Admiral Chiles is a former CINCSTRAT and COMSUBLANT.
Instead of that other publication’s “Nobody Asked Me, But… “1 column, this article falls into the “Somebody Asked Me, So … “2 category. Actually, rm delighted to comment on the Arsenal Ship concept, in general, and Norman’s letter to Mike Boorda. in particular. The surface community vision of embodying submarine-like principles in an honest to goodness warship design is overdue on three counts: stealth, crew size and firepower.
The submarine community has touted the advantages of stealth for my entire career: too much perhaps. The one stealth surface craft built 12 years ago was strictly for R&D. Current platforms are likely to be far too visible to the hip speed, low radar cross-section, low emission weapons of the future. We need to push the technology envelope to reduce visibility with a surface warship that will demonstrate these advantages to the surface community and stimulate additional thought.
Study of much smaller crews on surface warships is wise. TICONDEROGA (CG of about 8000-9000 tons) and ARLEIGH BURKE (DDG of roughly the same size) have crews of 400 and 340 people, respectively. Of course, the 688s of comparable size have crews of about 140 people. Similarly, surface ships of rough equivalence to Trident have much larger crews (for example, Iwo Jima class LPH with 680 vice 175 on Trident). Even with two crews on SSBNs crew size is one of the principal reasons submarines are the least expensive ships in the Navy (for their size) to operate. I don’t know if the Arsenal Ship will make its goal of SO people for the crew, and I’m not sure it matters. The process of rigorous examination of bow to get along with far fewer crew members is clearly appropriate provided they are able to safely operate the ship, fight our battles, and handle casualties.
We’ve had massive firepower in our Polaris/Poseidon!Trident fleet for three and a half decades. Truthfully, today’s surface fleet has many missile tubes (22 Ticonderoga class cruisers with 122 missiles each; plus we’re building towards a force of 56 Arleigh Burke destroyers with 90 missiles each). Arsenal Ships could have as many as 800 missiles on one ship. All these ships can send a forceful message.
Having made a few observations, I sincerely believe we (submariners) should applaud the effort of our surface brethren to fundamentally rethink their 21st century needs and incorporate some key submarine attributes into a unique design. They will grow in the process and so should we.
With that background, consider Norman Polmar’s discussion of a submarine strike ship. Clearly, the idea of a true submarine complement to the Arsenal Ship makes sense. Five of the six advantages cited by Norman appear valid. Unfortunately, he’s got the wrong submarine. It seems to me that it would be wiser to convert the Tridents that will stand-down during implementation of ST ART II (assuming there is a ST ART II) for the following reasons:
- Los Angeles class ships are basically a much older design; with no space/weight margin as currently configured. It’s unclear how that problem could be alleviated with the addition of the new missile compartment section. There is plenty of margin in Trident.
- The Trident hulls will probably be certified for longer than a 30 year life giving roughly 20 years for service in this new role. Modifying 688s for only 10-25 years of service certainly does not appear cost effective. No plan exists for 688 life extension.
- Trident is a quieter ship; enough said. Stealth counts.
- Trident is slower than Los Angeles, but the ship can still get there in time to make a difference. If the modifications were feasible to 688s, the ship would probably be slowed by much more than the couple of knots postulated by Norman.
- Trident offers the advantage of a spacious multi-mission platform. Los Angeles class ships in this configuration could be multi-mission also, but Trident facilitates stowage of considerable special warfare equipment, the potential for carrying large numbers of mines, remotely piloted vehicles as well as off-bull, submerged vehicles and a large kit of command, control, intelligence-related components. Trident SSGN or Trident SSN could easily be utilized as part of the screen for the Arsenal Ship and configured for shallow water. Los Angeles class ships are superb, but unlikely to have the space we’ll Deed for the submarine Dew technologies of the next century.
- Coat to convert the Lost Angeles class ship to this ~enhanced strike role is likely to be the same order of magnitude as for Trident. The 688 buoyancy must be solved. If there’s a waiver of ST ART n tube counting requirement& or the modification la permitted without Trident missile tube removal, the Trident SSGN modifications conceivably could be cheaper.
- The Trident support base is not considered a drawback. Yes, there are two Trident basses (and probably only a few attack submarine bases) envisioned in 2000, but today we periodically work on Tridents at our SSN homeporta and elsewhere without detriment. Also, from a support perspective we intend to refuel the later Tridents and the SSGN conversion postulated here would assist in preserving a key industrial base.
On balance then, I favor converting the four Tridents which could be lost with START ll to Trident SSGNs. It makes better warfighting and financial sense. This concept deserves rigorous analysis.