness,” said Adm. Mullen during his August speech. “It is about international maritime relationships founded on understanding and trust, enduring relationships that bloom into partnerships. Our vision is…and ought to be…to extend the peace through an inter-connected community of maritime nations working together. The enemy goes global. So should we.”
Chief Petty Officer Fliesen supports the COMSUBLANT Public Affairs Office in Norfolk, Va.