by Vice Admiral Daniel L. Cooper, USN
ACNO Undersea Warfare
First, I would like to express my appreciation to the Naval Submarine League for the many activities it has undertaken as it has matured over the last four years, in particular. From the normal strong support of the Submarine Force, to the impressive annual technical symposium out at APL, to the release of SUBMARINES: Steel Boats, Iron Men. As most of you are aware, NSL was responsible for working with paramount studios for the Hunt for Red October premiere. They raised close to $100,000 which was then equally divided between the Dolphin Scholarship Fund and the IOWA fund.
We attempted to raise the cognizance level for the NSL at our last submarine ball, by honoring the NSL and having some of the original mafia be recognized. The same thing was done at the submarine balls at the Submarine Base Bangor, Washington. As you may have read, NSL is working again with varied directions to produce a movie like SUBMARINE: Steel Boats, Iron Men, this time emphasizing the SSBN strategic deterrent.
To say that this last year has been stimulating is the grossest of understatements. Living in Washington, DC is fascinating, doing it in 1990 is stimulating and being in the military while justifying big programs is humbling. The schedule of the Symposium provides a strong variety of speakers, as well-rounded a schedule as any I’ve seen here. I would expect Dr. Herzfeld, although fairly new in OSO, to give a good overview of the ongoing DOD workings. You’ll probably get your price of admission’s worth from representative Norm Sisisky who is as skilled and as knowledgeable as anyone in Congress. My guess is that his view will be not only straight but also relatively pessimistic. Without going down the rest of the list, I think you should leave the seminar with a fairly good understanding of the force, that is, as much as can be gained in the Washington atmosphere.
As we look back over the last year, many unusual events have occurred. The one point of agreement in all the editorials and speeches is that no one could have predicted those changes or anything resembling them. It leads one to conclude that the primary stability in the world today is the relative instability of most of the various components.
Similarly, we see in the papers that the bi-polarity of the international scene is rapidly diminishing and economically the Soviet Union has very real problems. These perceptions, along witli the changing military structure of land forces in Europe, then, has presented the major conundrum, that is: since the so-called threat is obviously decreasing, why do we need (blank)? You can fill in the blank with terms such as a navy, people, tanks, bombers or submarines. Obviously, the question I get is why do we need submarines?
What I plan to discuss is in the context of today’s atmosphere. What do I see as reality — what are the threats, the missions, some of the attitudes. Every subject is related to the budget and fiSCal policy.
There are many more questions than answers — we have a lot of smart people looking for truth — and some who honestly do not agree.
Anyone who arrived in Washington in the last couple of years could have written a book using the title of one of the current best sellers, It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It.
Over these two days, you have heard or will hear of the Third World submarine threat which is real and growing, and of the Soviet Submarine Force which will reduce in number while decommissioning their older HEN class submarines. Tt.ese first classes of Soviet nuclear submarines are old, noisy and maintenance nightmares. Simultaneously, the Soviet Union is building submarines at the same or a greater rate than it has even in the 80’s. Last year, the Soviet Union built nine submarines — four diesel, two strategic and three attack (SSN or SSGN). This high construction rate will probably continue in 1990.
Modern Soviet nuclear attack submarines such as AKULA, VICfOR lli, OSCAR and SIERRA are very quiet, welloutfitted and operated very professionally. It is the realization of these new classes that caused Congressman Aspin 18 months ago to convene a study group to look at ASW. That study reiterated that ASW must be our highest priority — and the SSN-21 must be built.
So my statement wherever I am allowed to make it, is that I do not know the ruble to dollar exchange rate — nor do I know the GNP percentage for defense in the Soviet Union: I do know the facts which I see or which have been reported:
- The submarine threat of the Third World is increasing.
- The quality of Soviet submarine is much superior to earlier years (the total numbers will go down).
- The number of nuclear attack submarines they are building per year is greater than we build by one or two each year.
- Fleet Admiral Chernavin has stated the submarine is the principle ship of the Soviet navy.
My conclusion is that the threats discussed in the media and the threat with which I am professionally concerned are different and trending in opposite directions. A side argument has been that Soviet submarines are no longer deploying far from their bases. That is true to an extent. D.Y! the Soviets’ large highly capable submarine potential is and will be there. The U.S. cannot build up to match that potential in one or two years. The submarine threat has not abated.
John Chancellor last fall stated in his TV editorial, Walter Lippman once said the Soviet Union was a bear but not a whale.
Chancellor then continued, The Soviet Union became a bear and a whale – and it is a whale still today.
The attack submarines, as most of you know, are now fully capable of multiple missions. Each of our SSNs are capable of almost all of the missions the navy must execute. With the submarine’s inherent characteristics of stealth, mobility, endurance and firepower it can:
- Collect valuable intelligence, covertly providing real-time surveillance, indication and warning o Remain on station anywhere for months undetected (no refueling or mail runs)
- Respond quickly to tasking in far removed areas and then withdraw o Provide stnlce capability with TASM and 1LAM
- Work with Special Operating Forces
- Plant mines
- Create leverage out of proportion to its size
No one knows when one is present — or if one is there; are there others?
As far as I am concerned the threat of foreign submarines and the capabilities of our submarines now are facts. What will happen in the next ten to twenty years is pure conjecture. What I expect to see in general terms is a smaller navy and, therefore, a smaller submarine force. The size of our Defense Department, our Navy or our Submarine Force, will not be driven primarily by the threat or the missions or the perceived need, but by the budget. Any one can read today’s paper and come to the conclusion that the cost of everything is going up and the fiscal problems of our country are not diminishing.
Right now, SECDEF, having had an aircraft study, bas commissioned a major warship study to look at the DDG-51 and the SSN-21.
It is in that atmosphere that we in the Submarine Force are valiantly discussing the TRIDENT and the SEA WOLF classes of submarine. They are the submarines of the future; as George Allen stated, in this case, the future is now.
The TRIDENT missile and OHIO-class submarine compose the most modernized and fully capable leg of the triad. Last year you saw the picture of the concentric circles of our first sea launched D-5. Since then SP and Ken Malley and his people have completed a herculean task of correcting that problem – no member on the hill really thought it would be done or at least in the nominal time. In March of this year, TENNESSEE went to sea with a full load of TRIDENT D-5 missiles. And last month, the Strategic Systems Program was given the Navy Unit Commendation at a ceremony attended by the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations. In the next two months, the second D-5 submarine, PENNSYL V AN1A, will deploy on its first deterrent patrol.
That class of submarines and that class of D-5 missile are on station now operating from the Submarine Base, Kings Bay, Georgia. There has never been a more successful strategic program, and I fully expect it to be our primary deterrent for many years to come.
We have the two newest bases in the Defense Department and the most survivable, dependable and modernized strategic system in the world.
This year in the budget we are asking for the 18th ‘IRIDENT submarine and advance procurement for numbers 19 and 20.
There are, of course, several subjects which arise in testimony and in the press.
o First is START, which we read could be signed by the end of the year. Navy has stated it desires 21 operational SSBNs which would count under START plus 2 or 3 which would not count since they would be in the shipyard in various stages of disrepair.
o Second is Rocky Flats. Their production status affects our MARK 5 RV on our D-5 missile. We have the necessary plans to adjust as necessary to any delay in Rocky Flats and will need to make the initial decision late this calendar year. Since the 18th TRIDENT which we are requesting will not be commissioned for 5 to 7 years — Rocky Flats should not be a consideration in its authorization.
One final point which I have made at each appropriate hearing is that several years ago, when the triad was philosophically justified (after already “in being”), there were two drawbacks allocated to it by any detractors: namely, communications and accuracy. Neither of those are germane now. We have solid, survivable, reliable communications, and our accuracy has proven equal to any missile in the world inventory today.
Given our natural plans for deactivation of our POSEIDON and TRIDENT I, pre-OHIO class submarines -at the end of this decade, we will have 18 to 20 operational strategic deterrent submarines.
Turning now to the program which, in my opinion, is vital to this nation’s undersea superiority and power projection capability, I want to discuss the SSN-21.
Let me point out some facts on the general status of our attack submarine force. Right now, today, we have 92 submarines of which one is a diesel. Included also are eight 594s, two 608s, thirty-seven 637s, one NARWHAL, and fortythree 688s.
Last year we were authorized the last of the 688s which will give us 62 total; we had, at one time, planned for 69. Of the 62, 39 are straight 688s and 23 will be the improved 6881s. When the question is asked, what have we given up — a partial answer is the seven 688’s we will not now buy.
In this year’s budget, you will note we are retiring eight submarines somewhat early; that includes two 637 class. (This decision was made late in the process of the 1991 budget) that decision was based on the economics or costs of overhauls and inherent personnel savings. Each of these platforms scheduled for retirement is a highly capable submarine which will continue front-line operations, up until returning to port for deactivation.
Given all the unknowns over the next few years and the present climate and thinking, I would expect us, in the year ~000, to have about 80 or so attack submarines. The large majority will be the 62 688s and I-688s with a few 637s and the remainder being the SSN-21. Obviously, then, the level will depend on the rate of authorization of this most capable platform.
As you can see, we will not reach 100 operational attack submarines. Given the present fJScal atmosphere, the cost of building a submarine and the long building period for a nuclear submarine, the effect of any decision we make this year will not be seen for six or seven years; then, if, in fact, world tension increases, it will take another six or seven years to get more submarines out – if industry is still sufficiently vibrant to respond.
When questioned about how many submarines we need, my statement has been: in 1984, we did a study based on the threat, the national maritime strategy and having 688Is in the inventory. That study calculated a need for 140 plus submarines. In 1988, we again did a study based on the updated threat and having some number of SSN-21s. That study justified 104 to 106 attack submarines. The national maritime strategy has not changed; the threat has changed to more Third World and more capable Soviet submarines. So I cannot justify the need for a number less than the level our study developed. Budget constraints I understand, but please do not ask me to justify those numbers operationally.
The SSN-21, SEAWOLF, is the submarine we need to execute the national maritime strategy against the projected threat with its known advanced technology. I emphasize advanced technology is vital – that has been our cornerstone for years, but it has eroded as we have used the same design for 20 years, and the Soviets have progressed to close the gap. The SEA WOLF will have:
- The ultimate in submarine stealth technology.
- Double the firepower of the latest operational Soviet attack submarine
- The highest tactical speed of any submarine in the world
- Sufficient design margin for growth in future technology advances o Advanced design to allow efficient modernization and maintenance throughout its life. The effort will result in reduced operating and support costs.
It is meeting or exceeding every one of its top level warfare requirements specifications. SSN-21 is the key to this nation’s undersea superiority and power projection capability in the 21st century. The primary questions which have arisen are about concurrency, costs, schedules, the complicated BSY-2 system and testing. So far, we have answered all of the questions with forthright, straightforward answers. Obviously, many of the answers are difficult, since the SEA WOLF is only into the second year of a seven-year building program. Be advised, however, we are in year 8 of a 13-year total program and have to date spent about $5 billion on the research, design and building.
A discussion which is more mind-boggling than it should be is the one which starts by saying the 21 is too costly and then says you could build a cheaper one and get a lot more. Later in the same conversation, the interrogator will slip into the discussion of do you think SSN-21 is advanced enough to meet the threat?
There are several answers to that line of questioning. To wit:
The SSN-21 will have every improvement we can make in the time given. As a matter of fact, the improvements have allowed other detractors to come on line with the questions of concurrency. Concurrency basically means that at the time, the 21 (or any system) goes to sea or operates the first time, there will still be many components which will not have been fully tested at sea under operational conditions. To say we’ve always done it that way is true, but inappropriate. The fact is that more of the SEA WOLF equipment will have been tested, reported and stressed before insertion in the hull than ever before. However, the question still lingers. SECDEF made a report to congress on concurrency and declared both SSN21 and BST-2 as moderate risk. (Interestingly, both were low risk in technology.)
A further answer is that, in my opinion, we cannot afford two attack submarine building programs. We must be able to go against the best possible adversary in the world and also against the third world threat The SSN-21 will do that. Our high-low mix is the SSN-21 and the others. The margin for necessary major improvement of the 688 is gone. We can make no more major improvements.
Finally, I would like to discuss briefly Senator Nunn’s speeches on “new military strategy.” He delivered a series of lectures on the senate floor in April. His suggested strategy revolved around the following five points:
- Maintaining nuclear deterrence at lower levels with great stability.
- Reduce forward deployed forces, increase specialization and emphasize reinforcement
- Greater utilization of reserves
- Flexible readiness
- Resource strategy – “think smarter, not richer”
The submarine can be a major component in four of his five points. I grant that we cannot have a greater utilization of reserves, but the submarine is a major factor in maintenance of nuclear deterrence, rapid response when the forward deployed forces are reduced, high fleXIble readiness and the maintenance of technological superiority through both modernization and building new platforms.
There are still many questions which keep appearing in the questioning of national defense — to repeat my earlier statements, the U.S. has national priorities, national debt, health, education, drugs, S&L, START and occasionally the subject of naval disarmament.
Let me emphasize two important points:
- The TRIDENT is the modernized leg of the triad — we are fortunate.
- There is no programmatic or scheduling reason to reject the SSN-21. Fiscal decisions may be made at a higher level, but no one should hide behind some wrong perception of decreased threat or program problem.
Both the TRIDENT and the SEA WOLF represent the future of our navy as well as our force.
Because of all these, I repeat, life in this arena is invigorating and the challenges stimulating. The ability and professionalism of our submarine force is recognized and appreciated. Any help the NSL can render in our quest will certainly be appreciated.
Finally, even though Voltaire in 1789 wrote, “an Admiral must be put to death now and then to encourage the others,.” today, just testifying on the hill provides lots of encouragement “for the others.”