For those of us who grew up during the Cold War against the Soviets, we constantly heard rumors about the activities of the US submarine fleet. The eventual publication of the book, “Blind Man’s Bluff”, by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew not only confirmed those rumors but detailed an incredible range of exploits far beyond anything imagined by rumors. US subs routinely trailed Soviet subs undetected (to the best of our knowledge), skulked just outside (and sometimes inside!) Soviet ports and territorial waters, tapped underwater communications cables, and much more.
If you haven’t read the book, do yourself a favor and get a copy. (1)
Presumably, these same types of activities are occurring today. While I can’t prove they’re happening, I assume that we’re trailing Chinese subs, mapping the underwater features of the East and South China Seas, trailing Chinese surface ships, collecting data and acoustic signatures on new sub and ship classes, locating Chinese listening arrays, collecting signals intelligence, and noting Chinese submarine operating procedures. In short, I assume we’re prepping the battlefield and, given the supposed quality of our subs versus the presumed quality of Chinese countermeasures and detection capabilities, doing so largely undetected.
The Virginia class submarines offer a significant advantage. Despite foreign claims, no other country can match the combination of silent operations and sophisticated sensors that a Virginia has. Conventional powered subs (SSK) are quiet and hard to detect but the overall package that is the Virginia class is unmatched and this advantage will continue for many years to come. I assume we’re using this period of advantage to prepare for war and to establish even more advantages in operations, tactics, signature collections, etc.
In combination with submarine activities, it is known that we are operating ocean surveillance ships (T-AGOS) equipped with surveillance towed-array sensor systems (SURTASS). These ships are operating in the Pacific, collecting data on Chinese ships and subs, mapping the underwater arena, establishing acoustic databases, etc.
When war comes, the US will hold a significant undersea advantage.
(1)Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, PublicAffairs 2008, ISBN-13 9781586486785