Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate

LEGISLATIVE  MATTERS – Statements to the house Seapower Subcommittee

A digest  of  the:
Statement by VAdm. Nils R. Thunman, USN, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Submarine Warfare to the Seapower Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

You may have noted that two key elements run consistently through the current overall naval strategy as enunciated by both Admiral Watkins and Secretary or the Navy Lehman. These are an emphasis on deterrence and a commitment to a forward defensive posture. As I testified last year, submarines have key roles in both of these elements. Our strategic missile submarines make up a solid leg of the strategic triad and our attack submarines are uniquely capable or operating with great effect in the forward-most

ocean areas of u.s. national interest. It is extremely important, therefore, that we equip our ships and train our people to capitalize on the unique characteristics or the modern nuclear submarine, and this is precisely the orientation of the Navy’s submarine program.

As we strive to maintain maritime submarine superiority, we face a potential adversary who is intent on building both a first rate, highly capable submarine force with which to meet us, and also a competent anti-submarine warfare force to stymie our potential advances.

Even though they have been working hard over the past 20 years to develop an ASW capability with which to counter U.S. submarines, neither current intelligence nor our own development work in ASW indicates any dramatic advance or imminent breakthrough either by acoustic or any other means of detection which would put. our submarines at significant risk.

The  sea  is  opaque,  and  the  extraordinary capabilities of stealth, endurance and survivability which we build into our submarines enable them to function as a major deterrent to war, and a significant factor in victory should deterrence fail.

The goal of 100 multi-mission nuclear powered submarines is needed to:

  • Penetrate deeply into hostile seas to conduct sustained independent operations against enemy submarines and surface forces and, with the introduction of the cruise missile, to attack land targets.
  • Form choke-point barriers to intercept opposing submarines and surface ships and deny them access to the open seas.
  • Operate in direct support of carrier battle groups against both submarine and surface threats.
  • Conduct broad ocean search and sanitization to detect and destroy enemy submarines threatening sea lines of communications.
  • Conduct covert special missions such as mining, reconnaissance, and landing special warfare teams behind enemy lines.

In performing these missions, attack submarines must be effective in all ocean areas of the world: restricted waters, under the ice, in the tropics and in both deep and shallow oceans.

We are requesting authorization for twenty-one additional SSNs in our five year plan. The higher rate of construction planned for the latter years of our program is needed to replace the large numbers   of existing submarines which  will reach nominal end or life in the 1990’s. At the end or the current five year plan in 1988, projecting eighteen deliveries and eight retirements, we will have ninety-eight nuclear attack submarines.


Acquiring the required number or attack submarines is expensive and we have continued to explore ways to achieve commensurate effectiveness for less capital investment; but, unfortunately,  our efforts  have not been successful. There simply is no effective alternative to the multi-mission SSN in today’s arena. As I stated in my posture statement last year, the diesel submarine can not match the capability of the modern nuclear attack submarine in any major mission category.

Our most likely potential adversary, the Soviet Union, has a modern attack submarine force or which the majority or the deployable front line units are nuclear powered. The Soviets have more submarines and their submarines, sensors and weapons are modern. They have developed the largest, most capable submarine shipyards in the world, facilities in which up to twenty submarines in a year can be built. Recently some eight to twelve submarines have joined their fleet each year.

To match this fleet of modern submarines U.S. attack submarine strengths lie mainly in quiet operation,  superior  sonar  and torpedo performance, and superb operational and survivability characteristics in high threat areas. In short, an acoustic advantage. We can hear his submarines before he can hear ours, but the Soviets are clearly improving in their ability to build quieter submarines. To maintain the competitive edge so necessary in light or superior Soviet numbers, we need to continue to improve our 688 class submarines and to design a new SSN for deployment before the end of this century.

The attack submarine currently being built, the SSN 688 class, was designed in the late 1960’s. They are particularly effective primarily because of their high speed, low radiated noise and superior sensor systems. In the face of ominous Soviet trends, we are placing high program priority  on improving their warfighting capability. The design for follow-on new-construction 688 class submarines has been modified to include vertical launch tubes for cruise missiles, an advanced combat system (SUBACS) which will incorporate new sensor and computer processing capabilities and which, when coupled with new sonars such as the wide aperture array, provides a significantly expanded capability.

As we look to the future, it is clear that we are close to the point where additional advancements to further improve 688 class performance will not be feasible due to design, weight and space limitation.

We are now looking at conceptual designs to determine what characteristics a new SSN should have. This effort is timed so that it could lead to the development and authorization of a new class SSN in the late 1980’s.

The three main submarine weapons are the heavyweight torpedo, the rocket boosted standoff weapon and the cruise missile. The MK 48 torpedo makes up the majority of our weapon armament and targets. We are progressing well in our program to upgrade all these torpedoes to a reliability-enhanced configuration and nearly half the fleet inventory has completed this process. The MK 48 advanced capability,  or ADCAP   program is developing a major performance enhancement modification to the torpedo.

The submarine ASW standoff weapon, which will replace the aging SUBROC rocket-propelled depth bomb, is in the demonstration and validation phase of development. It will carry a newly developed nuclear depth bomb payload, and the development program includes a funded follow-on conventional payload variant.

Harpoon cruise missiles are aboard our SSNs complementing the anti-ship capability of the HK48 torpedo. They have performed extremely well in fleet firings. Submarine Harpoon will be supplanted by the anti-ship Tomahawk beginning later this year. The nuclear-armed land attack Tomahawk will attain Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in mid-1984. The wide-ranging tactical strike capability of Tomahawk-carrying attack submarines will add an important new dimension to the conduct of naval warfare.

Our submarine force must also be able to operate extensively around and under the ice. We are expanding the arctic warfare capability of the 688 class submarine and the weapons we intend to employ under the ice.


Deterrence or war has been the sole mission and the fundamental reason tor the existence or the FBHs. Fleet Ballistic Missile submarines from USS George Washington in 1960 to USS Ohio in late   1982  have  successfully  completed  two thousand one hundred and nineteen (2119) strategic deterrent patrols.

USS Ohio, the first ship or the Trident class, completed her first patrol in December 1982 and is    presently deployed on a second patrol in the Pacific. The second ship or the class, USS Michigan, is currently enroute to the Pacific. The third Ohio class ship, Florida, is at sea right now on sea trials and is scheduled for delivery in June. Work on the tenth submarine began late last year.

Current Navy planning calls for fifteen Trident submarines. Each Trident is far more capable than the Poseidon submarine it will replace, both in terms of number or missiles carried and destructive capability. It will make a quantum leap in capability over the Poseidon submarine when the new Trident II (D-5) missile enters the fleet in 1989. Presently there are thirty-one Poseidon submarines, of which twelve have been backfitted to carry the Trident I (C-14) missile. The increased range capability of the C-~ allows a far more exspansive operating area than if the Poseidon missile were carried. Greater missile ranges also considerably reduce dependence on foreign bases.


The Trident II (D-5) program is in the advanced development phase and, although the design is not yet finalized, it is certain that the D-5 can deliver significantly more payload than the current C-14 with a major improvement in accuracy. Also, its full load range will be comparable to or greater than the C-4, and the option will exist to configure for greater ranges with fewer reentry vehicles. The D-5 capabilty could be placed aboard the new construction Trident hull (SSBN 734, the 1981 authorized ship).


In the Atlantic, fleet ballistic missile submarines are based at Holy Loch, Scotland, Charleston,      South  Carolina, and Kings Bay, Georgia. In the Pacific the sole base is at Bangor, Washington.

Improvements in the logistical support system have reduced 30 day refits which were scheduled for Poseidon submarines to 25 days for the Ohio class ships.

USS Michigan will soon arrive and ultimately ten Ohio class ships will be homeported at Bangor. The Trident base at Kings Bay, Georgia is under construction and will have the same major facilities as the Bangor base.

The Kings Bay base currently supports our squadron of Poseidon submarines backfitted with the Trident I C-~ missile system.


No  decision  has been made yet  to dispose of inactivated units. The intent is to enable a deliberate and thorough study of alternative disposal methods. At present four defueled nuclear submarines are inactivated and in waterborne protective storage. Three more are in the inactivation process. An eighth, the Nautilus, has been prepared for permanent layup as a national monument.


As Admiral Watkins has noted, the Navy’s greatest resource is its people; and nowhere is that more true than in the submarine force.

I am very,  very proud of our submarine  force men and women. Officer or enlisted, submarine crew or support personnel, nuclear-trained or not, they comprise as fine a group of dedicated professionals as exist in the armed services today.

The pay initiatives authorized by Congress, the increased submarine pay, improved nuclear officer incentive pay and selective reenlistment bonus changes, combined with Navy initiatives, have created distinctly positive trends in our recruitment and retention.

During the past year we have seen improvement in officer accessions into the submarine nuclear power program, and steady improvement in officer retention. The efforts to increase accessions have resulted in the highest number of officers brought into the nuclear training program in its history.

In fiscal year 1982 we projected that officer retention would be 37J but we actually retained a total of 123 officers, or 39J of the applicable year groups.

So far this year we have seen 14~ fewer officer resignations than for the same period in the previous year – we continue to man our submarines fully by keeping 77~ of our commanders and junior assigned to ships, a slight improvement over the 79J so assigned a year ago. The average submarine officer now expects to spend fourteen of his first twenty years of service in a submarine crew.

Enlisted  retention has also  continued to improve. Two years ago we had only 70J of the senior supervisory enlisted billets in submarines manned by petty officers of sufficient experience. Today we are filling 85J of these billets with the required seniority. Even though the petty officer is retained we must sacrifice shore rotation and keep him at sea to keep the submarines combat ready.

If we are to maintain our momentum in improving the submarine personnel situation, we must continue to insure that pay for these highly trained and technically skilled officers and enlisted personnel remains roughly competitive with what they could earn in the civilian sector. We must also continue to reward certain groups whose talents and knowledge are in short supply. Pay is not the total solution, but it is a large part or it.


The potential adversary we must be prepared to face at sea is from all available evidence building and training to match us, and he obviously shares the opinion that a strong, modern submarine force is an absolute necessity to gain that parity or to upset the balance in his favor. Although currently out-numbered, our force  is  more  professionally  capable and outfitted with better equipment. The 1984 submarine program which you are about to consider will allow us to maintain the technical and professional advantage which we need.

A digest  of the
Statement of Admiral Kinnard McKee (Director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program) to the Seapower Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee on March 2, 1983

Last   Saturday   I    returned    from  the   initial  sea trials of two new nuclear submarines: the FLORIDA — our third TRIDENT submarine, bringing the TRIDENT submarine force to three, with seven more authorized — and ALBUQUERQUE — our 22nd SSN 688 Class attack submarine. I will go out with another new SSN, NORFOLK, on Friday, bringing the 688 Class attack submarine foroe to 23, with 18 more authorized. The Navy’s 1984 budget request will add one additional TRIDENT submarine and three attack submarines to that force.

Today, the 125 nuclear powered submarines represent over 40 percent of the Navy’s first line combatants, yet our submarine officers and enlisted men comprise only about four percent of the Navy.

It is particularly important to recognize the contribution of our TRIDENT/POSEIDON force to our strategic deterrent posture. A substantial portion or the u.s. strategic nuclear warheads and the most invulnerable are based at sea. The true value of this major investment can only be measured in the fact that they have remained unused.

Our record of safe and effective operation continues to depend upon the technical integrity of a small group of dedicated headquarters and field personnel in my organization, and upon the operational skill and dedication of the men who operate these ships daily under difficult, demanding, and, at times, dangerous conditions.

The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program makes extraordinary demands on these men — long hours , endless training, qualification, and requalification. It is not enough that they must achieve a singular level of professional competence. They must also prove their competence over and over again; and all this they must do in the face of extended and frequent separations from their families. To meet our national commitments, our attack submarines average about 50 percent of the time away from port, and our strategic deterrent submarines 65 percent.

Congressman  Whiteburst Statement

This is a digest of a Statement made by Congressman Whilliam Whitehurst, a member of the Seapower Subcommittee, to that Subcommittee, for the record, 2 March 1983. (Ed. note: This is an unusual procedure and seems to indicate a strong continuing interest by some members of the Congress in keeping alive the argument that the u.s. Navy should pursue a diesel-electric submarine option.)

Mr. Chairman, I want to make it very clear at the outset that I do not advocate substituting diesel electric submarines for a single nuclear attack  submarine  that would otherwise be acquired . I accept the Navy’s stated needs for far more attack submarines than we in the Congress have provided. My concern is the rate of submarine acqubitions and the dangerous trends that we have established. Of course I’m aware of the Navy’s opposition to diesel electrics and the arguments they have presented; however, I’m convinced that Thucydides described the current situation some 2400 years ago, “. . .  their judgment was based more on  wishful thinking than on sound calculation of probabilities; for the usual thing among men is that when they want something they will, without any reflection, leave that to hope, while they will employ the full force of reason in rejecting what they find unpalatable.”

The composition and the quantity or submarines we have is far too important to leave to hope.

In reality, funds have been appropriated for eight attack submarines during the past five years. This is an average or 1.6 per year. If this rate is continued it will eventually result in a force of less than 50 attack submarines. That prospect frightens me very much.

It wasn’t planned this way though. The Navy’s five-year plan of five years ago called for building far more, just as the five-year plan or today does. There always seems to be five per year in the fourth and fifth years. Based on the history of the past decade, I believe these rates represent a cruel and false hope.

A number of naval analysts have recommended that 1) nuclear submarines are not required for every mission (missions for diesels are listed as coastal defense and choke point barriers); 2) being outnumbered by the Soviets 3: 1 is being far too heavily outnumered; and 3) as more and more nuclear submarines require expensive overhaul, funds will not be available to increase sufficiently the new construction rate or the past five years.

The   Secretary of the Navy has told us that he is dependent on Allied diesel electrics. This strikes me as a mighty risky policy when we consider the track record of our allies in supporting us over the past 35 years.

The most alarming consideration is the weapons these submarines carry. They may well be adequate for the anti-surface and anti-amphibious roles they are assigned. However, there is serious doubt that these weapons can be relied on to support the u.s. Navy against the full range of Soviet naval might. Testimony in support of the MK-48 ADCAP (Advanced Capability) torpedo improvement program and the ALWT (Advanced Lightweight Torpedo) clearly eliminates most NATO submarines from consideration when the full Soviet threat is considered.

Protagonists of diesel electrics see them as a force building tool that is affordable and urgently needed. Antagonists see diesel electrics as a threat to future nuclear building plans and therefore refuse to provide the option.

I propose that we pursue options (B) and (D). I believe that (option B) we should double the nuclear attack submarine building rate or the past five years. In addition, we should take the first step in developing option (D) by authorizing to be appropriated funds for construction of a lead ship diesel electric attack submarine for test and evaluation.

Remarks by VADH Thunman to the Subcommittee in answer to Congreeman Whitehurst’s statement on Diesel Submarines.

I would like to discuss an issue of great importance which Congressman Whitehurst has already addressed . . . whether the u.s. attack submarine force should consist or nuclear powered ships or a mix or SSNs and diesel-electric submarines.

In response to that direction we moved out along two paths to evaluate the potential role or the diesel-electric submarine in the U.s. Navy. . .  we initiated   a diesel-electric  design study and, in      parallel,  conducted an evaluation  of several foreign submarines. Underlying both of these efforts was a strong desire to ensure our submarine force of the future is as effective as possible given the realities of limited resources. This study was provided to the Congress in August 1982.

To determine the effectiveness of a conventionally powered submarine developed in this country, the Naval Sea Systems Command conducted a baseline feasibility design of a modern submarine using diesel-electric propulsion and u.s. Navy certified components. That design, which we called ss-x, incorporated extensive quieting features, a modern combat system and current U.S. submarine safety and production requirements. The lead ship cost was $612H with a follow-on ship cost of $310M.

We  also surveyed existing and new foreign designs as a part of our study. These included French, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, and British submarines as well as the German TNSW TR-1700 and HDW T2000 designs. An evaluation team visited both German shipyards in early 1982 to evaluate their designs.

While several foreign designs appeared well sui ted to the needs of the particular countries for which they were being constructed none were judged to satisfy U.S. requirements without extensive modifications. Even if the German designs were modified to meet U.S. Navy standards and if quieting similar to the U.s. design were provided, the u.s. and German designs would be similar with an advantage to the u.s. submarine due to the more capable combat system. The conclusion reached was that it would be necessary to transfer an extraordinary amount of engineering   technology  to   upgrade a foreign design to a submarine similar to the SS-X. Therefore, the study concluded that foreign designs should be eliminated from fUrther consideration.

Subsequently a military capability assessment of the SS-X design compared the effectiveness or the ss-x with an ~proved 688 class nuclear submarine. The conclusion over all mission areas was:

  • Employment of the diesel-electric submarine would be restricted to areas free of ice cover and where friendly forces control the air space.
  • Even in the mission for which SS-X is best suited — the continuous fixed barrier mission with forward basing — a mixed force of diesel-electric and nuclear submarines provides no more effectiveness for the same cost as a force comprised entirely of nuclear submarines.
  • The mixed force provides substantially less capability in all other missions for the same costant, in addition, would limit the flexibility of the tactical commander in assigning submarines in response to changing needs.

Mr. Chairman, no one could agree more with Congressman Whitehurst than I that we must strengthen our submarine force. In my view, the construction rate or attack submarines has not been sufficient over the past five years. I am particularly concerned because or the growth of the Soviet submarine force and the qualitative improvements in their nuclear submarines. It is exactly because of this concern that I feel it is imperative we invest our available resources where they can most effectively promote our maritime strategy.  We must have the  mobility, stamina and combat potential to respond on short notice to crisis or conflict virtually around the globe. Having considered this and having carefully examined the relevant factors, we have concluded that procurement of diesel-electric submarines would not be cost effective in adding to or maintaining the overall capabilities of the u.s. submarine force .

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League