Thank you very much Admiral Long, and thank you for inviting me. The views that I’ll give are my own. I have sometimes been associated with something governmental, but please don’t think this is other than my own view. It is not a U.S. view or any industrial view that I know of.
I’d like to talk about what glasnost and perestroika mean for us. Don’t bet that glasnost means they’re all very nice. When we look at the Soviets we tend to look at their strengths; or at least we have until recently. So we think of them as very dedicated but with some major weaknesses.
Most of you have lived through revolutionary development in electronics. Computers went from not too reliable and very expensive to quite reliable and dirt cheap. That hasn’t happened over there. When you look at the characteristics of a submarine or a surface ship or an airplane, one thing that you discover is that you’re looking at the weapons and the sensors and the combat direction system but we don’t normally see what those systems are like in the Soviet case. We see how many submarines there are, how many torpedo tubes, we watch them fire torpedoes. It’s much more difficult to know how good they are internally.
What happens after glasnost? We all know the Soviets are now our friends and they’re nice people and we want to fix their economy, right? How do we fix their economy? We give them all the goodies that make modem economies work in the West That includes computers and computer chips. That’s just the kind of stuff we’re talking about freely exporting to these nice people in the East who clearly have our best interests in mind. On their past track record a lot of that isn’t going to end up fiXing their economy. The purpose of perestroika was not to make them a loving, caring society that was nice for other people. It was meant to make them better and tougher. The track record of the Russian and Soviet society is not exactly a warm one.
One of our problems in this country is that we’ve associated Soviet aggressiveness and unpleasantness with Communism. Unfortunately the pre-Communist state was not too much better. A lot of people in this country are descended from those who left while there was a czar. He ‘was not too nice either. Also, if you look closely at the political movements currently going on in that country, a lot of them are not what we would call humanistic and warmhearted.
Now let’s imagine that the future isn’t quite as stable as we’d like to think. When people talk about the Soviet’s five year plan there’s an assumption that the Soviet government roughly remains the same. I wouldn’t be shocked if you saw some very nasty changes in that country. H you go back in history to the French Revolution, you find that it started off in a fairly gentlemanly way but later it wasn’t so nice. Now, if the Soviet Union should go through some kind of conwlsion, which I think is a very likely proposition, (that’s why I said before rm not speaking for anybody else and I don’t think the United States government would care to make that statement), then what comes out of it at the far end? Well, it might be a much more efficient country. Democracies tum out to be amazingly efficient compared to dictatorships, especially as dictatorships age. Ifs not likely to be a friendlier country.
So the Soviet Union probably is out of business for a while but then comes back; maybe more effectively, maybe not, certainly possessing large amounts of military power which don’t vaporize if the country is stopped for a while.
Meanwhile in Europe you find a great deal of wishful thinking. After all they lived under a real threat as opposed to the abstract threat of nuclear weapons. So although we know the Soviets can vaporize us right now, we really think they would prefer doing something else with their time. On the other hand, if you are a Central European, it’s a very real threat. There are all these tanks and they can come. Well, now the tanks are a lot further away. Therefore there will be a very strong view in Europe (there already is but it will get a whole lot stronger) that threats can be dispensed with.
What does that mean? Well, it means, “Good night, bases” in a lot of places, because we operate in the Third World not really at the behest of whoever owns the base we use. They give us basing generally in the hope that we will protect them from the Russians when the Russians come. If the Russians aren’t coming, (in their view, not mine) then why let us use the bases?
When we bombed Libya there was a tremendous outrage in England about using British airbases. But of course it’s all right because basically we are their security against the Russians vaporizing their country. Well, if they think the Russians aren’t going to do that any more, then “Good night to that”
Now that doesn’t mean the world is any safer; and in particular, it doesn’t mean that the Third World problems go away. In fact, they’ll probably get worse. What that says is that we have to live with forces that can move around without other people’s permission; completely without other people’s permission. It also probably says that mobility becomes more important and that probably means nuclear power gets more important I don’t see any way around that I think we’ll probably lose bases, possibly all the bases we have now. We will go back to a world where the U.S. Navy takes with it what it needs. That’s like the Navy before World War II. It really can be made to work, but it isn’t cheap.
On the other hand, if we have no more bases in Europe, we can certainly eliminate other wastes of money (generally painted dark brown or light blue), and in that way we can completely square the budget circle. We’re only about onethird now and if we were to increase to 80% of the defense budget then the total is no problem.
Let’s talk about the Third World First of all they’re getting more money so they’re buying better goodies. As the Western requirements go down, you have a lot of people out there who want to sell. They will sell, in some cases, to whomever comes with a basket full of money. In some cases there will be some restraint but not a whole lot. The main thing about the Third World is that it is completely unpredictable. We go about the Third World and find people that we back and we sell them our goodies and should there be the unthinkable and they switch or decide they don’t like us, we are always offended. Of course they do have the weapons at that point. Those weapons include lots of diesel submarines and they include lots of Western missiles. They will in the future probably include lots of ex-Soviet stuff. One of the unfortunate zingers is that the ex-Soviet stuff will not be operated by Soviets.
If you look at patterns of Russian operations, there are ways in which they are not terribly efficient. They like collective operations; they tend to be stereotyped. We gain certain advantages from that. We’ve tended to downplay the advantages we get out of their geography and the advantages we get out of some stupid things they do. When their stuff gets sold in the Third World or used in the Third World, it doesn’t suffer from those disadvantages. Also, it may be combined with Western electronics which are freely exported in the Third World. That’s a very serious problem for us. It’s a problem of perception. Another thing about the Third World is that many of the countries that we find the most obnoxious have been basically subsidized by the Soviets in the past. If indeed the Soviets are in an economic crisis, the subsidies have to be cut off. I would read most of what has happened as an attempt by Mr. Gorbachev to cut his expenses, because he just can’t afford these things anymore. What happens when you are a thug and they’re not paying your bills anymore? Do you become a nice boy? I don’t think so. I think you start looking for better ways to rob your neighbors. That means you get nastier, not the other way around. I was very disturbed to hear about interest in reducing troops in Korea. The North Koreans have not accepted perestroika, love for humanity or anything remotely like that. They are a very nasty bunch. Now if they are a very nasty bunch that is now a poorer nasty bunch, what are they supposed to do? One of the misfortunes of hearing diplomatic language is you always use lengthy words to hide the fact that you’re talking about thugs. These are very nasty people. They are nasty people that we get involved with. There’s no way out of that.
Now the other thing we talk about is the number of submarines that there are in the Third World. You’ll notice that a lot of them aren’t really enemy subs and people say there are only a few in each force. There’s a big difference between operating in the Third World and operating with the Soviets. If we fight a big war with the Soviets, which I hope we won’t do, then we take a lot of losses and they take a lot of losses and hopefully we come out on top in the end. No one is particularly shocked at this because if you win against the Soviets, they don’t come back next week. If you deal with someone in the Third World, actually the thing you get out of that one combat is not so direct.
Let’s take Mr. Gadati. He likes to fmance terrorism. We drop some bombs on him. The purpose of bombing him is two-fold. One is to deliver a message to him that we can come back later and kill him. Not necessarily to do all that damage right now, but to show him we can do what we like with him.
Message number two, which is a whole lot more important, is to show everyone else who also dislikes us intensely that we’ll come to them. Some said when we bombed Libya that Syria was really much nastier and we should have done it to them. What you should do is hit someone easy and tell the others that you’ll get them and then they don’t find out how good you are at it. What that says is that operations in the Third World should be like the swipe with the back of the hand. It has to be overwhelming, it has to be almost cost free. Not because we’ll go crazy if they pick up a couple of pilots. I think that’s overrated. But because we don’t want the others to get the idea that they can exhaust us. When I was a college student during the Vietnam War, there was a cry by the left that it will be one Vietnam, two Vietnams, many Vietnams. What they really meant was that we can’t afford a lot of those things at one time. The reason there weren’t many Vietnams is that it wasn’t that nice in North Vietnam when we were bombing them. So it really didn’t encourage others to think it was a good idea.
How does the submarine come into that? First of all, most of the way we bomb places is from aircraft carriers. The Air Force is attempting to get in on the game but I think they will fail. At any rate, carriers, large amphibs, or any large ship which is damaged by a sub in a Third World operation causes a severe political heartache. Why? Because it shows we couldn’t do it with a swipe of the wrist. It shows that if a lot of them do it at once, we’re in trouble. Therefore, it’s very important to be able to neutralize those subs. Our own submarines, particularly if they have some means of long range counter, are rather valuable for that job.
In a big war, if we have 15 carriers and we lose 3 or 4 carriers, that’s life. We damage one carrier in a small operation like Libya, that’s bad news. Number two problem in a big war: if you kill a couple of neutrals, life is crueL In a little thing in the Third World, if you sink a sub and it’s not the bad guy’s, you’ve got real problems. People will scream. Submarines are frequently almost identical because they don’t build them themselves. They’re buying off the shelf from .someone else. That’s a serious issue, that IFF problem. I don’t have clever comments about that. I’m telling you it’s a different game than it is in the big war. In the big war we try to stop up the Russians at source. The geography helps us a lot. In a small one, we probably can’t do it. They may come out to sea before we even show up on the scene. That’s a problem. There’s a problem of endurance.
Now the other thing in the Third World is that surveillance and other kinds of intelligence operations become terribly important. Covert submarines are the ideal means of doing that. Therefore, it pays to have types of submarines with a lot of capacity. If I were trying to sell SSN-21 right now, and I certainly support it strongly, I would emphasize that. You talk about fire power and that’s nice if you’re killing people. But those spaces could also be filled with other things for surveillance, for playing games with hi-static active sonars, all sorts of things. I was very distressed about the cancellation of Sea Lance because I think of that as a way of deterring other people’s submarines from coming out to play. They may be tembly quiet when they’re sitting there but when they run at speed to do something, you ’11 hear them. When they ping, you hear them. If a submarine commander opposing us knows that at the moment that he’s cheerfully sitting there, we’ll blow him away from a distance he can’t even imagine, that tends to turn him off a bit and a lot of this is psychological.
You’ve honored a man before for going out, staying on the bridge and firing almost his whole load of torpedoes at night in a terrifying surface action. Everything in his effectiveness depended upon how much guts he had. Therefore, the first thing we should do in the Third World is to convince the average submarine skipper in those navies that living another few months might be a good idea. That’s very important. We are in a game of trying to terrorize those guys.
One , of the scary things in the Falklands was that the Argentine submarine commander was not terrorized sufficiently. It’s a very great pity that the British didn’t do their thing because now he raises a standard for conduct in the Third World which could be extremely uncomfortable for us. That also goes for the world in which the main problem is not about worrying about the Soviets but all of these other people with very varied weapons, some of which we supply, some of which are made locally.
It’s also a problem of our intelligence. We tended for years and years to become very good at collecting on the Soviets. We know a lot about the Soviets. As a writer, I wish we would talk more about them, but that’s life. Information on the Third World tends not to be nearly as good and I say that both from trying to find literature in the open and from my knowledge of the closed literature. It tends not to be sophisticated enough. It’s a very varied world; it’s important to have that varied information.
As regards more automated systems, we try to identify what’s coming in some automatic manner. It’s terribly important that our automated systems be aware of the variety that is out there. Most of those weapons are not terribly amazing. I’m not telling you that there is some death ray out there made in Patagonia that will kill you. What I’m telling you is that if someone fires a Chinese made missile that has a seeker that is a little different from ours or Russia’s or Britain’s and our ESM device doesn’t pick it up because it thinks it’s something else and we get killed, we’re still dead. That’s unfortunate.
Let me make one last point. We are in a world where the numbers of subs are falling. They’re falling in all navies. We also are in a world where most people pick up information on submarines by reading standard handbooks like Combat Fleets. It’s very difficult reading those handbooks and that’s what Congressmen, columnists and people like that read to make any sense of the submarine business. But in those books, nuclear subs all go 30+ knots and silencing information is meaningless. We don’t know anything about combat systems in these books. How do you explain to people why one sub is better than another, or worse? How do you evaluate submarine forces? The Soviets have some kind of methodology which I probably wouldn’t trusL I’ve never seen good methodology anywhere, classified or otherwise.
As the Soviets cut up their klunkers we will inevitably bear about how these enormous sacrifices for peace are being made. I don’t have a lot of respect for their military science but they’re awfully good at PR. They have lots of friends here and they always come around crying poor. This defensive posture, which is incredible baloney, is being pushed extremely well. We have to be smart enough to put that down. We have to be able to do better than raw numbers because when we’ve relied on raw numbers in the past, now that the raw numbers are falling in favor of quality, we get hurt and that’s dumb; we’re not dumb people and we can do much better.
What’s going to happen? First, what you are seeing now is some kind of transitional period and I think it’s a lull before some very nasty storms. Most of the storms will not affect us personally because we don’t live in places like Smolensk or Moscow. I cannot believe that Mr. Gorbachev will last a whole lot longer because he has completely failed to save the Soviet economy. By November there will probably be large scale famines.
People don’t like that. They tend to do things about it. To me, the biggest surprise in the recent past was the total inability of Soviet security forces to stop people from shooting each other in the Soviet Union. I was appalled. We were all brought up to believe this was a tough dictatorship; that they’re really good at iL If you whispered to someone next to you that you hated the government, they would shoot you tomorrow morning or at least lock you up. Then you see pictures of people in Asherbijian with bunting rifles shooting at Russian troops. They get killed later but they’re for real. There’s something very weird happening there. It’s possible that the KGB is as inept as the rest of the government. They’re no good at anything else; maybe they’re not as good at terror as they thought they were either. But if that kind of thing is real, if really they’re not that good at control, if the Party does resist, as it probably can’t avoid resisting any kind of freeing up of the economy, we’re talking about a large number of people losing privileges that they’re not going to be happy to lose. H you start seeing very· severe shortages in major cities, it seems to me you have a recipe for some very unpleasant developments. In Mr. Yeltsin, and probably others we don’t even know about, you have people quite prepared to take advantage of that so that you’ll probably see horrendous convulsions involving large numbers of dead people.
In Eastern Europe right now you have the euphoria of throwing off foreign control in favor of locals but they haven’t solved their problems either and they’re all broke. We talk about how the market will solve their problems but you have to remember, when you go to a market economy like ours, the mechanism that makes people work basically is two fold. One is a carrot that we’re all happy about. Work bard, get rich, and everything’s great. The other is a stick; don’t work, you starve. Now the poorer the society, the rougher the stick gets. Those are very poor places. And I find it hard to imagine again that within a few years as the stick hits harder, that there aren’t gross instabilities there also. Former Party members remembering the good old days. People deciding that if you merely seize their property, that they after all stole from the population, life will be better, right? You really think all those places are going to remain under the rule of law that, in some cases, they never remember anyway. These are some nasty places.
As far as Germany goes, I would point out that under their current deal with East Germany, they practically bought themselves gross inflation and unemployment Apparently the one lie about East Germany was that people thought it was the one Communist country where people worked and we discovered that’s not true. I would not bet that that’s a very happy proposition either.
Now a navy is different from an army or air force. Armies and air forces are put in particular places to do particular jobs. As long as the world of defense is dominated by army types or civilians whom you don’t realize are army types, they always think of buying systems for specific jobs. We are the only part of the world which is general purpose, truly general purpose. You know you get into a sub and someone says go to the Pacific, and you go to the Pacific. Go to the Atlantic, you go the Atlantic. Fight the Russians, you fight the Russians. ‘ Fight Gadafi, you fight Gadafi. Same people, same Navy. One thing we have to resist are cries for specialization.
Nimitz wrote an article in 1946 called Your Navy as Peace Insurance. You don’t buy life insurance because someone is going to pump you full of lead tomorrow morning. It’s cheap insurance. I think that’s a point that’s well worth making. As we get kicked out of places around the world because they think the threat is gone, we are what’s lefl The ability of the United States to go where it wants – that’s so valuable.
I’ll leave you with this one comment. We are fond of saying that the world was too unsafe until now. Baloney. The world was incredibly safe until now because there were rules. If the Russians grabbed Berlin, we incinerate the Russians. If we grabbed Hungary, they incinerate the U.S. Simple, straightforward rules. Now there aren’t any more rules. People are beginning to find that out. Where do you think all the nastiness of the last half century originated?
The Royal Navy Submarine Museum has a very large collection of submarine photographs (predominantly British but many international) from the earliest days. Copies are available for sale: price depends on size plus postage.
For further details, contact Graham Dobbin, Deputy Director, Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Haslar Jetty Road, Gosport, Hampshire P012 2AS UK. Tel: Gosport (0705) 510354. Fax: (0705) 511349.