Unmanned subs would revolutionize warfare, analyst says
Development of advanced unmanned subs would give the Navy the world’s premier maritime fleet, according to the analyst.
To counter China's rapidly strengthening submarine fleet, the United States should spur a revolution in undersea warfare by focusing greater attention and resources on developing advanced unmanned underwater vehicles, a top naval analyst said Tuesday.
Such a move could make China's submarine investments "worthless" and secure the Navy's place as the world's premier maritime fleet, said Robert Work, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Struggling domestic shipbuilders, who are urging Congress to increase submarine purchases to two a year by 2009, are capable of changing "the rules of the game" in naval warfare, Work said.
That would be "much more important than two boats a year," he added. Indeed, pouring dollars into research and prototyping efforts for advanced unmanned vehicles could provide industry with "some hedges" against potential cuts in future shipbuilding budgets, said Work, speaking at a Heritage Foundation forum on "Building a New Submarine Fleet."
Unmanned underwater vehicles, or UUVs, are typically among the first systems cut during the Pentagon's annual budget drill, Work said. Instead, resources have been poured into buying manned platforms, including new nuclear submarines and destroyers, whose price tags exceed $2 billion a copy.
Work added that he finds it "very troubling" that the Navy does not have an expansive operational UUV fleet to launch from submarines. Last year, the Navy released a new UUV plan, establishing four size classes of the unmanned vehicles ranging from 25 pounds to 25,000 pounds.
The plan also set nine missions for the vehicles, and stressed the need for commonality and modularity among the platforms. But a July 2005 Congressional Research Service report questioned whether the Navy is adequately funding UUVs, and recommended congressional oversight on the matter.
The unmanned vehicles can act as extensions of manned platforms to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. They also can act as mine countermeasures, as well as communication, navigation and antisubmarine warfare platforms.
In addition to the underwater vehicles, the Navy also should explore linking unmanned aerial vehicles to submarines to expand the boats' use for intelligence missions, said Ron O'Rourke, a Congressional Research Service naval analyst who also appeared at Tuesday's event.