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GENERAL ADDRESSES – Adniral Bruce DeMars, Dbectcr, Navy Nuclear Propulsion


Today I want to focus on a signal subject: SSN-21, SEA WOLF!

As in any endeavor of this magnitude, the SSN-21 program, despite a broad base of support, has had its share of issues. Some are valid concerns, most are not. I want to make two points:

  • The SSN-21 is absolutely essential in order to preserve our undersea superiority and it remains logical and cost effective even in these changing times.
  • Two SSN·21s in this year’s budget are critical to sustain a highly specialized, fragile industrial base.

Having triumphed over the Soviet communist system, in both the economic and military arenas, current debate is focused on how much for defense and how fast can we realize the peace dividend. But, in restructuring our country’s military, we must consider what fundamental capabilities led to this improved state of affairs. Heretofore little known, under· appreciated, and cloaked in secrecy, the role of attack submarines needs to be well understood in the context of today’s difficult decisions.

For the past four decades the submarine force role has been focused on two goals:

  • To provide a credible, stabilizing strategic nuclear deterrent with the strategic submarines, and
  • To be always prepared to defeat the Soviet Navy in a conventional war with the attack submarines.

While the strategic submarine story is an impressive one, I will only address the SSN. We invented the nuclear attack submarine and it changed the course of naval warfare forever. One of the most brilliant and successful engineering develop· ments in history, NAUTILUS was the product of concurrent design and construction.

In 1948 Dr. Oppenheimer, technical director for the Manhattan Project reported to the Atomic Energy Commission that it would take fifteen years to develop a nuclear·powered submarine – five to produce a test reactor; five more for a land based prototype shipboard reactor; and another five to deliver the ship. Admiral Rickover, then a Captain, had a bolder approach. By proceeding in parallel, he was able to put NAUTILUS to sea in January 1955 — only seven years after Dr. Oppenheimer’s report

Concurrency in design and production, one criticism of the SSN-21 effort, is exactly what led to the extraordinary success of the NAUTILUS program. The accelerated schedule actually saved money. As Admiral Rickover correctly observed: It takes time to spend money.

This aggressive program gave us an initial five year lead on the Soviets from which they never recovered. For the past 35 years, the Soviets have lagged behind as we built successive classes of ever more capable SSNs: SKATE – SKIPJACK PERMIT- STURGEON – LOS ANGELES. The Soviets built over twice as many different classes of attack submarines in the same period. But ours continue to out-perform theirs.

We countered their every move. As they got quieter, we invented a towed array sonar and changed our tactics. When they went deeper and faster to compensate for lack of stealth, we modified our torpedoes to go deeper and faster; and we let them know we did it.

When they deployed to the Mediterranean in the 60s, we followed. When they went to the Indian Ocean in the 70s, we followed. When they went under the Arctic ice pack to escape detection, we increased our Arctic deployments from 1 sub per year to 3-4 per year.

The Soviets made their submarine force the centerpiece of their post-World War II naval expansion. But we hounded them unmercifully. They always came out second best.

Our submarine programs have been one of our country’s most successful Cold War competitive strategies. Reacting to the pressure of our strategic and attack submarines, the Soviets had to commit vast resources in pursuit of undersea superiority; or at least parity.

This kind of unrelenting pressure on resources was instrumental in the Soviet decision to try a different tack. But the Soviets are not throwing in the towel. Although encouraged by changes brought about by current Soviet leadership, we have to evaluate what they actually do.

They are finally starting to retire some old and obsolete submarines — mostly diesel boats. They have not retired any submarines even remotely equivalent to those we have been retiring. They have not halted construction on new ships nor their commitment to improve them. As reported in the recently released edition of Jane’s Fi&htint: Ships; in terms of tonnage, more submarines were commissioned in 1989 than in any year since 1980. I am confident they will introduce several new improved submarine designs within this decade.

All this is not surprising. Because submarines are so versatile and cost-effective, they generate the most return for the investment. Other emerging nations with limited budgets want to acquire nuclear submarines for the same reason.

Admiral Gorshkov, the father of Soviet seapower, said it well: For each Gennan U-boat, there were 25 British and U.S. ships and 100 aircraft, and for every Gennan submariner at sea there were 100 British and American anti-submariners. He concluded that if diesel submarines with only limited mobility and endurance could have this effect, nuclear powered submarines could tilt the scales even more sharply. He was right.

In many circles today, the Soviets are no longer viewed as even a potential threat. But as long as the capability exists, we cannot ignore it. We cannot afford to get so caught up by the charisma of one leader that we voluntarily close the gap that they could not close otherwise. Our submarine advantage will continue to be important to our national interests. We need to preserve this submarine advantage to deter changes in Soviet intentions. The SSN-21 will do this.

But what about the use of these high tech vessels in actions short of World War III? Actually, their worth becomes even more important as we have to get by with less. A smaller Navy, coupled with base reductions overseas, creates a greater requirement for single ships operating alone that can project U.S. influence.

Our nuclear submarines have stealth already paid for. This becomes increasingly important as high tech weapons move rapidly into third world nations. Our submarines are cost effective; a characteristic that derives from small crew size, the submariners’ traditional disdain for trappings, and the natural defense provided by the ocean depths. Stealth is their protection; the payload is all offensive power.

Of course, our attack submarines do not meet every need. They are not a strategic deterrent like TRIDENT submarines. They do not begin to have the firepower of our aircraft carrier battle groups. They would not be a good choice to protect convoys from small boats or air strikes in the Persian Gulf. But if you want lethal sea control or to carry out surgical strikes ashore, our nuclear attack submarines can do the job ·-without committing carrier battle groups and without risking loss or capture of pilots.

As the number of carrier battle groups decline, the attack submarines with cruise missiles will have to pick up the slack. More thought must be given to the submarine presence mission. While we all know that seventy percent of the world is covered by ocean or sea, it is not common knowledge that within 200 miles of a coast lives seventy percent of the world’s population — within 300 miles are eighty percent of the capitals and ninety percent of the manufacturing commerce of Western Europe and the Pacific Rim – all well within the range of a submarine launched TOMAHAWK. land attack missile.

We are building SEA WOLF because we need its improved capability to sustain a commanding edge over all others and to fulfill a variety of missions. The STURGEON and LOS ANGELES class remain effective for many missions. But they cannot handle what we see in the future undersea technology race. SSN·21 is absolutely vital in maintaining undersea superiority.

There is another compelling reason to get on with the SSN21 program — the industrial base. The ability to design and manufacture nuclear powered warships and their sophisticated hardware depends on a small, highly specialized, and fragile industrial base. This base has already been hit hard by early termination of the LOS ANGELES class program; by early retirement of other SSNs; by the approaching end of the TRIDENT authorizations; and by the growing recognition that the building rate for the SEA WOLF class will be less than planned. Budget uncertainty amplifies the problems. Because of the Navy’s strict requirements for high quality, long-lasting, shock-resistant, quiet-running submarines, very few off-the-shelf components can do the job. For the most part, the Navy is the only customer for these components. This is not the aircraft industry. Quantities are small. Overhead is high — the result of extensive quality organizations, cleanliness procedures, and management structures required to tum out this kind of work. Companies who carry this burden rarely are able to compete successfully for less sophisticated civilian work. With the demise of the civilian nuclear industry and the long lull in electrical power generation orders, there is little in the way of other work to tide these firms through gaps in the shipbuilding program.

The problem exists in shipyards, in nuclear component factories, and among specialty suppliers at lower levels. In terms of reactor plants to be ordered, the projection for the 90s is about half what it has been for each of the last two decades. In the past year, we have lost our alternate supplier for nuclear fuel and our alternate supplier of nuclear cores. Other major equipment suppliers are hanging on the ragged edge.

Twenty years ago Congress rejected a DOD proposal to stop submarine construction with the STURGEON class. Recognizing the importance of underseas warfare, and the need to sustain a viable nuclear industrial base, Congress authorized an aggressive building program for the new LOS ANGELES class. Where would we be today had Congress not taken the long term view?

Of course, Congress should not authorize unneeded ships just to sustain an industrial base. But with a 30 year shiplife, a building rate of only two submarines per year corresponds to a forty percent reduction in submarine force levels. From the standpoint both of military need and industrial base, we need both SSN-2ls in the President’s budget.

The inexorable advance of technology has greatly expanded submarine missions. Over the past eight decades the submarine has moved from naval oddity to successive preeminence in anti-surface ship warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and strategic nuclear deterrence. The nuclear submarine has the most to gain with technology that is now at hand. The continued development of cruise missiles, satellites, and unmanned underwater and flying vehicles added to the tremendous capability inherent in SSN-21 will cause the nuclear submarine to be recognized for what it is today — the capital ship of the Navy.

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