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World-Wide Conventional Submarines

The 15 February 1919 number of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN noted that " ... we published on December 7th an editorial entitled, “Abolish the Submarine.” To those who have been familiar with the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN it will be understood that this call for prohibiting the construction of this type of warship was consistent with our attitude to the submarine for many years past. From the very first, we believed that the fact that the submarine was both blind and sluggish and must in all probability ever remain so, would prevent it from becoming a. serious weapon of war against up-to-date and well-found ships that fight upon the surface of the sea. Despite the earnest and long-continued effort to remedy these two grave and inherent defects, the submarine remains today pretty nearly as sluggish and blind as it was ten to fifteen years go. Moreover, there is no promise that these defects can be eradicated; and until the submarine, in the submerged condition (which is its fighting condition), can steam twice as fast as it can today, and unless it can see its target with practically uninterrupted vision, it must continue to be a failure as a fighting weapon.

The great day of trial—-the war which was to prove the deadly efliciency of this untried wea.pon—has come and gone with the result that the submarine, as a weapon of legitimate war between fighting ships, is discredited. Furthermore, its sole weapon, its very raison d’elre, the torpedo, to carry which within point.-blank range of the enemy it. was designed and built, has by no means come out of this war with flying colors. Even the fast surface boats, like cruisers and destroyers, with all their advantage of speed, clear vision of the enemy, and ability to maneuver with rapidity, have failed to get results with the torpedo that measure up to the great expectations which were based upon this weapon in pre-war times. A notable instance of this was the cruiser fight in the Bight of Heligoland early in the war, when no less than sixty ships, all carrying the torpedo, fought a. furious action for over half a day, in the course of which scores of torpedoes were fired, without recording a. single hit. The ships that were sent to the bottom were put down by gun-fire.

So that if the Peace Conference or the League of Nations contains, as we are told it probably will, a clause setting an embargo upon the construction and use of the submarine, the science and art of naval design_ and construction will suffer no serious loss.

On the other hand, the peace and security of the world will make an immeasurable gain. The German navy, departing from its legitimate field, seized upon the submarine as one of its main instruments of terrorism, and carried on a campaign of piracy which, in the ages to come, will be written down and remembered as the one great German contribution to the traditions of the sea. In doing this, she incidentally and very dramatically revealed to the world the frightful menace to its security which lies hidden in this most effective weapon of piracy. Hence the growing realization .of the fact, both in America and Europe, that since the submarine is of doubtful value as a weapon of war, it should be abolished altogether and the ban of civilization set upon it once and for all."

By one count, as of 2011, there were thirty-eight countries that possessed a total of 550 submarines in their naval inventory throughout the world. While three countries - the US, UK and France - rely exclusively on nuclear powered submarines, the remaining three dozen countries operate either a mixed fleet of nuclear and conventional submarines, or rely exclusively on conventional submarines - of which there were a total of 283 in operation. By one count, as of 2001, there were forty-five countries that possessed a total of 550 submarines in their naval inventory throughout the world [this much larger number includes many midget submarines - small swimmer and commando delivery vehicles -, not included in the 2011 total].

Most of these submarines are diesel submarines, which rely upon diesel engines to drivegenerators to charge submarine batteries or to drive the propellors. A diesel-powered submarine commonly uses a snorkel device to receive air for diesel engine operation, thusreducing the submarine hull's exposure to radar, infrared and visual sensors. Once operating on batteries, this submarine can be very quiet. Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) is a means of propelling a diesel submarine through water without diminishing the battery charge or surfacing.

Today's modern, quiet diesel-electric submarines employ state-of-the-art sound silencing technologies and sound isolation technologies. Additionally, they operate advanced propulsion systems that include high endurance battery systems and air-independent propulsion systems. These advances, combined with special hull treatments that significantly dampen submarine noise and reduce vulnerability to active sonar prosecution, make them highly potent adversaries. Diesel-electric submarines so equipped can covertly operate in coastal and open ocean areas, blocking access to combat zones and increasing vessels' vulnerability to torpedo and anti-ship missile attacks. Detecting, identifying, locating, tracking, and if necessary, neutralizing a diesel-electric submarine is vitally important to the Navy's ability to conduct operations, accomplish its missions and ultimately prevail in conflict.

Submarines are operated by numerous navies, including potential adversaries in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East areas. US Navy Strike Groups are continuously deployed to these high-threat areas. These missions require being able to access and operate in waters near shore, control strategic maritime transit routes and international straits, and protect sea lines of communications supporting international commerce.

Sound propagates differently in shallower water, which provides an extremely "noisy" and hence complex marine training environment. Modern diesel-electric submarines would be expected, in a real-world event, to operate and hide in the noise of shallow4 waters. Without the critical training in shallow water that ASW exercises provide, crews will not have the experience needed to successfully operate SONAR in these types of waters, impacting vital military readiness. In the context of naval operations, specifically submarine operations, the term "shallow water" is a relative term, denoting depths of up to 400 fathoms (2,400 ft), which are considered "shallow" compared to the depth of the ocean.

A diesel-electric submarine operating on battery power is nearly undetectable to U.S. and allied naval forces using passive sonar alone. mid-frequency active (MFA) sonar is, therefore, a Strike Group's only effective means to detect and track such submarines before they close within weapons range, and such timely detection therefore is essential to U.S. Navy ship survivability. The Navy's Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active (SURTASS LFA) sonar is also an effective system utilizing active sonar. It was developed and is deployed separately from Strike Groups because of physical limits on its mobility and the limited number of available units. The January 2011 Forecast International's "The Market for Submarines" analysis projects that 111 submarines worth $106.7 billion will be produced from 2011-2020. The average value of these submarines will be $960 million, an indicator of the growing complexity of the modern submarine and the increasing use of air-independent propulsion, both of which add substantially to the cost of diesel-electric boats. "Over the long term, constant shifts in the structure of construction costs and the steadily growing number of countries that are interested in nuclear-powered submarines mean that the average cost of submarines will continue to increase on an annual basis," said warships analyst Stuart Slade, author of the report.

The submarine market is divided into three subsectors. The first is the market for ballistic missile submarines, or SSBNs. There are 13 such submarines on order or under construction. These represent 11.7 percent of the total market in terms of numbers but are valued at $26 billion, representing 24.5 percent of the total value of the market. The average unit cost of the SSBNs is $2.0 billion.

In the long term, both the British and U.S. navies are evaluating possible successors to their existing SSBN units, the Vanguard and Ohio classes, respectively. The British program is designated SSBN(R) or Successor; the U.S. program, SSBN(X). Both navies have elected to stay with the traditional SSBN concept, although both SSBN(X) and SSBN(R) will carry significantly fewer missiles than their predecessors did. Overall, the SSBN sector looks healthier now than it has in many years.

The second sector is the market for nuclear-powered attack submarines, or SSNs. The projections show sales of 27 such submarines, representing 24 percent of the total number and valued at $48.32 billion. This represents 45.7 percent of the total funding for all submarines over the forecast period. The average unit value of the SSNs covered in this survey is $1.79 billion. Interestingly, the differential in value between SSNs and SSBNs has fallen precipitously over the last few years.

The final sector is the market for SSKs, or diesel-electric submarines. From 2011-2020, 71 of these boats will be built, representing 64 percent of the total. They are valued at $32.4 billion, representing 30.36 percent of the total expenditure on submarines from 2011-2020. A notable factor this year is that the average cost of diesel-electric submarines has increased to $456 million.

Maritime strategies rely heavily on quiet submarines to patrol the littorals, blockade strategic choke points, and stalk aircraft carrier battle groups. Of the approximately 500 non-U.S. submarines in the world, almost half that number areoperated by non-allied nations. Of greatest concern are the new ultra-quiet diesel-electric submarines armed with deadly torpedoes and cruise missiles being produced by the People's Republic of China, Iran, and North Korea. These diesel submarines are very difficult to detect outside the range at which they can launch attacks against U.S. and allied ships using passive sonar systems. Active systems like SURTASS LFA, when used in conjunction with other anti-submarine sensor and weapons systems, are necessary to detect, locate and destroy or avoid hostile submarines before they close within range of US forces.

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Page last modified: 07-12-2017 13:17:52 ZULU