How will new Submarine Sensors and Payloads Influence Naval Warfare in the 21st Century?
Owen R. Cote Jr., MIT Security Studies Program
Owen Cote was one of the first people to provide his submission for this event. In my opinion, that is the smartest article on submarines that has been published to any blog, anywhere. Ironically, Owen Cote was also one of the last people I asked to join the event. It is very hard to find someone willing to discuss submarine technologies in an open forum, as that is just how the community is. One day before lunch I sent out several email asking trusted colleagues who I needed to write about submarines. Twenty minutes later I was talking to Bryan McGrath on an unrelated subject, and posed the question to him. Immediately he said Owen Cote – and by the time I got off the phone every email I had sent out came back with one name – Owen Cote.
The last comment in that post had two questions from Jonathan Jeckell:
That was a fascinating article on submarine sensors, but I have two questions…
1)C ould an enemy feasibly level the playing field by jamming passive sonar with widely scattered noise making devices? I’m not sure if brute force loud noise generation, or more subtle ones that mimic the sound of opposing force ships and submarines would be more effective.
2) Mr. Cote’s vision for the future seems to rely quite a lot on high bandwidth datalinks. How would he square this with the limitations of a submerged submarine?
Thanks for indulging me on these questions. Perhaps I should post them to the comments if you think it would add value to group participation and consideration.
Owen Cote was kind enough to respond to these very interesting questions.
There is most definitely the possibility of spoofing passive sonar. If you ever have the chance to hear John Schuster speak (APL, former head of the USN’s SSBN Survivability Program), you can get plenty of detail about how that might work. But I would note that such a capability, like all such spoofing efforts would require a lot of expertise in how the sensors to be spoofed function, exactly what their signal processing routines are, and how effective they are at distinguishing between similar signals. For example, if an opponent’s passive acoustic sensors are capable of distinguishing between different ships of the same class, as the U.S.’s were during the Cold War, one can see how challenging it would be to know that your signal was precise enough to successfully mimic one or the other. Put in the terms used in the paper, spoofing is, at least in a technical sense, not usually a weapon of the weaker, less technically advanced power.
As for datalinks, TDOA networks do not require a lot of bandwidth. A purpose built TDOA network could use low-probability-of-intercept (LPI) links with relatively low data rates. Also, the comms involved need not be two way, at least on anything like a continuous basis, so the submarine need not emit except to issue brief instructions to the network nodes. This means that the sub needs a continuous means of receiving low data rate LPI signals but only an occasional means of transmitting such signals. All of this could easily be integrated into the sub’s passive ESM mast which in many scenarios would itself be one of the TDOA nodes.
Both questions lead into a larger issue. Exactly what are the opponent’s ASW and electronic warfare capabilities today, what could they become in the future, and what kind of investment would be needed to get from today to the projected future. To use China as an example, it’s capabilities in both of these warfare areas are extremely limited today. This is most apparent using open sources in the ASW realm, where the Chinese are separated from a serious ASW capability even just limited to their coastal areas by very substantial resources. Part of the rationale behind the proposed submarine sensors and payloads is to force a choice on such a future competitor between accepting the consequences of not having an ASW capability and the very large costs of gaining one.
If you did not read the links in that article, you need to go back and read the content on the other end of those links.
How long would it take the shipbuilding industry to grow capacity and throughput if the nation faced a naval crisis or conflict?
Mike Petters, President and Chief Executive Officer of Huntington Ingalls Industries.
I have missed opportunities to meet Mr. Petters on three different occasions. We would be at the same event, but something always came up and one of us had to run off. When I began developing this event, his name was one the first I wrote down and he was one of the first people I reached out to. Nobody else in the world builds anything remotely as complicated as nuclear powered aircraft carriers, and that our nation invests the money, resources, and political will to build them on a consistent schedule over periods of decades and generations is truly one of the great accomplishments of the nation that history will look back on and notice. Huntington Ingalls Industries doesn’t just build ships, those men and women build the premier symbol of American national power that forms the foundation of our global power, influence, and security for the economy and global trade order built in our image that we benefit from today.
There were nearly 100 email responses related to the article provided by Mike Petters, and the key word that kept popping up was “informative.” Someone who wishes to remain anonymous sent this comment in early on Wednesday morning after I posted the John Lehman article, and it is a comment I will be thinking about well after this event is over.
“Mike Petters discussing the complexity of building aircraft carriers in a series where Presidential candidates are discussing the size of the Navy fleet in an election year is symbolic of how the nation truly is entering what Bob Work describes as a Golden Age of Seapower.”
To what extent is the Navy setting forth a strategic vision that agrees with your understanding of America’s global role?
Secretary John Lehman, Special Adviser to Gov. Mitt Romney and Co-Chair of Romney Campaign’s Defense Working Group
The Romney campaign has singled out the Navy as part of their early national security platform, and specifically the political issue they have focused on is fleet size – Mitt Romney apparently believes the fleet is too small, and presumably intends to do something about it. The first question that jumps into everyone’s mind is – how will he pay for it? It’s a good question and it is an question that the campaign may eventually have to answer before the election, but not necessarily.
The reason I am fascinated on this point is that I look at the Navy today and can easily make the case the Navy is in better shape today than it has been at any point since the cold war, and yet the Navy – and specifically fleet size – is a priority of the Romney campaign. Each President finds a way to fund their priorities, and funding the Navy towards an increase in shipbuilding would not cost as much as folks think, unless equal funding is matched across the other services. I don’t know if this turns into a major political issue. I do think it is noteworthy that Virginia and Florida may decide the upcoming Presidential election, and this issue is relevant there. As you know, I know nearly nothing about politics and am the last person to ask for political commentary, but I find the discussion of the Navy in a Presidential election to be unique and interesting – not to mention a refreshing change after a decade of war.
Well done to the community for the comments. It’s quite remarkable that a political discussion can be discussed at a professional level on the internet. If I didn’t see it myself, I would not have thought it possible.
I truly appreciate Secretary Lehman stepping up to the question and engaging this community on behalf of the Romney campaign. This may be the only time the campaign is probed with a question related to naval affairs in public, and I am proud to have a forum where Presidential candidates can deliver their message to interested voters.
What is the Littoral Combat Ship in your words, and what should LCS be looking to the future?
Christopher Cavas, Journalist at Defense News and Navy Times
It is hard to find a new way to discuss the Littoral Combat Ship, but I think Chris Cavas offered a unique perspective on the program and I appreciate him sharing his views with this community. I suspect the comments in that thread will be busy all weekend. From my perspective, this is the topic of the Navy that has the broadest interest. On an average day I get 10% more visitors to LCS topics than other topics, and during an event like this – on Thursday the blog has had the busiest day in 2 years. I do not know if or how LCS will work out. I do know the people who are in that community are excited to be apart of it. I also know that exposure to the LCS and the people associated with the program changes minds and adds clarity to the complexity of actual challenges the program is working through, vs the assumed challenges of distant observers. For better or worse, the Littoral Combat Ship is a once in a generation opportunity for SWOs and sailors to innovate towards a solution – and inform back to the fleet what works, what doesn’t, and what to do next. As Norman Friedman put it while we had lunch together in Virgina Beach a few weeks ago, “the Navy hasn’t had an opportunity like this since the advent of nuclear power – lets hope they figure it out.” Amen.
The next two years consist mostly of the slow grind in learning lessons with the Littoral Combat Ships, and even the deployment of FREEDOM is going to be more of a testing grind than a firework show. I suspect the friction surrounding LCS is not going away anytime soon, and the voices of advocacy and criticism will likely get much louder than they are today.
But Bob Work has made it clear – the ship must prove itself. I’m all for that, but I also think it is remarkable and perhaps extraordinary that the most controversial and popular topic in the Navy today centers around a program that is involved in a serious innovation process. If an organization is going to be out doing something that everyone is watching and talking about, an organization can do a lot worse than being innovative. Relative to the other services (including the Coast Guard), right now I would say the Navy has it pretty good.
Next week we pivot towards Asia.