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Remarks by Admiral F. L. “Skip” Bowman, U.S. Navy Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion to the Naval Submarine League Symposium 11June 2003

Admiral Kelso, thank you for inviting me to be a part of this 21st annual meeting of the Naval Submarine League. I applaud the continued efforts of Submarine League members to promote awareness of the important role submarines play in ensuring our national security. We continue to need you. Thanks for helping to tell the story.

I also applaud your selection of Admiral Crowe as the Naval Submarine League 2003 “Distinguished Submariner.” We as a Nation are indebted to Admiral Crowe, a career naval officer, a diplomat, and most importantly to this symposium, a submariner, for his leadership and vision.

I’d like to kick the symposium off today by giving you my perspective on the status of our community and the road ahead.

First, I want to say loud and clear that the Submarine Force answered the call during this past year of war. It was a team effort, and each of you can be proud of all that we have accomplished.

Today, submarines are deployed around the world in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Submarines are quietly going into a lot of areas where other platforms are ineffective in gathering critical intelligence. The inherent stealth and the multimission capability of our submarines are serving the country well in this global struggle.

Our Navy and our boats were certainly visible during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. During that conflict, submarines fired about a third of the more than 800 TLAMs expended. USS CHEYENNE (SSN 773) was the first to shoot on day one of the war. At one point, we had I 0 submarines operating in the Red Sea and 2 in the Arabian Gulf working with 2 British counterparts. The professionalism of our crews, the material condition of our boats, and the skill of our operational staffs ensured that when the President called, the Submarine Force delivered.

I also want to brag just a little on our great people and our two operational commanders and leaders, John Grossenbacher and John Padgett. Under their leadership:

  • Officer retention reached 39 percent this year, up 5 percent from last year.
  • On the enlisted side, and based on what I see when I am out riding our submarines, I can say that the esprit de corps of our Sailors is at an all-time high. This spirit and our collective attention to people programs are evident in our reenlistment statistics. Listen to these numbers for our submarine sailors:
  • First-term sailors ……………….. 69 percent
    Second-term sailors…………… 82 percent
    Career sailors to 20 years …….. 95 percent

  • Although our SSBNs have typically led the retention honor roll, we now have fast attacks joining this elite group. For example, USS CHARLOTTE (SSN 766) has an overall reenlistment rate of 95 percent!

Our operational leaders have kept people at the top of their priority list and it shows.

So we’re very much out there-on station-and in very high demand. Our submariners are the finest trained in the world, sailing aboard the finest submarines in the world. We have worked hard for the successes we have enjoyed this year. Still, our accomplishments during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, our enhanced retention rates, and our peak levels of morale do not guarantee victory tomorrow. Let me say a few words about the road ahead.

Think back to 1982 when the Naval Submarine League was founded. We were fighting a Cold War against the Soviets, and the primary mission of our SSNs was blue-water ASW. If someone had stood before us then and told us that our primary focus would shift dramatically in future conflicts like IRAQI FREEDOM-and that we would operate 12 SSNs in the shallow waters of the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf, maintaining continuous communications with a Joint Task Force Commander while awaiting the order to launch precision strike munitions well inland … we might have called for a random drug analysis for that person.

But it’s a safe bet that we’ II be required to make similar dramatic changes in the way we fight wars in the coming decades. The good news is that as a Submarine Force, historically we have been able to adapt to these challenges and remain relevant because of our inherently transformational culture. The transformation process has been underway in the Submarine Force for more than 100 years.

We led the way in transforming those original, rudimentary submersibles into capable diesel-powered fleet boats. We led the way in bringing sonar to the combat fleet. During World War II we led the way in taking the fight to the enemy in the Pacific. We revolutionized the role of the submarine-which, up to that point, had served as scouts for the Fleet. We also led the way into the nuclear era-first with nuclear propulsion and later with nuclear missiles, providing strategic deterrence. We’ve moved from ASW and Indications and Warning in the Cold War to add ISR, precision long range strike, and SEAL insertion today.

Here inside the Beltway, the term transformation has become a household word. Nonetheless, many are still wrestling with exactly what it means. Recently, General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, partially described transformation as “a process and a mindset. Adopting a transformational mindset means applying current fielded capabilities in the current environment-to accomplish any assigned mission.” Now, this pragmatic approach to transformation reminds me of the first principle of wing-walking: Don’t let go of the first strut until you have a damn good grip on the second strut.

Just as we did during the Cold War, we must be able to fight wars today while we transform for tomorrow. We must maintain our ability to operate with impunity in all the oceans of the world while we recapitalize and transform our force.

In an October 2002 Proceedings article, the CNO noted that the oceans of the world provide a vast maneuver area-in fact, the largest maneuver area-from which to project direct and decisive power around the globe. I couldn’t agree with the CNO more. I would merely add that the undersea volume is the largest part, by far, of that maneuver space-by an entire dimension-and we can’t afford to relinquish our dominance in projecting power, both from and within this undersea volume.

Our civilian leadership has provided some clear direction on where we in this room should be heading. In February 2002, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz noted that America must “think about how to exploit our asymmetric advantages-advantages in precision strike, advantages in intelligence, advantages in operating under the sea.” I’ve commented several times how Dr. Wolfowitzmust have been thinking of tomorrow’s submarines when he said this. But he’s right: America is the preeminent undersea power. Nevertheless, we need to further refine our ability to fight from the undersea battlespace.

Our transformation efforts in this area are well underway. Exercise GIANT SHADOW provided clear, and present, proof. We showed the world that a stealthy SSGN linked with UAVs and UUV sand delivering critical intelligence to SSGN-delivered SEALs ashore is a thing of the present. We also launched two Tomahawk missiles from a modified D5 missile tube.

The Trident D5 missile tube modification increases the available payload volume for SSGN to 20 times that of a conventional SSN-and we don’t have to use it all for precision strike. New unmanned sensor payloads that can swim, fly, or crawl into tight spots while allowing the host submarine to maintain a safe standoff distance are needed to take full advantage of the unique collection and warfighting capabilities of submarines. This is all about transforming our ability to fight from the undersea domain.

In years to come, GIANT SHADOW will be remembered as a watershed in our tradition of transformation. It brought together real capabilities that exist today-not empty promises of what might be delivered tomorrow in a truly transformational way … and it demonstrates the warfighting value of payload volume on our stealthy submarines.

Although conducted aboard USS FLORIDA (SSGN 728), the exercise tested future attack submarine concepts-not just future SSGN capabilities. This is an important distinction because we need to look for ways to add this capability throughout the SSN force that are not cost-prohibitive.

I’m intrigued by options to increase VIRGINIA class payload volume to allow these SSNs to use the payloads now already tested on SSGN. Some of the options I have seen would quadruple the
payload for a 10 percent increase in cost. Is this a real option? Would it give the country a better return on its investment in undersea preeminence? It sure deserves a hard look.

We must be thinking of new ways to extend the eyes, ears, and noses of our attack submarines offboard and inland. UAVs and UUV s that could deploy today from SSN s need further development. If we’re going to have missiles loitering over potential targets inland, why can’t they also act as UA V sensors for us?

Throw the box away!
One of our transformation paths, then-projecting power and surprise from under the sea-is well understood and well underway. But this is only half the equation. We also need to be able to ensure dominance while fighting in the undersea domain.

In February of this year, Dr. Wolfowitz directed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to conduct a review of our undersea warfare capability with the goal being to develop a set of recommendations to guide our future investments and further our dominance in this area. The crucial role of submarines in maintaining undersea superiority was acknowledged in his forwarding memo that directed the study:

Submarines are critical contributors to [the] U.S. preeminence [in undersea warfare]. Their technical achievements and operational capabilities pose significant obstacles to potential adversaries who would seek to use the ocean depths to attack our interests.

The precepts of this study clearly articulate the need to dominate the fight in the undersea battlespace because our potential adversaries continue to improve their ability to challenge U.S. supremacy under the sea and in the process, challenge our Navy’s Seapower 2 I.

A recent article in the Far Eastern Economic Review offers the following insight:

[An] underwater rivalry is intensifying in Asia as regional powers compete for control of strategic waterways. A multibillion dollar undersea arms race is gathering momentum as established powers and smaller nations rush to build or buy potent new submarines.

The threat posed by diesel submarines is real. They are out there-and as the article states, they are improving. It’s no secret that today the best kill platform against a located submerged diesel is an SSN. Given the fact that we have the right training, superior tactics, and a heavyweight, tested torpedo, we can handle the threat. These diesels are not black holes.

To continue to dominate the diesel threat, including the unlocated diesels, will require us to seamlessly integrate data obtained from the battlegroup’s organic and offboard sensors (including fixed and distributed systems) in real-time. The submarine must be able to hear and respond to the battlegroup commander instantaneously. We simply don’t have time to stop what we’re doing, clear baffles, and make a trip to PD. The missing link, then, is real-time, underwater connectivity. Our inability to pull and push this highly perishable information from and into the Common Undersea Picture is the current Achilles’ heel of the submarine in the coordinated ASW process.

I am encouraged by some of our developing technology. During several recent real-world exercises, we tested the Acoustic Communications System (ACOMMS). We demonstrated in situ-the ability to conduct two-way, extended-range data transfer at speed and depth. We can’t yet be satisfied with the rate or volume of data transferred, but it’s a step in the right direction. We’ve got to keep working on the physics of this tough problem.

To use Seapower 21 language, we have to better integrate the submarine into FORCEnet, this time the undersea FORCEnet, which in the CNO’s words is the “glue-an overarching effort to integrate warriors, sensors, networks, command and control, platforms, and weapons into a fully netted, combat force”-that binds Sea Strike, Sea Shield, and Sea Base into a coherent vision for future naval operations.

If our Navy can’t rapidly sanitize the undersea battlespace by destroying enemy diesel submarines, then one key element of Sea Shield wi II be compromised. The Joint Force combatant commander will, rightfully, be reluctant to move high-value units close to the enemy’s coastline, limiting our ability to establish a secure Sea Base. And the Sea Base is crucial-as Admiral Clark has noted, “Sea Basing serves as the foundation from which offensive and defensive fires are projected-making Sea Strike a reality.” And so it follows, then, that if we can’t dominate the fight in the undersea battlespace, Sea Shield unravels, making Sea Basing tenuous, and Sea Strike more challenging: Seapower 21 simply might not work.

Last month at the annual Submarine Technology Symposium held at Johns Hopkins, I challenged our technical community to step up with some fundamental breakthroughs to solve this challenge of comms at speed and depth. We need transformative innovation not efforts to rewrite the laws of physics. Work at our Naval Postgraduate School on Undersea Communications Docking Stations is an example of working with the laws of physics to help solve this problem. I look forward to the results of their efforts.

On the first page of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s Transformation Planning Guidance (issued this past April), President Bush states that we need a

… future force that is defined less by size and more by mobility and swiftness; one that is easier to deploy and sustain; one that relies more heavily on stealth, precision weaponry, and information technologies …

That sure sounds like a submarine to me. But remember what Will Rogers once said:

“It’s great to be on the right track, but if you’re standing still, you’re going to get run over.”

The Naval Submarine League will continue to play a crucial role in the transformation of the Submarine Force by providing an invaluable intellectual forum in which our best and brightest can frankly discuss the challenges we face and help develop practical solutions. Keep charging!

Thanks for listening. Let’s have a great symposium.

Naval Submarine League

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