So all of a sudden, poof, you’re the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, Undersea Warfare. You come to this new and wonderful life in front of the House Armed Services Committee, pondering the Chairman’s question.
“I, like the rest of my esteemed colleagues, am a great fan of our ballistic missile submarine force. Many here today contend that these ships were in large part responsible for bringing an end to the cold war. And your people are doing a super job with those fantastic ships. But, Admiral, just what is it we get out of those fast attack submarines of yours, and exactly how many of them do we really need?”
0.K., don’t panic. It’s a fair question, especially in light of significant defense spending cuts and increasing pressure on Congress to produce on this peace dividend, sweeping changes in the nature of what for years has been our principle maritime threat and, last but not least, the high costs associated with new submarines. I mean construction funds for naval vessels in general, and nuclear submarines in particular, provide very attractive targets to civil servants laboring under those blinderlike green eye shades.
But geez guys, I thought all these three stars did was travel around the country giving speeches at retirement and commissioning ceremonies. And I don’t suppose the congressmen or these folks here from CNN are about to cut me a break because I’ve only been Top Dog for about 30 seconds. No, I don’t think so.
“Mr. Chairman. If I may, let me begin by talking about a few things you definitely won’t get when you put an American hunter-killer submarine to work. What you won’t get is Americans wlnerable to a primitive SCUD ballistic missile attack. What you won’t get is Americans and a front-line U.S. warship wlnerable to a stray Exocet cruise missile that manages to penetrate anti-ship defenses. What you won’t get are American aviators winerable to third world anti-aircraft fire. These gentlemen, are just a few of the things you don’t get when you put a submarine to Work.
“What you get, Mr. Chairman, is an invulnerable, independent U.S. instrument of war, fully capable of handling wide spectrum or national tnskings. Throughout what follows, gentlemen, I ask you to keep the following fundamental truths in mind.
“First, no nation today is capable of hazarding a front-line American submarine in the prosecution of any of it’s missions. Countless fleet and NATO exercises and near continuous routine operations in and amongst the most advanced antisubmarine forces in the world bear witness to this fact. Further, I’m unreservedly confident that this invulnerability will characterize our submarine forces well into the next century.
“Second, American submarines are able to conduct these many missions independent of other forces. Anti-aircraft support in the form of up to 80 aircraft is not required. Antimissile AEGIS Cruisers are not required. Anti-torpedo Arleigh Burke Destroyers also are not required. Refueling and logistic support ships and aircraft are not required either. No, these forces, so vital in the defense of other naval vessels, most notably the aircraft carrier, are absolutely not required in support of American hunter-killer submarines.
“What do you get when you put an SSN to work? You get a warship, operating independent of any other national assets, fully capable of putting an opposing navy on the bottom. Not just the carrier, not just the cruiser, the entire sea-going navy. An incredible, audacious claim? Maybe. The truth? Definitely.
“American submarines carry sufficient torpedoes, in the form of Mk-48s and Advanced Capability Mk-4&, and cruise missiles, in the form of Tomahawks and Harpoons, to sink or completely debilitate all but a very, very few of the worlds navies. Seasoned by decades of front-line experience, crewed by the brightest warriors our nation has ever fielded, employing the most technologically advanced warship the world has ever known, this extraordinary potential is resident in each and every one of our operating submarines. While certainly primary, this is by no means our only mission. “You get a warship capable of covertly mining and thereby closing the exit of an enemy’s key ports.
American submarines are able to load, carry, and deploy a variety of both antishipping and anti-submarine mines. Properly employed, anticipating the deployment of hostile warships, this capability, or perhaps more subtly, the threat of exercising such a capability, has proven extremely effective in denying an opponent access to the open sea. While clearly important in keeping an enemy’s maritime forces bottled up, the true value of such an option may be in completely ·shutting down a nation’s maritime trade, those vital sea lines of communication without which most potential adversaries must soon sue for peace.
“What do you get when you put an SSN to work? You get a warship fully capable of destroying key enemy land-based instruments of war. From airfields to command posts to Surface-to-Air Missile sites, any and all are fair game.
“American hunter-killer submarines have the battle-proven capability of precisely employing Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles against vital enemy targets. Relying on its intrinsic invulnerability, a submarine might position itself in international waters off an adversary’s coast and successfully hazard critical land-based targets over 500 mites inland. A quick glance at the globe will suffice to show just how much of the world falls under the submarine’s cruise missile umbrella.
“You get a warship capable of denying the seas to any opponent. From blockade to quarantine, the presence, or even perceived presence, of a single U.S. Attack Submarine is sufficient to keep a nation’s entire sea-going fleet tied up to their piers. From warships to cruise liners, from containerships to oilers, recent history has aptly demonstrated the nuclear submarine’s sea-denial capability. ”
‘Those, gentlemen, are the principle things you get when you put an American submarine to work. A quiet instrument when it needs to be, positioning itself covertly near a potential troublespot, it carries with it neither signal nor suspicion. Just so, it might quietly leave, the crisis having been resolved at the diplomatic level, no one the worse for it’s work.
“If diplomacy fails, there is simple presence. Knowing an American submarine stands ready to engage will lead all but the very foolish to sue for peace. It’s potential is undeniable.
“And in the absence of sense, there is offense. Able to unleash horrific destruction both at sea and ashore, this weapons system, in and of itself, may well prove enough to bring the antagonist to his knees. An independent, inwlnerable instrument of war.
“Finally, then, there’s the question of numbers. How many is too many; how many not enough? History and the Beltway are chock-a-block full of those in the business of trying to answer this most difficult question. The truth is, I can no more tell you how many of them I need than I can tell you where the next war will be fought, or with whom. I can’t tell you how many, but I can provide a little food for thought on this most pressing of questions.
“A national security policy, much like your own automobile insurance policy, is a long-haul investment in an uncertain future. While no one can be certain as to what tomorrow might bring to you and your automobile, you can do your level best to cover those most likely possibilities, from collision to theft to acts of God, while shopping around for your best insurance value.
“Just so is considering submarines as an integral part of our nations security policy. No one today can predict what tomorrow might bring, thus estimates of force size based on this or that possibility are only conditional projections. However, a reasonable man might develop the following logic. Conflict between nations has not ceased. Our United States will, at some point in it’s future, once again become involved in hostilities requiring the use of maritime power. Further, when such issues do arise, they will not generally be of a nature to allow time for this nation to build more warships. That simply is not the nature of war at sea today. In today’s vernacular, it will probably be a come-as-you-are party, the number of submarines we start with will set an upper limit on the number we finish with.
“Pressing the insurance analogy a bit further, consider this; you here today, quite unlike the typical consumer, have a far greater chore than simply deciding how much. You have the responsibility of ensuring that the business is fairly run, that the consumer gets a reasonable return on his policy dollar, that the market is robust enough to ensure survival over· the long run, and that when we really need the product we’ve so diligently invested in over the years, it’ll be there.
“In the world of automobile insurance, much like the rest of our consumer markets, competition is key to value.
“And the analogy holds. In making this extremely important investment in our country’s future it is not enough to consider the type and amount of coverage we ~eed to purchase. Issues of value must be addressed. Further, we’d like to enjoy the certainty of knowing that in time of need the company we’ve invested so much in will be there for us.
“‘The continued health and vigor of both of our nation’s submarine building yards must be maintained. And this is not a plea for maintaining the status quo in terms of submarine spending. What is important is that the nation’s ability to competitively design and build the world’s finest submarine value be retained. What is important is that the necessary tooling and production facilities be continuously maintained, exercised, and improved as the situation demands. What is important is that we retain the highly skilled labor force necessary to continue this very technical building program. What is important is the cadre of specialized submarine engineers and designers required to upgrade the ships of today and to further the submarines of tomorrow.
“It is these arguments then, arguments which speak to a long-haul investment in our country’s future which, by and large, should dictate the size of our security policy. Production of multi-mission hunter-killer submarines at competitive building yards, priced so as not to tie up the preponderance of our nation’s shipbuilding funds, is the requirement by which we should size our submarine building program. If this translates into one platform per year per yard, then that’s the level below which we cannot afford to fall. If this means we professionals of the force must sacrifice some of the things we’d like in a submarine, in order to get a platform the cost of which will facilitate these competitive ends, then that is what should be done.
“Gentlemen. Carefully consider today’s realities. Consider the enormous social and political costs associated with the loss of U.S. lives in combat overseas. Consider the inexorable trend of diminishing defense spending, rising overseas commitments, and increased international dependency. Consider America’s history, her future, as inexorably tied to the sea, as the world’s predominant maritime power. A reflective, deliberate body such as this will soon arrive at the inescapable realization that the future of these United States, even more than her past, will depend mightily on control of the sea, on our ability to protect and defend vital overseas interests, and, in the words of today’s foremost military historian John Keegan, on “._the submarine as the predominant weapon of power at sea … ” I am confident that, in the near future, Presidents of these United States and members of this esteemed body will not ask “Where are the Carriers”, but instead, “Where are the Submarines?”