The last of the conventionals

Discussion in 'U.S. Military History' started by Sven, May 6, 2016.

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  1. Sven

    Sven Teh Viking dood Industry Professional Ret. Military

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    Barbel class submarine

    When it was launched the USS Barbel was the most advanced attack submarine in the world in all respects except one; it’s powerplant. By the 1950s submarine design was going through a series of revolutions, undoubtedly led by the US Navy. German WW2 technology had kick started postwar submarine development, but new innovations in hull form and propulsion were led by the US with countries like Britain, Russia and Netherlands contributing to the wider story.
    Barbel1800.jpg

    In 1953 the USS Albacore (AGSS-569) was launched to test and demonstrate a revolutionary new hull design which owed more to the 1800’s Holland type submarines and airships, significantly research by British female mathematician Hilda Lyons. The hull form was initially known as the Lyon shape but soon became known as the Albacore hull, or less precisely the teardrop hull. Until then virtually all submarines had a boat-like bow to cut through the waves on the surface, but the pointed bow of the Albacore was optimized for underwear performance.

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    The highly streamlined Albacore was capable of astonishing speeds; 33kt for a diesel submarine. But it wasn’t a fighting machine. From the outset she was designed without torpedo tubes which was contentious but ensured that she was available for vital research and testing. Like the famous German Type-XXI Elektroboote she had double hull construction with the outer hull providing streamlining as well as ballast tanks. Barbel was in many respects the front-line version of Albacore with a similar hull form but room for a torpedo room with six tubes. The tapered single-screw stern meant that all the torpedo tubes were forward firing. Albacore is remembered in part for its unusual ‘ X ‘ form tail and contra-rotating propellers but at the time that Barbel was launched, the Albacore still had its original single-screw and ‘+’ tail surfaces. Albacore also had the bow hydroplanes removed but Barbel, requiring shallow-water maneuverability, retained hers although they were subsequently relocated from the bow to the sail. The Barbel also dispensed with the Albacore’s troublesome ‘pancake’ rotary engines in favor of less powerful but more reliable conventional units, limiting her speed to a still impressive 25kt.

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    Only three Barbel Class boats were built, the last diesel-electric attack submarines in the US Navy. The reason was that, in parallel to the Albacore hull, the Navy was pioneering nuclear propulsion. The first nuclear boats retained comparatively conventional hull forms based on the Type-XXI U-boat to reduce risk. But nuclear submarines soon proved themselves capable of incredible underwater endurance with sufficient safety, and series production was switched 100% to nuclear submarines at the expense of the Barbel Class. In some respects the Barbel Class was a contingency against the failure of the nuclear submarine concept. However, just months after Barbel, the first Skipjack Class nuclear sub was laid down, combining the nuclear propulsion with the Albacore hull form. Unlike Barbel and Albacore however, Skipjack was a mostly single-hull boat, another trend within the US Navy. There is some truth in the popular belief that the US Navy built single-hull submarines and the Russians built double-hull submarines. But there were exceptions on both sides, and the Barbel was a completely double-hull design and the Russian CHARLIE was largely single hull.

    The advent of the nuclear submarine was not greeted with joy in many corners of the Submarine Force. For much of the 1960s, most operational submarines were still diesel boats although only the Barbel Class could be considered modern. The second-class citizen status of diesel boats was quietly resented and a certain pride grew up within the diesel boat community that they were still more reliable than the newfangled nuclear boats. Often Barbel and other ‘pig boats’ were called upon to stand in for broken-down nuclear boats. This was embodied in the unofficial DBF pin: Diesel Boats Forever. The pin, which was worn with pride, was actually designed aboard USS Barbel by ETR3(SS) Leon Figurido in 1969. Soon submariners who had transferred from diesel boats to nukes were wearing it aboard the nuclear navy, and there were attempts to stamp it out. But the pin remains a source of pride for many ex-submariners.

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    The Barbel Class served until the late 1980s. One, the USS Blueback (SS-581), is preserved at a museum in Portland, Oregon

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    With most other NATO navies not pursuing nuclear submarines (the British and French being the exceptions) the Barbel was influential in NATO attack submarine design during the late 1950s and 1960s. The closest direct copy was the Dutch Zwaardvis Class. For a time the Royal Navy also pursued an Albacore-hull diesel submarine but this was dropped when Britain’s first nuclear submarine, HMS Dreadnought, was started. Instead the Royal Navy ordered an iterative improvement of the old fashioned Porpoise Class to save development costs. These Oberon Class boats were decent submarines but comparatively slow.

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    The Japanese Yushio Class submarine was also based closely on the Barbel Class, although coming over ten years later incorporated further advances such as a flank torpedo tubes to allow a larger bow sonar. Equipment was Japanese.

    ...

    USS Blueback is located at the OMSI museum in Portland, Oregon and is open to the public for both exploration and even rides!

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  2. Spectre

    Spectre 2nd Lieutenant

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    Hi Sven

    For regional navies like IN, having and proposing a mix of conventional and nuclear subs

    1. Do you think having both conventional and nuclear subs is inefficient and if Yes then which ones do you think would be more appropriate advanced conventional subs like modified barracuda, type -214,216 or full fledged nuclear ones.

    2. How would you characterize progression of nuclear reactor tech in submarines when you consider latest gen of nuclear subs from France, Chinese, UK, Russia, US. I mean to ask broadly speaking let's say for eg: US has the best reactor tech and does not need to refuel for lifespan of sub but leaving that aside does it translate to quieter subs?

    3. Does the proliferation of ASW systems like corvettes, P-8s etc change the balance meaning can a country not having access to let's say nuclear sub instead make up for this by having good conventional subs and strong ASW systems. I am specifically referring to India and the objective being complete control over our sides of waters meaning Indian Ocean.

    4. Can satellites have a role in detecting subs both conventional and nuclear?
     
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  3. Sven

    Sven Teh Viking dood Industry Professional Ret. Military

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    The makeup of a regional navy's underwater forces will be dependent primarily on three things.

    1. Threat profile

    2. Regional topography

    3. Doctrine

    For a nation like the US, there's little incentive to maintain both nuclear and conventional submarines as there are no regional threats present (though based on the USN threat profile alone, there may be a need for AIPs in the shallow waters of the SCS), and a vast network of early warning platforms to detect incoming ones. But for India, it needs to deal not only with Pakistani conventional submarines, but encroaching Chinese nuclear boats.

    That's part of your threat profile and part of your enemies knowledge of the regional topography and their assessment of your threat profile and a function of their doctrine.

    But looking at India specifically, their doctrine is regional influence and national defense. Their influence means keeping Pakistan down and China out. Forget about the USN, we're not going anywhere.

    Because of the size of the IOR and its topographic makeup:

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    Their current direction of a nuclear and conventional submarine force is prudent. Conventional submarines can venture into deeper waters and nuclear boats into shallow ones... but why waste a nuke boat on Pakistan's SSC (littoral conventional submarines - often called coastal defense subs)?

    And would an ambush-hunter, as SSKs are often used as, be the best deterrence for fast moving and deep diving Chinese SSNs operating in the vast depths of the IOR? Of course not. There's too much room for wait-and-watch tactics, you need a hunter-killer to patrol those waters.

    So because we have a threat that uses coastal defense submarines in shallow waters, we need a submarine that can effect the same area. These being conventional designs.

    And because we have a threat that uses SSNs in deep waters, we need nuclear submarines to stave off their incursions. These would be you own nuclear submarines.

    If we take all three parameters:

    What are India's objectives?

    What is the regional topography like?

    What threats do we face?

    And identify each, we'll find that India's subsurface warfare platforms are evolving specifically in the direction above. SSKs and AIP subs for deterrence against Pakistan. SSNs for deterrence against China.

    I can't divulge anything juicy about the reliability of modern Chinese or Russian reactors, though they have historically been less reliable (needing more and more frequent maintenance) then their US counterparts. The UK and France have comparable reactor designs to the US and in some cases, US input in those designs.

    But nuclear propulsion is noisy and reactor design hasn't changed much since the 50s. Machinery comes and goes, new layouts sprout up, but one constant remains and isn't the design - it's the noise.

    You can quiet the submarine's internal machinery with shock suppression systems, to prevent it from rattling, shaking or bouncing around, as seen here with shock absorbers in an exercise room:

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    People stomping on a treadmill may seen trivial above water, but it's deadly noisy underneath.

    Reactors can have their noise suppressed too. But they're always noisy to operate. Most suppression techniques that effect the reactor are done on the submarine's surface with rubber coating tiles, the pumpjet or prop and their shroud and design, in and on the piping that connects the reactor to the pumpjet or prop and on the reactor containment vessel - this is the containment vessel for an S6G reactor on USS Toledo:

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    There's not much you can do for the reactor itself though.

    A submarine is only as good as its crew and an ASW platform only as good as its. The proliferation of ASW platforms and high-tech MPAs doesn't change the nature of subsurface warfare in such a way that one side suddenly gains an overwhelming advantage over the other by possessing it.

    But it does make life easier too. The more ASW assets you have the more that can be on station and the more ground you can cover in a given time.

    But it's not an infallible solution either. A sub commander will learn how to foil MPAs and ASW surface vessels, and even other subs by exploiting the regional topography. MADs are easy to fool and do gather an impressively large number of false positives ranging from ECM decoys to packs of sea animals, underwater mineral deposits and even underwater volcanoes, each can be used as a hide to shield one's signature as can shadowing an ASW vessel in its blind spots or by exploiting vulnerabilities or deficiencies in the ASW gear the other side is use.

    There are sound countermeasures too to foil sonobuoys other then decoys.

    One side having a large number of ASW assets and conventional submarines doesn't negate the effectiveness of nuke boats, though that would put the SSN out of their element too and that'd do a doctrine flaw that could upset the balance, and one side having a small number of nuke boats and a deficient ASW force doesn't guarantee the other side is using their assets in a superior way.

    Just as a lone sniper can hold up an army, a single submarine used properly by a competent crew can stop and entire flotilla in its tracks.

    It's all about tactics and doctrine. Numbers and tech only matter so much.

    Yes, but those methods are classified and I can not in good faith, or legally, divulge that information publically.

    Sorry, I had a hand in this during my navy service as I worked for the organization that specializes in tracking submarines, friendly and foe, and all I can say is that there are methods to track subsurface targets using satellites.

    My focus was on Sub-to-satellite communications, but I didn't just do work on communications platforms. I've a very intimate relationship with USN and NRO and NGA satellites.
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2016
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  4. Pathfinder

    Pathfinder Lieutenant Colonel

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    Diesel Sub Pros:
    • Lower Cost
    • Can turn off engine and sit on ocean floor (very quiet)
    Diesel Sub Cons:
    • Can't stay submerged forever like a nuclear sub, rather they are limited to a max of generally 1 month (nuclear sub is restricted by the crews supplies)
    • They can be slower than nuclear subs.
    I think if we started manufacturing diesel electric subs and do pretty in the international market. We could also acquire some of our own and base them in the Philippines or Japan. Restarting production could be a little costly but it might pay off in the longterm.
     
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  5. Sven

    Sven Teh Viking dood Industry Professional Ret. Military

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    For the USN I don't foresee any necessity, the newer nuke boats are equipped with "stuff" that allows them to operate more effectively in littoral waters like bow thrusters. In fact, the Virginia's were specifically designed with littoral operations in mind, though they are still out-classed by AIP or DE subs.

    But for the world's submarine market, having the designs and being able to sell them would be a major boon for Iron Bath Work and Electric Boat. Taiwan, Australia before they chose DCNS, Norway and a host of other nations would be interested in a modern US AIP design.

    And to be fair, we do actually have designs, just no plans to use them.
     
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  6. Spectre

    Spectre 2nd Lieutenant

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    Thanks Sven..

    Your last point rings specially true considering what I have read about Indian P-8i Neptunes. We don't have foundational agreements including CISMOA signed with US and hence communication gear were not procured from US and we had to buy off the shelf the systems which are fairly basic when it comes to C4ISR and particularly so when it comes to communicating with submerged assets.

    This is one the major reasons why IN is gunning for LCA, BECA, CISMOA despite there not being much political will for them considering our strategic systems are still to a large extent Russian.

    The reasons why I asked these questions is because there have been rumblings of doctrinal shift when it comes to India's force positioning and I am not sure if the current and future procurements can support this directive. Out here I am likely to get a blunt but truthful answers out from a neutral party.

    As for tactics and crew competency - it's like blind fighting the blind out here. None of countries in region have extensive experience in active combat or even ops under heightened threat environment. In case of India, we have been trying to get some experience by leasing Russian nuclear subs so that the day when we have our own, we will be somewhat ready. Though as you said in-depth knowledge of local topography can come in handy as it did during recent Malabar exercises with US and Japan where our old kilo subs performed fairly well.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2016
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  7. Sven

    Sven Teh Viking dood Industry Professional Ret. Military

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    Overall the procurement of the IN seems to be inline with the realization that they need to stave off China and not just Pakistan and the systems they are after reflect this greatly. I've a favorable view on current and future system procurements, but also would have liked to see some changes such an Amphibious Assault Ships rather then Aircraft carriers, but my assessment of the surface and subsurface fleet is favorable.

    It's in the weapons procurement that I'd like to see the most changes. Some are outdated or seem out of place.

    IN ships still sail with an RBU-6000 ASW weapons system:

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    I prefer to see an ASROC type design in its place for long-ranged engagements and to enhance the ship's stealth profile by hiding the weapons in a VLS, rather then having the launcher exposed above deck:

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    The Barak 8 is a potent missile system, but was designed mainly with Israeli coasts in mind rather then the large open area of the IOR.

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    I'd rather see a long-range air-defense missile grace IN destroyers. Something in the class of SM-2ER or SM-6.

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    Both of which have ranges in excess of 150 nm, rather then the 100km of Barak 8.

    The newest ships are getting Brahmos to replace KH-35. On the opposite spectrum from barak 8, I feel this is overkill for the ship-types that Pakistan fields. Chinese subs, not surface vessels are your main naval concern from them.

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    It's big, it's heavy and it's expensive and with Pakistan lacking the electronic warfare and decoy options that it'd need to thwart existing AShM designs, it's overkill. India also has the Klub series of AShM, but I'd like to see a Harpoon-class of missile on IN ships too. Keep Brahmos for heavier targets and use a Harpoon type against their frigates and corvettes.

    Finally, and while I acknowledge this is changing with the procurement of heloes from either the US with the S-70 or Russia with a variant of their KA-31, India's current Dhruv and Sea Kings are lacking in ASW capabilities when paired against modern submarine designs like the S40 that Pakistan is acquiring from China. China's nuclear submarines lag behind their western and Russian counterparts, but their AIP and DE sub designs are top-notch.

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    Speeding up this procurement should be a priority as lagging behind in ASW, tech and tactics, is a death sentence for a navy in this day and age.

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    But this is just me being nitpicky and overall the direction the IN is going from a procurement perspective is promising. The tactics and doctrine need to shift too, and joint training with Japan, Australia and the US will help a lot, but India has much to do on its own as well.

    There are a few other critical items that are needed, like secure communications, remote sensing platforms, networking and net centric battlefield awareness and cooperation capabilities, but these will come in time. It takes year to developed a strong working relationship between a nation's military branches. Heck, even the US is fine-tuning this at the moment with its CEC and AirSea Battle concepts (the doctrine is still around, but the name's been changed).

    For the most part the IN is progressing nicely and its procurement reflecting a changing regional dynamic that sees the reality of China being a bigger player in the IOR.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2016
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