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GENERAL ADDRESSES – Honorable Norman Sisisky, Member of Congress


I want to thank you for giving me the chance to discuss some of the most vital issues facing our nation. Admiral Bob Long’s invitation suggested I outline my views about the defense budget, as well as make some comments about our submarine fleet.

It’s an appropriate time to discuss the defense budget. Last year’s events in Eastern Europe and the USSR make comprehensive reassessment of America’s defense posture essential. Common sense suggests that future U.S. military forces will be smaller reflecting a reduced threat to U.S. interests around the world.

Common sense also suggests our military will be restructured to reflect specific changes in Europe – where the substantial portion of past military planning was focused. Common sense suggests future military forces will be smaller, and structured differently. But from my perspective as a member of the Armed Services Committee, achieving consensus on specific characteristics of tomorrow’s military is proceeding at a snail’s pace.

For the past few months, our attention has been focused on the disagreement about reprogramming FY 1990 funds to meet obligations in military personnel accounts and the Champus program. The reprogramming problem was finally solved by the Speaker of the House and the Secretary of Defense; but the debate about last year’s budget diverted attention from decisions that need to be made for 1991 and subsequent years.

The interest in last year’s budget was not the only reason for a lack of consensus. The President and Secretary of Defense acknowledge that changes have occurred – and their budget request had negative real growth. But at the same time, they imply U.S. military capabilities should not be changed – and insist force modernization should proceed (at least in the near term).

In contrast, the House of Representatives responded to the reports of political revolution in Eastern Europe and the Berlin Wall coming down by passing the budget resolution on May 1, 1990. The House budget resolution provided for a defense budget of $283 billion. That is $18.6 billion less than the $301.6 billion appropriated for 1990, and $23.9 billion less than the $306.9 billion proposed by the President for 1991. Although the Senate has not adopted a budget resolution, the Senate Budget Committee has voted to make reductions similar to the ones passed by the House.

The defense posture that the United States has maintained for the past forty years will change, and probably change dramatically, in light of the political turmoil in Eastern Europe and resulting changes in the Warsaw Pact The large standing ground and air forces that the United States maintained in Europe as a part of NATO will be reduced. Many troops will be brought home and deactivated. Troop deployments in Korea are being reviewed and will likely be cut back. Negotiations about our continued use of Oark Air Base and Subic Bay raise new questions about how we will maintain a U.S. presence in that region.

At home we have a continuing budget crisis with large deficits likely for the indefinite future, unless major reductions are made in government spending or federal revenues are increased. The rapid political changes in the USSR and Eastern Europe have led many people to believe that our domestic budget problems can be reduced, if not solved, by cutting back on defense spending.

As Soviet troops withdraw from East Europe, and as former Warsaw Pact armies shrink or become less effective-we now have a welcome opportunity to reduce U.S. forces deployed in Europe. As arms control agreements are implemented, we will also have an opportunity to reduce spending on strategic nuclear forces.

But none of these changes make it desirable for the U.S. to dismantle our Navy. Our reliance on free use of the oceans has not diminished. In fact, oceangoing commerce has increased in recent years. For example, our reliance on imported petroleum is growing again.

Another reason to maintain a strong Navy is that while we see reduced Soviet ground forces, Soviet construction of modem, highly capable surface combatants and submarines continues without discemable change. Of course, the Soviets could change their modernization plans, and some analysts already believe current economic conditions will force reductions in their next “Five Year Plan.” Nevertheless, the ships being built now could limit our ability to use the seas – if we do not maintain a strong Navy.

Finally, naval capabilities of numerous countries have increased dramatically in recent years. According to testimony before the Seapower Subcommittee, in addition to submarines operated by the U.S. and USSR, there are more than 400 submarines in the hands of 41 other nations.

In summary, a strong U.S. Navy that maintains a global presence continues to be needed to protect our interests around the world, notwithstanding changes in the Warsaw Pact.

The changing political and military situation, combined with a continuing budget crisis in the U.S. means we will not achieve the goal of a 600 ship Navy. More likely, there will be a smaller Navy — but a Navy that is modem and highly capable. Reading the Post may give an impression that changes in Eastern Europe and the reduction in tensions between the Soviet Union and the West mean we no longer need to modernize the Navy. Programs like the new DDG51 ARLEIGH BURKE destroyer and the SSN-21 SEA WOLF nuclear attack sub are suggested as candidates to be cut, apparently because someone believes they are no longer necessary. Meanwhile, Soviet capabilities have not been reduced – and there have been no noticeable changes in Soviet naval ship construction.

But perhaps more to the point, high technology missiles and modem weapons are increasingly available throughout the world. You will recall that it was an EXOCET missile, used by Argentine forces in the Falklands war, that sank a British frigate. It was also an EXOCET launched by an Iraqi aircraft that severely damaged the USS STARK in the Persian Gulf. Technology like the EXOCET makes necessary the AEGIS weapon system, incorporated in the DDG-51. In a similar vein, the large numbers of diesel electric subs around the world pose a threat to operations of U.S. forces in the areas where these submarines operate. While diesel subs lack the rapid mobility and staying power of a nuclear submarine, they operate quietly and pose an effective threat to our Navy in some circumstances.

The General Accounting Office addressed so-ailed “low intensity conflict” in a recent report. They went to some length to make clear that low intensity does not necessarily mean “low technology” or “low capability.” Let me quote directly from the GAO report:

  • The range of potential situations and locations where U.S. Armed Forces may be called on to take direct action is global
  • U.S. Forces are confronted in low intensity warfare with an array of weapons that can have substantially different operating characteristics from the Soviet weapons they have been preparing to face in a major war in Europe.
  • A so-called low-intensity threat is not necessarily a lowtechnology threaL The weapons U.S. Armed Forces may encounter in future low intensity warfare span the range of military technology that exists throughoUt the modem world; that is, it is not just poorly equipped opponents we confront
  • Finally, the weapons we face may be our OWN

Another obstacle that must be overcome is the proliferation of individuals and committees in Congress who have their finger in the Navy pie. Many of them try to identify problems in the Navy (and in ships and aircraft being developed and constructed for the Navy) — but they don’t always appear to take much interest in identifying real solutions to Navy problems and assuring that vital military programs proceed. I don’t want to suggest that all criticism of Navy programs is inappropriate or that those that criticize lack patriotism. However, I believe that there is a responsibility to provide for the common defense, that the constitution gives that responsibility to Congress, and that carrying out that responsibility implies more than simply pointing out faults.

Under House rules, the Armed Services Committee is given the responsibility for our National Defense. The Armed Services Committee tries to carry out all facets of that responsibility, including:

  • Providing for the welfare of the men and women who serve in the Armed Services;
  • Providing the materials and weapons that are necessary for the Armed Services;
  • Overseeing the activities of the military services.

Frankly, it’s not unusual for tradeoffs to be made in carrying out responsibility for providing for National Defense. A current example involves the decision to go ahead with the construction of D00-51 destroyers. Some point out that the first D00-51 destroyer has not yet been finished or undergone operational testing. They seem to suggest no more orders should be placed until testing is complete. Taken separately – and without considering the overall committee responsibility for U.S. National Defense, such a suggestion might have some merit. However, when responsibility for the welfare of men and women in the military is considered, and recalling that there are many nations in the world with EXOCET missiles, the importance of building the highly capable “AEGIS” ship (and getting it into the fleet) takes on greater importance.

To this point I’ve talked of general Navy and defense matters. Now I want to focus on submarine issues — and the SSN-21 program in particular. I am a strong supporter of the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Force as an effective and efficient element of our national military posture. While I believe there will be evolutionary change in the way subs are built and operated, I do not find merit in arguments that revolutionary changes will render nuclear powered submarines obsolete.

The suggestion that nuclear submarines, as we know them, will become obsolete comes either from suggestions that: 1) the oceans will somehow be rendered transparent, stripping the submarine of its stealth, or 2) from ideas that revolutionary propulsion technology will render nuclear power for subs obsolete. I will address each of these.

I believe acoustic detection will remain the principle method of detecting submarines for the foreseeable future. Periodically there are press reports that suggest submarines will be rendered ineffective by some technical breakthrough that will render oceans transparent, and submarines will become as detectable as surface ships. This speculation is usually related to satellite systems. It’s only partly in jest when I observe that this speculation always seems to occur about the same time Congress is considering whether to proceed with some new land-based ICBM.

Nevertheless, there is always the question of whether some new, previously unknown technology will render the ocean transparent and deprive the submarine of the stealth that bas made it such an effective military platform. Research into non-acoustic methods of detecting submarines is being vigorously pursued, and history suggests it isn’t prudent to say that no new ways to detect submarines will be discovered. We already know submerged subs can be detected by non-acoustic means in limited circumstances. For example, submarines operating at shallow depths in clear water can be seen by the naked eye from an aircraft.

A different type of detection in certain areas of the world is the visible wake from a submerged submarine as a result of “bioluminescence.” I’ll admit I wao;n’t real sure about “bioluminescence” until I re-read The Rhvme Of The Ancient Mariner:

Beyond the shadow of the ship I watched the water snakes move in tracks of shining while, the light fell off in flakes.

When he adds, within the shadow of the ship, every track was a flash of golden fire, a reader might wonder if the Ancient Mariner saw a submarine.

Notwithstanding these examples, submarines remain very stealthy platforms with enormous military utility. In sum, while we cannot ignore non-acoustic detection, it should not prevent us from proceeding with the SSN-21. For purposes of discussion, let’s assume acoustic detection will continue to dominate anti-submarine warfare. H we further accept that SSN-21 incorporates major strides in sub quieting, we cannot, in my view, conclude that the future of ASW will be as it has been in the past.

Submarines that SSN-21 is being designed to operate against will be much quieter than submarines that today’s 637 and 688 submarines operate against. Even though the new SSN-21 is expected to maintain an acoustic advantage over the submarines of potential adversaries, it wtll not enjoy the ability to detect adversary submarines at long ranges, simply because the adversary submarines will also likely be very quiet.

Shrinking acoustic detection ranges will force fundamental changes in submarine operations. This point was made forcefully in the report of a panel of distinguished scientists convened by the Armed Services Committee to review submarine issues. Submarines performing an ASW mission will have to operate differently in the future. One submarine, operating alone will be of limited effectiveness in finding adversary submarines. Rather, the Submarine of the future will need the ability to operate as an integral part of a larger system that relies on the fusion of intelligence collected from numerous sources to provide locations of target submarines.

The submarine force of the future will need regular and reliable two-way communications to operate effectively. Crews will have to develop new tactics. Coordinated operations will be essential, and new ways to command and control submarines will have to be implemented. The challenge of designing and building a new submarine command and control system is to provide real time communications without compromising secrecy or stealth.

I want to tum to propulsion technology. The Navy focused on pressurized water nuclear reactor technology during virtually the entire history of their nuclear power program. That focus allowed continuing improvements in safety – and in the durability and reliability of Navy nuclear power plants. The Navy’s record is of extraordinary achievement, unparalleled safety, and outstanding performance. Notwithstanding this record, there are those who suggest that substantial improvements could be achieved through developing new naval reactor technology, or by developing chemical propulsion systems, such as fuel cells. The issue has some parallels with the non-acoustic detection issue — although it is always unwise to dismiss the possibility of some future breakthrough, the technology available today does not have general military utility.

Critics of the Navy Nuclear Power Program criticize it for being overly conservative and not receptive to new ideas. The suggestion is made that, but for the conservatism and closed mind, Vnited States submarines could be smaller, Jess costly, faster, and more effective. The suggestion is typically made that this could be achieved by substituting a high temperature gas cooled reactor for the pressurized water reactor currently used.

For the past two years I’ve served on the Armed Services Committee panel charged with oversight of the nuclear weapons complex. I’m sure you’re aware of problems at Energy Department facilities that produce nuclear weapons. Environmental problems at DOE plants. and concerns about safety at DOE nuclear facilities lead to critical facilities being closed. Today, nuclear weapons production in the U.S. is at a standstill.

I’m discussing this to make two points:

  • Public confidence that the nuclear weapons facilities are being operated in a safe and environmentally sound manner has been lost. Yet public confidence in the operation of the Navy’s nuclear powered ships continues to be high, and these ships routinely operate in world ports.
  • Public confidence can be maintained only if the systems can be demonstrated to be safe and reliable.

In my view, there’s a direct link between the careful design and engineering decisions that led to choosing and improving pressurized water reactor technology and the track record of safe and reliable operations. Experiences with DOE nuclear weapons facilities, as well as the Soviet disaster at Chernybol, show just how fragile public confidence can’ be. The continued operations of nuclear powered ships around the world, and their ability to carry out a military mission, depends upon public confidence.

Another suggestion made is that the U.S. Navy should build chemically powered submarines. The diesel electric submarine is proposed because of lower cost. It is also suggested that air-independent conventional submarine propulsion may be in the offing — perhaps a fuel cell or an external combustion engine. Compared to nuclear power, all these options have very limited submerged range and high speed transit capability. Our strategy is to fight in forward areas, and that requires long range and rapid mobility to carry out. The alternatives to nuclear power aren’t capable of supporting that strategy. And let me add: I strongly disagree with those who suggest that this element of our military strategy should change.

I think we can forget the idea of “large-lot procurement• in the President”s budget. Like it or not, there’s no way Congress will support procurement of six SSN-21 Submarines in a single year. Budget pressures that result in a smaller Navy mean that the building rate for the SSN-21 is extremely unlikely to reach three submarines per year. A defense budget at the level of the House budget resolution has already caused many people to question the authorization of two SSN-21s in 1991. I think that’s a battle we can win — but it won’t be easy. What we need to do is continue to earn public confidence and support by emphasizing safety, reliability, and a reasonable appreciation of the changing situation in Europe.

In sum, I believe submarine strategy will continue to evolve, with more emphasis on integrated operations, and more dependence on external command and control. But I also believe the SSN-21 is the submarine the U.S. should build today. The SEA WOLF will provide a platform to accommodate currently emerging technology, as well as effectively respond to emerging threats to the security of the United States.

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