Nothing Will Ever Be the Same: When Submarines Become Underwater Aircraft Carriers

Robert Farley

Robert Farley

Security,

That day is fast approaching.

Nothing Will Ever Be the Same: When Submarines Become Underwater Aircraft Carriers

Having ascertained the existence of threats, the UUVs could either light the target up with active sonar (allowing the SSN to target and destroy it with torpedoes), passively communicate data to the mothership, or potentially carry out a “suicide” attack against the target themselves. In effect UUVs have the potential to expand the lethal reach of an attack boat, as well as take care of threats in its own area.

Imagine a future in which nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) can deploy undersea drones (UUVs) to hunt, and possibly kill, enemy subs. The U.S. Navy, at least, is taking steps to make this a reality. What impact could this have? On the one hand, UUVs could shake modern antisubmarine warfare (ASW) to its core, making existing platforms vulnerable or obsolete. On the other hand, the development of UUVs could reinforce existing hierarchies; in contrast to popular understanding, established organizations are often the best at adapting to disruptive military innovations. The future of the U.S. Navy depends to great extent of which of these becomes a reality.

(This article first appeared last year.)

History

In a sense, submarine launched drones have existed for quite some time; even in World War II, navies used pattern following or acoustic homing in order to find their targets. Wire guided torpedoes were introduced in the 1960s, allowing the submarine a measure of control over how the weapon approached its target. These torpedoes are suicidal drones in the same sense as cruise missiles; weapons that can be launched, then directed to their target either through autonomous mechanisms or by user interface.

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