Submarine news over the past several months centered about the SEA WOLF building program. The general status of the program, as an indicator of both the health of the Defense Department’s big-ticket acquisitions in a tight budget era, and the seriousness of the defense industrial base problem, bas gotten some notice. The specific situations regarding weld problems and the contract court battle have been covered in some detail. In addition, the general direction of the U.S. Navy’s submarine plans have been interpreted in the press and comments have been offered about Soviet submarine news. An old standby subject has re-surfaced with the question of building diesel-electric submarines in a U.S. yard for a foreign government.
The light point in the news (for those not directly involved) was covered by The Washin~:ton Post on August 7th in an article titled “Schaefer’s Revenge: A Sub Snub” in which the paper recounted the decision of Maryland’s Governor to pass up the August lOth launching of USS MARYLAND (SSBN738). According to the paper, the Governor was “still plenty miffed over the way the ship’s builder, General Dynamics Corporation, recently chose Virginia over Maryland as the site of its new national headquarters.”
General Status or SEA WOLF:
Forbes magazine, in it’s September 30th issue ran an article “SEA WOLF at Bay” with the sub-head “Good news about the collapse of the Soviet empire is bad news for defense contractors. Now the SEA WOLF submarine program, vital to both General Dynamics and Tenneco, is in trouble.” Forbes described five specifics for its diagnosis:
(1) ” … does the Navy need the program now that the U.S.S.R. is going out of business?”
(2) ” … a messy contract dispute, now in the courts.”
(3) ” … the widely reported problem with weld cracking on the first SEA WOLF being built at GD’s Electric Boat.”
( 4) ” … a complex battle management and surveillance computer system called BSY-2, or ‘Busy Two’ .. and its technology is still miles from being completed.” and
(5) “…. a paper submarine called Centurion. This is a smaller attack sub than SEA WOLF, and therefore would be cheaper.”
The Forbes article closed with “‘The case for slashing spending on submarines isn’t as cut and dried as it might appear to those who get their news from 1V or newspaper headlines . … Until it is clear that the Soviet admirals have sharply reduced their sub launchings, no congressman is his or her right mind will walk completely away from building U.S. nuclear subs. Even Senator John McCain (R-Ariz), a leading critic of SEAWOLF, accepts that he doesn’t have the votes to cancel SEA WOLF. But there is little doubt the program will be stretched out.”
The New York Times, on June 28th, had already reported that “Electric Boat said today that it would lay off more than 800 employees as part of a reorganization. … Electric Boat said it hoped to avoid additional layoffs until the second half of 1992 … and warned that it would have to cut its work force of 2,200 in Groton and North Kingston, R.I., by about half in the next five years because of reduced military spending. ”
Navy Times of August 15th reported “Construction of the first two SEA WOLF submarines could be delayed by more than a year because of welding cracks in the first submarine’s pressure hull and legal difficulties surrounding the contract to build the second, Navy officials said.” After describing those situations, the paper finished its report with “The SEA WOLF program has suffered major cutbacks during the past two years. Navy plans had called for ordering three submarines per year. The August 1990 Major Warship Review cut this to three submarines every two years, but the Navy’s 1992 budget request cut this further, to one boat per year through 1996. But even as 1991 SEA WOLF contract plans are being tossed back and forth, the contract for the 1992 submarine is ready to become a new controversy. Both the House and Senate armed services committees’ 1992 Pentagon budget bills told the Navy to compete the third SEA WOLF contract to the yard that is not building the first two.”
The same trade paper, in a September 2nd article about the court case, reported that “… Navy and industry officials continue to study a proposal by Senator John A Warner, RV A, to make either Newport News, … or Electric Boat. .. the SEA WOLF builder, with the other yard serving as a primary subcontractor that would build major portions of the submarine.”
Defense Week. in its Reporter’s Notebook page of August 26th, noted that Tom Clancy, author of The Hunt for Red October appeared on Morton Kondracke’s 1V show on August 17th and said “I’d trash the SEAWOLF, the SSN-21. … it’s an evolutionary development of the submarines we already have in place right now.”
The SEAWOLF Court Case:
Hartford Courant of July 12th noted that “A federal judge in Norfolk adjourned the long-awaited SEA WOLF submarine trial without a ruling Thursday, but left open the possibility that he would order the Navy to rebid its contract for the second SEA WOLF, which went to Electric Boat of Connecticut.”
On August 1st, Wall Street Journal reported “A federal judge threw out the Navy’s choice of General Dynamics Corporation to build the next SEA WOLF-class attack submarine, ordering new bids to be submitted under rules favoring arch-rival Tenneco Inc. Judge Robert Doumar ruled that Donald Yockey, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, exceeded his authority, completely ignored congressional intent, and wholly without rational basis made sure that the Navy last May awarded the contract to General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division in Groton, Conn.”
That same day Reuters said that Electric Boat “is considering appealing .. ”
The Washington Times, on August 7th, stated that “The Navy has asked a federal judge to stay his injunction ordering General Dynamics Corporation not to begin work on the Navy’s second SEA WOLF attack submarine. .. Pentagon spokesman Pete WiUiams told reporters the Navy wanted time to study last week’s decision .. :
The Washington Post of the next day reported on Judge Doumar’s ruling allowing the ordering of SEA WOLF building supplies.
The reopening of the bidding was reported in the Washington Times on the 15th: “lbe Navy — acting under protest reopened bidding yesterday for the disputed second SEA WOLF nuclear submarine contract. In a response to a July 31 federal court order, the Navy said yesterday that if it loses its appeal, it would accept new bids … But in a move counter to the order, the Navy said it would continue to use price as the chief factor in choosing a winner.”
SEA WOLF Welding Problem:
The Washington Post. on August 2nd, covered the breaking story on the SEA WOLF welds by speculating about a delay in production. Their piece started “General Dynamics Corporation has discovered welding flaws so severe in the hull and internal structures of the Navy’s first SSN-21 attack submarine that the partially completed submarine will have to be disassembled and rebuilt… The Navy … emphasized yesterday that General Dynamics engineers discovered the flaws and reported them promptly … a Navy spokesman said the 353-foot SEA WOLF is the first to use a hull made entirely of high-pressure HY -100 steel. He said construction of the submarine has also relied on a new welding material to join the steel into plates, hull subsections and large cylindrical sections.”
In reporting on potential repair methods, Hartford Courant of August 6th stated that “Electric Boat is considering two approaches to solving its problem with microscopic cracks in hull sections of the Navy’s first SEA WOLF attack submarinetearing down and reworking sections already welded, or starting from scratch using new steel.”
A more far-reaching description of the problem was provided by Defense News on the 12th. “Welding problems that General Dynamics Corp. has encountered in constructing the first SEA WOLF bode ill for the Navy’s plan to make future submarines from a stronger grade of steel, according to Pentagon officials and industry experts.” “The higher strength steel such as HY-100 and HY-130 has less tolerance for cracking.” The article further commented that “On top of technical problems with high strength steel, there are few suppliers of HY-130.” They then explained that “The Navy plans to construct the first three SEAWOLFs from HY-100 and successive submarines from even stronger steel known as HY130.”
Art Buchwald’s column which appeared in the Washington Post on August 13th was titled “Some Nasty Cracks” and parodied both the impact of the problem and the cost of the SEA WOLF program.
General Submarine News:
The Defense News of Monday July 15th carried two feature articles about U.S. Navy submarines. On page one, the lead story was headlined “House Panel Balks at Navy Sub Plan.” The article itself started “Concern that the U.S. Navy will prematurely commit to a propulsion system that may constrain development of its next-generation Centurion attack submarine is fueling congressional opposition to the Navy’s advanced research effort. Lawmakers are concerned about approving funding for an advanced submarine propulsion system when plans for a future attack submarine program are ill-defined.” The article quoted a congressional source as saying “H the Navy tells us they want funding for a next generation propulsion plant, they ought to be able to tell us what the next generation submarine is .. ” The substance of the news piece was “The House Appropriations defense subcommittee eliminated $19.8 million earmarked for future submarine propulsion systems from the Navy’s $89.8 million 1992 budget request for advanced nuclear power systems, citing the lack of a viable submarine design concept.”
On page 19 of the same issue of Defense News, a piece titled “Shifting Threats Demand Sub Options” discussed the Navy’s work toward setting such a design concept. The lead paragraph states: “‘The U.S. Navy earlier this year announced that it has begun an effort, known as the Centurion study, to define a new nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) to serve as a more affordable complement to the SEA WOLF (SSN-21) attack submarine. The new SSN will replace the LOS ANGELES (SSN-688) class attack submarines when they begin to retire around 2006.” It went on to put forth the concern: “A key issue to address regarding the Centurion program is whether it adequately considers the uncertainty of the future international security environment and the difficulty this creates for planners attempting to define an SSN that won’t enter service until after the tum of the century.”
Also about the Centurion program, Aerospace Daily. on July 18th, in a piece about the new A-X aircraft offerings from industry, quoted Gerald A Cann, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition as saying, “The only other fJScal year 1992 Navy new start, the Centurion submarine, intended to follow the SEA WOLF, is in the embryo stage,” Cann said. He said be was “still trying to get OP-02 (Undersea Warfare) to lay out carefully crafted requirements that can be used in conceptual studies.” The Cann discussion of Centurion was further described: “The issue in sub development”, Cann said, “is to get great capability but to simultaneously drive down cost to the point where you can buy more than one submarine a year. My general view is that if you can’t do that, you’ve got a serious problem.
” Secretary of the Navy Lawrence Garrett was asked about Centurion in an interview which appeared in Defense News on August 19th. His answer to a question about the relationship of Centurion to SEA WOLF was as follows: “We need to continue to build the SSN-21 and we intend to do that over the next decade until we develop a submarine that will complement those submarines that have gone into the fleet over time. Each submarine is an evolutionary design but from an operational point of view, each complements the others. The reason we got on with the development of the Centurion is that I believe we as a nation need to continue to evolve this technology to keep the upper hand in submarine platform technology. At the same time we need to build more than one submarine per year. We need to take the technology, continue to evolve it and incorporate it into a platform that is a very capable submarine.
” A new Congressional Research Service report entitled “Navy SEA WOLF and Centurion Attack Submarine Programs: Issues for Congress” was reported upon by Defense News. also in their August 19th edition. The article leads off with “In calling for 14 attack submarines to be continuously deployed in the future, the U.S. Navy has significantly changed how it determines its overall submarine force levels … ” It went on to explain that “Keeping 14 submarines operating continuously equates to an overall force level of 80 attack submarines, far below the Navy’s previous inventory objective of 100 SSNs that was established in the mid-1980s, … However, this is more than the future inventory of 70 SSNs projected under current submarine constructions plans.”
Soviet Submarine News:
Jane’s Defence Week of June 29th reported that “‘The Soviet Union is developing a new ballistic missile submarine as a follow-on to the DELTA IV, according to U.S. intelligence sources and naval analysts.” The article continued, “It is unclear what stage its development has reached. U.S. intelligence analysts believe it will be several months before they have a clear understanding of the submarine project and exactly how the Soviets plan to proceed.” It was added that “It is generally thought that a new submarine would be a follow-on to the DELTA IV class rather than the larger TYPHOON class.” In addition, “The new submarine is expected to be of doublehulled construction. If of a totally new design, this implies the Soviets are going to continue serious production of strategic missile submarines,” said one naval analyst. He said “the Soviets are continuing to spend heavily in strategic missile modernization as well as modernization of the submarine fleet, prompting concerns that a change in Soviet strategic policy is on the horizon. The new submarine is likely to carry a follow-on from the SS-N-23 ballistic missile. Former CIA Director William Webster revealed in February that existing TYPHOONs were already being modified to accept a new missile.”
In a report from Moscow, the Washin2ton Post of July 28th told of a statement by Admiral Konstantin Makarov, the Soviet Navy’s deputy chief and chief of the Navy’s general staff, to the effect that “The Soviet Union faces a greatly increased threat from U.S. and Western naval forces and sea-based missiles that more than offsets gains from arms reduction treaties … ” Makarov told the Sovyetskaya Rossiya newspaper that “the threat to the country’s security had almost doubled with the massive deployment of sea-based cruise missiles.”
In a third piece on the Soviet Navy, and a further report on their SSBN force, Navy News & Undersea TechnoloK,Y. on August 5th described the revelations of a pair of Soviet experts about the nuclear weapons command and control procedures aboard their nuclear missile submarines. “While skippers of American SSBNs have the ability to launch their Poseidon and Trident missiles without further assistance, Soviet commanders must receive a coded message to enable a launch,” said Bruce Blair with the Brookings Institution. The experts continued that “The codes are entered into the onboard weapon system computer in order to remove the blocking system that protects unsanctioned launch.”
Other Foreign Submarine News:
The most significant bit of news about foreign submarines actually happened in the United States. Defense News reported on August 5th that “U.S. Navy officials are expected to meet this week to form an opinion on whether a U.S. shipyard should be allowed to construct two diesel-electric submarines for Egypt. The request conflicts with long-standing U.S. policy and traditional Navy aversions, according to U.S. Navy sources. At issue are two Type 209 diesel submarines designed in Germany, which would be assembled and outfitted by Ingalls Shipbuilding, Pascagoula, Miss.”
An editorial in that same paper on Monday, August 12th, urged that “The U.S. State Department and the Navy should approve a request by a major U.S. shipbuilder for permission to assemble two 1)rpe 209 diesel-electric submarines for Egypl”
A page 4 piece in the Defense News of August 26th reported that “officials of the U.S. Navy have categorically rejected a bid by Ingalls Shipbuilding to construct two diesel submarines for Egypt”