WASHINGTON, July 18 (UPI) -- Anti-Submarine Warfare has been the Cinderella of global navies for the past century, and unfortunately the situation hasn't changed much today.
As respected U.S. defense analyst David Crane warned in Defense Review in November 2006, U.S. super-carriers are now far more vulnerable to being "ambushed" by hostile submarines or aircraft carrying anti-ship missiles than they were a few years ago, because the U.S. Navy no longer uses its trusty old Lockheed Martin S-3B Viking aircraft in its traditional ASW role to protect the gigantic ships.
The Navy traditionally has favored enormous ocean-going warships to outgun enemy battleships and outnumber carrier-launched air fleets of prospective opponents. In the past half-century it has been dominated by enthusiasts for nuclear-powered super-warships in the tradition of the late Adm. Hyman Rickover.
Navy planners were consequently slow, and at first complacent, to note the threat posed by the development of new ultra-quiet and efficient electric-diesel engines for small, stealthy, non-nuclear submarines. The technology was developed by Sweden, and even when Russia started copying it for its Kilo-class subs, the Navy paid little institutional attention.
That changed over the past few years when China started expanding its diesel-sub shipbuilding in a big way. In 2006 China built 14 subs -- all diesel-powered. The United States built only one -- a traditional nuclear-powered monolith.
The Chinese sub threat took center stage in October 2006, Crane noted, when a Chinese diesel-powered submarine was able to sneak up on a U.S. carrier task force and surface within torpedo and missile-firing range before being detected.
Crane therefore concluded, "Frankly it makes one wonder how the U.S. Navy plans to protect our carrier battle groups against modern quiet attack submarines armed with standard torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, and the new breed of supercavitating torpedoes like the Russian Shkval-2. Given the current lack of U.S. ASW/ASuW capability, we don't see how the U.S. Navy can."
As we have noted in previous columns, the Navy is certainly not totally blind to the threat. In 2007 Lockheed Martin started delivering its new Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle to the U.S. Navy to boost the mine countermeasure capabilities for DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and the Littoral Combat Ship.
Lockheed Martin described the RMMV as "a semi-submersible, semi-autonomous, unmanned vehicle that tows a variable-depth sensor to detect, localize, classify and identify undersea threats at a safe distance from friendly ships."
The RMMV functions as a mobile subsystem for the Navy's AN/WLD-1 Remote Minehunting System. The RMMV pulls behind it a sonar sensor, advanced communications equipment and software to integrate the RMS into the host warship's combat system. Lockheed Martin is building a new generation of MH-60R helicopters with advanced ASW capabilities.
The Navy and Lockheed Martin say a single MH-60R can operate as effectively as two previous-generation Navy ASW helicopters. But of course, two ASW helicopters can simultaneously patrol entirely different sectors of the ocean at the same time, when one can't. There is still no substitute for quantity as well as quality in fielding such aircraft.
The MH-60R carries an acoustic sonar suite to give greater range for locating submarines, and a multimode, long-range search radar to locate and monitor surface vessels. The equipment is designed to be fitted far more quickly to the helicopters. The U.S. Navy has signed a $955 million contract with Lockheed Martin for them.
Critics say the problem is not that the Navy is blind to the ASW challenge -- it obviously isn't -- but that ASW capabilities don't begin to have enough of a share of the Navy's resources. And in an anticipated time of shrinking budgets -- presumptive presidential nominees Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have both pledged to slash the annual Pentagon budget by at least half a trillion dollars -- ASW runs the risk of getting shortchanged.
But the U.S. Navy began World War II catastrophically blind to the threat posed by Nazi U-boats operating off the Eastern Seaboard. From January to August 1942, German submarines operating in Operation Paukenschlag -- Operation Drumbeat -- sank 609 ships off the Eastern Seaboard totaling 3.1 million tons. That amounted to a quarter of all the Allied shipping sunk by U-boats through the entire war from 1939 to 1945.
As philosopher George Santayana famously warned, those who ignore the lessons of history are destined to repeat them.