Tonight we’re here to honor giants. For when the technological history of America is finally written, the feats of those who achieved the successful marriage of the long range ballistic missile to the world’s first true stealth platform, the nuclear submarine, will receive their just dessert, their recognition as giants. It was a monumental task; we marvel today at this achievement in five years.
At the program start, the setting was grim; Cold War increasingly frigid; Soviets had developed the bomb; had massive land based missiles; long-range bombers; large number of submarines; launched the first earth-circling satellite Sputnik in 1957; put missiles on diesel submarines in 1958.
Rear Admiral Raborn was assigned as Director of Special Projects in early December 1955. In his top secret Letter of Guidance (now declassified) of 2 December 1955, the CNO stated (I’ll quote in part):
“1. It is quite evident that we must move fast on this fleet ballistic missile and that our present schedules for shipboard launching are not good enough … ”
“2. In view of the fact that the President wants a report monthly, I, of course, will want a report weekly and, like the President, I will want it to be a progress report… (My edit: there will be progress.)
“3. If Rear Admiral Raborn runs into any difficulty with which I can help, I will want to know about it at once along with his recommended course of action… If more money is needed, we will get it. If he needs more people, those people will be ordered in. If there is anything that slows this project up beyond the capacity of the Navy Department we will immediately take it to the highest level… In taking this type of action we must be reasonably sure we are right and at least know the possible consequences of being wrong because we will be disrupting many other programs in order to make achievement in this one if we are not careful. That is all right if we really make an achievement.”
“4. The Air Force has got a tremendous amount of enthusiasm which they demonstrate behind their project and we must have even more … ”
“5. The next report on this should be made by somebody who is enthusiastic, who gives evidence of his enthusiasm, and whose knowledge demonstrates that he has a thorough grasp of the problem and is pushing ahead just a little bit faster than anybody else could.” Signed: Arleigh Burke.
Rear Admiral Raborn became the Director three days later.
Raborn was enthusiastic and the special projects team pushed ahead and delivered. The team was remarkably successful-a government-industrial partnership of immense productivity; methodical and relentless in their pursuit of technologically sound, innovative solutions to difficult problems. Renowned for rigorous examination of scientific fact, they cut apart a Skip jack class submarine hull to add a 126 foot long missile compartment to the original 290 foot length to build a monster sub of 6000 tons (Tridents are now 18,000 tons but these were three times the size of our World War II fleet boats). They added SINS (ship’s inertial navigation system), 02 generators, air purifiers, built lightweight reentry vehicles with thermonuclear warheads. They perfected gas launch techniques; conducted 85 tests of the new missile. They always concentrated on the high level, long-range objectives without forgetting the details, accepting technical risk when system payoff would be large and safety allowed, capitalizing on better than average expected results. They expected and learned from failures, planned for their resolution and got all the team involved. The team knew they were individually successful only if they were collectively successful. They capitalized technically and programmatically from day one through the development of all six missile generations to today’s Trident II-on time, competent, astute, forward thinking.
Originally working toward a 1965 initial deployment, after Sputnik Raborn was told, we need this sea-borne missile.five years sooner. His answer was entirely fitting: we ‘II deliver, but with a 1200 mile missile. They did. GEORGE WASHINGTON deployed in November 1960. By 1965, Special Projects had put three generations of missiles to sea. You’re well aware we built 41 of those original SSBNs named for presidents, heroes (military and civilian) each with 16 nuclear tipped missiles: more firepower on one submarine than ever used in all the wars of recorded history. Warships one and all, designed to be terribly effective in war. But for almost 35 years they have been a most effective instrument of peace between the superpowers of our time-peace ships! Never fired in anger. It was only fitting that the Navy’s first ballistic missile submarine was named for George Washing-ton, who stated in 1790 “to be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” Wise words then. Wise words now. Sun Tzu over 2000 years ago said it a little differently: “to subdue the enemy without fighting is the epitome of skill.”
Now we have made 3190 patrols, by my calculation 85,000 man-years submerged, an overwhelming amount of patriotism and dedication to duty-6380 good-bys and homecomings-a lot or honeymoons. We know we could not have achieved this record without the encouragement, loyalty, dedication of superb young Americans and their families. There have been many firsts. Remember the innovation of family grams to sailors on patrol (they’re how wives communicate to submerged sailors). Some are legend like: “Wine is on the chill-I am on the pill-have abstained since February-is Polaris really necessary.” This record could not have been achieved without the hard work of our crews, of our contractors, support ships, bases, repair facilities, logistic and missile facilities and SSPO.
We’ve changed. The abrupt Cold War end was a prime mover. Gone are the original 41 SSBNs of the ’60s after a lifetime of deterrence. In April 1992 we had 23 SSBNs operation-al. Now 16. All Tridents. Our bases at Holy Loch, Charleston, Guam, and Rota are closed. Our missiles are detargeted, bombers are off alert, ICBM silos are being destroyed in the USA and in Russia. We gave Russia a guillotine to cut the wings off nuclear bombers. Both countries are well on their way to reaching ST ART I limits early. I carry a launch button for Russian SS 17. When the Russians gave me the button they said, “Don’t worry, we cut the wires off.” Our partnership with our loyal British allies, and our SSPO-industrial partnership remain.
During the Cold War our submarines provided 40 percent of the country’s strategic warheads. Now we’re working toward a ST ART II warhead percentage of 50 as the Navy’s contribution to our country’s strategic nuclear forces. This is an all Trident force with a bigger, better, and much more accurate missile-the fifth and sixth generation on strategic submarines named for states-which is historically the way we name battleships in this country. And truly Tridents are the battleships of the 21st century with enormous missile power-capable of almost unlimited cruising range, hidden in the ocean’s depths, virtually undetectable by any potential adversary. And instead of a strategic fist fight between the Navy-Air Force implied by Admiral Burke’s 1955 letter, I sit behind General LeMay’s desk. Out of respect, I won’t put my feet on it (I’m afraid the lightning bolt would split the root). So we have a single warfighting CINC in charge of all our strategic forces-planning, coordinating-ensuring deterrence is appropriate to the world situation. Yesterday it was a pleasure to be sub-merged on USS GEORGIA with all Navy and Air Force task force commanders.
But wait-I said the Cold War’s over-and some believe we should scrap our strategic nuclear forces-expedite beating swords and missiles into plowshares and Roman candles for Cold War victory celebrations. A famous author in his remarks at our 3000th patrol celebration in 1992 addressed this issue:
“Why is this? Why, with the Cold War won, do the boats still go out? The answer is because freedom is still not free. Because America’s security must be protected. Because there are thousands of nuclear warheads in Russia, in Ukraine, in Belarus and in Kazakhstan. Warheads that, if ever launched, can still destroy America’s cities and her way of life in half an hour. So however warm our relations might grow with the new former Soviet republics-however close our friendships become-we will always, always place our faith in our boomers. And not in anyone else.”
Of course that was Colin Powell, at the time Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
These awesome weapons remain important blunt instruments of national strength. They’re weapons we hope we’ll never have to use, but they enable our President to deal from a position of immense power on the world stage with a cast of actors including some characters who only understand raw power. Remember that when Russia and the U.S. reach START II force levels of 3500 strategic nuclear weapons hopefully sometime early in the next century there are still likely to be over 15,000 nuclear weapons in Russia-because no formal arms control agreement reduces the non-strategic nuclear weapons or the stored warheads. Yes, there are likely to be regional confrontations that may involve American forces. Yes, our President twice in the last five years has made strong statements to potential aggressors that if they used weapons of mass destruction against U.S. forces or our allies that Americans would demand the strongest response. In neither was the term nuclear weapon used. That term was unnecessary. The assertion implied a very strong response.
Further, our weapons serve as an umbrella of extended deterrence for our allies-commitments that serve and have served us exceptionally well for many years. And the weapons are a hedge to reversal of intentions in countries with the capability to destroy our country or our allies (much can change in the next five years, look what’s happened in the last five).
So today, the industry-government partnership of the Navy’s ballistic missile program continues. We’ve come a long way in 40 years; weathered many storms. I’d hope that Red Raborn, Levering Smith, and others who made this program their life gaze with fondness on our current status. We face forward-ever mindful that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and as long as that’s true our Navy ballistic missile forces will be called on to keep that vigil: unseen, unheard, unnoticed: the epitome of stealth-ready-powerful. Hopefully, always peace ships. The motto of our command is Peace … is our profession. It also was the motto of the Strategic Air Command.
I salute you giants who built this program and those who make it work today on your 40th anniversary. God bless your efforts for the peace and freedom of our country. As you slide down the banister of life, may all the splinters be in the right direction.