- Over the first months of 1991, hard news about submarines in the American Press was relatively sparse, and what there was of it appeared to be compressed into about a half-dozen topics: a reduction in the number of SEA WOLFs to be built, the consequent threat to the submarine building yards, the TOMAHAWK firings in the Gulf, the announced closing of our base in Holy Loch, and the issue with the TRIDENT missile. Of course, that was all some fairly big news but with massive coverage of the air and ground war, not much of it seemed to get to the general public.
- DEFENSE NEWS of January 14th reported that “The U.S. Navy plans to buy only five SSN-21 SEA WOLF attack submarines, not the 30 originally planned, before ending the program in 1994.” The industry paper cited unidentified sources for that figure, but went on to state that “In its budget submission, the Navy is proposing building one SSN-21 and two SSN-688 LOS ANGELES-class submarines as the first phase in moving toward an alternative submarine.”
- Concerning the submarine industrial base problem, NAVY NEWS & Undersea Technolo~ on February 18th, published an Industry Analysis piece which stated: “The Navy’s latest submarine building plan is leading to concerns that the price of the SSN-21 may never dip below $2 billion while the industrial base of shipyards and suppliers may be devastated. Although the Navy may have had little choice due to the Pentagon’s budget wars, the result may be thousands of lost jobs, bankruptcy of any number of vendors and a significant threat to one of the two submarine-qualified shipyards.” DEFENSE NEWS of the same date reported that “Industry officials say cutting the rate for the Navy’s SSN-21 SEA WOLF nuclear attack submarine program from 1.5 vessels per year to one in the 1992 budget raises the possibility that only one shipyard may compete to build the submarine in the future.”
The local southeast Connecticut press understandably gave prime coverage to an appearance there by Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI) on January 22nd. As the Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Inouye was quoted as saying “You can count on me doing everything possible to assist EB.” and ” .. .1 will not preside over the demise of the Defense Department” The NORWICH BULLETIN went on to credit the Senator with holding out ” two possibilities that could offer a brighter future for EB and its subcontractors.” The article reported those possibilities as (a) the use of submarines as underwater platforms for TOMAHAWK missiles, and (b) a higher level of defense spending if the Gramm-Rudman cap could be removed.
- On the subject ofTOMAHA WKs, the DEFENSE NEWS of February 4th offered the opinion that “The impact of U.S. submarines firing cruise missiles in support of Operation Desert Storm will likely be more political than military. Their use could play a large role in shaping congressional and defense industry, officials say.”
- Concerning Holy Loch, the NEW YORK TIMES on February 6th, reported that the British Defense Secretary, Tom King, told the House of Commons that the United States nuclear submarine base at Holy Loch, Scotland, will close sometime next year. The article went on to quote Mr. King as saying that the U.S. would no longer need the base because it was replacing the obsolete POSEIDON missile submarines with bigger 1RIDENT boats.
- Questions about the 1RIDENT missile were reported by INSIDE Tiffi NAVY on January 21st. The article covered the findings of the Drell Committee, a panel of experts convened by Congress to look into nuclear weapons safety. The paper quoted the group’s report with “The 1RIDENT (D-5) missile system presents a special case to consider in the recommendation policy review.” and ” … the design choices that were made for the W-88 in 1983 raise safety questions: ~ 1. the warheads are not equipped with insensitive high explosives and are mounted in a through-deck configuration in close proximity to the third-stage rocket motor that uses a high energy 1.1 class detonable propellant Today, seven years after these design choices were made, we have a new and better appreciation of uncertainties in assessing, for example, the probability that accidents in handling the D-5 missile system might lead to dispersal of harmful radioactivity; .,. 2. the country has different perceptions of its strategic needs in the post-Cold-War era; “‘ 3. the public has very different perceptions about safety; and the acquisition of W-88 warheads is still in the early stages and has been interrupted for the present and nearterm future by the shutdown of the Rocky Flats plant where new pits for the nuclear primaries are manufactured:
On March 1st, The Washin&ton Post quoted Charles M. Herzfeld, Director Defense Research and Engineering, as having told the House Armed Services Committee that the Navy has altered procedures for loading nuclear warheads aboard TRIDENT strategic submarines to reduce further the risk of an accidental explosion. The article explained that the change had been made as a “quick fax” to warhead and missile safety problems identified by the group chaired by Stanford University physicist Sidney Drell.
- A submarine-related item was reported in the Washington Times of February 28th. In discussing problems with the pending Strategic Arms Reduction Talks Treaty and the bogus data being received from the Soviets regarding conventional forces in Europe, it was stated that the Soviets told us in November that they were building zero new submarines. CIA Director William Webster was quoted, however, as telling the Senate that ” … additional submarines are under construction, and they may carry a new type of ballistic missiles.”
- In one other bit of submarine coverage, DEFENSE NEWS reported on February 25th that “German government officials are working to conclude a $1 billion military and humanitarian aid package to Israel that includes nearly $600 million for the construction of two diesel electric Dolphin class submarines, German and Israeli officials say.”