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As Underwater Threat Re-emerges, Navy Renews Emphasis on ASW

Special Correspondent

Sea Power
October 2004

After a decade in the shadows, the Navy has put antisubmarine warfare (ASW) back at the top of its warfighting priorities, injecting new leadership and increased funding into the fight against a re-emerging undersea threat.

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Vern Clark has created three new organizations to drive an effort to improve ASW capabilities by accelerating the development and fielding of new technologies and operational concepts, re-energizing and updating fleet training, and drafting a new ASW master plan. The newest of the organizations is Fleet ASW Command, headquartered in San Diego, which was established in April. It will work directly with fleet units and commanders to integrate ASW training and operations.

The other organizations are:

  • Task Force ASW, in the Navy Staff in Washington, D.C., that will review and study options available for revamping the Navy’s ASW mission.

  • The Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems at Naval Sea Systems Command (NavSea), which coordinates research, development and procurement of new ASW systems.

    In announcing the stand up of Fleet ASW Command, Clark said he had acted “because this is important and we’re not just going to talk about it, we’re going to do something about it.”

    With the end of the Cold War and the long confrontation with the huge Soviet submarine fleet, and a decade of conflict in the Persian Gulf, the Navy’s focus had shifted to other fields, including strike warfare. But ASW has returned to prominence because Clark “looked at what the president requires of the Navy. That is access to project power” into an area of conflict, said Rear Adm. Mark W. Kenny, the flag officer in charge of Task Force ASW. “He sees that the biggest threats to access are (the) submarines and mines of our potential adversaries.”

    The extent of that threat has increased dramatically due to the proliferation of advanced diesel-electric submarines, Kenny said. At least 40 nations operate a total of more than 400 submarines, many of which are the modern diesel boats that are exceptionally quiet and can stay submerged for extended periods.

    Two of the largest submarine forces are in the Western Pacific, a key Navy operating area, said Kenny, a former attack submarine skipper. China has at least 69 submarines, including modern diesels and nuclear-powered boats, and North Korea is thought to have 26 relatively old diesels. In the Persian Gulf, Iran has obtained three Russian-made Kilos in a move to contest U.S. naval dominance. The challenge presented by these quiet submarines is heightened by the fact that they operate mainly in the noisy, shallow waters of the littoral.

    An S-3B "Viking" from the “Diamond Cutters” of Carrier Antisubmarine Warfare Squadron Three Zero (VS-30) launches from one of four steam driven catapults on the ship’s flight deck. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Corey T. Lewis)
    The Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems was formed at NavSea in November 2002 during the Navy’s service-wide acquisition realignment. Capt. Paul Rosbolt oversees ASW programs at the office, which coordinates ASW systems across all five of the Navy’s Program Executive Offices on such platforms as the Littoral Combat Ship, DD(X) and Virginia-class attack submarines.

    The CNO formed Task Force ASW in February 2003. Initially a study effort, the task force developed into a fulltime organization with a core of about a dozen personnel, augmented as needed by the Navy staff, said Kenny, who assumed leadership of the task force last October, joined by Capt. David Yoshihara as director.

    The task force has focused on addressing Clark’s challenge “to change the warfighting calculus” in ASW and try “to do that with the technology that’s available to us,” Yoshihara said.

    It also has studied the Navy staff’s planning and considered “where we think we’ll have to engage the threats,” Kenny said. And “we have, for the first time since the Cold War, increased the funding going into ASW programs.”

    Rear Adm. John J. Waickwicz took command of Fleet ASW Command April 8 in San Diego. The command has detachments in Norfolk, Va., and Yokosuka, Japan. When fully staffed, he said, it will have about 100 personnel in San Diego, 40 in Norfolk and five in Japan. “We’ve essentially been designated as the warfighting center of excellence for ASW,” Waickwicz said.

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    The command’s primary missions are to foster ASW operations through fleet training, assess ASW performance at all levels through fleet exercises, coordinate with the Navy Personnel Development Center and individual commands in the qualification of ASW personnel, and ensure rapid fleet insertion of advanced technologies, he said.

    Task Force ASW also is deeply involved in pushing technology to the fleet, Kenny said. That reflects “the sense of urgency” coming from Clark, who is “frustrated” with an acquisition process “that can take eight to 10 years to deliver the types of systems we think we’re going to need to prevail.” To find new tools that are available now, he said, the task force reaches out to the government’s science and technology communities and to industry and academia.


  • © 2004 Navy League of the United States. All rights reserved.

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