From David F. Winkler
Naval Historical Foundation
For the ninth time since the centennial of the U.S. submarine force in 2000, the Naval Submarine League and the Naval Historical Foundation teamed to organize an evening seminar at the U.S. Navy Memorial last April 15th that focused on an aspect of undersea warfare. With the sponsorship of Northrop Grumman Marine Systems, this year’s seminar was entitled: “Ocean Surveillance During the Cold War: Sensing, Fusion, Exploitation.”
What made this annual submarine history seminar uniqueWAS that the three presenters had backgrounds other than the submarine force. Following introductory remarks by Naval Historical Foundation President Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn and former Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence Captain William H.J. Manthorpe, Rear Admiral Thomas Brooks provided the audience with an overview of the Ocean Surveillance Information System (OSIS).
A former Director of Naval Intelligence, Brooks depended on multiple sensors to keep track OF Soviet naval forces. He STATED that the need for a systematic approach became apparent in the 1960s as the Soviet Navy transitioned from a coastal defense force to a blue water navy. As the Soviet ability to launch missiles tipped with nuclear warheads from submarines evolved during that decade, the need to detect, process, and disseminate reports to commanders accelerated.
It quickly became apparent that flagships of that time period did not have the capacity to assimilate the data. To support the Sixth Fleet, the Navy established Fleet Oceanographic Surveillance Intelligence Facility Rota in the late 1960s. The Navy later established four other facilities/centers to support other fleet commanders and these five OSIS nodes fed the National Oceanographic Surveillance Intelligence Center in Suitland, Maryland.
The remarkable aspect of the system was its decentralized nature: its focus was to keep Fleet Commanders informed with real time data. Brooks addressed the various sensors that fed data into OSIS ranging from underwater hydrophones, communication and electronic interception capabilities from ashore, seaborne, airborne, and space assets, as well as from American and allied submarines that trailed their Soviet counterparts.
In summary, Brooks argued that the system worked and served the nation well. With the demise of the Soviet Union, OSIS was no longer needed but with the need to track merchant shipping for potential terrorist threats, the individuals who were involved in operating the system can offer valuable assistance as the nation enhances its “maritime domain awareness.”
Following the Brooks overview, Captain James Donovan gave a deckplate perspective from the view of a young Sailor who enlisted in the late 1960s thinking he was going to perform oceanography for the advancement of science. Instead, he recalled being taken behind locked doors at a facility at Key West to learn his new calling in life was to locate Soviet submarines. He proceeded to give a chronological overview of the development of the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS) of which the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) played a major part. Of particular interest were displays of gram etchings that Donovan interpreted for the audience. Armed with intelligence gained from the Walker spy ring, the Soviets worked to quiet their submarines. Donovan concluded his talk with a discussion of the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS) that deployed a towed array system from a small fleet of Military Sealift Command manned vessels. With SURTASS, the U.S. Navy again had a clear upper edge at the conclusion of the Cold War. Today the U.S. Navy still maintains some of the SURTASS assets in the Pacific.
After Donovan’s presentation on tracking Soviet submarines from under-the-surface, retired Rear Admiral Eric McVadon offered an over-the-surface perspective as former P-3 Orion commander and COMICEDEFFOR. Using his personal experience as background, McVadon discussed how U.S. Navy anti-submarine warfare aircraft and submarines worked together to trail Soviet forces. One example focused on the deployment of Soviet Echo II SSGNs to Southeast Asia in the wake of the U.S. mining of Haiphong Harbor in May 1972.
McVadon gave solid technical overviews of the effectiveness of the equipment they deployed such as the Magnetic Anomaly Detection array that was built into the tail of the P-3 Orion aircraft. He concluded his talk with an overview of recent Cold War-like incidents with the Peoples Republic of China and the need for an incidents at sea agreement similar to one that is still in place with Russia.
Following concluding remarks by Captain Manthorpe and the Chairman of the Submarine League retired Admiral Richard Mies there was a question and answer session followed by a cake-cutting to celebrate the 110th birthday of the Submarine Force. The Naval Historical Foundation is preparing a transcript of the proceedings which should be available in late May 2010.