Blogs: The Buzz

The 2 Percent NATO Benchmark Is a Red Herring

Is the Age of the Submarine Over?

The Buzz

How can the silent service stay in tune with the times? First and foremost, by acknowledging the danger posed by foreign navies toting gee-whiz gadgetry. Clark hints at how hard adapting to more transparent seas could prove: “unless U.S. forces adapt to and lead the new competition, the era of unrivaled U.S. undersea dominance could draw to a surprisingly abrupt close.” That’s a grim prognosis in itself. Abrupt change begets major traumas in big institutions like navies. It’s hard to get ahead of the process.

Yet while change may come quick, many of Clark’s recommendations have long lead times. If anti-access is indeed diving underwater, it may behoove sub skippers to remain farther offshore—much like their brethren skimming around on the surface. It also may behoove the silent service to reimagine its boats as underwater aircraft carriers—except that they’ll operate fleets of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) rather than airplanes, helicopters, and drones.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? The mothership stands off in relative safety while smaller, more elusive, less expensive craft do the hard and dirty work inshore. But the devil, as always, lurks in the details. Clark urges the sub force to construct larger nuclear-powered attack boats (SSNs) with the capacity to handle UUVs in significant numbers, not to mention new self-defense weaponry like ultralightweight torpedoes. Yet the U.S. Navy has cast its die with the medium-sized Virginia-class SSNs now joining the fleet. No replacement will enter service until 2044 according to current plans. Shipbuilding patterns, then, imply that bigger platforms don’t lie in store for the silent service. Not without a tectonic shift in priorities, at any rate.

Meanwhile, the navy is already staring a shortfall of attack boats in the face even without undertaking a major redesign of the submarine fleet. Technological transformation, in short, could outpace shipbuilding programs predicated on longstanding assumptions about combat in the depths. Change could be swift, while a reengineering a fleet is a glacial process unless something really, really bad transpires to compel the leadership to act swiftly and decisively. It takes time to transform ideas into widgets, and to develop sound tactics for employing them.

Next, with regard to fleet design, it may be instructive to think beyond the aircraft carrier as an analogy for this coming brand of subsurface warfare. Sure, the carrier air wing makes a nifty model for thinking about the functions of UUV flotillas. They would constitute the SSN’s long striking arm, much as fighter/attack jets comprise the flattop’s offensive punch. There’s value in mining this comparison. But the fit isn’t precise, is it? Presumably sub-force leaders have no plans to divest attack boats of their torpedoes and missiles, as naval aviation long ago stripped carriers of any serious offensive weaponry. They will retain battle power.

Subs, then, will be both vulnerable and heavy-hitting. There’s precedent for this quandary. A century ago naval historian Julian S. Corbett professed bafflement at the spectacle of hulking, thickly armored, heavily gunned battlewagons surrounding themselves with escorts to fend off torpedo-armed small craft like … submarines! For Corbett this constituted a “revolution beyond all previous experience.” The “old practice” was no longer a trustworthy guide. History furnished little help with foreseeing how sea combat might evolve.

Let’s not confine our quest for analogies to the deep, though, or even to the sea. In one sense the silent service is an undersea counterpart to the U.S. Air Force. Sound farfetched? Think about it. Subs rely on passive defense measures such as quieting to conceal their whereabouts. The latest air-force planes, such as F-22 and F-35 fighters, rely on built-in stealth to help them evade detection. Naval aviation trusts less to stealth than to active countermeasures such as electronic warfare to help airmen ride out enemy air defenses. Naval airmen defeat or fool defenses rather than elude them. Submariners might study the two paradigms—passive and active defense—to learn whatever lessons from the aerial domain are worth learning.

And as long as we’re bruiting about air power, is the SSN more akin to a fighter aircraft or to a bomber? There’s a division of labor that merits pondering. Fighters scour contested airspace of hostile forces, helping the bomber get through to its target relatively unmolested. Is the submarine a “fighter” in that sense? Or are UUVs the sub’s fighter squadrons, clearing out anti-access defenses so the sub—the “bomber”—can close the range to launch torpedoes or missiles? The question warrants investigating.

And lastly, as we gaze through a glass darkly into the future, Clark’s revolution could complicate—or foreclose altogether—certain strategic options involving submarines. It’s worth thinking ahead about those even as we obsess over hardware and tactics.

Pages

Russia's Fearsome PAK-FA Stealth Fighter Will Enter Service in 2018

The Buzz

How can the silent service stay in tune with the times? First and foremost, by acknowledging the danger posed by foreign navies toting gee-whiz gadgetry. Clark hints at how hard adapting to more transparent seas could prove: “unless U.S. forces adapt to and lead the new competition, the era of unrivaled U.S. undersea dominance could draw to a surprisingly abrupt close.” That’s a grim prognosis in itself. Abrupt change begets major traumas in big institutions like navies. It’s hard to get ahead of the process.

Yet while change may come quick, many of Clark’s recommendations have long lead times. If anti-access is indeed diving underwater, it may behoove sub skippers to remain farther offshore—much like their brethren skimming around on the surface. It also may behoove the silent service to reimagine its boats as underwater aircraft carriers—except that they’ll operate fleets of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) rather than airplanes, helicopters, and drones.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? The mothership stands off in relative safety while smaller, more elusive, less expensive craft do the hard and dirty work inshore. But the devil, as always, lurks in the details. Clark urges the sub force to construct larger nuclear-powered attack boats (SSNs) with the capacity to handle UUVs in significant numbers, not to mention new self-defense weaponry like ultralightweight torpedoes. Yet the U.S. Navy has cast its die with the medium-sized Virginia-class SSNs now joining the fleet. No replacement will enter service until 2044 according to current plans. Shipbuilding patterns, then, imply that bigger platforms don’t lie in store for the silent service. Not without a tectonic shift in priorities, at any rate.

Meanwhile, the navy is already staring a shortfall of attack boats in the face even without undertaking a major redesign of the submarine fleet. Technological transformation, in short, could outpace shipbuilding programs predicated on longstanding assumptions about combat in the depths. Change could be swift, while a reengineering a fleet is a glacial process unless something really, really bad transpires to compel the leadership to act swiftly and decisively. It takes time to transform ideas into widgets, and to develop sound tactics for employing them.

Next, with regard to fleet design, it may be instructive to think beyond the aircraft carrier as an analogy for this coming brand of subsurface warfare. Sure, the carrier air wing makes a nifty model for thinking about the functions of UUV flotillas. They would constitute the SSN’s long striking arm, much as fighter/attack jets comprise the flattop’s offensive punch. There’s value in mining this comparison. But the fit isn’t precise, is it? Presumably sub-force leaders have no plans to divest attack boats of their torpedoes and missiles, as naval aviation long ago stripped carriers of any serious offensive weaponry. They will retain battle power.

Subs, then, will be both vulnerable and heavy-hitting. There’s precedent for this quandary. A century ago naval historian Julian S. Corbett professed bafflement at the spectacle of hulking, thickly armored, heavily gunned battlewagons surrounding themselves with escorts to fend off torpedo-armed small craft like … submarines! For Corbett this constituted a “revolution beyond all previous experience.” The “old practice” was no longer a trustworthy guide. History furnished little help with foreseeing how sea combat might evolve.

Let’s not confine our quest for analogies to the deep, though, or even to the sea. In one sense the silent service is an undersea counterpart to the U.S. Air Force. Sound farfetched? Think about it. Subs rely on passive defense measures such as quieting to conceal their whereabouts. The latest air-force planes, such as F-22 and F-35 fighters, rely on built-in stealth to help them evade detection. Naval aviation trusts less to stealth than to active countermeasures such as electronic warfare to help airmen ride out enemy air defenses. Naval airmen defeat or fool defenses rather than elude them. Submariners might study the two paradigms—passive and active defense—to learn whatever lessons from the aerial domain are worth learning.

And as long as we’re bruiting about air power, is the SSN more akin to a fighter aircraft or to a bomber? There’s a division of labor that merits pondering. Fighters scour contested airspace of hostile forces, helping the bomber get through to its target relatively unmolested. Is the submarine a “fighter” in that sense? Or are UUVs the sub’s fighter squadrons, clearing out anti-access defenses so the sub—the “bomber”—can close the range to launch torpedoes or missiles? The question warrants investigating.

And lastly, as we gaze through a glass darkly into the future, Clark’s revolution could complicate—or foreclose altogether—certain strategic options involving submarines. It’s worth thinking ahead about those even as we obsess over hardware and tactics.

Pages

Why the World Really Should Fear North Korea's Missiles

The Buzz

How can the silent service stay in tune with the times? First and foremost, by acknowledging the danger posed by foreign navies toting gee-whiz gadgetry. Clark hints at how hard adapting to more transparent seas could prove: “unless U.S. forces adapt to and lead the new competition, the era of unrivaled U.S. undersea dominance could draw to a surprisingly abrupt close.” That’s a grim prognosis in itself. Abrupt change begets major traumas in big institutions like navies. It’s hard to get ahead of the process.

Yet while change may come quick, many of Clark’s recommendations have long lead times. If anti-access is indeed diving underwater, it may behoove sub skippers to remain farther offshore—much like their brethren skimming around on the surface. It also may behoove the silent service to reimagine its boats as underwater aircraft carriers—except that they’ll operate fleets of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) rather than airplanes, helicopters, and drones.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? The mothership stands off in relative safety while smaller, more elusive, less expensive craft do the hard and dirty work inshore. But the devil, as always, lurks in the details. Clark urges the sub force to construct larger nuclear-powered attack boats (SSNs) with the capacity to handle UUVs in significant numbers, not to mention new self-defense weaponry like ultralightweight torpedoes. Yet the U.S. Navy has cast its die with the medium-sized Virginia-class SSNs now joining the fleet. No replacement will enter service until 2044 according to current plans. Shipbuilding patterns, then, imply that bigger platforms don’t lie in store for the silent service. Not without a tectonic shift in priorities, at any rate.

Meanwhile, the navy is already staring a shortfall of attack boats in the face even without undertaking a major redesign of the submarine fleet. Technological transformation, in short, could outpace shipbuilding programs predicated on longstanding assumptions about combat in the depths. Change could be swift, while a reengineering a fleet is a glacial process unless something really, really bad transpires to compel the leadership to act swiftly and decisively. It takes time to transform ideas into widgets, and to develop sound tactics for employing them.

Next, with regard to fleet design, it may be instructive to think beyond the aircraft carrier as an analogy for this coming brand of subsurface warfare. Sure, the carrier air wing makes a nifty model for thinking about the functions of UUV flotillas. They would constitute the SSN’s long striking arm, much as fighter/attack jets comprise the flattop’s offensive punch. There’s value in mining this comparison. But the fit isn’t precise, is it? Presumably sub-force leaders have no plans to divest attack boats of their torpedoes and missiles, as naval aviation long ago stripped carriers of any serious offensive weaponry. They will retain battle power.

Subs, then, will be both vulnerable and heavy-hitting. There’s precedent for this quandary. A century ago naval historian Julian S. Corbett professed bafflement at the spectacle of hulking, thickly armored, heavily gunned battlewagons surrounding themselves with escorts to fend off torpedo-armed small craft like … submarines! For Corbett this constituted a “revolution beyond all previous experience.” The “old practice” was no longer a trustworthy guide. History furnished little help with foreseeing how sea combat might evolve.

Let’s not confine our quest for analogies to the deep, though, or even to the sea. In one sense the silent service is an undersea counterpart to the U.S. Air Force. Sound farfetched? Think about it. Subs rely on passive defense measures such as quieting to conceal their whereabouts. The latest air-force planes, such as F-22 and F-35 fighters, rely on built-in stealth to help them evade detection. Naval aviation trusts less to stealth than to active countermeasures such as electronic warfare to help airmen ride out enemy air defenses. Naval airmen defeat or fool defenses rather than elude them. Submariners might study the two paradigms—passive and active defense—to learn whatever lessons from the aerial domain are worth learning.

And as long as we’re bruiting about air power, is the SSN more akin to a fighter aircraft or to a bomber? There’s a division of labor that merits pondering. Fighters scour contested airspace of hostile forces, helping the bomber get through to its target relatively unmolested. Is the submarine a “fighter” in that sense? Or are UUVs the sub’s fighter squadrons, clearing out anti-access defenses so the sub—the “bomber”—can close the range to launch torpedoes or missiles? The question warrants investigating.

And lastly, as we gaze through a glass darkly into the future, Clark’s revolution could complicate—or foreclose altogether—certain strategic options involving submarines. It’s worth thinking ahead about those even as we obsess over hardware and tactics.

Pages

Say 'Bye Bye' to Brazil’s Aircraft Carrier

The Buzz

How can the silent service stay in tune with the times? First and foremost, by acknowledging the danger posed by foreign navies toting gee-whiz gadgetry. Clark hints at how hard adapting to more transparent seas could prove: “unless U.S. forces adapt to and lead the new competition, the era of unrivaled U.S. undersea dominance could draw to a surprisingly abrupt close.” That’s a grim prognosis in itself. Abrupt change begets major traumas in big institutions like navies. It’s hard to get ahead of the process.

Yet while change may come quick, many of Clark’s recommendations have long lead times. If anti-access is indeed diving underwater, it may behoove sub skippers to remain farther offshore—much like their brethren skimming around on the surface. It also may behoove the silent service to reimagine its boats as underwater aircraft carriers—except that they’ll operate fleets of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) rather than airplanes, helicopters, and drones.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? The mothership stands off in relative safety while smaller, more elusive, less expensive craft do the hard and dirty work inshore. But the devil, as always, lurks in the details. Clark urges the sub force to construct larger nuclear-powered attack boats (SSNs) with the capacity to handle UUVs in significant numbers, not to mention new self-defense weaponry like ultralightweight torpedoes. Yet the U.S. Navy has cast its die with the medium-sized Virginia-class SSNs now joining the fleet. No replacement will enter service until 2044 according to current plans. Shipbuilding patterns, then, imply that bigger platforms don’t lie in store for the silent service. Not without a tectonic shift in priorities, at any rate.

Meanwhile, the navy is already staring a shortfall of attack boats in the face even without undertaking a major redesign of the submarine fleet. Technological transformation, in short, could outpace shipbuilding programs predicated on longstanding assumptions about combat in the depths. Change could be swift, while a reengineering a fleet is a glacial process unless something really, really bad transpires to compel the leadership to act swiftly and decisively. It takes time to transform ideas into widgets, and to develop sound tactics for employing them.

Next, with regard to fleet design, it may be instructive to think beyond the aircraft carrier as an analogy for this coming brand of subsurface warfare. Sure, the carrier air wing makes a nifty model for thinking about the functions of UUV flotillas. They would constitute the SSN’s long striking arm, much as fighter/attack jets comprise the flattop’s offensive punch. There’s value in mining this comparison. But the fit isn’t precise, is it? Presumably sub-force leaders have no plans to divest attack boats of their torpedoes and missiles, as naval aviation long ago stripped carriers of any serious offensive weaponry. They will retain battle power.

Subs, then, will be both vulnerable and heavy-hitting. There’s precedent for this quandary. A century ago naval historian Julian S. Corbett professed bafflement at the spectacle of hulking, thickly armored, heavily gunned battlewagons surrounding themselves with escorts to fend off torpedo-armed small craft like … submarines! For Corbett this constituted a “revolution beyond all previous experience.” The “old practice” was no longer a trustworthy guide. History furnished little help with foreseeing how sea combat might evolve.

Let’s not confine our quest for analogies to the deep, though, or even to the sea. In one sense the silent service is an undersea counterpart to the U.S. Air Force. Sound farfetched? Think about it. Subs rely on passive defense measures such as quieting to conceal their whereabouts. The latest air-force planes, such as F-22 and F-35 fighters, rely on built-in stealth to help them evade detection. Naval aviation trusts less to stealth than to active countermeasures such as electronic warfare to help airmen ride out enemy air defenses. Naval airmen defeat or fool defenses rather than elude them. Submariners might study the two paradigms—passive and active defense—to learn whatever lessons from the aerial domain are worth learning.

And as long as we’re bruiting about air power, is the SSN more akin to a fighter aircraft or to a bomber? There’s a division of labor that merits pondering. Fighters scour contested airspace of hostile forces, helping the bomber get through to its target relatively unmolested. Is the submarine a “fighter” in that sense? Or are UUVs the sub’s fighter squadrons, clearing out anti-access defenses so the sub—the “bomber”—can close the range to launch torpedoes or missiles? The question warrants investigating.

And lastly, as we gaze through a glass darkly into the future, Clark’s revolution could complicate—or foreclose altogether—certain strategic options involving submarines. It’s worth thinking ahead about those even as we obsess over hardware and tactics.

Pages

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