The perception of a decreased Soviet threat has resulted in a dramatic decline in the defense budget. While this impacts the entire Navy, it is particularly serious for the submarine force due to the nuclear component industrial base.
Through the 1980’s, the Navy bought at the rate of almost four submarine shipsets annually, plus four shipsets of aircraft carrier nuclear components. Now suppliers are looking at about one submarine shipset per year and one shipset of aircraft carrier components, sometime in the next decade.
Until recently there has been competition, with several sources for nearly all nuclear components; today there is only one manufacturer each for nuclear fuel, reactor cores, main coolant pumps, and an increasing variety of smaller but vital items.
Extensive quality organizations, cleanliness procedures, and management structures required for naval nuclear work leaves these suppliers ill-equipped to compete for less sophisticated work. Most have nothing to tide them through gaps in the shipbuilding program. For them a one-ship building rate translates to a workload less than 30 percent of 1980-1990 levels. FY 91 was the first year since the 1950’s that the Navy could not procure at least one full shipset of nuclear components. Suppliers are in dire straits.
The second impact of the one SSN per year building rate is on force level. Today we have 87 SSNs. You hear general statements that through the six years of the Defense Department Plan the SSN number remains in the 80’s. While this is not untrue, it is misleading. The ongoing retirement of the STURGEON class SSNs is offset through 1996 by the delivery of the last LOS ANGELES class SSNs. Then the slide starts.
While details of ship retirement schedules and future force levels are classified, applying the 30 year design life to ships in service and under construction provides some guide to the future.
- During the 1990’s about SO SSNs will be inactivated
- From the approved 100 SSN force level of a few years ago, the number of attack submarines will decline about 20 percent by 1997 – the last year of the Defense Department’s Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP).
- Beyond the FYDP, the current submarine construction program indicates a 70 SSN force structure by the end of the century — 9 years from now – and lower thereafter.
- Even increasing the SSN building rate to three every two years in the latter years of the FYDP, will result in a force level of about 40 SSNs twenty-five years later.
- Continuing a one-SSN-per-year building rate leads inevitably to a 30 SSN force level.
Well, so what’? If the threat has receded, why build forces we don’t need just to sustain an industrial base’? But has the threat diminished’? Let me repeat some of the recent unclassified congressional testimony of RADM Tom Brooks, Director of Naval Intelligence.
- Despite current national difficulties the Soviet military continues to meet the needs of a global power. It is the only nation capable of threatening our existence.
- Any “new” Soviet Union will still likely have the world’s largest military, the second most capable navy, and a formidable nuclear arsenal.
- Fewer· cutbacks in the navy relative to other Soviet services suggest an expanding navy role relative to their other services.
- Although the Soviet fleet is getting smaller by scrapping many older ship~. actual Soviet Navy capabilities have declined very little. Improvements in quality offset the reductions in quantity.
- The quality of Soviet third generation submarines is significantly better than their predecessors. The resulting submarine force will become noticeably more capable, especially in quality sensitive areas such as equipment radiated noise, propulsion plant operations, and sensors.
- In production today are six submarine classes-DELTA IV SSBN, OSCAR ll SSGN, AKULA SSN, SIERRA SSN, VICTOR lli SSN, and KILO SS.
- The USSR launched 10 submarines in 1990.
This does not sound like a navy in decline or a submarine force that has conceded the undersea superiority race.
Aside from the Soviet threat there is a related reality. The United States of America is a maritime nation which requires a strong navy. Nuclear attack submarines are an important component of a strong navy – perhaps the most critical when it comes to deterrence and actual war at sea. There are a number of lessons from Desert Storm — some good, some bad and some indifferent I would suggest one additional lesson topic. While it is well known that about 95 percent of the material went by sea — uncontested – there has been no discussion about what that implies. That is, we enjoy sea control — virtually world wide. No nation has seen fit to challenge this for decades. We have had maritime supremacy for so long that we, as a nation, take it for granted. We are on a path that could jeopardize our maritime supremacy. We continue this at our peril.
Let me address three needs for these uncertain times.
- The need for attack submarines to concentrate on their strong suits – continue to do what you do best.
- The need to stay the course with SEA WOLF, and
- The need to move out on a new SSN design.
SSNs, because of their stealth, mobility and endurance are best employed alone and unsupported in hostile waters with a terse op-order and little or no need to communicate. This means:
- Concentrate on forward area missions.
- Avoid deploying in lock step with the battle group -meet up with them occasionally but stay off of pricomm and out of the outer screen, and
- Resist over concentration on Low Intensity Conflict and Contingency And limited Objective Warfare (UC/ CALOW).
Nuclear attack submarines are a potent weapon and there is constant pressure by operational commanders to directly control them as they do other fleet units – to the detriment of their effectiveness and support of battle groups. SSNs can coordinate with battle groups but at long ranges and in a loose tether. Diesel electric submarines did not come into their own until they left the scouting force and got into independent forward area operations. It took a world war to cause that to happen. Don’t get put back in the scouting force.
Resist the siren song of LIC/CALOW. Overemphasis can distort and confuse well developed and operationally validated submarine force doctrine. SSNs are overdesigned for most of these operations. If you want to land a raiding party or gain close-in intelligence or station a cruise missile shooter off a coast for an extended period the SSN can do it cost effectively. But this is a lesser basic rationale for the force as compared to countering the Soviet submarine fleet .
We need to stay the course with SEA WOLF. The SEA WOLF R&D program has been successful. With 20 years since the inception of the 688 class program, much technology which could only be accommodated with a new design was potentially available. The challenge was focus and reach. commensurate with risk. Results to date from the most extensive submarine design testing program in our history clearly show we made the correct decisions. The stealth, propulsion power density, firepower, and weapon system flexibility will make this submarine the true top of the battle order and a principal naval force in the next century. SEAWOLF will be able to handle the best foreseeable Soviet SSNs well into the next century – SSN 68& cannol We must maintain a submarine force of sufficient capability to counter the Soviets. They have publicly stated they fear most the U.S. attack submarine force. SEA WOLF will ensure the longevity of that statement .
We need to move out on a new SSN design. Technology growing out of SEA WOLF development opens the door for further improvements. The Navy is electing to focus this technology on simplification and economy rather than across-the-board enhancement of SSN-21 warfighting capabilities.
The process of determining ship characteristics and how to approach the various technological trade-offs is only in very preliminary stages.
There are five significant “don’ts” at this preliminary stage:
- Don’t “assume away” Soviet capabilities.
- Don’t demand predictions of savings, force levels, development and production schedules, etc. before credible information based on technical input and analysis can be developed.
- Don’t saddle the project with cost saving bogeys to drive the work – a completely unrealistic expectation considering dependence on an industrial base surviving at barely sustenance level.
- Don’t assume funds will always be allocated among weapons platforms based on current percentages and appropriation structures when in fact decision makers, more than ever before, will need to adjust these percentages to meet different situations.
- Don’t expect to translate savings into additional force structure; with only one or two units being produced a year, even a dramatic lowering of unit cost will not significantly enhance force structure.
The reason to go ahead with the new design rather than just standing pat derives from the need to maintain the technology base and to develop future force options.
- The nation can’t allow the demise of the nuclear submarine technology base – we should focus the technology to make future assets as afforaable as possible.
- As the LOS ANGELES class starts to come off the line in the next century, we need an option to complement SEA WOLF. Whether all new design or a mixture will depend on the world situation at that time. No need to choose now and it is irresponsible not to take action now to allow future choice.
- Moreover, the simplification, cost reduction, and other technology growing out of this work will have a significant effect on all subsequent submarine designs– and keep us from losing our edge in submarine technology. On a more global basis several points are clear:
- The U.S. will continue to be more dependent on unrestricted use of the seas than the nations on the Euro/Asian land mass.
- As defense budgets contract, highly capable SSNs with ability to attack targets ashore, fleet units and maritime mobile missile launchers (SSBNs) — as well as carry out intelligence collection and land special forces in hostile waters -· will be high on the list of assets to be used to protect U.S. interests.
- The cost effectiveness of weapons platforms must take into account the need for air-cover, escorts, ASW, tankers, logistic supply trains — not simply acquisition costs. On this basis, highly capable U.S. submarines continue to be one of the best bargains.