|By L. EDGAR
PRINA, Editor Emeritus
It was not too long ago that
antisubmarine warfare (ASW) was the Navy's number one priority. But that was during the
days when the Soviet Union's force of 350-plus submarines and the U.S. Navy's specifically
dedicated Hunter-Killer (HUK) groups of aircraft carriers and/or ASW destroyers, destroyer
escorts, and frigates were facing off in a potentially cataclysmic "blue water"
conflict on the high seas.
There also was an ASW "czar," a
three-star Navy officer, in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) at the
But since the end of the Cold War with
the USSR in the late 1980s, ASW seems to have disappeared from USN sonar screens. If so,
it would be understandable, in a way. The financially strapped Russian Federation has had
to scrap some submarines, and sell others, while an increasingly friendly relationship has
developed between the erstwhile superpower adversaries.
Accordingly, the spotlight--as spelled
out in the doctrinal publication "Forward ... From the Sea"--has been on the
U.S. Navy's land-attack mission, on littoral warfare, and on the threat posed by enemy
mines, an appreciation of which finally has permeated the upper ranks of the sea service
after years of neglect.
If, indeed, ASW has been riding in the
back seat for much of the last decade, Adm. Jay L. Johnson, the chief of naval operations
(CNO), has now made it clear that the Navy "is renewing our resolve to maintain
leadership [in ASW]."
In a 1998 "Focus Statement" the
CNO has this to say in his foreword: "Different dangers await us in the next century.
Accordingly, the Navy is developing a coherent and comprehensive strategy for sustaining
operational primacy in ASW."
The statement asserts that such primacy
is essential to execution of the Navy's "Forward ... From the Sea" strategic
vision and that ASW capabilities are inherently unique to the Navy, because only the Navy
can carry out the full range of antisubmarine warfare missions required for maritime
Addressing the question of how the Navy
is responding to the evolving security environment and transforming its approach to ASW
for the 21st century, the focus statement says that the new ASW strategy is based on these
- ASW is a core and enduring competency that
the U.S. Navy must, and will, always sustain.
- The new ASW emphasis has been broadened to
focus on operations in key littoral or near-shore regions --but without forfeiting blue
- The Navy is now developing new operational
concepts that take advantage of the growing power of information technologies.
- To assure a collaborative effort by all
elements of the Navy in meeting the ASW challenges of the future, the Navy is making the
organizational changes needed to build an ASW team that will be complementary rather than
New attention also is being given to
improve the proficiency of ASW personnel, new operational concepts are being tested in
which highly skilled ASW personnel first train as a team before augmenting the deployed
forces, and advanced technologies are being developed to provide enhanced realism in
The Navy also is gaining greater
efficiency from its training investment, Johnson says, through rapid reconstruction and
feedback, and through the establishment of cross-platform ASW centers of excellence.
Quantity Down, Quality and
With the historic shift in security
relationships after the end of the Cold War, the statement notes, the danger posed by the
submarines of potential enemies has changed to some extent, but has not been eliminated.
"Of greatest concern today is the
proliferation of advanced submarine technology to countries that might try to restrict our
access to international waters," the statement says. "Although the quantity of
opposing submarines has declined dramatically, their quality and lethality has advanced at
a pace commensurate with advances in commercial technology."
There is general agreement in defense
circles today that the procurement of advanced submarines is of considerable interest both
to friends and to potential adversaries. The reason: Submarines are high-impact weapons
platforms that are available at an affordable cost.
The statement recognizes that some
citizens probably think that the submarine threat to U.S. forces and interests died with
the end of the Cold War. To disabuse them of such thoughts, the statement lists what it
calls a number of "interesting" facts:
- The production of nonnuclear submarines is
a growth industry worldwide with the most advanced technology flowing freely to any nation
with the money available to buy such technology.
- Many smaller navies are acquiring modern
submarines--some of them for the first time in their histories.
- North Korea continues to operate the
fourth largest submarine force in the world.
- Iran, another potential adversary, is
acquiring some of the quietest diesel submarines in the world--Soviet Kilo-class boats.
- Although Mainland China is not viewed as
an adversary, the Chinese Navy operates the third largest submarine force in the world,
almost matching the number of submarines in the U.S. fleet--which is heading down to a
total of 50 or so SSNs (nuclear-powered attack submarines) from a high in the 1980s of
more than 100.
"We must not lose sight of the fact
that the prevailing submarine threat is very real even though it differs in size and shape
when contrasted to the Cold War," the statement points out. "This threat
warrants our concern because of what is at stake."
Testament and Warning
The importance of trade and commerce to
the U.S. economy, and to overall global peace and stability, is a given. The focus
statement emphasizes that point.
"The scope and scale of America's
international maritime trade is mind-boggling," the statement says. "Products
from around the world have become such a routine part of our everyday lives that we do not
give a second thought to how they reach us. It is a testament to how far we have come in
protecting the world's commerce. Yet it is also a warning of how far we could fall, and
how great the impact would be, if we fail to protect the ports and sea lanes which keep
that trade flowing."
The consequences of the failure to
provide such protection would be both immediate and worldwide, the focus statement
contends, noting that repeated crises in the Arabian Gulf have underscored the fact that a
mere threat to the oil supply soon provokes higher prices which adversely impact economic
growth around the globe, even if there is no real change in the oil supply readily
"Yet we also have ample evidence
that, when we demonstrate our collective ability to deal with such threats and to secure
the sea lanes, such fears quickly diminish and economic stability is restored," the
The Navy, in any event, is keeping a
watchful eye on the proliferation of highly capable diesel submarines to potential
adversaries who might some day threaten the sea lanes of communication that link nations.
Under the heading "Where We Are
Going," the focus statement concludes that it is more important today than ever
before to articulate what has to be done to ensure that the U.S. Navy of the future will
possess the ASW capabilities needed to deal with the anticipated much more complex threat
of the 21st century.
The Navy is shifting to a network-centric
approach to warfare, the statement notes, calling that concept "ideally suited"
to ASW. "Through innovation and experimentation, we are already witnessing new
techniques in detecting, classifying, and localizing submarines," the statement says.
"More work is needed, but the initial results are very encouraging."
The statement does not, however,
specifically identify the new techniques referred to. It does assert, though, that
network-centric warfare, upon which the Navy is placing very heavy bets, is the
"vision and roadmap that will make" the U.S. Navy the best ASW force in the
world. The statement perhaps should have said that the vision and road map "will
keep" the U.S. Navy's ASW force number one. Almost all defense analysts agree that it
already is the best in the world.
Opportunities for Progress
According to Johnson, the Navy is now in
position to take advantage of three "historic opportunities":
(a) A strategic pause in the open-ocean
ASW challenge. In the near term, only regional conflict is likely. The fact that so many
navies are buying advanced diesel submarines clearly indicates, though, that there
probably will be no such pause in the littoral battlespace.
(b) Computational and communications
opportunities. The industry maxim is that the power of processing chips doubles every 18
months. The Navy must continuously improve its ASW architecture to embrace this reality of
(c) Combined arms and operations.
"With declining defense budgets," the statement notes, "a combined-arms
approach that integrates our ASW systems and sensors into a network-centric architecture
is imperative. Equally important is the reliance we will place on working with our allies
in refining a combined operational approach to ASW."
To take maximum advantage of these
opportunities and achieve its short- and long-term ASW goals, the statement says, the Navy
will integrate the following elements considered "crucial" for supremacy in
antisubmarine warfare: Naval strategy and operational concepts; tactics, techniques, and
procedures; force-structure shaping and sizing; warfighting and procurement requirements;
research and development plans; intelligence and environmental data-collection policies;
C4I (command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence) programs; and training
Short- and Long-Term Agendas
Under the heading "Near-Term
Action," the statement says that the Navy will act to "shape and respond"
(the national strategy mantra) to immediate ASW events "by doing the following":
- Increasing ASW proficiency. "Fleet
commanders are conducting Battle Lab experiments and enhancing fleet ASW exercises."
- "Expanding the performance of our
existing systems and sensors" through, among other things, the insertion of
- Organizing both afloat and ashore as an
ASW team rather than along platform or warfare-community lines. (The creation within OPNAV
of an ASW Requirements Division is cited in the statement as a "good example of an
integrated approach to assessing ASW warfighting requirements.")
- Tackling the challenging issue of C4I for
all phases of ASW, including combined operations.
- "Augmenting the ability to analyze
our performance and rapidly feed back lessons," both to operators and to the
"Far-Term Action," the
statement says, calls for designing the Navy's ASW architecture to include
"networked" search techniques that integrate acoustic as well as nonacoustic
systems and sensors. Also on the far-term action list: the rapid distribution of cueing
sensors; the development of long-endurance sensors and unmanned ASW vehicles; the
adaptation of operators, sensors, and weapons "to the local acoustic environment in
real time"; linking sensors and shooters into a common, combined-arms network; and,
through the use of industry standard packaging and common architecture, building future
platforms with rapid sensor-upgrade capabilities.
When CNO Johnson was asked at a Senate
Armed Services Committee hearing to describe the most serious threats to the Navy, the
focus statement notes in a concluding summary, he answered as follows: "Chemical and
biological capabilities, mines, and submarines. Submarines are of concern both in their
ability to attack naval ships and in their ability to impede commercial traffic."