Thank you for the introduction. It is a privilege to be asked to speak to this symposium for the fifth time. As some of you know, my first presentation to you was in 1992, so my appearances at this symposium have pretty much spanned the decade of the ’90s, which has been a very significant decade for the U.S. Submarine Force and the submarine industrial and technological base.
As some of you may remember, in my first appearance before you in 1992, I was a bit of an enfant terrible.
Now, at the end of the decade, I’m old enough that I may not qualify as an enfant terrible anymore, but I still want to maintain my credentials on the terrible part, at least in terms of offering a frank critique and, hopefully, a few constructive ideas and proposals for the years ahead, from the perspective of someone who is outside the community looking in.
In that regard, I want to talk about two things:
- First, where the submarine community is today, at the end of the ’90s, and
- Second, some possible areas of focus for the submarine community as it prepares to head into the next decade.
Where Are We Today, at the End of the ’90s
First, with regard to where we are today, at the end of the ’90s, I want to start with a few remarks about where submarines are in the congressional debate over defense spending. I think it is fair to say that submarines today are a much less controversial item of discussion in Congress’ annual review of the defense budget than they were earlier in the decade.
The period of maximum controversy, as many of you may remember, was in 1995, 1996, and 1997 when the acquisition strategy for the Virginia class was a major item of debate and disagreement both within Congress and between Congress and the Executive Branch.
That debate was pretty much resolved in 1997, and since then, the Virginia class acquisition program has receded in prominence as a topic of discussion and is now being treated more as an established and routine element of the Navy’s shipbuilding plan.
For those involved in the Virginia class program, and for the submarine community, that sounds like good news-and to some extent that may be true. Uncontroversial programs are less likely to be suddenly altered by congressional action. As a consequence, they are more likely to achieve year-to-year stability, which is highly desirable in terms of program execution.
The fact, however, that submarines are no longer at the center of congressional attention the way they were a few years ago is perhaps not good news for the submarine community, in two ways. First, achieving the higher submarine procurement rate that is scheduled to begin in a few years is going to require a substantial increase in procurement funding, and the fact that submarines are no longer in the spotlight may make it more difficult for the submarine community to lay the groundwork in Congress for supporting that increase when it appears in the budget.
The bill for that increase is going to be presented to Congress in fiscal 2006, which is just about the worse time imaginable-it’s right in the early stages of the long-predicted defense procurement bow wave, when the procurement bills for a lot of other major DoD acquisition programs are going to start coming due. The submarine community will be asking for substantially increased funding at the very time that DoD and the Congress will be struggling to find ways to fund procurement of aircraft programs like the F-22, the Joint Strike Fighter, the Super Hornet, the V-22, land- and sea-based missile defense programs, and various C’ISR (command, control, communications, computer, intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance) programs, not to mention other shipbuilding programs, such as the DD-21, which is scheduled to achieve its full rate of procurement starting in fiscal 2005.
Many of these other programs, because they are currently in the research and development (R&D) phase, will be topics of annual or near-annual discussions in Congress for the next several years; so when the time comes to move these programs into procurement, and up their procurement ramps, Members and committees will have had several years of recent exposure to the services’ rationales and justifications for them.
In the case of the Virginia class, in contrast, the submarine community will be seeking to double the procurement rate of a program that members or committees may have not focused on for the better part of a decade, if they were even on the defense oversight committees back then. By then, familiarity with the details of the program may have faded, and that may make it difficult to generate the sense of priority or urgency for the program that may be needed to secure the required increase in procurement funding in a competition against the other major procurement programs that will be seeking funding at that time.
The second way in which being uncontroversial may not be the best news for submarine acquisition concerns funding for R&D. As I stated at this symposium before, the mid-’90s debate over submarine acquisition was a debate essentially among supporters of submarines; and as a consequence, the debate resulted in, among other things, increases to the amount of funding available for advanced submarine technology development. For the submarine community, that was a welcome development, because it helped to fund a lot of potentially valuable submarine technology development projects that lacked resources.
Those new technologies, if brought to maturity, could help make submarines more capable or less expensive than they are today, which would make submarines more able to compete for potentially scarce DoD procurement dollars in the next decade. With submarines no longer at the center of congressional attention, however, increases in submarine technology development funding are likely to be smaller. As a result, fewer development projects will be brought to maturity, and the submarine community will have fewer new things to offer in competition with DoD procurement programs that may represent entirely new capabilities, like ballistic missile defense, or quantum improvements over older generation platforms, like the F-22.
In short, for the submarine community, being out from under the congressional spotlight is not necessarily a completely good thing. The submarine community needs to be aware of the potential downside of being out of the limelight, given the scheduled need to increase funding during the coming defense bow wave.
All this suggests that the submarine community will need to maintain its effort over the next several years to explain to others the current and potential value of submarines-of getting the
message out, so to speak. This is something I have talked to you about on several occasions over the years, and there certainly has been a lot of change in this area over this period.
For example, at my first appearance in 1992, I was asked the following: “Do you perceive that submarines are considered to be good intelligence gathering platforms by the Congress?”
And I answered as follows-and you can find this on page 27 of the published Proceedings of the 1992 Symposium: “I don’t think there’s much of a consciousness one way or the other about the relationship between the intelligence community and submarines except perhaps among members or staffers on the intelligence committees, which is a fairly limited group. I think submariners can talk more in general about the fact that attack submarines collect important intelligence. You don’t have to say what it is, where you’re getting it, or how you’re getting it. But I do think it would be very useful to the debate if submariners-and some nonsubmariners-said, ‘Yes, they make a valuable contribution.’ You can make certain kinds of statements in public without getting into classified matters such as, ‘When clouds cover an area, satellites can’t see everything, therefore, we need an alternative.’ That kind of statement can be made in public debate.”
That was 1992. As a measure of how far things have come since then, you only need consult the book, Blind Man’s Bluff, which most of you have probably read and perhaps talked about at this symposium .
I recently read it myself, and to quote Bart Simpson, “Hey Karumbal” Compared to what you can read in here, what I said in 1992 seems hopelessly quaint. Talk about getting the message out! This book will certainly do a lot of that.
This book will go a long way toward educating Members of Congress, congressional staffers, and the public at large, about the tremendous value of submarines as intelligence-gathering platforms, and about the courage and resourcefulness of the people aboard submarines performing that mission.
Even so, it should also be pointed out that, while the stories recounted in this book are by and large very supportive of the submarine fleet, in a couple of ways, there are things in this book which are not so supportive. First, the book recounts a number of instances in which people who were engaged in these intelligence gathering operations withheld negative or potentially negative
information in reporting their activities to higher authorities or circumvented normal channels of approval when seeking permission to conduct these operations.
Now this sort of withholding of information happens all the time in government. But in these instances, it happened in connection with activities of national-level importance and high diplomatic sensitivity.
I can see how someone in a position of authority might read this book and develop a strong appreciation and respect for the submarine community-but at the same time something else. Not a distrust-that would be too strong a word-but rather a skepticism or wariness toward the submarine community. This is something that might come back and bite the submarine community at some unexpected time.
Second, although the book refers at a couple of points to the fact that intelligence gathering is done by many subs, the focus throughout most of the book is on the operations of a small number of highly specialized boats. As a result, the reader might easily come away with the impression that intelligence gathering, though an important mission to national leaders and theater military commanders, is not a major drive of attack submarine force-level requirements, when it apparently is.
Indeed, Navy testimony a few weeks ago to the Seapower Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee suggested that the number of submarines required for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions is a central issue in the current debate over the sufficiency of the 50 boat, force-level goal set forth in the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The book, however, can give the reader the impression that this mission can be satisfied with a force of two or three or four specialized craft, and that these boats needn’t even be modern or particularly capable units.
Blind Man’s Bluff, though, is only one contributor to the understanding that policymakers and opinion leaders have of the capabilities and value of submarines, and of the number of submarines needed to perform a given set of missions or tasks.
The Navy’s own effort to get the message out in recent years has come to involve several elements, including testimony and briefings to Congress, brochures and white papers, interviews with the press, and press access to the fleet. Over the course of the last several years, these efforts have had a fair amount of success in overcoming the old, simplified stereotype of submarines as nothing more than anti-submarine warfare assets, and the closely allied idea that submarines don’t have all that much to do in the post Cold War era.
At the same time, though, these efforts have also confirmed two things. First, the effort to explain the capabilities and value of submarines will need to continue indefinitely due to the constant turnover in elected and appointed officials and their staff.
Second, skepticism about the value of and need for submarines in the post Cold War era persists, and can be difficult to overcome, particularly in the presence of counter arguments from other quarters. A case in point is the article from Time magazine, entitled That Sinking Feeling. This article is similar to numerous press reports written in the early ’90s, at the start of the post Cold War era, that voiced skepticism about the potential value of submarines in the post Cold War era. Except this article was written not in the early ’90s, but in February of this year. Some of you may remember reading it when it came out.
In painting a picture of where the submarine community is today, at the end of the ’90s, one can also note, among other things, the significant shrinkage of the Force, the shift in operational emphasis to non-Russian-oriented operations in littoral waters (including land-attack operations), the transition from the Seawolf program to the Virginia class, significant restructuring of the submarine construction industrial base and the shift to a timed production arrangement, and the reorganization of the Navy’s submarine technology development plan and oversight apparatus.
These were all huge changes. Together, they underscore just how important the ’90s have been as a transitional decade for the submarine community.
But for me, the ’90s were notable for at least one more thing-something that passed by with relatively little comment, perhaps because its consequences will not become fully apparent for another 20 or 30 years. For the submarine community, the ’90s were not just a transitional decade. In terms of attack submarine procurement, the ’90s were also, to a large degree, a lost decade.
During the entire decade of the ’90s, the United States procured a total of five attack submarines. This includes the final Los Angeles class submarine in fiscal 1990, the second Seawolf submarine in fiscal 1991, the third Seawolf in fiscal 1996, and the first two Virginia class boats in fiscal ’98 and ’99.
That’s an average of one-half of a submarine per year for an entire decade. As I have noted in testimony to Congress and elsewhere, an average procurement rate like that is a pretty good rate for a country like Great Britain, but not for the United States.
Assuming a service life of 33 years for newly procured submarines, maintaining a 50-boat Force over the long run would require an average procurement rate of 1.5 boats per year.
If we had procured attack submarine at this steady-stage replacement rate during the ’90s, we would have procured a total of 15 boats, rather than 5. The 10 boats that were not procured can be thought of as the submarine procurement backlog or deficit of the ’90s.
This sustained period of below-steady-state procurement will continue through fiscal year 2005, by which time the cumulative procurement backlog will grow to 14 boats, or more than one quarter of the Force-level goal.
As a result of this sustained period of below-steady-state procurement, the Submarine Force is going to face a significant Force-structure challenge in the 2020s and 2030s.
That challenge is summarized in picture form in the graph of projected national force levels. (Figure 1). It shows how the deficit in submarine procurement during this period will be unmasked after about 2015, when the large number of 688s procured in the 1980s begins to retire at a rapid rate, producing a bathtub in the attack Submarine Force level goal that will last for many years.
Submarines, of course, are not the only type of ship whose procurement rate has been reduced over the last several years; Navy shipbuilding in general, like many kinds of defense procurement, was reduced significantly in the years following the end of the Cold War. As a result of this downturn in Navy shipbuilding, a ship procurement backlog for various types of ships has accumulated over the last decade, and the Navy as a whole will face a challenge in maintaining its planned total force level of about 300 ships over the long run.
Within this overall situation, however, the Force structure situation for attack submarines is perhaps the most acute, because the downturn in submarine procurement has been deeper and longer
lasting than for other types of ships.
Until very recently, this longer term Force structure challenge looked even more daunting than what you see on that graph. Within the last few weeks, the situation has been eased by the Navy’s determination that it can safely extend the service life of selected 688Is to 33 years.
As a result of this selected service life extension, the Navy will now to be able to maintain a Force of about 50 boats with a post Future Year Defense Program (FYDP) procurement rate of two boats per year. Without the service life extension, avoiding a significant drop below 50 boats would have required a procurement rate of 2-2/3 to 3 boats per year starting in FY08.
Reducing the downstream required procurement rate from 2-2/3 to 3 boats per year down to 2 boats per year is a significant help in my view, and not just because it will save the government something like $1.3 to $1.9 billion per year in avoided submarine procurement costs, but also because it makes the goal of maintaining a 50 boat Force plausibly achievable.
Going from today’s planned procurement rate of about 1 boat per year to a rate about 3 times as high looked so challenging financially that I think it would have encouraged officials to throw up their hands in frustration and say, “Forget it. If that’s what it will take to maintain a 50 boat Force, we can’t afford it. Let’s just keep the procurement rate at about 1 boat per year, let the Force drop below 50, and either reduce mission requirements or find other ways to perform them.”
In contrast, increasing the procurement rate from 1 boat per year to 2 per year is at least plausible enought that officials might be more likely to continue supporting the maintenance of a 50 boat Force.
In this sense-in terms of potentially changing the psychology of regarding the downstream required submarine procurement rate-the decision to extend the service lives of selected 6881s is of enormous potential value to the longer term future of the Submarine Force.
But saying that a goat is plausible is not the same as saying that it will be easy to achieve. To the contrary, as I mentioned earlier, increasing procurement from the FYDP rate of about 1 boat per year to the required rate of 2 boats per year is going to require about $1.9 billion per year in additional procurement funding, at
a time when many other major DoD programs will be competing for limited procurement dollars.
Indeed, although the submarine community’s long range plans show 2 submarines per year, the Navy’s long range resource allocation plans appear to budget for a procurement rate of about 1.5 boats per year-the long term steady-state replacement rate. If you look at the graph, you can see that this missing half boat per year adds up over time. At 1.5 boats per year, the attack Submarine Force will be around 40 boats at the bottom of the bathtub in the last 2020s and won’t get back up to SO boats until about 2045.
Finally, in discussing the status of the Submarine Force at the end of the 1990s, it is worth noting the rather curious evolution of the Submarine Force-level goal in recent years.
As I have noted in a recent report to Congress, for more than 15 years the attack Submarine Force-level goal has appeared to be a less precise and more generalized figure than the force-level goals for other major components of the Navy’s force structure. In contrast to the goal for other kinds of ships and aircraft, which have been defined in terms of precise total numbers of ships, or air wings, or lift capacity, the Force level-goal for SSNs has been expressed in rounded off numbers or ranges of numbers, such as 80 or 55 boats under the Bush Administration Base Force plan, 45 to 55 boats under the Clinton Administration’s Bottom-Up Review (BUR), and most recently the figure of 50 boats under the QDR.
In addition, the explanations offered by the Navy for its attack Submarine Force-level goals have tended to be less extensive and less specific than the explanations it has offered in support of forcelevel goals for other categories of ships.
An exception to this pattern of rounded-off attack Submarine Force-level requirements was the 1992-93 Joint Chiefs of Staff study that established a Force-level goal of 51 to 67 SSNs, including 10 to 12 with Seawolf-level quieting by 2012.
It might have been expected that this ambiguity and tension regarding the attack Submarine Force-level goal would have been settled by the QDR, but it hasn’t. The QDR goal of 50 is “contingent on a reevaluation of peacetime overseas presence requirements.”
That reevaluation has been underway in the Joint Staff for some time now and is expected to be completed soon. The Navy has suggested in its testimony to the Seapower Subcommittee this year
that the study will show a need for significantly more than 50 boats. In the meantime, DoD officials have testified since last year that “Commander-in-Chief requirements for SSN deployments … would dictate a Force of 72 attack submarines”.
So it appears that the issue of the attack Submarine Force-level goals will continue to be characterized by ambiguity and tension. I don’t know of another part of the Navy, or of the military, whose force-structure goals have been as persistently ambiguous, tentative, and volatile.
In spite of this ambiguity, and the potential for the goal to be increased as a result of the JCS study, the plan to reduce the Force with early retirements to 50 boats by fiscal 2003 continues to be implemented. This is significant, because unlike the case of the non-nuclear powered ships or many other kinds of equipment, retirement of a nuclear powered submarine is effectively a nonreversible event. Once they are deactivated, they are gone for good.
Look again at Figure 1. It doesn’t include any early retirements beyond these that have already taken place. But as a result of those that have already occurred, the Navy is already locked into having a Force of no more than about 50 or 60 boats for the next 20 or 25 years, no matter what the post FYDP submarine procurement rate turns out to be.
So if the JCS study supports a substantial increase in the attack Submarine Force-level goal, that goal will in all likelihood not be attainable for many years to come. For example, if the JCS study were to support a Force-level goal of 70 to 80 boats, we could procure submarines at a rate of 2.5 to 3 boats per year-which is about as high a rate as you can imagine, under current circumstances-and still not get there until about 2035.
This suggests that the value in the near term of a JCS finding in support of an attack Submarine Force-level goal of more than 50 boats will be primarily rhetorical-as a counter to proposals to reduce the Force-level goal to less than SO boats, such as the recent Cato Institute study that argued in favor of reducing the goal to 25 boats.
Some Possible Areas of Focus for the future
I want to turn now to the second and final part of my address, which concerns possible areas of focus for the submarine community for the future, as it prepares to head into the next decade.
Identifying areas of focus is important not just because of the change in the calendar, but because of the approaching change in administration. No matter who is elected president, there will be a change in personnel, a review of U.S. defense programs, and a critical window of opportunity for the submarine community to put forward a compelling case for its programs.
In that connection, I want to present three potential areas of focus for the future.
The first concerns the submarine technology development plan. As I discussed earlier, funding this plan as fully as possible will be important to maintaining the future cost-effectiveness of submarines as they compete during the procurement bow wave against other DoD programs for limited procurement dollars.
This technology plan itself, however, must compete against other R&D programs for limited research and development funding.
The submarine technology development plan contains many worthy programs, but the ability of the submarine community to secure maximum funding for this plan is arguably hampered by its lack of a clearly identifiable and compelling overall goal. The plan, in short, is too much of a laundry list to inspire others and win their continuing support.
The various projects in the plan are organized into a few broad categories, and it is clear that developing and inserting these technologies into future submarines will improve the cost effectiveness of those boats. But how much cost effectiveness will be improved, and by when, its not immediately apparent, and there is no clear picture of what the submarine could look like at a certain date, or at a certain sets of dates, in the future.
This lack of a clear goal or set of goals, to be achieved by a certain date or set of dates, puts the submarine community at a disadvantage relative to other program areas, such as surface combatants, aircraft carriers, or tactical aircraft, which, because they are shifting from older generation designs to newer ones, are able to show a picture of a new and different platform that will enter service in a certain year.
This is not only a matter of marketing, however, it is a matter of substance as well. Establishing an overall goal or set of goals, and a date or set of dates by which goals are to be achieved, has the potential to focus people’s energies more effectively and thereby possibly enhance the creation, acceptance, and implementation of new and innovative ideas.
As a possible model, one might consider the Air Force’s Integrated High-Performance Turbine Engine Technology Program (IHPTEl)-a 15 year effort, divided into 3 phases of 5 years each, that is aimed at achieving specific and challenging improvements in engine performance and efficiency by the end of each phase. At the time this program was started, the goals were considered by many to be very ambitious, particularly since turbine engine technology was considered by many to be a mature technology area. Years later, this program has achieved many of its goals on schedule or almost on schedule, in spite of the fact that it wasn’t certain, at the outset of the program, exactly how those goals were going to be achieved.
If such an approach were to be applied to the submarine technology development plan, what goals might it include?
Some goals, pertaining to improvements in payload and sensors, were set forth by the Defense Science Board’s report on the future submarine, which in turn were in effect implemented in the form of the Navy-DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Memorandum of Understanding.
Other goals have been suggested by Admiral Bowman, who has spoken very simply and clearly about the need for submarines to get connected, get modular, and so on.
I don’t think you’d be surprised, however, if I suggested that there also be an explicit goal relating to reduction in submarine procurement cost. Procurement affordability is often spoken about in general terms, but specifics are harder to find . The Defense Science Board report, for example, noted that we need to build more submarines, not fewer, but didn’t elaborate on how that might be achieved within given funding constraints.
The submarine community needs to begin procuring boats at a rate of 2 per year to avoid falling below 50, but programmed funding may be sufficient for no more than 1.5 boats per year, and possibly less, if budget projections prove optimistic.
This suggests that an overarching goal might be established to find new technologies that can help reduce submarine procurement costs 25 percent by a certain date, so that 4 boats can be procured for the price of 3 without reducing unit capability.
If you think that goal can’t possibly be achieved, you may be right. I don’t know if it can. But I believe that establishing such a goal will promote a more sustained and extensive focus on this issue than there is at present, and thus create more of a chance that at least substantial progress toward this goal might be achieved. Some of the goals for the Turbine Engine Technology Program may have looked equally unachievable when they were first announced.
And what makes more sense-working to achieve as much of this goal as you can, or sitting around hoping that budget circumstances will change enough to permit a procurement rate of 2 boats per year at current prices? I don’t think the submarine community can afford to bet on being rescued in that way, particularly in light of the coming defense procurement bow wave.
Procurement affordability. however, is not something that can be achieved just through changes in technology, but in other ways as well, such as changes in acquisition strategy or in the production environment.
In that connection, a second potential area of focus for the next decade would be to explore opportunities for regaining lost economies of scale in submarine production. Economies of scale have declined for most areas of Navy shipbuilding, but perhaps for submarines more than any other kind of ship, both because the reduction in the procurement rate for submarines was so great-on the order of 75 percent or more from Cold War levels-and because submarines were isolated from and less able to tap into the economies of scale or materials and components used in the civilian economy or on military surface ships.
Anything that can be done to tap into civilian or military surface ship economies of scale has the potential for reducing procurement costs. Increased use of commercial-off-the-shelf computer technology is one well established example: technologies for electric drive propulsion and integrated power systems are another, and potentially a very significant one.
My third and final proposal for the future has to do with reexamining the bounds of what the submarine, in the end, is trying to improve and optimize.
With the development and deployment of new underwater systems, including unmanned undersea vehicles of various kinds, advanced bottom-based sensors, and smart, mobile mines, the undersea arena in the years ahead will come to include a more complex, heterogenous mix of systems, and the submarine, though still capable of independent operations, will more and more be best understood as part of a larger underwater force architecture.
This suggests that, in the future, the goal increasingly will not be to optimize the submarine itself, but the entire underwater force architecture, of which the submarine is a major part. If so, this could have numerous implications for what the submarine will be asked to do, what capabilities it should have, and how its cost effectiveness is measured.
For the submarine community, the question will no longer be, “How can I improve the submarine?” But rather, “How can I improve the underwater force structure?” That’s not the same question.
Similarly, as submarines get connected to the rest of the fleet, and as the fleet moves toward a network centric environment, the bounds of analysis might no longer be, “How can I improve the underwater force architecture?” But rather, “How can the underwater force architecture be changed to improve the effectiveness of the total fleet force architecture?” Again, that’s not the same question.
This all may sound terribly abstract and far in the future, but I don’t think it is, for three reasons.
First, we already have an example in the Coast Guard’s Integrated Deepwater System program of a maritime service that is asking competing industry teams not for proposals to replace specific classes of aging ships and aircraft, but for proposals to acquire an integrated force architecture-a system of systems-capable of performing an array of Coast Guard missions in the deepwater environment effectively and at the lowest cost. This system of systems will include surface ships; aircraft, command, control, communications, and computer systems; and logistic support. But the Coast Guard is not telling the industry teams what the ships or aircraft should look like, or how many of them there should be. The Coast Guard is simply interested in acquiring the most cost effective force architecture.
Second, limits on Navy acquisition funds will encourage Navy officials to explore options for reducing costs by optimizing the larger system of systems.
And third, limits on defense procurement dollars will encourage manufacturers of naval equipment other than submarines to see if their equipment can perform certain missions now performed by submarines. Thus, if to optimize the undersea force architecture, other technology communities may, directly or indirectly, consciously or not, begin to address this issue themselves.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate my concern, in light of the coming Submarine Force-structure challenge and the DoD procurement bow wave, about the ability of the submarine community and the Navy to achieve a sustained submarine procurement rate of two boats per year and to secure robust funding for the submarine technology development plan that underpins the procurement effort.
With a new decade-and a new administration-fast approaching, these are key issues for the Submarine Force and the submarine technology community. I’ve thrown out a few ideas for addressing these issues; they are certainly not the only ones that should be considered.
But as always, I hope that I have, at a minimum, left you with something to think about. Thank you.