Emerging ASW Calculus

There is definite need for the Navy’s leadership to renew its interest in core anti-submarine warfare (ASW) competencies and for ASW to dawn a new avatar; an avatar that can handle the threat from submarines, conventional and nuclear, operating in the littorals as well as the vast and distant sea areas around our coast, island territories and areas of concern

Issue: 5 / 2012By Commodore (Retd) C.P. Srivastava

In the new world order, ‘economic considerations’ rather than ‘ideological kinship’ are the primary drivers of the national security paradigm. One therefore hears more of nation grouping such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS), European Union (EU) and Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), rather than North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and Warsaw. Consequently, global as well as regional navies are in the process of refocusing their maritime strategies towards ‘influencing events on land’ through presence, manoeuvre and if need be, coercion from sea. The maritime wars of tomorrow would be fought not only close to our shores and sea lines of communications (SLOC), but also in other globally dispersed areas of interest and vulnerabilities. These ‘distant battlefields’, may, in fact, hold the key to our national security and ought to be the focus of the maritime campaign.

The Distant Battlefield and Submarine Operations: An adversary’s oil-field in Africa is as vital an asset as the super tanker carrying the crude through the Arabian Sea or the terminal at a third country’s port which is connected through pipelines over land to the refinery on the adversary’s mainland. Submarines of tomorrow, conventional or otherwise, would therefore be designed and deployed to firstly overcome this ‘tyranny of the distant battlefield’ and secondly operate increasingly in the littorals. For this, submarine capability managers are already pushing the envelope by addressing the four Ps: propulsion (speed and endurance), payload (variety, quantity and precision), perpetual connectivity (bandwidth and near-uninterrupted) and people’s concerns (endurance and effectiveness).

The Emerging ASW Calculus

Traditional anti-submarine warfare (ASW) has been influenced by three realities—the new subsurface battlespace, the metamorphosed threat and diminishing ASW assets and resources. Firstly, the ASW battlespace has shifted towards the shallow, dense and acoustically adverse littorals. This however has not diminished the need to maintain underwater surveillance against quiet submarines, over large areas of interest and over prolonged periods of time.

Secondly, while globally, the threat is now predominantly from smaller, deep diving, and ultra quiet diesel, electric and air-independent propulsions (AIP) boats, in our areas of ‘immediate concern’, there is a likelihood of submarines of all vintage and hues operating.

Finally, due to changing operational priorities, there has been a ‘disinvestment’ in ASW capabilities the world over. Even in the Indian context, not withstanding the ongoing Project 28 and proposed ASW corvettes, the ‘density’ of traditional ASW assets per square 100 nm of area of interest is only diminishing.

Round One—Submarines: The classic concept of ‘layered defence’ or concentric rings of steel around a convoy or task force is practically obsolete as the ‘core ASW operational concept’. Coordinated ASW exercises, in a realistic tactical setting, over prolonged duration, deploying all ASW (surface, sub-surface, fixed and rotary wing) assets, are far and few. Submarines seem to be winning the game. The sinking of a South Korean corvette in March 2010 by a torpedo, suspected to be launched by a North Korean Yono class midget submarine, only reaffirms this.

Emerging Challenge: Today, the stack is loaded against ASW—an elusive enemy, an expanding playing field, a ‘belligerent’ medium and diminishing resource. The emerging ASW problem therefore percolates ‘how to meet growing demand in a changed environment with diminishing resources’. Navies that desire to remain relevant in the new world order need to ‘drop’ ASW in its current form and ‘re-acquire’ it in its new avatar—an avatar which would leverage emerging technologies, develop relevant skills and apply these in an innovative manner.

New Avatar of ASW

To remain relevant, ASW needs a new avatar, a metamorphosis which may involve a change in the DNA of ASW. Being transformational, the change will need to be holistic, sustainable, enterprise-wide and most certainly, top-down. This would require a relook and review of the three paradigms—concept of operations, technology and training. However, the deliberation herein is confined to the first two paradigms.

Concept of Operations

The US Navy and the Royal Navy have articulated their concepts of operations in their ‘Task Force ASW’ document and the All-Arms ASW Study (AAASW), respectively. A broad concept of ASW operations, as relevant to the Indian Navy is enumerated in the following paragraphs.

Moving Area Control: Sea control, in the present-day context would perforce be a time specified submarine—free havens, in our area of interest. By successfully concentrating ASW forces and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets when and where required, maritime operating areas can be protected and dynamic sea control achieved to either undertake operations at sea or influence the battle or events ashore.

Net-Centricity ASW: ASW traditionally has been a ‘platform-centric’ team game requiring a broad mosaic of subsurface, surface and airborne assets. As more and more shore-based ISR and command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) infrastructure, unmanned vehicles, autonomous sensors and standoff weapons come into the picture, ASW is moving from platform-centricity towards net-centricity. This ‘network over platform’ transformation requires ‘collaboration’ between decision-makers and knowledge nodes, rather than ‘coordination’ between platforms and their weapon and sensors. Platforms become subservient to the network and subsequently individual and platforms lose their identity. While coordination is predominantly between platforms, sensors and weapons; collaboration is biased towards interaction between organisations and people.

Force-on-Force to Dominate the Environment: Hitherto limitations of weapon range and sensor integration propelled ASW platforms into a ‘force-on-force’ situation. This gave the submarine the chance to exploit its stealth and offensive capability. ASW in its new avatar needs to move away from the ‘protection of operations/assets’ to applying net-centricity to ‘dominate the environment’ by additionally using unmanned vehicles, stand-off weapons and a shared situational awareness.

Shifting Control of Collaborative ASW Ashore: While traditional ASW was platform-centric and ‘operational area’ specific, ASW, in its new avatar, would have a ‘theatre-wide connotation. ISR and C4I assets are space-based and have a much wider footprint. Similarly, autonomous sensors, unmanned platforms and stand-off weapons are ‘theatre assets’ which are generally shore-based or shore-controlled and have the range and endurance to impact the theatre as a whole. The current platform-centric ‘command and control’ at sea may have to shift to ‘collaborative control’ ashore, so that the entire theatre be impacted.

From Platform intensive to Sensor rich ASW: The current platform-intensive ASW exposes our forces to risk as the ability to ‘attack at will’ rests with the submarine. There may be a need to ‘invert the ASW symmetry’ by acquiring the capability to maintain ‘persistent surveillance’ and the ability to prosecute threats at the time and place of our choosing; thereby, drastically curtailing the offensive capability of submarines.

Mobile and Swift Weapon Wolf Pack: An autonomous, smart and adaptive sensor network has to be complemented with a mobile ‘weapon wolf pack’ which has the ability to close the contact rapidly, acquire, classify and localise the target and launch the most appropriate weapon, in terms of lethality and precision.