Editor’s Note: This article was prepared for presentation primarily to active duty submariners actually serving in the boats but is considered very appropriate for dissemination to the much broader submarine community.
Throughout the Cold War the need for submarines seemed obvious and submarine planners busied themselves with designing new ships and managing large new construction programs. Today however the need for submarines is no longer self-evident. In fact some military leaders and civilian defense planners argue they are Cold War holdovers in search of a mission. In reality that view could not be farther from the truth. Submarines not only remain relevant, but are also being tasked by commanders at a pace difficult for the force to support. Further, as missile and other threat technologies proliferate and place non-stealthy platforms at greater risk, submarines will likely play an increasing role in a variety of combat operations. Although studies repeatedly show Unified Commanders consider the 50 SSN goal established by the Quadrennial Defense Review to be inadequate, budget realities may make a larger force unaffordable. As competing force structure options are debated in the coming years, it is incumbent on submariners to ensure U.S. policy makers and military leaders understand the submarine’s capabilities and its contribution to our national security. Emphasis added by Editor. Accordingly, submariners should surface and participate more proactively in the selling of the Submarine Force.
How Can You Help Sell the Submarine Force?
First and foremost, develop your professional skills and continue to ensure U.S. submarines prevail in any mission assigned. Operational success says more than any brief or newspaper article.
Second, you can educate yourself. That’s right, get yourself up to speed on major Force issues and programs. As a submariner, you are a professional and a representative of the Navy and the Submarine Force. You are a better spokesman when armed with the facts. Where do you get such information? Well for starters, you can read these pages each quarter. In addition, Undersea Warfare was founded with the idea of educating our people so they would be better spokesmen and better informed to make career decisions. Also, by understanding the big picture, submariners can better appreciate how their individual ships and daily activities contribute to the Submarine Force’s overall mission.
Third, you can join the professional organizations that educate our joint brethren and the public on the importance of the U.S. Navy and the Submarine Force. Consider membership in the U.S. Naval Institute, which many of you know as the publisher of Proceedings. Proceedings is a great way to keep up with overall Navy issues such as major platform programs, cutting edge ideas such as Network Centric Warfare and Fleet Battle Experiments. Personnel, pay and other quality of life issues are presented in a spirited and often passionate manner. A particular favorite with junior officers and sailors is the “Nobody Asked Me But … “column where the deckplate perspective on issues from uniforms to OPTEMPO to pay and allowances is presented in a no nonsense fashion. Proceedings is an open forum where professional issues can be debated and new ideas explored. Other organizations such as the Navy League, the Naval Submarine League and various Submarine Veterans groups provide opportunities to present a submariner perspective.
Finally, you can help sell submarines through your interactions with personnel outside the Force and outside the Navy.
Who Do We Sell the Force to?
Our customers are a large and varied lot. Let’s start at the top, with our national policy makers. For most of you in the fleet, that opportunity comes when a member of Congress, a professional staff member or a senior defense official visits your boat. These visits are often seen as a distraction from our real mission, but frankly there is no better advertisement for the Submarine Force than a ride on a submarine. Our ships, our sailors and the professional way they do their jobs, routinely impress visitors at all levels. Once people come aboard, submariners sell themselves. Putting some effort into these events typically pays large dividends in the future. Part of the effort in preparing for visitors obviously is having the knowledge to answer questions not only about the ship, but also about overall Force issues and goals.
Another major area where our submariners can be effective spokesmen is at the Navy and sister service level. Assignments to Battle Group staffs, Joint commands and the Joint Staff are great opportunities to broaden your persona] experience and to teach others. Submariners have invariably done well in these assignments, and have been effective in educating other war fighters on the capabilities, limitations and best employment of our ships. Overall, our comrades in arms have been deeply impressed with the capabilities of our personnel and ships and typically want more of both.
Write! Don’t Be Afraid to Express Your Opinion
If you have ideas about adapting emerging technologies, improved tactics, different concepts of operation or organization, or your ship has done some specific evolution in an innovative manner, make an effort to tell your story. Getting others to think about issues leverages the power of collaborative thinking. Contribute to the various forums on naval warfare such as the Joint Forces Quarterly, Undersea Warfare, Proceedings and THE SUBMARINE REVIEW. Let the rest of the Navy and other services know what is going on in the Submarine Force and what submariners are thinking about. In the past, submariners did not seem to contribute frequently to professional journals. Possible reasons for this likely included a culture of secrecy, as well as a feeling that publishing constitutes an unnecessary career risk in a very conservative organization- publish and perish rather than the usual publish or perish. Hopefully, today’s submariners will reject those reasons as outdated and inconsistent with the needs of our force. Obviously, we do not discuss submarine operations and other sensitive topics in open forums, however there are many issues that lend themselves to open debate. Questions about the sensitivity of subjects can be answered by your chain of command, and it is a matter of professional courtesy to let your command know what you plan to publish in any event.
Seek Opportunities to Talk to the Public
There are lots of civic groups that are genuinely interested in what their military is doing. This is particularly true for the Submarine Force, with its legacy of stealth. No doubt this shroud of secrecy has fueled the recent spate of movies and books claiming to provide a true peek into the classified world of the U.S. Submarine Force. To the public, the armed forces represent not only an expenditure of tax dollars, but also the use of their sons and daughters as soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. The people who are actively involved in community civic groups are typically concerned citizens who like to know how things are going, and more importantly, they are people who communicate with their elected officials.
Civic groups typically only think to invite the senior naval officers in their area to address their gatherings, although there are many others who are as qualified to represent the Navy and Submarine Force. Why not ask a submarine qualified Lieutenant or junior Lieutenant Commander who is actually manning a ship to go out and tell them what he does, the problems he faces and how he solves them. He can explain our vision of the future and how we plan to get there. The average submarine junior officer’s knowledge and ability to articulate our message will undoubtedly impress such groups. The same holds true for the typical Submarine Force chief petty officer and many first class petty officers as well. Using personnel in this manner would allow us to engage more audiences. Sure, many of you think this is just another tasking from Washington bureaucrats who have forgotten how busy it is down on the waterfront. However, when this was discussed with a group of submarine department heads, they agreed with the idea. The time spent reviewing a type commander provided brief and presenting it would be no more than a few hours for one man in a period of a year.
Another method of reaching wider audiences is through Undersea Warfare. Representing a departure from its former silence, the Submarine Force is now providing greater insight into its activities. Although we don’t talk about details of submarine operations, there are lots of things the magazine addresses in a general sense, such as the submarine’s major contribution to forward presence. Readers of Undersea Warfare, which include congressmen and their staffs as well as non-Navy military organizations, are now presented with significantly more information on the workings of the Submarine Force than ever before.
What Do We Say-What Are the Selling Points?
When talking about the U.S. Submarine Force, starting with its history is always useful. Many factors that were true in World War II are enduring to this day. For starters, the greatest asset a submarine has is its stealth. In World War II, stealth allowed U.S. submarines to take the fight almost immediately into Japanese home waters, despite the lack of forward bases, surface escort forces or air cover in the region. That same attribute exists today. Our ships can operate undetected gathering intelligence and preparing the battlespace in any part of the world, and they can do it in a non-provocative manner.
Other submarine attributes include their endurance, agility and firepower. Nuclear power provides both high operating speeds and virtually unlimited endurance without reliance on costly and tactically limiting logistics tails. Further, multi-mission capability and high crew readiness allow submarines to quickly shift operational tasking in response to real world security requirements. If the National Command Authority determines that force is required to defend U.S. interests, SSNs can covertly deliver Special Operations Forces, deploy mines, or engage a variety of surface ships or submarines with torpedoes, as well as striking land targets well inland with Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Saving the best for last, you can talk about the Force’s greatest asset, its people. U.S. submarines are manned by enthusiastic and dedicated professionals who have compiled an unparalleled record of mission accomplishment. Audiences are often surprised to learn the average age of our submarine sailors is twenty-something years old. These bright young officers and enlisted personnel are the backbone of our force and provide the impetus for the technological innovations the Submarine Force has been noted for throughout its history.
When speaking to the public about the Navy and the Submarine Force, audiences almost always enjoy hearing an anecdote or two from the speaker’s own experience. Any qualified submariner will likely possess a repertoire of sea-stories which can be used to underscore the attributes of our ships, tactics and our people. Tell your audiences the good-job and good-news stories that are not typically reported in official publications or in the media.
Recruiting Tomorrow’s Submariners
Recruiting is more difficult these days with an all-volunteer force and a robust economy. The Navy has to compete with industry for available manpower. Obviously people know there is a private sector hungry for employees, especially skilled ones. They also know there is a Navy, but how many of them think about it? How many young people know what the Navy is like, let alone the Submarine Force? Probably not many. As the number of veterans decreases in our society, those who traditionally encouraged military service are no longer there. High school teachers, counselors, parents and relatives without personal experiences in the military are not natural advocates of service to the nation in the Navy. In such an environment, who is better equipped to engage personnel at the high school and college level than a qualified submariner? There are scout troops, Navy Junior ROTC units, high school career days and the like where submariners can speak, and provide the information to make informed choices on their future. In speaking to these organizations, our goal should be to sell the Navy, but obviously to use the submarine force as the example we are most familiar with. Adopted schools and other community outreach programs are other venues where we can benefit from the interaction between submariners and members of the community.
The Bottom Line
Just as each member of a submarine’s crew bears responsibility for the safety and performance of the ship, we can all contribute to the long-term health of our Force. We can all work to educate our fellow citizens on our history, our present challenges and our vision for the future of the Submarine Force. The CNO and type commanders’ staffs cannot do this job alone. They need force multipliers. As submarine professionals, each of you has a role in the selling of the Submarine Force.