by Staff of Undersea Warfare Development Center


“If deterrence fails, the Navy will conduct decisive combat operations to defeat any enemy.”

–ADM John Richardson, USN;
“A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority,” January 2016.

A simple statement, elegant and succinct, and at the same time both broad and deep in context: “...decisive combat operations to defeat any enemy.” Submarine crews operate arguably the most complex and capable weapons of war in history, but these capabilities will be squandered if their crews and the commands involved with submarine operational employment are unable to appreciate and meet the challenges of being decisive against any potential adversary. Warfighting professionals must constantly ask themselves, “Are we truly ready to meet the commander’s intent?”

In reading Capt. R.B. Laning’s excellent examination of wartime submarine commanders, “Submarine Command in Transition to War” (reproduced in this issue), one recognizes that the lessons he describes from World War II are just as valid today. Times and technologies may change, but the need for brave, intuitive, and capable warriors remains as equally vital today as it ever was; if anything, the complexities and demands of modern naval warfare have increased this need.

From the Undersea Warfighting Development Center’s (UWDC) perspective, these complexities and demands are broken down into two distinct yet closely coupled lines of effort (LOEs): Submarine Warfare and Integrated Operations. The first LOE involves the fundamentals of ensuring that a submarine’s crew employs its unique capabilities to the maximum desired effect, and the second LOE involves leveraging and integrating these same key capabilities across the range of the Fleet Design document—in particular, Distributed Maritime Operations.

Working the first LOE, UWDC has two groups dedicated to ensuring that submarine crews’ warfighting readiness remains at the levels required of a fight against a modern, sophisticated adversary: the Tactical Analysis Group (TAG) and the Arctic Submarine Lab (ASL). The TAG is based in Groton, Conn. with a detachment in Pearl Harbor, and ASL is based in San Diego.

The TAG is constantly advancing two broad fronts: ensuring that current tactical doctrine and operating guidance is up to date, and second, ensuring that as new combat systems are fielded across the Submarine Force, effective tactical doctrine is already in-place such that crews can fully employ new capabilities from day one.

In terms of tactical doctrine, the TAG maintains a persistent effort to develop, plan, execute, and analyze submarine at-sea exercises with the ultimate goal of providing the most effective tactical doctrine to the Fleet. These tactical development exercises are uniquely constructed along these LOEs, and TAG team members routinely embark participating submarines to both evaluate a tactic’s effectiveness and receive feedback from and provide feedback to the Force. The value of direct feedback from the Force cannot be overstated; hearing from the actual operators of our new systems has provided some of the best and innovative advances to our Submarine Force doctrine.

UWDC and the Submarine Force rely on the Fleet operators to drive the out-of-the-box thinking on better ways to employ capabilities, both current and emerging. The high-end fight is dynamic and fluid. The adversary is constantly evolving, and the teams that are best suited to staying ahead of the problem are those waterfront commands who have the latest operational experience. Frontline expertise and perspective is crucial to mission success; commands are encouraged to propose better ways to fight.

A separate but closely related TAG effort involves the use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) to improve submarine crew situational awareness and buy back decision time, particularly in high-tempo environments such as high-density shipping areas or approach and attack. The TAG is actively engaged with organizations inside and outside the Navy to explore, adapt, and field technologies that will streamline some of the more repetitive and routine but necessary tasks currently performed by watchstanders. The goal is to rapidly introduce systems meeting this intent without the delays inherent in the normal acquisition process.

The team at ASL similarly has a two-pronged LOE: prepare submarine crews for Arctic operations today and lead the development of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) for tomorrow. UNDERSEA WARFARE’s summer 2018 edition extensively covered ASL’s most recent biannual Ice Exercise, but on any given day ASL is closely involved with global submarine operations. Specialized equipment installation/de-installation, training, and the embarkation of ASL Arctic Operations Specialists are just a few of the many activities conducted by these highly trained professionals.

Ensuring that the individual submarine can fully employ its range of capabilities forms the foundation of the Submarine Force contributions to the Joint fight. As the tenets of Distributed Maritime Operations dictate, these contributions must in turn be fully integrated into wider, theater-level execution supporting the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander. This integrated fight is the focus of effort for the UWDC Norfolk and San Diego detachments.

The San Diego and Norfolk teams have two primary audiences: Strike Groups (SGs) and Theater Anti-Submarine Warfare Commanders (TASWCs). UWDC works with other Navy stakeholders at all levels of command, including Numbered Fleet staffs and Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) 4 and 15, to ensure that ASW capabilities and skills at the tactical and operational levels are sufficient to win tomorrow’s complex battles. While this LOE originally targeted CSGs, the fielding of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter brings with it expanded power projection capabilities for the Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG), which in turn has increased the demand for integrated ASW training.

Training for both SGs and TASWCs range from peacetime operations through escalation of hostilities. Across the spectrum, the focus of training shifts from primarily a defensive posture to more aggressive, offensive operations that emphasize and stress the coordination between the Warfare Commanders to achieve Numbered Fleet and Combatant Commander objectives. Since these integrated efforts bridge multiple platforms, close coordination with other warfighting development centers and the Naval Warfare Development Command (NWDC) is a critical element of this effort. Be it afloat training as part of a SG Optimized Fleet Response Plan or ashore training delivered to senior leadership and TASWCs and their staffs, UWDC subject matter experts provide classroom and afloat instruction and, when required, key assessments of ASW mission readiness.

The UWDC staff that supports the training and assessment LOE is composed of officers and senior enlisted Sailors with backgrounds from all of the Undersea Warfare (USW) warfighting communities: surface, submarine, fixed- and rotary-wing aviation, and information warfare. They in turn are supported by an equally diverse staff ashore who work the reconstruction and analysis necessary to provide rapid, detailed feedback to the commands conducting and evaluating the various training and rehearsal events.

Across the Navy, at levels of command from fire control parties up through Fleet commanders, UWDC engages to ensure alignment, synchronization, and unity of effort for those forces that produce effects in and from the undersea domain. The most recent result of this engagement is the development of Full Spectrum USW, a coordinated, integrated, coherent roadmap to the undersea warfighting force of the future, a force that can fully execute the Fleet Design and out-match any adversary. Understanding the “decisive combat operations” imperatives of a potential conflict today, UWDC is committed to its LOEs that generate the necessary readiness to “fight tonight,” all while using that knowledge as a foundation to ensure readiness for the potential fights of tomorrow.

Combat by its very nature is a demanding task, both physically and mentally. Success is never guaranteed, but thorough preparation mitigates the risks. Given the ever-expanding capabilities of potential adversaries, it is essential that every single member of the watchstanding team have a detailed knowledge and understanding of the threat, our Force’s TTPs, and the individual and collective responsibilities of his or her command. This knowledge requires dedicated study and practice at every opportunity (a point Laning’s article also raises).

As a member of the Submarine Force, you may at this point be asking yourself if it’s reasonable to expect that you’ll be able to read and fully understand the myriad manuals, documents, publications, etc. required of your profession, regardless of what position in the crew you hold. If you think that committing the requisite time to your warfighting profession is unrealistic, consider this remark: “Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead... A real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun.” The source? Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Put another way, also attributed to the Secretary of Defense, “The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e., the hard way.”

Success in combat begins with a solid foundation in warfighting fundamentals—TTP. As the warfighting development center for the undersea domain, UWDC’s LOEs are driven by the imperative to provide this foundation to the entire USW team. When these fundamentals are amplified by individual and collective initiative, courage, and determination, history demonstrates that the U.S. Submarine Force, and the U.S. Naval Force as a whole, presents a potential adversary with a true Hobson’s choice: choose not to challenge us at sea, for if you do, we will prevail.