Monday, November 03, 2014

Oh, that threat ...

Our friend James, R. Holmes over at TheDiplomat ended last month with a nice reminder, Relearning Anti-Submarine Warfare.

Even in the best of times, when every day above, below, and on the sea we were conducting non-permissive ASW - ASW was hard. It look a lot of personnel, equipment and training and even then, well ... it was spotty.

Arguably the best ASW forces of the Cold War period were the Brits, and we all know what one Argentinian sub did to them - not unlike whatever was off the coast of Sweden was doing to the Swedes.

In ASW, the talented are constantly sweating the load, the less experienced just flop around. It ain't pretty when you need to do it. I won't wait for you to trade out mission modules or get a crew ready. 

That DATUM is cold and you are late, even when you are perfect.

So, are we about to return to the Cold War level of ASW? No. Is the holiday season from ASW over? Perhaps - though the argument can be made we were never on holiday, just enjoying he luck of looking the other way.
In short, the naval establishment needs to send a countervailing signal, overriding the one it sent back in the early 1990s. You’d think resuscitating the ASW culture in the U.S. Navy would be a simple matter. After all, Admiral Jon Greenert, the chief of naval operations or America’s top uniformed naval officer, is a submariner himself. Why not just give the order to restore ASW to its former prominence? But think about it. …From the Sea appeared in 1992, making that a convenient year to date the navy’s turn from war at sea to power projection ashore. That’s fully twenty-two years—meaning ASW has been a subsidiary function for a generation now.

That means a generation’s worth of naval officers and enlisted technical specialists entered the service and ascended the ranks during an age when ASW was an afterthought. Nor did the surface navy in particular do itself any favors around 2000, when it shut down junior-officer training for several years. Newly commissioned officers were issued stacks of CDs and told to learn such skills as ASW while also doing their shipboard—i.e., full-time—jobs. Thankfully, the surface community partially corrected this practice some years back, restoring some classroom training. But several years’ worth of officers have reached or are approaching mid-career—the time when they form the backbone of any crew—without that foundational training. One hopes the DIY training took.

So it remains to be seen who will spearhead the revolution in ASW tactics, techniques, and procedures. Doubtless today’s crews can bombard land targets with aplomb, or police the sea, or render humanitarian or disaster aid. That’s what they’re trained to do and have done all their careers. But have they learned the reflexes and habits of mind needed to prosecute elusive submarines in densely populated waters? That’s another matter.
Heck of a time to try to get fully in to the business, when we are in a budge struggle - but the good news is that we never really left it. We still have significant legacy capability, and some new stuff as well. Perhaps not in the depth you would have in a perfect world - but we're not cold iron either. Think of it in readiness terms; we may be straddling C3/C4 and need to be C1/C2 - but for now, let's shoot for a C2/C3 straddle.

If we watch and adjust, we can scale to meet the threat. But ....

Holmes does touch on one thing that may give us false hope. You can do so just much in a simulator. ASW does not lend itself well to simulations or a few hours in front of a computer on the ground. People who tell you otherwise have never done real ASW successfully. 

Real ASW takes place for days, weeks, and even months - on station in actual aircraft, ships, and submarines - one turning over to another and then taking it back again. Simulation is good for procedures, motor memory, and to build crew coordination - but are only so good for knowing the no-kidding ability to do ASW IRL.

One of my concerns continues to be this; the terminal end of ASW. We have too few tools in our tool box. We have a hammer and a phillips-head screwdriver. That is about it - and the philips-head is not the size needed to fit most of the screws it needs to "service." No need to go further, but more attention here is warranted. There are options, unsexy but available, that are unfunded but should be in our toolbox. Not all "good" needs to have a "perfect" pricetag. Many times, if you are short of money, one good pair of vice-grips will do if a set of socket wrenches is beyond the budget.

All we really need to make us a top-notch ASW force is for someone to come out and play more often than they do. That is really the only way you know how good you may or may not be - and in peace is quite fun to do. We'll call it a retention tool.

Hat tip Stuart.

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