NavWeek: Silent Service

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What became clear during the Sept. 12 House Armed Services Committee seapower subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill is that the U.S. Navy’s submarine force is second to none in the world’s waters at being stealthy.

Indeed, the sub fleet may have become too good at its job – running so silent and so deep that the nation’s public has little or no idea of the value of its undersea assets.

The pride of the Navy’s top submarine officers is matched only by some of the evident frustration from lawmakers – some of whom are blatant sub program groupies – that they can’t reveal just how good the silent service has become. Instead, lawmakers and taxpayers will have to settle, publicly at least, for testimony like that given to the subcommittee by Undersea Warfare Director Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge:

“The stealth of our Undersea Forces provides an advantage that no other part of the joint force can provide:  persistent, undetected, assured access far forward and the ability to do valuable things with that access. By leveraging concealment, our undersea forces can deploy forward without being provocative, penetrate anti-access/area denial (A2AD) perimeters and conduct undetected operations. These operations might be precautionary, preparatory ship movements, intelligence collection and surveillance, special forces support or nuclear deterrent patrols.”
Stealth, Breckenridge says, “is the coin of the realm.”

When the Navy starts talking about future unmanned possibilities, the service gets even more reticent. But there’s no doubt about the naval officials’ commitment to developing remote vehicles and sensors for undersea use. The unmanned vehicles, Breckenridge says, will supplement – but not replace – manned submarines. Unmanned undersea, surface and even aerial vehicles, he says, will be essential for maintaining dominance.

The large unmanned undersea vehicles, he says, will do those “dull, dirty” missions that current subs can’t do or the Navy doesn’t want them to do.

In 1998 the book “Blind Man’s Bluff” regaled maritime mavens with early tales of the nation’s nuclear sub force missions. For now we can only imagine what yarns the current and future fleet would generate for a sequel.

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