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Defense Focus: Diesel sub wonder weapons

Ideal for those nations not wanting to ramp up the local arms race with nuclear subs.
by Martin Sieff
Washington (UPI) Aug 31, 2007
The diesel submarine may be the leading "Cinderella weapon" of the 21st century. It gets no respect in the United States or Russia. But China, India, France, Germany and Israel are all betting on it big time.

The diesel submarine is certainly not a sexy new technology like anti-ballistic missiles, global positioning satellites or lasers. It has been around as long as the submarine itself (British Adm. Lord John "Jackie" Fisher's bizarre experiment in giant steam-powered submarines, the notorious "K" boats of World War I, never got very far).

Diesel submarine technology was perfected more than 60 years ago in the great ocean-worthy U.S. Navy fleet of subs in World War II and in the German Type XXII and XXIII U-boats that became operational towards the end of the war.

However, the development of nuclear submarines, first by the U.S. Navy in the 1950s and then by the Soviet Union, appeared to make the diesel sub as obsolete as the bow and arrow became after the mass production of firearms. Adm. Hyman Rickover, the feisty father of America's nuclear navy, hated them like poison. So did his successor admirals.

Thanks to their procurement policies, there is not a single shipyard left in the entire United States that makes them anymore. But in other major nations, the old diesel sub is making a remarkable comeback.

Israel has already deployed three German-built Dolphin diesel submarines to carry nuclear-armed cruise missiles to provide it with a survivable second-strike capability to deter Iran or other nations from the temptation of carrying out a pre-emptive first strike with nuclear weapons, and it has ordered at least two more -- both also from Germany.

France is doing good business building its Scorpion submarines for export too, and India is planning to deploy Scorpions with cruise missiles as a deterrent against Pakistan similar to the Israeli concept.

But the biggest enthusiast for diesel subs is China, which is building its own: In 2006 it built 14 of them to one U.S. -- nuclear-powered -- new submarine.

China is building a mixed, or balanced, submarine fleet. It has also invested in bigger nuclear-powered strategic submarines to carry a survivable second-strike ballistic missile deterrent primarily aimed at the United States. But it is pouring major resources into its conventional submarine fleet as well. Why?

Diesel subs certainly do not have the limitless range and endurance for long-term operational deployment that nuclear subs do. But in conventional war, they have a lot of advantages as well.

They can operate far more easily in littoral or offshore, shallow waters, and being much smaller than nuclear submarines gives them a potentially huge operational advantage in key enclosed potential combat regions like the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.

Also, China's procurement policies and its overwhelming concentration of force in its southeast coastal region leaves no doubt that Chinese operational planners see their most likely conventional enemy as being the U.S. Navy and Air Force in any eventual conflict over the status of Taiwan.

In this context, having a very large conventional diesel submarine fleet makes a lot of sense. Conventional diesel subs can pose a formidable threat to nuclear aircraft carriers operating within operational range of their home ports, as the Chinese sub fleet in the western Pacific and the Taiwan Strait would be doing in such a conflict.

U.S. anti-submarine warfare, or ASW, capabilities are superb, the best in the world. But they were overwhelmingly developed to locate and destroy bigger Soviet or Russian strategic and attack subs that were nuclear powered. A lot of smaller, cheaper diesel subs operating as underwater wolf packs would stand a much better chance of overwhelming the ASW defenses of U.S. carrier battle groups than throwing just two or three nuclear attack subs against them at a time would.

For Israel and India, the calculus is a different one: Israel simply cannot afford to buy nuclear subs, and they would be too big and therefore easy to detect in the relatively shallow Mediterranean anyway.

Nor does it need big nuclear-powered platforms like the U.S. Ohio class strategic subs or the old Soviet-era Typhoons, or even the somewhat smaller new nuclear powered Russian Borei class to carry its second-strike weapons.

Israel can't afford and does not need long-range submarine-launched ICBMs anyway. Iran, Syria and its other potential enemies would all be within range of much smaller intermediate-range cruise missiles that could be launched from a conventional sub. So the Jewish state has sensibly invested in German U-boats as its main line of defense. One wonders what Grand Adm. Karl Doenitz would have thought about it all.

In 1982 the British nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror proved the conventional operational potency of the nuclear attack submarine by sinking the Argentine heavy cruiser General Belgrano during the Falklands, or Malvinas, War. Future wars, however, may see that dynamic reversed with enormous nuclear surface ships hunted by fleets of a weapon employed in both world wars that was supposed to have been superseded half a century ago: the non-nuclear diesel submarine.

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US Navy Completes Qualification Testing Of Lockheed Martin Common Submarine Radio Room
Eagan MN (SPX) Aug 15, 2007
Lockheed Martin has reported that the U.S. Navy recently completed operational testing of the strategic Ohio-class Common Submarine Radio Room (CSRR) and has declared the system operationally suitable for the Navy's submarine fleet and effective by exceeding all tested thresholds. Designed to automate communications, while reducing errors and resource requirements, the CSRR is the only automated radio room that has been operationally evaluated.

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