This summer, the US Navy plans to conduct a follow-up to last year's Giant Shadow amphibious exercise using submarines. The upcoming Silent Hammer is planned to be a considerably more elaborate test of new war-fighting hardware and capabilities.
Silent Hammer will employ special operations forces, US Marines, and several new capability submarines in an exercise much more elaborate than its predecessor, Giant Shadow, which took place last winter in the Gulf of Mexico and in the deep-water range off the Navy's Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center at Andros Island, the Bahamas. Silent Hammer will occur off the US' west coast and in test ranges in the western Pacific.
Silent Hammer will be a formal Navy Sea Trial experiment to prove the concept of SSGN/SOF Strike Force operations. It is a natural follow-on to Giant Shadow, which tested the SSGN/SOF Strike Force as an independent element.
In Silent Hammer, USS Georgia (SSGN-729) and USS Virginia (SSN-774) will work as a team. Georgia is one of four former Ohio-class ballistic missile subs converted to a cruise missile/special operations role. In is new incarnation, it is capable of firing up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and carrying up to 66 Special Operations Forces (SOF). Typically, a submarine's ability to carry and deploy weapons is severely limited by the size of its outside hatches. The large payload capacity and "big doors" afforded by an Ohio's twenty-four 40-foot-long and 7-foot-wide missile tubes offer a unique opportunity to expand how the undersea environment is used in Joint Naval Warfighting.
The Virginia Class the US Navy's newest class of attack submarine is being created for the new warfare environment of 21st century terrorism and regional brief, high intensity wars. As such, supporting and performing special operations was one of its design mandates.
The objective of the experiment is to evaluate how a network of manned and unmanned forces, employing an SSGN Sea Base with embarked SOF, can fill Joint Warfighting gaps in Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance , plus Battlespace Preparations and a Time Sensitive Strike. A large-scale clandestine operation will be conducted in support of follow-on Joint forces.
The specific technologies and concepts that will be used in the experiment are under development, but those being considered include organic launch of a UAV and one or more UUVs, installation of a SOF Battle Management Center aboard Georgia, and deployment of a tactical local area network. The Fleet Forces Command, based at Norfolk, VA., has authority to approve experimental proposals such as Silent Hammer. Elements may include as many as three new antisubmarine warfare approaches; as many as four different techniques for transmitting communications signals from the water to the air; and deployment of five different unmanned vehicles.
The Navy is equipping the four Ohio-class boats being converted to SSGNs with equipment and space for special operations forces to be on-scene submerged battle management centers. While Giant Shadow tested six-man special operations forces teams to perform covert actions, in the Silent Hammer the Navy will test much larger groups in more complex scenarios ashore. According to a spokesman at Naval Sea Systems Command, the Navy is intent upon developing a more aggressive capability for its submarine and special operations forces. Silent Hammer is to be a step toward achieving this goal. -- K.B. Sherman