MIT Security Studies Conference Series
after the Cold War
By Owen Cote and Harvey Sapolsky
This report is a summary of an MIT Security Studies conference entitled Antisubmarine Warfare after the Cold War, organized by Harvey Sapolsky and Owen Cote, Director and Associate Director of the MIT Security Studies Program, and sponsored by Paris Genalis, Director of Naval Warfare in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology. Held on June 11 and 12 in Lexington, Massachussetts, the conference sought to provide a fresh look at the question of whether or not antisubmarine warfare remains an essential mission area for the U.S. Navy.
We would like to thank Paris Genalis, Vice Admiral Albert Baciocco USN (Ret), Vice Admiral James Fitzgerald USA (Ret), Dr. John Hanley of the CNO's Strategic Studies Group, Rear Admiral Richard Pittenger USN (Ret), Commander James Foggo USN, Gerald McHugh, Ben Valentino, and Tim Wolters for their assistance with the conference and this report.
The conference brought together an eclectic mix of academics,
government officials, military
officers, industry professionals, and policy analysts for two days of discussion and debate about
the importance of antisubmarine warfare (ASW) after the Cold War. Several clear themes
First, little if any doubt was expressed concerning whether ASW
remained an essential mission
area for the U.S. Navy. In fact, several participants voiced the opinion that a robust capability in
this mission area was simply a "fixed cost of doing business" for the Navy, something it could
never afford to neglect at the expense of other missions. Just as the Navy is the enabling force for
the other services, ASW is the enabling mission for the Navy.
Second, the challenge facing the Navy in the ASW mission area is
complicated by the fact that
it faces both radical geopolitical change with the end of the Cold War, and new technical and
operational challenges posed by new generations of very quiet nuclear and non-nuclear
submarines. The confluence of these two trends creates an environment in which it is both
difficult and important to sustain investment in the ASW mission.
Continued investment in ASW is important not just because it is an
important mission area,
but also because the U.S. Navy needs to complete the adaptation of its ASW posture to the
challenge posed by a truly quiet opponent. This adaptation began in the mid-1980s with the first
forward deployments of very quiet Soviet submarines, particularly Akula SSNs, but was
interrupted soon thereafter by the end of the Cold War. This sea change in America's external
security environment eliminated much of the urgency, and therefore the resources, behind
institutionalizing new approaches to ASW against very quiet submarines. These new approaches
remain important because they resemble those necessary for dealing with the modern non-nuclear
submarines that will increasingly populate the navies of potential aggressor states.
Despite these similarities, it has proven difficult for the Navy
to sustain its investment in
ASW, because the new threat is both quantitatively and qualitatively different than the Cold War
threat in ways that make it harder to explain, and because other Navy missions have grown in
relative importance in the new external security environment.
ASW investments are harder to justify because it is difficult to
compare the threat of a few
Iranian Kilo class diesel/electric submarines to that posed less than a decade ago by more than a
100 Soviet nuclear submarines. Further, it is also difficult to compare the interests at stake in a
global conventional war for survival versus a lesser regional contingency fought for more limited
aims. In the latter case, even in a major contingency like Desert Storm, the United States fights far
from home over less than vital interests. But this means that it is only willing to pay a blood
price commensurate with those less than vital interests, which will make the United States very
cost-averse when it does fight. This sets the standards of success for the U.S. military extremely
high, creating the demand for quick victories and low losses.
But, given the capabilities of even one well-operated, modern
submarine, as the Royal Navy
encountered in the Falklands, quick, easy victories are hard to guarantee in ASW. A major
conclusion of the conference was that the U.S. Navy needs to do a better job of explaining this
difference between the Cold War ASW challenge and the post Cold War one. No opponent
threatens to contest our ability to gain command of the seas as the Soviet Union did during the
Cold War, but many potential opponents are developing the capability, paraphrasing John
Keegan, to extract a price of admiralty that might be unacceptable.
Another reason why ASW investments are hard to sustain is the
growth in importance of
other naval missions. This matters because ASW is a multi-platform mission area performed by
multi-mission platforms. Strike warfare, anti-air warfare, missile defense, and amphibious warfare
have all grown in importance as the Navy has shifted its focus away from blue water and toward
the littorals. Yet all or many of these missions are performed by the same air, surface, and
submarine platforms that do ASW. It is natural that these platform communities should shift
their focus, but in a time of declining resources, this shift has come at the expense of other
missions, ASW being one of the main billpayers of late.
It was in acknowledgment of this trend that a new office focused
on the ASW mission area
was established last year in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Another major
conclusion of the conference was that this office needs to be given the support commensurate
with the importance of its task. Regarding this task, as one attendee, a senior congressional
defense expert, put it, "Before I came to this conference I didn't know what the Navy's post
Cold War ASW strategy was because the Navy hasn't been speaking with one voice. My
ultimate hope is that the Navy will come up with a coherent story and make the budget match
The basis for these conclusions is described in more detail below.
The report starts with a
short discussion of ASW during the Cold War. This discussion establishes a context for current
debates about ASW. Next, it introduces a series of questions which animate and guide these
debates. It was with an eye toward addressing some or all of these questions that the conference
was organized. Then we provide a brief description of the new approach used by the conference
to explore these issues. Finally, in the main body of the report, we present a summary of the
results of the conference in the form of answers to at least some of the questions which guided
The U.S. Navy emerged from World War II victorious in two undersea
warfare campaigns. In
the Battle of the Atlantic, U.S. and allied antisubmarine forces beat back the challenge posed to
their sea lines of communication by Doenitz's U-boats, while in the Pacific, a prosubmarine
campaign was waged by American submarines that cut the sea lines of communication within
Japan's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. In the years immediately after the war, the U.S.
Navy confronted a major challenge to its undersea warfare dominance. German submarine
development, driven by the rigors of waging the Battle of the Atlantic against the Allies'
increasingly potent ASW forces, had leapt forward during the course of WWII. By the end of the
war, using snorkels, greater battery capacity, and better hull forms, the Kriegsmarine had
deployed Type XXI submarines with vastly improved offensive performance while submerged.
These came too late to influence the outcome of the war, but they were a harbinger of things to
come, since their designs also fell into the hands of the Soviet Union.
Soviet submarines based on these German designs threatened to
render obsolete much of the
U.S. Navy's ASW posture, which had been focused on dealing with submarines that lost a
substantial portion of their offensive capabilities when forced to submerge. At the same time, the
Soviet Union, being a continental power, threatened to make the U.S. Navy's victorious
submarine force irrelevant, since submarines were primarily useful as an anti-surface weapon
against merchant shipping, and the Soviet Union could easily survive without merchant shipping.
Out of this challenge grew two initially separate innovations which, when brought together,
formed one of the cornerstones of the U.S. Navy's Cold War ASW posture.
The first innovation involved the exploitation of passive
acoustics to detect and track
submerged submarines, using the sounds they generated as a signature. Passive sonars
significantly increased the range at which submerged submarines could be detected compared to
active sonar, allowing for very wide area searches by ocean-wide sound surveillance systems,
which in turn could be used to accurately cue ASW platforms to localize and prosecute the
submarine contact. The second innovation began with the embrace by the U.S. Navy's submarine
community of ASW as its primary Cold War mission. Although this focus on ASW predated the
introduction of nuclear power, its full potential was realized in the early 1960s when quiet
nuclear submarines were developed that could hear their louder Soviet counterparts at much
greater ranges than they themselves could be heard. This acoustic superiority lasted almost
through to the end of the Cold War.
Submarines were certainly never the only ASW instrument during the
Cold War. Maritime
patrol aircraft also played a key role as undersea surveillance systems became fully operational in
the early 1960s. Patrol aircraft offered speed that submarines lacked, making them particularly
useful in the initial localization of a contact which could then be handed off to a platform with
more endurance, like a nuclear submarine. The surface warfare community was slowest to change
its traditional ASW methods, remaining dependent on active sonar and short range ASW weapons
until the late 1970s. Then, in response to the deployment of more capable Soviet
submarine-launched antiship missiles, surface combatants also embraced passive acoustics and
long range, shipborne ASW helicopters.
By the early 1980s, all of the Navy's platform communities were
being used successfully in
ASW operations against Soviet submarines, and increasingly these operations demanded a high
degree of coordination as Soviet submarines became quieter. Earlier in the Cold War, when U.S.
acoustic superiority was still unchallenged, each platform community's ASW operations had
been relatively independent of each other. This independence reflected a fairly natural division of
labor based on the strengths and weaknesses of each ASW platform. Thus, submarines went
forward into contested waters where other ASW platforms could not operate, maritime patrol
aircraft used their speed to prosecute long range contacts generated by underwater surveillance
systems, and surface combatants utilized their endurance to provide a local screen for battle
groups and convoys.
The key to success in these relatively uncoordinated operations
was maintaining a high degree
of acoustic superiority over Soviet submarines. Ironically, that superiority began rapidly waning
in the 1980s, just as the Cold War was ending, in an echo of the end of World War II. This "saved
by the bell" ending to what was the third battle of the Atlantic was fortunate, but current trends
in America's external security environment may confront the U.S. Navy with new ASW
challenges not unlike those it avoided when the Soviet Union collapsed, albeit on a smaller scale.
First, the threat to American acoustic superiority resulting from
the first Soviet deployments
of the Akula in the mid 1980s may recur in today's security environment with the increasingly
wide proliferation of modern non-nuclear submarines. Deployed relatively close to their homes,
in or near littoral waters through which the United States may need to project power from the
sea, these submarines pose a potentially formidable threat. With a competent crew and the kind
of advanced weapons that are now widely available in global arms markets, a modern non-nuclear
submarine deployed in its own backyard might become a poor man's Akula. Of even more
concern is the fact that modern weapons, like wake homing torpedoes for example, tend to reduce
the demands on submarine crews, making even less competent crews too dangerous to ignore.
Second, important elements of the American response in the mid
1980s to very quiet Soviet
nuclear submarines are likely to be relevant to dealing with modern non-nuclear submarines. The
key element of this response was to coordinate the efforts of the historically independent ASW
platform communities. In coordinated ASW, a very quiet opposing submarine might first be
detected as a transient contact at long range by off board ocean surveillance systems like SOSUS
or SURTASS. This information might then be used to cue maritime patrol aircraft to rapidly
search the possible contact area and localize the submarine within it. The prosecution of the
contact might continue with platforms of higher endurance like submarines or surface ships, with
the latter using its unique command and control capabilities to orchestrate a combined air, surface,
and sub-surface effort culminating with the threat submarine being localized by several ASW
helicopters, a tactical situation that even the best nuclear submarines cannot normally escape. At
the same time, in the background, the off board sensors comprising the ocean surveillance system
would be constraining the threat submarine's offensive capability by forcing him to keep his
speed down and limiting his ability to communicate. These sensors could also be "reverse cued"
by the prosecuting forces in case the latter lost contact with the target, creating higher
probabilities that the target could be reacquired and the prosecution continued.
If such a coordinated approach to ASW has continuing relevance
today, it needs to be a focus
of both current training and future research and development. Concerns about the trends in these
areas have recently provoked enough debate over ASW within the Navy and DOD to warrant a
fresh look at this mission area.
The following is a list of questions animating today's debates
about ASW. They were used as
the substantive focal point of Antisubmarine Warfare after the Cold War.
Certainly this was a very ambitious agenda, and not all of these questions were covered in
equal detail. Before reviewing some of the suggested answers, we will briefly describe how the
conference was set up to provide them.
Faced with the above questions, the conference sought to bring together participants with as
many different perspectives as possible to discuss them.1 On the first day, presentations were
given that focused on one or several of the key questions. These were punctuated by luncheon
and dinner speakers who, respectively, described the origins of the conference and provided a
senior practitioner's view of the ASW problem. On the second day, the entire morning was
devoted to free discussion and debate among all the conference participants of what had
transpired on the first day.
One unique aspect of the conference was its
attempt to include in one room a collection of
individuals who would rarely convene under other circumstances. For example, both American
and foreign naval officers were present, representing multiple platform communities within their
respective services, as well as members of the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps. There
was substantial participation by the American retired naval community. Non-military experts in
ASW were drawn from academia and from industry. Perhaps most important, an attempt was
made to involve individuals knowledgeable in other areas of defense policy but relatively
unfamiliar with the details of current debates about ASW. This was done in the hope that it
would usefully broaden the debate about ASW and also give the experts a chance to present their
case to a group without strong predispositions on the issues.
Another unique aspect of the conference was the
amount of time devoted to unstructured, off
the record debate. Here the purpose was to take an eclectic mix of individuals and encourage them
to engage in more than the normal ten or fifteen minute Q&A after a presentation. This provided
a unique opportunity in a non-hierarchical setting for experts to be confronted by unanticipated
questions, and for non-experts to get answers that would not normally be forthcoming in other
It is important to emphasize that this effort
was not designed to provide programmatic
"guidance" to the Navy, or to critique ongoing analytical efforts regarding ASW. Rather, it was
intended as an opportunity for the Navy and for OSD to get feedback on a series of questions
about ASW and its importance from an alternate group of thinkers in an unpoliticized
environment. To the extent that this new approach proves useful, it might be institutionalized.
In this section, which forms the main body of
the report, debates that the conference
addressed are summarized in the form of a series of propositions and rebuttals that were
presented by the conference participants.
Clearly the ability of the U.S. Navy to control
the seas remains vital to U.S. national security,
and it is just as clear that ASW remains a key, if not the key sea control mission. No participant
in the conference disputed either of these points. Instead, some argued that foreign submarine
threats to this sea control capability are currently low, certainly compared to Cold War levels.
Given this "threat holiday," and given the inheritance of Cold War ASW systems still present in
the force, it was argued that there is no near term threat to our ASW capabilities that we could
not safely counter.
The dominant reaction we saw to this argument
was twofold. First, the issue is not whether
the Navy could overcome any attempt to deny it sea control, but at what cost and in what
timeframe. Second, a loud chorus of voices emphasized the fact that ASW systems do not equal
an ASW capability, emphasizing the central importance of realistic training and local
oceanographic knowledge in regions of potential conflict, and warning of the trends in both these
areas. To focus on the second point here (more on the first point below), continued realistic
training in the forward areas where contingencies might occur was described as being centrally
important to the preservation of a robust ASW capability against even the smallest threats.
Although modern weapons are becoming more user friendly, good weapons with unskilled
operators can sometimes still be next to useless, while in the opposite case, well trained
operators will often make bad weapons functional. Neither of these two situations is either
desirable or, it was argued, necessary for U.S. ASW forces, which should aspire to maintain
advantages over the enemy in both skill and technology.
Another common argument states that it is the
foreign submarine crews which lack realistic
training, even if they operate the best modern, non-nuclear submarines. This argument is
ubiquitous in current debates about ASW. If the U.S. Navy will not face foreign submarines with
aggressive leaders and well trained crews, able to extract maximum benefit from the advancing
submarine technology that is increasingly available, than the availability and wide proliferation of
that technology should be of less concern.
It may be useful in this context to remember
three fairly unique characteristics of submarine
warfare, each of which was raised in opposition to the above argument. First, a lone submarine
can do more damage in both a military and a political sense than probably any other single
conventional platform, naval or military. Second, one man - the submarine commander - can have
enormous impact on the capability of that lone submarine. Third, a small force of submarines can
be supported by a tiny portion of the population of any country. For example, the total Royal
Netherlands Submarine Service consists of only 400 officers and enlisted in a nation of 15 million.
This small cohort runs the home port, a school, a tender, and four modern, Walrus class
submarines. If industry and other related civilian support sectors are included the number of
individuals involved runs to 1500. In this opposing view, even small submarine forces can be a
threat, especially when one abandons the assumption that the West has a permanent monopoly
on the likes of Gunther Prien and Eugene Fluckey.
Even given the possibility of small, well
trained submarine forces in the hands of potential
adversaries, it is argued that these are overwhelmingly going to be non-nuclear submarines with
significantly less capability than U.S. nuclear submarines. Given this disparity in capability, how
could these submarines pose an important threat to American ASW forces? Such skepticism
about the capabilities of non-nuclear submarines is quite common, and was also expressed at the
The overwhelming answer to this question was
that modern non-nuclear submarines are both
better than their predecessors and more widely available as defense industries that served their
home markets during the Cold War now struggle to use exports to stay alive. One reason that the
submarines are better is because many decades of continual investment by countries like
Germany and Sweden have finally paid off in the form of non-nuclear submarines with air
independent propulsion (AIP) systems that make them true submarines rather than mere
submersibles. These submarines still do not provide the mobility and endurance of a nuclear
submarine, but they greatly reduce the indiscretion rate of a traditional diesel-electric submarine,
which must expose a snorkeling mast to recharge its batteries every few days at a minimum, and
much more frequently if forced to operate at high speed.
Such submarines are also armed with better
weapons and fire control systems. One
particularly alarming development is the marriage made possible by the end of the Cold War of
the air independent, non-nuclear submarine with the submarine-launched antiship missile. Armed
with Harpoons or Exocets available from several western suppliers, these platforms can launch
fire and forget missiles from over the radar horizon without the need for the noisy and battery
draining approach run necessary for a traditional, torpedo-armed, diesel-electric boat. This threat
circumvents the traditional ASW approach to dealing with very quiet diesel-electrics, i.e. to flood
the ocean surface with radar and use speed to force the submarine to either run down its battery
and expose itself in an attack run or stay quiet and defensive.
Of even more concern is the scenario noted by
several participants that would result when and
if the U.S. Navy faces this kind of tactical threat in the midst of a time urgent deployment during
the halting phase of a future major regional contingency. In the face of such a threat, three
capabilities that we now assume as essentially given were questioned. First, is the assumption of
casualty free power projection of naval and military forces to within line of sight of the coastline
in the objective area; second is the assumption that this projection of power will be rapid; and
third is the assumption that global trade flows can be kept insulated from the local disruptions
caused by a major regional contingency.
Regarding casualties, even in a major regional
contingency, the stakes for the United States are
limited while those of its opponents are very high indeed. The opponent may be willing to run
great risks and sustain high losses, while we will not. Faced with the possibility or the reality of
losses at sea, we will stop and eliminate that threat before proceeding, and when that threat is
submarine-based, it's elimination will not be immediate and may take weeks.
A good analogy is to the great Scud hunt of
Desert Storm. Thousands of sorties were diverted
over several weeks from the air war during Desert Storm to hunt for SCUDs to little or no effect.
From an ASW perspective, this experience is illuminating for both operational and political
Operationally, Scud hunting was like ASW. A
large area needed to be searched for objects that
easily blended into the background and only intermittently exposed themselves. Thus radar was
used to flood SCUD operating areas, unattended field sensors were also deployed, and aircraft
were used to pounce on potential contacts. This was a protracted, extremely asset intensive
endeavor, characterized by false alarms, high weapon expenditures, and low success rates. In
short, a SCUD launcher was most likely to reveal itself by successfully launching its weapon,
just as sinking ships are often the only reliable indication that there is a submarine in the
The political lessons of the SCUD hunt also
apply to ASW. Before the war, the SCUD had
rightly been dismissed as a serious military threat, but once they began landing in Israel, the
political imperative to allocate scarce resources to at least appear to counter this threat rapidly
overwhelmed these narrow military calculations. The same political pressures would be brought
to bear on ASW forces facing active enemy submarines, but unlike Scuds, which remain terror
weapons without much military utility, submarines are a deadly serious military threat as well as
a political one. Therefore, it will not do to simply appear to be addressing the ASW problem
with a major allocation of resources. Real results will have to be forthcoming before commanders
will be willing to risk valuable seaborne assets, be they Navy aircraft carriers, Marine
amphibians, or Army sealift ships.
A delay of several weeks during the halting
phase of an MRC might not be a war stopper all
by itself, but it is important to understand the consequences for current time phased force
deployment list (TPFDL) timelines, which assume closure of millions of square feet of
pre-positioned sealift within the first two weeks of the start of an MRC. This would transform a
rapid deployment into a slow one, throw the deployment timelines of all the services askew, and
open a window of indeterminate size at the outset of a conflict in which the enemy can operate
unmolested except by those opposing forces already in theater, assuming they do not need an
open sea line of communication to sustain themselves.
Again, one response was to simply argue that
delay would be an acceptable outcome in this
scenario as long as the eventual outcome was still guaranteed. Interestingly, this argument
provoked a series of questions about the views of the other services and the relationship between
the Navy's ASW planning process and the Joint planning environment. One question was
whether the other services need to look at their own ASW requirements, as it were, and gain a
voice through the joint arena in setting those requirements and the investment levels needed to
support them. Another question concerned whether the Navy needed to look at the possible
benefits of encouraging such a development in one of the few mission areas that has heretofore
remained completely outside the joint requirements process.
In the first case, a presentation was made
concerning the increased investments being made by
the post Cold War Army in its rapid, strategic mobility capabilities, including a large, sea-based,
pre-positioning force and a greatly expanded, surge sealift fleet. These are programs whose ships
are paid for by the Navy based on requirements generated in the Joint planning environment.
This reflects a trend in which more and more of available Service funding is apportioned in
response to requirements validated by organizations like the Joint Requirements Oversight
Council (JROC), and these organizations naturally focus on joint warfighting capabilities. This
makes it harder to fund Service specific requirements, and ASW has historically been considered a
Navy specific mission area by dint of its monopoly on undersea warfare. One answer to this
conundrum was to argue that ASW is simply a cost of doing business for the U.S. Navy under
any budgetary circumstances. Another was to further explore how the new, increasingly
powerful joint planning environment could be used to create added leverage in support of funding
Regarding the vulnerability of global trade
flows to interdiction, there was little debate about
the vulnerability of lone, unescorted merchant ships to submarine attack. This is obviously not a
new phenomenon, although the same modern information systems that allow shippers to track
the location of their cargos in real time while in transit may also increase the opponent's ability
to locate ships to attack. The new argument is that the role of merchant shipping in today's
global economy has fundamentally changed, making a given level of disruption more harmful than
in the past. This change results from the deepening reliance of industry on a global, just-in-time,
intermodal transportation system with the large container ship at its core. These ships carry
vastly more cargo than did the breakbulk freighters of yore, and they move these cargoes under
much stricter time deadlines. Disruption in those deliveries could have rapid and far reaching
ripple effects in a national economy like the United States, much as did the August, 1997 shut
down of UPS, which plays a similar role in other sectors of the economy.
Some participants in the conference were
skeptical that a small submarine force could ever
cause major damage to an economy the size of the United States', never mind the global
economy. The important point is that vulnerability can not simply be measured in gross
economic terms, but must include an assessment of the larger political effects caused by those
losses on a complex, tightly coupled intermodal transportation system. As with casualties, the
American public may have a very low tolerance for economic disruption resulting from distant
conflicts fought over less than vital interests.
These debates about different threats in turn
provoked questions concerning how it could be
possible for the Navy to be underinvesting in ASW given its historic and continuing importance.
Here, a large part of the answer turned out to be that the Navy faces a new operating
environment in which it is increasingly relevant and therefore in demand. Unlike in the post
WWII era when the Navy was searching for a mission, it has been inundated with new missions
in the post Cold War era, and these new missions compete with ASW for resources.
This has serious consequences for ASW because,
as noted above, ASW is a multi-platform
mission area performed by multi-mission platforms. As the Navy's strike warfare, anti-air
warfare, missile defense, and amphibious warfare capabilities have grown in importance in the
nation's military strategy, the Navy has shifted its focus away from an emphasis on blue water
sea control toward power projection and land control in the littorals. Yet these missions must be
performed by the same platforms that perform ASW - the air, surface, and submarine
communities, all supported by the ocean surveillance community. It is natural that the Navy's
platform communities should shift their focus, but in a time of declining resources, this shift
inevitably comes at the expense of other missions performed by those platforms.
This "multi-mission pull" increasingly makes
ASW compete with strike warfare and theater
air and missile defense for the same resources and training opportunities. The other mission areas
are winning these battles and pulling the Navy's major platform communities away from ASW,
particularly in the aviation and surface warfare branches.
This shift in orientation is occurring at a
time when technology increasingly demands that
ASW be a coordinated, "combined arms" exercise if it is to succeed. All elements of the Navy's
ASW posture must be maintained to succeed in the fight against quiet submarines, but all three of
the Navy's major platform communities perceive that their survival in the new security
environment depends to some extent on their success in performing other missions. The costs in
terms of ASW capability associated with this multi-mission pull may be highest in the aviation
community, which is struggling to find the resources to recapitalize the carrier air wing and
Marine vertical lift capabilities. Fixed and rotary wing ASW platforms have an enormous role to
play in coordinated ASW, but the money to support these forces is scarce.
Another more subtle but real cost may be
incurred by the Navy if it continues to let its ocean
surveillance community and its support for basic oceanographic research atrophy. A senior
retired U.S. naval officer noted the importance to ASW of a detailed understanding, in real time,
of the ocean environment and the ability to exploit this operationally. Confirming this, a British
submarine officer noted the difficulties his service encountered in the Falklands as a result of the
absence of such an understanding, including an almost complete inability to make useful sonar
Another consequence of multi-mission pull is
operational, and will grow in significance to the
extent that the Navy embraces new "net-centric" warfare schemes that seek to exploit the
Revolution in Military Affairs at sea. Net-centric warfare exploits the fact that platforms and
sensors can be netted together with wideband communication links to form a system or net that
is greater than the sum of its parts.
A good example is the Navy's Cooperative
Engagement Capability (CEC) which links
together air and missile defense assets in ways that allow one platform to guide a missile launched
by another at a target first detected by a third. CEC and other systems like it are easiest to
imagine for operations by widely dispersed platforms on the surface and in the air, where
detection ranges extend out to the horizon and supporting wideband communication links are
relatively easy to arrange, neither of which is a characteristic of the undersea environment, where
detection ranges against a very quiet target are short and wideband communications all but
non-existent. Thus, above the surface, the trend is for platforms to disperse, while ASW
operations against quiet submarines still require a higher degree of concentration. This does not
mean that a net-centric approach to ASW will not eventually be developed, but it may mean that
in the interim the operational commander at sea will increasingly face a dilemma about how he
deploys his platforms, since the demand for the many missions they each perform is likely to
arise concurrently rather than sequentially.
A third consequence of the Navy's traditional
platform-centered organization is political. Such
an organization is more prone to speaking with several voices, making it difficult for the outside
observer to divine a single message. This tendency was exacerbated in the ASW mission area
when OP-07 and OP-71, the integrated warfare area sponsor for ASW, were reorganized out of
existence during the Navy's post Cold War shift in focus toward the littorals. There was much
discussion of the consequences of this in the context of the Navy's approach to justifying its
post Cold War ASW posture.
For example, as one participant noted, the Navy
seems to keep changing the public rationale
for its submarine force level requirement, starting with the need to hedge against a resurgence of a
blue water Russian nuclear submarine force, then moving to the need for battle group support,
and increasingly now focusing on ASW against quiet non-nuclear submarines in shallow, littoral
waters. At the same time, in other contexts and in juxtaposition to the first set of arguments, the
Navy takes other measures or makes other arguments which seem to indicate a different set of
priorities, like turning off undersea surveillance systems used for tracking submarines, or dragging
out the acquisition of submarine communication systems needed for wide band connectivity with
the rest of the Fleet, or touting the value of other ASW platforms in operations against quiet
submarines in shallow, littoral waters.
Several participants, particularly those expert
in defense issues other than ASW, found the
seeming confusion in the Navy's public diplomacy on this issue and other's like it conducive to
skepticism about the true value it placed on ASW in general. Warranted or not, it is clearly
important that this perception exists, and it will remain difficult to sustain investment in ASW as
long as it continues.
Since the beginning of the 20th Century,
submarines have been the weapon of choice for
weaker naval powers that wish to contest a dominant power's control of the seas, or its ability to
project power ashore from the sea. This is because submarines have been and are likely to remain
the weapon system with the highest leverage in a battle for control of the ocean surface. No other
individual platform compares to a modern submarine, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, in its
ability to combine a potent offensive punch with the ability to evade counterattack by opposing
Today, the steady proliferation of modern,
non-nuclear submarines, fueled by "export or die"
imperatives in Western defense industries, and the cost-averse politics of fighting distant wars
over less than vital interests conspire to make it both important and difficult for the U.S. Navy to
maintain a robust ASW posture in the post Cold War security environment. This fundamental
reality of naval warfare creates a series of challenges for the U.S. Navy.
The biggest challenge is to explain the threat
posed by even small numbers of modern
non-nuclear submarines. ASW practitioners instinctively understand this threat but often founder
in making it credible to a wider audience in comparison to the Cold War threat, which consisted
of more than 100 Soviet nuclear submarines. The key variable left out of this comparison
concerns the willingness of the United States to incur costs in a conflict. In a battle for survival,
which is the battle for which we prepared during the Cold War, one is willing to sacrifice much to
achieve success. In battles fought over lesser interests, which are the only battles that the United
States will likely face in the current security environment, one is willing to sacrifice much less, if
at all. Under such circumstances, even one opposing submarine has the capability, if unchecked,
to frustrate the Joint Force Commander's intent.
Another challenge for the Navy is to
communicate to its consumers in the other services how
different ASW is from other warfare areas. Even when successful, as the Royal Navy was in the
Falklands, ASW is usually a protracted, platform intensive exercise in which the threat is not
eliminated but simply held at bay. This has significant consequences for both operational and
budgetary planners who, in the post Goldwater-Nichols Defense Department, increasingly reside
outside the Navy. Joint Force Commanders used to decisive engagements that last for several
days and end with clear outcomes need to be prepared for engagements that may last weeks
without clear resolution. Likewise, budget planners used to warfare areas in which you buy one
platform to counter one opposing platform need to be prepared for a situation in which the
exchange rate is much less favorable. This may require that the Navy increasingly use the joint
arena to get both the warfighting CINCs and the other services more involved in the process of
generating and funding ASW requirements.
A final challenge is for the Navy's individual
platform communities to find an organizational
means of more closely coordinating their operational and budgetary planning without sacrificing
the benefits in terms of innovation that can result from having semi-independent platform
sponsors. Meeting this challenge is important for three reasons. First, ASW against modern
submarines demands a coordinated, all arms approach involving all the Navy's platform
communities. Second, the trend toward net-centric warfare schemes in support of the strike,
expeditionary, air, and missile defense warfare areas needs to be leavened by the potentially
countervailing demands of the antisubmarine warfare area. Third, better coordination among the
platform communities is important in order to limit the political costs that can occur when
multiple constituencies vie for the same, limited resources.
In the past, the Navy has used integrated
warfare area sponsors to balance the perspectives of
the individual platform communities, and it has recently begun the process of reestablishing such
a sponsor for ASW in response to some of the challenges described above. This process almost
certainly needs to be completed with the appointment of a Flag level officer with appropriate
staff and resources to lead this office so that it can stand alongside the platform sponsors and
provide the single voice for ASW needed by the Navy.