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[Ed. Note: This article was the winning essay in a recent NSL sponsored essay contest held at the U. S. Naval Academy.]

The ongoing battle to obtain funding for construction of the ri&ht ships has been a point of insistent debate in Congress as well as the Navy itself. Advances in technology have poised Submarines and Surface Warfare ships on the threshold of a much larger role in the use of America’s naval forces. The submarine community is the vanguard in a fight that will shape the U.S. global naval power structure into the next century.

Since the early 1970’s, Congress, with inputs from factions within the Navy, has focused a higher priority on attack carriers than on other facets of the Navy shipbuilding programs. A clear case of this was the budgetary yo-yo syndrome that hampered the development of the TRIDENT class and still plagues the D-5 missile. The Navy will operate thirteen aircraft carriers, if the CORAL SEA is retired as planned at the completion of her present Med cruise, but is unable to muster the ships needed to provide an adequate ASW screen.

Even in the most biased scenarios, the submarines end up with a draw and submariners glide silently away congratulating themselves on knowing they can pierce the swiss cheese shield which serves as a carrier battlegroup’s ASW protection. In the past, competition raged between the Surface and Submarine communities over who should have the upper hand if the shooting became real. Unable to get a unified answer on that question from the Navy, Congress has continued to build carriers as the cornerstone of U.S. sea power. Its vital supporting ships received secondary priority. An operational imbalance in our fleet and our continuing inability to protect our carriers during conflict from a concerted and determined attack by Soviet submarine forces has been largely dismissed outside Navy circles. Congress still has plans to build two more carriers at a projected combined cost of over 7 billion dollars (their aircraft add an approximate $5.3 billion) and to do this before the close of the century.

An initial reaction to this was that fifteen LOS ANGELES class, or seven SEA WOLF class submarines or thirteen TICONDEROGA class AEGIS cruisers could be built with that much money. A mix of these attack submarines and cruisers added to previously planned forces would greatly increase the Navy’s ability to protect its carriers from all manner of threat.

The Submarine and Surface communities need to increase cooperative efforts to make Congress understand the balance between the aircraft carrier and the submarine, a balance which is changing with the next generation of weapons. This is not to say that carriers are obsolete, but recent history has shown that a carrier is valuable only if it can leave port safely. The Navy has not chaJJenged strongly enough the belief that our present forces are adequate to protect our carriers. Successes against Libya and Syria on different occasions have been possible with only little carrier protection. The Navy is deluding itself. When our forces get involved in a fight with an effective submarine force we will suffer heavily in terms of lives and ships. When the Japanese refused to consider the submarine as an effective weapon for sea control, the Japanese merchant and combatant losses in World War Two were staggering, even by the standards of today.

The best example of modern offensive nuclear submarine tactics is the HMS CONQUEROR. She sank the Argentine cruiser GENERAL BELGRANO despite the BELGRANO’s three destroyer escorts that were supposed to prevent a sub from getting to the cruiser. Consequently, the Argentine navy was afraid to let its aircraft carrier out of port despite the desperate need to stop the Royal Navy from pounding the Falklands into submission. The Argentines believed their carrier would be sunk due to inadequate ASW protection.

For those who think that our ASW screens are superior, I had the opportunity to see just how easily a single submarine penetrated the ASW screen of the CORAL SEA during an ASW exercise. The screening ships moreover were aware of the submarine’s presence and intentions. The Soviets, however, will be much less accommodating.

Consider for a moment the fertile hunting ground around the Chesapeake Bay entrance and the waters around Oahu, for a Soviet “wolfpack.” Carrier ASW screens have a hard time stopping one submarine that is known to be there. What happens to a carrier when it is confronted by four or six submarines that it doesn’t know about? Imagine the public uproar that the loss of a carrier would cause, and the morale booster it would be for the Soviet navy.

Cruise missiles have also drasticatly altered the modem naval battlefield. From these new weapons the Navy is learning something the Army has known for centuries — never send a man where you can send a bullet. This lesson was graphically retaught when an Air Force F-111 and its two man crew were lost over Libya. It should not take the death of a Naval aviator to teach this lesson. Today that mission should clearly be carried out by a ship using a TOMAHAWK. This is more cost efficient than risking a two-man crew and a $30 million dollar aircraft (ordnance not included). Cruise missiles now provide both surface warships and submarines with the potential to play a leading role in strike warfare. This was previously the eminent domain of the carrier and its air wing. It is time that the Navy impress upon the Congress that the carrier is no longer the only tool of naval presence or power projection.

Cost, personnel and tactical requirements, have all been used as an excuse for neglecting production of desperately needed submarines to protect our present carrier force of thirteen, let alone a larger fleet of fifteen. In fact, the ten thousand men it would take to crew two additional carriers would be enough to crew all of the submarines proposed as options.

The Chief of Naval Operations must guide the Navy construction program in a new direction. This direction must stress the SEA WOLF and TICONDEROGA classes. Further, we must maintain this construction at a reasonable pace for at least fifteen years starting in FY 91. The results from this program would bring a total of twenty-five SEA WOLF subs and fifty-five TICONDEROGA class ships to the fleet. These additions will be enough to stave off the impending losses due to age of much of our destroyer and cruiser forces.

The ARLEIGH BURKE destroyer is now projected to cost as much as a TICONDEROGA class cruiser and field twentyfive percent less firepower. Operation costs for each ship are about the same, eliminating every good point used to sell the ARLEIGH BURKE. New construction TICONDEROGAs could incorporate follow-on modifications such as the removal of the aft s•/54 caliber mount and replacing it with a smaller twenty-nine cell VIS system. This type of foUow-on modification would increase the firepower of new construction TICONDEROG.As by twenty-three percent A sample loadout for deployment could consist of eight HARPOONs in quad canisters, or twenty assorted TOMAHAWK missiles, or onehundred-ten standard missiles and twenty-one vertical launch ASROC. This is a significant amount of firepower by any standard.

The addition of the SEA WOLF class will allow the reassignment of two or three of the then aging LOS ANGELES attack submarine class from independent operations to full-time carrier battle group protection, allowing the submarine community to realize the full deep strike and offensive capabilities which SEA WOLF holds for a daring submariner cut from the mold of a Ramage or Fluckey.

Both of these changes in ship procurement will increase the ability of battlegroups to protect their high value units. This will mean a much more survivable carrier. In any future war the ability to build new ships and repair damaged ones will probably be limited due to Soviet conventional cruise missile strikes against our major shipyards. That makes limiting of damage from missiles a key to success.

Complaints about Research and Development costs in the SEA WOLF program should be put aside. SEA WOLF must be the epitome of submarine technology when she is commissioned. This submarine will have to be able to penetrate into the heart of Soviet waters, deliver a fleet crippling strike and then fight her way out. That is the ultimate goal of offensive submarine warfare.

To give future leaders the tools to win the battles of tomorrow, the battle in Congress must be won today. Rising ship costs and budgetary restrictions coupled with long term maintenance costs on older vessels will increasingly limit any major new construction efforts. The Submarine community does not have the influence to redirect ship building programs on its own. Hence the necessity of a strong alliance with the Surface community. Together these two communities must convince the Air community that unless priorities are changed soon, they had best look for some dry land to land their planes because there will be few if any sea platforms remaining. A guarantee is needed that after carrier aircraft take off from their flattop it will be there when they get back.

ASW forces have achieved top billing in the navy’s budget in recent years, but programmed spending on carriers and Congressional indecision still leaves the Navy unable to fill gaps in requirements for underseas units. I alluded earlier to the yo-yo syndrome of funding for the TRIDENT. In the facets of this situation is a map of pitfalls for SEA WOLFs developers to avoid. In his recent book Unguided Missiles, Canadian author Fen Hampson plainly describes the wasteful way that some of our most expensive weapons systems have been developed and bought. This included a section on TRIDENT and its D-5, as well as the B-1 bomber, M-lAl tank, SDI, and MX missile. Each case showed how goldplating, mismanagement and poor performance by our elected civilians and military leaders caused monumental problems and occasionally turned out a weapon that couldn’t do its job until an “improved” follow-on version was designed. That kind of time is no longer available! Each year sees greater innovation in the Soviet fleet and a continual erosion of U.S. ability to control the sea in the event of a war. U.S. potential for sea control has been as essential to our deterrence of conventional war as SLBM’s have been to our nuclear deterrent.

The Navy will have to cajole Congress into changing its policies to allow professional Naval officers to determine the design of their ships. The disruption of Navy planning by politicians affects our future ability to obtain and maintain control of the world’s oceans. More importantly, we must insure that the officers placed in charge always demand the highest product standards and not allow themselves to be swayed into bad decisions by public opinion. There can be no second rate equipment for a force which beats the enemy by quality instead of sheer numbers. Further, we must keep in mind that numbers will still play a role regardless of how superior we build our equipmenl The Navy learned that lesson in the early 1800’s when the U.S. built some of the most powerful frigates — but only six were built. The British accepted U.S. individual ship superiority and countered it by always engaging U.S. frigates with at least a two to one numerical superiority. The Soviets presently enjoy a three to one numerical advantage in submarine forces. History says that we are pushing our luck in this arena far more than is wise, given the Soviet penchant for submarine innovations. If changes are not started now, the captains and crews of the U.S. Navy will suffer, but more importantly, the safety of our nation will be hazarded. If this is allowed to happen, history will judge us harshly, and rightly so.


In the January 1990 Submarine Review, the article on the GROWLER and the Regulus IT missile, misidentifies it, on page 42, as “surface to air” rather than “surface to surface.”


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