Home » News & Analysis » Undersea Warfare Directorate Looking To Increase Dominance Through Key Investments

Undersea Warfare Directorate Looking To Increase Dominance Through Key Investments

The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS City of Corpus Christi (SSN 705) transits into formation during a photo exercise as a part of Exercise Malabar 2015 on Oct. 16, 2015. US Navy photo.

The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS City of Corpus Christi (SSN 705) transits into formation during a photo exercise as a part of Exercise Malabar 2015 on Oct. 16, 2015. US Navy photo.

The new director of undersea warfare (OPNAV N97) is looking to extend the Navy’s asymmetrical advantage by investing in longer-range targeting, electromagnetic warfare tools and other capabilities to help submarine forces operate effectively into the future.

Rear Adm. Charles Richard said at the 2015 Naval Submarine League Annual Symposium that the Commander of Submarine Forces has released a vision for the force, and Richard will determine a path to get to that vision.

Among the capabilities he sees the Navy needing is putting effects on targets at longer ranges – and having the targeting and the command and control infrastructure to support longer-range strikes.

While the Navy has tried to achieve long-range targeting by submarines in the past and wasn’t able to overcome technology obstacles, “we think we’re on the cusp of getting to it with our new technologies. But it’s not going to do me a lot of good to have a target-quality solution with a weapon that can go do something that I’ve been ordered to do if I’m waiting for permission to fire because my command and control networks aren’t in a position to let me go do that,” he said.
“I can gain competitive advantage over a potential adversary if I can get inside his command and control loop, so we’re working on that.”

Richard said that submarine forces would also need a greater number of ways to engage targets.

“I see a future that has, to use that Pentagon term, ‘competition short of war,’” he said.
“We’re not exactly at peace with somebody, but we’re not exacting winging guided missiles back and forth at each other just yet. So what can we offer combatant commanders in these type of environments? Again, I’m going to overstate it for effect just a little bit, but right now in some cases, it’s, ‘boss, you want a picture? I can get you a picture. You want me to blow it to smithereens? I can blow it to smithereens.’”

Richard told USNI News after his speech that this problem is especially applicable to the Pacific, where the “competition short of war” scenario could easily arise. He said the Navy needs to think about what capabilities it wants in that situation to accomplish a commander’s mission

To that end, the undersea force will need to figure out how to leverage the electromagnetic spectrum – which is challenging in any environment and particularly so under water.

“The electromagnetic spectrum looks potentially very attractive in your ability to put an effect on a target to perhaps neuter its capabilities, to otherwise make it ineffective for what it’s doing there. With a reversible effect on it without going all the way to a level of violence that may not be appropriate,” Richard said.

He added that he views cyber as part of the electromagnetic spectrum discussion.

“In my mind, electromagnetic warfare and cyber are two halves of the same coin, it’s still the whole electromagnetic spectrum – some is contained in a Cat 5 cable or a fiber, some is radiated out of an aperture,” he told USNI News.

Additionally, Richard included battlespace acoustics, command and control for multiple undersea systems, payloads for countermeasures and decoys, and special operations support as other areas to consider for future development to enhance the Navy’s advantage under the ocean.

Richard said that, in studying these and other aspects of future undersea warfare, he hopes to generate a list of priorities for the Navy to focus on transitioning into programs of record and getting out to the fleet.

  • PolicyWonk

    While new weapons and systems have their uses, the Navy would be well served to purchase a fleet of AIP boats, and forward base them in Japan, and/or other select places around the S. China sea. We could buy 3 (or more) for the price of one Virginia (fine boats – we need to buy more – especially with the additional payload module), which would increase our coverage of the region in a very inexpensive/high-value way.

    • JimtheSSO

      Your recommendation is completely logical, the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf are also areas where conventional subs would do very well versus a nuke. Unfortunately the U.S. Navy’s sub mafia will never even consider it thanks to decades of Rickoverian thought control. I understand that the speed and long legs of an SSN are key in deep ocean, but an SS has to be more effective in the littorals: quiet; small magnetic signature; smaller so better able to hide/maneuver in shallow waters.

      • PolicyWonk

        An excellent point: there are other regions where AIP boats would be effective in addition to the S. China sea. We still have to retain a blue-water force, of that I have no doubt.

        But it makes sense for us to use the best and most cost effective technologies where they can – especially if it save us money – and garners us better coverage at the same time.

        When Rickover was running the show – there was ONE overwhelming oncern: the USSR. Now, there are *many* other concerns, and the Navy would be wise to take the fact that times have changed into account.

        • JimtheSSO

          I would further recommend a drastic shift in US DOD aquisition policy to support this proposal; rather then spend billions and take decades to develop A homegrown AIP SS, purchase a design from the worlds experts – the German navy – and build them here in the States. Give the Germans the training package too.

          • PolicyWonk

            Indeed – licensing and building locally would be helpful to our strategic infrastructure. And, there would be an additional bonus: if we can build AIP boats, then we can sell them to Taiwan as well.

          • NavySubNuke

            Now, if we could manage to pull that off it would be great. The Taiwanese could definitely benefit from a small fleet of modern conventional submarines.

          • NavySubNuke

            Even if we forward base it in Japan we would need something with longer legs then what the Germans are currently building. Now, we could just change the design to increase the range but doing that isn’t as easy as just making the fuel tanks bigger – it would take some time and some money.

          • JimtheSSO

            Id put them in Okinawa, just a squadron. What are the JSDF boats like? More range than German boats?

          • NavySubNuke

            I really don’t know. I do know the Australians are favoring the Japanese boats because they believe it is easier to extend their range to get what they need out of them but I don’t have any knowledge on the Japanese boats.
            As to Okinawa – there are complications with the population that might not make that practical. A good choice by geography but the politics aren’t the best.

          • JimtheSSO

            Maybe it’s just the Marines the Okinawan’s are tired of. ? That main strip from Naha north is ALL USMC. They don’t seem to mind Kadena or the Navy hospital as much. Could probably slip the AIP subs into a berth at Naha with the JSDF. How about home port them in Sasebo and then forward deploy to a tender in Naha? Smaller foot print.

          • JimtheSSO

            The Japanese should also ask the natives of Okinawa if they’d be happier under the PRC. I’m sure Beijing would be more than happy to provide an alternative.

          • NavySubNuke

            I’ll bow to your obviously superior knowledge on Okinawa on that one – I just know what i have heard from those who have been there and what I have read — I have never been there myself.
            On problem with your second option though – tenders are big bucks and the ones we have left are already spoken for full time supporting other op areas — we’ll see if the Navy is even willing to spend the money to replace them when the time comes.

    • NavySubNuke

      The high/low mix of nuclear and conventional submarines has a certain appeal but at the end of the day conventional submarines just are very useful to the US in the way that we operate our submarines. Forward basing them in Japan would certainly help but it wouldn’t solve the biggest issues which is speed — or more accurately the complete lack of speed. If they are in the right place they can do some damage but if they aren’t then they aren’t much use because by the time you get to where they are needed it is probably going to be over.
      Also, once you have made contact it is extremely hard to break contact and get away due to the low evasion speed. Since in wartime this will likely mean you are dead killed it further reduces the utility. Advances in sonar – both ship board and on the torpedoes themselves – mean the days of waiting out a depth charge attack and living to fight another day are long over. Again this isn’t as big a deal if you are defending – but if you are attacking and the enemy has more anti-sub assets than you have ready torpedoes – or worse is able to go after you with anti-submarine air assets – you are most likely not going to make it.
      And for the record I have spent time underway on a diesel submarine operating against a US carrier battle group so I have first hand experience with both the benefits and the drawbacks.

      • PolicyWonk

        Thank you, sir, for your comments.

        The real point of having some AIP boats as assets isn’t necessarily about what happens if the shooting starts: its about preventing the shooting from ever happening. The AIP boats we’ve used in war games routinely cleaned the clock of their adversaries (our SSN’s). Hence the notion of getting a fleet of AIP boats to forward base in the littoral regions we have, um, interest in.

        The mere presence of a submarine that’s very difficult to detect is enough to calm the waters – or at least add enough uncertainty to the potential adversary to make them rethink their options.

        The potential (and reality) of high-speed transit is why the US retains SSNs (and I am a big fan of our Submarine fleet): we’re pretty far away from just about any major potential adversary. There’s no way I would seek to eliminate SSN’s: this is about supplementing what we do have with new assets that can significantly increase our coverage in a cost-effective way.

      • JimtheSSO

        I thought speed = noise = death. Even 40+ kits won’t outrun a helo or torpedo.

        • NavySubNuke

          Not exactly – especially with countermeasures in play and proper tactical use of the ocean environment.

  • lambda5555m

    I think the Navy should be able to get close enough to a target that it could engage them, but would transmit the enemy’s location to another weapons system like a plane the Orion I think it is called so that it can remain in place monitoring and identifying targets. Maybe we need some undersea drones the subs could have that would find and kill potential targets…food for thought…Lots of ways to be innovative undersea and I hope our Navy is taking advantage of innovations that continue to come out…

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