Friday, January 23, 2015

The unstealthy future of submarine warfare

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., Breaking Defense, Jan 22

WASHINGTON — Submarines have been America’s invisible advantage since World War II. But the oceans are getting more transparent. 
New detection technologies from low-frequency sonar to flashing LEDs — plus the big data computing power to enhance the faint signals they pick up — are making submarines much easier to detect. The same water-penetrating wavelengths, however, will also make it much easier for submarines to communicate with each other.
The net result should be radically new tactics, Bryan Clark, a career submariner and former top aide to the Chief of Naval Operations, says in a new study for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments out today. Instead of submarines operating alone and unafraid, he writes, they could operate together in underwater networks. Manned submarines would lurk out of missile range, 200 nautical miles from hostile shores, and serve as motherships for unmanned mini-subs and even aerial drones that push ahead into enemy “anti-access/area denial” defenses.
This networked force — a new wolf pack? — would take advantage of America’s lead in computing, communications, and autonomous systems — just as adversaries like Russia and China are starting to catch up on numbers and sophistication of submarines. If Clark’s approach to underwater warfare also sounds a lot like the mix of drones, stand-off, and wireless networks that’s come to characterize US operations in the air, that’s not an accident.
“The advent of improved sensors and processing will make below-water warfare more like warfare above the water,” Clark told me in an email. “In some ways [detection] may be easier — for example, a contact can be detected ‘over the horizon’ underwater because sound bends with the curvature of the earth,” unlike radar waves.

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