Defend and Advance Core Undersea and Network Capabilities

Notes to the New CNO Topic Week

By John T. Kuehn, Ph.D., Commander, USN (ret.)

What follows is a summary of my advice to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson while I was a member of his Fleet Design Advisory Panel in 2016-17 (FDAP).

An indispensable component of any fleet of the future is its undersea warfare capability. The ability to prosecute anti-surface warfare and sea denial through submarine employment in contested areas of the global commons is critical. This means any report or plan that cuts back on submarine and undersea capabilities as they exist today, manned or unmanned, should be viewed as unacceptable. Any erosion of the doctrine and training for this capability, as was long tolerated after the end of the Cold War, should also be viewed as unacceptable.

Be ready to fight a missile and torpedo fight. The naval battle of the future has already been hinted at in history, especially at the Falklands in 1982. It will involve primarily missiles and undersea weapons with a healthy dose of electronic warfare and cyber. The cyber aspect is not yet well understood and will require more integration into naval doctrine, especially electronic maneuver warfare (EMW) and our understanding of emission control. The day has arrived that our receivers are as vulnerable as our transmitters when we conduct emission control (EMCON).

The network is the modern-day capital ship. The network that supports EMW and Distributed Maritime Operations, and the nature of its graceful degradation under fire, the development of artificial intelligence options (or reserve modes), and the accompanying command philosophy (i.e. disciplined initiative) will constitute either the greatest strength or the greatest weakness for any future fleet. It is vital, but the people who will use it across the spectrum of war are more important. Human capital is the more important half of this modern-day capital ship.   

The Navy must emphasize fielding proven technology. Do not bank on emergent technology that only currently exists on paper and in formulas, and is not something that can be fully operationalized into the fleet we have by 2030. Avoid the Arthur C. Clarke “syndrome” of attempting to skip a generation or two of technology whose advantage will be fleeting anyway and possibly out of touch if a protracted war breaks out.

Commander (retired) John T. Kuehn is a professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. A former naval aviator, he is the author of Agents of Innovation (Naval Institute Press, 2008) and the coauthor, with D. M. Giangreco, of Eyewitness Pacific Theater (Sterling, 2008). He has also published A Military History of Japan (Praeger 2014), Napoleonic Warfare: The Operational Art of the Great Campaigns (Praeger 2015), and America’s First General Staff: A Short History of the Rise and Fall of the General Board of the U.S. Navy, 1900-1950 (Naval Institute Press, 2017).

Featured Image: PEARL HARBOR (Feb. 21, 2019) Rear Adm. Daryl L. Caudle, commander of Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC), delivers remarks during the COMSUBPAC change of command ceremony aboard the Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Mississippi (SSN 782) at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Shaun Griffin/Released) 190221-N-KV911-0254

One thought on “Defend and Advance Core Undersea and Network Capabilities”

  1. Dr. Kuehn:
    Great points; especially when you add in a torpedo capability from the surface. We still lack a tough weapon when we get in a knife fight in close; as well as something to lay out “over-the-shoulder as we are slipping away.

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