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SOF Submarine Operations And The National Military Strategy
CSC 1992
SUBJECT AREA National Military Strategy
				EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Title:  SOF Submarine Operations and the National Military Strategy
Author:  Lieutenant Commander R.L. Rambeck, United States Navy
Thesis:  Now, however, with an end to the Soviet submarine threat, the
U.S. has an opportunity to focus more attention and funds on maritime
Special Operations Forces' (SOFs) capabilities and to expand and explore
innovative methods of employing the submarine in support of our National
Military Strategy.
Background:  America's Special Operations Forces (SOFs) are enjoying
unprecedented growth in size and funding. This is largely due to the
realization of the important role SOFs have played and will play in
future conflicts. Maritime SOFs have the ability to be rapidly employed
to protect America's world wide interests because of their sea-based
forward presence, which can operate independent of bases and is not
effected by overflight rights and restrictions. The submarine's
intrinsic stealth makes it an important part of the maritime force and
an ideal platform to launch and recover SOFs. However, the submarine
fleets narrow focus of effort on watching the Soviet submarine fleet has
caused support of SOFs to take a back seat and SOF/submarine training
has suffered. There are two points that have contributed to this result,
submarine design and availability for training. America needs to focus
its attention on submarine support of SOFs and solve these design
problems that have had a negative effect on SOF/submarine training and
operations.
Conclusion:  When the Sturgeon class SSN (637) is taken out of service at
the end of this decade there will be no other submarine capable of
performing swimmer LO/LI in the U.S. Navy inventory. Therefore, America
should begin building some submarines designed from the keel up with a
primary mission of supporting SOFs and a secondary mission of
traditional attack submarine tasks. These submarines should be non-
nuclear because it is more suitable for SOF operations and cheaper to
build.
SOF SUBMARINE OPERATIONS AND THE NATIONAL MILITARY STRATEGY
			           OUTLINE
Thesis:  Now, however, with an end to the Soviet submarine threat, the
U.S. has an opportunity to focus more attention and funds on maritime
Special Operations Forces' (SOFs) capabilities and to expand and explore
innovative methods of employing the submarine in support of our National
Military Strategy.
I.	Maritime sea-based forward presence of submarines and SOFS
	A.	SOFs and U.S. Military Strategy
	B.	World crisis areas of concern
II.	The advantages of submarine delivery of SOFs
	A.	Brief history of Submarine/SOF operations
	B.	The submarines invisible nature
III.	SOF submarine design and availability
	A.	Submarine design problems
	B.	Submarine availability
	C.	The ideal SOF submarine
IV.	Missions and employment of SOF submarines
	A.	Deployment/Employment and Quantity
	B.	Amphibious Warfare Missions
	C.	New developments
V.	SOFs need non-nuclear submarines
SOF SUBMARINE OPERATIONS AND THE NATIONAL MILITARY STRATEGY
      History has shown that Special Operations Forces (SOFs) will
undoubtedly be involved in any crisis that may unfold in America's
future.  Those responsible for our security apparently realize the
importance of SOFs in high, medium, and low intensity conflict.
Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney made the point that America must remain
prepared for both conventional and unconventional challenges. He further
identified the important role that SOF capabilities are to play in
America's new four-part Defense Strategy:  Strategic Deterrence and
Defense, Forward Presence, Crisis Response, and Reconstitution. Then,
too, SOFs have shown their value in America's most recent military
actions; Desert Shield/Storm, Provide Comfort, Just Cause, and Promote
Liberty. (2: 100) Finally, the establishing of the Special Operations
Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, with its healthy budget
(FY93 $3.1 billion) and growing force structure is evidence of America's
strong commitment to end past mistakes made with the employment of its
SOFs. (7: 23)
      Although the SOF community overall has invested heavily and wisely
in research and development (R&D) to ensure a technological combat edge,
I think it has overlooked the potential employment of submarines in
support of SOF missions. Even the Nuclear Attack Submarine (SSN)/Dry
Deck Shelter (DDS) program, which may meet the requirements of the SEAL
Delivery Vehicle Teams (SDVs), is not enough to meet the training and
operational requirements of the expanding SOF community. I'm not
suggesting that this was intentional but, rather, it was the result of a
narrow focus of effort to counter the Soviet submarine threat. Now,
however, with an end to the Soviet submarine threat, the U.S. has an
opportunity to focus more attention and funds on maritime Special
Operations Forces' (SOFs) capabilities and to expand and explore
innovative methods of employing the submarine in support of our National
Military Strategy.
      You might ask, "Why should we care about submarines delivering
SOFs? Don't SOFs have better platforms for delivery and recovery?"
Historically, the submarine has been one of the most used means of
clandestinely delivering and recovering small special units and agents
in this century. Submarines launched and recovered SOFs in both world
wars, the Korean War, and Vietnam.  The British used submarines to
launch X-craft mini-submarines that damaged the German battleship
Tirpitz. The USS Perch delivered British Commandos during the Korean War
who destroyed a railroad tunnel in North Korea. Submarines were used
extensively by SEAL/UDT units in Vietnam to conduct reconnaissance and
beach surveys. Clandestine surveys of the North Vietnam coast conducted
by UDTs from submarines were a key reason marine amphibious units were
able to successfully conduct seaborne assaults. (1: 35)
     Elite SOF units depend on the element of surprise as a combat multiplier
to conduct assigned missions, usually against a superior force. To state
the obvious, the submarine's intrinsic characteristic of invisibility
provides SOFs with this surprise.
      In his book, LIC 2010: Special Operations and Unconventional
Warfare in the Next Century, Rod Paschall says,
      The fast-paced race between low-observable and surveillance technology is
      not restricted to the air, but extends to the oceans as well.  In this
      region,  there is little if any lead for the surface attacker, the prime
      user of low observables, primarily because radar is far more effective
      where there is no phenomenon of terrain masking. The 21st century should
      therefore see an increased use of subsurface operations, a region that
      poses the most severe surveillance problems. (11: 53)
With modern electronic detection equipment available to more third world
countries, it will become harder for SOFs to infiltrate by surface and
air platforms. RADM W.J. Holland, Jr., in a Naval War College Review
article, SSN:  The Queen of the Seas, said:
      There is no known phenomena which will substantially reduce the submarine's
      invisibility. The increasing capability of space surveillance coupled with
      precision navigation, direct communications, and concentrated processing
      equipments threatens all targets above and on the face of the earth, while
      aiding those below it. (8: 114)
This applies to nuclear submarines and even more to conventional
submarines that have a significantly smaller IR signature running on
battery power. Also, the more methods of delivery and recovery available
to SOFs, the greater the chances of mission success. In the words of Sun
Tzu, "Do not repeat the tactics that have gained you one victory, but
let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances."
      In the National Security Act of 1947, Congress directed the
Department of Defense to maintain and employ armed forces to accomplish
three primary missions:  defend the American homeland from external
attack; safeguard our internal security; and uphold and advance the
national policies and interests of the United States, including the
security of worldwide areas vital to those interests. Colonel Harry G.
Summers Jr., in his booklet, U.S. Military Strategic Options,  stated:
"Historically, the protection of American worldwide interests have most
often led to the commitment of American armed forces." (12: 2)
The successes of these past commitments related directly to the
capabilities of America's maritime forces. Clearly, America's submarine
fleet and SOFs are vital parts of this force.
      America has learned from history that it is nearly impossible to
predict when and where the next war will happen. However, since World
War II more than 80% of the crises that faced America around the world
were responded to by naval forces. Out of 200 incidents since 1945, 50
occurred in the last decade. (13: 97-98) Two thirds of the world is
covered by water and most of the world's population is located within 50
miles of the coastline. (4: 38) This fact and the U.S. Navy's sea-based
forward presence and flexibility have been the key reasons for naval
forces being the force of choice to respond to these crises. In view of
these facts it only makes good sense to use submarines to employ SOFs.
      With the end of colonialism, loss of American overseas bases, and
restricted overflight privileges, maritime forces have become even more
critical to the defense of our vital worldwide interests because of
their forward presence.  At the end of WW II America had bases in 100
countries, now it has fewer than 40. (13: 94) The U.S. bombing raid on
Libya in the 1980's helps us to see the importance of sea-based forward
presence. America planned to launch bombing attacks using both USAF (F-
III's) and USN air (A-6's) assets. The USAF had to get diplomatic
clearance for landings and take offs from the foreign bases it launched
its aircraft from and encountered some refusals. Consequently, pilots
faced long flights over water and difficult coordination of extensive
air refueling because some of our allies did not grant overflight
clearance, clearance that would have provided shorter air routes
requiring less air refueling. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy sailed right into
the Gulf of Sidra and launched air strikes against Libya, accomplished
completely independent of political access and without the support of
our allies. Obviously, SOFs can be launched in the same fashion from
submarines.
      It would be a mistake, of course, to assume that utilizing
submarines would not have challenges. Two salient problems associated
with delivering SOFs from our current submarines come readily to mind.
These are design and availability for training. The reduced emphasis on
hunting Soviet submarines may make more SSNs available for SOF training,
but solving the design problem will require physical changes to SSNs or
procuring non-nuclear powered submarines (SSs) for SOF missions.
      Submarine design is the primary factor affecting SOF/submarine
operations. This problem affects the three methods of launching SOFs
from submarines, which are "wet-deck," "dry-deck," and submerged, or
lock-out/lock-in (LO/LI) launch.  Wet-deck launch/recovery from a
submarine is accomplished when the submarine submerges from under the
SOF Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC) or, conversely, surfaces under
the SOF CRRC for recovery. Since this involves water over the
submarine's deck it is called "wet-deck." Wet-deck launches are not
authorized from SSNs because of the inherent danger of flooding the
pressure hull and CRRC avoiding the screw or sail. Dry-deck
launch/recovery from a submarine is accomplished similar to a wet-deck
launch, except the submarine remains on the surface during the launch
and recovery. Since the submarine's deck remains dry this method is
called "dry-deck." Dry-deck is the only approved method of surface
launching SOFs from SSNs. LO/LI involves placing swimmers and their
equipment inside the submarines escape trunk, flooding the trunk with
water, equalizing the trunk with outside water pressure, and allowing
the swimmers to exit the trunk via the outer hatch. LO/LI is the most
secure or clandestine of these three methods because the submarine
remains submerged throughout the launching.
      There are five main design attributes of a submarine--range,
speed, armament, depth, and silence. (9: 68) --however, no thought seems
to have been given for the support of SOF units which are actually
weapons systems employed by the submarine. To conduct SS/SSN operations
properly, special design needs to be incorporated for berthing and
storage space, the escape trunk, divers air system, and the ability to
bottom-out. The escape trunk design is the most prominent of these four
problems and each of the others are directly related to it.
      Escape trunks are poorly designed for SOF use. To conduct LO/LI
operations, SOFs must use the SS/SSNs escape trunk designed solely for
emergency escape of the crew. It is apparent that the SS/SSN designer
had no expectation of anyone trying to return to a submarine through the
escape trunk. That's why it's called an "escape trunk." Each SS/SSN has
two escape trunks typically just large enough to handle four men with
SCUBA at a time. Only the forward trunk is authorized for conducting
LO/LI operations. The four men are the trunk operator and three swimmers
who will exit the SS/SSN on a mission. The trunk operator must remain in
the trunk however. If more men are required for a particular mission,
and they usually are, a trunk cycle must be run for each additional
three men, doubling or tripling the launch time.
      Escape trunks should be much larger than currently designed. It is
probably not cost effective to modify current SSNs to install larger
trunks. However, since SSNs have both forward and aft escape trunks,
developing procedures for simultaneous use of both trunks for LO/LI
could shorten launch time considerably. Ideally, trunks should be large
enough to handle nine men and be able to conduct LO/LI from both trunks
simultaneously. This also would provide a backup trunk in case the
forward trunk became unusable.
      The submarine's air supply system is used to pressurize the escape
trunk to allow flooding and draining and to provide breathing air for
LO/LI swimmer operations. The compactness of an SSN's trunk is further
exacerbated by swimmers being forced to carry their own air supply. This
is because an SSN's air system cannot produce diver quality air
according to the U.S. Navy standards for maximum parts per million of
various contaminants. One of an SSN's advantages is being able to
produce its own air and charge banks from within the submarine, which
means it never has to surface or snorkel as SSs must. However, the
atmosphere inside an SSN's pressure hull has certain contaminants, which
don't adversely affect its crew, but do effect a divers air supply which
is under pressure. This requires the SOF swimmers to carry their own air
supply plus an emergency set in the escape trunk for LO/LI operations.
Installing a separate air system only charged from outside air
sources may not feasible, but it is the only solution I know to solve
this problem. Diesel-electric submarines do not have this problem
because they must surface to charge their air system anyway.
      The ability of an SSN to bottom-out is considered favorable in SOF
operations for several reasons. LO/LI is the single most dangerous event
in the life of any SOF operator. Because SSNs can't bottom-out on the
ocean floor as some SSs could, LO/LI is conducted while underway. If the
submarine takes an unplanned depth excursion, the swimmers in the trunk
become immediately subjected to the most serious diver sicknesses,
including air embolism that may cause death within minutes. Also,
swimmers positioned on the exterior of a submarine during a depth
excursion may be lost at sea.
      Admittedly, the circumstances may often favor an underway LO/LI
launch of SOFs', however, submarine bottomed-out launches are safer for
the swimmers and have other advantages as well. Submarines that can
bottom-out are able to move close to land in sheltered water and operate
in large bays. The USS Grayback use to conduct swimmer LO/LI within
Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines routinely. In my experience,
rough seas have limited the launching of SOFs by underway LO/LI more
than any other factor.
      There is no quick fix for this design problem. Obviously, it's not
cost effective to modify current SSNs to bottom-out. This would require
major changes to its intakes and steam plant design, which would have to
be built into a SSN from the keel up.
      SOF equipment storage must be considered also. The size of the
escape trunk hatches limit the size and length of equipment that can be
locked-out, and the swimmer's gear must be either locked-out or stored
so divers can access it from outside the SSN's pressure hull. Most SSNs
used for LO/LI have "wet" line lockers that can be used for storing SOF
gear, but they, too, are designed poorly for SOF equipment storage.
Usually the locker hatches are hinged perpendicular to the hull. This
makes it difficult for swimmers to open and close, especially while
underway. The locker hatches are small and limit the size and amount of
gear that can be stored.
      Locker hatches should be hinged parallel to the SS/SSNs hull and
made large enough to accommodate a SOF's largest item of equipment. It
should be feasible to accomplish these modifications on current SSNs.
This would eliminate extra trunk cycles for equipment that further
increase launch time and increase the chances of both SOFs and SSN to
detection.
      Availability is the second greatest SOF/SSN problem. SSNs usually
have higher priority missions that limit availability for SOF training.
Most SOF/submarine training in the past has been conducted with SSs.
However, over the past three years the last non-nuclear submarines in
the U.S. Navy have been decommissioned and SOF training has decreased as
a direct result. With no SSs remaining in the inventory, ship reductions
across the board, and SOF units increasing, the prospects of SOF
training opportunities with SSNs at a rate that meets SOF growing
requirements are bleak.
      The closest the U.S. Navy has ever been to having an ideal SOF
submarine was during the Vietnam War and the post war years. These
submarines, the USS Perch, Tunny, and Grayback, were designed to carry
missiles and then later converted to Amphibious Troop carriers (LPSS).
(1: 53) The Grayback in particular had significant advantages over
current U.S. submarines to conduct SOF operations. First, it was a
dedicated SOF platform with the primary mission of supporting SOF
operations. Second, it was home ported overseas, which contributed to
its availability for training and operations. Third, it was the only
U.S. submarine to be specifically designed to bottom-out. Fourth, it had
none of the design limitations previously identified.
      The Grayback had twin cylinder-shaped hangars, faired into her
upper hull forward of the sail. She was streamlined to assure faster
underwater speed. The two hangars were 11 feet in diameter and 66 feet
in length. The hangars were modified to function as two large escape
trunks. Grayback could launch and recover CRRCs, SDVs, and numerous
swimmers with ease, including wet-deck, dry-deck, and underway or
bottomed-out LO/LI methods of SOF launch and recovery. Table 1 provides
SOF training statistics for the years that data was available from
unclassified USS Grayback command histories.
Click here to view image
      Another example of SOF/submarine operational capability is the USS
Tunny. The Tunny was a forerunner of the Grayback with a single
converted missile hanger. In 1967 Tunny spent six operational periods in
the Republic of Vietnam waters in support of UDT/SEAL missions. She
supported 28 hydrographic beach surveys and performed over 1,000 LO/LI
cycles in 1967 alone.  SSN training statistics pale in comparison to
those of the Grayback or Tunny. The only disadvantages of these
submarines was their submerged speed (17kts) and submerged endurance.
      The ideal SOF submarine would also be fitted with surface support
weapons and a surface-to-air missile system. A 30mm chain-gun, for
example, would provide fire support for a "hot" SOF extraction. Deck
guns were removed from submarines because of technological developments
that made it no longer possible to surface without immediate
retaliation. (9: 21) In operations against an unsophisticated enemy deck
guns on a submarine can be an advantage, as demonstrated in 1965 off the
coast of Vietnam, when the USS Perch actually came close enough to the
beach (500yds) to provide fire support for an ARVN element under attack
by Viet Cong. This is believed to be the last know surface combat action
by a U.S. submarine. (11: 46)
      Hand held stinger missiles would give an SS/SSN at least some
capability against an air threat during a surface launch or recovery of
SOFs, and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency developed a
Self-Initiated Anti-Aircraft Missile (SIAM) that can be launched from a
submerged submarine. This system was still in development in 1984. (3:
179)
      Future missions and employment of SOF submarines would be limited
only by the quantity of SOF submarines available. I envision three LPSSs
homeported overseas or one deployed with each ARG/MEU(SOC). I think
LPSSs homeported in the Pacific (Japan or Guam), the Mediterranean
(Italy), and the South Pacific/Atlantic (Panama), or deployed with the
ARG/MEU(SOC)s would provide a rapid response to contingencies in any of
America's vital areas of interest. Additional LPSSs would be required to
be homeported in Norfolk and San Diego for SOFs to conduct predeployment
training.
      The submarines cloak of invisibility makes it a much more suitable
platform for Amphibious Advanced Force operations than the usual Landing
Ship Dock (LSD) or Destroyer. An LPSS, like the one proposed above,
would be ideal for inserting SOFs for direct action, reconnaissance,
beach survey, or Very Shallow Water Mine Counter Measure (VSWMCM)
operations. These submarines would be capable of approaching an enemy
coastline submerged, bottoming out and then launching swimmers, SDVs or
even waterborne Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV) to conduct VSWMCM
completely undetected. (10: 42)
      We need to develop new and innovative employments for SOF assets
with submarines. Three such concepts should be icepack operations, air
operations, and sub-launched terminally guided munitions.
      Usually we only think of SSNs conducting icepack operations
because of the nuclear submarine's submerged endurance. However, non-
nuclear powered submarines can and have operated under icepack. They are
more operationally limited but there are plenty of gaps and fissures in
the icepack that would allow an SS to surface without having to break
through thick ice. (9: 50) An LPSS could easily carry snow vehicles and
equipment in its large hangars for SOF operations in that environment.
Incidently, a black submarine surfaced in white ice is surprisingly
difficult to spot from the air. (5: 50) The white ice and snow crevasses
contrast so vividly with the black shadows they create that the black of
the submarine appears as only a shadow.
      Why would anyone want to conduct air operations from a SS/SSN?
During WW II, the Japanese had over 20 submarines equipped with
waterproof aircraft hangars and catapults. (10: 21) Several of these
could carry up to three aircraft. Aircraft wings, tail, and floats were
removable. The aircraft were launched by catapult and were recovered by
a boom after landing on pontoons. The aircraft were primarily used for
reconnaissance because the Japanese only had radar on a few of their
submarines. Other countries experimented with aircraft on submarines,
but these projects were abandoned in favor of radar. (6: 108,9) The
Japanese successfully conducted air reconnaissances of Pearl Harbor,
Sydney, Australia, Kodiak Island and other locations from submarine
launched aircraft. (5: 144)(10: 41,68) Amazingly, the only aircraft
bombing of U.S. territory during WW II was carried out by a submarine-
launched aircraft that made two fire bomb raids on forests in Oregon.
(5: 21) In 1942 the Japanese decided to build 18 large submarines, each
capable of carrying three torpedo bombers. Their objective was to bomb
the Panama canal. (5: 211) However, the war ended before this plan could
be carried out.
      An LPSS could hold several small helos (e.g., Hughes 5000) in its
hangars. The helos could be pulled out and launched directly from the
submarine's deck and be recovered the same way. This would allow SOF
helo operations to be conducted against coastal targets such as SAM
sites, EW/GCI sites, and communications facilities. It could also be
used against ships at sea.
      SOFs have a limited capability to carry large amounts of ordnance
over the beach. If a sub-launched, laser-guided munition was developed,
it could be used against coastal targets and guided by SOFs with laser
target markers. This would give SOFs a heavy standoff weapons punch
against hardened targets.
      Now that the end of the "Cold War" has freed it from the demands
of closely watching the Soviet fleet, the U.S. Navy's attack submarine
fleet advertises it is taking on broader mission roles. These broader
missions include the delivery of SOF. But can the Navy's fleet of
nuclear attack submarines, designed for other purpose, realistically
support the delivery of SOFs?
      Naval Special Warfare, or Navy SEALs as they are better known, are
the primary SOF user of submarines. In spite of the many difficulties
mentioned above, they have adapted their procedures and equipment
sufficiently to conduct limited SOF/SSN operations.  However, I believe
the full potential for delivery and recovery of SOFs can best be
achieved with conventional submarines, which will also solve the serious
problems in design listed above. A diesel-electric submarine, for
example, built to specifically support SOFs can exploit the full
potential of SOF/submarine operations and costs much less than an SSN.
The U.S. Navy should procure conventional submarines that will fully
support our SOF capabilities rather than just broadening the mission of
the SSN. Additionally, when the Sturgeon class (637) SSNs are taken out
of service at the end of this decade there will be no SSN asset that is
capable of conducting swimmer LO/LI operations. The Los Angeles class
(688) SSNs do not have an escape trunk suitable for swimmer LO/LI.
      Captain J.E. Moore, discusses the use of diesel-electric
submarines for landing agents and SOFs in his 1987 book, Submarine
Warfare Today and Tomorrow. He believes, as I do, that conventional
submarines are not outdated or redundant, and although conventional
submarines have limitations, they are well suited for the SOF support
role. (9: 13)
      I favor returning to conventional powered submarines for SOF
operations. Amphibious Transport Submarines such as the USS Grayback,
decommissioned in 1984, could carry over sixty swimmers and lock-out all
of them with equipment at the same time. The Grayback also maintained
its attack submarine capability as well. A conventional submarine with a
Grayback hull design or capabilities and equipped with a modern power
plant and electronics package is the answer for SOF submarine delivery
and recovery.  As past history indicates, America will continue to have
a need for SOFs in future crises, and we must ensure they can be
delivered in the most promising fashion.
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