The U.S. Navy's anti-submarine warfare (ASW) skills are getting rusty during the same period that quiet submarine technology in China and Iran is improving at a noticeable rate.In all fairness, it got that way for understandable reasons;
I wish that were the only bad news on the submarine warfare front, but it isn't. We have U.S. ASW capability going backward, submarine capability of U.S. strategic adversaries going forward, and U.S. Navy capability as a whole in decline, according to a top Navy official.
During a decade of relentless focus on counterinsurgency, the military has let other skills erode, skills it will have to struggle to get back even as budgets tighten. In particular, the capacity of the US and allied navies to hunt enemy submarines has suffered even as potential adversaries like China and Iran have built up their sub fleets.This is rather simple. ASW expertise on the surface side of the house has always been outside the Aegis mafia. The SpruCans are long gone, that left the FFG. Let's be honest; the DDG side of the Aegis house did/could not make ASW a priority.
On the air side of the house, we all know how the S-3 community was treated by TACAIR. The RW side of the house as been multimissioned in to the jack of all trades, master of none. The MPR community has tried their best, but overland reconnaissance combined with much less actual non-compliant ASW operational experience (quality and quantity deficit) and aircraft that are usually partially mission capable at best with decades old technology. At least they have a new aircraft coming online with the P-8, but the one thing that is missing is the institutional knowledge that is needed for exceptional ASW - which is why they got rid of their MAD in the American (but not Indian) P-8, it has been so long since they had enough that worked, they forgot its utility.
The subsurface community ... well, we'll just assume that they are silent but deadly. You cannot fight the ASW battle from under the sea alone.
The path to success in ASW is simple, but not easy.
1. Stop combining ASW with MIW. It hurts both.
2. Stop putting your faith in PPT thick futurist ASW programs, some of which have been making the same promise for decades. Others have good specific uses, but will not be the thing that will get you to the point you can kill the submarine. No one needs to say more.
3. Admit that our ASW weapons are not what they need to be. No one needs to say more about that either.
4. In peace, you have to exercise against the thing you need to kill at war. If we are not going to buy/build our own non-nuke submarines, then greatly expand inviting other nations to deploy here and exercise with us extensively ... and help pay their tab. These exercises need to be brutally realistic, as unscripted as possible, and debriefed properly. The best I have seen done since the end of the Cold War were at RIMPAC.
5. Acknowledge what has always been known about Agonizingly Slow Warfare; it requires specialists. It requires investment of time and personnel. It is not something you do once a quarter and consider yourself expert. It isn't something you can master in simulation. You need be actually at sea, with actual targets.
Hey, speaking of ignoring the human side of ASW;
The Navy's long-term solution for this shallow-water sub hunt is the Littoral Combat Ship, a small, high-speed vessel built to take different "mission modules" so the same vessel can switch from hunting subs to fighting small attack boats to clearing mines. For now, however, the LCS sub-hunting module is still in development, with entry in service in fact delayed until 2016.Yes. A few might show up in 2016, and then it will take years until you know what you can do with them, and if that CONOPS can actually work for the weeks-long effort that is ASW on average. Months-long? With that endurance? No. LCS will be at best, even if the technology works, the modern equivalent of a high-grade sub-chaser.
As with what the Army and USMC found out a decade ago when they had to go where the enemy has a vote - with ASW we will have to get back to fundamentals - those uncomfortable fundamentals that aren't sexy, but are essential to success at war. Those start with properly equipped and realistically evaluated operators, with enough sensors and weapons to be able to operate in sustained ASW operations when called on to do so.
It is good to look forward to new technology and new ideas - but you do not throw away what works for an unproven promise. When you do that, you get people killed. You also produce junk like in the video below that just screams, "Did you have anyone murder-board this? Does no one in your team ask any hard questions?"
Seriously, just a quick top-3 on that bucket of goo.
1. Seastate & Weather.
2. What if you are under EMCON and/or have no satellite access?
3. In line with #2, what if you find yourself in a non-permissive EW environment?
Can we even start to talk about the odds of a submarine just sitting there waiting to be killed/tracked? Talk about who is doing the processing and contact classification? For the one use I can find for this perhaps, as a SURTASS surrogate, what is stopping a bunch of gomers in a fishing boat with sledge hammers making short work of it (remember our Chinese friends)? .... OK, my 3 went to 6, sorry. I would just be much happier if this money was spent of something that can survive the follow-up question.
Merchant community will LOVE having something tooling around their SLOC that cannot be reached on channel 16. OK, I went to 7. I need to stop.
Good news? Iran is no more scary from an ASW POV than she has been for awhile, and China's growth still gives us time to get back to where we need to be. We have the nucleus. The big question will be money, as it always is. That and institutional support. Hmmmm. Let's see. FF(not-so-G) are going away and have no sponsorship anyway. Aegis mafia really does not care about Aegis radars & VLS tubes doing ASW. TACAIR doesn't have a bird in this fight. The RW community to too busy doing everything else but ASW. The MPR community is, well, doing whatever they are doing. The submarine people will take care of submarine people ... so ... how about that senior level sponsorship for ASW? Besides those who want to work for SAIC after they retire? Bueller?
Outside the submarine community, I will believe it when I see more money going towards something to kill besides the LWT. When we start treating, openly, the Chinese submarines like we did the Soviets. Until then, we will limp along waiting for a crisis. That bucket of goo in the video tells me we aren't serious. We are just playing around.