Your May 26 editorial, “The sky isn’t falling,” raises the issue of how the senators and congressional representatives of Electric Boat’s employment area might help the area’s economy.
Your recommendation was that they help hurry up the defense budget decisions so that the economic uncertainty wilt be over with quickly. Your position is incredibly short-sighted.
While part of the budgeting delay may be due to sound-bitegrabbing aspects of the political process, there is also a very serious debate going on as to what our country’s future defense and arms policies should be.
As a generation which has benefitted substantially from the foresight of our predecessors, we should have higher goals than rushing through major decisions to prevent minor disruptions in the local economy.
Many of our country’s past leaders must be resting uneasily in their graves if thoughts such as yours are typical of today’s citizens. Among those who would be distressed, I suspect, would be: the people who designed wiser peace treaties after World War II than after World War I, so that the mistakes of the past weren’t repeated; the people who set up the Marshall Plan to help revitalize Europe; the people who set up and have maintained NATO (and installed a tactical nuclear deterrent that worked), causing the longest European period without war in 400 years; and the people who set up the strategic nuclear deterrent, so that in the late 1950s the overt military spread of communism was brought to a halt (to name only a few.)
Perhaps a more farsighted set of suggestions could be made to the congressional delegation which represents the Electric Boat employment area. (I count the delegation as including at least six people: two Senators each from Connecticut and Rhode Island, plus one representative from eastern Connecticut and one from western Rhode Island.)
This delegation could serve us and the country better if they were all to become highly vigilant watchdogs, to make sure that submarines are given appropriate consideration in the strategic planning debate that is going on now at the highest levels of our country and its allies.
This is not just a matter of regional self-interest, it is a matter of creating a better future for the world.
In the last few years, submarine capabilities have been changing so rapidly that the proper role of submarines in the U.S. defense lineup is no longer well-understood by many of our leaders. Because of the special importance of submarines to this region of the country, our delegation has a special role to play in making sure that the nation’s new strategies reflect the new realities of the 1990s and beyond. Some of these realities are as follows:
Because the U.S. and many of our allies are so dependent on sea-surface trade, the U.S. must maintain the strength to guarantee freedom of the seas almost anywhere.
This fact is of course not new, but much of the debate still ignores it. Anyone who remembers the gasoline waiting lines of the 1970s should have a very good feel for how dependent our country is on trade, using ships for transportation.
The principal threat to U.S. control of the seas, world-wide or in many local regions, comes from submarines. (The next most important threat is from mines.) The fundamental reason for the importance of submarines (and of anti-submarine warfare) is that submarines are far more cost-effective than other kinds of ships.
Submarines are a very attractive way to build seapower for anyone who has budget constraints – and who doesn’t?
At the end of World War IT, 45 years ago, six countries had submarines. Today, 43 countries have submarines. How many more countries will have submarines 45 years in the future, when the last ships of the new SEA WOLF class will be reaching the end of their life? .
The highly attractive cost-effectiveness of the submarine derives principally from the fact that the submarine regularly goes into dangerous areas alone, carrying a crew on the order of 125 to 150.
Other kinds of ships normally go in groups, with a combined crew of 6,000-7,000 when there is a carrier involved.
While it is certainly true that there are some important jobs that can be done a lot better by a carrier task group than by a submarine, it is well to consider that some of the old decision rules may need updating.
For instance, all the ordnance that a few years ago was dropped in the vicinity of Mr. Khadaffy’s tent — by fighterbombers dependent upon many in-air refuelings on the way to and from Great Britain, plus aircraft from a carrier positioned a safe distance offshore — could today be delivered by one attack submarine, using long-range missiles.
Mr. Khadaffy has perhaps been thinking that he can breathe more easily when the local carrier isn’t within attack range of his tent; if so, he should update his thinking.
Perhaps also the Medellin drug cartel should wonder if there is a U.S. attack submarine off their shore, with cruise missiles that could reach their strongholds. (U.S. submarines thus can be seen to have potential roles in situations involving developing and/or Third World countries.)
The congressional debate about submarines is not taking place at a very high level of sophistication. For instance, the purchase price of a new nuclear submarine is often compared disparagingly to that of oil-fired surface ships.
However, the nuclear submarine comes pre-fueled, with about 15 years’ worth of fuel. This fuel not only has a present economic value, but since the fuel is built-in, you can be sure that the nuclear submarine will be able to go to work when you need it.
In contrast, during the oil problems of the 1970s, some U.S. Navy surface warships couldn’t participate in readiness exercises because their fuel was rationed. Among surface forces, the term “hollow Navy” was heard at the time.
In much of the budget debate, the SEA WOLF class is being talked about as though it will be just another group of submarines — and gold-plated ones at that. Nothing could be further from the truth. The SEA WOLF is an important leap ahead.
SEA WOLFs magazine capacity will be immense, in submarine terms. With cruise missiles, one SEA WOLF will be able to mount an attack with effects that compare to a bombing attack by all the fighter-bombers on a supercarrier.
This attack can be against land targets within a few hundred miles of shore, as well as against ships. (Of course, the carrier can support repeated attacks, which one submarine cannot, but as can be seen by the examples cited above concerning Mr. Khadaffy and/or the Medellin drug cartel, not all scenarios require sustainability.)
Further, it is being argued by some that construction of the SEA WOLF class should be delayed because its combat system may not be ready. Even if the SEA WOLF class were to have to operate for a year or two with only a portion of the total capability of its new combat system (a matter being debated), it will still be the most formidable submarine at sea.
SEA WOLFs highly sensitive sonars, augmented by SEA WOLFs unique rapid localization capability, will make it the best type of ship for hunting down enemy submarines of all types: modern nuclear submarines built by the Soviet Union (and sold or leased to who knows whom in the future); modem non-nuclear submarines such as those being built today by private industry in several European countries; or modern non-nuclear submarines built by the Soviet Union or Red China, and being sold to people that you and I don’t want them to be sold to.
In the Falklands War, when British ships were destroyed by Argentinean-launched French-made cruise missiles, and in the Persian Gulf, when a U.S. ship was put out of action by Iraqilaunched French-made cruise missiles, it was demonstrated beyond any doubt that one does not have to be a superpower country to make effective use of modem, high-tech weapons. Since the same principles will apply in the future, doesn’t it make sense to place high emphasis on building the one kind of ship that even the best capabilities of the highest-tech nations can’t counter?
Another misguided notion showing up in the debate is the idea that it might be smart for the U.S. to start building dieselpowered submarines.
It is true that a diesel-powered submarine can be a very formidable opponent when it is loitering on battery power. It is, then, in a lot of respects, like a manned mine field. However, against modem sonar systems, a diesel submarine is extremely wlnerable when it must move to another location.
Put differently, diesel submarines today can be useful close to home, but are much less useful for assignments in faraway locations. (Such was not the case in World War TI, because in those days there were no long-range sonars.) Does it really make sense to switch U.S. emphasis from ships of world-wide applicability to ones which have high value only near our coastlines?
Still another misguided notion has to do with the morality of nuclear weapons, and of nuclear submarines. Of the thousands of nuclear weapons that have been built, only two have ever been used to attack people. The effect was to end within about 10 days what was already the world’s most tragic war.
For nearly 45 years thereafter, nuclear weapons have deterred war. For a weapon, what could be a greater success story?
The success story of the nuclear weapon is rivaled only by that of the nuclear submarine. In the 35 years since the launching of the first nuclear submarine, only one has fired a weapon in anger — when a British nuclear submarine fired a World War 11-style torpedo and sank an Argentinean warship during the Falklands war. The rest of the world’s nuclear submarines have effectively deterred large-scale war at sea, not to mention helping deter global thermonuclear war.
However, it is only with great care that the lessons of the past can be applied to the future. We cannot count on the future’s being very much like the past.
We must do our very best to recognize what may be different in the future, and then also resist becoming overconfident that we have predicted the future correctly. (The Maginot line mentality was also one of the contributors to World War II, because the Nazis understood better how things would really happen than did the French.)
An extremely important characteristic of any strategy is thus its robustness: how well will our strategy work, if future events are not what we have assumed? Clearly the most robust armament strategy is to build the least-counterable weapons and weapons platforms. This clearly includes nuclear weapons (as well as conventional weapons) and the modem nuclear submarine.
Even then, the history of the last 70 years testifies that strength alone is not enough. In the years preceding World War ll, Axis leaders did not doubt that the U.S. could make a dangerous and perhaps overwhelming opponent. However, both Hitler and the Japanese leaders made the same mistake: they misjudged our will to fight. (The Argentinean generals made the same mistake about Margaret Thatcher.)
These identical mistakes about national will were not only tragic for the decision-makers’ own counties, but for others as well. To prevent people from again making this mistake about the U.S., with possibly much more tragic results, we must continue to demonstrate our will, as well as maintaining our strength.
Maintaining our readiness through continuing modernization, as well as by maintaining adequate numbers of forces, is the only means of doing so.
These principles will be as valid in the multi-polar world in future decades as they have been in the basically bi-polar world of the last 45 years.
Our congressional delegation thus would serve well the peoples of the world, in addition to those of their own areas, by keeping the defense debate focused on the right issues, and using the most current concepts of submarine warfare.
Because of their special constituency, our delegation has a special calling to make sure that the debate is based on a proper understanding of the role of the submarine in the forthcoming multi-polar world, where our country will have potential regional conflicts to deter, as well as potential superpower conflicts.
In the world of the next 50 years, the nuclear submarine will probably be the world’s most necessary, most cost-effective, and perhaps even most broadly relied-upon deterrent. Its role as a deterrent to regional war and Third World conflicts is not widely understood and must be clearly explained.
In these times of radical geopolitical change, with so much at stake, redesigning our nation’s strategy is worth taking time over.
If nothing were going on, then I would agree with The Day in wanting to shorten our region’s period of uncertainty. But a great deal is at stake, so let’s call upon our delegation to help keep the debaters well-informed about submarines.
And let us ourselves keep the debating delays in perspective. The future deserves our patience as well as our diligence and our foresight.