Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate

SYMPOSIUM ADDRESSES – Vice Admiral Henry G. Chiles, USN

Distinguished flag officers and members of the Naval Submarine League, good afternoon. I’m glad to be here and see so many old friends and give you an update on the Atlantic Submarine Force.

An old Bob Dylan song sort of descnbes what is happening these days: “For the Times They are a’Changln’.” What a difference the last year has made in the world situation!! The Cold War has been declared over. The Russian Navy is a lot closer to home and their troops are leaving Europe as the west helps to build them housing. Officials from the Republics of the former Soviet Union are going to NATO Headquarters in brussels for meetings. Yogi Kaufman goes aboard a TYPHOON and brings home video tape of swimming pools and saunas. The Russian CNO went aboard and toured USS KEY WEST in Norfolk last year.

What the Russian CNO was most interested in during his tour of the ship was not its technolgy, but our sailors: How much we pay them, what was their education, whether they are married, own a car, live on or off base. Maybe he’s trying to figure out how to run a Navy in a market economy. The U.S. and Russia are clearly not bosom buddies yet, but we aren’t the same old Cold War enemies either.

Despite the accusations to the contrary, we have recognized these dramatic events and reacted. Accordingly, the Submarine Force is changing to meet the needs of our navy and our country. Today, I’ll discuss the current status of the Atlantic Submarine Force and describe some of the more significant changes in progress with our strategic forces, attack submarines and personnel.

On Monday, the 1st of June, I sat in a hangar in Omaha and watched as the new Strategic Command was born and our SSBNs reported for duty to an Air Force General. STRAT-COM is now in place and there are a lot more Navy guys in the rolling hills of eastern Nebraska. The chain of command for SSBNs on patrol is directly from CINCSTRAT to the SSBNs through COMSUBLANT in our CTF 144 hal We have shaken out the organization and it works.

When the SSBNs are in port, the chain of command is essentially the same as it is for other fleet units from CINC-LANTFLT through the type commander, group and squadron. One thing that is different is the absence of USCINCLANT – J36 has been disbanded with some functions now shifted to CINCSTRAT and others to my N6 organization. The changes are really transparent to our SSBNs.

Another big change is the presidenfs decision to take the strategic bombers off alert. In the day-to-day forces in place, the SSBNs now shoulder more of our country’s strategic deter-rence responsibility.

We now have four Trident II D-5 equipped SSBNs opera-tional: TENNESSEE, PENNSYLVANIA, WEST VIRGINIA and KENTUCKY. The fifth Trident II, MARYLAND, was delivered on 5 June and will be commissioned on Saturday, 13 June, and soon will be on patrol after her shakedown period. Construc-tion continues on schedule for the remaining five ships.

In parallel with new Tridents entering the fleet, we are retiring our older SSBNs. The C-3 Poseidon SSBNs were removed from strategic service as of October 1991. In addition, the C-4 backfit SSBNs will begin retirement soon such that they will be removed from strategic service by the mid-1990’s, and Submarine Group SIX and Squadron 16 will standown. We are going from a force of l3 Atlantic F1eet SSBNs when I talked last June to 15 today, and to a force of 10 Trident II D-5 equipped SSBNs by the end of the decade.

In the midst of aU this change, one thing remains constant — our SSBNs are always at sea as before, on patrol, Invulnerable and keeping the peace. They remain the most cost effective, accurate, and survivable of the nation’s strategic deterrent forces, providing almost half of our country’s day-to-day deterrent posture for about 30 percent of the strategic budget. Keeping our SSBNs at sea ensures we wiD always have a credible deterrent force that can survive any threat — a stabiliz-ing influence in an uncertain world.

We recently commemorated the 3,000th patrol in Kings Bay on April 25th. That’s over 80,000 man-years of cumulative time submerged since the first patrol by USS GEORGE WASHINGTON almost 32 years ago. The principal speaker at the April ceremony was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Colin Powell. He gave perhaps the strongest non-Navy endorsement of the strategic submarine fleet that I’ve heard in a long time. To quote from his remarks briefly: •No other members of America’s armed forces have been given so great a burden of responsibility as the sailors of the ballistic missile submarine force. …No other members of America’s armed forces have so earned America’s trust. … We will always, always place our faith in our boomers. And not in anyone else.” I couldn’t agree more. [Editor’s Note: See General PoweU’s complete remarks in July 1992 SUBMARINE REVIEW.]

Turning now to attack submarines: our focus bas shifted dramatically away from independent ASW operations toward the less traditional roles of baUie group support, special warfare, mining, and strike. The Secretary of Defense, Mr. Cheney, rode one of our ships earlier this year and was impressed with our capabilities in support of regional operations. We are on line and fully integrated with the carrier battle groups. This Js not direct support. Two submarines are assigned to each carrier group in LANTFLT. These submarines report to their normal submarine operating authority and submarine squadron commander. They workup with the CVBG beginning about six months before deployment, and deploy with them. We now have over one year of experience with this arrangement, and eight submarines which have completed a deployment or are currently deployed with a CVBG. Feedback from the battle group commanders and the submarines is very positive.

In general terms, the battle group commander directs rules of engagement, weapons release authority and can influence tactical movements of the submarine. The submarine operating authority retains prevention of mutual interference (separation to prevent underwater collision), water space management (ASW weapons control to prevent blue on blue engagements), and the submarine broadcast The support submarine manual, currently in the form of a COMSECONDFLT Tactical Note, will soon be a joint COMSUBLANT/COMSECONDFLTTACNOm It spells out these procedures and has been used successfully in four fleet exercises, four CVBG deployments, and two major NATO exercises. I emphasize that we are not in the outer screen maintaining station on the carrier but doing a variety of missions we are uniquely capable of doing in support of the battle group – and generally well away from the carrier.

To show the extent of how much we have shifted our focus, in round numbers, our deployed submarines are now spending about as much time in strike warfare and battle group support as they are in independent ASW, ASUW and surveillance operations. That contrasts to the past pattern of many years where we spent about 50 percent of our time in traditional roles with a very small fraction of our underway time in our new roles.

Power projection ashore is now a Navy top priority. Attack submarines have a powerful capability for strike warfare with the Tomahawk cruise missile. Both USS PTITSBURGH and USS LOUISVILLE launched Tomahawks against Iraq during Desert Storm, the first shots fired in anger from a U.S. subma-rine since World Warn. Cruise missiles do not replace the need for tactical air forces, but complement it. Submarines will become increasingly important as the Navy gets smaller and we have fewer carriers, especially with smaller task forces without organic tactical air capability. In fact, in certain cases subma-rines alone could perform the entire strike mission, particularly where air and surface defenses make it very dangerous to risk our pilots and surface units. Today, SSNs deployed to the Med carry a considerable portion of the conventional Tomahawk strike assets for the European Command contingency plans.

Maritime Action Groups (or MAG for short) have become a necessity in the Med because of a lack of a permanent carrier presence due to the Persian Gulf situation. The MAG is composed of at least one submarine and any number of surface combatants less an aircraft carrier, but usually consists of two to three frigates or destroyers with their helicopters and one submarine. It provides an alternative credible force which uses movement, speed and stealth to offset the lack of organic tactical air assets. The MAG, due to its size, is less intimidating than a full carrier battle group and can be used with a variety of forces in response to a crisis. The SSN is a terrific force multiplier with its mobility, stealth and multi-mission capabili-ties. The ideal MAG would include a vertical launch 688 class SSN to provide increased strike capability.

We’re continuing to exercise our mining capability in various exercises using submarine launched mobile mines. A mine pattern can be laid from several miles away using SLMMs with good accuracy. We have added SLMM capability to some 688 class SSNs, and we will have a sizable portion of that class which will have this capability in the future. This will compensate for the retirement of our 637 class SSNs, which were our primary mining platforms in the past.

Special warfare is an area where we have made great strides in the last three years with annual exercises that concentrate on the usc of special operations forces from submarines. Begin-ning with a two submarine exercise in 1990, we have increased steadily the complexity of the operations and brought in joint forces. In exercise PHANTOM SHADOW last year, we embarked the Joint Commander in USS JOHN MARSHALL and included forces from the Army, Navy Seals, and Marine Corps embarked on three submarines. A total of 137 special operations forces were embarked. This year in OCEAN VENTURE, the submarine SPECWAR operations were fully integrated into the fleet exercise. The exercise was not scripted, but was run as a crisis action scenario. Tactical command of two SSNs was formally chopped for 18 days to the Joint Task Force Commander (Commander Carrier Group Eight), the Navy Component Commander at the Joint Com-mand Center at Ft. Bragg and Camp Lejuene, North Carolina. Joint special warfare forces included elements of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

USS SILVERSIDES and USS JAMES K. POLK, with their embarked Special Operations Forces, were used against a variety of simulated targets located on Key West and Boca Chica islands. Some of the special operations forces were air-dropped to the submarines using Air Force assets. During the eighteen days, 14 missions were tasked; over 8S percent of these missions were completed successfully. At the hot wash-up, the Commander of Special Operations Forces Atlantic (an Army COL.) stated that the submarine exercise was the most significant part of the Special Operations Forces play in


Recognizing that the new threat in a regional crisis will probably be diesel submarines in shallow waters, we are placing more emphasis on this area. We are working on new tactics to get the best performance from our current weapons and sonar systems. In recent years after the retirement of U.S. diesel subs, most of our experience against diesels was in the Med or on UNITAS cruises. The Development Squadron has 9 anti-diesel exercises conducted or planned between July 91 and October 92, with an emphasis on active sonar employment in shallow water.

What about our old threat, the Russians? Their withdrawal to home waters and the changing political climate is clearly having a big impact on the perceived need for ASW forces. It’s no secret that they are continuing to operate their submarines at sea. Older submarines are being retired while modem, capable nuclear submarines, like the AKULA and the KILO diesel-electric submarine are still being built. The submarine order of battle is down to about 230 today from 345 in 1986. The bottom line is: the CIS is going to have a smaller, but more modern and capable force that will be around for many years. We need to keep that in mind.

Not oply is the CIS Navy getting smaller, but so are we. Squadrons 10, 14, and 19 are decommissioned and their tenders either scrapped or headed to relieve a tender which will decommission. USS FULTON was inactivated in September ’91 and USS ORION and USS PROTEUS will be retired in ’93. ·squadron 16 and Submarine Group Six will go away in the mid-1990s after the retirement of the C-4 baclcfit SSBNs.

USS MEMPHIS is our dedicated Research and Development (R&D) submarine. We currently have four major R&D projects installed and the non-penetrating periscope is being installed now and will undergo at-sea testing in the near future. The ad-vanced capability torpedo continues to come on line as more and more ships have it installed and torpedo inventories increase. Some reliability problems with ADCAP that emerged in early ’91 have been corrected and reliability is back up in ’92. And we are continuing to modernize our sonar and towed array systems with AN/BQQ-SD and AN/BQQ-SE equipment.

A number of areas challenge us. How many attack subma-rines can the country afford? The answer to the question affects all our planning, our people, our infrastructure. It’s a major concern. We’ve made great strides in improving com-munications within the battle group with new equipment and procedures, but we need to continue to work on high data rate systems and tactical voice circuits. Countering the diesel submarine threat is no easy task, and it will take a concerted effort to improve our capabilities. We need to improve the special warfare capability of our 688 class submarines in submerged lock-in and lock-out of combat swimmers, and we need new dry deck shelter capable ships to replace those which will be retired by the end of the decade. Mine countermeasures is one of the most technically difficult problems to solve, and we need improved systems to assist in locating and avoiding mines. In addition, we need to take advantage of new technologies, such as unmanned underwater vehicles, that show promise.

So, the Cold War is over. OK, so where is the peace dividend? As a consequence of the reduced threat, we have already reduced the SSN operating tempo by about 10 percent. In the near future we will reduce the operating tempo for the Trident II D-5 equipped SSBNs somewhat by lengthening their refits and shortening their patrols. We have implemented changes that eliminate short term changes in SSBN schedules. A wide variety of work procedures have been changed to ease the administrative burden on our people and eliminate cumber-some practices. For example, the administration of the person-nel reliability program has been simplified greatly. Other examples of actions we have taken include: a reduction in fire control system preventive maintenance by 40 percent; and a new quality assurance manual which reduces significantly the requirements for work packages.

Let me tum now to our greatest asset, our people. There are about 26,500 enlisted personnel, 2,300 officers, 3,500 reservists and 2,500 civilians working in the Atlantic Submarine Force. We are getting smaller proportionate to the rest of the Navy. Some ratings are more affected by the drawdown than others, but we are already redistributing our personnel assets such that our high quality personnel still have a productive future in the submarine force.

We have made some strides in improving quality of life including: better barracks, increased funding and self-help programs to improve our living quarters, and increased junior enlisted housing availability; we’re working with manning issues to improve in-port watch rotations, and have improved PSD manning to provide better service to our people and families.

Our Submarine Force personnel are the best in the world, and it’s exciting to work with such dedicated people.

In summary, rd like to leave these thoughts with you: We have reacted and adapted to the new political reality; we believe that submarines are absolutely essential to the contin-ued security of our country; the Submarine Force is more capable and ready than it has ever been – we are ready, anytime, anywhere; and we can reach a long way. Finally, we are taking care of our greatest asset, the dedicated, well trained, and hard working sailors that make our Submarine Force so great.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League