Discuss the role of submarines with respect to coordinated operations. This discussion shall include:
Naval Special Warfare (NSW)
Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW)
Anti-surface Warfare (ASUW)
Describe the unique communication challenges of integrating submarines into coordinated operations.
Understand how complacency and informality contributed to the USS Hartford collision.
Describe why the submarine force is relevant to the Navy’s mission as stated by reference (v.). This discussion shall include how each platform (SSN, SSGN, and SSBN) contributes to this mission.
Describe the next phase of Virginia Class construction and the Ohio Class replacement. This discussion shall include:
Vertical Launch System replacement on Virginia Class
Changes to the bow on Virginia Class
Virginia Class cost reduction
SSBNs replacement plan (general understanding)
I. Coordinated Operationsi
Naval Special Warfare (NSW)
Submarines can covertly insert and extract Special Operations Forces (SOF). The Submarine Force is most familiar with working with Navy Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) teams, but has also demonstrated the ability to conduct operations with Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps special operations personnel. Special operations include combat search and rescue, reconnaissance, sabotage, diversionary attacks, monitoring enemy movements and communications, infiltration/exfiltration, and pre-amphibious landing surveys.
Any US submarine can conduct combat swimmer operations and a significant number can conduct Dry Deck Shelter (DDS) operations. Each submarine has two escape trunks designed for crew evacuation which can be used for swimmer “lock-in/lock-out.” Two or three combat swimmers enter the trunk, shut the lower hatch, flood the trunk with water, open the outer hatch and swim out.
Cruise Missile Strike Capability
Submarines provide the unique capability to covertly launch precision strikes using Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles (TLAM). This covertness provides an opportunity for national leadership to use non-military instruments of power during crisis resolution without provoking the other party by overtly placing surface warships in the area. If diplomacy solves the crisis the submarine can depart the area without having demonstrated an aggressive American stance. Should diplomatic, informational, and economic options fail, the submarine can have ordnance on target within minutes. All US SSNs have the capability to launch TLAMs. Submarines receive strike packages from Joint Force Commanders in theater.
Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)ii
ASW is a team sport — requiring a complex mosaic of diverse capabilities in a highly variable physical environment. No single ASW platform, system, or weapon will work all the time. The Navy has a spectrum of undersea, surface, airborne, and space-based systems to ensure that we maintain what the Joint Chiefs of Staff publication Joint Vision 2010 calls “full-dimensional protection.” The undersea environment, ranging from the shallows of the littoral to the vast deeps of the great ocean basins — and polar regions under ice — demand a multi-disciplinary approach, subsuming intelligence, oceanography, surveillance and cueing, multiple sensors and sensor technologies, coordinated multi-platform operations, and underwater weapons. The center piece to ASW is the submarine, providing real-time in theater intelligence to prosecute a threat submarine. Anti-Surface Warfare (ASUW)
The arms race with the Soviets included both sides building more and better surface ships, surface sensors, and surface fired weapons systems. The postulated World War III scenario included US Carrier Battle Groups (CVBGs) meeting Soviet Surface Action Groups (SAGs) in the middle of the oceans and ‘duking it out’ for control of the sea lines of communication. It was postulated that the submarine would be key to sink the high value unit in the SAG. Today this scenario is unlikely. However, the submarine’s value as a ASUW asset has not diminished.
II. Coordinated Operations Challenges
The most significant challenge for a submarine within a coordinated operation is communication. To communicate, a submarine must be close to the surface. Near the surface, submarines are severely limited in speed and stealth may be compromised. Therefore, they are unable to fulfill their intended purpose. This concept may be difficult for Joint Force Commanders to fully understand to completely leverage the submarine’s capabilities. Commanders from other communities are used to communication availability one hundred percent of the time an asset is employed, which is not the case for submarines.
III. USS Hartford Collisioniiiiv
The USS Hartford and USS New Orleans collision was a collision between the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Hartford and San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS New Orleans on 20 March 2009. It occurred in the Strait of Hormuz, between Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and Musandam, an exclave of Oman. A U.S. Navy investigation into the collision found that the Hartford was solely to blame for the accident. According to the Navy, the accident was caused by poor, lax leadership on the submarine and a failure to adequately prepare for and conduct the crossing of the Hormuz Strait by the crew. As a result, the captain and several other officers and sailors were removed or disciplined. The collision occurred as Hartford and New Orleans transited the Strait of Hormuz. The collision inflicted minor injuries on 15 sailors on the Hartford and ruptured a fuel tank on the New Orleans, spilling 25,000 US gal (95,000 L) of diesel fuel. Both vessels continued on under their own power. The Hartford was submerged and at periscope depth at the time of the collision. Hartford is believed to have rolled about 85° during the collision and sustained extensive damage to its sail, periscope and port bow plane, totaling over $100 million. There was no damage to the nuclear reactor. An inspection of New Orleans in Manama, Bahrain by Navy divers found a 16 by 18 ft. hole in the ship's hull, a ruptured fuel tank, and interior damage to two ballast tanks.
Key Lessons Learned: • Complacency
The crew had been operating at sea for an extended period of time in conditions with many surface contacts. During the Strait of Hormuz transit, the crew let their guard down during one of the most challenging aspects of the transit – crossing the straight at periscope depth. Data provided by the ship’s sensors were not utilized to understand the contact picture. The crew also failed to develop an adequate plan for crossing the Straight.
A Lack of standards and not holding personnel accountable led to a climate where backup from the watch team was not given or utilized. Watchstanders would frequently sleep on watch, leave their watchstation, and engage in off-topic conversation. Proper watch team backup could have enabled watch standers to overcome the poor Straight crossing plan and prevent collision.
IV. Submarines and the Mission of the Navyv
The mission of the U.S. Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas. SSN and SSGN submarines are capable of delivering strike weapons anywhere in the world at any time. SSBN submarines are the most stealthy, survivable arm of the nation’s nuclear triad, ready to launch in a moment’s notice. All classes of U.S. Submarines are key elements of naval power projection and are vital in deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas through anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare (ASUW and ASW, respectively).
V. Next Step in the Submarine Force
As part of the Virginia-class third, or Block III, contract, the Navy redesigned approximately 20 percent of the ship to reduce their acquisition costs. Most of the changes are found in the bow where the traditional, air-backed sonar sphere has been replaced with a water-backed Large Aperture Bow (LAB) array which reduces acquisition and life-cycle costs while providing enhanced passive detection capabilities. The new bow also replaces the 12 individual Vertical Launch System (VLS) tubes with two 87-inch Virginia Payload Tubes (VPTs), each capable of launching six Tomahawk cruise missiles. The VPTs simplify construction, reduce acquisition costs, and provide for more payload flexibility than the smaller VLS tubes due to their added volume.
The Ohio Replacement SSBN Program is tasked with recapitalizing the nation's sea-based strategic deterrent in a cost-effective manner. The Navy plans to replace its current fleet of 14 Ohio-class SSBNs with only 12 Ohio Replacement SSBNs. The first Ohio Replacement is scheduled to begin construction in fiscal year 2021, deliver to the Navy in 2027, and conduct its first strategic deterrence patrol in 2031.vi
TheVirginia–class cost-reduction effort, like the program overall, will forever stand as an acquisition success story. It reduced the average per-unit cost by nearly 20 percent for each submarine starting with the two ships in 2012, despite the program already being in serial production, and did so without reducing warfighting capabilities or passing future maintenance costs on to the Fleet. The program’s success is not a secret, and in fact several other programs have requested lessons learned and advice. In a time of tight federal budgets, more programs will likely be calling in an effort to learn from this hallmark program.vii