Sub Hunters Take a Dive Pt 3
If anyone doubts the utility of old fashioned diesel electric submarines when navies now operate nuclear attack submarines, fast attack supercarriers, and very sophisticated anti-missile destroyers, apparently Russia does not share this skepticism. Realizing that to a minor power, a conventional sub is a capital ship, and also that such silent and stealthy craft cause even superpowers major concern, the former communist power plans on selling to anyone with a need, according to Ria Novosti:
Russia could sell up to 40 fourth-generation diesel-electric submarines to foreign customers by 2015, state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport said on Wednesday.
“Russia’s export potential in this market sector is very high thanks to Project 636 and Amur-1650 class submarines equipped with the Club-S integrated missile systems,” Rosoboronexport said in a press release.
The Project 636 Kilo-class submarine is thought to be one of the most silent submarine classes in the world. It has been specifically designed for anti-shipping and anti-submarine operations in relatively shallow waters.
Russia has built Kilo-class submarines for India, China and Iran.
The USS Kobayashi Maru
The famed Kobayashi Maru test from the popular Star Trek space operas involved a “no win” scenario in which an aspiring starship captain might have to face overwhelming odds in the performance of duty. A young James Kirk defied these odds and won by changing the outcome of the test, or in other words, he cheated! In real life, however, you might change the way you play the game of war, but if you break the basic rules of warfare you are dead.
In the US Navy, their version of the Kobayashi Maru test might be called “the no lose scenario”, more close to that favored by the fictional Captain Kirk. By basing their entire naval strategy on a handful of costly giant warships, they gamble the security of the sea lanes on a concept untried in warfare, that of few or no causalities in a future conflict, or by avoiding conflict altogether. Instead of preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, they prepare for the best, and hope there will never be an opportunity where these exquisite and very costly ships will be tested in battle. In reality, though, the history of war at sea has never been so obliging.
Charge of the Light Brigade at Sea
The roots of this self-delusion can be found early in the Cold War. Back in the 1950s and faced with Stalin’s plan to deploy 1200 submarines against the West (the actual figure eventually amounted to less than 400), the US Navy came to the conclusion that the only way to contend with such an overwhelming force was a change in the way submarines were fought. So, instead of taking to heart the hard-won antisubmarine lessons of the recent world war, the leadership changed the rules claiming they had a better way to defeat the new U-boats. Ronald H. Spector in his book At War, At Sea describes the plan developed by then Deputy CNO Vice Admiral Forrest Sherman:
Sherman argued that the enormous numbers of advanced submarines could not be countered by the traditional methods of convoy and anti-submarine warfare; the Soviet submarine threat must be attacked “at the source,” using naval air to attack submarines in their bases and support facilities. To do that, aircraft carriers would have to approach close to the Soviet Union in range of land-based Russian aircraft.
Interestingly enough, it was a plan based on the new Navy capital ships, the giant supercarriers now entering service, which the admirals had fought tooth and nail to acquire. These would be backed by new high-end missile cruiser and destroyers, plus advanced nuclear submarines as they became available. Such a force also allowed the Navy to compete with the Air Force’s strategic bomber fleet for the coveted nuclear deterrent mission. Anti submarine warfare was sidelined to the air-admirals obsession with Big Decks and budget rivalries. In the 1980s, a revised version of this plan to sail into the Soviet Navy’s submarine bastions was adopted by Navy Secretary John Lehman in Ronald Reagan’s 600 Ship Navy .
It was a poor substitute for a very complicated form of warfare, one in which the combined armed forces had been required to combat in 1941-1945. Then it was the Air Force’s bombers, the Navy’s destroyers and escorts, frigates, small carriers, corvettes, sloops, and even Coast Guard cutters which finally overwhelmed the Axis submarines. “Never mind” said the Navy. “We have found a better way”, but it was one untested in combat, and remains so to this day.
Avoiding the Armageddon at Sea
From what we have learned this week, it appears the submarine is very likely, in the next war at sea, set to expand on its reputation as the greatest ship-killer in history. We are not sure if the dire situation which we have allowed anti-submarine warfare to fall can be reversed, but here are some suggestions:
- A freeze on the construction of all large warships, with savings going to increase smaller hulls geared toward anti-submarine warfare.
- A very long-range replacement for ASROC, which should be able to strike at submarines before the latter can come into torpedo range.
- High Speed Vessels which should be fast enough to outrun a torpedo. 50 knots is good, but 100 would be better. Also stealth features to help avoid cruise missiles.
- UAVs to replace ASW helicopters, as the new drones can stay on patrol far longer and can also be launched from smaller corvette type warships. In some cases they are also faster than the helo.
- Build conventional subs, SSK’s especially geared toward hunting other submarines. There is some evidence much quieter conventional boats are a threat to the larger and noisier nuclear submarines, especially in littoral waters.
If any of these fail to answer the threat posed by the rise of the new battleship at sea, then we might try “if you can’t beat them join them”. We once proposed an “All Submarine Navy” which would give the fleet a single very survivable and deadly capital vessel, instead of the vulnerable and too pricey “All Battleship Navy” it currently deploys. While such a force geared to moving the Navy under the sea to survive might do the merchant navy little good, at least there will be something left when the next Armageddon at Sea comes, due to the West for the third time in a century ignoring or discounting the submarine threat to surface ships. Considering how amazingly advanced and well armed they have become in 65 years, we think it the last time the undersea boats’ abilities will be ignored.