What is the way ahead and the future of the submarine force? Submariners and the submarine industry tend to focus on roles, missions, force levels and capabilities shaped by our mostly-military experience. Can we stretch a little and expand our view of possibilities? Dual Use Technologies, Industry and Forces.
As nations move toward an integrated global economy with converging politics, reduction in military threat leads to public demand for a peace dividend. But the planet remains dangerous. Does defense prudence relate to economic challenges from abroad? The current U.S. National Security Strategy of the United States clearly links the defense agenda with the economic agenda for the 1990s. One idea, dual-use (militarycivilian) of forces, technologies and industrial capability may be a reasonable approach to balance requirements and restrictions of both defense needs and domestic economic needs (e.g. jobs).
Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald Atwood has said, ‘There are very few technologies that are not dual purpose” (quoted in Inside the Navy, Feb 11, 1991). Charles H. Kimzey, who heads the Manufacturing Technology program for DoD (Production and Logistics) encourages exploration of new partnerships between Defense and business because, “the distinction between military and commercial technology dissolves” (Business Week, Dec 16, 1991, pp 92-96). Similar dual use of operating forces is noted. The Gulf War revealed again the importance of civilian air and sea lift integration with dedicated military lift. NASA has historically used the space shuttle for military and civilian purposes. We have had in our history one try at a commercial nuclear powered vessel — but Savannah was a failure. In the early 1980’s, General Dynamics Electric Boat advertising advocated a technologically feasible submarine tanker project to gain access to Alaska North Slope oil safer than the now-degrading pipeline and ill-fated surface tankers. Fresh legislation\ such as the National Competitiveness Technology Transfer Act of 1989, points the way to sharing government/laboratory technologies with the private sector. Dual-use concepts should be examined in all the richness of ideas possible. How does this new and old thinking apply to the submarine force?
National Technology Strategy
Business groups and the Council on Competitiveness strongly advocate a national technology strategy in the face of European and Pacific Rim economic challenge. These forward-looking people are calling for a better government R&D policy with focus on global competitiveness along with the defense industrial base as partners in security and prosperity. Business people recognize that future force reconstitution may be required and that critical technologies must be preserved, and they call for dedicated research resources. The Defense Authorization Act of FY 1991 (Public Law 101-510) provided for development and implementation of a National Defense Manufacturing Technology Plan. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Strategy and Resources, I. Lewis Libby, has called for “a robust technological edge across the board in military capabilities” (statement to NASC Defense Policy Panel, March 12, 1991 ). Oearly, submarine and ocean technologies are critical areas in which the U.S. leads the entire world – but which can slip away as, for example, our deep submergence capability. Secretary of Defense Cheney has advocated increasing the RDT &E budget despite economic pressures. How does submarine technology fit into the proposed national strategy? Do some commercial links exist?
Exploring “Inner Space”
Forget for a minute the budget pressures and evolving military threat. Reflect with some wonderment on our planet. What wealth, value and mystery awaits us in the oceans of the world?
People have been building various types of submersibles and writing about submarine adventures since 300 BCE. Fast forward to 1985 when Robert Ballard chronicled his adventures exploring the seabed off Iceland in NR-1 -The Nayy’s Inner Space Shuttle) (National Geographic, Apri11985). Later the same year, Dr. Ballard wrote about How We Found Titanic (National Geographic, December 1985), demonstrating impressive submarine technologies. Currently a media personality with his undersea marvel, “Project Jason,” Ballard beams submarine technology into classrooms via satellite. Why bas Dr. Ballard focused on submarine technologies? An oceanographer by training, he knows the value, public interest and fascination of inner space. Tom Clancy and Paramount did well with ~ Hunt for Red October. If we can spend $40 billion to build a space station to explore outer space, can we spend some amount to explore inner space – the 70% of the planet covered by the oceans of the world? Will the public support such a venture? What could search of inner space reveal?
EEZ – The Exclusive Economic Zone
A key to answers is found in an important study chartered by the National Academy of Sciences and conducted by the National Research Council (NRC). In 1989, the NRC focused on the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), claimed by President Reagan in 1983. The U.S. was the 59th nation to obtain such jurisdiction. This 200 mile extension of our coast lines seaward adds some 3.9 billion acres, 1.7 times the land area of the U.S., and is more EEZ than held by any other nation. Study conclusions, published as Our Seabed Frontier: Challenaes and Choices (National Research Council – 1989, by the National Academy Press) reported a staggering diversity of conditions and opportunities in the EEZ.
The most extensive current EEZ use is off-shore energy. The EEZ provides the U.S. about 12 percent of total crude oil and 25 percent of domestic gas production and is estimated to have impressive oil and gas reserves. Our dependence on such resources is bound to increase as land reserves decline or are restricted by other countries or environmental concerns. Ocean and submarine technologies coupled with ocean engineering could be developed now as a hedge for energy independence and as exploration further seaward becomes necessary. The study summarized a litany of other possibilities not yet investigated because of low economic incentive, lack of technology or just plain little imagination including: mineral exploration and development, waste disposal, telecommunications cabling, biological resources, ocean energy, cultural and recreational resources.
Some Submarine Possibilities
Is outer space exploration likely to increase our national wealth, preserve critical technologies and create a vast array of new jobs? Would developing inner space – the oceans of the world – be better? If inner space is developed, then there is no better conceptual or functional leadership than active duty and retired submariners and the submarine technologies industry. Could dual-use technologies and applications provide rationale for continuing large submarine reactor and propulsion design laboratories or industry? Could submariners conduct more oceanographic research projects while on patrol? What are the implications for continued improvement of undersea surveillance and global communications systems if submarine technology has a commercial spin-ofr! How might reconstituted force submarines be manned and who might provide operational planning, maintenance and analysis in remote areas? Perhaps dual-use ideas, conceptually linked to the Submarine Force, reserve or maritime organizations, provide some answers.
Ocean Energy, Oil and Gas
Our economy will be oil-energy based for decades to come. Imagine Navy submarines in the oil business – a new strategic mission? Could dual-use rationalize funding for a revitalized deep submergence program for resource exploration and undersea construction? Could EB-conceived submarine tankers, equipped with aerial-refueling style underwater connections recently patented, help fill the strategic oil reserve or be commercially chartered in peacetime? In hostilities could survivable “SSONs” — submersible nuclear oilers – fuel the surface fleet or covertly place bottom-moored, inflatable POL storage containers to help our sister services project power? And if DARPA, Transportation Command (Strategic Sealift), Commerce, Energy, EPA and perhaps the oil industry fund a successful LARGE submarine pilot project, can a submersible aircraft carrier be beyond comprehension? (In this economic era, forget the SSCV(N) idea!)
Environment, Waste, Biological Resources, Telecommunications
Marine biologists, fisheries experts and oceanographers would prize the opportunity to spend prolonged periods in the ocean environment. Perhaps partnership with the submarine force would fit within a new R&D strategy to: restore our fishing industry; place and repair fiber-optic cables globally (all weather and under the ice); or examine some fresh ideas for environmentally sound ocean mining and waste disposal. If old SSBNs can be modified for use by special forces, could old SSNs or SSBNs be modified for ocean R&D? Long-term Implications: Another Way Ahead for the Submarine Force .
Some leaders in government, business and among legislators are reviewing EEZ ideas – both commercial and defense related – to help convert defense industry, to preserve the defense industrial base for reconstitution through dual-use concepts and to boost our national economy. It is believed that, in spite of technological challenges, the EEZ will be increasingly utilized in the next two to three decades, if not by the U.S. then by Japan, the new Soviet Union or the Europeans (EEC). What we do in the U.S. EEZ in the next 20 years will have long-range economic and environmental implications, not only for our nation, but for significant areas of the globe. Who else but submariners — and people who think like submariners could develop a well thought out, coordinated plan for development that ensures the U.S. continued leadership in submarine and off-shore technology and minimizes the degradation of the environment?
As you reflect on your future as an active duty submariner, or one interested in preserving submarine and ocean technologies, consider these dual-use ideas. What’s in it for you? Continue the dialogue about the future of the submarine force by sending your ideas to The SUBMARINE REVIEW as a clearinghouse.