[Ed. note: Acting SECNAV O’Keefe delivered this address at Naval Subnwrine Base, New London, CT to The National Security Industrial Association on 16 September 1992]
Thank you very much distinguished guests, leaders of industry, current and retired flag officers, and, above all, fleet submariners. Thank you for inviting me to speak with you at this important event.
It is a great pleasure to be back in Southeastern Connecti-cut. I have a nostalgic affection for this area, having graduated from Wheeler High School in North Stonington where I met my wife, Laura who grew up here. While I only lived here a short time–my dad was still in the Navy serving as SupShip Groton-I thoroughly enjoy the neighborhood and always look forward to the opportunity to visit. So I’m very happy to be with you today for the seminar and Laura and I are certainly looking forward to the Clambake tonight. I’m hopeful my experience as a Navy ‘0’ Club busboy isn’t tapped after it’s over.
This year’s seminar topic is Future Submarine Roles and Concepts, and I think that is a great choice; although in the current budget climate some folks may feel the Navy program should be called Rigged for Dive. Looking at the schedule of presentations you’ve seen today, as well as those coming up later this afternoon, I can see that I’m amidst a group of truly distinguished submariners. In fact, I’m probably the only person in the room who got a C in high school physics; so my plan is to take a broad philosophical perspective in the hopes that I’m not out of my league in this area as well.
In any endeavor to talk about the future of submarines, it’s instructive to retrace historical roots. One of the early pioneers of submarine technology, a voice from tum of the century America is, of course, John Philip Holland, an Irishman. And with a name like Sean O ‘Keefe I can’t resist stories about Irishmen. He emigrated to America in 1873 and essentially invented the modem submarine. You all know about John Holland, of course, but perhaps you don’t know that the funds for Holland’s first boat were donated by Irish separatist
revolutionaries and that the strategic target was Britain. Imagine the historical change had the plan been fully successful!
As you can imagine, Holland was hardly working in a benign or well-planned environmenl The leading naval powers of the time didn’t have a grand vision of how to use submarines. In fact, England’s thinking about submarines was summed up at the time by Admiral of the Fleet Sir Arthur Wilson, nicknamed Old Hard Heart, who was the comptroller of the British Navy. You can see why I’ve heard of him, but please don’t draw any conclusions. He suggested that, “in wartime, the crews of all submarines captured should be treated as pirates and hanged.” In the United States the thinking was not much better devel-oped. The American Navy was said not to like submarines “because there was no deck for the officers to strut on.”
Fortunately for the future of submarines, there were visionaries on both sides of the Atlantic, most notably Admiral Jackie FISher of the Royal Navy and John Holland in the United States. Perhaps more than anything, John Holland’s controversial 1886 article, Can New York be Bombarded?. talking about the earliest land attack role for submarines, awoke the public to the capabilities of the submarine. He looked at roles and concepts, and a great deal of his thinking is still valid today. Holland talked about offensive uses of submarines against enemy shipping, canying divers to conduct special operations, mine laying and mine clearance, and strategic deterrence, as well as what we consider antisurface warfare today. The point is that people have been wrestling with these questions about roles and concepts for submarines since the first boat went down the ways, and I know the kind of dialogue you are engaging in today is very, very helpful to this important process.
So with that historical perspective, I’ll try to look ahead toward the horizon and give you a sense of where we see the submarine force going from both a strategic and a resource standpoint And if we can’t come to closure on every point this afternoon, I’m sure after a couple of dozen steamers and a two pound lobster tonight we’ll at least have a relaxed discussion.
Let me begin by telling you the simplest and most straight-forward thing I know about future submarine roles and con-cepts: Submarines will be used In all aspects or maritime warfare. To be sure, antisubmarine warfare is no longer our
highest warfighting priority. The greatest challenge we faced, that fully justified the need for advanced submarine systems, gave up just last year. Even so, future scenarios call for submarine use in every aspect of what our joint forces do at sea. And to keep submarines in the fleet, we need the kind of teamwork exemplified by this audience; industry and the service, working together in a fair and straightforward relationship.
Let me tell you about four key operational capabilities I see for submarines in the evolving international security environ-ment.
The first is battlespace dominance. Our most important and enduring naval mission is, and will remain, sea control. Fortu-nately, in this post Cold War era, America really does rule the waves in the absence of a significant blue-water opponent. So we can allocate fewer resources to pure sea control. But in the near-land areas of the world, we will be called upon to execute complete battlespace dominance in a given crisis arena. This is both a sea control and a sea denial mission. Submarines, fully integrated with Naval Expeditionary Forces and Joint Task Forces, are well configured to play a key role in dominating the undersea portion of the regional battlespace, as well as critically influencing the surface portion; and, with their cruise missiles, the land portion of the battle.
A second critical role for the submarine will be in Command, Control and Surveillance. In order to effectively dominate the battlespace, we will need to gather a significant amount of intelligence, often discretely. This will be particularly important in the dangerous early days of a crisis, when our objective is to contain the problem before it escalates. Submarines, with their inherent stealth and sophisticated sensors, are ideal for many intelligence gathering missions. They are likewise well suited to provide command of the undersea environment in the crisis arena, where we can expect to encounter hostile submarines, mines and enemy sensor suites; all of which must be neutralized before further operations can occur.
Power Projection is the third vital role in which submarines have a distinct role to play as part of Naval Expeditionary Forces. We generally have 14 submarines deployed on any given day, carrying well over 100 Tomahawk missiles. Their reach is 650 miles inland, covering 75 percent of the world’s surface. With this kind of capability we can avoid putting sailors at risk
in the Line of Death type scenarios we confronted with Libya, for example. In the future, the Khadafis of the world may not know where a strike came from. With a nominal force forward deployed, we can bring precision strike capability to bear virtually anywhere in the world within 48 hours.
Submarine power projection is virtually risk-free from a political perspective. There are no friendly aircraft being shot down while conducting strikes, no Prisoners of War appearing on CNN, no surface ships hitting mines or being attacked by enemy aircraft. The submarine, because of its endurance and stealth, can remain off an adversary’s shores for extended periods of time while other means are employed to solve the crisis. And that is a very important attribute.
Among these future missions, the most important enduring mission for the submarine force will be strategic deterrence. Our nation’s ballistic missile submarines, working directly for Strategic Command, will continue to provide over 50 percent of America’s nuclear deterrent power for only about 25 percent of the cost. The Trident fleet is indisputably the most reliable leg of the triad. And as long as other nations possess the ability to attack the United States with nuclear forces, our best defence for the near term remains the retaliatory capability to strike back; that capability constitutes the strongest part of the argument that the SLBM fleet can deter an aggressive strategic action.
I think we can all agree that we are not going to have a problem finding important missions for our submarine force for the foreseeable future. So now let me talk about resources and budget questions surrounding the submarine force.
Despite the many attributes of submarines, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, we simply will not need the Cold War level of submarine force, either in terms of pure numbers or in terms of capability. As impressive as SEAWOLF is, it far exceeds the capability needed to respond to likely future scenarios. But as I’ve just finished telling you, we have many important missions remaining. So how do we synthesize these two concepts?
The first answer is the tremendous investment we already have in a superb, high-quality submarine force and the industrial base that builds and supports these superb warships. Especially with the decl. ‘le of the former Soviet Union’s military capability, our submarines are a dominant undersea force today and will be
for decades. Many of you in this room should take justifiable pride in that state of affairs, because you planned those boats, you built those boats, and you sailed, and continue to sail, in those boats.
Our current submarine inventory will meet our needs for the foreseeable future. Eventually though, we wlU need replace-ments. The a11swer is to build an aD’ordable attack boat that meets the needs of this new post Cold War era. We have been calling this boat the Centurion, although we may end up with a different name for what we are currently calling the NSSN or simply New SSN. On this issue, it is essential that we speak very bluntly.
We must be prepared to build a cost-effective boat. We can’t go to Congress and defend a boat that costs as much as the SEAWOLF. We need a boat that offers the ability to perform in the regional war scenario with capabilities in covert strike, covert surveillance, intelligence collection, special warfare, and can still conduct standard submarine missions of antisubmarine warfare and antisurface warfare. And it had better end up costing a good deal less than the SEAWOLF. In the alternative, I think we will coast along and work with what we have. With the impressive fleet of 688s in the inventory, there simply is no imperative to press on at all cost, and at a time when we’re resizing the Navy. We will not be able to convince anyone that we need a $2 billion solution.
If we do go forward, of course, industry needs a sense of what to build. So let me give you a few more details of what this boat ought to be able to do, in very general terms.
I’m not going to belabor the obvious qualities; endurance, stealth, and speed are the attnbutes that must be part of the New SSN’s make up.
But we need more than that. We need creativity and imagination in submarine design, and let me give you three areas to focus your efforts on.
The first is offensive power. We must find ways to make the new submarine capable of carrying enough torpedoes and Tomahawks to really make a difference in regional warfighting scenarios. In order to avoid prohibitive expense, we must come up with some truly innovative technology. So that will be a key challenge.
The second area is mission flexibility. Our submarines will
have to do it all: mining, strike, special operations, intelligence and warning; and, oh by the way, still do antisubmarine warfare and antisurface warfare well enough to dominate the regional battlespace. Again, a tough problem.
Finally, think about interoperablllty, with Naval Expedition-ary Forces, Joint Task Forces, with everything from four ship surface action groups to integrated strike forces that include Navy carrier battle groups, amphibious readiness groups with embarked Marines, and Air Force composite wings operating from expeditionary airfields. The battlespace of the future is complicated and It Is Joint
So there are three areas to focus on: offensive power, mission flexibility, and interoperability. And the paramount challenge–build an affordable boat.
know there is a lot of justifiable hand-wringing about the industrial base as it applies to submarines. All of you in this audience are part of a national asset–the capability to support advanced nuclear submarines. The future holds many uncer-tainties, but I know we can all agree on the need for the U.S. to remain capable of designing, constructing, and overhauling our undersea force. Earlier, I told you a story about the nuclear submariner looking at the guiUotine and trying to make it work. I think the lesson is that we need a common sense approach in maintaining our industrial base, and one that won’t kill us in the process. Unfortunately, the current debate on Capitol Hill has the potential of doing just that. We can’t endorse solutions which yield excess inventory. In the alternative, we must make the tough decisions and reconcile our excess public and private industrial capability. U we try to keep it all, we run the very real risk of losing much more. The historical precedent is that we preserve more equipment at the expense of the people we’re asking to operate the systems. We wiD not do that again.
Right at the start, I jokingly referred to this year’s budget climate as one in which we ought to be Rigged for Dive. But I’d like to close by suggesting that taking that phrase as a theme might be pretty sensible. After all, when a submarine is rigged for dive, the boat is tight and properly trimmed, with every valve checked and double-checked, aU hands on station and alert, and the entire organization poised and ready to move forward into
the great adventure ahead. That is the feeling I hope we can capture in the maritime defense establishment today: profes-sionally prepared, set for anything, and above all, heading forward into the sea, underway and ready for action.
Thank you for sharing your time with me today.