(From the National Interest)
By Harry J. Kazianis
There is no force patrolling the world’s oceans more powerful than the mighty U.S. Navy. Washington’s nuclear-powered attack and ballistic submarines, aircraft carriers and surface combatants, all guided by the best trained sailors and professionals in the world, are no match when stacked up on paper one-on-one against the likes of Russia, China, Iran or any other challenger. And as history shows, going to war against Washington in a fair-fight is suicide. However, thanks to advances in modern, ultra-quiet conventional diesel-electric submarines, Washington will need to adjust its tactics if it were to tangle with any nation sporting these increasingly sophisticated weapons of war.
To be fair, the threat of super-stealthy diesel submarines being deployed around the world has been present for decades. Still, newer boats are coming armed with advanced anti-ship weapons and are being combined with new air-independent propulsion systems (AIP) making them near impossible to find in the ocean’s depths—a one-two punch that can’t be ignored.
Recent history shows only too clearly the challenge the United States and other modern navies are facing from these heavily armed, ‘stealth’ submarines. Back as far as 2005, the U.S. Navy recognized the challenge and reached out to friends and allies for help. It was that year that the HMS Gotland, a modern AIP submarine serving in the Swedish Navy,made its home in California for a year. The goal was to test the impact of such a boat against U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups and other important vessels. It seems the boats, much cheaper to produce than the standard American nuclear-attack subs, created quite the stir:
“Apparently the Navy got more than they were bargaining for when it came to finding and engaging the stealthy little sub. The Gotland virtually ‘sunk’ many U.S. nuclear fast attack subs, destroyers, frigates, cruisers and even made it into the ‘red zone’ beyond the last ring of anti-submarine defenses within a carrier strike group. Although it was rumored she got many simulated shots off on various U.S. super-carriers, one large-scale training exercise in particular with the then brand new USS Ronald Reagan ended with the little sub making multiple attack runs on the super-carrier, before slithering away without ever being detected. . . ”
“. . .the little Swedish sub was “so silent it literally did not exist to our sensors.”