04 October 2005

Proposed ASW Road Forward

This post got started because of CDR Salamander’s rant about out lack of true ASW training or assets to train with. While he looks at the broad spectrum of problems with our current ASW philosophy, I would like to focus on one particular aspect he touched on. That is, our lack of a true, realistic adversary for ASW training. I have touched on this before (towards the bottom), mostly because of this news regarding the US Navy leasing a Swedish diesel to assist in ASW training.

Nuclear fire will probably rain down on me from above for saying this, but:
We Need a Conventional Submarine Squadron!
(Continues in Full Post)

Before the diehard nukes out there give me a thorough lashing and take away my dolphins, take a look at the flame war conducted over at Bubblehead’s. I ardently believe that nuke boats are the best fit for the needs of our wide-ranging Navy. I do not propose using diesels to take the place of any SSN’s. However, we need an OPFOR squadron, to play the red force for training. The flyboys have figured this out, but the sub fleet is stubbornly set on maintaining a nuclear-only fleet.

Why do we need diesels, one might ask? SSN’s are plenty quiet, and can play our OPFOR quite well, can’t they? Not really. Here’s why:
First: Nuke subs have different capabilities and strengths than diesels. Do you think a nuke skipper is going to seriously consider coming up to PD and snorkeling of his own volition, just because that is what an SS would do? No way, he might get whacked by a skimmer if he did so, and he would never live that down. This results in overly scripted exercises that either: a) Never give the skimmers a decent chance to play with the sub, or b) Never give the sub enough initiative to truly challenge the skimmers. Two very different problems, same end result: Almost no training value to be had.
Second: Nuke subs are loath to disclose their sound profiles. Due to this, they are often augmented when playing with anyone other than other US SSNs (and often when playing against other US subs, too). So, again, not a realistic target, and they present very little training value to those they train with.
Third: There simply aren’t enough SSNs to provide training for other subs, much less skimmers and flyboys too. That is why we had to go and use someone else’s sub to do the job! That cannot be cheap, and it is only a temporary fix. Building new SSNs is a nonstarter, check the Congressional budget. However, we are planning on building diesels for Taiwan, based off German technology (good extensive timeline via the link. Long read, but worth it, IMHO). The cost, however, at $412B $12.3B, yes BILLION, for 8 subs is ridiculous still pretty steep. The VA-class weighs in at about $2B a copy, so $50B $1.54B for a diesel looks like scalping questionable. However, if we manage to iron all this out and produce something for Taiwan, there is no reason, after letting Taiwan defray the initial startup costs, why we cannot build a few more for our own use.

To those who think that this is a waste of money and sailors, manning subs simply for training, rather than pointing to dedicated aviation aggressor squadrons, I will point back to some US sub force history. The sub force used to have a small, 2-boat squadron of training subs, known first as the T-1 class, then as the Mackerel class, consisting of the Mackerel and the Marlin. Both were in service for about 20 years (although the Mackerel, while “in-service” was not commissioned until 1971 - ?), and it wasn’t until 1973, at the height of Rickover’s nuke-only power, that they were decommissioned. However, the sub fleet found them quite useful for ASW training, midshipman and JO training, and SONAR training for over 20 years. That should say something.

So, in summary:
Do I think our ASW training program is where it needs to be? Not by a long shot.
Do I think we have the assets to make the necessary improvements? Not at our current sub force tasking level.
Do I think we should purchase/build a diesel or two? Yes, if we can make it affordable to do so. Otherwise we are stuck leasing subs from allies instead of being self-reliant.

UPDATE (10/5/05 0210): Fixed basic math error. Thanks Bubblehead.

Read the Full Post


At 10/04/2005, Blogger CDR Salamander said...

Your comments about overly scripted exercises is right on. Regen points, WSM in such a way that you can't help but find the guy. In RIMPAC 2002 a Japanese SS skipper wiped the floor with everyone when he was given room to run using tactics that any WWII historian would have told you about.

Why did he get away with it? Operational planners that didn't know how to look for a submarine without a regen point. Harumph. Oh, and if the US yards won't build them - make a deal with the Germans. They need aircraft. Lets make a deal!

At 10/04/2005, Blogger PigBoatSailor said...

The only problem with the Germans is that their government currently forbid their companies from doing business with Taiwan, if I recall correctly. The same is true of most European nations - big bad China fears. Which is why Taiwan is forced to look to us.

And yeah, between RIMPAC and excercises I am apparently not free to name, you would think we would figure out a way to make our ASW training more realistic.

At 10/05/2005, Blogger Bubblehead said...

From looking at your references, I think the $412B figure is in Taiwan dollars; a Taiwan dollar is worth about 3 cents at todays exchange rate, but that still works out to about $12B, or $1.5B per copy, which sounds about right. (After all, we can't skimp on the safety and SUBSAFE requirements if we're building them without being accused of being racists.) If we want to have a fleet of diesel boats, I say we go out and buy some German or Swedish boats for 1/3 the money.

At 10/05/2005, Blogger PigBoatSailor said...

Math error fixed. Sheesh, gotta slow down when reading next time.

I wish we would get over ourselves and at least consider shopping around - I wonder if the Swedes will lease-to-own?

However, Taiwan can really only buy from us, so if their sub deal with us goes through, it might be an easier path to a few conventional subs, rather than trying to convince Congress to allow us to make such a major, foreign buy.

At 10/05/2005, Blogger drunknsubmrnr said...

The USN does need training time vs SSK's. However, I don't see the justification for a USN training squadron, when the boats can be borrowed/rented from allies.

At 10/05/2005, Blogger PigBoatSailor said...


We can rent/borrow, true. But how often do we do that? The lease from Sweden is the first time we have done it, and that boat is in huge demand now by every branch of the Navy.

We can also have joint exercises with allies and their SS's. However, those are few and far between, and can never make up for the volume of training we need to maintain proficiency.

Both these ideas also suffer from the drawback that we would then be putting up a US SSN (for sub on sub exercises at least) against a foreign boat - and we will never let our full capability be known, so we will always handicap ourselves against another nation's forces when training. Therefore, the training is not nearly as valuable as it could be.

A big plus that a dedicated training platform brings, which the aviators have already discovered, is that you have a crew whose sole purpose is to train the fleet. This is not something to be dismissed lightly. This means they know the best way to set up exercises to maximize training value, they are very good at providing target services, and they are at our disposal to train when and how we want. Currently, training exercises are set up by OPs officers who have a lot on their plate, and whose primary objectives are: 1) Make sure no one hits anyone else, and 2) Ensure there is contact. They simply do not have the time to devote to creating a realistic and effective training scenario. A dedicated training squadron would.

At 10/05/2005, Blogger Bubblehead said...

To be honest, the best "rent-a-squadron" option might be located in our own hemisphere. The Chileans are among the best diesel boat drivers in the world, and they're on the Pacific side. At least one of their boats was up in San Diege recently. I'm betting that we could find the necessary financial inducments to get them to deploy up to San Diego for a few months out of the year...

At 10/05/2005, Blogger PigBoatSailor said...


You are probably right. While I have never worked with the Chileans myself, I know a few guys who have, and they were duly impressed. If we resort to the rent-an-adversary option, that would appear to be a good choice. One wonders why we didn't go to them first, rather than shipping a Swedish sub halfway across the world on a transport ship.

Of course, the rent-a-squadron option still has the drawback of
1) Us being unwilling to play with it balls-out, and
2) They would not necessarily be as effective as a dedicated training group.
However, it is a good second choice, IMHO.

At 10/05/2005, Blogger drunknsubmrnr said...

Sorry guys, still don't buy a requirement for a dedicated USN SSK squadron.

The entire raison d'etre of the Canadian submarine force is to train Canadian and allied navies. The Euro-navies are in the same boat, no pun intended (OK, small intention). They're definitely available for training, and in realistic conditions.

In order to buy those SSK's for a dedicated USN squadron, you're looking at a cost of ~2/3 or 3/4 that of a nuke, unless you're willing to run them without any combat systems. Then you're looking at closer to 1/2 the cost of a nuke.

Aren't you running pretty close to the bone in terms of hull numbers now? Are you sure you want to go to a build rate of one boat every other year. or worse?

At 10/05/2005, Blogger PigBoatSailor said...


I grant you, we have an ally next door who might fulfill the requirements we have mentioned here. However, problems still remain with that line of thought. How many ASW exercises have we done with the Canadians? With all due respect, the Victoria class isn't exactly up and hopping yet. Although, in fairness, your force is a lot better than it was when Mrs. PBS was stationed at NAVFAC ARGENTIA, and the running joke was that the Canadians had two submarines - one that couldn't submerge, and one that couldn't surface.

Add to that the point that no allied boat can help with - the US is very stubborn (I will not comment on whether it is stupidly stubborn or not, that is a whole other can of worms) about not revealing full capabilities to other nations, and I doubt they would slacken this stance, even for a country as closely allied as Canada.

The Euro-navies have all the same drawbacks, plus a two-week round trip transit just to train with them - costly in terms of time and other commitments.

However, I will say concede that getting the Canadians or one of the South American allies subs to help us out (and they do, but not enough for us to maintain proficiency currently) is a strong second option and probably the most realistic.

Probably the most realistic because of the fatal flaw D.S. points out, that I just glossed over when I said, "if we can make it affordable to do so." Money is again the great decider, and, frankly, it is tight around here (I just finished beginning of the Fiscal Year tasking, I feel this pain acutely at the moment). The only way to make the ideal situation come true is for the subs to be more affordable than they appear at the moment, and for some extra money to fall in our laps that does get sucked up by DD(X) :-P

At 10/07/2005, Anonymous Walter Clark, USAR, RET said...

I agree the USN needs to train against forces that match (or exceed) the possible future foes. Along with both the USN and USAF having air "aggressor" training partners, another big help our forces have had in both Gulf War I and now in II has the the opfor at the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin in the California desert. These guys provide an "enemy" force that is equipped and operates like forces our military was up against in Kuwait and Iraq, which is one of the several reasons our military has done so well against Saddam's "finest." Any training situation we can create for our military forces that improves their chances if/when they really do have to fight "for real" both improves the odds for the favorable conclusion of hostilities and improves the odds that more of our nation's finest get to come home to their families.

Walter Clark, SFC, USAR, Ret.

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