I am glad to have a chance to speak to you tonight and share some thoughts concerning submarines. I’m especially pleased to be here this year given the fact that this is such an interesting and critical time for submarines on the Hill. Submarines, as you no doubt know, are one of the top two or three defense acquisition issues on the Hill this year, maybe the number one issue.
In that regard I want to talk about three things with you tonight. First, I want to speak a little bit about the situation on the Hill and about the Fiscal 1996 budget request. Second, I want to share some thoughts with you regarding the New Attack Submarine in general, not necessarily connected to the Fiscal 1996 request itself. And third, I want to return to a topic that I have spoken about on the two previous occasions when I have appeared before the symposium, which is about Congress’ and the public’s understanding of the roles and missions of submarines, that is, the value of submarines in the post-Cold War era.
Regarding the first of those topics, Congress this year is facing three important and interrelated issues as it looks at the Fiscal 1996 budget requests for submarines. The first is whether to approve about $1.5 billion in new budget authority to complete funding for the third Seawolf. The second is whether to continue with the New Attack Submarine program, for which about $1.2B has been requested this year, including about $700M in advanced procurement funding for the program. And the third is who will build the New Attack Submarine-whether it should be Electric Boat or Newport News-and whether that should be decided by administrative allocation or by some use of competition.
If Electric Boat is the builder, we will wind up with the so called two-yard strategy for acquisition of nuclear-powered warships, where Electric Boat builds the subs and Newport News builds the carriers. If Newport News becomes the builder of the New Attack Submarine, we will wind up with the so-called one
yard strategy under which Newport News will be the builder of both submarines and carriers. The Navy, as you know, wants to allocate production of the New Attack Submarine to Electric Boat while Newport News and its supporters want the issue to be decided on the basis of a one-time, winner-take-all competition.
At this point, I don’t think anyone can be in a position to make a high-confidence forecast about how all this is going to tum out on the Hill this year, for at least three reasons. First, there are many possible courses that Congress may take on these interrelated issues. There are a wide variety of options that are open to the imagination and to pick any one of those as the most likely is a very difficult thing to do.
Second, as a result of the shift to a Republican-controlled Congress, there are a lot of individuals on the Hill this year, both Members and staffers, who are becoming involved more deeply in submarines for the first time and whose views on the issue may not yet be fully formed, even at this stage in the process. In fact they might not be fully formed until they actually have to cast a vote one way or the other.
And third, there’s a sizeable number of Members, both those who have been in Congress for some time and have followed defense issues for a number of years, and those who are relatively new to defense issues, who have no direct stake in submarines per se. So there is a large group of people out there that are open to be persuaded on the issue one way or the other.
What does seem clear to me is that the debate bas become focused primarily on the third of the three questions that I just mentioned. That is to say, the defense oversight committees have spent the most time focusing on the question of who should build the New Attack Submarine and how should that be decided, whether by allocation or by competition.
The fact that Congress has focused more on this third question rather than explicitly or individually on the other two has in my view had two important effects on the debate. First, the argument made by Newport News and its supporters that the builder of the New Attack Submarine should be selected by competition has among other things made it in my view more likely, other things held equal, that the SSN 23 will be funded. That is because advocates of such a competition have to be prepared to show that such a competition would feature a level playing field. Since the stakes of this competition would be enormously high, it is difficult to advocate a competition of this kind unless you are prepared to
show that support taking those steps that are necessary to level the playing field. Leveling the playing field requires that Electric Boat be a healthy competitor in fiscal 1998 and that in tum probably requires funding either SSN 23 or some other form of submarine construction work in the Fiscal 1996 column.
The second important effect that has come about as a result of the fact that Congress is focusing mostly on the question of who should build the New Attack Submarine is that this in effect implies a pre-existing answer to the question of whether we should build a New Attack Submarine. That is to say to the extent that Congress is focusing on the who question, the implication is that we have already in effect moved beyond the issue of whether we should move the New Attack Submarine into the procurement phase.
At the beginning of this year, my assessment was that the third Seawolf was very much endangered, and that the New Attack Submarine program was by comparison in a much stronger position. Four months later, my assessment is somewhat altered in two respects. First, I don’t think that the third Seawolf is as deeply endangered as I did at the beginning of the year. I’m not saying that the 23 is out of the woods by any means. It’s still very possible that Congress will in the end decide not to fund the boat. But odds against the 23 to me don’t seem as great today as they did at the beginning of the year.
Secondly, I don’t think that the New Attack Submarine is in as strong a position as I did at the beginning of the year. That may sound paradoxical because I just said a moment ago that Congress this year is focusing on the who question and that the debate has skipped over the question of whether we should be building it. But that is precisely why I don’t think the New Attack Submarine is in as strong a position as I did at the beginning of the year, because Congress has indeed in effect moved beyond the question of whether we should build a New Attack Submarine without really spending much time considering it in detail.
That leads me to the second of the three topics that I wanted to talk to you about tonight, which is the New Attack Submarine program in general, independent of the Fiscal 1996 request. On the New Attack Submarine program I have two general concerns at this point. The first, which I just mentioned, has to do with the foundation of support in Congress for the program. Three years ago, when I first spoke at this Symposium, I said that the challenge with the New Attack Submarine program wasn’t so much getting it started, but getting it finished. My argument then was that it would be important to the long-term success of the program to develop early on in Congress a strong sense of participation and involvement in the New Attack Submarine program, so that Congress could understand where the design came from and have a sense of ownership and stake holdersbip in the program.
Today. three years later, other than those who have a direct financial stake in the New Attack Submarine program, I don’t think much of a sense of participation and involvement has been developed. As a consequence, the foundation of support in Congress for the New Attack Submarine program does not appear very broad, and this may have adverse consequences for the program if and when something eventually causes the program to come under intensified scrutiny.
This situation is not something I would blame the Navy for. The Navy three years ago issued a very useful report to Congress on conceptual design considerations for the New Attack Submarine and since then the Navy has given many briefings to Members and to congressional staffers on various aspects of the program. So the Navy in my view did make the effort, did undertake to reach out and try to connect with people on the Hill on the New Attack Submarine program.
In spite of that effort, however, three years later Congress is in a position now where it is about ready to act on the request to approve the start of the procurement phase of the New Attack Submarine program without holding to my knowledge a single oversight hearing focused primarily on that program. Until now, the absence of focused review in the program in Congress has made it relatively easy for the Navy to continue with the program. There weren’t any hearings on it so there weren’t any extended question and answer sessions, and the program could keep going.
From here on out, however, the very limited record of congressional debate and consideration up until this point will in my view become a source of vulnerability to the program’s smooth continuation in the future. That is to say, sooner or later something may draw more attention to the program and at that point someone’s going to ask: How did we arrive at this point anyway? How did the program get started? What was the rationale? And at that point, there’s not going to be much of a record to point back to, to help answer that question. And that is why the current focus on the Hill on the issue of who should build the New Attack Submarine and the implicit skipping over of the question of whether we should be building it, whether it’s the right boat to build, is something that gives me cause for concern.
My second concern about the New Attack Submarine program, is one that I’ve bad for some time and in fact is one of the things that might begin to draw attention to the program sooner or later once it’s underway, namely the issue of affordability, particularly in view of possible future budget levels and the competing demands for modernization funding that will be in place after the tum of the century. As many of you know, I wrote a short report last year that discussed the issue of the affordability of the New Attack Submarine program in terms of the share of the shipbuilding budget that would be required to procure the boat and the numbers that the Navy wants. That report had a conditional conclusion. First, it concluded that a procurement rate of 1.S boats per year would not require a share of the shipbuilding budget that was much larger than the 20 percent average share that attack submarines bad during the cold war, provided that the Navy is successful under the recapitalization plan in its effort to increase the size of the shipbuilding budget by the tum of the century to a figure of about $9.5 billion in Fiscal 1998 dollars, and also provided that the New Attack Submarine doesn’t exceed the $1.S billion cost goal for the follow-on boats in the class. Secondly, the report concluded that a procurement rate of two boats per year, which is the Navy’s planned rate, would be affordable if a third additional condition was met, namely, that a decision is simply made to give attack submarine procurement a share of the shipbuilding budget that is about half again as large as that 20 percent historical share-that is, a share on the order of 30 percent.
The appropriations committees last year in their conference report on the defense appropriations bill expressed very strong concerns over the estimated cost of both the lead ship in the New Attack Submarine program and the follow ships. They suggested that their future support for the program would be contingent on the Navy making tangible progress towards the goal of reducing the estimated follow ship cost from the $1.5 billion figure down to about $1.2 billion, which is a 20 percent reduction. To emphasize this point I’m going to read to you the language out of the Fiscal 1995 appropriations conference report in compressed form: “The conferees agree to provide full funding for NAS but maintain strong reservations with the current program. Over the next five years the Navy wants to spend nearly $7 .1 billion for continued development and to initiate production of the NAS. The conferees do not believe the Navy’s budget will sustain this level of investment … The conferees continue to believe that the Navy should seek ways to reduce costs below the $1.54 billion plan with a goal of producing a $1.2 billion submarine. The conferees are not convinced that Congress will support the purchase of a $1.5 billion attack submarine should that price be achieved .. .In its FY1996 budget, the Navy will be seeking nearly $1.2 billion for the NAS program. The conferees do not anticipate providing this amount unless the Navy has demonstrated a commitment to reduce costs and can cite concrete evidence of its ability to produce the NAS program in a streamlined, efficient, and cost-effective manner. The Navy can expect the Appropriations Committees to propose alternatives in conjunction with the FY1996 budget if the Navy ignores this guidance.”
It’s fairly strong language. Although some of the people involved in the issue have shifted since last year as a result of the shift in the majority control of Congress, many of the people who were involved in looking at the program closely last year are still doing so this year. So it’s not clear that this language can necessarily be ignored because we now have a Republican controlled Congress.
There are a couple of other things that I want to mention to help round out my discussion of the affordability situation. The first is to note that the defense spending levels that are emerging out of the House budget resolution process and the Senate budget resolution process suggest that, given competing Republican priorities for balancing the budget, for reducing federal spending and the size of the government, and for cutting taxes, the potential for increasing defense spending in real terms may be somewhat limited. That is, the difference in size between a Republican defense budget and a Democratic defense budget may not necessarily be as substantial as some people might have anticipated perhaps earlier this year or late last year.
Lastly, it has become increasingly clear over the past year that procurement bow waves are currently building up in various parts of the Navy and in the other military services as well and that this is setting the stage for an intense competition for modernization resources that will occur soon after the turn of the century. Elsewhere in the Navy we are beginning to build up a bow wave in surface combatant procurement and in certain kinds of carrier based aircraft. The same kind of thing could happen with tactical aircraft in the other services. There has been now for the better part of a year an issue about Anny modernization and a parallel issue regarding Marine Corps modernization. Just a couple of days ago, before the Seapower subcommittee of the Senate Armed Service Committee, there was a hearing on the Navy’s littoral warfare requirements and the Marine Corps witness, General Wilhelm, toward the end of that hearing made mention of the fact you can’t modernize the Marine Corps on pocket change. That’s the sort of situation we might be getting into across the board.
Three years ago, when I first spoke at this symposium, I argued that the submarine community needed to expand its outreach efforts and begin talking more about missions other than anti-submarine warfare that can be performed by submarines, and about the contribution that submarines could make in post-Cold War scenarios involving adversaries other than the Russians. Today, three years later, I think a lot of progress has been made in this regard. Submarines are much less frequently dismissed outright as Cold War relics. There is also a wider awareness of the value of submarines in missions other than ASW and the potential role of submarines in non-Russian-oriented contingencies. For me, the most vivid example of the submarine community’s successful efforts in this regard, the culmination of it for me personally, was a television segment that was broadcast a few months ago on an ABC show entitled Behind the Scenes. On this segment, the host, Joan Lunden, was aboard a 688 and it was really striking how the value of the boat was being explained to the audience not in terms of anti-submarine warfare, not in terms of fighting the Russians, but mostly in terms of surveillance, in terms of Tomahawk strikes, and in terms of inserting special operations forces-all that being for regional contingencies. As I sat there watching I thought: “‘Wow, we’re really a long way from where we were three years ago, and from the perception that submarines are basically just ASW platforms that go out and fight the Russians-the sort of thing that you get when you see movies like The Hunt for Red October that focus on that old Cold War scenario.” When I was watching the television I thought: “That is a lot of progress from where the Navy and where the submarine community was three years ago.”
This effort in my view succeeded in altering the conventional wisdom that Russian military production had collapsed across the board and it also succeeded in breaking down the apparent taboo that was in place against citing Russian military construction activities as a basis for planning part of U.S. general-purpose forces. It was no small accomplishment for the Navy to buck the tide in that regard and start talking about something that really went against the prevailing tide of opinion and wisdom.
The problem is that this effort has now gone so far that all we’re bearing now is Russia, Russia, Russia. It makes me think of Jan Brady from the Brady Bunch always complaining about her sister-“Marcia, Marcia, Marcial” My concern is that the emphasis on Russia bas gone so far that it threatens to undo the progress that has been made to date in breaking down the old stereotype about submarines being primarily ASW platforms. rm not second-guessing the Navy for choosing to stress Russian submarine production to help make its case for Seawolf-level-stealthy boats, including the third Seawolf. It is a very simple and direct argument to make. It can be easily understood and it appears to have registered. But if the Russian side of the justification continues to dominate the discussion much longer, then the general image of the submarine might wind up not too far away from where it started three years ago. That is, as something that is perceived primarily as a platform for anti-submarine warfare against now-Russian submarines. Such a one-dimensional image of submarines would not be an advantage in a competition for scarce modernization funds against other procurement priorities that can show direct relevance to meeting needs in regional contingencies. In this connection it is perhaps symbolically a coincidence that tomorrow we are going to witness the opening of another submarine movie, Crimson Tuie, which based on its trailers appears to be something that very much represents a return to the older stereotyped image of what submarines are and what they do.
I want to close by mentioning one other thing that may pose a challenge to submarines in the future competition for modernization funds, and that is the relationship that submarines have to the revolution in military affairs. Three or four years ago, when the New Attack Submarine was only a general concept, a lot of innovative ideas were in circulation about how submarines in the future might be considerably different from what they are today. And those ideas are still there. You are talking about them at this symposium,. But they appear to be less prominent among the people that I work with now that the New Attack Submarine has become more of a clearly defined entity, and as a result, the arena of submarine design and development now looks less exciting and dynamic then it did a few years ago.
The technologies spoken of a few years ago were not meant for the New Attack Submarine. They are meant for a follow-on generation. So it’s not as if the New Attack Submarine is somehow less revolutionary than it was expected to be. I’m not saying that. But I am saying that the emergence of the New Attack Submarine as a more clearly defined design has put it in contrast to certain other modernization areas which, if only by virtue of still being at an earlier stage of development, appear to retain more of a sense of dynamic possibility for how they could form a part of the revolution in military affairs. Within the Navy, the two examples that I think of in particular are the Surface Combatant 21 (SC21}, which carries with it the possibility of a revised fleet architecture-something I think a lot of people aregoing to be interested in-and the JAST program, which promises to produce an advanced ASTOVL plane-something that could significantly alter the shape of sea-based aviation. People looking at those programs can develop a sense of excitement. They are not going to get that in submarines anymore, because the New Attack Submarine is now a known quantity rather than a general concept into which desires and preferences can be poured.
Developments like UUV’s and submarine launched ATCM offer interesting possibilities for expanding the capabilities of the submarine in ways that are very consistent with and will help bring about something that someone might call or be interested in viewing as a revolution in military affairs. Even taking this into account, however, the submarine’s current connection to the revolution in military affairs at this point appears to some degree to be rather a passive one. That is to say, submarines stand in relation to the revolution in military affairs as platforms that would inherit a larger share of the Navy and a larger share of Navy force structure if it turns out that surface ships cannot meet challenges to their survivability posed by advanced anti-ship weapons and advanced underwater weapons. In other words, if surface ships drop the ball, submarines can pick it up and thereby become a more dominant part of the fleet. That’s a passive way for submarines to be in on the revolution. It might tum out that surface ships won’t be able to demonstrate their survivability against advanced weapons. But the submarine community would be in a stronger position in the coming competition for resources if it can show that the submarine will play a key role in bringing about the revolution in military affairs even if surface ships do succeed in demonstrating that they’ll be survivable against these advanced weapons. In short, and in conclusion, when it comes to the revolution in military affairs, supporters of submarines should strive to be in the same position that U.S. submarines are in when U.S. naval forces enter into a hostile operating area. That is to say, they should be out in front, leading the others, and not simply waiting for others to fail. Thank you.