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Submariners want larger role in joint expeditionary combat.

The submarine force is seeking to redefine its role in the U.S. military arsenal. The robust firepower and intelligence-gathering capabilities available on submarines, officials said, make them valuable players in joint expeditionary operations.

It is not yet clear, however, exactly how the other services would work more closely with the undersea force. In an attempt to improve the interservice dialogue, Navy submarine officers have been trying in recent months to get out the message that they want to become less isolated and more integrated with naval surface, ground and air forces.

"Submarine capability should be a big part of this joint expeditionary warfare that we are all talking about," said Adm. Frank Bowman, the director of naval nuclear propulsion.

Bowman has been, for years, an advocate of making the submarine a centerpiece of network centric warfare and elevating its role in the naval battle group. He spoke during an industry conference on expeditionary warfare, in Panama City, Fla.

The submarine force, he said, is seeking input from the other services to help the Navy figure out novel ways for the submarine to contribute to the joint fight. It's important for the Navy, he said, to understand what the services really need.

Bowman is urging agencies such as the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, the Army Training and Doctrine Command and the Air Force Air Combat Command to contact the commander of naval submarine forces, Vice Adm. John Grossenbacher, "and get our operational forces talking."

Meanwhile, Grossenbacher said that some inter-service discussion already is under way, specifically with the Air Force and the Marines, who generally work hand-in-hand with the Navy.

At the core of the Navy's war-fighting strategy is the overarching concept known as Sea Power 21. The elements of Sea Power 21 are "sea-shield," "sea-strike" and "sea-basing," glued together by ForceNet, which is the networking capability to integrate the different elements of the force.

Sea-shield refers to the power to dominate the seas and ensure access to coastal areas for the U.S. military services and allies. Sea-strike is about providing long-range, sustained firepower ashore. Sea-basing means the ability to launch operations from the sea, without having to secure a beach-head. "I would argue, just like we did in the initial phases in Afghanistan," said Bowman.

Another new concept that would change the traditional role of submarines is the Expeditionary Strike Group, designed to enhance the firepower for the amphibious ready groups. An ESG will consist of an attack submarine, up to three SURFACE combatants and an amphibious ready group. Navy officials expect to deploy the first two expeditionary strike forces in 2003.

Mixed-force packages, such as the ESG, are key to making the submarine a more prominent player, said Bowman. "I see the submarine force and submarines as a necessary but not sufficient part, nowhere near sufficient part, of the integrated Navy-Marine Corps team."

However, Bowman admitted that there are more questions than answers as to how to make the ESG concept "work in real practice," how the strike group can involve the submarine "to best support the ESG commander, and how can it best support our joint forces ashore."

Bowman said that the submariners also need to figure out how to "rapidiy and securely link embarked and pre-positioned SOF [special operations forces] equipment with their Marine, SEAL and Army operators.

Undersea forces potentially could help extend the range and mobility of "our Marines and SEALs, once our sub and the Advanced Seal Delivery System [ASDS] has delivered them to the beach."

Bowman said that the planners need to determine which sensors and weapons on the submarine "will best support the emerging Marine expeditionary doctrine and mesh as well with supporting the Army's FCS [Future Combat system] in its follow-on role."

Grossenbacher pointed out that while the joint interaction and interoperability are already occurring with the rest of the services-including special operations--there are long-term issues that still need to be discussed. Among these is the role of the SSGN (a reconfigured nuclear-missile submarine that fires conventional Tomahawk cruise missiles) and eventually the Virginia class--the next generation nuclear powered attack submarine--in expeditionary warfare.

This month, the Navy is starting technology demonstrations in the Bahamas with the USS Florida, an Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine that soon will be refurbished to carry special operation troops and to fire up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Florida and three other Ohio-class boats will become the SSGN class.

The demonstration, dubbed Giant Shadow, will experiment with Navy SEAL commandos conducting a mission ashore. The SSGN will also launch an unmanned underwater vehicle that will be patr of a network connecting the SEALs ashore and the submarine via an unmanned aerial vehicle.

"The SSGN is a huge change," said Grossenbacher. "We have never had a submarine like this before. We have never had the kind of payloads that would be available to us. We did not have Tomahawk cruise missiles. We did nor have the same experience we have today with special operations forces,"

Bowman also expressed optimism about the capabilities of the SSGN. "By leveraging the concepts and the payloads that are being developed and demonstrated in the SSGN, we could even fit a payload interface module, a plug if you will, onto the Virginia class to farther enhance the sub's flexibility to operate with joint forces anytime, anywhere."

According to Bowman, the SSGN combines a triad of strike, special operations forces and ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) to deliver a "new level of expeditionary capability."

This platform, he said, "will allow a special operations force campaign to be conducted for the first time from a submerged platform."

In the future, he added, SSGNs also could launch tactical ballistic missiles or long-range UAVs.

The scenarios discussed by both Bowman and Grossenbacher promote the launching of unmanned vehicles as one of the biggest selling points of the next generation submarines. The ability to deploy unpiloted aircraft, surface or undersea craft is paramount, officials said, even if that means giving away the location of the submarine.

"Anytime you transmit energy there is a danger; anytime you launch a vehicle from a submarine and you create something that is visible on the surface, there is a danger," Grossenbacher said. However, he said that the Navy is not afraid that a submarine may be located. "Sometimes, compromising your position, stealth and sometimes compromising your stealth knowingly, and making the decision to stand and fight, is something that we are ready to do and in the future will probably do more of," he said.

In the case of Operation Enduring Freedom, the deployment of Predator UAVs was delayed until mid-October, because of basing rights and logistics site preparations, said Bowman. Such constraints do not apply to submarines operating largely uncontested in international waters.

"Think about an SSGN equipped with a UAV of requisite range and endurance and operating close in where other platforms may have been potentially vulnerable and especially at the beginning," he said. "That could have provided the data and surveillance data weeks and maybe months earlier."

Grossenbacher said that the Navy already has "operated and controlled the Predator from a submarine."

While the Navy extensively has experimented with unmanned undersea vehicles, UUV development programs currently underway have yet to yield useful war fighting capabilities for the service, Rear Adm. Michael Sharp, the Navy's program executive officer for mine and undersea warfare, told National Defense (October 2002).

He said he is more concerned about the long-term employability of the UUV on the new Virginia-class attack submarines and is expecting the development to progress over the next 10 years.

It is also unlikely that Navy budgets for submarine procurement and upgrades will rise significantly in the foreseeable future, particularly in light of the high costs of submarines.

"It is a healthy thing that there will be competition for funding and support," said retired Navy Rear Adm. Steve Baker, an analyst at the Center of Defense Information. "I think the CNO [chief of naval operations] wants to see that all aspects are being looked at. There is in-house competition between the warfare communities, [but] each warfare has very unique capabilities, and that is not to [undermine] what the sub can do."

"I think you would have to agree that some of this really is promising sub capability," said Bowman. "Some of it is in the near-term pipeline, some of this is war-fighting concepts that are in embryonic developments. But all of it is about urgent challenges that the nation and the expeditionary team are facing right now."

During the Millennium Challenge 2002 joint experiment last summer, Bowman said the Navy rested "both a virtual SSGN based in Newport, R.I., and a so-called emulated SSGN that was an operating fast attack submarine in the ocean.

While those tests showed the SSGN's potential to respond rapidly to various missions, "we also learned an awful lot about the challenges that we have to work through to realize this potential," he said.

Despite the current achievements and the impressive list of capabilities listed for the SSGN, the submarine community has yet to work on promoting it as a concept of joint expeditionary warfare, said Bowman.

"Given our intense sub culture, we are all going to risk just talking to ourselves about these kinds of ideas and about how we would employ them," he said. That "does not necessarily serve best the joint force requirements. These advanced capabilities have to fit in with some larger purpose."

Much work remains to be done, starting with concepts, technology, experiments and operations, he said. Culture change is also necessary, Bowman said, which "often is the most difficult part of implementing role change."

The good news for the submarine force, said Grossenbacher, is that its capabilities essentially are unmatched by any other nation. No enemy would dare to engage the U.S. Navy directly, he said, because of its superiority. Nevertheless, submarines do not operate in a threat-free environment. Potential enemies are likely to challenge U.S. forces through asymmetric warfare, such as planting mines in the waters.

"Our subs should be the first to the fight; they should be involved in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance long before that," he noted. "We have to operate in the vicinity of mines with confidence, be able to figure our where they are."
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Author:Tiron, Roxana
Publication:National Defense
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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