Thank you, Captain Schwanz, for inviting me to speak at this very special Old Timers Luncheon. I assume that implied in that invitation is the pre-condition that the speaker must be one. Not too subtle, but OK, I’m here.
We are gathered to commemorate the 1OOth anniversary of a Submarine Force that has been, and remains, so much a part of our lives. Since receiving the invitation, I have given considerable thought to what I might say to Old Timers and not-so-Old-Timer friends on this occasion.
I must note that when I was a junior officer, even up through my command days, the annual Old Timers Luncheon was looked upon as entering a time warp, a step back through the glorious history of our force to an era of war at sea that would remain unique in maritime history, never to be repeated. It was an opportunity to honor our much revered heroes who had played such an important role in the World War II victory at sea.
It was not unusual to look about the dining room and be able to count a number of Silver Stars, Navy Crosses, and an occasional Congressional Medal of Honor. It was a thrill just to be with them, for the memory of that conflict was still relatively fresh in our minds, sustained by books and movies. We marveled, more accurately, shuddered, at the thought of conducting a torpedo attack, on the surface, deck gun blazing away, surrounded by the enemy, at ranges that hardly allowed the torpedo minimum range counter to enable the warhead detonator .. or, threading your way through a minefield to gain access to an anchorage or an inner harbor to conduct an attack, and then, having stirred up a hornet’s nest, get out of there, back through the minefield, in one piece … or, lying to on the surface within a stone’s throw of a hostile beach while inserting or recovering special agents by rubber raft, or surfacing off the enemy’s coast to conduct a deck gun attack on a passing train … living helplessly through a relentless depth charge attack, praying that Manitowoc had built a strong boat … or, more basically, trying to fight a war with torpedoes that bounced off a target’s hull, after risking your life to get close enough to be sure of a hit. And so forth. One story more daring than the other.
Two percent of the Navy sank 55 percent of all enemy shipping. The cost was high. We all know the statistics-52 boats lost; with 374 officers and over 3100 enlisted men. More decorations for valor awarded per man than any other Navy branch. I quote: “We shall never forget that it was our submarines that held the line against the enemy while our fleets replaced losses and repaired wounds”, said Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. He went on to say “It is to the everlasting honor and glory of our submarine personnel that they never failed us in our days of great peril”.
Many of those heroes are still with us today but a new generation of Old Timers is emerging to sustain and carry forward our traditions and noble heritage. The significant role played by submarines and submariners during the Cold War with the Soviet Union is finally, in part, a matter of public record. Whether you like it or not, Blind Man’s Bluff has broken through the veil of secrecy to reveal in part to the American people the great return on investment our nation has realized in its post war Submarine Force. A collection of anecdotes, l~ends, and snippets of conversations, pieced together, here and there, over seven years of investigation, formed the basis for the book. No one condones the apparent violation of lifetime security oaths, but now the public has a glimpse of how submarines contributed to our resounding defeat of the Soviets and the subsequent end of the Cold War.
From the very early and dangerous diesel boat special operations-snorkeling every night to provide enough battery to go back in for the next day’s ops; to the regulus missile deterrent patrols in the Northwest Pacific (now that was a trip); to the first of the Polaris A-1 missile patrols in the North Atlantic; or the courageous beginnings of under ice operations and the entry of SSNs into the special ops world-it is a story that had to be told. And based on sales of the book, both hard cover and paperback, the people loved it. And now they know part of the story. There will be more revealed as current declassification efforts go forward. And it’s about time, I say.
Much of what will be disclosed from 30 to 40 year old operations will not be news to the Russians. They were certainly aware of our ability to trail both their SSNs and their SSBNs. They knew that we were conducting intelligence, surveillance. and reconnaissance operations in and about their waters. They knew that at any moment in time we had a pretty accurate picture of their deployments. What they didn’t know was that based on the success of those intelligence operations, we had gained a priceless knowledge of the capabilities of their ships and their weapons. It was not until the Walkers delivered the crypto material that the Soviets then understood how vulnerable they were. That is, how great was our acoustic advantage.
It was then that they made the national commitment to build the research and industrial infrastructure to develop and construct quiet submarines. That massive investment contributed to the bankrupting of a system that could not compete with our democracy, our economy, or our technology. The house of cards collapsed, much to the credit of our Submarine Force.
Despite our successes then, the Force is now fighting for survival. From a Cold War high of 100 SSNs and 41 SSBNs, we have been mandated to force levels of 50 SSNs and 14 Trident SSBNs. Here is the dichotomy: several recent high level studies have validated the operational requirement for submarines independently specified by the theater CINCS, that is, a need for a minimum of 68 SSNs now, and a minimum of 76 SSNs early in the next decade.
The submarine building program, currently authorized at one Virginia class SSN per year, will not sustain even a force of SO. If you build one submarine per year, with a 30 year ship life, it is not rocket science to understand that the force level will eventually fall to 30. The current force is composed primarily of our very capable Improved Los Angeles class and two Seawolf class SSNs.
It brings a tear to my eye to talk of SEAWOLF, the world’s most potent SSN, everything you ever wanted in a submarine but were afraid to ask-fast, quiet, deep-diving, and heavily armed with eight 30 inch diameter torpedo tubes and a stowage capacity of 50 weapons, in any combination of torpedoes, cruise missiles or mines. The new larger diameter tubes-remember from high school geometry, volume equals PixR2xL-have the potential to launch longer range, more powerful weapons, or a variety of long endurance, unmanned undersea vehicles.
The price tag for each of the first two ships hovered around the two billion dollar mark; however, I believe the production learning curve would have rapidly drawn the cost down to an affordable level based on credible pricing experience with both the Los Angeles and the Ohio classes. As an aside, compared with the 100 million dollar price tag for each of the coming F-22 fighter aircraft, the Seawolf class is a bargain. But the fiscal pressures in an era of defense downsizing were too great. Hence, the Virginia class emerged, an affordable SSN for the post Cold War needs.
Virginia will provide advanced acoustic technology, that is, stealth equal to the quiet levels of Sea wolf, and enhancements for multi-mission littoral and regional operations. In addition to open ocean anti-submarine and anti-surface ship missions, Virginia will be capable of offensive and defensive mining operations, mine reconnaissance, special operations forces insertion and extraction, battle group support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and land attack with cruise missiles. Her modular design will facilitate customized changes in configuration during construction. Virginia will be a great addition to the Force, but not in sufficient numbers to stem the hemorrhaging.
As a related matter, I think you should know that our SSNs represent the Navy’s only ASW capable force. ht the Fleet, there is a sense of immortality as if a threat does not exist, despite the recent delivery of the most advanced Russian Kilo class SS to China, and rumors of negotiations to purchase Akula class SSNs. The acquisition of top of the line German and Swedish air independent propulsion submarines, the poor man’s answer to nuclear power, by a variety of nations not necessarily friendly to us, should be a cause of concern. Some day, some young submarine CO with visions of earning the Order of the Red Star, First Class, or the Revolutionary Crescent for Valor, is going to get lucky with his Russian wake homing torpedo-they come as part of the Kilo delivery package-and we are going to have a disastrous awakening. But that’s another story.
Is there any good news? First, the quality and enthusiasm of our young, dedicated submariners remains superb. It is a special thrill to talk with them as they walk you through their boats. They are, however, working at high personnel tempos to satisfy operational demands, which have not diminished and, in fact, have increased, even as the force level withers away. Example, six SSNs are now home ported here in San Diego versus 22 when I was the Group commander. We risk running them and their ships into the ground. The Force Commanders are sensitive to this and are watching carefully, and reluctantly will accept only the highest priority missions.
In submarine technology, the future is bright. One of our most successful programs uses low cost, commercial-off-the-shelf electronic components for acoustic signal processors. The beauty of the concept is that the sonar systems can be upgraded on an annual basis, unlike the previous mil-spec equipments for which years were required to develop and deliver expensive field changes or major modifications.
We finally have a passive acoustic ranging system. On BARB, I had the SSN prototype of PUFFS. It worked. We never missed in a torpedo exercise because we always had the range cold. But I could not convince the experts in Washington of its value. So we lost thirty years of development time until the concept was suddenly rediscovered.
The next generation periscope is in reality a very sophisticated TV camera. The periscope well is a thing of the past, for the camera requires only a fiber optic cable penetration for video and one for power. Thus, the control room can be located anywhere in the ship, giving great flexibility to the ship designers. Mechanical components are smaller, lighter, and quiet.
The electric drive submarine will not require a massive reduction gear and propulsion shaft. Cable penetrations will deliver power to external electric motors. Again, flexibility in engineering space layout is maximized.
We can communicate with the Joint Task Force Commander either direct or by satellite at data rates most adequate for our needs. No longer can our detractors say, “Submarines are OK, but you can’t talk to them”. Even e-mail has come to our submarines.
In weapons, today’s Tomahawk land attack cruise missile is a far cry from the relatively simple weapon that rolled out of GD Kearny Mesa over twenty years ago. Navigation by GPS and in-flight targeting capability assure extreme accuracy with a variety of payloads.
We finally have a true long range mobile mine, and some very capable submarine launched unmanned undersea vehicles. Very soon we will have a very advanced submarine launched and controlled unmanned air, yes, air, vehicle.
Nuclear power plant technology has also moved forward so that the SSNs under construction will never have to refuel. The cores will last for the life of the ship, eliminating the very expensive, both in dollars and in off-line time, refueling shipyard overhauls.
Finally, there is a movement toward converting the four Ohio class Trident SSBNs to SSGNs. Pre deployed, stealthy, and survivable in a hostile environment, the 150 or so cruise missiles would represent a significant threat to any aggressor. There are some arms control issues to be resolved, but the concept has great support.
So, there you have it. A salute of honor to our real Old-Timers. A welcome to the new Old-Timers, the Cold War heroes. And a brief look at the future. All of us, old and young, can be proud of our Force and of our association with it. Happy 1OOth birthday.