The U.S. Navy’s New Attack Submarine: The Most ‘Stealth’ Sub Ever?


We have an idea of what is to come.

by Kris Osborn June 3, 2019

The technical elements of undersea command and control, quite naturally, are being engineered with a mind to an expected increased use of underwater drones. The Navy is now moving quickly with efforts to build an entire new fleet of UUVs able to destroy mines, conduct lower risk forward surveillance, deliver supplies or even fire weapons with a “human-in-the-loop.” Capt. Pete Small, the Program Manager for Unmanned Maritime Systems, addressed this phenomenon at Sea Air Space and said the service’s now in development Orca XLUUV – Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle – is being configured to fire torpedoes.

The Navy has begun work on a new generation of attack submarines with never-before-seen weapons, quieting technology, undersea attack drones, sonar and communications networking… to emerge at some point over the next 10 years or more.

The U.S. Navy’s New Attack Submarine: The Most ‘Stealth’ Sub Ever

Will it be the stealthiest, most lethal attack submarine ever to exist? That ….is the Navy plan.

Plans for the new boats, referred to as a new fleet of Block VI Virginia Class-Attack Attack-class submarines, include launching long-range precision strikes, delivering Special Operations Forces on secret high-risk attack missions, conducting ISR missions, networking with platforms and — perhaps of greatest significance – operating undetected in high-threat waters.

Block VI will start in 2024. We are currently in the phase of looking at concepts and capabilities and determining their feasibility. Next year we will go through the decision points in terms of requirements of what we want to have in that block,” Capt. Christopher Hanson, Program Manager, Virginia Class Submarines, said at the Navy League’s 2019 Sea Air Space Symposium.

Speaking at a Naval Sea Systems Command location, Hanson specified that the new submarines will incorporate a specific emphasis upon Special Operations Forces (SOF), new weapons’ interfaces and payloads for undersea drones, Unmanned Undersea Vessels.

As part of the Block VI development, the Navy is now conducting a “SOF Optimization” Analysis of Alternatives to, among other things, find ways to engineer an attack submarine well suited for clandestine undersea SOF missions. These can include targeted attack operations, forward intelligence gathering or high-risk surveillance missions, among other things.

Hanson was clear to point out that it is not possible, at the moment, to know everything that a new submarine might include 10 years into the future. With this in mind, the service wants to architect the boats, with established standards and interfaces, so that they can easily integrate new weapons, undersea drones or networking technologies as they emerge.

Capability comes in two ways. One is the inherent design and how we build the submarine and the other piece is how we design the submarine with interface requirements for future payloads…that maybe right now are only in the power-point stage…. that can be accommodated in the future?” Hanson added.

This conceptual framework, focused on engineering “upgradeable” platforms, was anticipated in earliest days of the Virginia-class program more than 15 years ago. A 2005 Naval War College Review essay cites Virginia-class submarines as a platform benefiting from a modular, or “open architecture” approach. Since its inception, the Virginia-class was built with a mind to prepare for future upgrades, as evidenced in the essay.

One example referenced in the essay is a modernization effort called the Acoustic Rapid COTS Insertion (ARCI) program which, among other things, pushed “toward modularity for the Virginia-class, the SSGN and subsequent classes,” the essay states. The success of the ARCI program has continued for more than a decade since its beginning; the program’s success was cited in a 2015 DOT&E report. The DOT&E report recommend that the program begin to emphasize countermine missions, due to its track record of successful upgrades.

From a technical or engineering perspective, modularity means building a boat with a software and hardware foundation able to adjust as needed. For instance, while attack submarines currently fire Torpedoes and Tomahawks, it is entirely feasible, if not likely, that new submarine-launched weapons will exist 10 years from now. This kind of scenario is exactly what Hanson seemed to be getting at.

The Naval War College Review essay, interestingly, aligns with Hanson’s comment about the need to engineer for future technologies to permit quick integration of new systems. The essay describes it as “yet-unenvisioned equipment to be installed to counter unimagined threats, and an insistence that core enabling characteristics such as stealth never be compromised.” (From”The Submarine as a Case Study in Transformation: Implications for Future Investment,” James H. Patton Jr, 2005)

With this essay in mind, there is substantial precedent for of this kind of modular approach, looking at the multi-year trajectory of Virginia-class development; each Block has incorporated several impactful new technologies not yet present when the previous boats were built. For example, unlike Blocks I and II, Virginia-class Block III boats significantly increase firepower with the introduction of what’s called Virginia Payload Tubes adding new missile tubes able to fire 6 Tomahawks each. Block III also includes a new Large Aperture Bow “horseshoe-shaped” sonar, which switches from an “air-backed’ spherical sonar to a “water-backed” array, making it easier to maintain pressure, according to a 2014 report in “NavSource Online.”

The LAB sonar, which is both more precise and longer range than its predecessor, also advances the curve in that it introduces both a passive and “active” sonar system. Passive systems are used to essential track or “listen” for acoustic pings to identify enemy movements. This can help conceal a submarines position by not emitting a signal, yet can lack the specificity of an “active” sonar system which sends an acoustic “ping” forward. The submarine’s technology then analyzes the return signal to deliver a “rendering” of an enemy object to include its contours, speed and distance. In concept, sonar works similar to radar except that it sends acoustic signals instead of electronic ones.

When it comes to tailoring submarines for SOF missions, it would not be surprising if elements of Block IIIs “Lock Out Trunk” were built-upon or expanded for Block VI; the Lock Out Trunk introduces a new specialized area which fills up with water for departure, enabling SOF forces to more easily and quietly exit the submarine while remaining submerged.

BLOCK VI Technologies

So….. given that both future threats and future technologies are not yet known, as Hanson indicated, what might Block VI look like?

While particular technical details are often unavailable given the secret nature of these kinds of platforms, over the years senior Navy weapons developers have talked to Warrior about some of the key areas of modernization focus; these include new coating materials to make the submarines stealthier, new antennas for longer-range, more accurate undersea surveillance missions and new “quieting” engine propulsion technology, among other things.

All of these technologies, in fact, already exist in the USS South Dakota attack submarine — the most advanced submarine ever to be delivered to the Navy. The new boat, which is now operational, began as a prototype, test-bed platform to evolve these new technologies. What all of these USS South Dakota innovations amount to is that, Hanson said, they are informing current conceptual discussions now underway regarding Block VI.

Also, according to Congressional testimony in 2016, cited in a report from SeaPower magazine, former PEO Submarines Rear Adm. Michael E. Jabaley Jr., the USS South Dakota includes a DARPA-engineered Hybrid Propulsor “which brings new acoustic advantages.”

Yet another area of innovation quite likely to lay a foundation for Block VI includes Block IIIs “Fly-by-Wire” navigational controls; instead of using mechanically operated hydraulic controls, the Fly-by-Wire system uses a joystick, digital moving maps and various adaptations of computer automation to navigate the boat. This means that computer systems can control the depth and speed of the submarine, while a human remains in a command and control role. It seems almost self-evident, given rapid advances in AI and computer automation, that Block VI will include a new generation of these kinds of technologies.

The technical elements of undersea command and control, quite naturally, are being engineered with a mind to an expected increased use of underwater drones. The Navy is now moving quickly with efforts to build an entire new fleet of UUVs able to destroy mines, conduct lower risk forward surveillance, deliver supplies or even fire weapons with a “human-in-the-loop.” Capt. Pete Small, the Program Manager for Unmanned Maritime Systems, addressed this phenomenon at Sea Air Space and said the service’s now in development Orca XLUUV – Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle – is being configured to fire torpedoes.

From essentially a “lone wolf ” a decade ago, the submarine is now nearly universally accepted as a key node within network-centric warfare, the purveyor of “undersea dominance,” and an essential element of Sea Power 21 (a previously articulated Navy attack vision emphasizing information dominance),” the 2005 Naval War College Review essay writes.

Finally, the now underway Block V Virginia-class boats, known for its fire-power enhancing Virginia Payload Modules (VPM), are also contributing to Block V conversations. VPM, which increases the boats’ firepower from 12 to 40 Tomahawk missiles, changes the attack envelope.

Block 5 has some additional equipment we are developing, which will be added to the USS South Dakota. Our expectation is that that equipment is going to continue on into Block VI,” Hanson said.

Most of all, it seems apparent, plans for Block VI want to both remain flexible and explore a wide range of options.

We have a CONOPS *Concept of Operations” ground that brings in operators of other vehicles on a periodic basis so we can show them what we are looking at,” Hanson said.

Kris Osborn is a Senior Fellow at The Lexington Institute. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Source: National Interest “The U.S. Navy’s New Attack Submarine: The Most ‘Stealth’ Sub Ever?”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


US Military—a Black Hole for Taxpayers


In spite of its huge budget, according to Defense News’ article “Defense Secretary Esper says nuclear missile sub is ‘the Navy’s bill,’ setting up a fight with Congress”, US Navy lacks funds for building new strategic nuclear submarines and has asked DoD for some funding but DoD is not willing. As a result Navy has to ask Congress for funding. However, in order to maintain its huge military budget the US has already to incur lot of budget deficit. What shall be done? Have ordinary Americans to pay more tax but rich people need not worry. Trump has already reduced their tax burden.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Defense News’ article, full text of which can be viewed at https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2020/02/10/defense-secretary-esper-says-new-us-missile-sub-is-the-navys-bill-setting-up-a-fight-with-congress/.


See Ya, F-35: The Navy’s 6th Generation Fighter Could Make Everything Obsolete


Here is what we know.

by Kris Osborn August 9, 2019

Anticipated decisions about a 6th-Gen fighter balance themselves upon the as-of-yet unknown maturity of various promising new weapons and technologies nearing a threshold of operational possibility.​

The Navy is currently analyzing air frames, targeting systems, AI-enabled sensors, new weapons and engine technologies to engineer a new 6th-Generation fighter to fly alongside the F-35 and ultimately replace the F/A-18.

(This first appeared earlier in the year.) (underlined by this reblogger)

The Navy program, called Next-Generation Air Dominance, has moved beyond a purely conceptual phase and begun exploration of prototype systems and airframes as it pursues a new, carrier-launched 6th-Gen fighter to emerge in 2030 and beyond, service officials explained.

Some important areas of consideration include derivative and developmental air vehicle designs, advanced engines, propulsion, weapons, mission systems, electronic warfare and other emerging technologies,” Navy spokeswoman Lt. Lauren Chatmas told Warrior earlier this year.

A formal Analysis of Alternatives, expected to complete this year, is weighing the advantages of leveraging nearer-term existing technologies such as new variants or upgrades to cutting edge weapons, sensors and stealth configurations – or allowing more time for leap-ahead developmental systems to emerge.

The current analysis follows a now-completed Initial Capabilities Document detailing some of the sought-after requirements for the new aircraft, or “family of aircraft,” Chatmas explained.

Anticipated decisions about a 6th-Gen fighter balance themselves upon the as-of-yet unknown maturity of various promising new weapons and technologies nearing a threshold of operational possibility.

For instance, some now-in-development next-gen stealth technologies, including new radar-evading configurations, coating materials and advanced thermal-signature reduction are fast-approaching levels of combat readiness. Yet, absent a clear timeframe when, for example, new stealth or AI enabled sensors can ensure overmatch for decades to come, Navy developers are thinking it may make sense to push the current “art-of-the-possible” to the maximum extent. (This reblogger’s note: While China is developing revolutionary new technology for new generation of warplanes such as hypersonic ones, the US is sticking to “art of the possible” but yet impossible now.) (To Read Warrior Maven’s Report on Air Force 6th-Gen Prototyping – CLICK HERE)

This challenge, explored by a Naval Postgraduate School essay called “The 6th-Generation Quandry,” poses the question as to whether it might be equally if not more effective to postpone formal 6th-generation development until truly breakthrough advances emerge, while pursuing advanced variants of current, yet upgradable platforms in the interim.

The 2016 paper, from the Naval Postgraduate School Acquisition Research Program, cites a handful of current systems showing significant long-term promise. The paper sites “new models of the F-35 optimized for air combat,” the emerging B-21, drone-launching C-130 “mother ships” and “weapons truck arsenal planes” are positioned to optimize current technological progress.

These systems, including a B-52-like arsenal plane, unmanned fighter jets, AI-empowered sensors and new weapons with unprecedented range are designed to accommodate new iterations of AI, processing speeds, software upgrades and other incremental improvements.

According to this logic, there simply might not be enough of a margin of difference in performance between the best upgraded platforms of today – and something entirely new which could be built in the next 10 years or so.

Could these upgradable systems, fortified by new-iterations of stealth technology now being woven into the B-21, themselves be sufficient to propel naval aviation superiority for decades? This would alleviate the risk and expense of pursuing something truly “breakthrough” in the near term, potentially freeing up funding and resources to explore paradigm-changing air-fighter technologies for the long term.

Furthermore, current sensors, avionics and weapons systems are increasingly AI-reliant, a circumstance which makes it easier to greatly improve performance by integrating new algorithms, analytics or processing speed. In effect, all of this raises the question as to whether an entirely new airframe is truly needed to achieve overmatch in coming decades? By 2030?

These questions seem to be informing the current Navy rationale, which is to look at both new airframes as well as adaptations of the best of what’s available. The latter option brings its own advantages, because various industry developers are already building prototypes of 6th-Gen fighters with newly designed, stealthier airframes. Looking at applications of AI, miniaturized long-range sensors, targeting technology and drones operating with ever-increasing levels of autonomy – some contend that perhaps some of the most essential ingredients of long-term transformational technologies are, in effect, already here. This would be the basis upon which a nearer-term aircraft, drawing from some off-the-shelf-items, would be pursued.

Some of these decisions are also expected to be impacted by the success with which the Navy is able to keep extending the combat service life of the F/A-18. The Navy’s F/A-18 Service Life Extension Program has already extended the aircraft’s initial plans to fly 6,000 flight hours to 8,000 hours through a series of upgrades. Now, looking at the airframes and the state of cutting-edge avionics, the service is hoping to push its fleet of F/A-18s to 10,000 hours.

Navy officials tell Warrior these upgrades are significant and, in many cases, can bring the F/A-18 combat performance well into the future. Some of the adjustments start with the airframes themselves; Service Life “Assessment” Programs look to possibly replace the center “barrel” of the airframe and analyze the fatigue of the Nacelle (engine coating or skin), service officials say.

The F/A-18 upgrades also add new navigation technology, digital memory devices, mission computers, helmet-mounted cueing systems, Electronically Scanned Array Radar and an advanced targeting sensor called Infrared Search and Track, As a passive sensor, IRST enables better targeting while not emitting a signal, making it vulnerable to enemy electronic warfare attacks.

All Paths Point to 6th-Gen AI

There is widespread consensus that applications of AI appear to provide the framework for the most defining expected technological progress. In fact, a 2017 paper from a 16-nation NATO conglomerate of analysts, called the Joint Air Power Competence Center, raises questions about when, and how, AI may outpace the human ability to keep up. The essay, titled “Air Warfare Communication in a Networked Environment,” quotes Air Force Acquisition Executive William Roper from his previous role directing the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, saying “AI is progressing beyond the human ability to interface with it.”

For instance, “smart sensors” able to gather, analyze and organize vast volumes of combat information in milliseconds, using AI-fortified algorithms, are now being built into airframes themselves to combine new sensing technology without increasing an aircraft’s radar signature. The absence of an external antenna, pod or structured array of some kind removes otherwise more radar-detectable structures from an airframe.

Smart sensors and smart antenna arrays with adaptive properties would be embedded into the structure of an aircraft,” an essay from Jain University’s International Institute for Aerospace Engineering states. ( “Sensor Technology and Futuristic Of Fighter Aircraft, “ Jain Univ).

At the same time, while massive increases in sensor ranges, data-sharing and long-range connectivity will continue to bring as-of-yet unprecedented advantages to warfare operations, there are also challenges which emerge as combat becomes more networked. Referring to this phenomenon as creating clusters of “embedded ISR,” the Joint Air Power Competence Center paper warns of security risks and what it calls “hyper-connectivity.”

New much-longer range sensors and weapons, incorporating emerging iterations of AI, are expected to make warfare more disaggregated, and much less of a linear force on force type of engagement. Such a phenomenon, driven by new technology, underscores warfare reliance upon sensors and information networks. All of this, naturally, requires the expansive “embedded ISR” discussed by the paper. Network reliant warfare is of course potentially much more effective in improving targeting and reducing sensor-to-shooter time over long distances, yet it brings a significant need to organize and optimize the vast, yet crucial, flow of information.

Not everybody in the network needs to see and hear everything. There needs to be a hierarchy, and a backup architecture for degraded network operations,” the paper writes.

These types of challenges, wherein vast amounts of ISR data needs to be aggregated, analyzed and organized, are precisely what AI and high-speed processing can address. Using advanced algorithms and real-time analytics, computing power can instantly identify and disseminate key moments or items of combat relevance, thereby establishing priorities and massively quickening the human decision cycle.

AI-informed combat decisions, enabled by accelerated real-time analytics, allow human decision makers to draw upon otherwise inaccessible pools of data. Algorithms can integrate new information, instantly compare it against vast amounts of stored data, and come to informed conclusions without requiring human intervention. Often referred to as easing the “cognitive burden,” AI and iterations of man-machine interface, can perform time-consuming or otherwise impossible information-analysis tasks, all while a human functions as ultimate decision-maker in a command and control role. While AI is quickly advancing toward being able to discern and organize seemingly subjective information, there are many decision-making abilities and problem solving faculties regarded as unique to human cognition.

Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics& Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at National TV networks. He has a Masters in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: BAE.

Source: National Interest “See Ya, F-35: The Navy’s 6th Generation Fighter Could Make Everything Obsolete”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


RIP, Aircraft Carriers and Submarines: How Much of the U.S. Navy is Obsolete?


Are America’s submarines and aircraft carriers out of place?

A US aircraft carrier. Media: Reuters

by Harry J. Kazianis January 3, 2020

Key Point: The Pentagon is already refocusing itself on how to deploy power projection in the Pacific.

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The nuclear-powered submarine. Ultra-advanced stealth bombers and fighters. These all represent the most lethal, sophisticated and expensive weapons in the U.S. military’s mighty arsenal—and they might soon all be close to obsolete.

Well, at least if certain technological trends bear fruit, according to a number of think-tank reports, research studies and in-depth essays that have been published over the last year.

And while it might not all come to pass, or at least not right away and certainly not all at once, the trend lines are clear: America’s military, if it wants to retain its unrivaled dominance on the battlefields of the future, will need to do a great deal of soul searching and investment to maintain its edge over nations like Russia, China and many others in the years to come.

The aircraft carrier, a symbol of American naval and overall power projection capabilities, seems under the most threat of being rendered a relic of the past. Almost every week, a new report casts a dark shadow on the future of this important U.S. military asset.

Take, for example, the recent report released by the Center for New American Security (CNAS) smartly titled, “Red Alert: The Growing Threat to U.S. Aircraft Carriers.” Author Kelley Sayler, an associate fellow at CNAS, argues that “the short, medium, and long-range threats to the carrier–including SAMs and other anti-access/area denial capabilities (A2/AD), in which China is investing heavily” will create a situation where American carriers “will not be able to act with impunity in the event of future conflict.” As Sayler explains in great detail in her report, carriers

will face a dense and growing threat across their full range of operations as A2/AD systems continue to proliferate. Operating the carrier in the face of increasingly lethal and precise munitions will thus require the United States to expose a multibillion-dollar asset to high levels of risk in the event of a conflict. Indeed, under such circumstances, an adversary with A2/AD capabilities would likely launch a saturation attack against the carrier from a variety of platforms and directions. Such an attack would be difficult—if not impossible—to defend against.”

And as Slater points out, China is increasingly able to target U.S. carriers at range (and well past the ability of their carrier strike aircraft to safely attack from out of range):

China appears intent upon increasing its ASBM [anti-ship ballistic missile] capabilities further and, at a recent military parade commemorating the end of World War II, revealed that it may have an ASBM variant of a substantially longer-range missile—the DF-26. As with the DF-21D, estimates of the capabilities of the DF-26 vary widely; however, it is thought to have a range of 1,620 to 2,160 nm and to have both conventional and nuclear warheads. If accurate and operational, this system would give China the ability to strike targets within the second island chain – including those in and around the U.S. territory of Guam – as well as those throughout the entirety of the Bay of Bengal. In the event of a wider conflict, these systems could also reach targets throughout much, if not all, of the Arabian Sea.”

U.S. Subs Face New Challenges

As for America’s nuclear-powered submarine force, the threats to its continued dominance in undersea warfare seem a little more further off, but nonetheless, something that must be planned for.

Once again, the Washington-based think-tank universe provides us some important clues concerning the challenges ahead. In a report by the always smart Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), as well as in a follow on piece in this publication partly excerpted below, CSBA Senior Fellow Bryan Clark lays out the challenge to America’s submarine force:

Since the Cold War, submarines, particularly quiet American ones, have been considered largely immune to adversary A2/AD capabilities. But the ability of submarines to hide through quieting alone will decrease as each successive decibel of noise reduction becomes more expensive and as new detection methods mature that rely on phenomena other than sounds emanating from a submarine. These techniques include lower frequency active sonar and non-acoustic methods that detect submarine wakes or (at short ranges) bounce laser or light-emitting diode (LED) light off a submarine hull. The physics behind most of these alternative techniques has been known for decades, but was not exploited because computer processors were too slow to run the detailed models needed to see small changes in the environment caused by a quiet submarine. Today, ‘big data’ processing enables advanced navies to run sophisticated oceanographic models in real time to exploit these detection techniques. As they become more prevalent, they could make some coastal areas too hazardous for manned submarines.”

From there the problem gets worse. Clark’s CSBA report sees even more problems ahead:

New sensors and related improvements to torpedo seekers could enable completely new approaches to finding and attacking submarines. Most significantly, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) forces could shift away from today’s skill- and labor-intensive tactics that result from the short detection range of sensors that are precise enough to support ASW engagements. This limitation requires ASW ships and aircraft to methodically search a wide area for a submarine, then track it until they can get within weapons range for an attack. New sensor and seeker capabilities could instead enable a “fire and forget” approach in which ASW forces detect a submarine at long range and apply computer processing to obtain enough precision for an attack using long-range missiles with torpedo warheads. This kind of attack may not sink the submarine, but would likely compel it to at least evade, breaking its initiative and making it more detectable.”

RIP Stealth?

Finally, we come to America’s growing fleet of stealth fighters and long-range bombers. It seems advances in new types of radars could provide the targeting information needed to take down some of Washington’s most advanced aircraft—and most expensive.

As National Interest Defense Editor, Dave Majumdar, points out, “China appears to be building a new high-frequency radar on an artificial feature in the Spratly Islands that could allow Beijing to track even the stealthiest American warplanes, including the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and even the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit.” He explains, in greater detail, that:

While the system is called a high-frequency (HF) radar—that’s bit of a misnomer. HF radars actually operate on low frequencies relative to the VHF, UHF, L, S, C, X and Ku bands, which are more typically used by military radars. These low frequencies have waves that are several meters long and, consequently, most stealth aircraft show up on HF radar. In order to defeat low frequency radar, a stealth aircraft has to eliminate features like fins, which is why the flying-wing shape is the best way available to avoid detection. That is because there is an omnidirectional resonance effect that occurs when a feature on an aircraft—such as a tail-fin—is less than eight times the size of a particular frequency wavelength. As a result, there is a step change in radar cross section once that threshold is exceeded. Since every stealth aircraft currently in America’s fleet exceeds that threshold—even the B-2 is not large enough to avoid most HF radars—every U.S. aircraft would show up on the Chinese radar. Indeed—all stealth aircraft will show up at some frequency.”

How Should America Respond?

So what is Washington doing about the threats listed above?

First off, when it comes to America’s carriers, it should be noted that no one really knows how deadly China’s anti-ship missiles, especially at long-ranges, would be in a real firefight. For example, can Beijing find a U.S. carrier in the massive Pacific Ocean? Can they defeat American missile defenses? And as for the case of the dangers poised to advanced submarines, at least as of now, such threats are more on the drawing board than a clear and present danger. As for the challenges posed to stealth, that seems a more realistic and present-day challenge U.S. officials will have to deal with. (They seem to be working on negating the challenge as we speak).

However, there is a clear recognition in the Pentagon that America’s chief competitors, namely great power challengers like China and Russia, are catching up to many of the U.S. military’s chief abilities to project power or are quickly finding ways to negate such capabilities. While the Obama Administration’s recent budget request does smartly increase funding for research and development, I can’t help but wonder if such investments might be too little, too late. There is also the very real possibility that a new administration will have its own priorities, slowing down or possibly cancelling any modernization efforts that could make a real difference. In fact, members on Capitol Hill seem to take such a possibility seriously. As Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee, recently explained,

This budget request is a good step in tackling the modernization challenges of the Department. Activities like the Third Offset Strategy and the Long Range Research and Development Plan are important to charting a course that takes a strategic view of the security environment; however, I remain concerned that it is too little too late. As I see it, starting major initiatives at the end of an administration makes it difficult to ensure that these things will survive the new budgetary and policy priorities that will naturally arise with a new President. I hope I am wrong, since I support many of the things being proposed in this budget request, but only time will tell.”

Indeed, only time will tell.

This piece was first featured in February 2016 and is being republished due to reader interest.

Source: National Interest “RIP, Aircraft Carriers and Submarines: How Much of the U.S. Navy is Obsolete?”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


Why the U.S. Navy Should Fear China’s Submarine Fleet


It might get something critical: bases overseas.

by Lyle J. Goldstein April 26, 2019

For American strategists, there certainly are troubling implications.

Between major decisions on a new deployment to Afghanistan and a wholly new Persian Gulf crisis, not to mention the boiling crises in Syria and North Korea, Washington strategists can be forgiven for putting China’s naval buildup on the back burner. As Beijing fills the “near seas”—and now the “far seas”—with new frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers, the orientation and larger strategy guiding its future submarine force remains an open question that this column has tried to focus on. Moreover, the tendency of Washington analysts has been, rather predictably, to exaggerate the potential threat posed by China’s naval buildup; this columnist has repeatedly argued against that tendency.

Objective assessments of China’s rapid naval modernization must be based on the best possible information regarding the Chinese Navy’s objectives and future plans. An early 2017 paper published as the lead article in a prestigious naval research journal and written by research personnel at the Qingdao Submarine Academy [海军潜艇学院] provides such a baseline document to evaluate Beijing’s developing undersea ambitions. Some of the revelations detailed below are sure to exhilarate Washington’s many hawks, such as the declared imperatives for Chinese submarines as “offensive forces [进攻性兵种]” to operate on “exterior lines [外线兵种]” to “actively defend the ‘Belt and Road’ [积极维护 ‘一带一路’],” to mix it up with adversary ASW forces to gain intelligence [侦察] about enemy doctrine and capabilities, not to mention hints regarding the future overseas supply [海外保障] of Chinese submarines and expected emphasis on developing nuclear submarine capabilities as an “assassin’s mace” [杀手锏] for far-seas operations.

(This first appeared in June 2017.)

Yet before broaching these points, one should stop and sincerely congratulate the Chinese Navy for so openly discussing such issues. The paper under discussion here represents a significant stride forward for Chinese military transparency, and most Western naval strategists would admit that such a document, while quite unusual in the Chinese context, would not be out of place in U.S. Navy doctrinal statements. In other words, China is hardly the only country to have grandiose undersea ambitions—even if they are still fairly new to the game.

With a nod to the history of the PLA Navy and its unique experience with submarines, the Qingdao Submarine Academy (hereafter QSA) authors assert that a new era requires new thinking, and so they wish to promote transformative concepts and innovation. They suggest that two major ideas from the past need to be shelved and replaced. One idea that dates from the PLA Navy’s strategy of “coastal defense [近海防御]” is the notion that submarines are primarily defensive platforms that have the primary mission of “watching the house and guarding the courtyard [看家护院].” Another dated strategic idea that the QSA authors wish to dispense with is the strategic concept that Chinese submarines should only operate “near to the island chain [岛连附近活动].” Instead, this piece advocates strongly for an expansive, even global submarine strategy, as implied by the research paper’s title: “Several Thoughts on Advancing the Submarine Force to the Far Seas [推进潜艇兵力走向远洋的几点思考].”

As for developing a rationale for this expanding role, the article reliably cites the pronouncement of the Eighteenth Party Congress that China should become a maritime power [海洋强国]. Also predictably, it includes discussion of China’s booming maritime trade and the new requirements to protect this trade. “As national maritime interests are expanding continuously, the ocean’s significance for the survival of the Chinese nation is more and more important,” the QSA authors explain. Without mentioning the “Malacca Dilemma” explicitly, the vulnerability of China’s lengthy maritime “strategic energy corridor [能源战略通道]” is outlined. They assert, moreover, that China faces a definite external threat and must therefore expand it maritime strategic space, observing: “At bases in both Northeast Asia and in Southeast Asia, as well as the base on Guam, the US has deployed advanced air and sea forces in order to control our country’s maritime passages out into the Pacific. By constructing strategic arcs to contain our country, our space for maritime activities has been strictly confined.”

It is, moreover, asserted that the United States and Japan have developed an elaborate antisubmarine system that aims to a “permanent blockade [永远地封锁]” of Chinese submarines within the first island chain. At this point, the authors state emphatically: “[China’s] submarine forces must not only go the Asia-Pacific, [but] they must also go to the Indian Ocean, and then they must go to the Atlantic and to the Arctic Oceans. In this way, the current operational problems of submarine operations can be alleviated and it will also provide a vast maritime strategic space for our country’s rise […可有效缓解我国当面海区潜艇兵力活动困难, 也能为我大国崛起提供广阔的海洋战略空间].” Elsewhere, I have pointed out the likelihood that Chinese periscopes will soon be found in the Atlantic, and here is rather concrete evidence of such intentions directly from the Chinese submarine force itself.

If that’s not a big enough bombshell (or depth charge), this document contains another hint that China might pursue foreign basing for its submarine force. This column has drawn attention recently to other bits of Chinese evidence suggesting this possibility. Here, the QSA researchers argue: “Currently, our submarine base ports are all located along our ocean borderline, which is rather far from the distant seas submarine operational sea areas. Moreover, the speed of the submarine force is relatively slow, especially conventional submarines, so that the submarines’ actual operating time is too short. This significantly diminishes the actual impact of the submarine force going to the distant seas.” Interestingly, a similar argument is often made regarding U.S. submarine-force basing patterns with respect to transit times and time on station.

Then, the Chinese analysts make the rather startling assertion that “as the submarine force ‘goes out,’ it is necessary to insist on overseas support, and also the principle of economizing the force. The Navy command should secure equipment and logistics for the submarine force abroad for the purpose of increasing the time of the submarine force in the distant seas [潜艇兵力 ‘走出去’ 必须坚持海外保障, 节约兵力的原则, 海军指挥机关应能实现在海外对潜的装备和后勤保障, 才能有效地提高潜艇兵力在远海大洋的存在时间].” On the one hand, this language permits a simple continuation of current practices, wherein the Chinese submarine force makes ever more frequent port visits abroad. However, the notion of “overseas support” [海外保障] and the plausible rationale of simply trying to save on fuel, wear and tear, and so on does seem to open the door to the semipermanent basing of Chinese submarines in distant countries.

Yet another fascinating and innovative part of this exposition of future Chinese submarine doctrine is the twin emphasis on realistic training, as well as the more sensitive guidance regarding intelligence gathering and interactions with adversary forces. The authors advise that Chinese submarines operating in the distant seas must “drill for real combat [实战训练],” undertaking training for submarine-versus-submarine battle, as well as clashes of submarines against surface ships and, not surprisingly, submarines against aircraft carrier battle groups too. Somewhat less obvious, however, is the recommendation to practice submarines laying mines [潜艇布雷], submarine defense against enemy ASW aircraft [潜艇对敌反潜飞机防御], submarine delivery of special forces [潜艇输送特种兵] and submarine intelligence gathering [潜艇侦察]. They must be prepared, according to the analysis, to penetrate enemy harbors and operate near straits. In one of the most interesting passages, the authors underline the importance of gathering “temperature and climactic data, so that our environmental databases and our tactical sonar databases have a main foundation for wartime target discernment and thus provide the information guarantee for future combat.” In another surprising candid passage, they explain: “In the course of undertaking far seas operations, there well may be close interactions that are intentional and involve potential adversaries, for example track and trail operations, or evading tracking operations, etc. Such contacts could also involve familiarization with adversary weapons systems, basic tactics, and anti-submarine patterns [可有意识地与作战对手进行接触, 跟踪与摆脱等, 熟悉其武器性能, 基本战法, 反潜样式].” These operations “may help to accumulate experience with [near] combat [conditions], creating a basis for future defensive combat in the far seas.”

A final illuminating point from this Chinese naval analysis concerns the future mix of conventional and nuclear submarines and their respective roles in far-seas operations. The authors note that the current Chinese submarine force looks like neither the American model (all nuclear boats), nor even the Russian model (nuclear and conventional with an emphasis on the former). The Chinese submarine force has, like Russia, both types of submarines, of course, but the main force is comprised of increasingly quiet and stealthy diesel-electric (conventional) submarines [常为主]. The article states clearly that both types of submarines have certain advantages that Chinese naval strategists must study and implement into its undersea strategy. However, there is a revealing recommendation: that China must avoid having nuclear submarines that constitute a “large effort put to small use [大材小用]” and conventional submarines that are “kept constantly on the run [疲于奔命].”

In other words, there is a strong suggestion here that China will begin a reorientation of its submarine force toward prioritizing nuclear-submarine deployments to meet new far-seas mission requirements. Indeed, the penultimate sentence of the QSA analysis asserts emphatically that nuclear submarines will form “the ‘assassin’s mace’ force of our navy’s expansion into the deep oceans for defense combat.”

This Chinese naval analysis, undertaken by the Qingdao Submarine Academy, offers firm evidence of China’s evolving and increasingly global undersea ambitions. For American strategists, there certainly are troubling implications—for example, the likelihood that a military conflict that ignited in the Western Pacific could spread rapidly into the Atlantic sea area, a theme I explored in more detail recently using an additional, credible Chinese evidentiary source. More obvious still are the dangers inherent in the increased intensity of cat-and-mouse games, which are set to become ever more common across the world’s oceans. Such dangerous interactions could cause tragic accidents, and also fuel crises and rivalry in unpredictable and costly directions.

There is substantial evidence in this piece that the PLA Navy has an acute sense of threat perception. The authors matter-of-factly state: “We are facing the United States’ nuclear blackmail, nuclear menace, and conventional threats [面临着美国的核讹诈、核威胁及常规威胁].” To state the obvious, exaggerating the threat or challenge posed by China’s submarine force could well intensify rivalry, and thus make the problem even worse. It is worth emphasizing that all points of doctrine advocated in this piece are ones routinely practiced by Western navies, including obviously the U.S. Navy. China is hardly alone in coming to the conclusion that formidable and wide-ranging undersea power can be an effective tool to “influence the judgements, decisions, and actions of target state authorities [影响目标国家当局的判断, 决策和行动].”

Deterrence, defense of widespread and legitimate economic interests, as well as cooperative maritime security endeavors, are all also major themes of this important doctrinal statement for the future Chinese submarine force. Thus, American strategists should take this revelation regarding Chinese undersea ambitions in stride, maintaining an open mind with respect to a greater Chinese naval presence on and indeed under the world’s oceans, even as the United States itself must energetically seeks to maintain robust undersea warfare capabilities into the future.

Lyle J. Goldstein is an associate professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. The opinions expressed in this analysis are his own and do not represent the official assessments of the U.S. Navy or any other agency of the U.S. government.

Source: National Interest “Why the U.S. Navy Should Fear China’s Submarine Fleet”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


Report: Nuclear Submarines May Be The U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier’s Worst Enemy


What should America do?

by Lyle J. Goldstein November 24, 2019

Key Point: France has found a vulnerability that America’s adversaries want to exploit.

Early in 2015, a curious and disturbing report surfaced briefly and then disappeared—almost without a trace. The report, apparently published and then quickly retracted, had been posted by the French Ministry of Defense and concerned the successful operations of the French nuclear submarine Safir in an exercise pitting it against the U.S. Navy’s Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier battle group. The somewhat shocking content of the report—that the French submarine had succeeded in sinking “half the battle group” during the exercise—may explain its rapid purging from the internet. After all, close brothers in arms may demonstrate their tactical and operational prowess in a naval drill, but they should not gloat about that, and especially not in public, right?

The revelation that a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier group could be so vulnerable to a nuclear submarine did not make the mainstream media, and no mention was made by the many attentive defense analysts on this site, so it seems. However, the Chinese defense media does not miss much, especially concerning the capabilities of U.S. Navy carrier groups. In fact, a special issue of 兵工科技 [Ordnance Industry Science and Technology] (2015, no. 8) covered this “event,” featuring an interview with Chinese Submarine Academy professor 迟国仓 [Chi Guocang] as its cover story under the title: “A Single Nuclear Submarine ‘Sinks’ Half of an Aircraft Carrier Battle Group.”

Prof. Chi makes clear that he understands that “演习无法与实战相比 [an exercise can hardly be compared to real combat] and that, moreover, he evaluates U.S. Navy anti-submarine warfare (ASW) to be a “highly efficient” and “harmonized” system comprised of multiple layers of defense for an aircraft carrier. Yet, he concludes in the interview that the French report “有比较大的可信度” [has a reasonably high degree of credibility] and this edition of Dragon Eye will examine his logic in this respect, attempting to gain insights into emergent Chinese views on the utility of nuclear submarines in modern naval warfare.

At the outset of the interview, Prof. Chi asserts that submarines are the “克星” [nemesis] of aircraft carriers. He explains that over the course of World War II, no less than seventeen aircraft carriers were sunk by submarines. With another nod to the U.S. Navy’s prowess, Prof. Chi points out that eight of those seventeen were put down by U.S. submarines. Yet the historical episode that comes up repeatedly in the interview is not from WWII, but rather the Falklands War. This short, but sharp conflict from the early 1980s seems to have had an outsized impact on Chinese naval development, yielding Beijing’s singular and relentless focus on anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) development. He demonstrates a very close study of that conflict, for example outlining the probable explanation for Argentine torpedo failures (complex and difficult hydrological conditions). He emphasizes the fact that the British nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror was able to track its prey, the General Belgrano, in that conflict over the course of fifty hours without detection before administering the coup de grace, as an example of the prowess of modern nuclear submarines. Yet he acknowledges that Argentine Navy ASW could not be compared to U.S. Navy ASW, of course.

So, the Chinese interviewer then asks bluntly: How is it that the French Navy was able to penetrate the formidable American ASW screen around the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt, allegedly “sinking” the big deck and some of its escorts too? Prof. Chi offers many hypotheses with respect to this question, but focuses in particular on the small displacement of the French submarine. He observes that the Rubis-class submarine is the world’s smallest nuclear submarine (2,670 tons submerged) and that could make it more difficult to detect. According to this Chinese expert’s analysis, the Los Angeles-class submarines protecting the aircraft carrier have about three times the displacement—placing them at a disadvantage, especially in a circumstance where both crews have a similar level of training proficiency. This is not the first time that Chinese submarine experts have admired France’s small displacement nuclear submarines, which they seem to think could be particularly well suited for the shallow waters of the Western Pacific. It is argued in this Chinese analysis, moreover, that the French submarine’s comparatively slow maximum speed (25 knots) seems hardly to be a major deficiency.

Prof. Chi makes note of the comparative weaknesses of diesel submarines. In a related point, he explains that very significant U.S. air ASW assets are quite reliant on radar detections of submarines on or near the ocean surface. Against nuclear submarines, therefore, he concludes that the air asset ASW search is “如‘大海捞针’一样难” [as difficult as fishing a needle from the vast ocean]. Other points made in this Chinese analysis include the observation that the larger the battle group, the easier it is to track this more conspicuous target at long distances. Prof. Chi also notes that the employment of ASW weaponry can inadvertently aid a submarine’s escape following an attack, because the weapons may significantly complicate the acoustic environment, thus hindering searches for the attacking submarine.

Another possible explanation for the skillful (simulated) attack of the Safir might be the French commander’s capable use of naturally occurring complex hydro-acoustic conditions. Prof. Chi describes a long list of such conditions, including well known phenomena such as “convergence zones,” “sound speed gradients,” as well as the more mysterious “cold eddy” [冷涡] and “afternoon effect” [午后较应]. Likewise, the Chinese expert mentions that weather can be a major asset for a stalking submarine as it can significantly hinder the operations of surface and especially air ASW forces without significantly impacting undersea operations.

At the end of the interview, Prof. Chi is asked whether the Soviet nuclear submarine-centric model for naval development or the American aircraft carrier group-centric model is inherently superior. But the Chinese expert rejects the question as too simplistic. He says that Soviet Admiral Sergei Gorshkov wanted a “balanced fleet,” but Moscow’s efforts in the naval realm ultimately fell short of that aspiration. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy, Chi contends, did succeed in this endeavor, so that the Washington’s fleet has “作战实力和能力无人能比” [combat power and capabilities without any peer] across all domains of naval warfare. It is likely positive from a deterrence perspective that Chinese experts have such esteem for American naval prowess, of course, but the article also illustrates how Chinese military analysts are diligently probing for cracks in the U.S. Navy’s armor, as they seek to develop their own naval capabilities that likewise cause “有人敬畏,有人怕” [people to admire and people to fear].

Lyle J. Goldstein is Associate Professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI. The opinions expressed in this analysis are his own and do not represent the official assessments of the U.S. Navy or any other agency of the U.S. Government. This first appeared in late 2015 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Source: National Interest “Report: Nuclear Submarines May Be The U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier’s Worst Enemy”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


Underwater Stealth: Are Ultraquiet Submarines Coming to China’s Navy?


Trouble.

by James Holmes November 23, 2019

Key point: Even if Beijing has not had such a breakthrough, China should be taken seriously as a naval power.

Word has it that China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) has staged a breakthrough in submarine propulsion. At any rate, that’s the word from marine engineer Rear Admiral Ma Weiming, a specialist in electromagnetic systems. Admiral Ma recently reported on state-run CCTV that shipwrights are installing shaftless rim-driven pumpjets in China’s “next-generation nuclear submarines,” meaning attack or ballistic-missile boats. (Click here for a layman’s description of pumpjet technology.) Ma crowed that Chinese engineers are “now way ahead of the United States, which has also been developing similar technology.”

If Admiral Ma is playing it straight—rather than hyping promising but yet-to-be-proven gadgetry—then the PLA Navy is poised to overcome a technological and tactical defect that has plagued it since its founding. American submariners long lampooned Soviet and Chinese nuclear boats for being noisy and easy to detect. PLA Navy boats remained backward long after the Cold War. Ultraquiet propulsion, though, would put an end to unquestioned U.S. acoustic supremacy, opening up new operational and strategic vistas before the PLA Navy while ushering in a deadlier phase of U.S.-China strategic competition.

The rim-driven pumpjet is an electrically driven “propulsor” that simplifies and thus quiets an engineering plant. Older technology typically uses gears to connect the elements of a drive train. Steam spins the innards of high-speed turbines. Turbines spin far too fast for any main propulsion shaft or propeller, however, so ships outfitted with traditional engineering plants have “main reduction gears” that step down the speed of rotation drastically, to speeds useful for the shaft that turns the screw and impels the hull through the water. Gears are noisemakers. Pumpjet technology dispenses with them, simplifying and silencing plant operations.

The design also reduces cavitation—bubbles churned up when a propeller turns rapidly underwater, leaving low-pressure zones behind the blades where water can boil. Cavitation emits noise that enemy sonar operators may hear. Thus it can alert hostile anti-submarine-warfare (ASW) forces, helping them find, track and target the emitter. Hence the allure of novel technology that suppresses cavitation.

Now, there are ample grounds for skepticism toward Admiral Ma’s claims. New technology remains a hypothesis until tested out in real-world operations. But at the same time it’s doubtful Ma was simply showboating for Chinese TV viewers. Rising competitors have caught up with established navies before, or even leapfrogged them in certain areas. The Imperial Japanese Navy defied expectations, devising the Long Lance torpedo that it deployed to devastating effect at Pearl Harbor. The Soviet Navy concocted antiship missiles and torpedoes that give the U.S. Navy fits to this day. Thus it behooves us to ask what if: what if China pulls off a technological leap of similar magnitude?

Set aside the question of whose submarines are quieter than whose. Boastfulness—the urge to be the biggest, best and most of everything, and to have others acknowledge it—forms a strand in China’s cultural DNA. Ma is indulging in it. But no one is going to hold a contest to measure noise given off by U.S. Navy and PLA Navy boats, and award victory to the quietest fleet. Combat is the true arbiter of military effectiveness—and undersea combat hinges on whether “hiders” or “finders” prevail. It pits a sub’s capacity for silent running against the acuity of ASW sensors and operators trying to ferret it out.

In other words, if American hiders remain quiet enough to evade Chinese finders, they hold the advantage of stealth. If acoustics has befriended the PLA Navy, then American finders have a problem. And if both submarine services can elude ASW hunters, then both they and surface fleets are in dire peril. “Peer” submarines could engage one another at close proximity in the deep, or strike against surface vessels without warning. Indeed, the surface of embattled oceans could verge on no-go territory. That prospect makes this thought experiment about the future of subsurface warfare worthwhile.

Suppose rim-driven pumpjet propulsors do pan out for China’s navy. How might commanders use newly elusive boats? First of all, they might afford nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs, known to U.S. submariners as “boomers”) precedence when installing newfangled propulsion hardware. The PLA Navy already operates a sizable fleet of diesel-electric attack subs that satisfices for antiaccess/area-denial purposes. They can make shift until silent-running nuclear-powered attack subs (SSNs) join the fleet. SSNs can wait. By contrast, the navy stands at the brink of fielding its first effective SSBNs.

Fabricating a new capability would seem to take precedence over improving an old but adequate one—especially if the nation’s nuclear deterrent depends on the new capability. If this logic prevails, how will the PLA Navy employ working boomers? To all appearances, it envisions employing the South China Sea as an offshore “bastion” for SSBNs, much as the Soviet Navy of yesteryear made semienclosed waters into protected bastions for its missile boats. Undersea deterrence, then, probably numbers among the motives impelling the PLA to transform rocks and atolls into fortified outposts, acquaint itself with underwater hydrography, and so forth. China’s Type 094 SSBNs or their pumpjet-equipped descendants could slip out of the sub base on Hainan Island, descend into South China Sea waters, lose themselves in the depths and dare rival navies to come into China’s “near seas”—expanses that fall under the shadow of land-based PLA missiles and aircraft—to hunt them.

Or if Chinese Communist Party leaders feel comfortable granting SSBN skippers the liberty to venture outside the near seas (though that’s a lot of atomic firepower to entrust to a naval officer whose loyalties might prove suspect), the Luzon Strait affords a convenient entryway to the western Pacific. Within the strait lies the Bashi Channel, a deep underwater thoroughfare into the Pacific. The weather between Luzon and the southern tip of Taiwan often works against airborne ASW; subs transiting the channel can conceal their whereabouts by diving beneath thermal layers that play tricks with sound. An ultraquiet SSBN, in short, could thrive in South China Sea patrol grounds—and beyond.

Second, PLA Navy commanders doubtless salivate at the prospect of ultraquiet attack boats. They could merge new SSNs—presumably the Type 095s under development—into their antiaccess defenses against the U.S. Pacific Fleet. They could package new with old units inventively. For example, they could station a picket line of diesel boats and older Type 093 SSNs along likely axes of approach from Hawaii or U.S. West Coast seaports. Speedy but quiet Type 095s could act as “skirmishers,” operating forward of the pickets. SSNs could snipe at the Pacific Fleet’s flanks during its westward voyage while scouting for the rest of the fleet, and for shore-based PLA defenders. They could mount piecemeal attacks against the American fleet, or even try to herd it toward the picket line for additional punishment.

PLA commanders thus could use ultramodern platforms to wring new value out of legacy platforms. Such an approach would harness the latest technology while staying true to China’s Maoist tradition of “active defense.” Active defense—which, as Chinese military folk remind us, remains the “essence” of Chinese military strategy decades after Mao Zedong’s demise—envisions luring foes deep into Chinese-held territory. PLA defenders stage tactical actions to weary enemies as they come. They fall on isolated units and try to smash them. Successive small-scale attacks enfeeble enemy forces, setting the stage for decisive battle on Chinese ground.

Think about the options that may become available to Chinese skippers as propulsor technology matures. Diesel boats could act as western Pacific pickets, or congregate in wolfpacks to concentrate firepower from multiple axes. Relatively noisy Type 093s could act as decoys, distracting American ASW hunters while Type 095s spring ambushes at opportune moments. And on and on. Commanders could combine and recombine forces in limitless ways—in keeping with China’s way of war.

Call it undersea active defense.

Third, the advent of quiet-running SSNs would let the PLA Navy play submarine-on-submarine games reminiscent of those once played by U.S. and Soviet boats. To date, lacking a peer to U.S. Navy Los Angeles– or Virginia-class SSNs, the PLA Navy has employed its submarine fleet mainly as an antisurface force. It waits offshore for hostile forces to approach, then does its best to pummel them with missiles or torpedoes. American submariners, by contrast, will tell you the best ASW weapon is another submarine. They view hunting subs as their chief contribution to high-seas warfare. Chinese submariners might follow suit if their boats ran quiet enough, and boasted sensors sensitive enough, to make sub-on-sub ASW an option. Or they might incorporate ASW into their operational portfolio while retaining the emphasis on antiship missions.

Either way, PLA submarine operations would take on an intensely offensive hue. No longer would the sub force be a mostly static force lofting antiship missiles toward adversary surface task forces. It would seek out adversary subs as well—and, if successful, project China’s antiaccess defenses into the depths in a serious way for the first time. No longer could the United States’ silent service prowl Asian waters with impunity. Indeed, if both fleets were comparable in stealth, cat-and-mouse games might predominate. This would be a dangerous business. Reaction times would be minimal if boats could only detect and track one another at intimate range. Proximity would magnify the prospect of collisions, accidents of other types, or even inadvertent exchanges of fire. Both navies and their political masters must think ahead about how to manage close-quarters encounters in the deep.

And fourth, the debut of pumpjet-equipped SSNs would empower Beijing to mount a standing presence in faraway recesses of the South China Sea and Indian Ocean for the first time. Diesel boats have ventured into the “far seas” in recent years, but they must put into port at regular intervals to refuel. This exposes them to detection. SSNs can remain at sea, and undersea, as long as their food and stores hold out. The crew—not the engineering plant—thus constitutes the limiting factor on a nuclear-powered boat’s at-sea endurance. The Indian Navy has taken notice of PLA Navy forays into India’s home region, and grasps the implications of high-tech Chinese SSNs cruising the Indian Ocean. Indeed, some Indian mariners deem such a presence a red line for competition between the two navies.

It can be no accident, then, that there’s an antisubmarine flair to this summer’s Malabar exercises among the Indian Navy, U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. All three navies dispatched aircraft carriers for maneuvers for the first time. The Japanese flattop JS Izumo is a euphemistically dubbed “helicopter destroyer” optimized for hunting submarines. What hostile subs may lurk in the Bay of Bengal, where the exercises are underway, apart from China’s? Hider-finder competition, it seems, has come to the Indian Ocean.

Does new engineering technology herald an age of Chinese maritime supremacy? Of course not. Carl von Clausewitz portrays martial strife as constant struggle between “wrestlers” striving to “throw” each other for strategic gain. That goes for acoustic one-upmanship as well. One contender innovates; the other resolves to outdo it. It appears, consequently, that more equal undersea competition lies in store. To prepare for it, U.S. Navy submariners must learn to think of PLA Navy subs not as prey to be devoured by American predators but as worthy foes, capable of some sub hunting of their own. The silent service must adjust to the new, old reality of peer competition beneath the waves.

The game’s afoot.

James Holmes is professor of strategy at the Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific (second edition forthcoming 2018). The views voiced here are his alone.

This first appeared in 2017.

Source: National Interest “Underwater Stealth: Are Ultraquiet Submarines Coming to China’s Navy?”

Note: This is National Interests article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the articles views.