March 20, 2006
Sub hunt lets sailors thwart diesel danger
Pacific exercise centers on silent stalker
By William Cole
Gannett News Service
ABOARD THE ASSAULT SHIP PELELIU — The diesel submarine lurks somewhere south of Oahu, and the Peleliu, with hundreds of sailors and Marines aboard, is the “high value” target it is hunting.
The cat-and-mouse game pits the quiet of a relatively inexpensive foreign sub against the high-tech listening capabilities of Expeditionary Strike Group 3 and its five ships, as well as two Hawaii-based destroyers and a Canadian frigate.
The Port Royal, a Pearl Harbor-based guided-missile cruiser that’s part of the strike group, has a powerful sonar that protrudes underwater from the keel of the ship, and a towed array that can trail 2,600 feet behind and listen at varying depths.
Sonar Technician 3rd Class Erin Guzman, 24, from Albuquerque, N.M., would push the button to launch a torpedo from the Port Royal in the case of an actual hostile encounter.
The exercise has its own adrenalin-filled moments.
“We had a possible contact [and] I was asking what bearing it was at,” she said. “It can get real intense. If we have contact out there, we have a lot of things going on at once with all our sensors.”
With all of those figurative ears listening, eyes scanning for periscopes, and P-3 Orion sub-hunting aircraft from Kaneohe Bay flying overhead, it’s still a good matchup.
“It’s hard. They [diesel subs] are very quiet. That’s why we do so many exercises,” said Capt. Dave Matawitz, the Port Royal’s commanding officer.
With the proliferation of diesel submarines in the Pacific, Adm. Gary Roughead, who commands U.S. Pacific Fleet, has made anti-submarine warfare the fleet’s top maritime war-fighting priority.
“The challenges that I see at the high end are anti-submarine warfare. There are about 140 diesel submarines that operate in the Pacific,” Roughead said recently at an Asia Society gathering in Washington. “We, as a navy, are good at anti-submarine warfare. We can always get better, and that’s what we’re doing because we have to be able to dominate that growing submarine capability.”
Roughead has mandated that all aircraft carriers and expeditionary strike groups deploying from the West Coast conduct several days of anti-submarine warfare training in Hawaiian waters.
The Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group was the first in mid-January. Expeditionary Strike Group 3, which wrapped up a three-day exercise Feb. 24, is the second.
There has always been some degree of anti-submarine warfare practice for the deploying strike groups.
What’s different now is “the intensity, location [near Hawaii], and we’re acting as one battle group” for the training, Matawitz said.
Capt. Peter Morford, the commodore of Amphibious Squadron 3, which includes the flagship Peleliu, said submarine hunting is a complex and changing art.
“It’s kind of the ultimate in perishable knowledge,” he said, “and this is just a mission area where we need to train, train and train some more.”
Gone is the “Cold War, Soviet submarine threat, ‘Hunt for Red October,’” Morford said.
The Heritage Foundation previously reported that China’s roughly 70 submarines included one ballistic missile submarine and five attack subs, that North Korea had the fourth-largest submarine fleet with 26 diesel subs, and Iran had six subs.
Experts say China lags far behind the U.S. militarily, but one day, it may have more subs than the U.S.
The recently released Quadrennial Defense Review says the Navy will have a “greater presence” in the Pacific because of the shift in trade and transport to that region and China’s growing power.
“Accordingly, the Navy plans to adjust its force posture and basing to provide at least six operationally available and sustainable carriers and 60 percent of its submarines in the Pacific,” the plan stated.
In the meantime, the Navy practices off San Diego against diesel submarines like the Gotland, an advanced Swedish sub.
The three-day exercise with ESG-3 had the contingent of eight ships spread out, in some cases miles apart, some 30 to 50 miles south of Oahu.
An unidentified Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine from Pearl Harbor played the aggressor, periodically surfacing to replicate a diesel sub.
“The submarine is out here to go against us, and we against them,” Morford said. “They are trying to find us and attack us, and we’re trying to prevent that from happening.”
Morford declined to say how the sub hunt was going because it gets into an operational area he didn’t feel at liberty to discuss.
Capt. Matt Brown, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman, said Hawaii’s waters represent a “unique confluence of factors” for anti-submarine warfare training.
Attack subs and sub-hunting aircraft like the P-3 Orion are based here and can take part in exercises. The archipelagic island chain produces sound profiles very different from the West Coast.
“This replicates in some ways situations in Southeast Asia, the West Pacific and Indian Ocean,” Brown said.
Matawitz sometimes takes part in anti-submarine warfare exercises with other strike groups.
“I’ve done more ASW in the last year than the previous 22 years in the Navy,” he said. “We have done a lot of ASW.”
Lt. j.g. Warren Keierleber, with Patrol Squadron 4, was onboard the Peleliu as a liaison for the exercise. These days, a lot more ships and aircraft are involved in anti-submarine warfare, he said.
“It’s really good to work with the ships because on today’s battlefield, you are working a lot closer with friendly units,” he said.
William Cole is a staff writer for the Honolulu Advertiser.
That statement is great news.
Who's the captain of the diesel sub - Kelsey Grammer?