Investing in the Undersea Future

June 1, 2011 - via U S Naval Institute

Abstracted for AUV Content

An Integrated Strategy
These separate problem areas are highly interconnected and require an integrated solution. This solution must fit within the fiscal and industrial constraints facing the Navy and the country. The investment plan outlined here represents the culmination of a focused effort over the past year to develop a blueprint to guide key decisions affecting future undersea warfighting capability. The goal has been to develop an integrated approach that does not solve problems piecemeal but instead solves them in a coordinated and complementary way that is both effective and cost-efficient.

The “Integrated Undersea Strategy” has six main elements.

4. Integrate a large-displacement unmanned undersea vehicle (LDUUV) into the undersea force. The development and fielding of capable LDUUVs will increase the productivity of the undersea force because they will do some of the tasks currently accomplished by submarines. To permit the effective integration of LDUUVs into the force, a number of technical challenges will need to be confronted. Although unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are in many cases remotely piloted, the connectivity challenges associated with UUVs do not permit that option. The vehicles must be autonomous. As the technical challenges of future LDUUV missions grow, the complexity of the necessary autonomy must also grow.

In addition to autonomy, there is the well-known challenge of extending LDUUV endurance. There is good reason to believe that the aggressive investments of the automobile industry in battery technology may result in improvements that can be leveraged for LDUUVs, but this is not a given.

These vehicles need not be operated from submarines, but their greatest value in helping pick up gapped submarine taskings will, by definition, arise from forward employment in areas accessible by submarines. Submarine launch and recovery of LDUUVs forward, close to the desired operational site, will permit effective military utility even for craft with limited endurance. As their endurance grows, they will be capable of being launched by other platforms at standoff ranges. Until this endurance is achieved, forward LDUUV operations will be best supported by submarines. Even after long endurance becomes a reality, some missions will continue to require submarine launch and recovery in order to achieve the required timing and positioning. Waiting for vehicles to transit in or out from long standoff would introduce time delays that may be unacceptable in fast-moving contingency or combat operations.

The most operationally useful LDUUVs will be capable of launch and recovery from a variety of platforms, will have long endurance, will be guided by sophisticated autonomy, will have strong information-assurance capabilities to prevent risk even if the vehicles were lost, and will be capable of deploying a variety of payloads that are adaptively tailored to the mission.

5. Open the aperture on revolutionary and evolutionary payload enhancements. With a smaller force, each submarine will need to be able to hold a broader set of targets at risk and do so over a broader geographic area. Beyond LDUUVs, we must make investments in our undersea payloads and off-board capabilities as a way to further compensate for force-structure shortfalls. Incremental evolutionary changes in existing systems will be the key to producing disruptive revolutionary effects in an affordable manner and at a rate fast enough to outpace the most sophisticated adversaries. In many ways, existing submarine-delivered missiles and torpedoes are functioning as unmanned vehicles. Emerging technology developed for UAVs and UUVs can be incorporated into the existing space and weight capacity of today’s weapons to produce revolutionary effects. We will not earn the maximum return on our force structure until we fully realize the autonomous potential in some of our existing systems while we develop future unmanned systems. When we produce or upgrade our systems, we need to ensure that we use open architecture in order to easily leverage the ability of our technical community to produce and install an application or “app” for a new mission on short notice.

There are a variety of opportunities that can be investigated on relatively short timelines at low cost. Decoys, deception devices, mine countermeasures, and non-lethal weapons are all possible and being considered as part of the strategy. This category of “payload enhancements,” unlike the platform-related areas, will involve a substantial degree of adaptation and, therefore, cannot be firmly defined in advance. The added capability of newly evolved payloads will greatly complicate adversary planning, make it possible for the United States to more effectively leverage the assured access resulting from undersea concealment, and deter aggression.

6. Evolve the undersea warrior. In the same way we have described the evolution of undersea payloads, the undersea warrior of the future must also evolve. To be effective, he or she must not only understand the mission, but also exercise boldness, initiative, and the ability to selectively apply the capabilities of both the submarine and unmanned assets to take full advantage of the extended reach of diverse undersea payloads. The undersea warrior must be granted the greatest possible operational autonomy to most effectively operate far forward in areas that are denied to other naval forces, exploiting subsurface concealment for military effectiveness.

The future undersea warrior will leverage remote undersea sensors for planning and targeting as seamlessly as we do today with third-party targeting of Tomahawk missiles. The smart payloads of the future will in many cases give the submarine the vertical and horizontal standoff to enhance mission safety. Other payloads may require teams of special equipment operators because of their specialized or classified capabilities. The future undersea warrior will require a diverse knowledge of the ship, its payloads, and the optimal way to coordinate the joint force in the undersea domain.

Taken together, the elements of the long-range undersea strategy minimize the decline in force structure, prioritize the investment of scarce funding to build the right ships with the right payload volume, develop innovative payloads, and evolve the skills of undersea warriors to maximize the impact of each submarine. These goals are all important, because financial constraints and the limits of industrial capacity mean that the Navy must get greater undersea effectiveness out of a shrinking force of manned platforms. The Integrated Undersea Strategy provides the nation with effective naval forces that can assure access despite future threats, sustain our undersea payload capacity affordably despite the retirement of SSGNs, preserve powerful nuclear deterrence with survivable SSBNs, and employ off-board vehicles and improved payloads to create operational and tactical flexibility even as the submarine force shrinks.

Admiral Connor is director of the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Warfare Division. His prior assignments include command of the USS Seawolf (SSN-21), Submarine Squadron Eight, Task Force 54, and Task Force 74.

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Author:Michael J Connor