Friday, February 14, 2020

Blind Man's Bluff

ComNavOps is often critical of Navy actions and with incredibly good reason.  However, because I critically analyze the Navy and the results of that analysis are so often bad, it’s easy for readers to lose sight of the positives – and there are some! – about the Navy.  Here’s one such positive aspect.

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.



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(1)Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, Blind Man’s Bluff:  The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, PublicAffairs 2008, ISBN-13 9781586486785

27 comments:

  1. My one caveat would be, are our captains and crews as good as during Cold War? Can they use the Virginia's as well today as LA class during Cold War? Think how much real life experience those crews had and the pressures of the Cold War compared to today? USN was a real fine tune weapon back then....I hope too that USN is pulling off the same type of missions.

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    1. "are our captains and crews as good as during Cold War? "

      I don't know if they're as good but the way you get good is to actually do the stuff. So, I hope they're out there doing it every day.

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  2. " 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."

    The Chinese aren't stupid as you know. They understand the huge advantage SOSUS gave the West, particularly in the GIUK gap.

    We can expect a modern equivalent right through the SCS at least. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they are listening to us at least as carefully and effectively as we are listening to them today.

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    1. Absolutely. I've read articles that state that China has acknowledged setting up listening arrays. They'd be idiots not to.

      I would hope that we're finding those arrays, by whatever means, and working on ways to neutralize them in war. This would be a good job for SEALs instead of grandstanding around the Middle East.

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    2. "This would be a good job for SEALs instead of grandstanding around the Middle East."

      Agreed. Now if only we could find something constructive for the Marines to do...

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    3. "Now if only we could find something constructive for the Marines to do..."

      Well, since their number one responsibility is port seizure (my opinion, not theirs), they should be conducting non-stop exercises on how to accomplish that since they've never practiced it and lack most of the equipment necessary to do it.

      Or, work on gender integration and sensitivity training cause, you know, that's just as important as preparing for high end combat.

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  3. I assume the Chinese laid cables to each of their significant persistent arrays which we monitored with NTM. So we either go around those or target them. No clue about other types...

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    1. You can't really go around arrays. The GIUK SOSUS arrays during the Cold War monitored the entire Atlantic Ocean with pretty amazing sensitivity. Of course, the Soviet subs of the time were not as quiet as today's subs but, then again, the arrays were not as good either. The point is that the arrays are passive and take in the noise signals from many hundreds of miles. If you're not familiar with SOSUS you should check it out. It's pretty impressive stuff. I think we were foolish to decommission the system.

      The array systems required a land analysis center. I would hope that we're identifying those Chinese land analysis centers for quick destruction during war!

      I would also assume and hope that we've installed Pacific SOSUS-like arrays around the S/E China Seas. If not, we're idiots and our military is failing in their responsibility.

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  4. Just ordered it off of ebay....thanks!

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    1. It reads like a Tom Clancy novel except that it's real! You'll enjoy it.

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  5. This is what the Australian Subs were doing https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/cold-war-exploits-of-australias-secret-submarines/news-story/2b5a9a088125b1873777ec8cc60cd79b same stuff.

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    1. The link brings up a page that says the link is broken.

      Delete
    2. I pasted the link and it worked. Here's an excert

      Pitt began a video that grabbed Prime Minister Hawke's attention and immediately transformed his mood. The PM appeared transfixed as he watched dramatic and brilliantly clear footage taken by HMAS Orion as it slipped in behind and beneath a surfaced Soviet Charlie-class nuclear submarine heading into the Vietnamese port.

      The video began with distant pictures of the Soviet submarine motoring towards the harbour, well outside the 12-nautical mile (22.2km) Vietnamese territorial limit. The video was shot through a camera in Orion's periscope as the submarine loitered, barely submerged in the choppy sea.

      Then Pitt took the Orion deep, ran in close behind the Soviet boat, and came up to periscope depth again. Now the video showed the Soviet submarine's wake boiling and bubbling on the surface. Hawke watched, startled, as a clear image of the turning propeller appeared on the screen just above and ahead of Orion.

      Pitt ran beneath the Soviet submarine, filming sonar and other fittings mounted along its hull. The remarkably clear pictures exposed the underwater secrets of Charlie-class technology. The only other way to get them would be for a western spy to penetrate dry-docks in the Soviet Union.

      Pitt positioned Orion ahead of and beneath the Soviet submarine, slowed almost to a stop, and then allowed the Soviet boat to pass him while he filmed the other side of its hull.

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    3. I copied the phrase 'same stuff' as part of the link and it gave a broken link. I omitted that phrase and it brings up an Australian (news site?) login page. Is the article behind a pay wall?

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    4. Good stuff. I hope Australia is conducting similar actions today!

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    5. We are and we are buying French subs modified from nuclear powered attack subs to diesel/electric. That's because north asia is a very long way away and our subs need range. We are actually also buying design capability from the French. So in future Australians will be designing our subs. Also the fleet will be increased from 6 to 12.

      The problem with the Australian approach (constrained by not enough crew) is this delivers in the mid 2030s (when apparently crew will magically appear to crew our assets).

      And it is probably behind a paywall. News Ltd papers have the best paywalls. The only ones I can't get through (normally, not sure why I can read this one). But I can read it no more. I'm now blocked. A story in it an Australian sub sneaked into Shanghai harbour but it was filled with fishing boats, who noticed as they look for fish signs. Then it got caught in fishing nets and (depending on source) sank a fishing boat or the captain of the fishing boat hacked the net away with an axe.

      They escaped before causing an international incident. Today the fishing boats would probably be part of the militia but not then.

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    6. "2030s (when apparently crew will magically appear to crew our assets)."

      Ya gotta like optimistic planning!

      Seriously, I've heard about the manning issue for many years. What is the main challenge in getting people to sign up for service?

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    7. There is no need to sign up. Anyone good enough can get a higher education without doing military service. Everyone loves the Army but no one wants to be bossed about. Also selection standards are very high. You have to do well in school. We can't afford mass so we aim for quality.

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  6. The Soviets didn't have a SOSUS like the west did because you mount the sensors at the edge of a continental shelf as they require really deep water in front of them. The US had the Atlantic ocean without barriers. Soviets didn't. While I'm no expert but I think Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines are in the way for the Chinese. Its utility has declined because subs are many times quitter and the oceans are many times louder. See https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/want-hunt-submarine-ping-loudly-carry-small-torpedo/

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    1. I'm not a SOSUS expert either! I noted that subs had gotten quieter but I also noted that passive receivers and software analysis had also gotten better.

      A Chinese array would be primarily intended to monitor inside the S/E China Seas and with multiple placements I'm sure they could effectively do that.

      There's no reason the Chinese couldn't place arrays, say, near the Philippines looking out into the Pacific. You'll note that they're becoming quite friendly with Philippines.

      Somewhat related, you've probably seen that the Philippines is terminating the joint forces agreement with the US. We're allowing a strategically placed ally to slip away. While I despise the Chinese govt, I have to give them full credit for how well they play the empire building game.

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    2. In Australia we are the only other country with a agreement with the Philippines with 100 soldiers training them to fight terrorists. They aren't terminating ours, and the 50/50 belief here is they really aren't going to terminate yours either. The Philippine Defense Force is pro US and suspicious of China unlike their current President (who is actually all over the place on issues like this).

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    3. PS SOSUS is different to other arrays. It has a range of thousands of km. It needs the seabed to be helpful and very deep water. Other arrays are like 20 km under normal conditions. Quantum detectors are about 24 km.

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  7. For another perspective on the US leaving the Phillipines read this:
    https://zeihan.com/flipping-the-philippines/

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    1. As I've often said, I have no problem with readers citing articles as long as they contribute some value added to go along with it. What's your analysis of the article?

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    2. In one of the answers above you stated that "Somewhat related, you've probably seen that the Philippines is terminating the joint forces agreement with the US. We're allowing a strategically placed ally to slip away. .."
      I just posted the article which posits a view that its no great loss to USA if the Phillipines do slip away.

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    3. Right … now provide an opinion or analysis of the article. Add some value. Do you agree or disagree? Does the author make a good point or does he have flaws in his assessment? If he has flaws, what are they? If you think he's right, why?

      When readers post links, I'd like them to include some analysis or opinion. Something about that article caught your eye enough to reference it, here. What was that? Give other readers the benefit of your insight! Help others see what it was that you thought was noteworthy.

      Delete

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