Editor's note 10/19/2014 Recent Detections of Russian Submarines in Swedish Territorial Waters Prompt Us To Draw Attention To Our Ongoing Similar Problem in the U.S. Gulf, Though there have been no Detected Submerged Intrusions into our Actual Territorial Sea yet.
UNDETECTED RUSSIAN SUBMARINES OPERATING IN THE GULF OF MEXICO ?
ANALYSIS AND OPINION:
Last week we reported a press story buried in the back pages of the general media about a Russian AKULA Class nuclear propelled and nuclear armed attack submarine operating a protracted patrol for an extended period in the Gulf of Mexico undetected by American forces. In our analysis we explained how the U.S. Coast Guard which is all over the Gulf seeking out drug smugglers and illegal migrants lost their submarine detection and combat gear to the post Cold War "Peace Dividend" approved by both political parties. There were of course comments by our professional brethren in naval circles that we never should have been dependent on shipboard sonar on scene detection by Coast Guard units as our "information dominance systems" ( "NAVSPEAK" for enhanced and coordinated intelligence ) should have picked up any such submarine when it left its den and tracked it continuously. We also endured some digs about the USCG never being that good at such detection anyway. Then a Chinese source published an account of a Pentagon official supposedly directly responding to a Chinese media inquiry denying that the "intrusion" actually ever happened.
We dutifully reported the alleged denial. We also offered the opinion that the silence by the Russians was understandable. The Russians would neither confirm or deny their alleged presence in the Gulf. After all, as long as they did not enter our territorial waters (12 miles from a base line closely paralleling our charted shore), they had done nothing illegal under international law. Why deny and give U..S. Naval officials a breather, why confirm and definitely start a U.S. effort at detection improvement? A wise enemy simply would let the United States sort of "stew in its own juices". Now if any of you think Russia is an open and non hostile state toward U.S. interest I have some derivative stocks I'd like to sell you.
The U.S. Media seemed to have little if anything to say and the Obama Administration was silent. It was as if the U.S. Government and the U.S. media just wanted the story to go away. Then yesterday afternoon a story broke about U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) , a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee sending a letter to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenhart requesting information on intrusions by two Russian submarines in the Gulf of Mexico which went undetected by U.S. forces. You can click here for the news story on the Senator's letter: http://thehill.com/blogs/defcon-hill/navy/244169-cornyn-presses-navy-on-russian-subs-off-us-coast-
SO WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?
Frankly, damned if we know. We can't say that we were ever able to find what we would consider an irrefutably reliable source for the first story. Then the only denial we found supposedly by the U.S. government was reported by a Chinese source. Then, denial or not by the Pentagon; yesterday a U.S. Senator on the Armed Forces Committee sends a letter to the Chief of Naval Operations requesting information on two such incidents. Were there one, two or no incidents? Apparently only the Russians know for sure. But Russia scores big on this one even if the intrusions were a hoax.
WHY DOES RUSSIA SCORE ON THIS PLAY REGARDLESS?
First if the two submarine intrusions into the heavily (by the USCG) patrolled Gulf of Mexico actually did happen then the Russian submarine force has learned to both evade our trackers when breaking out of the sub pen and evade our tracking forces for long submerged passages. As we opined earlier it should be no surprise that they would pick the Gulf of Mexico for such an adventure. We have no sub pens on the Gulf, few assets are deployed there to track submarines compared to the East and West Coasts where we do home port our own submarines. Assuming that Russian subs could get out of their "pens" undetected an approach from the south into the Gulf via the Caribbean may bring the Russian subs right into the path of the USCG's anti drug and illegal migrant patrols. However, as we observed earlier, these cutters lost their anti submarine detection and countermeasures capability decades ago. The USCG went "sonar blind" when what Mark Twain called our "only organized criminal class", the U.S. Congress demanded the expenditures as a "Peace Dividend" at the end of the Cold War. So if the Russians did what has been reported we are going to have to rethink some previous decisions, spend on research, and and spend on some new surveillance and counter measures.
Then again maybe the subs just departed from a "pen" we were unaware of, we will have to spend some time effort and money on finding that "pen" and getting it under proper surveillance. We will also have to figure out their approach track and beef up sensors along this potential alternate route. On the other hand the whole thing could be a hoax. With the Russians neither confirming nor denying anything we have to spend time effort and money investigating. If our investigation is inconclusive we have to develop contingency plans and equipment on the assumption that it could happen. The operative word here is SPEND. No matter which way this goes down in the end we have been forced to spend dollars that we don't have. How did we "win" the Cold War? We out spent the old Soviet Union by constantly developing a technologically superior military. Ivan may be a thug, but he has always been a history scholar. Today we are broke and the Bear's den is full of oil. Any move that causes us to spend is a solid right cross to the jaw. One thing Ivan can count on is that U.S. politicians are not good students of history.
China Wins Too.
The U.S. politicians do not see the tables being turned on us. The Dragon is pushing us in the China Sea. Our fleet is shrinking so we allocate more of it to the Pacific. Does no one else see it as more than coincidental that at just that moment in time the Bear does something to make us worry about our East/Gulf Coast?
Our opinion is that we are facing a two pronged attack by a thug state, and a state capitalists amoral ancient dragon. The object of these oblique attacks is to do to us what we did to the Soviet Union, break our piggy bank. Now the Dragon and the Bear may not get along once the Eagle is plucked but to their minds at least those pesky moralizing Americans won't be around muddying up the waters as they induce the world to trade on their terms.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
That depends on who do you mean by "we". For America's naval professionals it means that you have to play the hand you are dealt. You can't fix Congress, or the White House, or the two party one lunacy system. But even in a shrinking budget you can innovate, you have always been able to innovate better than the Bear or the Dragon. Surveillance can be cheaper than ships. If we truly achieve "information dominance" and we perfect "precision fires" we need fewer arrows in our quiver, and fewer archers. On the other hand , as one wag put it "sometimes quantity has a quality all its own". But if we look to our own history and reconsider the concept of "craft of opportunity" we may find that we can achieve a certain deterrent level of quantity in anti submarine warfare assets well short of paying retail for a bunch of low budget ships. First let's rearm the Coast Guard for anti submarine warfare. They have to be out there anyway. And, the Coast Guard isn't alone; the NOAA fleet officered by the uniformed and paramilitary NOAA Corps is out there constantly too. They already operate a variety of undersea sensors, it probably wouldn't be that big of a stretch to become part time submarine hunters/ reporters. We might even want to go so far as equipping some offshore supply boats and larger Coast Guard Auxiliary craft with cheap noisy submarine sensors just to make the U.S. Coastal subsea environment a little more scary for Ivan's sub commanders. Innovation beyond the type of innovation that requires billions of R&D money to the typical Beltway Bandits is what is called for by the naval professionals.
If We Means the Electorate:
We, and no one else but us, have to clean out the snake pit in Washington. Stop voting party lines and encourage pragmatic people who put America first to run for office. When possible put independents and small party members in Congress. If you don't like either of the two main party candidates for President vote for a third party candidate but vote. Your vote for a candidate other than the usual two choices tells who ever gets in that they have no "mandate" to please the extreme sectors of their parties or anyone else. The office holder who "squeaks in" knows he will have to please the majority pragmatic and results orientated voters to have any hope of re-election. In short marginalize the radicals of any stripe. The level headed folks must be the "swing vote", cross party lines, vote independents, and minor parties.
Write your representatives and remind them that the Constitution encourages the maintenance of a navy but is very circumspect about maintaining an army in peace time. In fact army budget allocations are limited to two years at a time by the Constitution. So what are we doing with across the board and equal military cuts? The framers of the constitution couldn't even imagine an air force. When we maintain a cracker jack navy, we maintain a cracker jack naval air arm, and the world's best Marine Corps. If you are a marine, embrace your naval heritage, its the Corps constitutional lease on life in peace time if our lawmakers who must cut budgets ever finally read the constitution. We must have at the ready at all times a first rate Navy, Marine Crops, Coast Guard team. In times of tight budgets our concentration on the Army and Air force should be on surge capability. They are not America's first responders. This is not to diminish these services in any way but it is a reality that we must face. Vote for people not afraid to articulate the truth.
If we means the current crop of office holders and office holder wanna be types of either party on the scene now.....
Frankly, we're screwed.
So we appear to be living the ancient Chinese curse, "may you live in interesting times" . When it comes to the sort of things we expect out of our, and their, submariners we may well be looking at a replay of much of the Cold War. Now would be a great time for naval professionals and civilian voters alike to read a work that ticked off the establishment and can give you a little insight into the uses of submarines beyond, torpedoing shipping, or launching nuclear weapons from beneath the sea. If you haven't already read it we suggest BLIND MAN'S BLUFF. The story of America's "silent service" during the Cold War.
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Dare to read, think, speak, and write...and have a nice day!