Good evening and thank you. It is a pleasure to be with you this evening because I get another chance to talk about one of our national treasures, the Unites States Submarine Force.
I realize that you all are here because you are concerned about submarines and that you have indeed heard at least some of the current saga of the submarine, but I think it’s worth reflecting on again this evening.
What I want to do is describe a little bit about why I feel the United States needs submarines and highlight the basic issues that face the force this year.
The entering argument to our naval defense needs is that we are an island nation, dependent upon the free flow of ocean-going commerce to sustain our way of life. Following that thought is that commerce will not flow freely unless we keep the oceans free for our use, that we remain strong enough to prevail where another nation would deny our use of the oceans or would deny the flow of our commerce. We have chosen to meet our threats beyond our shores, not waiting until the problem reaches the mouth of the Chesapeake or the Golden Gate, but instead taking on would-be challengers forward, across the seas that surrounds our nation.
Forward … From the Sea is our naval strategy for making this happen.
Our nuclear submarines are a key element of this strategy. The inherent stealth, mobility, firepower and endurance they bring to a battlespace allows them to dominate many mission areas in their own right as well as contribute in a big way to overall force effectiveness. Today Joint Task Force Commanders deploy with submarines integrated within their battle forces that contribute to a wide range of missions. For example: the Tomahawk cruise missile allows the Commander the delivery of a low risk strike engagement. Special Forces can be covertly delivered and recovered for a variety of purposes. Countering a submarine threat is still best done with the Commander’s submarines. Covertly planted minefields can be laid with impunity. Surface ships can be attacked at long distance with cruise missiles or up close and personal with torpedoes. Forward presence is enhanced by the submarine’s unique ability to control its visibility. Surveillance, indication, and warning allow data collection that is often available from no other source. We used them to help defeat Iraq, restore democracy in Haiti, support operations in the Adriatic, and counter drug operations as well. Today’s Joint Task Force Commanders recognize that the submarine is an extremely versatile platform and use them accordingly.
The questions facing our country today are two: first, whether or not we will retain our submarine warfighting dominance; and second, whether or not an industrial base capable of producing advanced technology submarines will survive. Other nations are building nuclear submarines, some of which are every bit as quiet, or quieter, than the ones we have today. Some nations are building or buying conventional submarines, which will potentially allow them to wield affordable superpower influence. Today roughly 600 submarines are operated worldwide by over 40 nations. Since 1990 the number of countries with an indigenous industrial diesel submarine construction capability has grown by five as Australia, Brazil, Turkey, South Korea and India have joined the ranks.
As a military commander, I can tell you that I have missions waiting for advanced submarines today. The unanswered question is whether we will have the submarines we need tomorrow. And the answer to that question centers, of course, on their afford-ability.
Our answer to the questions, the Navy’s plan of action is twofold:
- build the SSN 23, the third and final Seawolf class submarine
- commence low rate production of the New Attack Submarine (NSSN).
There have been some 10 studies of the nuclear submarine industrial base conducted between 1992 and 1994 that have shown this plan to be a fiscally responsible means of maintaining the ability to build submarines in this country.
Why should we build the SSN 23? First, and most importantly from my viewpoint, it gives us a military capability I need today. Secondly, it capitalizes on the $900 million already invested on the project and maximizes the affordability of the New Attack Submarine. Thirdly, SSN 23 serves as a construction bridge to allow retention of both perishable industrial skills and a perishable vendor base needed to support a future building program.
Why should we build the NSSN? For the same reasons we need SSN 23. Because new submarines of potential adversaries are getting better, eroding the substantial advantage that we once enjoyed in stealth.
The question of what to build to recover that advantage-more Seawolfs, more 688 Los Angeles submarines or the NSSN-is both a business and military one.
We have improved our 688 submarines to the point that the margin for further improvement of that platform in quietness or capability is very nearly gone. There are capabilities in areas such as communications, special warfare, and mine countermeasures that need improvement in view of currently available technology and the Navy’s shift in emphasis to littoral engagements. Additionally, an affordable submarine with the requisite technical characteristics and capabilities is essential if we are to meet force level needs of the future.
In view of these factors the right submarine to build is neither another Los Angeles class submarine nor another Seawolf, but rather a more affordable submarine with Seawolf quietness and advanced systems.
An affordable submarine is likewise essential if we are to sustain the submarine industrial base, an industrial base that has no civilian equivalent, and an industrial base supported by unique vendors. [Editor’s Note: See Figure 1.]
Vendor base. That, of course, means you. All of those 10 or so studies I mentioned earlier repeatedly concluded that you all will have a rough time staying in business if you don’t get some business. The studies also say that if you get out of the submarine business, that the cost of getting back into the business will be high; perhaps so high that neither you nor the country can afford to ever start again. That makes sense to me. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that if you have to wait six years between job orders, those jobs will be pretty expensive.
That’s the time period we are looking at if the SSN 23 is not authorized in 1996. The last year we authorized construction of a submarine was 1991, when both a Trident and the SSN 22 were authorized. We need the SSN 23 authorized in 1996. We need the NSSN program as funded in the President’s FY96 budget and the associated FYDP.
The Submarine Force is downsizing, just like the rest of the Navy, just like the rest of the armed forces. But as with the other services, too much downsizing will impact our ability to carry out our assigned missions. [Editor’s Note: See Figure 2.]
If we were to rob Peter to pay Paul, we could refuel some of our older submarines and slow the rate at which the force level declined.
If we were to rob Peter again to pay Paul we could do some research and maybe extend the life of our older submarines to postpone the numerical crisis for a few years. But the fact remains that the relative quality of these forces will decline compared to those being built by other nations. The fact remains that the government’s budget is a zero sum budget, and therefore money we use to maintain older submarines will not be available to invest in more capable submarines needed in the future.
Further, without a building program, I fear there will be no industrial base to get us started again when this country finally decides we need to build them.
I believe that our national dominance in the undersea battle-space is at stake. I am fully engaged in keeping my military and civilian commanders aware of this issue and briefing them on the potential consequences. I am convinced we need this submarine’s military capability. I am convinced we need this submarine as an industrial bridge to the NSSN. It makes good military sense; it makes good business and fiscal sense.