Norman Polmar is a well known commentator on naval subjects and is the author of a number of books, the first of which, The Death of the USS THRESHER. appeared in 1964 and was republished in 2001. He has been a frequent contributor to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.
Jerry Holland has emerged as the most prolific and articulate advocate of large, nuclear-propelled submarines for the U.S. Navy. Unfortunately, many of his historic examples put forth in Really New SSNs (Submarine Review, January 2004, page 60-62) are not supported by facts. This calls his entire thesis into question.
(1)Discussing submarine development from 1920 to 1940, he states “The end result of this ever larger, ever more capable submarine was the Fleet boat.” The largest U.S. submarines constructed in that period were ARGONAUT (2,710 tons surface displacement), NARWHAL, and NAUTILUS (both 2,730 tons). After those three submarines the Navy returned to smaller boats-they were followed by DOLPHIN (1,540 tons) and other smaller submarines, which evolved into the l ,525-ton GA TO/BALAO fleet boats.
In the Atlantic the Germans had a similar experience; much larger attack submarines were built, but the 750-ton Type VII, which could be more cheaply produced, were more successful, operating from the North Sea to the Caribbean. Its successes almost won the European War for the Germans.
(2)Jerry next selects the diminutive SSK as his target. But two submarines were slated for mass production in the late 1940s-the SSK and the TANG class. The latter design was successful (once their engines were replaced). TANG’s at 1,821 tons surface were only marginally heavier (but much shorter) than their predecessor fleet boats. Of course, the ultimate U.S. non-nuclear submarine, the BARBEL, was only 225 tons heavier than the fleet boat (surface) and was almost 100 feet shorter.
(3)The author commends the steadfastness of the aviation community in building only 90,000+ ton (full load) carriers, the latest of which will cost more than $11 billion. In reality, the U.S. Navy also builds smaller (albeit not small) carriers. These are the LHNLHD amphibious assault ships.
These are aircraft carriers, the current size being 40,000+ tons and costing almost $2 billion. They operate helicopters and A V-8B Harrier attack aircraft; in the future they will operate the MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The latter aircraft will be the first-line fighter/attack aircraft of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.
The 12 LHA/LHDs currently in service have amphibious designations only for political reasons. The first U.S. Navy ship of this type, USS THETIS BAY, was recommissioned in 1956 as a helicopter assault carrier (CVHA 1 ), i.e., a member of the aircraft carrier family (CV). Follow-on ships were being built but to assuage congressional critics of aircraft carrier spending, the designation LPH (amphibious assault ship-not “landing platform helicopter”) was adopted for these ships.
If one has any doubt that the LHA/LHDs are in fact aircraft carriers please visit one. These ships are larger than all foreign carriers except for the Russian ADMIRAL KUZNETSOV. Still, the LHNLHDs are far smaller than the NIMITZ-class carriers now being built, thus the Navy does have two sizes of aircraft carriers under construction, not just big ships.
(4) Jerry then cites U.S. CYCLONE-class of coastal patrol ships (PC) as an example of smaller not being better. Without arguing the merits of that 331-ton (full load) warship, submariners should note that there are two types of surface warships-major combatants (battleships, cruisers, destroyers, frigates) and small combatants (PCs, mine craft, torpedo boats, missile boats). To compare them in this context is akin to comparing a U.S. Trident submarine with a German Type 209. Both are submarines and both carry torpedoes, but….
Unlike the U.S. submarine world, the surface ship world is continually producing paper designs for new surface combatants. I have participated in several of these design studies and am doing so at this time. In the surface combatant world smaller has often been better: In the early 1970s Admiral H.G. Rickover fought for the 17,000-ton, nuclear-propelled strike cruiser (CSGN) as the Aegis platform of the future. Instead, the Navy’s leadership selected a modification of SPRUANCE class destroyer, resulting in the9,600-ton cruiser TICONDEROGA. Much cheaper, with the same Aegis radar/fire control system, but with more combat capability.
Similarly, the 4,100-ton frigates of the KNOX class were succeeded by the 3,658-ton Perry class (with displacement later increased to almost 4,000 tons). While one could argue the merits of their respective sonar systems, the Perry’s are faster, more flexible, easier to maintain, and more heavily armed than their predecessors.
Larger is better in many things in human endeavor; certainly in ice cream sundaes and pizza pies. And, possibly, in nuclear-propelled submarines. But Jerry has not made the case in his efforts to refute the Naval Institute Proceedings article (June 2003) by Captain Tom Jacobs entitled “Where is the Really New SSN.” .