China’s recent announcements about new spear-hunting technologies are probably more hype than hardware. Still, they underscore Beijing’s goal of countering the threat posed by US attack ships, which remain essential to US war plans. Joined. The US submarine force will not be able to rest on its laurels as the best in the world for much longer. It will soon need new approaches and capabilities to potentially operate and combat in the strongholds that China and Russia consider their internal waters.
China has been trying to improve its anti-submarine warfare for more than a decade. Today, sonar equipment like the United States Cold War Acoustic Surveillance System network listens in the East and South China seas and in the waters that American submarines would have to traverse from Guam or Hawaii.
They are complemented by the capable low-frequency active sonars of the Type 056 Jingdao-class corvette, which would obviate the superior acoustic suppression of US submarines. Chinese forces are likely to deploy mines around more protected areas, such as the Taiwan Strait.
Since the Cold War, the US submarine force has relied on its stealth to monitor its adversaries and threaten denial or retaliation. When the primary targets for US submarines were Soviet submarines in the far north or Soviet fleets in the open sea, stealth was sufficient. When US submarines launched attacks and could be detected, their targets were engaged in defense rather than anti-submarine warfare.
Against China and perhaps Russia, this dynamic no longer holds. American submarines will likely launch missiles or torpedoes close to enemy shores. While your targets can be busy defending, the rest of the enemy forces at sea and on land can be engaged in counterattacks. The US submarines could find themselves in flight after their initial salvoes and unable to continue contributing to the fight.
To avoid being sidelined like hundreds of German submarines at the end of World War II, US submarines will have to suppress or confuse the sensors that China or Russia will rely on for underwater detection and targeting. In many ways, they face the same challenge as airmen conducting strikes against modern air defenses. And like their airborne counterparts, US submarine forces must use jamming, decoying, deception, and destruction to penetrate contested underwater areas.
Another challenge that the submariners will share with the airmen is how to suppress or defeat enemy defenses without giving up attack capability in the process. The US air forces in Vietnam, faced with the first generation of Soviet surface-to-air missiles, had to divert about a third of their attack packages to counter the North Vietnamese defenses, even though the new SA-2s were only effective at 2% of the time.
Unmanned vehicles would be the best option for deploying acoustic jammers, radar and sonar decoys, and warheads that will suppress or defeat Chinese or Russian underwater sensors or mines. But to preserve the submarine’s weapons capability and reduce its probability of detection, most of these vehicles would have to be launched by someone else.
Confusing or engaging enemy sensors depends on a precise aim, which the challenges of underwater detection and communication will make real-time nearly impossible. Instead, US submarine forces will have to scout adversary sensors and networks in advance. Large uncrewed underwater vehicles, such as the Navy’s now canceled Snakehead or the commercially available Remus 6000, could collect this information, which may be impractical with smaller UUVs that lack the necessary strength or depth.
However, medium and small UUVs launched from ground, aircraft or ships without flags would be well suited for jamming and deception missions. Vehicles such as the medium UUV or the small Lionfish UUV, under development, could carry decoy systems such as those carried by the Navy Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Expendable Moving Target, which emulates submarine tones to deflect attention from American submarine operations. To conceal actual and simulated submarine activity, small or medium-sized UUVs could carry noise-making devices like existing active torpedo countermeasures.
The confusion created in the enemy’s underwater picture by actual US submarine decoys, jamming and operations would likely overwhelm the still relatively small Russian or Chinese anti-submarine warfare response capacity. However, US submarines will need the ability to stand up and fight back when attacks come rather than evade and regain their stealth. This will require improved combat systems that can predict the effectiveness of an enemy attack and can guide new counter-torpedo weapons, similar to how the Aegis system and surface-to-air missiles do for surface combatants.
Eleven US submarines reach hotly contested areas, where they are needed to launch missile strikes deep into enemy territory or stop ships invading an all, they are likely to continue to face the threat of mines. submarines. In these types of missions, sub-launched and recovered medium UUVs will be essential in finding a way around the mines or, if necessary, destroying them.
The changes implied by these operating concepts will be substantial. Instead of being the silent service, the US submarine force will have to make noise and hide in the ensuing chaos. Instead of being alone and unafraid, American divers will have to rely on a team of manned and unmanned platforms above and below the water to reach their goals. Otherwise, the world’s leading US submarine force could watch the action from the sidelines.