Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


Those of you who were here last year, when I was one of the luncheon speakers, will recall that I started my presen-tation by announcing that I was convening the post-lunch indigestion  club.   I  then  proceeded  to  say  some  things  that. probably did make it a little hard to digest a meal.

Well, here we are a year later, you’ve just finished your dinner, and apparently the symposium organizers were concerned that you might enjoy it a little too much, because here I am again.

Are submariners masochists’? Or are they just into that quote from Nietzsche about how things that don’t destroy me make me stronger’?

Of course, I realize I’m here only because Deputy Secretary Perry couldn’t make it. I’m sure you were looking forward to bearing Deputy Secretary Perry speak at this banquet, and I would have wanted to hear his remarks as well. But perhaps it isn’t too surprising that he was unable to appear before you tonight, given the press of work he must now face.

In fact, when I think of the many issues now facing the new Pentagon leadership and then consider the small number of people now in place at the Pentagon to handle this tremendous workload, I am reminded of the famous scene from the I Love Lucy show where Lucy and Ethel are in the candy factory, trying desperately to individually wrap the candies as they come down the conveyor belt at ever higher speeds. I just hope the new Pentagon leader-ship can get all their work done without having to resort to the kind of tactics that Lucy and Ethel had to employ.

I’m sure that Deputy Secretary Perry would have bad many interesting things to say. But my guess is that he probably would not have been able to make definitive comments on the one issue that many of us are the most anxious to hear something definitive on-the Administration’s plans for the future of the submarine industrial base. That issue, as you know, has been kicked into the Bottom-Up Review, and it would be very surprising if Deputy Secretary Perry could make any definite announcements about the Administration’s plans while this review is underway.

More likely, at the end of his address, we’d all be in the position of trying to glean hidden meanings from his understand-ably limited remarks on the matter, like a fortune teller trying to read tea leaves in the bottom of the cup. We might be able to make various speculations, but in the end we’d be back where we started, and where we have been for more than a year now, which is waiting for the Executive Branch to come forward with a clear statement of its intentions.

For many who follow submarine-related issues, it is this situation of having to wait, and wait, and wait, for the official word that perhaps best characterizes the current situation regarding submarines.

We do know a few things. We know that there is no subma-rine in the FY94 budget submitted to Congress, and that fitting one into the FY95 budget could prove particularly difficult, given the plan to fund the remainder of the new aircraft carrier, CNV-76, in that same year. We know that defense budgets over the next several years will be very constrained, and that submarines will likely be procured at a very low rate. As a consequence, it’s probably safe to say that, in the long run, there will only be one submarine builder, whether it’s Electric Boat, Newport News, or some combination of the two. It may also be safe to say that the long-term attack submarine force level goal may wind up in the range of 40 to 45, but almost certainly not more than about 55. And finally, it appears that, for many in the submarine communi-ty, the hoped-for outcome from the Centurion cost and operational effectiveness analysis (COEA) would be a new-design SSN in the 6,000 to 7,000 ton range.

But that’s about all we can be fairly confident of at this stage. A lot of the rest is up for grabs.

While the Bottom-Up Review is in progress, an important public discussion is occurring about the future of Navy force structure. In my remarks last year, I focused on the attack submarine component of that debate. This year, I want to step back a bit by placing the debate over the future of the attack submarine force in the broader context of the current debate over the future of Navy force structure in general. In that regard, I want to make three points.

Submarines and Eight Old Habits of Thought

The first point has to do with the ideas and concepts-the intellectual and to some degree emotional baggage, if you will-that is being carried into this new debate over Navy force structure. One of my principal themes last year was that the attack submarine is viewed by many outside the submarine community as primarily a Cold War ASW platform, and that this stereotype had to be overcome if attack submarines were to be given a fair day in court.

Today. a year later, it has become more clear to me that this stereotype of attack submarines being primarily for ASW is only one example of a collection of oversimplified and outdated notions about naval forces. and naval force-structure planning, that can cause confusion and interfere with the process of identifying naval requirements and a corresponding naval force structure for the post-Cold War era. There are many old habits of thought, as I call them, including eight which I consider to be on the top tier because of their breadth and the frequency with which I have encountered them.

Some of these concepts had some value in naval force-structure planning during the Cold War. but some of them were incorrect even during the Cold War, and all of them today are outdated. oversimplified, or just plain wrong. I want to go through them for you briefly now.

  • The first of these oversimplified ideas is that regional conflicts can safely be considered lesser included cases of the larger East-West war on which U.S. defense planning was previously based.

It would be more accurate to say that while the overall scale of regional conflicts will be smaller than a global war, regional conflict scenarios can in fact stress military forces along certain dimensions more than the big war scenario. RegionaJ conflicts can feature compressed, complex battle spaces with a potentially complicating political overlay. Rather than viewing them as lesser included cases, it would be more appropriate, in my view, to simply view them as different cases. In some ways, they may stress those forces more.

  • The second of these outdated concepts is that navies exist primarily to fight other navies.

Again,  this  is an oversimplification.   It  would  be  more accurate to state that navies exist in part to fight opposing military forces, both land- and sea-based, and that this has been particular-ly true since the development in the 20th century of amphibious forces, sea-based aircraft. long-range missiles, and improved communications.

  • The third old habit of thought is that it takes three ships to keep one forward deployed. This figure is far too low, because it fails to fully account for personnel tempo limits, overhauls, and transit time. It would be more accurate to state that for U.S. homeported ships, it takes 4 to S ships to keep one on station in the Mediterranean, S to 8 for the Arabian Sea, and 4 to 6 for the Western Pacific. A global average figure for attack submarines is S. 7.
  • The fourth outdated concept is that the carrier battle group is the primary building block of the Navy. Given the Navy’s recent experimentation with new and innovative formations under the concepts of naval expeditionary forces and joint adaptive force packages, this concept is increas-ingly problematic. In the post-cold War era, it may be more accurate and useful to conceive of naval forces as modular entities that may include varying combinations of ships.
  • The fifth is that the number of carriers moves in tandem with the size of the Navy’s budget. This is a corollary of the idea that CVBGs are the primary building blocks of the Navy. Now that the cookie-cutter concept of the CVBG is breaking down, it is no longer as true that carriers drive the Navy’s budget, and that a reduction in the size of the Navy’s budget must therefore lead to a reduction in the number of carriers.
  • The sixth old habit of thought is that an inability to fill out all the carriers’ decks with full air wings of 80+ aircraft on a sustained basis is necessarily grounds for reducing the number of carriers.

This may have had some validity during the Cold War, given the potential need to tight a global war at sea on short notice, but it is less persuasive in the post-cold War era, with its focus on regional conflicts.

  • The seventh oversimplification is that carriers are primarily for the deep strike mission.

Carriers are simply a way of taking tactical aircraft to sea, and tactical aircraft perform a variety of missions, of which deep strike may not be the most important.

  • The eighth and final oversimplification is that attack submarines are primarily ASW platforms. I have encountered these eight old habits of thought frequently enough that I wrote a short report a few weeks ago discussing why they were oversimplified and outdated. It would do no good, after all, for policymakers to reexamine Navy force structure for the post-cold War era, if the reexamination itself relied on outmoded Cold War concepts.

Now as you can see, most of these old habits of thought have to do with naval forces generally, or with parts of the Navy other than submarines, notably aircraft carriers. Nevertheless, because it establishes part of the broader setting within which the subma-rine community’s voice is attempting to be heard, this complex of outdated notions has potentially important implications for the submarine community.

One potential implication is that the submarine community might not succeed in breaking out of the ASW ghetto if it confines its efforts to overcoming this single stereotype involving subma-rines. If the submarine community speaks up only to correct misconceptions relating directly to submarines, and not those relating to the Navy as a whole, then its arguments may come to be viewed as self-serving and therefore of questionable merit. And if most of this complex of outdated notions remains in place, then in the end it may make little difference for the submarine community if the one stereotype concerning submarines is overturned. The fortunes of the submarine force, in other words, will to a significant degree be influenced by the fortunes of the Navy as a whole.

Submarines and the Force 2001 Plan

The second point I want to discuss, which is related to the first, concerns the Force 2001 plan that has emerged from the work done in the assessment office headed by Vice Admiral Owens, yesterday’s luncheon speaker.

This plan is important not only because of the influence it will have on the current debate over future Navy force structure, but because of the effect it may have on the Navy’s standing with a variety of outside audiences. Even before Tailhook, the Navy had worked itself into a position where it was viewed by many in a number of unfavorable lights-as a foot-dragging, head-in-the-sand service that was unwilling to fully recognize and adapt to the changing strategic and budgetary environment of the post-Cold War era, as an arrogant, do-it-alone service that was unwilling to listen and work with others, and as an overly politicized organiza-tion that was gridlocked by jealous, competing internal interests.

This perception was in many respects unfair or an oversimplifi-cation, but it was fairly widespread. As a result, the advent of the Tailhook scandal only added to an aJready serious set of image problems facing the Navy.

The Force 2001 plan, and perhaps just as important, the new ~essment process that led it, has the potential for contributing significantly to the Navy’s efforts to show how the various elements of this perception are either incorrect or are in the process of being redressed. From my own perspective, I can say that for the last two or three years, I had been telling various audiences about the political hole that the Navy had dug itself into. Now, in large part because of this new plan, and the process behind it, I am telling a very different story-a story of a service that seems to have made a dramatic turnabout, and which may now be ahead of the other services in adapting to the post-Cold War era and reconciling its program desires with realistic levels of future funding.

I can’t say whether the Force 2001 plan is the best possible plan that might have emerged from the Navy’s deliberations, or that it is without serious error. Nor can I say whether the submarine community was treated fairly in the deliberative process. Reportedly, there were at least a few heated arguments in the meetings that were held, and it is quite possible that at least some in the submarine community feel that their arguments weren’t fully appreciated or acted on. But for better or worse, this plan is now emerging into the open domain, and so far, it has received generally good reviews. In many respects, it appears to be the best foot that the Navy has put forward in several years.

Like the old habits of thought I discussed earlier, this plan, though it deals with the Navy as a whole, and not just with submarines, has implications for the submarine community. The Force 2001 plan will be revised further in the months ahead, and if the submarine community feels it can make a case internally for a revision that would increase the attack boat presence in the plan, then it should consider doing so.

But by the same token, because this plan represents a strongly articulated future course for the Navy, the connection between it and the submarine community needs to be made clear and strong. In other words, the challenge now is not just to simply argue the merits of attack submarines in the abstract, but to explain how attack submarines fit into this plan; not just why submarines are valuable, but why attack submarines make sense as a component of a plan that includes a variety of different platforms, each with their strengths and weaknesses.

Last year, I said that I wasn’t sure how many attack submarines the United States needed for the post-Cold War era, but that I didn’t want policymakers to make a decision on this issue without hearing the best argument that the submarine community can make. I would still make that statement today. But the best argument that the submarine community can make today, in my view, is not simply an argument about submarines themselves. A strident, self-absorbed argument about submarines made in iso~ation from the broader debate will serve the interests of neither the submarine community nor the policymalcers who may make decisions affecting its future.

The best argument the submarine community can make, in my view, is something broader. It is an argument about naval forces, and of how submarines can form part of a Navy that makes sense for the post-Cold War era. It is an argument that says something about submarines, but at the same time is grounded in something larger than the submarine community. That is the kind of argument the submarine community should consider working toward.

The Manufacturing Process and Related Specifications

My third and final point has to do with acquisition costs and how they are influenced by manufacturing processes and the specifications related to them. The defense establishment is entering a period of low or very low procurement rates, which poses two basic problems. One is how to maintain the minimum essential elements of the industrial base for designing, producing, and maintaining various weapons. The submarine industrial base, as Secretary Aspin, Deputy Secretary Perry, and many others have remarked, represents perhaps the most difficult case in point. But though we are still waiting for the Administration to announce its plan for addressing this issue, the problem at least has been widely discussed in the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the press.

Less attention, however, appears to have been paid to the second challenge posed by the prospect of a low-rate procurement environment, and that is the challenge of producing at low rates in an economic fashion. Again, this is a problem for the defense establishment as a whole, but it is not clear to me that the submarine community has taken up this challenge as comprehen-sively as some other parts of the defense community.

To be sure, the submarine community has implemented modular construction, which was a significant change in the design and assembly process, and it is now exploring the potential of computer-aided design, on which there will be at least one presentation tomorrow. But it is not clear that these are the only two potential sources of significant improvement in the construc-tion process.

There is one other area of potential improvement to investigate, and that has to do with manufacturing processes and the specifica-tions related to them. Last year at this conference, there was a fairly strong spoken presentation made on the topic of specifica-tions, particularly how specifications have been layered on top of one another over time, and could potentially be much simplified through a long overdue process of rationalization. Unfortunately, you won’t find a record of this presentation in the Proceedings of last year’s conference, because this speaker submitted a formally prepared paper that doesn’t go into the issue in quite the same way.

But since that time, I have raised the topic of manufacturing processes and specifications in conversations I have had with a variety of parties in the submarine community, and what strikes me is the sharply different responses my questions have prompted. Some of the people I have spoken to on this topic have reacted with a lack of interest, or with a defensive attitude. Others, in contrast, have expressed a strong interest in the potential of revised manufacturing processes and specifications to achieve substantial reductions in acquisition costs without a reduction in system performance or production quality.

As examples of the parties I have spoken to, one individual I spoke with expressed a view that the cost savings that can be achieved in this area are probably very small, perhaps just a couple of percent. This individual is a major player in this issue and I certainly have to give weight to his view.

But another party, in this case, the producer of a fairly significant component that goes aboard submarines, expressed a view, based on a study they had performed long before I raised the topic with them, that outdated specifications and other mandated aspects of the manufacturing process unnecessarily increased the production cost of their component by about one-third. It was also their view that a later step in the acquisition process unnecessarily added another 20 percent to the cost of the unit. That’s a total of more than 50 percent additional cost. Moreover, the view of the managers and engineers at this firm was that outdated specifications and other unnecessary, cost-increasing features of the production process added similarly large and unnecessary premiums to the cost of other major components in the submarine as well.

I don’t know if the correct view is that of the first individual I mentioned, of the component manufacturer, or whether the truth is somewhere in between. But what I don’t detect is very much enthusiasm in either the Navy or parts of industry to explore this issue vigorously, so that its potential benefits may be fully identified and more accurately estimated.

Clearly, the submarine community has a strong financial interest in identifying ways to reduce cost without reducing unit capability. In the long run, sustaining a 45 boat goal will require procuring about one and a half boats a year, and the savings that might be achieved in this area conceivably could help malce the difference between being able to procure one boat versus one and a half boats.

But it is not just for financial reasons that the submarine community has a potential stalce in exploring this issue more thoroughly. We are in an era of change, and credit goes to those who can show that they are meeting that change actively, in all its aspects, and are leaving no stones untumed in search of better ways of doing business.

The tactical aircraft and submarine communities are different in many ways. But they share a common post-Cold War problem of platform afford ability. In the Air Force, General Lob, the commander of the Air Combat Command, is responding to the prospect of low procurement rates by investigating and energetical-ly promoting the concept of lean procurement. In an address earlier this year, he stated that “developing a smart, realistic production rate strategy” requires “buildling} the organization from the bottom up for low rate procurement, not try[ingl to fit them into what”s left over from a large, high-overhead, big-rate infrastructure. But that’s not easy …{lt involves} overhead, organization, and the production line-in essence, the entire enterprise must change physically and culturally. “1 As part of their work in this area, the Air Force is exploring, among other things, the potential for incorporating innovations from auto manufacturing into the aircraft manufacturing process.2

In addition to General Lob’s lean manufacturing initiative, flag and general officers in the Navy, Air Force and Anny with responsibility for aircraft procurement have recently formed a Joint Aeronautical Commanders Group to explore the potential for achieving more efficient production processes through, among other things, changes in standards, specifications, policies, and procedures.’

And just a few days ago, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) launched a comprehensive study on affordable aircraft acquisition that will involve numerous representatives from government and industry and will discuss a variety of topics, such as Jean manufacturing. Deputy Secretary Perry was scheduled to give an address at the opening session to provide guidance for the study.

Enthusiasm and coordinated effort of this kind are not equally apparent in the area of submarines. If comparable efforts are underway in the submarine community, they should be better advertised. If comparable efforts are not underway, this should be reexamined.

With defense funding heading downward, it is increasingly imperative for supporters of a given kind of platform to show not just that they intend to make a new and better platform, but that they have investigated the potential for making it in a new and innovative way. Supporters that present a plan to make a new item in the same old way will be at an increasing disadvantage.

Now there are many significant differences between aircraft production and submarine production, and many aspects of submarine production are unique. As a consequence, it may be that upon thorough investigation, it will turn out that the potential savings to be achieved in this area for submarines are indeed limited and perhaps not even worth pursuing. But if the subma-rine community caMot show that it has investigated this area in a comprehensive and thorough manner, then it risks looking poor by comparison to other parts of the military.

Deputy Secretary Perry, in his confirmation testimony, in effect said that if we can solve the industrial base problem for subma-rines, we can solve it for most any other part of the military industrial base. In that same spirit, it might be said that if the manufacturing process can be significantly improved for subma-rines, which pose a unique and difficult case, then it can be improved for many other defense products as well. Just imagine how views and opinions might be transformed if the submarine community could bring a new and innovative set of manufacturing processes to the table.

To date, the submarine community has showed some dynamism in terms of thinking about new kinds of submarine capabilities and missions, and how new technologies can contribute to them. Much of this year’s conference is devoted to this theme. This effort is important, and it should continue. But conceiving of new capabilities and missions is not such a wrenching process, and by itself can come to be viewed from the outside as simply an expansive, self-promoting undertaking. This effort can be given more credibility, and the case for the submarine community being a dynamic community can be made much more convincing, if this effort is paired with the potentially more wrenching process of reexamining manufacturing processes and the specifications that relate to them.

In summary, my message is a basic one-that the attack submarine community can be an important part of a dynamic, new Navy, but that its chances for fully achieving that position are reduced if the issues facing submarines are viewed and addressed primarily within the confines of the submarine world. By helping to break down old habits of thought for naval forces in general, by showing how submarines fit into the Force 2001 plan, and by fully exploring all potential areas of acquisition reform, including the potentially wrenching ones, the submarine community can play on a larger field. In doing so, it can make a stronger case for itself, and a more useful case for poJicymakers facing very difficult decisions.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League