When I agreed to speak here rather a long time ago, I believed that I would be able to get away with a discussion of the sorts of issues that a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Environment would be most concerned with. That is, I would be able to subject you to a harangue on the subject of environmentalism and increasing encroachment on ranges and other facilities, and the like. I could thus escape talking about things in which I am far from current-submarine issues, for instance. Alas, my excuses for pleading ignorance are stripped away. To further lower expectations on the grandeur and sweep of my remarks it has been a while since I’ve been actively associated with submarines. Twenty-eight years to be precise. I can assure you however, that in getting reacquainted with submarine concerns, I’ve been very wary of jumping to the wrong conclusions based on my somewhat dated experience.
I’m reminded of the story of an old priest who was riding in a subway when a man staggered toward him, smelling like a brewery, with lipstick on his collar. He sat down in the seat right next to the priest and started reading the paper. After a few minutes, the man turned to the priest and asked, “Excuse me, Father, what causes arthritis?”
The priest, tired of smelling the liquor and saddened by the lifestyle, said roughly, “Loose living, drink, contempt for your fellow man and being with cheap and wicked women!”
“That’s amazing,” said the drunk and returned to his newspaper. A while later, the priest, feeling a bit guilty, turned to the man and asked nicely, “How long have you had arthritis?”
“Oh,” said the man, “I don’t have arthritis, I was just reading that the pope did …”
So, I’ve tried not to draw the wrong conclusions about where the submarine community is going based on limited information …
Now that I’ve properly calibrated your expectations, you may ask, what new, helpful and/or interesting insight is a guy like this going to add to these proceedings? Believe me, I was asking myself the same question only a few days ago… But on reflection, I do have some observations that may be worth sharing. Mostly they are questions about some areas that I think may be important to the well-being of the submarine community, the Navy and the nation.
It seems to me that the community has much to be proud of today-from its illustrious history-to its current operations-to its future plans… The virtues that brought the community to preeminence sixty years ago-courageous leadership, relevance, adaptability, and technological innovation-are still at work today. And to me they represent the community’s greatest hope for the future.
When Bill Smith and I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1955, the Secretary of the Navy at the time, Charles Thomas, delivered a commencement speech entitled, “In the Shadows of Tomorrow.” In it, he recounted how different the Navy had been 39 years earlier, in 1916, when Josephus Daniels was Secretary. In fact, he quoted some of “cup a joe’s” words from a similar graduation speech.
“Who shall say that before you become captains, naval warfare will not undergo a revolution as great as the one that followed the construction of the MONITOR and the MERRIMAC? … the appeal … is to fearlessly discard the worship of things that are old and to adopt courageously anything that is new the moment that some new development convinces that the old way is no longer the right way, or that the new way points to the path of victory … keep an open mind; investigate new methods … there never was a ship that could not be improved, and it will be your duty to find the way … Everyday some new thing in naval warfare arises … with what weapons, by what strategy shall we meet the terror of the submarine and the still unrevealed possibilities of the airship? .. . ”
The thrust of both Secretaries’ messages was to paint a picture of the future filled with dramatic change, particularly of the technological variety, that could be met only through tremendously adaptable leadership and strategic thought. This, they believed, was crucial if the service was to remain relevant and if the nation was to be central in world affairs. The submarine community has consistently met this challenge. Courage, relevance, adaptability, and technological innovation have defined the parameters of its success.
Certainly submarines and submariners have shown remarkable adaptability in the past. We entered World War Two with submarines being viewed primarily as a scouting force, that would help the main battle fleet to carry out its Mahanian function of crushing the enemy’s fleet, ensuring our decisive victory in the war. It didn’t tum out that way at all. Instead our submarines, counselled by necessity, conducted a brilliant guerre de course against the Japanese that was a main contributor to bringing that empire to its knees.
At the end of World War Two we kept 105 diesel-electric submarines in commission, mainly because Admirals Nimitz and Camey thought it would be a good idea, and told the Congress so. Because a guerre de course didn’t seem to be anything of much use against plausible opponents, we tried a variety of uses, such as radar pickets. But it wasn’t until the Cold War intensified, and we learned of massive Soviet submarine building programs that the vision crystallized. Antisubmarine warfare. Sensors, weapons, tactics, training, successively quieter nuclear propulsion plants all followed in rapid succession, until by the mid-sixties the Submarine Force was seen to be a major contributor to what was increasingly expected to be a successful campaign to prevent the Soviets from closing the sea lines of communications to Europe and Asia. This wasn’t done by hidebound conservatives fearful of how new technology would upset comfortable arrangements about budget shares. It was done by brilliant people who actually did what old Joe Daniels said they should.
We can tell the same kind of story about adapting submarines in support of our nuclear deterrent. We’ll just cut an attack boat in two on the building ways, stick in a missile compartment that will require launchers, propulsion, guidance, warheads and the like, such as have never been seen before on the planet, and we’ll do it in a couple of years. Then we’ll have created a system that will be the backbone of our nuclear security for four decades or more. Piece of cake.
That was then. This is now. What next? The problem is no longer sweeping 1000 Whiskey class submarines from the seas, or blowing down every kulak’s outhouse in Siberia. Instead we face a chaotic world without a Soviet naval threat, but with even more demand for peacetime missions. l do not believe that as a nation we have yet come close to a paradigm for producing and maintaining military forces in support of our national interests. Maybe the next quadrennial defense review will fill this bill. You are looking at a skeptic.
Nevertheless, the Navy, and that means the Navy/Marine Corps team, has taken significant steps to provide relevant capability. For the first time in history, a naval force attacked landlocked countries-Afghanistan and Kosovo. Tomahawks fired from a submarine were integral to these operations, and Marines were the enabling force for the Kosovo operation.
The Submarine Force provides serious and relevant capability today. The demand from the CINCs and requirements for both Tomahawks on station and JSR missions clearly reflect this. We must continue to ask ourselves though, what are we doing to be relevant in the future? Are we prepared for littoral warfare? Will the nation continue to get value from our configuration and activities?
The dilemma over whether to use limited assets to refuel SSNs or to convert SSBNs to SSGNs is just one case in point. Of course I think we should do both. But if we can’t which should we choose? This will test the best minds and best hearts we have. But there is more. The pivotal question, unfortunately, is what will fiscal realities allow? We have staggering bills to pay if we want to execute the program that would meet the CINCs requirements and modernize the Force. In a perfect world we would be building more boats, to get economical order quantities and to get on a glide path to smooth out the 688 block obsolescence problem. Even the Trident D-5, which we tend to take for granted, will shortly be in need of modernization funding-just to maintain our current capability. And when should we start thinking about successors to the Trident force?
There are some obvious ways to live within our present means. Forward basing is one. An SSN forward based in Guam delivers several times the days on station in support of the CINC that one stationed in Pearl Harbor can. But forward basing requires support. Does this argue that we should rethink the tender question?
Commercial-off-the-shelf items, especially computers and communications gear, and the open architectures that permit most effective adaptation and use are also part of an affordability strategy. What I’ve seen so far strikes me as encouraging in this area.
In the end, we’ll also need to grapple with the issue of whether we can afford the industrial base we have to support the Submarine Force, or whether more consolidation is in order. Can we really afford the number of building and repair yards we have?
Ultimately, it will come down to the nation deciding how much capability it’s willing to pay for. We must be prepared for the answer to be, “Not that much more.” I think that we are currently taking intelligent measures to get there. Reducing redundancy and concentrating expertise by designating various government yards to solely perform certain functions is a sound idea. Squeezing more life out of existing 688s-from 30 to 33 years will provide tremendous value to the nation.
Overall, while I’m pessimistic about whether the QDR will produce a compelling vision of the country’s need for military forces, I’m optimistic about how submarines will fare in the review. During the last decade they have proven their relevance to our CINCs, national command authority and nation, in ways that no other asset could. The demand for submarine services demonstrates that more clearly than any requirements argument. The submarine community has remained relevant through these uncertain years because it has continued to be adaptable. The willingness to change and the inherent flexibility of this weapons system have once again brought unique value to the nation. Fundamentally, this has sometimes meant swallowing favorite notions about what submarines should do, and embracing a new purpose. This is not a novel experience for submarines-shifting from coastal and harbor defense to scouting to guerre de course to ASW to deterrence to ISR to strike warfare and battle group operations. Is there any more resilient asset in the U.S. military?
The only real difference today, is that many of these missions have become cumulative-we must do them all, albeit with shifting priorities. The crucial question we must ask now is whether, as we press ahead to be more relevant to a new strategy of littoral warfare are we building in the flexibility and do we have the headroom to engage other opportunities as they emerge? Again I am encouraged by our progress in some areas, like improvements that have been made in battle group integration, and our progress with the UUV master plan.
I think it’s important however, that we continue to press ahead with even more energy in molecularity, mine warfare efforts and electric drive/IPS-all avenues that will generate more value from submarines in the littorals. Some of these efforts will require changes within the community, but we must be building the systems that best suit our doctrine.
The lifeblood of our ability to adapt to changing circumstances over the years has been technological innovation. The fundamental question today is: are we taking the best advantage of new technologies?
There’s no question that the R&D initiative shifted years ago from the military to the private sector, and it has taken us longer than it should have to capitalize on this shift. I think we are really striving to do this now, especially with respect to computing power. But we need to consider this in all things we do. From navigational equipment to basic data entry and log taking and analysis software, we could still make better use of COTS technology.
I think that modularity (not just modular construction, but modularity of operational spaces) and off board sensors hold particular promise for us. Modularity allows us to adapt to rapidly changing requirements, and off board sensors give us greater flexibility and help minimize risk in these areas.
I have no doubt that submarines will keep delivering for the nation. This is not to say that the path ahead won’t be fraught with obstacles-the CINCs’ demands can’t be met by current numbers and build rates, there is a need to press ahead with modernization, and we can’t relent in our technological innovation. All the while we must stay true to our overarching strategy of operating from the littorals to influence events ashore. Clearly we are faced with a wealth of opportunities and problems and a paucity of funds. I don’t know exactly what the new administration will do, but I imagine they will quickly see the value of submarines, and act accordingly. We have many causes for optimism-the JCS study and QDR among them. Ultimately though, the community must balance and demonstrate a realistic and relevant vision and execute it by staying true to its time-tested virtues.
I return to the advice given during my 1955 graduation. These words were on the mark about the changes to come and particularly the values necessary to cope with them. In 1955 there were no fleet ballistic missile submarines, the BQR-2B was brand new, and mostly didn’t work, we had only the Mk 27 torpedo for ASW, no shipboard digital computers, indeed, it wasn’t until 1955 that NAUTILUS sent its famous “Underway on nuclear power” message. But in that year, there were people determined to make the submarine relevant to the emerging challenges, to find solutions, to adapt new technology, and to deal with the changes to come. I see the same sort of people in the Submarine Force and in industry today, and I know that they will not fail to serve our country as they always have-wisely and well.