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I am going to expose you to one of the best kept secrets of the US Navy submarine force; the ability to launch and recover aircraft.
Following WWII, the US Dept. of War decided it needed to study the Japanese tactical theory of a submersible aircraft carrier. The Japanese Navy successfully reached the Oregon coastline with submarine launched aircraft, dropping incendiaries, in attempt to start a firestorm in the dense forest. It failed. Later, sea launched aircraft were supported for a second bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942 by submarines. It was also unsuccessful.
They then began construction on further submersible aircraft carriers, the largest the world would have known, as part of an operation to shut down the Panama Canal. However the scale of war in the Pacific negated the need for the strike as Tokyo deemed priority elsewhere and the program was cancelled.
Immediately following the war, the US began analyzing the use of aircraft onboard submarines. The attempts were clumsy at first and provided little advantage. It was only when industry was consulted that the notion began to take it’s proper form.
The construction of the USS Grayback (SSG-574) and the Growler (577) ushered in the United State’s modern submersible aviation capacity with the launch and recover of the Regulus UAS. With its intended purpose primarily as a nuclear cruise strike missile, many missed the obvious implication of an air breathing high performance submarine based jet aircraft. Yet it wasn’t lost on everyone. Test’s quickly began under-wraps on autonomously landing the Regulus, as well as recovering with the submarine itself. Its use as a surveillance platform, in retrospect, became much more strategically important than its nuclear standoff capability and because of this success, Regulus I and later Regulus II, were frequently used in a surveilling role. Without this, development of the Q-2 Firebee, Model 147 etc would not have been possible.
Post-Vietnam, special forces insertion began its still rigid traction amongst the submariner command structure and aviation was pushed to the wayside. So much so that the mission sets of the SEAL operators prompted the design (and re-design) of many new hulls for the silent service. Interestingly, perhaps ironically, these hull redesigns provided the real-estate necessary to reintroduce an aviation capability to the attack subs.
At first thought of as a support overwatch element to the SEAL teams, the Navy soon realized a platform like this could be used in a myriad of roles, including but not limited to, the long range strike mission harkening back to the original use of the Regulus I. Yet it is currently more often used for ISR, Bomb Damage Assessment, ECM and Electronic Attack/Electronic Warfare in the A2/AD.
And at this point I must be clear that I am not talking about the Tomahawk TLAM or anything Raytheon built for that matter.
There is a platform out there that lurks beneath the ocean waves that can perform much of the duties it’s much larger Air Force cousins do out of their sprawling airfields in the Middle East.
Where my mind immediately goes, is will this clandestine capability begin to shape the hulls of the next generation of submarines soon to be funded in congress. Being that subs can reach places that no other vessel, or aircraft for that matter, can penetrate, it’s an invaluable capability that simple cannot be ignored. Unless, of course, you don’t know about it in the first place.
Will future technology someday allow us to see the reawakening of the strategic ingenuity of the Imperial Japanese Navy and field hanger-laden submarines, equipped with high-performance super sonic aircraft ready to strike at a moments notice? I know now that I am not the only one to have asked this question.
The Cormorant was a project under development at Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works research facility until 2008 when its contract for development was cancelled. It is named after a species of bird.
The U.S. Navy's Ohio-class submarines, feature large, 44-foot-long (13 m), 7-foot-diameter (2.1 m), tubes to launch Trident missiles. Researchers at Skunk Works had the idea of creating a drone aircraft that can be stored in those missile tubes.
When North Korea shelled a South Korean island base in 2010, Jimmy Carter reportedly surfaced nearby and launched a small, quiet drone spy plane to photograph the damage.