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OH, How Offensive
by RADM Richard P. Terpstra, USN
The evolution of submarine land attack has been a hard-won success story. Against difficult technical problems, communications challenges, and a strike-warfare culture that does not enthusiastically embrace newcomers, the Submarine Force has persevered to make up about 25 percent of the battlegroup Tomahawk strike capability with an impressive record of reliable precision attacks. We have come a long way, but I believe the Navy is at the cusp of a revolution in the way we will fight that demands the Submarine Force take a leadership role and become a full partner in naval campaign-level striking forces. Why? The fundamental reason why we must lead in this revolution is that it can't be done without us.

In my last assignment, as a CNO Fellow at the Strategic Studies Group (SSG), I had a great opportunity to work with representatives of all major naval communities (air, surface and Marine) in formulating concepts for projecting power ashore directly and decisively. The members and staff of the SSG XVIII were superb and dedicated professionals. However, as we worked on our project, I sensed a perception shared by this group and others I dealt with throughout the Navy Department, that the submarine contribution to land attack was minor and did not have great prospects for significant future improvement. At times, I felt the prevailing attitude from the other communities was, "Oh, how offensive of you to want to do our mission." This is perhaps a natural response from any incumbent. Their professional, Missouri- flavored challenge is "Show Me" - and that's a fair position. I believe we have started to show them, but we must continue to press forward on many fronts.

Visionary Submarine Force leaders have already shown the way ahead through writings and speeches and by crafting and funding the right programs to enhance future submarine capability in this revolutionary mission area. Admiral Bowman's recent speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, printed in the January 2000 issue of the Submarine Review, highlights critical opportunities we need to seize. Direct and decisive power projection on land will require better connectivity and payload. It should not be surprising that this challenge is the same for every community in a naval campaign striking force. I will identify some areas I believe the Naval Service and the Submarine Force must address directly and present some ideas that I hope facilitate a positive discussion among Submarine Force innovators.

The Naval Contribution to a Joint Campaign

Looking closer at the opportunities ahead, it is appropriate to begin by understanding just where we are trying to go. The Navy's advantage of being there first with the potential of overwhelming and decisive force is a powerful concept within the CNO's vision for the 21st century, "Anytime Anywhere" (U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, November 1997). While the fundamentals of network-centric warfare will give us significant advantages in sharing knowledge and enabling greater speed of attack, I believe the Navy must further define how we will fit into the joint land-attack campaign. How will intelligence be processed and shared? How and where will targeting decisions be made? How will we de-conflict the battle space? Working as a Navy team to refine and test concepts in advance of procurement will be important to synchronize our powerful capability. Focusing early on how we will fight will allow the Navy to realize the best capabilities, avoid unnecessary redundancy, and integrate seamlessly with joint forces. I believe we should take the lead in engaging the aviation and surface communities in this operational concepts dialog. We should work toward realizing that capability as a team, and avoid perpetuating a zero-sum competitive mentality. In order to get this right, I believe that Land Attack should be institutionalized within the Naval Service. The Submarine Force should welcome this evolution because of the inherent utility we bring to the table when the requirements for campaigning in the littoral are viewed asa whole. Our value and the importance of what we can bring to the fight can only grow.

Submarine Roles in Land Attack

While a large share of naval strike assets will always be borne by surface and aviation platforms, our means of dealing with asymmetric threats and area-denial challenges will need a robust contribution from submarine offensive weapons in order to be credible and less vulnerable as a conventional deterrent. But what will our role entail? It may be instructive to explore the range of sea-based missions comprising a land-attack campaign. We have already demonstrated the submarine's ability to strike fixed targets during previous campaigns. If submarines are on scene prior to the start of hostilities - and they usually are - we may some day be asked to halt the attack of an advancing army, that is, to strike moving targets in large numbers. Later, we may need to help isolate the battle space and prepare for the introduction of our own maneuver forces. Next, we may be called upon to support those land maneuver forces or special warfare forces ashore with precise and timely fire support. Hard and deeply-buried targets may require servicing at any time. The wide range of possible taskings should make it clear that there will be enough targets for all platforms in the battle force. The key will be matching the right weapons to the right targets at an operational tempo sufficient to paralyze the enemy. Getting the correct mix of weapons and sensors will not be easy. Will we limit ourselves to just kicking in the door for the rest of the battle group to follow? Or do the inherent strengths of the submarine in the contested littoral suggest that we should become far more capable in order to impact nearly all phases of a land attack campaign? I believe the right answer is more capability.

Sensors and Weapons

In order to strike the large number and wide variety of targets that appear in a land campaign, a tiered system of sensors is needed. That system should consist of satellites, manned and unmanned aircraft, ground based sensors, and troops. Submarine connectivity and inter-operability with this system of sensors will be essential and should yield significant weapon cost and payload benefits. A great deal of the current cost of our Tomahawk missiles is tied up in their sophisticated guidance system. Shifting the target acquisition and guidance complexity from the weapon to off-board sensors will lower the unit cost and size of our weapons. A fully networked sensor system could detect and track targets centrally and provide in-flight target updates to various weapons of the Joint Task Force.

Space systems alone will not be sufficient to meet the needs of high-volume strike operations capable of all-weather attacks on moving targets. Space-based sensors will continue to be limited by orbital mechanics, aperture size, cloud cover, power, and enemy cover and deception. Flexible and maneuverable sea-based sensors will be required to close the fire control loop. Submarines have unique inherent advantages for deploying and controlling sensors. Consider the utility of Special Operations Forces deployed from a submarine and employing their own unique sensors over land. These submarine-based forces could become an important adjunct to a system of sensors capable of reacting as needed to enemy deception tactics.

Against many targets, small, precise weapons are fully effective. Other "pop-up" targets may require the rapid response of more capable weapons, such as hypersonic missiles. Because of this variability, we should structure our development and procurement to ensure a capability for deploying a mix of such weapons and their associated sensors. Modular submarine design concepts will ensure that the Submarine Force will always be able to deploy a tailored mix of weapons for specific mission needs. The Submarine Warfare Directorate (CNO N87) and the Submarine Future Studies Group have taken this aboard, and the way ahead is encouraging.

SSGN Conversions

A great deal of work has gone into the SSGN concept, and its design and impressive benefits are well documented. [Ed. Note: See "SSGN: A 'Second Career' for the Boomer Force," in the Winter 1999 issue of UNDERSEA WARFARE.] In addition to the substantial conventional deterrence these ships can provide, their launching tubes offer exactly the modularity needed for the kind of conceptual development I described earlier. New weapon and sensor systems could easily be fitted into the large-diameter missile tubes of our SSGNs. This will make the testing and ultimate deployment ofollow-on versions of Tactical Tomahawk and new, unmanned sensors much easier and less costly.

Hard and deeply buried targets will remain a difficult task. The large volume of an SSGN missile tube also lends itself to the possibility of housing a powerful conventionally-armed penetrating missile should we need it. Such a weapon could change an enemy's calculus and make bunker duty a lot less desirable for our foes. Development and deployment of the SSGN will allow us to keep this fearsome conventional option open.

TridentDeveloping Targeting Expertise

For the Navy to project power ashore as envisioned, we will need a precise, fast-reaction computer-based targeting system. And for submariners to be full partners in the power projection team, we will need to develop targeting expertise that matches that of the Air Force and the Naval Aviation communities. Battlegroup tours and assignments at such organizations as the Joint Warfare Analysis Center will help us learn and influence the development of targeting concepts. The more we are engaged in battlegroup operations and participate in land-attack exercises, battle experiments, and war games, the better able we will be to adapt and shape new concepts for naval campaign and striking forces.

The Challenge

Exerting Submarine Force leadership within this exciting transformation will be important. While the need for our expertise in a myriad of other mission areas and core competencies will not diminish, we will need a full-court press to achieve the full potential of what the Submarine Force can offer the Navy in Land Attack. In the past, some of our best innovations have come from our youngest submariners. Don't forget that we are all warriors with a proud legacy of taking the fight forward - and of forging new methods of fighting and winning. Submarines have always possessed inherent endurance, stealth, and power, but the potential is there for a lot more. Get involved in the discussion to help make us even better. The measure of our success will be the degree to which other Navy communities adopt new ways of thinking about what submarines bring to the land-attack table. We want our partners to view submarine Land Attack not with annoyance, but with awe. We are vital to the success of this mission.


RADM TerpstraRear Admiral Terpstra serves as Commander, Submarine Group TEN, Kings Bay, Georgia. A 1974 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he has also commanded Submarine Squadron SIX and USS Dallas (SSN-700). Prior to assuming command of Submarine Group TEN, Rear Admiral Terpstra was a Fellow of the Chief of Naval Operations' Strategic Studies Group at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island.

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