Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Submarine Advantage

Now that the South Korean government has officially blamed North Korea for the sinking of ROKS Cheonan (PCC 772), we'll have to see how the situation plays out. My thoughts are that we'll see some arguments in the Security Council and a weak resolution passing with minimal sanctions, and sometime in the next couple years we'll see some North Korean vessels have "accidents" which may or may not be publicized.

Now that submarine torpedoes are in the news, expect more less-than-knowledgeable commentary like this post at the Human Events blog, which brings up not-infrequent meme that supercavitating torpedoes are a superweapon that can't be countered (and that they're somehow superior to regular homing torpedoes). The author also says:
The evolution of submarine warfare has been a cat-and-mouse game in which a technological advantage can turn the hunter into the hunted. The March 26 incident may now give the submarine the advantage.
As if that hasn't been the case for about 50 years. Sure, it helps skimmer morale to run exercises where they think they're actually tracking a submarine in real-world conditions, but the fact remains that the best defense against a well-handled submarine is another submarine (or a clever minefield). This incident only shows that even a crappy submarine is superior to most surface ships, especially unalerted ones.

[As always, in discussing this post please try to avoid any information not in the public domain.]


Anonymous Pat said...

Yup! As a "skimmer" (SWO), though, I can assure you we had no illusion that we could track a competently handled submarine.

I viewed it like this: Submariners don't get paid to do boardings or air defense or be a USMC taxi. They DO get paid to do other things, such as track and occasionally destroy bad-guy submarines. Why not let them and focus on what surface ships are good at? We pay LOTS of money to different communities to do different things...

5/19/2010 1:17 PM

Anonymous boomerchop said...

I parallel Pat's thinking here...the only thing that a surface ship is better at than a submarine is carrying a lot of people, VBSS, and launching aircraft. Ship to ship combat? Send a Virginia class...done. Need to launch a bunch of Tomahawks? Send a GN...done. Intel collection? Send any class...done.

5/19/2010 1:21 PM

Anonymous Casual Observer said...

I'm entirely unconvinced that a U.S. SSN of any class will be anything other than a data collector in a U.S. surface fleet versus hostile diesel submarine scenario.

At best, IMHO, it'd be a "paybacks are a mofo" situation wherein the SS gets ground-swatted by the SSN after doing something it shouldn't.

Not trying to burst anyone's multi-$B platform bubble. Just sayin'.

5/19/2010 1:46 PM

Blogger Ret ANAV said...

@Pat: "...or be a USMC taxi."

Scratch that one off your list :P Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and the hat.

WRT Skimmer USW: One of the courses at my schoolhouse is entitled "Single-Ship ASW" (SSASW). What the heck is THAT?, I ask. "It's where we have only one ship doing a submarine prosecution", the lead instructor says, as if that's the exception, rather than the norm (Which it IS, I later discovered).

My reply: "How cute".

5/19/2010 2:03 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The good thing is that US submarine Field Day schedules have not been impacted.

Kind of embarrassing that NK submarines have more tonnage than our prized nuclear fleet (with the exception of the Greeneville, of course).

Don't worry NK, once our women get onboard, your day is coming!

5/19/2010 3:30 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I ran a small navy like South Korea, I'd be running active sonar a lot of the time. The big players have already collected sonar intel on me, what have I got to lose, especially if I track and don't prosecute NoKo boats? The NoKos will get used to hearing me ping and will get lazy and I can pop them if they get too close.
Tom Clancy

5/19/2010 8:21 PM

Blogger T said...

I don't think that Active Sonar is the silver bullet you seem to suggest.

Casual Observer: I'm pretty sure a SSN is far better equipped to deal with a diesel boat than any team of surface ships.

5/19/2010 8:52 PM

Blogger Vigilis said...

Casual Observer,

"I'm entirely unconvinced that a U.S. SSN of any class will be anything other than a data collector in a U.S. surface fleet versus hostile diesel submarine scenario."

With only the slightest degree of informed thought (those with an actual need to know, either do know or could figure it out), your theory can be demolished in every situation not dominated by utter chaos and total loss of command and control.

While chaos may sound like the U.S. Navy to some, it certainly does not ring true for our submarine force, even on a bad day.

Since submarines are obviously too few to be everywhere as needed, surface fleets must have decent capacity to deal with hostile diesel subs on their own, without even a "multi-$B platform" to "collect data".

Just a thought.

5/19/2010 10:47 PM

Anonymous Casual Observer said...

Here's one for you, Vigilis:

Just a reality.

Make no mistake, you won't find better submarines that in the U.S. Navy. You also won't find a less submarine-defenseless vessel than a skimmer of any navy.

My concern is that U.S. skimmerland is drinking the Kool Aid that the SSN submarine force is more than willing to serve them on demand. If they can't defend themselves from a diesel sub...well, that statement speaks for itself.

5/20/2010 2:21 AM

Blogger Russ said...

Hi All,

For some reason this reminded me of a NWC paper I read a while back - Donald Gerry comparing U.S. Sub doctrine to that of Japan in WWII, saying that (if I remember correctly) a sub force based around coordination with surface assets doesn't work so well. (

You guys have any thoughts on this? Did it make a splash in the community at the time or anything? Apologies if this is something that's already been beaten to death.

5/20/2010 3:16 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Details are foggy but long ago and far away we were transiting back to Charleston and were directed to provide training services to a SAG (back when they had surface action groups) returning to Norfolk from the Med. Naturally, they couldn't find us, so we were directed to come to PD and rotate and radiate one time on radar. Then they found us. Helicopters and Spruance-class destroyers were very hard to shake once they had us, of course, they were pretty sure we were headed home.

This Korea thing is going to get out of control, it'll get out of control and we'll be lucky to live through it.

5/20/2010 6:22 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A skimmer track a nukeboat? Ha, only if the boat is tied up to the pier.

We had to provide serivce to a SAG once for training. We had observers on-board making sure we played nice. We had a noise augmenter running and the boat had every everything turned up loud if you know what I mean.

They were hooting and a hollering about how easy it was to track us.They were testing some then new soanr gear that was just making it out into fleet service.

Capt got fed up and announced "Rig ship for ultra quiet" and secured/reduced the offending noise sources.

The observers got pissed off. I got to read one segment of the after action report. They said it was like something out of Star Trek. It was like watching the cloaking device engage. We just faded and were gone. They KNEW were we were at seconds/minutes ago and could not locate us. We proceeded to then move in REAL close to take some photo's.

They never found us till we were ORDERED to resume target duties and we went loud again.

We had proved our point. They could not track a boat that did not want to be found.

5/20/2010 8:36 AM

Blogger Ret ANAV said...

anon @0622: "This Korea thing is going to get out of control, it'll get out of control and we'll be lucky to live through it."

And hot off the A.P. wire:

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Thursday that South Korea fabricated evidence implicating the North in a torpedo attack in order to pick on the North and any attempt at retaliating for the warship's sinking would be answered with "all-out war."


"If the (South Korean) enemies try to deal any retaliation or punishment, or if they try sanctions or a strike on us .... we will answer to this with all-out war," Col. Pak In Ho of North Korea's navy told broadcaster APTN in an exclusive interview in Pyongyang.


The exchange of war rhetoric raised tensions, but the isolated communist regime — already under international pressure to cease its nuclear weapons program — often warns of dire consequences against South Korea or Washington for any punitive steps against it. Its large but decrepit military would be no match for U.S. and Korean forces.
(Anyone want to test that theory?


Could be an interesting week in the UN.

5/20/2010 9:11 AM

Anonymous Carl said...

"large but decrepit military would be no match for U.S. and Korean forces"

SK is between a real rock and a hard spot. With all the NK artillery within range of Seoul and 20 million SKs in Seoul, a decrepit military could do quite some damage. NK continues to play the game of chicken very well. Not doing enough damage to justify all out retaliation by SK, US & Japanese forces but clearly provocative actions.

Nasty situation for which there is little good response.

SK Navy really needed to be more on the ball (i.e., full wartime posture) to prevent NK provocation from resulting in loss of life / force. Heard that the NK subs & mothership had sortied a couple weeks prior to the sinking. So the possibility wasn't completely unforeseen.


5/20/2010 9:59 AM

Anonymous Carl said...

Oh, and I, too, recall back in the mid 80's the boomer I was on playing "target" and being required to have pumps in fast speed so we could be found without extreme difficulty. Once those sonobuoys were in the water, though, it seemed to be tough to shake the helos.


5/20/2010 10:10 AM

Blogger chief torpedoman said...

A skimmer track a nukeboat? Ha, only if the boat is tied up to the pier.

I would hope to God that our subs are very very hard for our surface forces to find because that means they are next to impossible for the ememy surface forces to find. It's not really our subs that the skimmers want to track, but it is our subs that they get to practice on.

On UNITAS in 1988, I pushed for and finally got approved to send some of our STGs and TMs over to the nuke boat that was on UNITAS with us. They got to ride the boat for the days between port calls.

It was really a wake up for the STGs to be on the sub end and I believe it was very good career wise.

Unfortuneately the SSN had an engineering casualty entering the Panama canal and dropped out of UNITAS at the Pacific end of the canal so I only got a couple of pairs of guys over to the SSN.

Do any surface STs still get to ride the boats for some training?

5/20/2010 11:59 AM

Blogger Don the Baptist said...

When was that written, 1932?

5/20/2010 12:31 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A skimmer told me once they could track submarines because they had a towed array. And I said, gosh, those submarines are fucked now.

5/20/2010 12:32 PM

Blogger Ret ANAV said...

...Yeah, the skimmer variant of the towed array WE were using 25 years ago.

5/20/2010 12:58 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Casual Observer seems not to make much sense...

The whole reason the Chinese SSN was able to sneak up on that carrier group was because it was operating without a submarine escort. Everyone in the Navy knows the only way to protect a battle group against an SSN is... another SSN.

That sub would have been detected a long ways off by an American SSN if they had had one in the battle group. During a shooting war, what do you think it would have done?

5/20/2010 1:47 PM

Blogger Vigilis said...

Casual Observer,

As BH said, "Sure, it helps skimmer morale to run exercises where they think they're actually tracking a submarine in real-world conditions,..."

Believe what you like, in connection with USS Kitty Hawk. What was reported is exactly what we hope China still believes, and here, the morale factor was also clearly cited.

U.S. submarine capabilities are some of our most closely guarded military secrets. Cold War spy history attests to that very strongly.

5/20/2010 2:23 PM

Blogger Old Salt said...

Anon, if I read the news article correctly, the Chinese boat was an SS- Diesel, not SSN-Nuclear. I know I'm just a dumb nuc, but I believe that my MUF (Men Up Forward) buddies told me that playing with the ROK diesel boats was the hardest thing to do, because they are the quietest thing going. No nuc plant pumps, nothing, just a hole in the water. It's no wonder that a Chinese boat got in the middle of things on battery power.

5/20/2010 2:33 PM

Blogger J said...

I don't know about skimmer STs riding boats, but I know that I rode a CG a couple years ago. Wandered into sonar out of curiosity, a room the size of a medium restaurant with three stacks in the corner waterfalling away, no one watching them. No one within ten feet of them, in fact.

Leaning up against a workbench were an STGCS and a gold-cheveroned STG1. I taught them TMA. Amazement ensued, on both sides.

To track a submarine, a skimmer would have to invest some effort in detecting them first, something they seem loathe to attempt. An understanding of concepts like bearing rate would probably help, too.


5/20/2010 5:35 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once deployed in the same battlegroup as my brother, who was an SH60B pilot assigned to a cruiser. EVERY exercise we did was with noisemakers on, speed + depth restricted, and mandatory snorkling at fixed intervals; except one: For a single exercise we were unrestricted. I'll never forget hearing the NAV mark the start of the exercise, immediately followed by the Captain ordering "shoot tube 1". Like any good submariners we cheated - called battlestations an hour earlier so we had solutions ready, tubes flooded, etc. We went on to litter the ocean with smoke/flares + water slugs for a few hours.

After the exercise we surfaced and the battlegroup sent over a contingent in a zodiac so we could compare charts. To my surprise, my brother was in that group (arranged by our CO's)!

During the debrief we confirmed many successful engagements of the carrier. The battlegroup never had a workable solution on us, except after fact (connecting the dots from our smoke). None of their drops were within effective weapons range.

My brother said it caused quite a bit of commotion when they spotted smoke before the helos even took off - they immediatly went to that point and started their search pattern only to get the next report of smoke in an entirely different quadrant.

I was shocked at how little our surface guys knew about out true capabilities. There was one leg where it turns out they had some MAD detects on us but they completely ignored them as erroneous, because the resulting speed was "too fast to be a sub" (we were running to put distance between us and our last smoke shot before the helos got there and the helos were running to that smoke to start their next search). The look on their faces when we told them our true speed/depth capabilities was priceless!

In open water, to a modern submarine (diesel or SSN), surface ships make relatively easy prey. However, in shallow/constrained waters the advantage is much less...

5/20/2010 8:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Way back in 1985 we had a CO (Mustang) that knew how to fight the ship and the shore-bound pukes. I was a newbie (FLOB) in the Wardroom and remember the CO and the XO getting into an argument about the skimmer exercise we were going on. The CO was convinced the surface guys were "briefed" on where we would be. The XO didn't believe him. Soooooo, we were "exactly" where we were supposed to be (minus 2 miles). Damn if we didn't come to PD and find some heliocopters flying a racetrack pattern 2 miles away....

5/20/2010 9:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in the mid 70's we were drilling holes in the ocean for skimmers on a 588 class - not a quiet by an stretch and we were not trying to be quiet.

After a couple of hours the helicopter boys asked to broach and turn on the sub id light. Still took 'em 20 or so minutes to find us. Down we went and they had us...for about 5 minutes.

Old chief from the dark ages

5/21/2010 12:10 AM

Anonymous ret.cob said...

See the picture of the tail section of the torpedo they used? Looks the same control surfaces and counter-rotating screws as a Mk 37. No?

5/21/2010 6:25 AM

Anonymous NHSparky said...

PACEX '89...or boat was playing aggressor against the Nimitz BG, IIRC. CDR Don Miller was the CO, and I was a recently qualified nuke. They were supposedly out looking for us, but dammed if the Captain wasn't reading the pilot's names off the planes as they landed, then dropped the scope, told the OOD to back out, and gave the order to fire a spread once FAR ENOUGH BACK.

5/23/2010 9:29 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is very difficult to track a diesel boat, you guys are ll right about that. It's not impossible though. The US has a scheduled "play Time" with the Aussies every now and then called Talisman Saber. Proof of concept right there, both our boats and theirs operate in real world conditions and play. We did pretty good. Very good, even, over two weeks. But they don't make it easy for us. And this would be one of the few in the world on tactical parity with ourselves.

Surface boats, no, they have no hope of catching anything bellow the water other than maybe some seabass.

5/24/2010 4:56 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would those be ill-tempered mutated sea bass, or the MK-48 Mod 7 CBASS?

5/25/2010 6:32 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

South Korea : Cheonan warship (PCC 772) - First Grounding

Letter to Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of state

There was no Explosion. There was No Torpedo.


S. C. Shin /

Download MS word file :

5/26/2010 7:15 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What the hell is this bullshit? BH, I think you should delete the previous post; the Word file is so big, I wonder about an embedded virus.

5/26/2010 7:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thw word file contains 5.2Mb's of jpeg images which is why it's so large.

I've had a look through the xml files that make up the word document and there's no sign of a virus.

If you want download it, rename it to have a .zip file extention (You may need to tell windows to show file extentions to let you do that), then you can unzip it and see the images (in the word\media subdirectories), an also the 'raw' xml files that make up the document.

6/28/2010 11:17 AM


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