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Shrewd Tactics to Defeat Diesel Submarines


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From National Defense Magazine, March 2005 issue




Shrewd Tactics Underpin Navy Strategy to Defeat Diesel Submarines


In preparation for future wars, U.S. ship commanders will be trained to employ unconventional tactics against enemies equipped with diesel submarines.


Navy planners anticipate that adversaries will try to deny U.S. forces access to key strategic coastal areas by deploying quiet diesel-electric submarines. These hard-to-detect boats would make it difficult for U.S. ships to move around freely without exposing themselves to an enemy torpedo shot. For that reason, the U.S. Navy is adopting an entirely new approach to tackling this threat, says Capt. David Yoshihara, who heads the Antisubmarine Warfare Task Force, a group specifically created to help fix the Navy’s current shortfalls in antisubmarine warfare.


A new “concept of operations,” approved in late December by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vernon Clark, makes a drastic departure from the traditional ways of conducting antisubmarine warfare, Yoshihara says in an interview.


Clark views the new concept of operations as a remarkable achievement, because it provides the Navy—for the first time since the end of the Cold War—a guiding document to develop ASW tactics and techniques, Yoshihara explains.


The concept of operations, fundamentally, is built on the notion that U.S. commanders will get accurate information about the location of potential enemy submarines, via a network of miniaturized sensors that will be deployed in strategic coastal areas. The information provided by those sensors, he says, would allow commanders to “see things and gain an understanding before they move in.”


Current ships don’t have access to such intelligence, and primarily rely on massive firepower to defend themselves against enemy submarine strikes.


That defensive stance makes it difficult for U.S. ships to maneuver and gain access to a particular area of operations—especially in coastal waters—close to where U.S. forces may engage in combat. The new concept favors an “offensive posture,” which means that U.S. ships will try to beat the enemy by getting to a contested area faster, before these adversaries have a chance to deploy their submarines.


The sort of speedy response envisioned in the new antisubmarine warfare concept is unprecedented in the U.S. Navy, where ASW occasionally is mocked as “awfully slow warfare,” according to Adm. John Nathman, vice chief of naval operations.


The concept now in place shrinks the response time from months to days, says Yoshihara. The measure of success, in this context, is the ability to “seize the initiative very quickly … To secure the battle space under our terms and conditions.” In short, “we have to be able to enter an area and claim it as our own.”

The previous strategy was “attrition based,” he says. “We were counting on killing more of them than they were able to kill us.” Under the new concept, “We don’t necessarily have to kill submarines. We just have to be able to operate in the environment to our satisfaction.”


Some of the unconventional ASW tactics envisioned for the future are used in other war-fighting disciplines: decoys and deception, information operations and psychological warfare. It comes down to a basic question, Yoshihara says, “How can we influence enemy behavior so we can gain access quickly, and accomplish our mission?”


Navy leaders are confident this strategy will work, Yoshihara says, because it takes into account the real-world experience and the needs of fleet commanders, instead of becoming yet another policy directive written by “a bunch of guys within the Beltway, who get accused, rightfully so, of not fully understanding the fleet.”

An ASW command based in San Diego is responsible for collecting input from the fleet and making sure commanders’ priorities are met, he adds. “They’ll tell us what they believe the fleet needs to fill capability gaps.”


Without that support, Yoshihara says, the new concept of operations likely would be dismissed by fleet commanders as another “Navy staff drill” that fails to grasp the needs of the fleet.


Although Navy officials would not discuss specific scenarios they foresee in future conflicts, they stress their belief that diesel-electric submarines are proliferating around the world and will be used to deny U.S. forces access to coastal areas.


Quiet submarines, for the most part, cannot be detected with the conventional sonar technologies now employed aboard the Navy’s nuclear-powered submarines and surface ships.


Modern diesel boats have advanced propulsion systems that run quietly underwater, as well as coatings that eliminate echoes, says Navy Capt. Curt Stevens, an antisubmarine warfare expert.


But technology alone does not provide the definitive edge, Stevens explains. Sophisticated tactics and training certainly can make up for outdated technology. “We ought to not lose sight that old submarines—even those 20 to 30 years old—can be very capable adversaries,” he says. “A lot may depend on crew training and their doctrine … A low-end submarine with a very capable and competent crew can be potentially a bigger threat than the latest and greatest submarine with a poorly trained and poorly motivated crew.”


For U.S. Navy commanders, the challenge is to counter savvy enemy tactics with speed and instant access to information, says Yoshihara.


U.S. forces engaged in antisubmarine operations cannot just rely on submarines, surface ships and airplanes. They need both waterborne and airborne sensors to collect information around the clock, develop a “common picture of the battle space, and distribute it,” says Nathman.


This goal cannot be achieved, however, until the U.S. Navy and the other services develop and deploy an overarching command-and-control network, Yoshihara says.


The Defense Department has spent billions of dollars on high-tech communications, but there is no joint command-and-control net that integrates all U.S. military assets. “We talk about that a lot,” says Yoshihara. “There is a large gap in our ability to tie everything together.”


Also, the Navy will need sensors that can process information autonomously. There will not be enough bandwidth to move mountains of data from sensors at sea, for example, to human-operated workstations on land or aboard ships. Yoshihara characterized this as a “tough” challenge for technologists.


Another item on the ASW wish list, he says, is a “rapid attack” torpedo that can be guided with pinpoint accuracy.


To better understand what technologies are available in the private sector, the ASW task force plans to issue “broad area announcements” to industry on a regular basis.

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Nice to see that the ASW family is more pragmatic than other military branches that needs to see soldiers dying to understand that their concept aren't goods.


About these new tactics, as far as i understand, it's central element is strategic surprise, right?

In this case, u have two choices:

have forces everywhere to let your ennemy ask himslef "where do they will attack?" or to be very discreet about ur strategic choices (exemple: don't say to the whole planet that a certain country will be ur next target).


Apart this low rated philosophy, i think that this new approach will require better and unmanned sensors, like Underwater Unmanned Recce Vehicle.

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In a way, yes. Or a miniaturized SOSUS ...


... U.S. commanders will get accurate information about the location of potential enemy submarines, via a network of miniaturized sensors that will be deployed in strategic coastal areas. The information provided by those sensors, he says, would allow commanders to “see things and gain an understanding before they move in.”


When would they deploy such a network ? As soon as possible ? Potentially years before any conflict ? In times of increased tension ? In time of war ? There's a whole host of potential problems, some of them dependent on exactly when such a network would be deployed. Trying to do it AFTER the enemy's diesels have sortied, for example.


How could an enemy nation counter such a sensor network ? If it was deployed in advance, in their coastal areas, they would have considerable time to find ways to counteract, disrupt or destroy the network.


Just a couple of thoughts.

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