Article Published in the Navy Times
When Blind Man’s Bluff, the story of the Navy’s Cold War submarine fleet, was published in 1999, the Navy distanced itself from the book, citing security concerns and a policy to not discuss submarine operations.
Blind Man’s Bluff dealt with the super-secret world of underwater surveillance and eavesdropping, and the dangerous job the men and subs faced in the high-tension Cold War days. Besides tracking Soviet subs, American attack subs developed and prosecuted a mission that came to be known as “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” basically spying on the Soviet Union from under the sea.
>From all indications, the sub crews were enormously successful. But when pressed to explain the details of “ISR,” as it’s known in Navyspeak, officials remained tightlipped.
Which puts the Navy in an interesting dilemma these days. The ISR mission has become even more important in the information age.
As more and more nations acquire sophisticated information networks, it becomes more and more difficult for America to keep an eye on its enemies. Nuclear subs, with their stealth and endurance, provide one of the best vehicles for doing just that. In fact, Navy leaders are pointing to the ISR mission as a justification to keep more subs in the water and to build the Virginia-class attack sub. But, because the mission is so sensitive, often classified, it’s hard to rally public support for a mission you can’t or won’t talk about.
One good way to think of the Navy’s ISR mission is to consider what a satellite does. American military satellites orbit the earth with an unblinking eye, snapping high-resolution photos, spying on suspected terrorists, and providing real-time information. Satellites can be used to verify the presence, or absence, of nuclear missile sites, troop movements, ship movement and a variety of other activities.
But many satellites orbit the earth in regular patterns, traveling east to west, which makes them very predictable. And because satellites are predictable, they can be fooled.
But how does one know when a sub lurks off the coast? One can’t.
Once a sub leaves port, the saying goes, only two people know its location: God and the skipper.
Unpredictability is a powerful force in warfare, causing the enemy to hesitate or to guess or to act rashly. And those missteps often cause an adversary to give up the initiative.
Geosynchronous orbits allow satellites to remain over a designated point on the Earth – a suspected terrorist camp, for example – but they’re 22,000 miles away. Nuclear subs, however, can remain in the ocean nearby and stay in place, undetected, for weeks, even months.
That’s the real value of the nation’s nuclear attack subs in an age when gaining access to an enemy’s sphere of influence is becoming increasingly difficult.
Find Archived Articles: