[Ed. Note: The following article is reprinted from Defense News.]
In his June 28-July 4 Inside View “CENTURION Makes No Sense”, James George argues against the Navy’s new attack submarine, the CENTURION. His thesis is that “there is a fairly long list of cheaper, affordable alternatives, and, best of all they can truly save money for what the [Adm. Hyman] Rickover-trained Navy really wants-a better, not less capable submarine.” As the U.S. Navy’s Director of Submarine Warfare, I would like to respond to the issues raised by George.
First, regarding the general implication by George that the Navy and the Submarine Force remain rooted in an antiquated mindset: The U.S. Navy is committed to reshaping itself after the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Nowhere is this commitment more evident than within the nuclear-attack Submarine Force. Attack submarine levels by 1999 will go from a projected force of somewhere around 100 submarines to about 50. And that is exactly as Rickover would have had it.
George argues that the answer to “the Navy’s quadruple problem of retiring, building, increasing capabilities and saving the industrial base” should somehow involve a high-low mix of submarines, the low end being diesel-powered submarines and the high end being nuclear submarines. This strikes me as the wrong solution to the wrong question.
The right question is this: How do we shape the Submarine Force in response to fiscal pressure and the reality of a less capable threat while at the same time advancing those technologies considered critical in meeting the potential challenge of a capable worse-case threat?
You do not get at the right solution to this difficult problem through discussions of what type of engines a particular vessel should or should not have. You get the right solution by critically examining what it is our country needs. Thoughtful reflection based on my years of submarine experience leads me to the following requirements.
What this nation needs, what the defense establishment and our Navy must provide, are submarines that fully exploit the enduring characteristics of mobility, endurance and stealth. Our nation needs multipurpose submarines that are able to travel a long way. in some cases halfway around the globe, in a short time.
When a crises pops up in some distant corner of the planet some 20 or 30 years hence, America·s leaders will not want to wait while the Navy gets itself into a position to respond. By the time a “more affordable” submarine arrives, it may well be too late.
The nation needs submarines that can remain deployed overseas and unsupported for months at a time. Silent, unobtrusive, non provocative, stealthy to a fault and requiring resupply and support only when food runs out, submarines for years have maintained lonely vigils in hot spots around the world.
What value is there in a “cheaper” submarine that has to return to port and refuel every month? And if you are going to maintain the constant coverage, just how many of these cheaper submarines do you need?
We need to provide a submarine that can survive in battle and can disengage one enemy and re-engage another immediately. If a submarine cannot get itself out of the way of an incoming torpedo, cannot take its highly trained crew out of harm’s way, then I contend it is of little value, no matter how inexpensive it may have been to buy.
Finally, we need to maintain those highly perishable, technical skills required to design, build and put to sea submarines that are second to none. While some would argue that building the best is no longer in America’s interest, pursuing cheap alternatives would be a hazard to our nation’s future.
The answer to these needs exists in an integrated force-shaping plan that details the actions required to pare the force to about 55 submarines by 2000. This plan recommends production in 1998 of the first of a highly capable submarine class, one that will serve the American people for as many as 40 years. It exists in an integrated plan that will ensure the long-term health and viability of critical submarine designing and building skills.
Finally, it exists in an integrated plan that gets us where we need to go without breaking the bank. CENTURION, America’s submarine of the future, is a key element of this carefully crafted plan. As part of a total, balanced solution, CENTURION makes perfect sense.