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CHIPS Articles: Detecting Conventionally Powered Submarines

Detecting Conventionally Powered Submarines
Team SPAWAR contributions to the DESI and Maritime Strategy
By Frank Bantell, Jose Carreno, George Galdorisi and Russell Grall - July-September 2009
Since the end of the Cold War, the antisubmarine warfare challenge changed from one focused on prosecuting nuclear-powered submarines in deep oceans, to finding conventionally powered vessels operating in the shallow, littoral regions of the world. The need to train against this threat is palpable. The solution today is the Diesel Electric Submarine Initiative.

Begun in 2001, DESI grew out of a necessity for realistic antisubmarine warfare (ASW) training against the emerging threat of conventional submarines. Relatively inexpensive, conventional submarines constitute a threat entirely out of proportion to their cost and numbers. Once underway, the stealth capability of these assets requires an inordinate amount of resources dedicated to finding and prosecuting their threat.

To underscore this point, during the Falklands War, the Royal Navy committed a fair portion of its resources to finding the ARA San Luis (S-32), a Type 209 diesel-powered submarine of the Argentine Navy, known to be operating north of the Falklands. Despite considerable effort by the Royal Navy, the San Luis successfully evaded detection, returning safely to its homeport of Mar del Plata, Argentina.

Over the last several years, the number of conventionally powered submarines has proliferated, with more than 370 submarines spread across 39 countries, many of these in the Pacific Rim region, and many of them in the hands of nations who are potential rivals of the United States.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, U.S. naval strategic thinking transitioned from blue water operations to power projection and the employment of naval forces from the sea to influence events in the littoral regions of the world.

The two Navy strategic documents are "From the Sea and Forward …" and "From the Sea." The notion of projecting power into the littorals was ultimately incorporated into the Navy's vision document, "Sea Power 21," issued in 2002.

Focused on "projecting decisive joint capabilities," Sea Power 21 would "continue the evolution of U.S. naval power from the blue water, war-at-sea focus of the 'Maritime Strategy' (1986), through the littoral emphasis to a broadened strategy in which naval forces are fully integrated into global joint operations against regional and transnational dangers."

Sea Power 21 remains the Navy's vision to this day, and the ways and means to achieve its ends are set forth in the nation's maritime strategy, "A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower." Influencing events ashore therefore remains an overarching strategic imperative, and sea control into the littoral regions requires a robust ASW capability.

Organized under U.S. Fleet Forces Command, DESI provides the U.S. Navy's surface and subsurface assets with realistic training against conventionally powered submarines.

Unlike Soviet nuclear submarines that were relatively noisy and could be detected with passive sonar, modern diesel–electric submarines are much harder to detect, particularly in the littoral regions where sea life and merchant shipping can mask their presence.

Without diesel-electric submarines of its own, the U.S. Navy has turned to partner nations to provide a credible, realistic opposition force. The demand for training against these types of threats has grown and become a key element of strike group ASW training certification.

Conducted on both the U.S. East and West Coasts, DESI participants primarily include South American navies, such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru, with Argentina expected to participate in 2010.

Thus, aside from actual training, DESI promotes a key pillar of the Maritime Strategy, that of fostering international trust and cooperation. Specifically, the Maritime Strategy notes that "expanded cooperation with the maritime forces of other nations requires more interoperability with multinational partners possessing various levels of technology." A key part of this effort is the Global Maritime Partnership, an initiative intended to serve as a "catalyst for increased international interoperability."

Achieving interoperability constitutes not only a cornerstone of the Maritime Strategy, but a necessity for successful training engagements like DESI. In that regard, one of the biggest challenges has been that of communications between U.S. and South American assets while underway that goes beyond language barriers and into the technical realm.

To bridge this gap, DESI leveraged the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS), a coalition communications network, in support of 2008 and 2009 DESI events in San Diego. Team SPAWAR, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, implemented this vital communications component.

Shortly upon arrival to Naval Submarine Base in Point Loma, personnel from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) successfully installed and trained CENTRIXS on the Type 209 Peruvian submarine, BAP Arica (SS-36), as well as at the Peruvian Navy's Submarine Headquarters in Callao, Peru. Each installation took approximately two days to complete, demonstrating both the mobility and flexibility with which the deployable systems used to connect partner nations to the CENTRIXS coalition network can be installed.

The team coordinated closely with U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (NAVSO), Commander, Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC), and Commander, Submarine Squadron 11 prior to the installation to ensure operational objectives would be met.

For the past two months, the BAP Arica has been using CENTRIXS to communicate with Peruvian Submarine Headquarters as well as COMSUBPAC in Hawaii via secure chat and e-mail. Releasable security devices were used in both installations allowing the BAP Arica to sail without the need for U.S. Navy ship riders, thus saving U.S. naval resources.

This is the second time CENTRIXS has been used on a diesel-electric boat. The first was Chilean Submarine (CS) Simpson (SS-21) in September 2008 while Simpson was also participating in the DESI program. This year's efforts, however, mark the first partner nation submarine headquarters to be enabled with CENTRIXS.

The strength of CENTRIXS is in its ability to permit highly secure communications between the United States and partner nations. This capability is critical to all installations and has been a focus area of SSC Pacific for several years, involving close coordination with the fleet, combatant commanders and other agencies, to resolve technical issues and seek the appropriate approvals.

Services normally available for high bandwidth platforms include chat, email, Web services, Common Operational Picture and Voice over Internet Protocol enabling real-time secure information exchange between units. However, for the DESI installs, extremely mobile, small footprint, low-bandwidth CENTRIXS Portable Operations Kits (CPOK) were used.

The CPOKs were developed by SSC Pacific, in conjunction with industry, and were first deployed in 2006 during the Southeast Asia Cooperation Against Terrorism (SEACAT) exercises.

CPOKs facilitated communications between smaller partner nation ships, achieving navy-to-navy communications between U.S. and four Southeast Asia partner nations.

As a result of the limited bandwidth, only chat, e-mail and a geographically filtered COP are normally deployed with a CPOK install. However, these three applications are the cornerstone of the collaboration toolsets allowing the ships to maintain 24/7 situational awareness with any other CENTRIXS enabled units. The appeal of using a CPOK comes from its ease of use and low up-front hardware costs of just under $10,000.

The CPOK is one of a variety of different fly-away kits that SSC Pacific provides to enable the fleet and partner nations to connect to CENTRIXS.

SSC Pacific, in conjunction with Commander, Pacific Fleet and other naval organizations, has managed and executed more than 50 installations and removals in each of the past three years. As noted in an article from the January-March 2008 issue of CHIPS, "Supporting a Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower through Interoperability," this effort represents one facet of Team SPAWAR's ongoing contribution to enabling the interoperability necessary to fully realize the Global Maritime Partnership.

With the program now in its eighth year, and its imminent expansion in 2010 with the expected participation of Argentina, DESI stands as an example of viable cooperation in the Americas. Expanding participation to other nations can broaden the span of cooperation, and provide U.S. forces with a more diverse set of submarines for honing their skills.

Widely exported throughout South America, German-built Type 209 submarines have been the primary asset employed during DESI. Exercises with other submarine designs, such as the Swedish Navy HMS Gotland, leased by the U.S Navy between 2005 and 2007, can only enhance the training regimen of U.S. Sailors.

With air-independent propulsion systems, these advanced submarines can remain submerged for significantly longer periods of time, with obvious implications for ASW efforts.

Enabling partner navies with interoperability with U.S. forces remains a critical imperative Team SPAWAR is well positioned to provide.

Through its contributions to DESI and the Global Maritime Partnership, SSC Pacific and Team SPAWAR have helped foster interoperability of U.S. and partner nations in support of a critical training component of U.S surface and subsurface forces against an emerging threat.

Enabling these kinds of exercises not only enhances the capability of U.S naval forces, but fosters the trust and cooperation prescribed in the nation’s maritime strategy.

George Galdorisi is the director of the Corporate Strategy Group for SSC Pacific.

José Carreño is the branch head for Strategic and Business Planning at SSC Pacific.

Frank Bantell is the lead coalition communications engineer working for SSC Pacific in the Pacific C4ISR department group in direct support of the U.S. Pacific Fleet communications directorate.

Russell Grall is a senior project engineer who works in the SSC Pacific C4ISR department.

SAN DIEGO (April 30, 2009) The Peruvian Navy submarine BAP Arica (SS-36) prepares to moor to a pier at Naval Submarine Base Point Loma. Arica is the first Peruvian submarine to pull into San Diego Bay and is participating in the Diesel Electric Submarine Initiative (DESI). The DESI program is a U.S. Navy partnership with South American countries and supports their diesel-electric submarine operations and fleet readiness events in operating areas off the U.S. East and West Coasts. Participating DESI partners include Colombia, Peru, Chile and Brazil. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Derek R. Sanchez.
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