Underwater warfare is at the dawn of a new era. Much like how the USS Nautilus with its nuclear propulsion changed underwater warfare in 1955, a new
era of underwater warfare began in 2003, and hardly anyone noticed.
While "Shock and Awe" and embedded reporters covering battles on live TV took all the headlines, a small detachment of US, UK, and Australian naval
explosive experts deployed a new weapon unseen in Umm Qasr. Operation planners knew that in the first week of the conflict, the most important aspect
of the strategy for taking Basra would be the ability to get the Sir Galahad into port to unload. Without the Sir Galahad, troops would be unable to
support food, water, and other emergency logistical needs to the British military. The problem was the minefield in Umm Qasr, and the solution was the
Remote Environmental Measurement Units Support (REMUS).
REMUS was the first in a line of unmanned underwater weapons being developed for the US Navy. The success of the REMUS has reshaped the US Navy, from
the conversions of DDG-91 through DDG-96 to support UUVs, to the development of an entire new class of ships in the LCS, to the conversion of
ballistic missile submarines into nuclear power guided missile and special operations submarines.
The SSGN Concept
When the SSGN was first announced, a lot of noise was made about the amount of weapons that could potentially be carried. The Ohio SSBNs have 24
missile silo's. The two most forward SLBM tubes (i.e., those closest to the sail), also known as tubes 1 and 2, have been modified to hold a 5-man
swimmer lock-in/lock out chamber. Missile silos 3-24 would be converted to utilize All-Up Round Canisters (MACs), which would replace 1 ballistic
missile with 7 independently launch capable tomahawks.
The lock-out chambors were originally designed to carry Dry-Dock Shelters (DDS) or the Advanced Seal Delivery System (ASDS). The former can carry a
single Swimmer Delivery Vehicle, capable of covertly delivering eight SEALs close to a beach; the latter is a small 55-ton submarine capable of
delivering up to 16 SEALs close to shore. With the recent cancellation of the ASDS, it is almost a certainty that all SSGNs will deploy with Dry Dock
Shelters to support the four, 8 man SOF units designed for standard SSGN deployments.
The DDS raises issues though. The DDS is a big add-on, so big in fact it covers tubes 1, 3, and 5 or tubes 2, 4, and 6. This means if 2 Dry Dock
Shelters are deployed to a SSGN, tubes 3-6 will not be able to deploy weapons. To account for this, the Navy decided early on that tubes 3-10 will be
given special attention to allow other storage besides MACs. With this in mind, it is slowly becoming clear that tubes 2-10 will have special storage,
while 11 through 24 will carry weapons.
The Underwater Revolution
There is an old saying in the submarine community, "There are submarines, and there are targets."
During the cold war, the US Navy submarine fleet was expected to take out the submarine threat of the former Soviet Union, and was also the platform
of choice for deep patrol into enemy waters to sink surface ships. This second role was actually the primary role of the submarine during WWII, with
the silent service being the quiet reason why the US broke the back of Japan in the Pacific (the German U-Boats nearly did the same to the allies in
the Atlantic). Since WWII however, only 2 submarines have engaged and sank surface ships, the Pakistani submarine PNS Hangor sank the INS Khukri, and
the HMS Conqueror sank the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano.
What is often unspoken is the critical role of submarines during peacetime. The C4ISR capabilities of a modern submarine are unique in a large,
stealthy, manned platform. SIGINT technology requires a lot of power, which has made the nuclear submarine ideal for C4ISR during peacetime. When the
Navy started thinking about net-centric warfare with the SSGN, the concept of a system of systems networked to extend C4ISR reach and develop a larger
spectrum of capabilities became a requirement. The SSGN has become the next evolution, or more accurately, a small revolution towards that theory.
General Dynamics realized early on that in order for a submarine to deploy and recover unmanned systems, a standard module would need to be designed
to provide guidence to unmanned systems developers. The project led to the Universal Launch and Recovery Module (ULRM). The ULRM comes in two
versions, one for torpedo tubes for deploying small UAVs on SSNs, and a larger version for deploying unmanned systems from the silos of a SSGN.
The concept is a docking cone that would extend out of the silo, pivot, and allow for horizonal deployment and recovery of unmanned systems.
The Net-centric concepts being developed by the US Navy involves a system of systems which would consist of large UUVs, small UUVs, and gliders. Large
UUVs, like the Seahorse UUV would allow for large payloads in ASW, MIW, or ISR capability including towed sonar arrays. Smaller UUVs like the Bluefin
would allow for autonomous UUV patrols for anything from underwater mapping of minefields to remote mobile sensor systems for detecting hostile
forces. Additionally, gliders would be used for coordinating underwater communications between deployed UUVs and the SSGN. The SSGN will also carry
stationary sensor systems roughly the size of 55 gallon shipping drums.
1 Silo can support either 1 SeaHorse UUVs, 6 Bluefin UUVs, 18 Seagliders, 1 X-Ray glider, up to 18 fixed position sensors, additional ammunition
modules for SOF, additional SOF provisions and personal, or a MAC supporting the 7 Tomahawk arrangement. Additionally, with the development of the
Littoral Warfare Weapon (LWW), AIM-9X Sidewinder or SM-6 variants can be deployed using SACS.
The UUV is changing underwater warfare. It has been said that unmanned vehicles will ultimately render the AIP submarine obsolete just as it becomes
fielded in large numbers. While that is yet to be seen, the US Navy is betting on the mothership concept, and other countries are as well. The French
SMX-22 concept is another example of underwater mothership theory in development.