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Reprinted with permission from Jan. 12, 2004 issue of Inside the Navy. ©Inside Washington Publishers.

The Defense Department’s requirement for at least 55 attack submarines “remains firm today, but that could change in the future as DOD re-examines its undersea warfare forces in a new capabilities-based study, according to Vice Adm. Stanley Szernborski, the Pentagon’s principal deputy director for program analysis and evaluation.

During the 1980s, the submarine production rate was three or four annually, but the 1990s saw a “procurement holiday, said Szemborski at a luncheon meeting of the Naval Submarine League’s capitol chapter Jan. 7. Defense spending is going up again, he said, but where the sub procurement rate will go is “still an open question.

The 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review calls for 55 attack submarines, and DOD has maintained that requirement, he noted.

“So are we there? he said. “The answer is today, yes. Tomorrow, the answer is maybe.

Szemborski’s remarks came a week after Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz approved Navy Secretary Gordon Eng-land’s proposal to delay buying two Virginia-class attack subs annually, a rate Navy officials have said is necessary to maintain a fleet of 55 attack subs.

Previously the Navy planned to buy two subs annually in FY-07 and FY-08, but the Navy revised those plans when submitting FY-05 budget proposals to Office of the Secretary of Defense last year. That met resistance from some officials, including Szemborski, who favored buying two subs annually in FY-07 and FY-08 (Inside the Navy, Nov. 17, 2003, p1).

But in a program decision memorandum signed Dec. 30, 2003, Wolfowitz blessed the Navy’s proposal to purchase one sub annually from FY-04 to FY-08 and two in FY-09 (Inside the Navy, Jan. 5, p1).

At last week’s luncheon, Szemborski did not discuss the FY-05 budget. He drew a distinction between the numbers of platforms versus their capabilities. The Navy needs to examine the future challenges and risks in undersea warfare in order to determine what capabilities it needs, he said.

“I guess the major point of my talk right now is this: it is not only about how many submarines should there be. It’s a lot more than that, he said.

He added later: “We have to describe what we need in the undersea warfare, describe it in a capability type way. If that translates to more submarines or better submarines, then so be it. But that’s the case that has to be made.

To evaluate future risks and challenges in undersea warfare, the Navy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff conducted an undersea warfare study over the summer, at the request of Wolfowitz. The study looked at what new technologies, such as unmanned vehicles, the Navy could exploit to maintain undersea superiority.

But in recent weeks, Wolfowitz asked for a more thorough undersea warfare study. Szemborski said the study would cover the “whole undersea mission area to include force objectives.

“And we have to evaluate the future challenges and risks from that capability standpoint, and then we need to look to see if our investment is about right, he said. “We may decide that it is. We may decide that it’s not.

Navy officials have noted advances in diesel submarine technology and its proliferation among international navies. Diesel subs could challenge the U.S. Navy’s underwater dominance, especially in littoral waters, officials have said. Szemborski said last week that the United States must not concede its underwater advantage to another country.

“We cannot afford for one of our enemies to come along and take that sanctuary away from us and dominate, he said. “If we lose that sanctuary, we could lose sea power. If we lose sea power, we lose a lot of what we were using in our air power with the Air Force, and a big part of what we’re doing these days.

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