Upon reading the article in the October 2002 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW about Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office (SMERLO), I thought that I might make a contribution to the origin of the international cooperation in submarine escape and rescue.
To set the stage I was the Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research and Development, Dr. Robert A. Frosch, from 1967 to 1970. As a result of the USS THRESHER tragedy in April 1963, a Deep Submergence Systems Project (DSSP) office had been established. One of its ongoing projects was the design and construction of six Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles (DSRV) (later reduced to two). These vehicles were a great improvement over the traditional means of submarine rescue in depth, speed and capacity. These vehicles were carefully designed to be able to mate with alt current and proposed United States Navy submarines.
The DSSP proposed a new initiative designed to permit the DSRVs to be able to effect a rescue of personnel from any submarine-not just U.S. types. This initiative proposed that the U.S. Navy would provide enough detail of the mating surface in the immediate area of the submarine hatch so as to be compatible with the DSRVs. The drawings would provide any submarine designer with adequate information so as to ensure compatibility. This policy initiative was presented to Dr. Frosch for approval. After some discussion he approved the policy.
Thereafter I pursued the clearance process and after a few days I had an approved press release. At about that time, Captain Bill Thompson, the Assistant to the Secretary for Public Relations, came into my office. He explained that the Secretary, Mr. Paul Ignatius, was then in Honolulu preparing to make a major speech. He, the Secretary, would like to make some kind of an announcement and did he, Captain Thompson, have any ideas. Naturally, I explained that I had just what the Secretary was looking for. After quizzing me about the approval procedure, Captain Thompson took the press release and went off to contact the Secretary.
About two days later, Captain Thompson came into my office. He explained that initially the Secretary was most appreciative. Shortly before the banquet, however, the Secretary called Bill with some concerns. He was having misgivings about the whole thing and was about to give up on the announcement. Bill replied that he might as well make the announcement-the Secretary’s speech was even then being carried on all the major wire services!
Later I was told that the appropriate drawings and explanations were provided to all of the United States naval attaches.
It may well be that the origin of the international cooperation in submarine escape and rescue started with Secretary Ignatius’ speech in Honolulu in 1968.
ABOUT RADCON MATH AND FORCE LEVEL
CDR Mark Gorenflo’s article, Submarine Force Structure: An Exercise in Applied Radcon Math, published in the October 2002 edition of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW points out the difficulties in funding two Virginia class SSNs per year. CDR Gorenflo makes a number of excellent observations and recommendations on issues associated with increasing the build rate to that level. He also is critical of the defense industry’s performance on Virginia, saying industry is “producing Jess with more” and industry “should deliver a product on time and within budget.
As designer and prime contractor for the Virginia class, Electric Boat Corporation is on track to deliver the lead ship not only on time, but ahead of schedule. The primary reasons for this success are the: (I) design build process developed by Electric Boat and the Navy; (2) development and use of the world’s best shipbuilding Computer Aided Design (CAD) tools, and (3) increasing refinement of modular construction techniques used at Electric Boat and Newport News.
Increased cost for Virginia is more a function of the unprecedented low building rates for nuclear submarines and Navy contracting constraints than shipyard performance. The low building rates (6 submarines authorized in the 12 years from 1992 through 2003) have driven costs for material higher as many suppliers have left the submarine industry, and those that remain incur high unit cost. The active supplier base has been reduced by 40 percent over the last ten years. Shipbuilders and suppliers are aggressively working to control material costs, but the long-term solution is dependent on increased volume and procurement strategies that provide a stable and predictable market for suppliers. Additionally, the use of unrealistic annual escalation factors, not shipbuilding performance, have caused overruns. At the time of the construction contract award, the government budget forecasts were using less than 2 percent as an annual escalation factor when Bureau of Labor Statistics historical data for the shipbuilding industry index reflected 4.5 percent. The historical shipbuilding inflation indices have proven valid, and significant additional funding has been required to achieve proper funding.
Shipbuilder controllable costs on the other hand have incurred far smaller overruns. Electric Boat and Newport News current estimate reflects an overrun of less than 3 percent of the total contract for costs directly controlled by the shipbuilders: shipyard tabor and overhead. Overall, the construction estimate at completion indicates a total cost growth of 16 percent, of which 84 percent is not controllable by the shipbuilder.
Although at times the Defense Industry probably deserves criticism due to poor cost performance, the Industry performance on Virginia has been on schedule and very close to budget. This level of performance for the lead ship of a class is unparalleled.
F. J. Harris
Vice President Programs
Electric Boat Corporation
THE SUBMARINE REVIEW
THE SUBMARINE REVIEW is a quarterly publication of the Naval Submarine League. It is a forum for discussion of submarine matters, be they of past, present or future aspects of the ships, weapons and men who train and carry out undersea warfare. It is the intention of the REVIEW to reflect not only the views of Naval Submarine League members but of all who arc interested in submarining.
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