Autonomous systems 'can help sustain undersea advantage'
Warship Technology: October 2020
In a September 2020 report, ‘Sustaining the Undersea Advantage: Disrupting Anti-Submarine Warfare Using Autonomous Systems,’ Bryan Clark, Seth Cropsey and Timothy Walton argue that submarine threats to US forces, and the difficulty of countering them, have increased significantly in the last decade.
They particularly highlight that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy is modernising its fleet with conventional air-independent propulsion submarines that support its broader sensor and weapon networks. It is also fielding nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and ballistic missile submarines capable of longer or more distant deployments. Equally, new generations of Russian Federation Navy SSNs are difficult to track and could be employed for conventional or nuclear strikes during a conflict.
Both countries are augmenting their submarine fleets with large autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) incorporating submarine like capabilities, and modern submarine technology has proliferated, with the North Korean and Iranian navies using submarines and AUVs to level the playing field with their larger regional competitors and the US.
“Unfortunately, the current US and allied approach to antisubmarine warfare (ASW) is unlikely to cope with the probable scale of undersea threats in a crisis or conflict,” the Hudson Institute’s authors argue. However, they believe that “mature technology for autonomous vehicles, deployable sonars, automated acoustic processing, and communications networking are creating new opportunities for submarine detection, tracking, and engagement.
“Combined with new, more offensively oriented ASW strategies and tactics that exploit submarines’ inherent vulnerabilities, these technologies could allow ASW forces to suppress and marginalise submarines with greater effectiveness and at lower cost than today’s predominant ASW concepts. This approach would free SSNs to focus on engagement and destruction of enemy submarines when needed, rather than being tied up in ASW search and track.”
A new unmanned ASW systems of systems would be more sustainable, they argue, and ASW operations could concentrate on choke points and an opponent’s home waters. This would reduce the threat in open ocean or enable more effective monitoring of submarine deployments to allow rapid attacks on them when competition turns to conflict.