Navy Will Take 'Asymmetric' Approaches in Undersea Warfare

By Allyson Versprille

By Allyson Versprille

Navy submarines will employ asymmetric warfare tactics to combat future adversaries, the commander of U.S. submarine forces said May 14.

The goal is to counter enemies equipped with "anti-access/aerial-denial" weapons that are being developed by countries like China. "We have intelligent adversaries and we fully expect they will attempt to extend anti-access/aerial-denial below the surface of the water ... it's important for us that we anticipate that that is coming," said Vice Adm. Michael J. Connor, commander of U.S. submarine forces and allied submarine command. "In fact we hope that it comes ... because someone who's trying to use A2/AD against a submarine force is going to spend a lot of money."

The Navy's submarine forces are looking at acoustic technology that can be programmed to imitate sounds produced by a U.S. submarine or an adversary's submarine to confuse enemies. They are also investing in decoy buoys that resemble a submarine periscope, Connor said during a forum, "The Future of the Silent Service," at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank. 

"Those types of decoys cost a little less than $3,000. If I can make people drop $1 million torpedoes on $3,000 things that look like submarines, we're on the right side of this asymmetric business," said Connor. "And when we leverage that with the ambiguity of 'do I have something or not' … we can make an adversary realize that the cost of going to war at sea with us is going to be severe."

The Navy is also looking to combat these threats by increasing the effective range of its torpedoes from 10 miles to over 100 miles, Connor said.

The service has found both a propulsion method that will increase its range to 100 miles as well as one that extends the range to about 200 miles, he added.

At the 200-mile range, "you stop thinking in terms of 'what is the bearing and range from my ship to the target,' and you start thinking in terms of geographic coordinates," said Connor. "The bosses that we work for start thinking of torpedoes as underwater Tomahawks because they can go to the appointed place at the appointed time."

The Navy is looking to use the 100-mile torpedoes in conjunction with unmanned aerial systems that are launched off the ship to do reconnaissance.

A 200-mile torpedo is unique because it isn't restricted to open water, he said. "It can go in the harbor; it can go up the river; it can knock on the door of [a] tunnel."

Multi-mission missiles aimed at both land targets and targets at sea are another key component of the Navy's asymmetric warfare strategy, Connor said. "It forces an adversary who thinks that he might have a submarine somewhere within 1,000 miles of him … to adopt an air defense posture, and therefore he has to carry defensive weapons," he said. "Every slot he fills with a defensive weapon, he will not be filling with an offensive weapon."

This also means that the adversary has to keep its air defense radar up and maintain data links with other ships, which makes the enemy easier to track, Connor said.

Another key component is maintaining and upgrading Virginia-class submarines by increasing payload capacity and acoustic capabilities, Connor added. Payload capacity will be increased with the

Virginia Payload Module. The module consists of four storage tubes placed at the center of the ship.

"The Virginia Payload Module ... will give us that additional capacity, whether that be for Tomahawk missiles or whatever follows the Tomahawk; whether it be for the large diameter unmanned undersea vehicles … there are a whole bunch of things coming that we need to be ready and adaptive enough to handle," Connor said. "We have the physics and the processing capacity to make the next great leap in sonar, and we're going to do that starting with the USS South Dakota." 

Topics: Shipbuilding

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