During the Cold War the greatest naval threat was from Soviet submarines. As a result, the Navy was extremely focused on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and developed a variety of platforms, sensors, and tactics to deal with it. Since the collapse of the
Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War the Navy has allowed ASW to atrophy to an alarming extent. Only recently has the Navy begun to attempt to reverse the trend and, even now, only with half-hearted measures. Considering that the proliferation of foreign submarines, especially the modern non-nuclear SSKs, is the second leading threat (mines being the first), the current deplorable level of ASW capability represents a serious shortcoming.
The Navy’s Cold War ASW focus was enhanced due to the actual proximity of the threat and the ability to actively train against the real threat rather than simulations. Soviet submarines were seemingly everywhere and constituted an ever-present and serious threat. The threat level provided overwhelming motivation to become proficient at ASW and allowed for the most realistic hands-on training possible.
Consider, though, what has become of our ASW capability since the Cold War. The Spruance class, designed as a specialized ASW platform, has been pre-maturely retired and SinkEx’ed with no direct replacement. The S-3 Viking which provided long range, high speed ASW was retired with no replacement. Burke class DDGs are being built without towed arrays. The 160 or so P-3 Orions are being replaced by 100-120, depending on the source, P-8 Poseidons, reducing coverage capacity. SSN submarines, the most effective ASW platform, are being steadily reduced in number. Worse, the Navy’s ASW focus has been lost and ASW has been relegated to a tactical afterthought. We see, then, that the Navy has lost much of its specialized ASW platforms, equipment, and focus.
What does the Navy need to do to regain their ASW capability?
|ASW - Atrophied|
The Navy needs a fixed wing, carrier aircraft replacement for the S-3 Viking. By giving up the long range ASW capability of the Viking the Navy ensured that first detection of a sub would occur at close range where it’s already an immediate threat.
Finally, and most importantly, the Navy needs to refocus its training and priorities. ASW is one of the most perishable of naval skills. It must be practiced constantly to maintain proficiency. Simply having a sonar does not make an ASW platform. In today’s Navy, ASW is not sexy. AAW and ballistic missile defense (BMD) are the sexy activities and are what get the attention and training time. The Navy needs to refocus on ASW.
A good start to this would be to purchase a few foreign non-nuclear subs to act as a dedicated OpFor similar to TopGun or any of the standing training commands. We need a group that studies Iranian, North Korean, and Chinese submarine tactics and then operates non-nuclear subs using enemy tactics so as to provide the most realistic training possible.
Going further, one of the activities during the Cold War that really sharpened our ASW capability was the practice of having our subs trail Soviet subs. It’s generally acknowledged that our subs fairly routinely violated Soviet territorial waters to conduct their ASW and intel missions. We need to be doing this with
, Iran , and North Korea today. We need to be tagging and trailing their subs constantly. To be fair, we may well be doing this and it simply isn’t publicly acknowledged. China
As we discuss ASW platforms, remember that there are two ways to approach ASW. One is to have super sophisticated, ultra-high end platforms which, by definition, cost an enormous amount of money and can be procured only in limited quantities. The other is to overwhelm enemy submarines through sheer numbers of less capable platforms. This was the approach taken during WWII. Large numbers of corvettes, destroyer escorts, trawlers, and whatnot were pressed into service as ASW platforms. Individually, none were all that capable but collectively they provided the required capability. This approach also has the advantage of being able to afford individual losses in what is an inherently risky operation. This is why we need to build the lower end dedicated ASW vessels as described above. Plus, let’s face it, the modern submarine enjoys an enormous advantage over surface ships. Numbers will be needed to compensate.
The Navy needs to recognize that mines and submarines are the major threats today and field platforms and equipment that can counter them, TODAY. We need practical, ready to operate ships and aircraft that utilize currently available technology rather than the LCS, the Navy’s fantasy answer, that won’t have any useful capabilities for years to come, if ever.