Monday, April 09, 2018

A Whisky on the Rocks Chaser's Hangover in Sweden

Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is more than just a perishable skill, it is a needy skill.

Four years later, Sweden’s defense establishment is finally hearing what those with knowledge of ASW have been yelling for years both inside and outside the SCIF.
In 2014, the Swedish Navy turned its painfully unsuccessful hunt for a "Russian submarine" into an international thriller. Today, Navy experts are blaming substandard maps of the challenging and difficult-to-navigate seascape for reducing the nation's submarine hunting capacity.

Poor measurement of the seabed poses extra problems for the country's Naval Forces, making it particularly challenging to discover naval mines or hostile submarines, the military magazine Officertidningen reported.
Have you been told or have told others that we are ready to find and kill submarines from the Baltic to the South China Sea?

Because the oceans are vast and the detection ranges are so relatively small, hunting submarines is a numbers game. It is also a game that requires a lot of different tools to play successfully and a bespoke set of kit with highly trained and focused specialists.

It is not a pickup game. It is not something you can place in reserve to restart when war comes. It is something that can be helped with technology, but needs the human to make sense of what is found. It is something that needs a constantly evolving and updated support structure to ensure effectiveness. It is not cheap to do in peace, but it is less expensive than sunk warships you can’t replace at war.

ASW requires a hunter’s instinct fused with a technologist’s intelligence. It isn’t a hunt where the hunter is going after prey; it is a hunt where the hunter is going after another hunter. The hunted knows that it is being hunted, and it knows that thing which is hunting it also knows it be being hunted in return.

There is no rapid build-up to a dramatic engagement. It is a process put together bit-by-bit by multiple parties. It is hours, days, weeks, of mind-numbing ambient inconsequence suddenly broken by a clear, bright indication that something human is out there in the inhuman chaos … or is it?

It is a game full of ghosts, tricks, phantoms, and futility. It is a game full of false paths, dead ends, lies, hidden truths, sleight of hand, wishful thinking, ignored solutions, and trusted mirages. It is not a game for amateurs or accountants. It is not the game for the easily bored or excitable.

It is needy. It is jealous. It is expensive. It hates to be ignored or neglected - it has a mean streak.

Its greatest enemy are its esoteric complications. Policy makers and warfare commanders have only a paper-thin understanding of the challenges – until they need to find the submarines that suddenly people are telling them are a danger to their entire enterprise.

In every war in the last century where a belligerent had submarines, the same pattern emerges – the ability to locate, track, and attack enemy submarines that was promised in peace simply does not work at the war.

WWI, WWII, Indo-Pakistan Wars, The Falkland Island War, all have similar patterns. There are not enough ASW capable units to effectively negate the threat; expenditures of search and kill-stores far exceed peace-time expectations. The advantage is with the submarines, causing surface ships to have less freedom of movement than expected.

Of course, this was all known prior to the beginning of hostilities, but why the shock with the reality of war?

Money and priorities. ASW is pricy, is not as “sexy” or career enhancing in peace as other areas. As such, it suffers.

It is a hard sell, and that is part of the problem – decision makers do not have the patience or background to understand the unique nature of hunting submarines. It really isn’t their fault, they just have never had to ask.

It is way too easy to conflate ASW with other kinds of warfare areas and as a result, feel that you have a handle on the challenges. You don’t, and here’s why;

- Water: Water is not air. Though there are some sexy and not so sexy non-acoustic ways of finding submarines that we simply will not discuss here or on the comments section – ahem – for the vast majority of the world and in most tactical situations, you are looking at acoustic sensors, active and passive.

Water, to a much greater extent than air, has density, temperature layers, and life that live in it. All impact how you can see what is there. Imagine that you were walking around town looking for a specific person and every few steps you took and each different direction you turn, the glasses you were wearing changed tint, had different polarization filters come and go, had mirrors and prisms slide in and out of view.

Sound: Drive over to a friend’s house. Have them blindfold you and drive you to an open field a few hundred yards from a train track. Listen. In 5-min, 5-hrs, or 5-days a train comes by. By listening to it, I want you to tell me what direction it is heading to. How fast is it going? Where it is relative to you when it comes closest to you? What kind of train it is? What is the production number of that kind of train is this one? That was easy. Now I want you to have one ear with an ear-bud in it playing AM radio static. I also want you sitting in the back of a flat-bed truck that is driving up and down the dirt road in a thunder storm.

Geography: Sure, the ocean looks smooth, but that is the trick it plays on you. Under the surface there are mountains and canyons that make those on land look like cute little models. There are ocean bottoms that soak up every bit of sound like a dry sponge does water. There are other ocean bottoms that do to sound what rooms of mirrors in funny houses do to light. There are walls, cliffs, dizzying drop off in to the actual abyss. There are forests as crowded and noisy as any terrestrial rain forest. People will ask you to drive a truck down a bike path. They will ask you if you can see things through mountains, to hear the whisper of a child over the roar of a waterfall.

Sensors: “Best if Used By” dates apply to more than just food. In addition to the intellectual limited shelf life and ongoing need to replenish and refurbish grey matter, especially on the air-ASW side of the house, sensors (sonobuoys) take up a lot of space and stocks deplete quickly when prosecutions are underway. How many days/weeks of stores do you have available on your ship/air station/AOR? Care and maintenance of surface/subsurface ASW sensors are as challenging as anything exposed to the sea for extended periods of time. Are your estimated usage rates based on exercise data, or what you expect in a wartime footing when nerves are touchy and the attitude is, “You can’t find a sub with a helo/MPR bird on the deck or a buoy in the tube. You can’t kill a submarine if a torp isn’t in the water.” Are your stocks instead based on what crumbs you’ve managed to collect at the edges of the POM?

Weapons: Ah yes, the toothy end of the kill chain. Let’s put the submarine’s MK-48 HWT to the side for a moment and focus on the surface and air side of the ASW house. What do you have to kill a submarine with? You only have one option, the LWT of the MK-46/50/54/Stingray/MU90 variety. Let me pose to you this question. You are a hunter responsible for feeding your family and your poor and slightly lazy neighbors. You are, unfortunately, only allowed one gun in one round. You have your ideas about what you need as you will be hunting everything from squirrels, to ducks, to quail, to deer, from deserts to leafy woodlands. However, you are not making that choice. Your Aunt Mable in town who runs the family accounts is making that call. You’re getting a single shot Stevens break open rifle in .22 short. It will work great for squirrels and moderately good for rabbits. You better be real lucky if anyone expects you to bring a bird to the table. You’re not sure how she expects you to take a deer at the other end of the bean field - but Parson Jones told her that a .22 is dangerous out to a mile – in theory – so a 200-yd shot shouldn’t be a problem. In theory with a shot through an eye socket you might be able to bring a deer home, but … well … you’ll just have to see what you can do. Does save money, in a fashion. You tried to be reasonable and asked that you could get by with a 20-ga and a .308. Didn’t have to be fancy, but … they wouldn’t hear of it. And so, that is what we have at the pointy end. You’re going on a trip to Kansas to hunt Pheasants and Montana to hunt Pronghorn next year. Make it happen. Would it be better to have a gun cabinet of .22, .243, 30-06, 6.5mm Creedmoor with a 20-ga over/under and 12-ga autoloader to choose from instead? If you wanted to be successful, yes.

Is ASW doable? Sure it is. Ask the German Navy about late ‘43-45. Is ASW hard to convince people in peace how hard it is? Sure, ask the Royal Navy from 1939-42 and again in 82.

Ask the Swedes today.

Ask the VCNO next time you see him. He’d probably enjoy the question as a welcome distraction from what he is usually asked. If you’ve listened to him speak, you can detect a man who knows his ASW.

...and yes, I know. Sputnik News ... but it is in English and besides the defense industry ads, the source document is all in Swedish.

Hat tip Bob Hein.

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