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Articles Military History Submarines

Correcting the Legacy of Los Angeles-Class Submarines

This article was written following my attendance at the commissioning ceremony of USS Indianapolis (LCS-17), when speaker after speaker highlighted only the Cold War contributions of the submarine I commanded, USS Indianapolis (SSN-697). It became clear that many senior Navy leaders misunderstood the significant impact of the Los Angeles class of submarines during the post-Cold War period.

The space systems engineering curriculum at the Naval Postgraduate School offered only one class on manned spaceflight. The professor began the class by summarizing the accomplishments of NASA in low earth orbit. After twenty minutes of orbit corrections, maneuver, docking, spacewalks, and other early space program breakthroughs, a student finally raised his hand and said, “Professor, you do know that NASA put men on the moon, don’t you?”

 

I had a similar reaction at the 26 October commissioning of the USS Indianapolis (LCS-17) in Burns Harbor, Indiana. More than 10,000 attendees sat in a cold rain listening to six nearly identical speeches. It was as if the speechwriters all drew from the same incomplete Wikipedia article. Each speech started on the right note, regaling the accomplishments of the storied cruiser of the same name, USS Indianapolis (CA-35), and honoring the four survivors in attendance. Since I have been working with the cruiser survivors for more than 20 years, I know that no matter how many times their story is told, it is not enough.

 

But then each speaker attempted to highlight the service of the submarine I had commanded, USS Indianapolis (SSN-697), with a short statement about the submarine’s contributions to ending the Cold War.1 Because this was the only SSN-697 accomplishment cited by any of the six speakers, at the end of the ceremony I was tempted to say to the assembled group of senior leaders, “You do know the Cold War ended in 1989, don’t you?”2

 

The point of highlighting the accomplishments of earlier ships named Indianapolis at the LCS-17 commissioning should have been to convey to the crew the legacy they were inheriting, and to “connect the dots” for the attending public. If so, an opportunity was missed to educate the attendees, as well as many more watching online, on U.S. submarine force contributions after the Cold War.

 

While this may seem a minor point on such a momentous occasion, each speech minimized or ignored the contributions of hundreds of sailors who conducted missions that were vitally important, incredibly difficult, and often even more dangerous than the Cold War missions these leaders referenced. Nearly all of SSN-697’s major accomplishments, which include Battle Efficiency awards and a Navy Unit Commendation, occurred after the Cold War ended. While it is reasonable to expect senior Navy and defense leaders to educate themselves on the history of the ships on which they are commenting, the ceremony’s incomplete narrative is not entirely the fault pf the speakers. The submarine force has not done a good job of telling its post–Cold War history and so the misperception proliferates. The speeches were founded on a simple, common, but erroneous narrative that can be captured in these two bullets:

 

  • The Los Angeles–class submarine = The Hunt for Red October (Cold War)

  • The Virginia-class submarine = everything since

 That narrative is wrong.
 

Having served in Los Angeles–class submarines for two junior-officer tours, two department head tours, a commanding officer tour, and a commodore tour—nineboats spanning from before to well after the end of the Cold War—I can correct the record.3

 

While the Cold War is regarded as beginning a short time after the end of World War II and ending in 1989, the USS Los Angeles (SSN-688) was not commissioned until 1976. When I reported to my first submarine in 1981, there were only four Los Angeles-class submarines in my homeport of Pearl Harbor.4

And the early years for those submarines were rough. Because spare parts had been underfunded so drastically in the late 1970s, three of the submarines had to be cannibalized to get the fourth underway. In the 1980s, construction of these nuclear-powered attack submarines accelerated rapidly, and, by 1984, almost all were operational. Thus, much older Permit– (SSN-594) and Sturgeon-class (SSN-637) submarines conducted the vast majority of Cold War operations from the 1960s through 1989. Most Los Angeles–class submarines had only a few years of Cold War operations before the Berlin Wall came down.


This is not to imply these submarines did not contribute to winning the Cold War—they certainly did. I served in
Los Angeles boats during the Cold war for five “missions of vital security to the defense of the United States” (as they were officially referred to), and I can certify that their contribution was immense. There are no submarines I would rather have crewed at that time than the USS Omaha (SSN-692), Indianapolis, and Buffalo (SSN-715)—my boats through the end of the Cold War. But the Cold War ended just a few years into the life of the Los Angeles class itself, and the subsequent missions those submarines were tasked to conduct changed drastically.
 

By the early 1990s, the only fast-attack submarines left in the force were the Los Angeles-class. This is when they really began to shine, as the post–Cold War contributions of the class were even greater than during the Cold War. The SSN-688 boats were designed in the late 1960s and early 1970s to be very fast and keep up with, screen, and protect carrier battlegroups against enemy submarines. While they were very fast, by the 1990s they rarely conducted the carrier screening missions. Instead, their speed allowed them to dart from one hotspot to another to monitor evolving situations and provide “eyes on” for the National Command Authority, improving an understanding about what was really happening in those areas. Their stealth allowed them to do this in an unprovocative manner. Nobody knew where they were, unless we wanted them to know.

 

Their highly capable sensors allowed them to sweep the electromagnetic spectrum for every kind of signal, from weapon testing to terrorist planning. Their weapons allowed them to strike more than a thousand miles inland, while also holding any seaborne target vulnerable to neutralization. Their special-operations capability allowed them to conduct covert insertions, extractions, and interdiction missions. And their superb maneuverability allowed them to get into much more difficult areas than needed during the Cold War, a critical factor considering the targets that now needed monitoring.

 

The Los Angeles class is a fantastic class of submarine, straddling the twilight years of the Cold War through the present day. While details of their missions will likely be classified longer than I will be alive, the achievements of the crews who served in them after the Cold War’s end were greater than most might imagine.

This was true for the USS Indianapolis (SSN-697), and I regret not a word about this was uttered at the LCS-17 commissioning. The Los Angeles–class submarine is still serving our country today. Let us hope U.S. leaders figure that out and start giving the post–Cold War Los Angeles–class sailors their due.


  1. I actually served on USS Indianapolis (SSN-697) three times: two tours during the Cold War (junior officer and department head) and one tour after the Cold War ended as commanding officer.

  2. Based on the declaration by George H. W. Bush on 3 December 1989.

  3. From 1981 through 2004, I also served a junior-officer tour in the USS Omaha (SSN-692) and a department-head tour in the Buffalo (SSN-715). As commodore of Submarine Squadron 3, I had six Los Angeles–class submarines in my squadron: the USS Olympia (SSN-717), Chicago (SSN-721), Key West (SSN-722), Louisville (SSN-724), Helena (SSN-725), and Columbia (SSN-771). The only tour I served away from the Los Angeles–class was as executive officer of the USS Florida (SSBN-728) (Gold).

  4. The USS Los Angeles (SSN-688), Omaha (SSN-692), New York City (SSN-696), and Indianapolis (SSN-697).

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Articles Movie/Video Review Submarines

This is the submarine to ride: “The Wolf’s Call.”

After being asked to watch and review the horrible limited series remake of Das Boot on streaming TV, I decided to write this review of the French submarine movie, “Call of the Wolf,” to point the requestor towards something that wouldn’t drive a submariner crazy while watching. First published in IMDB.
After forcing myself to sit through 4 of the 8 episodes of the horrible Hulu miniseries “Das Boot,” (see my review titled “Abandon This Ship”), John Jones pointed me to a French submarine movie, “The Wolf’s Call” that he said was on the big screens in Ukraine. I found it on Netflix.
As bad as the Hulu/German submarine miniseries “Das Boot” is, the French submarine movie “The Wolf’s Call” is that good.

(The movie starts with a wonderful Aristotle quote: “There are three kinds of human beings, the living, the dead, and those who go to sea….” What a great quote. Because most “famous” quotes are improperly attributed (examples, Einstein never said “spend 55 minutes studying problem and five minutes solving it,” Mark Twain never said “golf was a good walk spoiled,” Abraham Lincoln never said “better to stay silent and let them think you a fool…”), I looked for verification that Aristotle really said this, and found none. Oh, well. It’s a great quote for those of us who’ve spent years at sea, so I’d like it to be accurate. But I digress.)

 

As bad as the Hulu/German submarine miniseries “Das Boot” is, the French submarine movie “The Wolf’s Call” is that good. Not only is it good, it may be the best submarine movie since “Crimson Tide” (I have a personal affinity for that one.). Certainly, the best submarine movie of the 21st Century. (Sorry George Wallace—I loved your book, but the “Hunter-Killer” movie was just a tiny bit over the top, so rates a tiny bit below “Wolf” from my point of view. Maybe I’m tired of Hollywood casting so many Brits to play Americans, but Wolf was incredibly nuanced, and does the best job of any movie since “Hunt for Red October” in conveying the nail-biting nature of undersea warfare.)

 

A few highlights:

 

  • Gotta love a movie that includes both submarines and SEALs. Or do the French refer to their SEALs as “FROGs?” (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)
  • Apparently, the French man their sonar stacks with officers? I qualified on sonar when I was Sonar Officer, but I could never do anything like what this dude does. This Ensign is better on sonar than the best ACINT specialist I ever saw. Maybe that’s the way the French really do it?
  • How is it that the French have better underway uniforms than we do?
  • These guys have implemented my Full Spectrum ASW concepts better than the US Navy has. Warms my heart. They actually use active sonar to shape a submarine captain’s behavior, just like we wrote!
  • Dig that boomer wardroom! Submarines by Four Seasons. All we had was a fish tank in Crew’s Mess on Indy.
  • Best line from the movie: Admiral to Captain: “Why doesn’t that computer work?” Captain to Admiral: “Because this is France.”
  • Finally see a sailor struggling to move around the boat in an Emergency Air Breathing (EAB) device, just like I used to do. Now that’s realism!
  • Console monitor display from the movie that I wish I had on my submarine: “Torpedo Party!” When I saw this computer screen on the movie submarine, I thought they were about to play music and break out beer in the Torpedo Room. But it turns out the display really said “Torpedo Partie,” which I guess in French means “torpedo away” (as in, Torpedo Launched). Too bad, Torpedo Party sounded like a lot more fun.
  • Hey, they actually used the escape trunk! But the dude didn’t do his “ho ho ho…” on the way up to the surface and would have been embolized. Glad I only had to do that once (in sub school).
  • They actually did a wreath-laying like we did on the Indy in honor of the cruiser Indy. But they did it from the deck of a boomer with way higher freeboard, in protected waters, so nobody had to risk getting washed overboard.

And of course, the movie wasn’t perfect, so I can’t help but point out a few quibbles:

  • They continuously pass “rig ship for ultra-quiet” on the 1MC. That’s like screaming “BE QUIET!!!” at the top of your lungs…. Kinda defeats the point.
  • An officer pops positive for cannabis and is surprised this happened?
  • I’m certain there must be a French law that requires all French movies to contain at least one unnecessary/inappropriate scene. This one is no different. How unfortunate—it limits the spectrum of whom I’m willing to recommend the movie to.
  • The actors’ salutes are all funky. Some do it “Brit style” (palm forward), some American style. Are they really this confused in the French navy?
  • French submarines must be part of their Coast Guard because they never operate so far from shore that a helicopter can’t reach them.
  • Oh-oh… tired cliché #1: the XO’s fighting the captain again. Seems to have happened in every submarine movie since “Run Silent Run Deep.” Glad my XOs Chas Doty and Brian Fletcher didn’t behave this way!
  • And yes, of course, tired cliché #2: a torpedo falls and injures a sailor. This phenomenon happens in every single submarine movie ever made but never happened on any one of my boats. How lucky I must have been. Wait, my first boat did drop a test shape into the torpedo room, maybe it’s not so silly after all…
All in all, very entertaining, and recommended.
Categories
Articles Movie/Video Review Submarines

Das Boot: Abandon this Ship

I was asked to do this review of the new submarine miniseries that was streaming on Hulu. Having loved the Wolfgang Petersen movie of the same name, I had high hopes for this remake. As you will read below, I was sorely disappointed.
As a submariner, an aficionado of submarine movies, and someone who loved Wolfgang Petersen’s original film, I was really looking forward to seeing the limited series of “Das Boot.” Petersen’s film is one of my favorites. He really gave voice to the gritty, stinky, unpleasant, fear-stricken reality of a submarine in combat. Because there is just so more depth you can go into with a miniseries that you can’t cover in even a 2-hour feature film, I expected the limited series to be a remarkable experience.
…a movie about U-boats turns itself into an opportunity to sneer at the nation that liberated Europe.
But over the first four episodes of this series (the point at which I finally had to stop watching), the show crossed from merely bad filmmaking, into the realm of egregious, outrageous nonsense. Where it crossed the line: by grossly misinforming viewers, the majority of whom are unaware and ignorant of World War II history and events, of some of the most significant events in the European theater of operations. For example, the only American character in this European Union-made drama is a distinguished American citizen who is actually a war profiteer secretly selling the Nazis equipment in order to finance his ambitions to be president. So, in part, a movie about U-boats turns itself into an opportunity to sneer at the nation that liberated Europe. This plot point crossed the line from merely being a dramatic device to outrageously offensive crap. Draw your own conclusions as to the truth of such a message, but it outrages me. If you think my reading of that message is over the top, then I’ll just tick off a few of the hundreds of the tired cliches that make this a bad fit of melodrama masquerading as suspense:
 
  • Unproven officer trying to live up to his hero-father’s legacy? Check.
  • Mutinous XO trying at every turn to undercut his unproven captain? Check
  • Melodramatic backstory of Gestapo officer trying to woo French citizen by proving he’s just a normal guy forced to uphold the orders of those evil men back in Berlin? Check.
  • Communist partisan power female figure who chain-smokes cigarettes while embarrassing the male partisans into action? Check.
  • Second partisan female who is captured in perhaps the stupidest, most canned bit of police action you can ever imagine, then goes to prison and endures relentless torture protecting the identity of “the guys,” eventually volunteering to die rather than snitch? Check.
  • Gratuitous violence against women? Check.
  • De rigueur scene where torpedo breaks loose in torpedo room critically injuring a sailor? Check.
  • German sailor who gets a Jewish girl pregnant and has to get fake American passports to get her out of the country, a scene straight out of Casablanca? Check.
  • Sailor actors leaning into nonexistent wind while supposedly steaming at Ahead Full on the surface, but are really bobbing up and down on a fake submarine that’s dead-in-the-water, going nowhere? Check.
  • Nearly everyone understands and speaks English when it’s advantageous for the story for them to do so, but otherwise speaks only in subtitled German? Check.
  • The Gestapo officer and the German Navy Commodore break into English whenever they are alone with each other, while neither can actually speak French, the country that they have occupied and in which they live? Check.
  • The misunderstood Nazi who is really a nice guy but is merely following orders from those evil dudes in Berlin? Check. (There must have been a couple million nice guy Nazis merely following orders during that war.)
  • The Nazi sympathizer whose eyes are opened in response to insidious action by the Nazis, eventually turning her into a Partisan? (I didn’t actually stay with the program long enough to confirm that she does, but that’s where her obvious trajectory is taking her, so Check.)
  • The jack-booted Nazi who thinks those cowardly, traitorous dudes back in Berlin aren’t pushing hard enough to win the war? Check.
  • The happy, cheerful French house of ill repute with welcoming kind-hearted French women, who say they are merely allowing the jack-booted, women-beating German soldiers to “have a good time?” Check.
  • The prisoner exchange of an American who has an audacious, affected, over-the-top New York accent, the kind you only hear in movies? Check.
  • The “it was a setup!” prisoner exchange on an American ship that somehow couldn’t have anticipated that the German submarine would be able to sink them if the exchange didn’t go as planned, and are “shocked shocked” that the bad Germans would ever do such a thing, forcing the Americans to do what they actually committed to do? Check.
  • The partisans who have dialogs where one side speaks nothing but English while the other side responds with nothing but French, like C3PO talking to R2D2? Check.
  • The captain who is held out as a coward by his crew when he decides to actually follow orders to disengage from battle and instead carry out a special operation of great importance to the defense of Germany? Check.
  • The captain who, when a sailor somehow fails to die after being shot by a firing squad, pulls out a Lugar and shoots the kid himself? Check.
Oh, I could go on. But I won’t. I’ve given up watching the thing.
 
I had to GIVE THE BOOT to “Das Boot”
Categories
Articles Military Strategy Submarines

Full Spectrum ASW

During the Cold War, the US Navy (particularly the submarine force) force specialized in, and excelled at Antisubmarine Warfare (ASW) against the Soviet Union. But with the demise of the Soviet Union, ASW was put on the back-burner as an activity irrelevant to modern warfare. Over a decade passed before submarines would again be considered a serious threat to national security. Over the course of that time the nature of the submarine threat changed, so when the Navy “rediscovered” ASW, it learned that traditional, sensor-based methods of fighting against submarines, while important, could no longer assure victory. To respond to this new threat, while head of doctrine and requirements for Fleet ASW Command, in 2005 I conceived a new approach, one that became known as “Full Spectrum ASW.”

The 2010 sinking of a South Korean corvette by an antiquated, supposedly obsolete North Korean submarine demonstrated one inarguable fact: that on any given day, any given submarine, no matter how crude or unsophisticated, can sink nearly any given surface ship.  This is something that most navies understand.  The problem is that because finding a submarine is so hard– sometimes nearly impossible– people have long assumed that defeating the submarine is equally difficult.

But modern methods have deconstructed this perception.  The “Rim of the Pacific” (RIMPAC) exercise in 2004 became a pivotal event in my development as an ASW theorist.  During that exercise, a remarkable thing was happening.  ASW forces were achieving small victories in their battles against submarines.  They just didn’t know it, because the ASW forces hadn’t actually detected the submarines and therefore couldn’t monitor their reaction.  Many of these successes were transitory, and not knowing that they had just done something that proved effective in their ASW fight, they were not sufficiently informed to realize that to extend their success, they merely had to repeat “that thing that worked without them knowing it worked.”

Similarly, while most of the ASW activity was focused on detecting, localizing, and “destroying” enemy submarines, many of the detection tactics that consumed nearly all of the friendly forces’ ASW effort simply did not work.  Most of the submarines remained undetected.  Yet, friendly forces were still achieving transitory ASW successes against submarines they had not even detected.

In other words, victory could be achieved through serendipity.

So in 2004, the driving question became this:  what if we could convert this serendipity into “effectivity,” and translate these accidental methods into deliberate tactics?

During the Cold War ASW was dominated by the acousticians, but by the 21st Century we had long since passed the point of diminishing returns on the ability to detect quiet submarines acoustically.  Hence, the “sensor uber alles” approach, although still regaled by the Cold Warriors, was no longer affordable nor effective.  We had to find a better way.  And in so doing, it quickly became apparent that it would be helpful to take into consideration a fundamental aspect of submarine operations that most ASW theories tend to ignore:  that submarines are manned by thinking human beings who, just like all other human beings, react to outside stimuli.  And while it was becoming increasingly difficult to detect a submarine, it was also true that the submarine crew usually could not tell whether they had been detected.  In that we found the lynchpin:  it is possible to shape a submarine’s behavior even when it hasn’t been detected.  That realization led to the precepts of Full Spectrum ASW.

The Precepts of Full Spectrum ASW

The fundamental issue at hand was this:  although it’s great fun to detect and destroy an enemy submarine, real ASW is not about detecting the submarine, it’s not about killing the submarine, it’s about defeating the submarine.  This is a nuance, but it’s an important nuance.

For example, you can operate in the vicinity of mines for months without destroying all of them.  All you really need to know is that there are no mines near you, that you have a clear path.  Undetected but irrelevant mines are merely a nuisance.

Well, diesel submarines can be thought of as smart, somewhat mobile, mines.  Most of the ships that find themselves the targets of diesel submarines can easily outrun and out-endure their nemesis.

Further, “defeating” a submarine is significantly easier than “detecting” it.  Detecting any submarine that could be a threat submarine requires a “boil the ocean” level of effort, in both technology and force structure.  To defeat the submarine, all you have to do is render it irrelevant.  Draw it out of firing position.  Cause its fire control solution to be wrong.  Cause it to go after the wrong target.  Render its weapons useless.

People generally think of submarines as having claustrophobic physical environments, and they do, but what they really have is claustrophobicsensory environments.  They are very limited in what they can perceive. Using acoustics, they generally have a maximum detection range of less than 50 miles.  They must be at periscope depth to use optical systems, but detection ranges for optical systems are limited by a very low periscope height of eye, and so are generally less than fifteen miles.  For real long-distance targeting they need intelligence or outside cueing, both of which can be denied to them by other means.

But more to the point, our Cold War remnant, sensor-focused ASW doctrine was causing us to miss many potential opportunities for soft-kill defeat.  Rather than applying our strengths against the enemy’s weaknesses, our Cold War tactics applied our weakness, open ocean detection capability, against the enemy’s strength—stealth.  An “Anti-Sun Tzu” approach.

What we really needed was something our ground forces are good at:  defense-in-depth.  Army combined arms tactics build kill zones, with different zones being serviceable by different types of weapons: air, indirect fire, direct fire, etc.

We needed something that addressed the submarine threat from that point of view, starting before the point where the subs departed their homeport.

We needed—and here’s that word again—a holistic approach.

So our team mapped out “the journey of a submarine,” considering what would be required to defeat the submarine in every phase of its journey, in every environment it transited.  We brainstormed these concepts for weeks, trying to find holes and additional opportunities.

What resulted was a nine-step process that we briefed to each of the numbered fleet commanders, to the Pacific Fleet Commander and to Fleet Forces Command.  A tenth step was added by the Pacific Fleet commander during our murder-board session with him.

This doctrine became known as the “Ten Threads of Full Spectrum ASW.”  Although they are summarized below, the specific solutions for each thread are not— both for reasons of classification, and because I don’t want to stifle innovation by providing what I think is “the right answer.”

The Ten Threads of Full Spectrum ASW

In the years since we had “rediscovered” ASW, Navy leaders throughout the chain of command had heightened the awareness of our ASW challenges by stating publicly, “we suck at ASW.”  This was not helpful.  Every time one of our admirals said this, another country bought a submarine.

The truth was that our ASW skills had atrophied.  The truth was we needed to get better.  But with apologies to Winston Churchill, our ASW skills were the worst in the world, except for all the rest.  We have the best ground force capability in the world, but that does not imply we should stop improving our Army and Marine Corps.  So it is with ASW.

There is a point to be made here.  One of the most effective forms of ASW is to stop the proliferation of submarines.  We have to convince adversaries that submarines are not the solution to their “American problem.”  And the only way we can do that is to tell the truth: that the use of submarines by an adversary might cause some tactical damage to American forces, but that use would cause much more severe strategic damage to the interests of the nation that employs the submarines, and this strategic self-mutilation would outweigh any tactical success that nation would achieve.

This led to the first thread of Full Spectrum ASW:

1. Create conditions where an adversary chooses not to employ submarines

As opposed to using submarines for intelligence-gathering, the decision to employ submarines in combat is a strategic decision.  What we really needed to do was create the conditions where the strategic cost-benefit analysis argued against a nation using submarines.  There are several ways to do this, most of which are not appropriate to discuss in an open forum.

But it’s also important that the submarine crew understand that if they are to go up against the United States in open naval warfare, there is a very high likelihood that they will not survive.  That submarine warfare against the United States is a kamikaze mission.  This is not dogma, it’s the truth.

It means that just as the Army and Marine Corps have demonstrated their lethality and success in land warfare, we must make sure any potential adversary understands the extreme peril they will put their submarine crews in should they choose to employ them— peril that is not counter-balanced by strategic advantage.  That the cost of submarine escalation is not outweighed by any potential benefit gained.  Sadly, this message has not been conveyed effectively to many of our adversaries.

But ASW doctrine needs more than just the deterrent component, there needs to be teeth in the “defeat” components as well:

2. Defeat submarines in port

Obviously, it’s always better to kill the archer (the home port) than the arrow (the submarine), so destroying a submarine before it gets underway, or after it returns to port for resupply, is an obvious required capability. This is also an opportunity to apply one of our current strengths—strike capability—against a weakness of any short-endurance diesel submarine—the need to resupply.

When I initially began to pitch Full Spectrum ASW, some reviewers tried to get me to drop this thread.  I frequently heard the argument, “Thread 2 will not pay any dividends because all of the enemy’s submarines will be underway before the war begins,” to which I would reply, only half joking, “Only if their funding of maintenance is better than ours.”

Thread 2 requires no new force structure, and it has the potential for high payoff, but only if we are postured to execute.  It requires the detection of alternate refueling and maintenance locations, and therefore brings with it a heavy actionable intelligence requirement.

Even if the submarines are underway before the war starts, they probably will not know precisely where to find their American targets absent external direction, which leads to:

3.  Defeat the submarines’ shore-based command and control capability

The ocean is a big place to look for an individual ship or strike group, even when you have a general idea of where a particular operation is taking place, particularly if you’re limited to a speed of ten knots to conserve battery capacity.  If we can deny submarines their non-organic (shore-based) C2 capability, this constraint becomes even more limiting.  Absent external targeting information, most submarines stumble around the ocean semi-blind.  Thread 3 therefore requires the capability to defeat the submarine’s shore-based command and control system.

It requires an ability to interfere with the enemy’s submarine communication systems, interfere with their ability to pass over-the-horizon targeting information to the submarines, and affect the enemy’s decision-making process for selecting the location for operations, even if only locally.

Which leads us to thread 4:

4. Defeat submarines near port, in denied areas

During the Cold War, one of our ASW precepts was that we would deny sanctuary to the Soviet submarine force.  We would go after them deep in their own waters, almost exclusively with our own SSNs. Today we must still maintain the capability to defeat submarines within their defensive perimeter, as they are leaving (or returning to) port.

It’s important to introduce a new concept here: the “vulnerability timeline.”  The vulnerability timeline is the period over which the enemy submarine will be vulnerable to being defeated during any particular thread of Full Spectrum ASW.  Our “design-to” solutions must be able to respond within the vulnerability timeline, otherwise they are rendered useless.   In the case of Thread 4, the vulnerability timeline for submarines leaving port would be on the order of minutes to a very few hours.  So our capability to engage enemy submarines in Thread 4 must possess this kind of responsiveness.  If the submarines do get underway in the early phases of the campaign, this means we will not have a lot of time to prepare the battlespace.  It means we have to be postured to execute Thread 4 in “enemy defensive areas,” even before actual hostilities begin.

Here we must also introduce the notion of “environment-tailoring.”  In short, each Full Spectrum ASW defeat mechanism must be tailored to the specific real-world physical environment in which it is intended to work.  A hypothetical, generic “capabilities-based” ASW solution is neither affordable nor required, because there is a limited number of countries that can actually pose a submarine threat to the United States.

Hence, the solutions we might use for the “defeat near port in denied areas” are very different from the solutions we might use for the next thread of Full Spectrum ASW:

5. Defeat submarines in choke points

In the real world, most adversary submarines have to transit through choke points in order to threaten U.S. forces.  These choke points serve as funneling locations that constrain the area we would need to search.  These choke points are usually not in denied areas.  Hence, less “survivable” solutions can be used to submarines in these areas.

A solution to Thread 5 of Full Spectrum ASW would require both very shallow water detection and a very shallow water attack, and could employ land-based solutions of limited range (the width of the choke point).  The vulnerability timeline for Thread 5 is the time it takes the submarine to transit the choke point, on the order of minutes to a very few hours.

Once the submarine has transited the choke point, then we’re onto Thread 6, a domain where the ASW problem potentially becomes much harder:

6. Defeat submarines in open ocean

Most of our post-Cold War ASW tactics and capability development, and almost all of our money, has gone into solving the Thread 6 ASW problem without context or balance.

Thread 6 is about deep water ASW.  It is where the ASW fight transitions from offense to defense.  It requires the ability to conduct broad area search over vast expanses of ocean. Many of our current capabilities, including SURTASS and Low Frequency Active Acoustic, directly (and only) address Thread 6.

Thread 6 is about defeating the submarines before they get into firing position.  (While thread 6 is transitionary, the purely defensive ASW capability against submarines that are in firing position is factored into Thread 9.)  The vulnerability timeline for Thread 6 is the several hours to the few days required for the submarine to close to firing position.

A robust Thread 6 capability also depends on an effective ability to execute Thread 7:

7.  Draw enemy submarines into ASW “kill boxes,” to a time and place of our choosing

Repeating the theme that it’s very difficult for submerged submarines to separate the good contacts from the bad (absent visual cues), conversely, it’s relatively easy to draw a submarine to the wrong “contact.”  If that “contact” happens to be a trap, even better.  The submarine must be inundated by so many “targets” that it becomes nearly impossible for him to separate the signal from the noise.

Further, if the submarine crew knows that the vast majority of targets they detect with organic sensors will be false targets intended to draw them into kill boxes specifically designed to destroy them, that knowledge will modulate the crew’s behavior in many desirable ways. As with Thread 6, the vulnerability timeline for thread 7 is several hours to a few days.

So while Thread 7 endeavors to draw submarines away from our actual forces, it fits hand in glove with Thread 8:

8. Mask our forces from submarine detection or classification

The more false targets the submarine encounters, the harder it is for the submarine to separate the signal from the noise, and the easier it is to mask the actual targets from detection or classification.  Thread 8 is not about doing the impossible; it’s not about rendering large surface ships acoustically or electromagnetically invisible.  Rather, it is about increasing the fog of war by making the real targets look like anything but a real target.

There isn’t really a vulnerability timeline for Thread 8 because it affects our vulnerability to attack, rather than the enemy’s vulnerability.  Hence, Thread 8 must be a continuous process.

Which leads to Thread 9:

9. Defeat the submarines in close battle

In 2004, most post-Cold War ASW training started at step 9 of a 10-step process.  But we absolutely still need to defeat submarines in close battle—within the submarine’s weapon range.  Thread 9 has a very short vulnerability timeline, from seconds to a few minutes, before the submarine’s fire control solution would support weapon engagement.  Hence, the systems that allow us to defeat a submarine in close battle are very different from the systems that provide us the best capability to defeat submarines in the broad expanses of open ocean.  Thread 9 includes methods to detect (and defeat) submarines as they approach their torpedo launch point.  It also includes the ability to change the rhythm of battle by forcing the submarines react to torpedo attacks, real or imagined.

Which leads us to our last thread of Full Spectrum ASW:

10. Defeat the incoming torpedo

Assuming all the above fail, if a torpedo is launched, we must render it ineffective. As with Thread 9, the vulnerability timeline (this time we’re measuring the vulnerability of the incoming torpedo, not the submarine) is seconds to a very few minutes.

The End-Game

Over the course of first six weeks of 2005, Full Spectrum ASW was briefed roughly thirty times to various Navy leaders. At the time, I worried these concepts would encounter a great deal of resistance.  There were still a lot of unreformed Cold Warriors on active duty, folks who had not spent any time on modern real-world missions and just didn’t understand that the world of submarine warfare had changed significantly since the 1980s.  I understood their perspective because I also deployed on my first missions during the Cold War.

But as it pertained to thoughtful Navy leaders, my fears simply were not justified. Full Spectrum ASW was universally and almost immediately adopted by the 7th, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Fleet commanders, by Pacific Fleet, and by Fleet Forces Command.  Then in March 2005, it was declared to be Navy doctrine by CNO Admiral Vern Clark.

It was later established as the foundation of the Navy’s Global ASW Concept of Operations, factoring in issues like the roles of various platforms, command and control relationships between ASW commanders, and basic tactics, techniques, and procedures.

In 2007 Fleet ASW Command morphed into the Naval Mine and ASW Command (NMAWC), taking on the mine warfare mission as well.  Following that transition, NMAWC initiated the development of “Full Spectrum Mine Warfare” to mirror Full Spectrum ASW.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that the initial concepts of Full Spectrum ASW were crafted over a period of three or four days in December 2004, by a team of less than 15 people.  The lesson here is that properly focused, small “red cell” team activity can make a big difference, sometimes even over short periods of time.