The Global War on Terror has gelled as a bloody slugfest in which information is power and perceptions are everything. Many terrorist activities take place in or near coastal population centers, span littorals, and transit oceans and seas. This new type of fighting - assymetric and amorphous - has required the constant updating of traditional submarine missions and the definition of whole new missions. Many of these taskings were virtually unheard of in their present guise as recently as 2000, but now are increasingly commonplace. And beneath a cloak of deep secrecy, the Silent Service brings home the bacon time after time.
The proliferation of modern diesel boats, some equipped with air-independent propulsion, has shifted the emphasis of anti-submarine warfare in the early 21st century. The strenuous perfecting of the difficult shallow-water and blue-water ASW tasks continues apace, not only to protect our military and commercial shipping assets underway, but also to prevent terrorists and rogues from traveling from their littorals to our littorals. Cooperative multi-national exercises demonstrate that the best weapon against an enemy diesel sub continues to be an American nuclear sub.
Because the opposition in the war against terror consists of sub-state and trans-state bad actors, aided sometimes by regimes or factions within pariah states, the mapping of hostile command and control infrastructures - which redesign themselves constantly and relocate frequently -- is particularly important. For the same reason, unconventional weapons of mass destruction indications and warnings need high priority. These intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions are roles for which U.S. Navy subs proved decisive against the USSR, a legacy of skills and achievements directly relevant to combating global Islamofascism.
The anti-surface warfare mission has taken on new dimensions, too, from brown water through green water to blue water. Piracy is a significant detriment to worldwide good order and thriving commerce. Modern pirates operate in littoral areas that are frequently hotbeds for terrorism; their activities and personnel overlap. Suppressing piracy yields dividends against terror. One means of unconventional WMD delivery is a cargo ship. Al Qaeda reportedly controls as many as two dozen vessels worldwide. Constantly monitoring, tracking, and taking down terrorist Q-ships is vital. Terrorism gets funds from illicit traffic in drugs, conventional weapons, and human beings. Interdiction of contraband trade provides an immediate, powerful way to sever enemy logistics, disrupt enemy attacks, and produce indispensable intelligence to plan more counter-terror efforts. Subs are ideal for quietly staking out and policing the nautical communications arteries used by evildoers, helping efficiently vector in surface and airborne forces as required.
Especially when equipped with next generation undersea and aerial mini-vehicles, nuclear subs possess unique capabilities to clandestinely identify, eavesdrop on, trail, and even interdict a broad spectrum of threats. Their crews provide our nation with sustained covert access into very shallow waters seamless with all-weather presence out to far past any international limits. The Silent Service perfected indispensable skills in the Cold War, and beneath a cloak of deep secrecy is plying them urgently, daily, during the Global War on Terror.
(Photo: One of three Russian-built Kilo Class submarines in service with the Iranian Navy.)-- Joe Buff