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The U.S. Submarine force plays a vital role in our maritime strategy. Our SSBNs because of their survivability are becoming even more important in the strategic TRIAD, while our attack submarines have the unique capability to operate  effectively in the forwardmost ocean areas of naval interest.

Strategic Submarines

Our strategic submarine force provides a secure retaliatory force which supports the primary national security objective the deterrence of war. Over the last 24 years, our SSBNs have completed over 2300 strategic deterrence patrols. With the buildup of TRIDENT submarines and the introduction of the D-5 missile in 1989, the undersea leg of the TRIAD is ensured as a convincing, viable deterrent force well into the next century.

Despite claims of the oceans becoming “transparent” as a result of developing technology, we have an SSBN security program to keep ahead of any technologies which could conceivably be relevant to the future survivability of our SSBNs. Consequently, as a result of this program’s efforts we have the authorative assurance that there is no foreseeable technological caoabilitv by which the Soviets could significantly diminish the strategic effectiveness of the U.S. force.

The TRIDENT program is running smoothly, with new units continuing to be delivered ahead of schedule. Five are presently operating in the Fleet; four are conducting deterrence patrols from their base at Bangor, Washington, with 18 patrols already completed; while the fifth, the USS HENRY JACKSON, joins the other four this summer. The sixth TRIDENT, the USS ALABAMA, should be delivered to the Navy by late spring. The FY 1986 Budget requests authorization for the 13th TRIDENT and advance procurement for the 14th and 15th submarines. Plans call for the procurement of one TRIDENT per year which will support an all TRIDENT force of about 20 units by the end of the century– with the ultimate number of TRIDENTS not yet determined.

The bulk of our SSBN force today consists of 31 POSEIDON submarines. These submarines average 20 years of age. Nineteen are equipped with the C-3 missile of about 2500-mile range, and 12 have the C-4 missile of 4,000-mile range. The present TRIDENTS also carry this missile. The longer range of the C-4 missile significantly increases the patrol area available to submarines and allows target coverage soon after leaving u.s. ports.

FY 86 funding for improved strategic communications and noise quieting modifications is being requested to modernize our older submarines — in order to assure the survivability of our entire SSBN force.

The C-4 missiles are in 12 POSEIDON submarines and are or will be in 8 TRIDENTS. Contrary to news reports, this missile is highly reliable, with no failure in more than 20 consecutive operational test flights — since August, 1983.

In order to meet the National Strategic Policy requirement for strategic weapons which have the survivable retaliatory capability to attack all classes of targets, development and deployment of the TRIDENT II (D-5) missile is planned for by December, 1989. To date this program is proceeding well.

Eventually all TRIDENT submarines will be configured to carry the D-5 missile, with the first 8, which initially have the C-4, due to receive the D-5 during their first overhaul beginning in the early 1990s.

The D-5 offers the improved accuracy and flexibility necessary to be targeted against all classes of targets, soft and hard. It will also be capable of carrying the new Mk 5 high-yield warhead currently being developed. With these warheads, the D-5 missile will have a range comparable to the TRIDENT I (C-4) missile. But with a full payload of the lower-yield warheads now carried on the C-4, the D-5 will produce a substantial increase in range allowing even larger patrol areas in the future.

As we evolve to a totally TRIDENT force, we will gradually phase out the operations at Holy Loch and Charleston, with all TRIDENTs operating from Kings Bay, Georgia, and Bangor, Washington.

A new strategic submarine support system maximizes the period that the TRIDENTs spend at sea. Extended overhaul cycles and shorter refit times are the result. The Base at Bangor is providing 25-day refits compared to the 30 days for the POSEIDON submarines, while the logistical support system allows the TRIDENTs to spend approximately 66J of their life cycle at sea on patrol, compared to about 55J for Poseidon submarines.

Kings Bay, Georgia will be the home of the first D-5 capable TRIDENT submarines. The TRIDENT facilities being built there are modeled on the successful designs and lessons learned at the Bangor Base.

Attack Submarines

Our multi-mission nuclear powered attack force is uniquely capable — singly or in concert with other forces — to deter Soviet maritime adventurism. However, the Soviet attack submarine force of nearly 300 units indicates a Soviet determination to wrest undersea superiority from the United States. The Soviet new construction efforts enable them to add 8 to 10 new attack submarines annually. At the same time the Soviet Union has an estimated 35 submarines in various stages of construction. By the 1990s, these new generation, quieter, more capable submarines will form the backbone of the Soviet submarine fleet.

Last year Congress approved the construction of 4 improved 688-Class submarines. These submarines will be fully twice as capable in warfighting qualities as the LOS ANGELES Class of submarines in the Fleet today. Starting with the 688s authorized last year, modernization improvements should double the combat effectiveness of these and future submarines by drawing heavily on the R & D programs focussed on the new design SSN-21 class. The improved 688s will be much quieter than today’s 688s, embodying new propulsors of advanced design, special hull coatings, machinery quieting as well as quieter reactor plant equipment. Additionally, these submarines will have an advanced combat system (SUBACS) which includes new passive and active sonar systems, as well as highly effective electronic surveillance and navigation systems. Also the improved 688s will have a TOMAHAWK vertical launch system which increases the firepower of the 688s by about 50J and provides flexible strike options never before possible. The 688s will have a full mining capability and the necessary modifications to permit operations in the Arctic theater, Modernization improvements to the earlier 688s and the 637 STURGEON class, particularly in sound silencing, are being made and are essential to meet the improving quality of the Soviet threat.

The SSN-21

The conceptual design of the SSN-21, our new attack class submarine with the required characteristics to meet the Soviet threat of the year 2000 and beyond — and to be authorized in 1989 — has proved after a year of technical review to be the same as presented a year ago. Furthermore, this design has proved within cost limits and at a manageable level of technical risk to achieve the 1989 planning goal. The R & D funds requested in the FY 186 Budget will insure that the SSN-21 can be brought into the Fleet by 1995.

Submarine R & D

The submarine R & D effort includes specific emphasis on advanced construction techniques, new hull materials, hull coatings, drag reduction techniques and improved sensor systems.


Today’s submarine-launched weapons consist of the MK 48 torpedo, the SUBROC antisubmarine missile, HARPOON and the TOMAHAWK cruise missile. The MK 48 torpedo has a reliability improvement program with the last MK 48 torpedo in inventory completing this upgrade process by mid 1985. Since these improved torpedoes have been returned to the fleet, there has been a 100$ success rate in 20 torpedo service weapon test firings.

Because the Soviets are continuing to improve their submarines as to high speed and deep diving capability, as well as our need to attack their surface warships in all environments, an advanced capability (ADCAP) MK 48 is being developed with ICC in 1987 — to meet these threats. The ADCAP’s performance in the most stressing environme~ts has been superb.

The aging SUBROp ¬•ill be replaced by the ASW STANDOFF weapon (ASW/SOW), when this new weapon is successfully developed. This weapon — with either a nuclear or conventional warhead — is essential for sinking enemy submarines outside the enemy’s detection range. The HARPOON and TOMAHAWK cruise missiles provide our submarines with long range weapons for engaging surface ships or shore targets. The TOMAHAWK anti-ship and nuclear land attack missiles have been introduced into the submarine force, and provide a new flexibility for submarines to respond to the varied tactical situations which might now confront them in a war at sea. But, increased inventories of torpedoes and missiles are needed.

Deep Submergence Program

Recent statements of policy on oceanography by the Secretary of the Navy and the CNO have reinvigorated the Navy’s efforts in oceanography and related activities. Manned untethered submersibles, deep submergence submarines, unmanned search systems and recovery platforms. air/mixed gas diving systems and related support ships now provide a limited capability to conduct manned and unmanned operations to a depth of 20,000 feet. Recovery of lost U.S. objects of intrinsic or strategic value from the sea floor is a major task which is being increased in emphasis. Similarly, the search and rescue program is increasing in scope with bilateral agreements with many of our allies in effect for the contingency rescue of personnel. Since many of the u.s. assets are in need of modernization and some are lacking, to ensure both deep ocean search and exploration, as well as quick and efficient response for emergencies, continued support of this austerely funded program is requested.


Our submariners are doing a superb job. They work hard and are required to be separated from their families for long periods. The personnel picture for the enlisted submariners is encouraging. Although accession goals for the past 3 years have not been met, improved retention has ensured enough men to meet today’s needs. The supervisor level — the top 4 grades — have been nearly 100J throughout ’84. Strong congressional legislation providing proper compensation has turned around the 72J manning level of five years ago. But negative trends in enlisted retention may result from lost entitlements which compensate for the heavy demands placed on our enlisted men.

Accession of nuclear submarine officers has declined since FY ’83. Also, the retention of 46%of the officers in FY’83, although projected to show a slight improvement in FY ’85, has actually seen a sharp increase in resignations in the first third of this year. Overall there are the correct number of officers in the submarine community, but shortages in the mid-grade officers, Lt. Comdr to Captain, indicate a 17J shortfall of these experienced nuclear qualified officers, with a shortfall growing to 22J by 1990 unless action is taken to reverse this trend. Some essential shore billets have been gapped and there have been limited opportunities for serving in billets outside the submarine force, in order to fill all critical billets at sea. This mid-grade officer shortage calls for FY ’86 initiatives, including a nuclear officer incentive pay package providing for increased bonus levels, improved management flexibility and an elimination of the decrease in submarine pay upon completion of 18 years of service and then again when a submariner is promoted to Captain.


Although we have undersea superiority today, we must set a course to retain this supremacy in the face of an aggressive Soviet challenge. The submarine programs which are in place will assure our future superiority in this critical arena of underseas warfare.

Digested from the Statement of VADM N. R. Thunman, USN, to the Seapower Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Submarine Warfare, 5 March, 1985

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