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Speech by ADM James D. Watkins, USN(Ret.) to the 2003 Naval Submarine League Symposium 12 June 2003

Admiral Kelso, Admiral and Mrs. Crowe, distinguished members and friends of the Submarine Family: I am indeed honored to have been selected by the Chainnan of our Naval Submarine League to be your guest speaker tonight. But I feel especially privileged to be with you to help honor Bill Crowe as this year’s “Distinguished Submariner.” Bill and I have been friends and known each other for almost forty years. In fact, as a C.O., Bill was my Division Commander when I brought the then Cadillac of attack submarines, the Skipjack Class USS SNOOK, to San Diego in the early sixties from her post-shakedown availability at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Bill helped me prepare for our first patrol to the Western Pacific outfitted with the latest in high-tech experimental surveillance suits called “Waterboy.”

This suit produced so much new and exciting on-the-scene information that our friends in the many affected branches of government were ecstatic. Not long thereafter, “Waterboy” morphed into the sophisticated collection suit installed across the force in those days called the WLR-6.

Well, you can see from this very brief sea story that you’re dealing with two very antique ex-operational submariners in Bill and me tonight. In fact, SNOOK was euthanized20 years ago before her expected end-of-life, but fortunately, buried between two great American predecessors, USS GEORGE WASHINGTON, and USS PATRICK HENRY-alas, SNOOK’s only claim to historical fame. So, now, Bill and I just sit on the sidelines and view with “shock and awe” the newest generation of sub and sailor. Wow, what a series of transformations-from diesel to nuclear, and to the rapid series of new hull and technological system enhancements in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s which could never have been predicted forty years ago! What a tribute to those in this room and beyond who have kept the vision and reality alive for this unique contribution to our national security.

I was fortunate a few weeks ago to have been invited by Admiral Bowman to ride one of our newest Seawolf Class submarines, USS CONNECTICUT, in the Arctic Ocean. We took off on a Sea Otter logistics flight from the beautiful garden spot of Dead Horse, Alaska; then landed a few hundred miles north at the ice camp supported at the time by the University of Washington and Penn State’s Applied Physics Lab; then flew by helo to CONNECTICUT which was resting a few miles away in the ice at about 74 degrees north. We submerged, spent the night under the ice, shot the latest version of the MK-48 torpedo at ourselves (with a comfortable depth separation I might add) which successfully avoided the confusing ice picture and recorded hits on us. More importantly, we spent long hours talking to their superbly trained and motivated crew; put our hands on the technologies from stem to stern; and listened to the latest briefings on CONNECTICUT’s own recently successful missions and those of her counterparts in Iraqi Freedom. I was overwhelmed at the state of today’s submarine art and struck by how we had transformed ourselves so successfully from the independent scout and raider role of earlier days, to a recognized Navy battle group member of the Cold War years, to the fully-integrated total force enhancement player today so well exemplified during Iraqi Freedom operations this year. I came away from this voyage with only one serious question on my mind-had I been witness to one of the final days office station scientific operations in the Arctic Ocean? With the close of the Cold War, did responsible decision-makers believe that understanding the mysteries of the Arctic were any less valuable to the nation? What about the volumes of vital scientific data that only the ice-capable nuclear submarines can provide? What about the need to understand the Arctic’s predominant climate generation role? Who would otherwise provide much of the necessary ground-truth correlation with satellite observations to help us gain this understanding? Was there no mechanism to transform certain programs from Navy to the other eight non-Defense ocean-related funding agencies to help share cost burdens for continuing this important work so vital to their own missions? Why did these other agencies not stand up in righteous indignation when the research-equipped submarine USS RICHARD RUSSELL was scheduled for decommissioning long before end of core life? Wherein was the post-Cold War long-range vision vested? … certainly this vision should not have been expected to come from the Navy or Department of Defense alone.

So, while the Navy’s Submarine Force seems to have transformed beautifully into today’s changing world, there doesn’t seem to be a counterpart on the non-Defense side of our bureaucracy that benefited from forty years of information flow spinoff, some of which now seems to be in the process of being terminated, maybe legitimately for national security reasons, but certainly not so for the larger national interests. I can say this because of my current and unique vantage point of chairing the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy for the President and the Congress.

But, tonight I’d like to give you some thoughts on where I see the continuing submarine transformation headed in this new and crazy world in which we find ourselves and where its enlightened leadership may help, as well, move many others who share the ocean environment to join in a more sensible transformation. Let me now wander back a few years to my early days as CNO during the Cold War, shortly after President Reagan called for both a 600-ship Navy and a modernization of our strategic forces. Remember, at that time, we were still very concerned at the degree of deterioration of our defense readiness posture which progressively worsened in the aftermath of Vietnam. A big debate was also raging then on the famous MX missile basing and of our strategic deterrent forces modernization. In late 1982, the President was asked by the Congress to give them an acceptable concept for strategic modernization by spring of 1983. Each Service Chief was tasked to formulate and present their independent positions on this matter. I was aided by a small group of wonderful Navy thinkers, including some submariners who may well be in this room tonight. Further, I called in many outside strategic experts to help me as well. One of these was the famous Dr. Edward Teller since I was studying the efficacy of giving some attention to strategic defense as one aspect of modernization. No sooner had he come into my office than he began a line of questions which went like this: How large is a ballistic missile submarine? How many different kinds of missiles could it carry? How much electrical power can it generate? How long could it sit on an enemy’s land-based intercontinental missile trajectory path? Could it be effective in a boost-phase interc~pt role? Could the submarine remain stealthy and still continue to be in real time communications with the national command authority? How survivable are the best submarines that we have? Well, I was overwhelmed, albeit pleased, with his intense interest and line of questioning. I only bring this dialogue up tonight to illustrate the vital importance of challenging conventional wisdom and always trying to look at the future possibilities to match anticipated technological advances. We need to find these thinkers, inside and outside of uniform, who can challenge and inspire the next generation of visionaries interested in developing a solid insurance policy against future national security unknowns. The Submarine Force contribution to such an insurance policy has been significant in the past, is significant today, and may be even more so in the future.

In this connection, I was pleased to learn of the decision to convert four of our otherwise retiring Ohio Class ballistic missile submarines to nuclear powered guided missile submarines, SSGNs-in some ways answering in real terms the type of thought-provoking questions posed by Dr. Teller twenty years before. What a mistake it would have been to retire those hulls early before taking advantage of their exciting potential to meet the growing number of uncertainties which will surely challenge our future national security planning.

In this regard, I asked V ADM Grossenbacher when he was in town recently to brief me on the concept of operations for a trans-formed SSBN to SSGN. He gave me a wonderful review of GIANT SHADOW, the so-called limited-objective experiment conducted at sea in consonance with the CNO’s Sea Power 21 vision initiatives. What a sensible precursor test to the forthcoming overhaul and conversion of USS FLORIDA to an SSGN at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The recent edition of Undersea Warfare presented an exciting story of this experiment and posed some what ifs which I’ II try to answer regarding the questions they raised. “Could these new conversions carry a large arsenal of conventional sensors, delivery vehicles, and weaponry? Yes. “Could these vessels remain stealthy and invisible to potential enemies so as to preclude any credible counter prior to sensor or weaponry utilization? Yes. “Could these vessels remain stealthy and invisible to potential enemies so as to preclude any credible counter prior to sensor or weaponry utilization? Yes. “Could these SSGNs also house scores of Special Operation Forces to conduct clandestine operations anywhere, anytime?” Yes. “Could these underwater platforms support other naval forces for long periods of time as well? Yes. “Could they carry and launch unmanned aerial and underwater vehicles to provide real-time intelligence information to all warfighting commanders in a region?” Yes. So, in summary, then, isn’t this a unique jewel in the crown of America’s arsenal for freedom? An unequivocal, yes.

In the anticipated world of the early 21″ century, we wi 11 be dealing for years with the latter day equivalent of President Reagan’s concept of an “evil empire”-but this time, the “empire” is a faceless, nation-less, ruthless, evil band of hoodlums called international terrorists, bent on bringing to heel all who do not conform to their bizarre and godless ideology. Under the resultant and prospective operational environment which this projection portends, the unenlightened might say that submarining has no significant role. The visionary on the other hand, would say: nonsense … in fact, this is just the scenario within which submarines can make a powerful and unique contribution to the joint war-fighting community engaged in such a fight-stealth in reaching the battlespace; self-contained capability of conducting the necessary real-time, on the scene intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations, well inland if required and with both on board human and remote all-source sensor information fully integrated; solid communications interchange capability with the assigned joint operational authority; and flexibility to launch an impressive number of salves of conventional cruise missiles on a variety of time-critical targets.

Of course, these new conversions are only the tip of the iceberg for future submarining. Our most sophisticated and modem sized fleet of improved 688s, Seawolf and Virginia classes of submarines continue as pillars of strength to help answer many classic core requirements for the 21st century Navy. Demonstration of their superb contributions to recent confrontations with the terrorist would attest to this. Further, our remaining 14 Tridents will continue to provide the nation with the ultimate credibility of our strategic deterrent to any rogue nation that would ever attempt to hold us or our allies hostage to a threat of employment of weapons of mass destructions.

So, I say the future remains bright for our submariners. Your vision is clear, you seem to be on course to realize that vision and you are transforming beautifully to match the radically changing times. We old-timers are proud of your continuing professional leadership in this very important niche in the national security scheme of things. You will be faced with many obstacles to realizing your dreams in this century as we were years before you. Those who carp at you for submarine weapon system costs, for example, will always be around. These people come and go, always boasting of ways to do the same job much better and cheaper. They seldom win. Persistently sound logic; past superb performance; enlightened vision for the future; and sustained professional leadership will beat them every time. So, keep up the good well-thought out fight as is the submariner’s hallmark. Thanks again for allowing me to be here tonight to honor Bill and all of you for commitment to our nation’s security.

Naval Submarine League

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