U.S. anti-submarine capability is eroding, and it may be too late to turn it around
Here's a not-so-comforting thought. The U.S. Navy's anti-submarine warfare (ASW) skills are getting rusty during the same period that quiet submarine technology in China and Iran is improving at a noticeable rate.
I wish that were the only bad news on the submarine warfare front, but it isn't. We have U.S. ASW capability going backward, submarine capability of U.S. strategic adversaries going forward, and U.S. Navy capability as a whole in decline, according to a top Navy official.
"We're long past the point of doing more with less," says Under Secretary of the Navy, Robert Work. "We are going to be doing less with less in the future."
Work was quoted in an AOL blog by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. headlined U.S. Military Will Have To Do 'Less With Less': Hill Must Vote On Money .
Freedberg wasn't finished there, however. "The capacity of the US and allied navies to hunt enemy submarines has suffered even as potential adversaries like China and Iran have built up their sub fleets," he blogged in a piece headlined Navy's Sub-Hunting Skills Declined While China, Iran Built More Submarines .
The subtle message here is that vital U.S. Navy ASW capability is eroding due to a longtime emphasis on counter insurgency, and with strong prospects for a dwindling future Navy budget, it might already be too late to turn around the ASW decline.
You can talk about stealth aircraft technology all you want, but there's really only one kind of military stealth vehicle on the planet, and that's the submarine.
Land vehicles? They still have substantial infrared signatures, and they can be seen and heard just like aircraft. Surface ships? Please. Big metal objects against a cool, flat surface. Not much ability to hide there.
But submarines, they're a different story. It's true that ASW technology is advancing throughout the world, and today's advanced diesel-electric submarines are as close to silent as you can get.
The ocean, however, is a difficult and unpredictable environment in which to hunt submerged vessels. Water columns at different depths, water densities, and salinity levels often can be a difficult, if not impossible, barrier to even the most sophisticated sonar sensors.
Sophisticated U.S. submarines for decades have enjoyed the ability to hide from almost everyone. Today, however, it's getting tougher to do as adversaries make up technological ground quickly.
It wouldn't seem to be the most advantageous time to see U.S. ASW capability slipping, but there it is. Something else to think about as we careen ever-closer to that fiscal cliff.