ADDRESS TO THE SUBMARINE FORCE CENTENNIAL BIRTHDAY BALL
From inventor John Holland’s sale to the Navy of his submersible one century ago this month; from transition of the 64 ton HOLLAND to a line of increasingly sophisticated diesel and battery powered submersibles that would devastate the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific theater of World War II; from the birth of nuclear power and its first born NAUTILUS and her descendants that would change the entire complexion of any future wars at sea; from the Trident Force which would help bring an Evil Empire to heel-all who have served the submarine arm of our national security forces can stand tall in the knowledge that we leave a proud centennial legacy of significant contributions to our beloved country and the freedoms we enjoy. But future submariners will be given even greater challenges as we enter the third millennium with its increased international chaos and unpredictability.
Tonight, I’d like to focus particularly on these last 50 years of submarine lore because, having lived through most of it, it’s the only half of the century I know from personal involvement. However, I’m quick to admit that I can live vicariously through the awesome performance of our submarines during World War II:
- Sam Dealey in HARDER during her fifth war patrol-Congressional Medal of Honor.
- Gene Fluckey in BARB during her eleventh war patrol-Congressional Medal of Honor.
- Howard Gilmore in GROWLER during her fourth war patrol-Congressional Medal of Honor.
- Dick O’Kane in TANG during her fifth war patrol-Congressional Medal of Honor.
- George Street in TIRANTE during her first war patrol-Congressional Medal of Honor.
- Red Ramage in PARCHE-Congressional Medal of Honor.
- Jim Cromwell in SCULPIN-Congressional Medal of Honor.
These highest decorations plus 333 Navy Crosses and countless Silver Stars won by our submariners during that noble conflict attest to the gallantry, intrepidity, selfless service, all beyond the call of duty of these Greats of the Submarine Service. How proud we are of the heritage they have left us.
More importantly, they were our post World War II teachers as well and laid new foundations for the next generation of submarine sailors-foundations based on powerful lessons learned from experiences in their war. What a faculty! For example, I was blessed with Dennis Wilkinson as my first skipper on VOLADOR in 1951, not long before he headed for NAUTILUS. My Division Commander at the time, another submarine Great who qualified me in submarines aboard CATFISH, was the fabulous Chick Clarey. My first staff job as Submarine Division Engineer was under Chick Clarey’s relief, the indomitable Gene Fluckey. As an aside, one unforgettable lesson was left me by Dennis Wilkinson. After successfully completing one fast moving down-the-throat torpedo firing event, I had asked him how he knew the precise time to fire torpedoes when the torpedo track angle dials on the tactical data computer were spinning so ferociously? He answered rather matter-of-factly that he learned during the war that you fired when the pandemonium in the conning tower reached a maximum.
Now, somewhat less visible in that distinguished World War II group, but no less a Submarine Great, was an experienced Engineering Duty Officer by the name of Hyman G. Rickover. Enroute to the Cold War he, supported by a small cadre of talented engineers and scientists, not only envisioned the peaceful use of nuclear power, and through it the ultimate unlimited endurance submersible, but had the political and professional acuity and stamina to bring it about. In so doing, another new foundation for a revolution in the conduct of any future war at sea had been laid. Recall, not long after he commenced his work, that on 17 January 1955 the words which came from NAUTILUS, “underway on nuclear power”, were shouted around the world. What a course change for our maritime nation and the world.
Subsequent to NAUTILUS, incredible technological improvements born out of intense research and development and built into each new class of nuclear submarine were wonders to behold-the first SEAWOLF, then SKIPJACK then PERMIT, then STURGEON, then LOS ANGELES, then the new SEAWOLF, then VIRGINIA attack submarine classes and, along with them, Polaris-Poseidon-Trident ballistic missile submarine classes-all in just this last half century. With each class came a step change in capability and superiority over the Soviet submarine fleet. Also mixed in between were special prototype submarines to test various kinds of propulsion plants and noise-quiet stealthiness like TRITON, HALIBUT, TULIBEE, JACK, LIPSCOMB, and NARWHAL.
You know, when I helped put SNOOK, a Skipjack class submarine, in commission 40 years ago, I thought it was the most beautiful Cadillac of submarines ever to be built, one probably never to be significantly improved upon. How wrong I was. Only 25 years later she was declared totally obsolete. I couldn’t believe it. To add to this nostalgically bad news and not long thereafter, her reactor compartment was removed from the hull and given final burial rights at the Hanford cemetery. The only saving grace for SNOOK’s demise from my outdated perspective was that she was interred between PATRICK HENRY and GEORGE WASHINGTON-now that’s classy and enviable company in any graveyard.
But the real story of the past 50 years of submarining is the critical role played by our nuclear submarines in winning the Cold War. You may recall that it was at the behest of the then-Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh Burke, that a group of visionaries convened at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This group was tasked to study the fleet’s vulnerability to nuclear attack submarines. In the course of their deliberations, it became clear that the nuclear submarine and the missile together would give us the ultimate strategic deterrent. Soon thereafter, the attack submarine GEORGE WASHINGTON was cut in half, modified, and our first strategic missile submarine was reality. The follow-on Polaris-Poseidon-Trident series, with their stealthy attack submarine protectors, I submit, won the Cold War. Our attack boats constantly held their boomers at risk. We could find the Soviet submarines, they couldn’t find ours, and both sides knew it. And that knowledge on the part of the Soviet leaders, led them to the conclusion that any nuclear exchange with the United States would be an assured loser for them. For, in the insidious and deadly competitive chess game of nuclear warfare, one does not start the game wherein checkmate of your own king is assured at the outset. And why was this the case? Because we were there, surrounding them undetected, and because of the demonstrated inherent stealth and survivability of our Strategic Reserve forces. These forces still house over half of the U.S. arsenal of nuclear delivery capability. This powerful end-game deterrent called the Strategic Reserve continues to be vested in our great ballistic missile submarines on constant patrol somewhere at sea tonight.
We have just talked about the last 50 years of stellar performance by our submariners in the Nation’s defense. What about the next 50? What is the future of the U.S. Submarine Force now that the Soviet Feet has been virtually immobilized? Is there an enemy out there? I say “yes” and probably the greatest enemy of all-uncertainty.
My vision is a very simple one. Navy’s requirement for deployment of capable and survivable platforms at sea win increase in proportion to the information technology explosion already engulfing us. Commercial satellite discrimination and accuracy, commercial communications and electronic intercept capability, instant fusing of public information worldwide, Internet access by the world at large-these realities, accompanied by related cyberspace mischief and warfare which it entices, all demand that our national security jewels must remain much more hidden from view than in the past. For example, take the future attack submarine missions alone. Using these stealthy submarines for strike support and time-critical targeting can only grow, but will require an evermore robust reconnaissance complex for increasingly information-hungry weapons. This complex must include inputs from all sources-space, theater, and tactical platforms. Fortunately, the Navy is still the best and most voracious user of fused all-source information to optimize its performance in the battlespace. Yet the Navy’s position in space is one of high demand but low ownership. So, the Navy will need to reconfirm its ties to the all national information suppliers like, for example, the NRO (Ed. Note: National Reconnaissance Office).
So, past is not prologue as we cross the threshold into this new world. Moreover, those that believe oceans as hiding places, for example, have become too transparent over the last 50 years due to technological investment in acoustic detection systems and the like are in the old world. In the new world we have not begun to capitalize on the potential opaqueness of the oceans whose natural protective phenomena are only just beginning to be understood. Pre-conflict stealth achieved by our greatest asset, the intellectual power of our scientific community in a free society to keep pace ahead of any adversary, will keep us secure. Hiding within the last frontier of earth’s greatest natural resource will be the way of the future without any question.
The continued exploitation of this refuge will necessarily capitalize on our submarines’ inherent stealth-and hence, their ability to gain access to critical areas which may be denied to less stealthy, more vulnerable platforms. The Submarine Force’s unique ability to gain and sustain assured access to areas denied to others will ensure our submarines community to figure prominently in the nation’s security posture in this coming century-as they have so magnificently throughout the last one. These self-sufficient platforms, on station 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, will develop dominant knowledge of the battlespace-feeding that knowledge in real time to the rest of the engaged forces.
As you know, the latest of these stealthy platforms is the new Virginia class, the newest Cadillac of submarines. My guess is that she, like SNOOK, will be buried at Hanford about 25 or 30 years after commissioning because of technological advances in the interim that are far beyond our ability as humans to comprehend today. But, rest assured her successors will be there to replace her as long as our national leaders are willing to invest now in sufficient numbers those platforms to sustain our competitive military superiority over threats from any potential enemy that decides to challenge us.
Cherished history, proud legacy, bright future-what a powerful ann of national defense! May God bless all our submarine families around the globe in this special centennial year. Thank you.