I was asked to speak on the theme “The Submarine in the Nuclear Age.” I see this topic as carefully chosen in that I was not limited to the “Nuclear Submarine in the Nuclear Age.” This is an important distinction, as I am convinced there is a vital role for both nuclear powered and conventionally powered submarines in today’s maritime arena.
Today, there is a worldwide awakening as to the value of submarines in naval warfare. Reading the naval journals from both sides of the oceans, one senses a growing appreciation of the value or submarines . . . . in my mind a foretelling of the supremacy of submarines. In this age of oceanic surveillance from space…. and the growing proliferation of air-to-surface and surface-tosurface missile systems, the stealth and relative invulnerability or submarines has brought them to the forefront of the world’s navies. We are in the age of the submarine.
When we look at the navies of the Free World, we see a large number of new submarine programs -Australia, Israel, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands. Other nations as well are modernizing, and in some cases expanding their submarine forces — Norway, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Japan.
In South America, a similar modernization is taking place. Witness the new type 209 class submarines of the Peruvian Navy and of the navies of Brazil and Chile and the new TR-1700 1s of Argentina. Taken together, there is a growing body of evidence that the submarine is the prime naval weapon in both large and small navies of the world.
Submarines were of major strategic importance in World War II, in both the Atlantic and Pacific. In the Atlantic, the German U-boat offered the greatest peril to the eventual Allied victory. Winston Churchill stated that “The only thing that really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril. I was even more anxious about this battle than I had been about the glorious air fight called the Battle of Britain. The U-boat attack was our worst evil. It would have been wise for the Germans to stake all upon it.” Without question, had not the intensive Allied antisubmarine efforts and the advent of airborne radar held back the brave U-boats, the eventual Allied victory would have been prolonged, with greater suffering on both sides.
In my country, a carefully kept secret has been the importance of u.s. submarine operations during World War II. Fully 55 percent of the Japanese merchant fleet and 38 percent of the Japanese Navy was destroyed by the relatively small force of U.S. submarines. OUr submarine force made a major strategic and logistic impact on the termination of the war with Japan. This impact has not been widely recognized or appreciated by those outside the submarine community. Perhaps our “Silent Service” bas been too silent.
We have enjoyed submarine superiority since World War II. This submarine superiority is essential to our national security. Just as the u.s. submarine force was of extreme importance in World War II, the deterrent power of our submarine force has been a major factor in ensuring that we have not had to fight a World War III during the past 40 ‘years.
As you know, our submarine force is made up of strategic and attack submarines. While their missions are different, they both possess the nuclear submarine’s prime attributes of stealth, mobility, endurance and firepower. The deterrent value of our strategic submarines is clearly understood. They are the most survivable leg of our country’s strategic nuclear triad of manned bombers, land based missiles and strategic submarines. Today, there are 18 of these submarines on patrol in 20 million square miles of ocean with 320 alert missiles. The Soviets lack the ability to locate with certainty these submarines. The Soviets are thereby assured of swift and sure retaliation should they initiate a nuclear attack on the United States or her Treaty Allies. Our maintenance of submarine superiority guarantees this deterrence and maintains a degree of peace throughout the world.
Similarly, but less well understood, our attack submarine force is a strong deterrent to war — as long as we retain submarine superiority. Our attack submarine operations can be likened to guerrilla warfare. Our attack submarines move far forward into enemy waters, blend invisibly into the environment, pick the time and place of the attack, attack with tremendous firepower, then disappear to attack again. They provide a terrible uncertainty to any enemy.
The attack submarine force is the cutting edge of the United States maritime strategy. It is a ready force prepared to get underway on short notice, proceed deep into enemy waters and should war break out, sink the Soviet fleet. The Soviets know that w’ have this capability, making it a significant restraint on their worldwide adventurism. As long as the u.s. maintains submarine superiority, our submarines materially assist in maintaining peace in the world.
As for the nature of the u.s. submarine force, our ballistic missile submarine force is made up today of 7 new TRIDENT submarines and 28 of our older, but still potent, POSEIDON missile submarines. These submarines have two crews to maximize submarine time at sea. We are building TRIDENT submarines at the rate of one each year. They are a superb ship -the quietest nuclear submarine in the world, exceptionally reliable, and able to patrol vast portions of the ocean with essentially no risk of detection. Through improved maintenance procedures these TRIDENT submarines will be at sea in an operational status for 65 percent of their life time. This unseen, but most effective force is supported with about 10 percent of the Navy’s budget — a terrific bargain for the United States and for our friends and Allies who share the benefits or world peace.
The United States has a force level goal of 100 nuclear attack submarines. Today, we have 97 with 19 under construction to replace older units. Our SSN’s are primarily of the STURGEON or SSN-637 class and the LOS ANGELES or SSN-688 class.
All of our nuclear attack submarines were designed as highly capable, multi-mission submarines — the best we could design. We have resisted a high-low mix approach. Submarines must be individually highly capable because of the relative inability to aggregate undersea forces for mutual support in a manner similar to surface forces. Basically, our attack submarines are designed to proceed deep into enemy waters alone and unsupported for long periods — attacking all enemies encountered.
Four diesel powered submarines will remain in our force for several more years. We have resisted entreaties to build diesel submarines because we do not wish to divert our attention, and resources, from that which we do best — build and operate the finest nuclear submarines in tbe world. Our argument is strengthened by the extremely professional diesel submarine forces of our friends and allies. We have not lost sight of the fact that a most valid role exists for diesel submarines now and in the future. However, our geostrategic position requires that our submarine force fight long distances from home in enemy waters and under the ice — tasks ill-accommodated by diesel submarines. We prefer coordination with our allies whose diesel submarine forces can professionally accomplish those missions where they are best suited.
In peacetime we strive to keep each SSN in its homeport 50 percent or the time for maintenance, training and crew rest. When at sea, our SSN’s conduct training and exercise operations about half the time; the balance of their time at sea is spent on extended deployments to the Mediterranean Sea, the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean and to Northern and Arctic waters. During these deployments, the SSN remains at sea 70-80 percent of the time with only brief stops for logistic replenishment and crew liberty. When at sea, our SSN’s operate submerged virtually all the time. We believe these deployments are essential to maintain the proficiency to carry out an effective maritime deterrent, and we frequently exercise our ability to deploy SSN’s on short notice, fully ready for combat.
As you may have seen in the press recently, we are carrying out a very active program of operations in the Arctic region. It is considered necessary to deny the Arctic as a sanctuary for Soviet submarines. Last April, I visited an ice camp in the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska. There I embarked on USS HAWKBILL, that had surfaced through the ice. I spent a day on board and witnessed the ship’s full capability to conduct anti-submarine warfare operations under many feet of ice. Not long thereafter, USS HAWKBILL rendezvoused with USS RAY and USS ARCHERFISH for exercises in the deep Arctic Basin and on 5 May they surfaced together at the North Pole. Operations such as this provide unmatched training in the most remote and harsh region of the world’s oceans and demonstrate our ability to operate effectively in any environment.
I feel that our most potential enemy, the Soviet Union, has the same view of submarine superiority t.hat we do. They realize that the U.S. has a strong technological edge, and they are working hard to close the gap. The Soviet submarine force outnumbers the u.s. by three to one. Over the past decade, the Soviet Navy has introduced 13 new classes of submarines. Their new Soviet submarine force is cootposed of large, complex, modern and expensive submarines. The Soviets clearly desire to wrest submarine superiority away from the U.S.
The program to keep our attack submarines at the leading edge consists of three main elements: first, we are equipping our older attack submarines with improved sensors and weapons. Today’s LOS ANGELES – 688 class is the best nuclear attack submarine in the world. Notwithstanding, we are now building an improved 688 which will be twice as effective as today’s 6BB•s. These ships will carry the added firepower of twelve vertical TOMAHAWK missile launchers in the bow, be much quieter than earlier ships, and will be fully capable of Arctic operations. Finally, we are well along in the design of the SSN-21 — the SEAWOLF class — which we see as the attack submarine of the next century. This submarine will embody the very best in advanced technology in its sensors, weapons and propulsion systems. We are designing this submarine now. It will go to sea in 1995. We are confident that we can maintain the tactical advantage over any challenger. We are ready in the u.s. Navy.
My talk has dwelled on the u.s. submarine force, but I would be most remiss if I did not express . our dependence upon and appreciation for the support of our naval allies. We dare not go it alone, so we vitally depend on cooperation with the free world’s navies to, in fact, keep the world free. Together, we are much stronger than the sum of our parts.
We of the free world’s navies have always had an ability to communicate with each other more easily than our sister services, and it has served our nations well. There is something about sea duty that builds wariness, independence and clear thinking. I believe we share a common view of the threat to the free world.
Naval officers are bonded by the sea and, in an even closer manner, submariners are a tight rraternity. In the rinal analysis, people are the most important part or the submarine superiority equation — technicians, engineers, designers, builders, repairers, and most importantly, the crews. The u.s., like all submarine rorces, look ror the very finest young men, train them vigorously and expect the very best rrom them. It is a factor that binds international submariners together. One can sense the reeling of shared danger, mutual reliance and camaraderie borne of small crews that have molded us into a similar frame of mind irrespective of our navies.
Three months ago, I was in France as a guest of the French Submarine Force. I visited the dockyard which in 1911 produced Peru’s first submarines, PALACOIS and FERRE. I did not know then that I would be privileged to represent the u.s. Submarine Force in Peru on this grand occasion. It is a distinct honor to be here and come to know better your most professional Submarine Force.
Vice Admiral Bruce DeMars, USN