Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate



I have frequently discussed the educational mission of the Naval Submarine League and its importance for our members. I now find myself being educated with more than passing interest on a new matter of serious consequence to the Submarine Service. The subject of my concern is the Gramm – Rudman – Hollings, budget-balancing by 1991, legislation. I haven’t read the complete text of this bill so I don’t claim to be an authority. But I do understand the “automatic” reductions that will occur if the executive and legislative branches of the government do not meet budgetary outlay ceilings. Additionally, after 1986 there will be no flexibility in shifting money within major accounts as there has been in the current process.

This legislation mandates equal percentage cuts down to the level of individual line items. In the wording of the legislation, each program is of equal importance to this country and each will take the same percentage “hit”. I won’t go into the “sequestered” provisions of this budget balancing act. The “automatic” phase is ominous enough to make my point.

My concern naturally centers upon the impact to the Submarine Service and its position in national priorities. I won’t be glib and say that everything involving submarines is sacrosanct, however I do feel that a strong and capable Submarine Service is probably one of the few elements of our armed forces which can have an actual and psychological bearing on actual warfighting as well as on war deterrence.

The bottom line — in retaining this capability is well maintained and constructed ships, manned by crews of exceptionally well qualified and highly trained men. The recent unfortunate setback to the space shuttle program cannot be institutionally allowed to occur to submarines. The standards set for nuclear propulsion have slowly carried over to other Navy elements. There cannot be any compromise to these standards, be they in construction, operations, training, or people. However the process is underway which, carried to its end, will ultimately affect these standards. Your familiarity with Gramm – Rudman is vital. As a League member you should speak against any compromise to our first line of defense -submarines. The consequences of not doing so are potentially disastrous. We must either adequately fund the Submarine Service or “ground” our submarines when they decrease in readiness standards. The submarine today is an extremely cost-effective weapon system, for any set of criteria. The money spent to keep submarines operating properly is the best and cheapest insurance this country can buy. It benefits every citizen and protects them as well. The Submarine Service must retain its proper and rightful priority in our national debate concerning budgetbalancing. Let’s keep it that way.



A letter in this edition of the Submarine Review suggests that there is a wealth of classified material in the open media of today. One merely has to read a few trade journals, the letter writer says, to reconstruct the “secret” elements of a military activity. This compromising of security matters be feels should be best avoided by submariners maintaining a “Silent Service.” But is that wise?

Without an open dialogue on submarine matters, the “Silent Service” entered World War II badly handicapped as to: well-reasoned operating roles and tactics; weapon reliability; knowledge of their enemy; value of coordinated operations; and even the paint used topside. Before WW II, submarines were trained to be basically scouts of tbe battle forces — not key elements in a war of attrition against surface ships. Unrestricted submarine warfare was suddenly ordered with virtually no discussion as to its implications. Attacks from below periscope depth, using sonar data only, were considered necessary in the presence of enemy surface ASW forces. Avoiding periscope depth in areas of enemy air activity was also accepted because of the supposedly high ~isk of being sighted and bombed. It was not recognized that there was a far better color for the topsides than black to gain invisibility. Use of the surface in daytime in a war zone was considered to be out of the question, and black topsides didn’t help. Similarly, night surface attacks — remaining on the surface for the great mobility created for the shooting of torpedoes -bad apparently not been considered. Wolf packs had not been contemplated, nor had weapon reliability been seriously questioned. The great efficiency of Japanese Naval forces was virtually unguessed at. The reading of recommended books on Japan by authors like Ambassador Grew, in retrospect, made one realize that such supposed authorities knew little about the samurai character of the modern Japanese military man, and that such books were better unread. That the Japanese could have developed a shallow-running air-launched torpedo, as well as many other technological innovations which caught the u.s. by surprise — like the Long Lance torpedo — had not been well considered.

As Dr. Edward Teller noted in a symposium in 1977, “Secrecy is counterproductive.” He felt that, “one of the primary problems is excessive secrecy in defense, which repels the scientist.” And that, “the United states has managed to keep ahead of the Soviet Union in exactly one technical field: electronics — a field in which official secrecy has hardly been applied.” Then, on the subject of submarines he decries the fact that nuclear submarines “are not yet produced in greater variety”, mentioning in addition to warship types, the submarine tanker and cargo carrier “to maintain deliveries of heavy and massive materials to our forces fighting overseas.” He notes that “in a truly serious conflict, submarines might be the only ships to survive in the long run.”

The article on The Submarine Tanker, in this issue, would meet Dr. Teller’s approval, since it is a form of breakthrough in the assumed requirement for secrecy regarding most submarine matters, that has been generally accepted by the submarine community with their “Silent Service” attitude.

Relying on discussions “among themselves” of submarine matters — in a hold-close atmosphere -to further philosophical ideas, new concepts, and technological innovations cannot be a satisfactory solution. “Among themselves” almost comes down to wardroom discussions, since dialogue in public places cocktail parties, symposiums, etc. would be ruled out by the danger of compromise of what are assumed to be sensitive submarine matters. And, wardroom discussions rarely find an avid tactician engaged in a dialogue with another competent tactician, or a strategist finding a similar interest in another officer with a great interest in strategic matters. It’s awfully hard to find a kindred soul for an intellectual discussion on specific matters.

Only widely disseminated ideas through unclassified writings can bring together the usually rare but right people who can conduct a dialogue which tends to promote new principles and ideas within a profession.

The nuclear submarine force has not been without a base of highly competent writers George Steele, Ned Beach, Jim Calvert, Joe Synhorst, Dick Laning — but they have been constrained in the past by the “Silent Service” position of their fellow officers. These “nukes” have recognized that all writing involves risk taking along with criticism by their peers, their seniors, by their wardroom associates, and in fact by the “Silent Service” itself. Submariners have always been a little suspicious of a person who actually wants to document his ideas. But these writers have seemingly realized that to move their profession ahead there must be an exchange of ideas through unclassified writings.

The lack of U.S. submarine innovation over the past 20 years — while the Soviets have developed many new types of submarines and much new technology — has been decried in recent media discussions and congressional hearings. This lack of innovation may easily be attributed to the past submarine policy of limiting as much as possible any unclassified dialogue about nuclear submarines.



Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League