Deterrence, hunting and protection under water – about the strategic and tactical-operational importance of modern submarines

Nikolaus Scholik


Both of the essays so far published in the series “Maritime power in the 21st century” (ÖMZ 3/2013 and ÖMZ 4/2014) have naturally depicted the submarine component in its respective strategic and tactical-operational role in short. In the strategic, conceptual and operational considerations of states intending to or playing a part in the global power play, high systems such as aircraft carriers, air and weapon systems like fighter planes, UAVs, anti-ship-missiles, cruise missiles, and electronic detection and combat guiding systems are in the focus of interest and of the political and military discourse. If, however, one looks at the present (military) components of strategic deterrence and at the tactical-operational conceptions of maritime mission planning’s, the role of submarines – when assessing the overall picture respectively – will not only become visible more clearly, it even represents an indispensable factor on both levels. In the beginnings of the submarine weapon only one single task was in the focus: destroying enemy ships. Thus it is legitimate from the outset to assign a strategic role to this branch, too. In the First and Second World War the existing maritime imbalance was supposed by the German Reich to be redeemed by a forced submarine war, thus breaking open the sea blockade. With the phase of the Cold War and the great technological innovations in the fields of propulsion, low-noise, diving depth, residence time under water, and weapon-technical system changes (torpedoes, cruise missiles, and intercontinental ballistic missiles), the role of submarines has increased and changed considerably. The former tendency of the classic division into the tasks “deterrence”, “hunting and protection”, which led to respective solutions, now indicates a new view and a redefinition of tasks and respective technical solutions. Multi-mission-submarines will be the future answer for the extended challenges:

-         strategic deterrence

-         hunting

-         ASW (anti submarine warfare),

-         SOF (special operation forces),

-         ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance),

-         mine warfare

-         operations against drug dealing, and

-         ASuW (anti surface warfare).

The importance of submarines in the entire combat spectrum of maritime operational conceptions as well as the new challenges under water concerning potential and military capabilities on the surface is as great as never before. Nuclear deterrence capacity is an additional factor. On the whole, plausible and effective nuclear deterrence in the power play of the great powers, and maritime power projection as well, is unthinkable without a strong force under water.