Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Time to Re-Task, Downsize, and Re-Engineer the SSN, Part II

Read Part One here.

By Duane J. Truitt

As discussed in Part I, it is clear that NAVSEA needs to undertake a project now to completely re-engineer the next generation of SSNs. The old bloated SSN(X) (now “New SSN”) concept should be rejected entirely because it is more of the same, but bigger and more expensive. Instead, the Navy should go for a new class of SSN that is far smaller and cheaper than the current Block 5 Virginias. 

The key components of a reimagined, redesigned “compact” SSN include four major changes from existing SSN designs. Namely, it can refocus the SSN and its systems on its original roles of anti-shipping and ISR, eliminating the vertical launch tubes and enhancing the horizontal launch tube systems. It can re-engineer the nuclear power plants to result in power plants that are safer, simpler, more compact, and cheaper to build and operate. It can also re-engineer the rest of the SSN systems to increase automation, optimize crew work processes, and to reduce the total required ship’s complement. Finally, it can modernize and revise the SSN’s weapons system to provide a wider range of weapons capability and increase the number of warshots deployable in a compact hull form

The net result of the proposed changes should be a more effective, more capable, yet smaller and cheaper SSN that the U.S. Navy can afford to build and operate in numbers sufficient to meet existing and growing near-peer naval challenges of the mid-21st century. Such a submarine would be expected to displace well under 5,000 tons.

In recognition that major ship class redesigns with “great leap forward” technology improvements carry additional development risk and incur longer development timeframes, it is good practice for the Navy to pursue these advances in a relatively small block build or in technology insertion increments (as used on the Virginia-class boats).

The proposed Next Gen “New SSN” class should consist of the following minimum of two blocks.

Block I

Set an overall objective for Block I to build a new SSN of not more than 4,500 tons, but less if feasible, and a crew size of not more than 70 officers and sailors, and less if achievable. The design should strive to reduce the volume of operations spaces, engineering spaces, crews’ quarters, storage, and support spaces accordingly. Total construction cost should aim for significantly less than $2 billion each in 2019 dollars. 

The ship should include a new secondary propulsion plant system utilizing hybrid drive – i.e., eliminating the main propulsion turbines and reduction gears, and utilizing only two relatively large turbo-generators with electric drive, as used on the Colombia SSBN class design. This design provides a significant noise reduction and propulsion plant size reduction. It can also consider using a shrouded propulsor with built-in electric motor external to the pressure hull. The new design can include a new reactor plant with next-gen automation and design simplification, as a scaled-down version of the USS Gerald R. Ford A1B plant design.Consider, and develop as available, alternatives to conventional lead acid battery banks for emergency power generation, including use of next-gen hydrogen fuel cells and/or advanced battery technology to increase power availability in event of a prolonged reactor shutdown, and/or to provide enhanced quiet operations for limited periods of time.

The new design should retain the standard 21-inch torpedo tubes for use with heavyweight torpedoes (Mk 48 ADCAP) and submarine launched cruise missiles (i.e., Maritime Tomahawk ASCMs, Naval Strike Missiles, etc.) relevant to surface ship attack. It should also add new 13-inch torpedo tubes to deploy Mk 46/54 lightweight torpedoes relevant to ASW. This will result in an overall increase in the number of warshots that a submarine can carry per unit hull volume. The design should also include next generation torpedo defenses including both towed passive softkill systems and hardkill kinetic weapons with respective launch tubes, as already in use on surface combatants.

Eliminate the vertical launch tubes. For those who say the Navy still cannot afford to give up the deep strike land attack mission (because of now-obsolete fears of naval irrelevance in 21st century warfare), we still have all of the existing Virginia-class boats that already have been delivered, and those that have already been ordered, including those Block 5s with VPM – which still provide a robust deep strike land attack capability in the SSN fleet today and for the next 40 years. If it is really thought necessary that the Navy provide the deep strike land attack capability from submarines, then build new SSGNs to provide that capability starting in the early 2030s as the existing SSGNs retire– that mission, however, does not require SSNs as platforms. If there is any resulting temporary “gap” in needed launchers it may be filled with surface warships and aircraft.

To be ready for unmanned systems and networked warfighting capabilities the new design should account for modularity and open architecture in submarine system interfaces (communications and combat data management systems) to enable effective networking with off-ship platforms including unmanned undersea vessels (UUV), unmanned surface vessels (USV), and aircraft, both manned and unmanned. Submarine systems must be interoperable within the evolving architecture of Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA) and Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), and be flexible within the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) doctrine.

Block 2 – Next-Gen Reactor Plant Technology Insertion

While developing and building the Block 1 new SSN, the Navy can launch a new reactor design program to adapt a generation four reactor plant to provide numerous advantages for naval submarine power over current technology pressurized water reactor (PWR) plants. Perhaps the most likely candidate is a molten salt reactor (MSR)2, which is part of the current crop of commercial generation four reactor plants already under development in the U.S. and elsewhere including the People’s Republic of China. Liquid MSR technology, in experimental reactor use since the 1960s, has several advantages over PWR plants. The reactor does not have a solid “core” that requires replacement in order to refuel the reactor, and the reactor can be refueled at will during regular maintenance availabilities. It also does not require cutting open the pressure hull or making other intrusive openings to the plant to “gas up.”  This design still delivers extremely long endurance between refueling operations, and results in a significant reduction in hull lifetime operating cost. It also provides extended hull operating lifetime without enlarging the hull to accommodate a larger reactor plant needed to yield a life-of-ship reactor.

MSR reactors are intrinsically safe unlike PWRs (there is no meltdown risk because the reactor itself, along with its fuel, is already molten), thus significantly reducing the safety requirements and operating limitations necessary with PWRs. MSR reactors also operate at one atmosphere of pressure, eliminating the need for very heavy steel reactor pressure vessels and primary coolant system components, thus significantly reducing the weight and size of the nuclear power plant. This greatly reduces the effects of thermal stress due to rapid cooldown associated with thickly walled steel pressure vessels.

MSR reactors operate at far higher temperatures than PWRs, thus allowing the use of more efficient high temperature steam secondary plants, reducing both the size and weight of the secondary plant. This also yields a much higher overall thermal efficiency for the entire power plant, meaning that a MSR plant of a given capacity in MW thermal power (MWt) produces the same motive power as a much larger PWR plant. 

MSR reactors do not need high speed main coolant pumps as do PWRs, hence are intrinsically quieter than today’s submarine power plants. MSR reactors can use a wide variety of cheaper and more widely available reactor fissionable fuels, including, amazingly enough, spent fuel from conventional PWRs, lower enriched uranium fuel, depleted uranium, and thorium. When the MSR fuel is completely spent and discarded as waste, it is far less radioactive over far shorter decay timeframes than spent fuel from conventional PWRs.

Overall, MSR reactors are significantly safer, smaller, lighter, simpler, more efficient, and cheaper than PWRs – all of which will contribute significantly to reducing the size and cost (both construction, and operating) of next gen SSNs. The end result of a successful integration of MSR technology into SSNs will be a much more compact, simplified, and capable sub in addition to being much less costly to build and operate. 

This investment in a new nuclear propulsion technology approach will undoubtedly generate lots of pushback.  People, including professionals, find comfort with the familiar, and more people than not simply dislike change because it creates uncertainty. However, nuclear propulsion itself was perceived as a big threat to the status quo by many senior leaders in the fleet and at Pentagon in the late 1940s and 1950s when Admiral Rickover upset their apple carts. Rickover managed to keep his program operational and funded by going over the heads of the senior uniforms, and cultivated “protection” from the senior uniforms via senior members of Congress who controlled naval budgets and authorizations for ship construction.

Rickover actually considered several alternative technology approaches before finally settling on a single approach via PWRs. His team developed a liquid sodium cooled reactor plant, or “Liquid Metal Fast Reactor” (LMFR) first as a prototype (S1G) in West Milton, New York, and then installed the reactor (S2G)  in a SSN, the USS Seawolf (SSN-575).  These liquid metal reactor plants enjoyed several but not all of the same advantages listed above for MSR plants, but also suffered significant limitations particular to liquid sodium that are not issues with MSR plants, including a tendency to leak, and the fire hazard presented by such leaks of liquid sodium metal. This reactor design was abandoned in 1956, and the liquid sodium reactor in Seawolf was later replaced with a PWR reactor. But today’s fourth generation MSR technology is both very different from and more advanced than that used in the early liquid sodium plants.

It is clearly time for Naval Reactors to give MSRs a very hard look, including designing, building, and operating a prototype. If it works out well, then design one into the second or a subsequent block of the new SSN submarines, likely by the late 2020s to early 2030s.  It would likely result in a smaller displacement hull with greater capability, quieter, and lower cost to build and operate than those based on traditional PWR propulsion technology. Even if MSRs are not able to deliver all that is expected, there are other fourth generation reactor technologies that may be feasible.  Even a next generation LMFR may be worth reconsideration, given what we know now that Admiral Rickover and his team at Naval Reactors did not know in the mid-1950s.

Conclusion

This block development approach to a new SSN, a next generation of smaller, more capable, and far cheaper to build and operate SSNs, will lead the U.S. Navy to building a numerically larger yet more capable SSN force. Instead of the age old “capacity vs. capability” argument between opposing sects of naval planners and advocates, the result will be both much more capacity and more capability. The proposed smaller, cheaper, yet more capable sea-control focused attack SSNs will help the U.S. cost-effectively meet the immediate and growing threat of peer naval adversary submarine fleets today and for decades to come.

Mr. Truitt is a veteran Cold War era SSN sailor, qualified nuclear reactor operator, and civilian nuclear test engineer as well as a degreed civil engineer, environmental scientist, and civil/environmental project manager with extensive experience at both naval and civilian nuclear facilities as well as military and civilian facilities development.  His interest today as an author is in forward looking military preparedness and improvements in both capacity and capability of U.S. naval forces.

Endnotes

1. A1B Reactor; https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/systems/a1b.htm

2. Albert J. Juhasz, NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio 44135; Richard A. Rarick and Rajmohan Rangarajan Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio 44115; “High Efficiency Nuclear Power Plants Using Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor Technology; https://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=20090029904 2019-04-02T18:59:43+00:00Z

Featured Image: Virginia-class submarine USS Missouri. (General Dynamics Electric Boat photo courtesy of Edward S. Gray, Secretary, Missouri (SSN-780) Commissioning Committee.)

Dominating the Anti-Ship Missile Threat Through Suppression of Enemy ISR

By Richard Mosier

Introduction

Suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD)1 is a mission based on recognizing that air defenses have become increasingly lethal, effective, and must be suppressed in order to allow air operations to be conducted with dramatically reduced loss rates. SEAD has evolved since WWII as a direct result of lessons learned in combat. It has established doctrine, established tactics, specialized force structure, specialized weapons, and trained and experienced personnel that plan and execute the mission. The U.S. Navy now faces a similar situation as the result of the dramatic increase in the numbers and sophistication of anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). The situation is summarized in the 2017 Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) fleet architecture study as follows:   

“To support deterrence by denial or punishment, American naval forces will need to operate and fight in proximity to the adversary. As described above, U.S. surface forces will face large numbers of enemy anti-ship missiles in these areas and thus require high-capacity air defenses to survive long enough to conduct their offensive missions. Active defenses may, however, be insufficient to win the ‘salvo competition’ between the enemy’s weapons systems and U.S. defenses. To reduce enemy salvos to more manageable levels, U.S. naval forces will also need to deny or degrade the enemy’s ability to find and target ships.”2

The nation that has the offensive capability to suppress an enemy’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) through physical destruction, deception, disruption, and corruption will have the critical edge  – that of superior situational awareness, a significantly reduced threat of attack, and the all-important capability to target and attack enemy ships. While one ASCM hit will severely damage or disable most surface ships, anti-ship missiles are a threat only when an enemy ship has been detected, classified and identified, located and tracked, and targeted (e.g. allocated to a land site or an air, surface or subsurface launch platform). This extended kill chain is dominated by information from ISR systems which can be destroyed or disrupted. 

To prevail in the salvo competition, the U.S. needs a robust offensive capability for Suppression of Enemy Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (SEISR). Like SEAD, this offensive capability has a preplanned and reactive component. The preplanned component achieves the greatest suppressive effect, but it has to be followed by a reactive component focused on suppression of any remaining or reconstituted ISR capacity. This component can be planned in great detail based on comprehensive intelligence analysis of the adversary’s land, air, space, undersea, and maritime surface ISR capabilities. This includes their associated communications, command and control, and intelligence analytical infrastructures. The reactive component requires current intelligence focused on enemy remaining or reconstituted ISR capabilities in order to plan and execute reactive SEISR operations. The complexity of a near-peer nation’s ISR capabilities suggest that SEISR will require a complex joint service response supported by multiple agencies to achieve the objective of reducing the ASCM threat to levels that are manageable for fleet defenses.

Building on the intelligence foundation, the mission will require an additional level of analysis to identify and assess the wide variety of possible kinetic and non-kinetic options for suppressing the wide range of enemy ISR capabilities. This analysis of suppressive options includes not only the effects of operational capabilities, but also, the identification of opportunities and the definition of requirements for new capabilities. The intelligence and effects analytical capabilities required to support the pre-planned and reactive SEISR missions will require the establishment of dedicated analytical cells that have the depth of knowledge of all aspects of enemy ISR systems and of available kinetic and non- kinetic alternatives for achieving the desired suppressive effects.

Suppression has to include a reactive component focused on suppression of enemy efforts to reconstitute or field new capabilities as the conflict evolves. Like SEAD, after the preplanned options are executed, SEISR will have a strong tactical component that drives a new near real-time intelligence and effects analytical focus, and SEISR capabilities that can be applied without delay when opportunities are presented by the enemy. SEISR will have to be animated by a forward-leaning, tactical mindset to keep up with or anticipate changing enemy ISR capabilities and methods throughout the conflict.

If effective, SEISR will reduce the ASCM threat to levels manageable by fleet non-kinetic and kinetic defenses. The non-kinetic component, often referred to as Counter ISR, will be focused on countering enemy ISR platforms and sensors, and countering launch vehicle and ASCM target acquisition systems. These non-kinetic methods range from tactics such as emissions control (EMCON) to deny detection, deception to confuse, and electronic attack against RF systems. Success is heavily dependent on having technical intelligence on enemy ASCM systems; and, the land, air, surface and subsurface ASCM launch complexes or platforms, and their surveillance, reconnaissance, and target acquisition systems, associated communications, and data links.

The key to tactical success in the defense against ASCM attack is directly dependent on the battlegroup tactical commander and his or her subordinate warfare commanders having the situational awareness that enables them to make better tactical decisions faster than the enemy. This situational awareness will be the result of the automated integration of information that is relevant to the specific commander with respect to geography, content, and timeliness.

SEAD has evolved over the past 70 years. The DoD and Navy do not have 70 years to organize and prepare for conflict against a nation with near-peer ISR and target acquisition capabilities. The SEISR mission will require an institutional focus, the rapid evolution of concepts and tactics, focused intelligence and target study support, and the development of personnel with a tailored commitment to the Counter-ISR missions.

Richard Mosier is a retired defense contractor systems engineer; Naval Flight Officer; OPNAV N2 civilian analyst; OSD SES 4 responsible for oversight of tactical intelligence systems and leadership of major defense analyses on UAVs, Signals Intelligence, and C4ISR.

References

[1] Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses — Activity that neutralizes, destroys, or temporarily degrades surface-based enemy air defenses by destructive and/or disruptive means. (JP 1-02)

[2] Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) study,  titled Restoring American Seapower: A New Fleet Architecture for the United States Navy ,  Bryan Clark, Peter Haynes, Jesse Sloman, Timothy Walton, dated 9  February 2017.

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (June 9, 2019) Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced) aboard the USS Wasp (LHD 1) work on an F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft during night time flight operations. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Kenny Nunez Bigay)

Time to Re-Task, Downsize, and Re-Engineer the SSN, Part 1

By Duane J. Truitt

The U.S. Navy is faced with several big challenges in maintaining undersea warfare dominance – the domain of the fast attack nuclear submarine or “SSN.”

These challenges include the reemergence of a near peer naval threat that is a direct challenge to the entire U.S. Navy, including our SSN force. The current and growing undersea threat includes both advanced technology attack submarines (including nuclear, diesel-electric, and air independent propulsion variants) with advanced torpedoes and cruise missiles, and much increased numbers of adversary submarines, particularly in the Indo-Pacific theater. Another challenge comes from the rapidly escalating procurement and sustainment costs of ever-larger and more complex U.S. SSNs since the end of the Cold War.

These two challenges have resulted in a very large immediate deficit in U.S. SSN numbers,1 if not capabilities, that is expected to continue for decades. The Navy’s current planned way out seems to be to simply hope for the best, that the funding will materialize to build many more of today’s very large and expensive SSNs. That plan is increasingly seen as unlikely if not impossible given existing serious constraints on U.S. defense spending.

This situation is not unique to the submarine force. The Navy’s overall force structure assessment (FSA) is undergoing a significant revision due for release later this year.2 Navy leaders including outgoing CNO ADM John Richardson and VADM Bill Merz have stated on multiple occasions that the surface fleet is going to evolve with many more small surface combatants, with enhanced capabilities, and many fewer large surface combatants. Admiral Merz stated:

“You may see the evolution over time where frigates start replacing destroyers, the Large Surface Combatant starts replacing destroyers, and in the end, as the destroyers blend away, you’re going to get this healthier mix of small and large surface combatants.”

What is driving this mix to an overall surface fleet weighted toward smaller vessels? Cost. The cost to build, and then the cost to operate and maintain vessels is necessitating this shift from the current generation of surface warships dominated by large surface combatants. The same cost factors also inhibit submarine construction and operations, too. This is in fact a rebalancing in the age-old naval argument of capability versus capacity. The rebalancing is made possible by emerging technologies that allow the Navy to package enhanced capability into smaller hull forms, and to take advantage of new capabilities in cheap yet capable unmanned vessels. Yet today, the U.S. Navy still has no “small subsurface combatant” – just the very large Virginia-class SSNs that are evolving into even larger and more expensive hulls with the Block 5 and subsequent block versions.

The U.S. has relied on its total undersea dominance for nearly three decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but that dominance is already fading, and is projected to flip upside down within the next decade. While perversely, due to the projected retirement of the rest of the aging Los Angeles-class SSNs, U.S. submarine forces will continue to fall over the same period, from 51 boats today to a projected 42 within a decade. The principle reason for the inability to build and operate the much larger SSN fleet of 66 subs that the Navy now says it needs is lack of funding. Some suggest that the answer is extending the service lives (SLEPing) of the Los Angeles-class boats, but that is not a practical solution, even in the short term, let alone the long term, since the maintenance burden for very old submarines is much higher than for new vessels. SLEPing old SSNs would only exacerbate the existing near-crisis of maintaining our these SSNs in operable condition.

Some say our small SSN fleet size is also due to a lack of “industrial capacity,” but the ability of the United States of America to ramp up its industrial capacity in times of severe military need is clearly proven in actual U.S. history throughout both World War Two, and during the long Cold War. If the funds to build all the subs that we need are actually made available, American industry will almost certainly respond, and ramp up accordingly, as proven time and time again. Make the construction dollars available on a predictable, multi-year contracting basis, and existing yards will open new lines, and/or new yards will be built, workers trained, and supply chains expanded.

In the 1960s through the mid-1970s there were six U.S. shipyards building SSNs and SSBNs, and in just 13 years of production the yards produced 39 boats, an average of three per year while at the same time producing 31 boats in multiple classes of Polaris and Poseidon SSBNs over just a five-year period. That came to on average of more than nine nuke submarines delivered per year at its peak in the mid-1960s.

As to the dollars needed for an expanded SSN fleet, the current full construction cost of a Virginia-class Block 5 SSN with Virginia Payload Module (VPM) stands at $3.2 billion in 2018 dollars. For comparison, the Sturgeon class-SSNs were built in the late 1960s for approx. $130 million each – in 2019 dollars that would be approximately $726 million – about a fourth of the cost of a Block 5 Virginia boat.

These behemoth Block 5 Virginia SSNs, at approximately 10,000 tons submerged, are more than twice the displacement of Cold War SSNs in the Skipjack-class, Permit-class, and the numerically large Sturgeon-class boats (4,300 tons submerged displacement). And to make matters more challenging, current naval plans for the next generation SSN, now dubbed “New SSN”3 suggest an even larger attack submarine, perhaps 12,000 tons and likely to cost $4 billion to $6 billion or more in 2018 dollars (and not entering the fleet for a decade or more) to build, and similarly expensive to operate. The Seawolf-class of SSNs were of approximately the same displacement, and the very high cost associated with building and operating the Seawolf SSNs encouraged limiting the class of boats to three hulls after the end of the Cold War.

The attack submarine Seawolf (SSN-21) conducts her first at-sea trial operation, following her early morning departure 3 July 1996, from the Naval Submarine Base, Groton, Conn. (General Dynamics photo)

Note that not only does raw displacement drive up the construction cost of a SSN (the rule of thumb is you pay for ships by the ton), but it also drives up the lifetime operating costs of the SSN. Manning a Block 5 Virginia-class SSN with its 42 vertical launch cells requires a crew of approximately 140 officers and sailors, as compared to the  99 officers and sailors of a Sturgeon-class SSN. 

So why are the current class American SSNs so large?

The answer includes land attack – the new mission assigned to SSNs by the Navy in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War, with the virtually overnight disappearance of its main naval adversary, the Soviet Navy. By the early to mid 1990s the U.S. Navy was busy retiring aged-out Cold War boats by the dozens and was still building as replacements the last Los Angeles-class SSNs. These boats were larger than their predecessors, primarily to make them faster and capable of keeping up as escorts with CVN carrier battle groups and later on, carrier strike groups. Such high cruising speeds were not a requirement for anti-shipping warfare (both ASW and anti-surface ship) and ISR – the two primary missions of Cold War era SSNs.

Later on, the more advanced Virginia SSNs – as a smaller, cheaper, and slightly reduced capability version of the small class of Seawolf SSNs – came along by the mid-2000s, adding length, tonnage, and  vertical launch tubes capable of putting up as many as 12 Tomahawk missiles (a similar vertical launch tube arrangement by then had also been added to some of the last Los Angeles-class boats). However, those post-Cold War Tomahawks on SSNs were not, like their Cold War predecessors, equipped to engage moving naval targets as long range anti-ship missiles, but instead were Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM), capable only of engaging fixed land targets. The Navy was also busy deploying large numbers of TLAMs on large surface combatants, both Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, for the same deep strike land attack mission the Navy had taken on in the 1990s and beyond.

The latest Block 5 Virginias add a new “Virginia Payload Module” that adds yet another 84-foot section to the hull aft of the sail containing four more vertical launchers carrying as many as 28 additional TLAMs for land attack. The stated purpose of the VPM was to attempt to make up for the planned retirement of four SSGNs (converted Ohio-class SSBNs that were “denuclearized” per the START strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty). But of course that conversion of SSBN to SSGN was a “make work” solution for the resulting excess Ohio SSBNs above treaty limits, which has now begat a “make work” mission for SSNs. All of which bloats the boat itself and makes it much more expensive to build and operate.

Adopting the deep strike land attack mission was an understandable response to the drastic and virtually overnight elimination of a significant near peer naval threat in the 1990s. Thus the Navy and its supporters in Congress converted the navy virtually overnight to a deep strike land attack force in order to become more relevant to evolving national security interests, but at the expense of full-spectrum competence. Otherwise, naval leaders and proponents feared an even more drastic fleet reduction than the 50 percent cut that was actually made after the end of the Cold War.

This “keep the Navy relevant in the Post Cold War era” mindset was also aided and abetted by the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987 limits on “land based” intermediate range cruise missiles (IRCM) that strangely did not apply to “surface launched” (i.e., naval platforms). (Both the U.S. and Russia have now withdrawn from this treaty, effective later this year.) In any event, INF encouraged both the Russian and U.S. navies to deploy large numbers of land attack cruise missiles on surface warships.

Clearly a lot has changed since the Post Cold War-era began. The U.S. military today is no longer simply tasked with combating low-capability insurgent forces in various and sundry developing nations often situated well inland, nor does the INF treaty apply as of this year either.

With the well-documented fast growing maritime threat posed especially by China (whose fleet of attack submarines is currently estimated to number over 70 vessels, and is expected to continue to grow at a rapid rate thereafter), as well as a resurgent Russian Navy, the world of naval warfare has now transformed from a low threat environment into a serious challenge to U.S. naval dominance. The U.S. Navy now has a clear and overriding mission – to deter and if necessary fight and win a naval war against capable near peer forces. Projecting sea power ashore continues as a U.S. Navy mission, but that mission is best and most cost-effectively performed by naval aircraft (both carrier-based and land-based), not by submarines. Given all of the above factors, then, and the fact that naval shipbuilding budgets are constrained, including demands to simultaneously recapitalize aging CVNs and Ohio-class SSBNs, the Navy must go back to the drawing boards.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen visits the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy submarine Yuan at the Zhoushan Naval Base in China on July 13, 2011. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released)

The Navy should consider designing a new SSN that is smaller and cheaper, and focused entirely on the anti-shipping and ISR roles – the historic roles of the SSN throughout the Cold War – with particular attention paid to building and operating many more new boats at a far faster build rate.

Size as measured in tons displacement, however, is not the only requirement and means of controlling cost – there is also the matter of modernization and capability.  Obviously the technologies available today are far more advanced compared to those available in the 1960s and 1970s when the bulk of our Cold War era SSN fleet was built. For example, the later generations of U.S. submarines incorporated new propulsors – pump jets, rather than the older and noisier seven-bladed open screws on the Cold War era boats. Better sensors are also going into today’s boats, both sonars and “above the water” sensors, with photonic masts rather than periscopes, which allows more efficient interior hull design and better distribution of sensor data to various locations within the crew area. Better electronic warfare capabilities are also part of today’s fleet, and cyber warfare is increasingly a key area of focus in the 21st century.

Better weapons are also available today, although advancements in deployed submarine-launched weaponry have clearly lagged behind both our adversaries and even of USN surface forces and naval air wings in recent years. Existing SSNs are still using the old Mk 48 ADCAP 21-inch torpedo first deployed in the mid-1970s, though significantly upgraded over the decades. But as of today the only submarine-launched anti-ship cruise missile available is still the old Harpoon Block 1C that was developed in the 1970s, and as of today only one of our existing SSNs has even re-integrated the Harpoon, as of last year. A new “Maritime Strike Tomahawk” refit kit is slated to become available in 2021 which will provide a new very long range ASCM capability to both submarines and surface warships with VLS. Perhaps other existing ASCMs such as the new Naval Strike Missile, now slated for deployment on LCS and FFGX, can and may also be integrated onto U.S. submarines, along with LRASM in the coming years.

Additionally, it should also be recognized that for purposes of anti-submarine warfare which was the primary role of the Cold War SSN, and which is now becoming a priority again, the Mk48 ADCAP torpedo is likely “overkill” for use against submerged submarines. The power of a 650 pound warhead on the Mk 48 certainly is helpful for attacking large surface ships, with the ability to literally break a ship in half when detonated under the keel. Submerged submarines, however, do not require such explosive power because of the effect of submergence sea pressure.

The lightweight ASW torpedoes such as the Mk 46 and Mk 54 (12.75 inches diameter by 8 feet 6 inches long, and weighing just 508 pounds vs. 21 inches, 19 feet, and 3,695 pounds respectively for a Mk 48) have for decades been in use by the US Navy and our NATO allies deployed on surface warships and ASW aircraft. The lightweight torpedoes have warheads with weights of slightly less than 100 pounds – demonstrably sufficient to sink a submerged submarine. Indeed, one of the most effective ASW weapons in WWII, the “hedgehog,” had a much smaller warhead of just 35 pounds of TORPEX. It was demonstrated that typically only one or two hedgehog detonations were needed to sink a submerged submarine.

An exercise Mark 54 Mod 0 torpedo is launched from the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Roosevelt (DDG-80). (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Wolpert)

Therefore, the Navy needs to give strong consideration to adapting existing lightweight ASW torpedoes to our next generation of SSNs. Doing so would facilitate the ASW capability of our SSNs while significantly increasing the sub’s capacity to store and deploy much smaller torpedoes. Not as a total replacement for the Mk 48, but rather, as a supplement to the Mk 48 to enable much larger total magazine depth without increasing the displacement of the submarine, to accommodate the ability to attack both surface ships and submarines. Instead of just four 21-inch torpedo tubes on a Virginia-class boat, a combination of 21 inch and 13 inch horizontal tubes optimized for a typical mission profile could work very well.

Finally, whatever combination of horizontal tubes and torpedoes is determined optimal, the weapons themselves need to continue to be updated to the latest technological capabilities as to sensors, self-contained computing (and artificial intelligence) as necessary to track and target submarines and defeat enemy countermeasures, and improved warheads. Hard kill anti-torpedo torpedoes as well as other torpedo countermeasures are also a prime area of development that needs to continue, despite a recent setback with the CAT weapon systems deployed on CVNs.

Nuclear propulsion technology is also advanced today over the old Cold War power plants. The latest generation of naval nuclear reactors as used on the new Ford class CVNs known as the A1B reactor are much more automated and simplified than the previous plants, allowing the highly trained and certified nuclear plant operator crew size to be cut in half as compared to the 1960s era reactors of the Nimitz class CVNs.4 Even more revolutionary nuclear power plant designs are going to be available to submarine designers in the next decade.

Similar technological opportunities abound to more heavily automate every work process throughout the next generation submarines, including artificial intelligence capabilities, and thus can significantly reduce overall crew manning requirements in a submarine. This has already been achieved on the latest surface combatants including the Ford CVNs and the Zumwalt DDGs, which respectively achieved overall manning reductions of 33 percent and 50 percent over their predecessor classes. A similar reduction in SSN crew size also ought to be achievable using the same design approaches and modern automation technology. Reductions in crew size also lead to reductions in hull volume.

Additional technology “insertions” are also available in other areas of submarine design that should be able to create significant impacts in both cost reduction as well as improving the capabilities of our next gen SSNs.

Conclusion

In consequence of all of the considerations described above, it is clear that NAVSEA needs to undertake a project to re-engineer the next generation of SSNs. Navy leadership has publicly stated its intent to reconfigure the surface fleet to significantly reduce the ratio of large surface combatants (LSCs) to small surface combatants (SSCs). The Navy now needs to similarly reconfigure the SSN fleet in favor of smaller boats optimized for sea control over long-range land attack. They must reject the bloated SSN(X) concept which is more of the same, but bigger and more expensive, and go for a new class of SSN that is far smaller and cheaper and thus affordable in much larger numbers than currently planned submarines. 

Mr. Truitt is a veteran Cold War-era SSN sailor, qualified nuclear reactor operator, and civilian nuclear test engineer. He is also a degreed civil engineer, environmental scientist, and civil/environmental project manager with extensive experience at both naval and civilian nuclear facilities as well as military and civilian facilities development. His interest today as an author is in forward-looking military preparedness and improvements in both capacity and capability of U.S. naval forces.

Notes

1. USNI News, Ben Werner, March 27, 2019: “Indo-PACOM Commander Says Only Half of Sub Requests are Met”

2. USNI News, Megan Eckstein, April 8, 2019: “Navy Sees No Easy Answer to Balance Future Surface Fleet”.

3. USNI News, Megan Eckstein, May 13, 2019: “Virginia Block VI Subs Will Focus on Special Operations, Unmanned”

4. A1B Reactor; https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/systems/a1b.htm

Featured Image: YOKOSUKA, Japan (Sept. 3, 2010) The Virginia-class attack submarine USS Hawaii (SSN 776) transits Tokyo Bay on the way to Fleet Activities Yokosuka, marking the first time in the history of the U.S. 7th Fleet that a Virginia-class submarine visited the region. This is Hawaii’s first scheduled deployment to the western Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Lara Bollinger/Released)

Turkish F-35s – Where Do We Go From Here?

By Jon G. Isaac

A Transatlantic Standoff

In January, CIMSEC published an article in which the author advocated against Turkey’s ongoing participation in the development, manufacture, and eventual purchase of the F-35 Lighting II. Broadly, as January’s piece noted, debate over Ankara’s eventual acquisition of the F-35 has come as a result of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s insistence upon purchasing and operating the Russian-made S-400 Triumf  air defense missile system (NATO reporting tag: SA-21 Growler). As lawmakers on the hill and Department of Defense leaders have warned, connection or even close operation between Lockheed Martin’s 5th generation fighter and the Russian air defense system represents a critical security breach which could undermine the aircraft’s operational advantage in the future.

Despite months of warning and posturing which signaled to Ankara that acquisition of the S-400 would jeopardize the future of the Turkish F-35 fleet, Turkish officials have repeatedly emphasized that cancellation of the S-400 purchase is “out of the question.” American officials have attempted to provide counter offers, most notably through a discounted sale of the American-made MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile system. None of the attempts at mediation have worked, with the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, stating emphatically that Turkish purchase of the S-400 “is a done deal.”

As a result, on April 1st, the Department of Defense confirmed a Reuters report that stated the Pentagon was halting shipments of critical parts and equipment required for the stand-up for Turkey’s first F-35 squadron. In the piece, Reuters quotes DoD spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews and notes that, “pending an unequivocal Turkish decision to forgo delivery of the S-400, deliveries and activities associated with the stand-up of Turkey’s F-35 operational capability” have been delayed indefinitely. This was the Pentagon’s first major move in countering Turkish obstinance.

Complicating matters further, Senator Jim Inhoff (R-OK), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jim Risch (R-ID), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman and Ranking Members of the Senate Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, respectively, published an op-ed in The New York Times which explicitly forces Turkey to choose between the F-35 and the S-400. Barring a Turkish decision to drop the S-400, they write, “no F-35s will reach Turkish soil” and “sanctions will be imposed as required by United States law under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).” Secretary of State Pompeo supported these remarks on Wednesday when he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that there would be no Turkish F-35s if they do not abandon the S-400. Curiously, Secretary Pompeo stopped short of definitively stating whether or not Turkish S-400 acquisition would trigger American sanctions as required by law under CAATSA. While Pompeo’s hesitance may have only been an attempt to keep all options open, it could also have links to Minister Çavuşoğlu’s ardent claims that President Trump personally assured Erdogan that he would “would take care of this issue” in reference to the F-35.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It appears, for now, that Ankara faces a choice. In Washington, legislative efforts to bar sales of the F-35 to Turkey seem to have garnered bipartisan support and congressional support. In Ankara, Erdogan leveraged the S-400 issue at almost all of his campaign rallies leading up to the March 31st Turkish elections. Elections which, coincidentally, took a toll on Erdogan’s AKP party on the local level. Nevertheless, Erdogan has continued to posture surrounding the S-400 issue, with the European Council on Foreign Relation’s Asli Aydıntaşbaş writing that Erdogan has seemingly adopted the issue as “a sign of his virility, his independence, his power on the world stage that he could say no to [the] United States.”

Internally, it seems that there are those among Erdogan’s staff who believe the Americans are bluffing and that both systems will eventually solidify themselves in the Turkish arsenal. They are not entirely helpless, either, with American basing rights at the critical Incirlik Air Base standing as a potential bargaining chip for Turkish negotiators. Turkish negotiators face a hard battle, however, as the Pentagon has said it is already looking for alternatives to the F-35 parts currently made in Turkey.

This standoff has not only placed pressure on the Turkish-U.S. relationship, but moreover is raising questions about Ankara’s standing within NATO as a whole. Rick Berger, a former Senate Budget Committee staffer and current researcher at the American Enterprise Institute has noted that this flashpoint has repeatedly brought up, “the whole ‘Should Turkey be in NATO?’ question.” Moreover, the NATO countries that operate the F-35 have internally expressed concern over interoperability with Turkish airframes should they link to the S-400. At a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin has regularly engaged in policies aimed at destabilizing the transatlantic alliance, perhaps the Turkish F-35 crisis presents not just a commercial or political threat to the U.S.-Turkey relationship, but a strategic threat to NATO as a whole.

Jon Isaac is a pseudonym for a developing security analyst.

Featured Image: An F-35B Lightning II performs a vertical landing aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. (Flickr/U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Jonah Lovy)