Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The New ASW

The current issue of Proceedings has one of those articles that both disgusts me and encourages me at the same time (1).  The author describes a revolutionary, “new” approach to ASW.  As he puts it,

“[Navy leadership and personnel]… just didn’t understand that the world of submarine warfare had changed significantly since the 1980s.”

We’ll come back to the “new” part of that in a bit.

Moving on, the author presents a 10-step approach to ASW which recognizes the series of vulnerabilities or engagement opportunities that a submarine passes through from the start of its deployment to the end of its mission.  Recognizing these steps allows the establishment of a kill-chain of sorts to be operated against the submarine.  The sub can be engaged and killed not just at sea in a pitched ASW confrontation but anywhere along the way.  The ten steps, or locations, for engagement are,

  1. Prevent the strategic decision to use submarines.
  2. In port.
  3. Sever command and control.
  4. Near port.
  5. Transiting choke points.
  6. Open ocean.
  7. Lure subs into kill boxes.
  8. Mask targets.
  9. Close contact.
  10. Defeat the torpedo.

I won’t go into detail on these points.  You can read the article if you’re interested.  Besides, most are fairly obvious.

The disgusting part of this article is that the author seems to think he’s come up with something new.  Apparently not a student of history, he seems unaware of the Allies efforts to attack U-Boats in their pens and destroy the factories that made the subs and their component parts.  He seems unaware of the WWII code breaking efforts that denied enemy command and control effectiveness.  He seems unaware of the Cold War GIUK and SOSUS choke point awareness.  I could go on but the point is that none of the steps are new and most have been recognized and understood for almost as long as there have been submarines.

That these steps would seem to the author to be a “new” response to the “changing” world of submarine warfare is nothing less than the admission of total ignorance of the history of SW and ASW.  That Navy leadership would embrace it as “new” is equally troubling.

U-Boat Pens - Always A Target

I’m not going to attack the author any further – that’s not the point.  The only reason I criticize the author at all is to point out the sad state of affairs regarding tactical and strategic competence among our professional warriors.  I’ll leave it at that.

On the plus side, if the Navy will wake up and embrace this “new” form of ASW then I’m all for it.  Any awareness and grasp of strategy and tactics by the Navy is something to be celebrated, praised, and encouraged.  In that light, this is a most welcome article.

I hope the Navy leaders responsible for ASW go back and thoroughly read up on the history of ASW.  Who knows how many other “new” tactics they may find?

(1) US Naval Institute Proceedings, “The Hunt for Full-Spectrum ASW”, Capt. William Toti, USN(Ret.), Jun 2014, p.38


  1. Oh dear, oh dear o dear :S

    Read the whole article. Its a bit... well basic.
    Strange to quote the NOK incident as a definative turning point and reemmergence of sub threats ? worrying ?

    Im finding it quite difficult to tell if he is concentrating on SSN or SSK, he certainly isnt concentrating on SSBN or SSGN.

    Many assumptions in the article specificially state outrunning or out enduring a sub threat. Dont try this with an SSN or your week is about to do badly wrong.

    But if we are talking SSK then he has missed step 6.5 resupply and 6.5a snorkling. Diesels have limited endurance one way or another. they need diesel, food and most importantly air if they are going to go open ocean for any reasonable range.

    Even our subs during Iraq War were resupplying with tomahawks fairly regually. This is a great time to hit a sub, but seem to have been missed ?


  2. 11. Even assuming the Torp Hit, the Sub has given away its presence and most likely a very good idea of its position. ( Unless you are up agains the best US \ UK subs or your battle group is bigger than up to 6-8 ( Astute - Sea Wolf ) then there are still ships floating ) you must now hit the sub before it reloads, or more likely before it breaks away then returns for the rest of you.

    Does the USN train its surface ships agains their Subs often ?

  3. Gosh that sounded really sarcastic. it isnt supposed to be.
    What i mean is How often does say a Burke train agains a Virginia ?

    1. Beno, the general answer is not often. Probably once just prior to each deployment. A better question is how relevant is training against a Virginia that no likely enemy has? We should be training extensively against diesel subs in addition to SSNs.

  4. Agreed, althought i would have thought if you can fight a viginia you can proberbly cope with anything. I hear alot about the threat of new quieter diesels, but no realistic comparisons of where they definatly outclass modern nuke subs.
    Such a difficult area to get ANY detail tho.

    1. SSKs and SSNs use completely different sets of tactics, fight in completely different environments (shallow versus deep), have completely different acoustic signatures, and so on. Training against a Virginia does little for preparing to fight SSKs. For example, because of the shallow, cluttered, bottom prominent, noisy environment that SSKs operate in, the traditional long range, passive acoustic detection methods are ineffective. Instead, shallow water ASW requires short range, active sonar at different frequencies. The long towed arrays used in the open ocean can't be deployed in shallow water due to the depth constraints. And so on ... You can rapidly see that training against a Virginia provides very limited experience against an SSK.

      You're correct. There is little info available in the public domain. They don't call it the Silent Service for nothing!

  5. Isnt that more about the environment than sub type ? I was under the inpression one of the Viginia classes top advancments ( even over Seawolf ) were features like the bow thruster for work in the littoral ?

    I frequently read that SSK are configured for the shallows, Which is why I was so confused in the attatched article when we get references about open ocean mixed with the concept of trying to outrun the sub ?

    1. I'm not aware of a bow thruster. Are you sure about that?

  6. Sorry wrong terminology, "swimmers" or "creepers" apparently. small embedded electric propellers in the bow for manouvering in the littoral.
    Im trying to find the reference but am unable to ( beyond conjecture ). Im sure i saw a video prior to construction.
    Alternativly perhaps im going mad ?

    Was having a very interesting chat in gibralta recently with a man who worked for BAE. We were watching HMS Astute come in and dock with its new DDS on the back. I was commenting on the tugs and he seemed to indicate strongly that it was easily capable of those kind of manouvers itself if it needed.
    Gibralta is a fairly tight harbour for a boat of that size.



Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.