I have some comments on your excellent review of Cold War Submarines in the October 2004 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.
I tend to align with Norm and KJ, having known and worked with them for a number of years, and aware of many of the issues they raised in the book. You are correct, there are probably no other two American writers who know as much about both the Soviet/Russian and US Submarine Forces.
Point One: What I consider as a basic bit of data-the USN was, and likely still is, behind much of the rest of the Submarine World in Submarine Battery technology (despite the recent release of information on the new type of battery coming to our boats next year!). This is a Rickover legacy, since he never allowed R&D funding that mattered on batteries.
Point Two: Another piece of basic data-the USN was and may still be behind Russia, France, Germany, and Japan in submarine hull metallurgy. The Soviets were building the C, V, and Y hulls out of their equivalent of better than HY 100 steel in the 60’s! All have since been using HY 130 equivalents! Again, a Rickover legacy-he refused to adquately fund R&D in steel development.
Point Three: Despite the Politically Correct stand of the Rickover and Post-Rickover submarine leadership, a valid and compelling case was and can still be made for some combination of nuclear and non-nuclear submarines in our Navy. Again, Rickover would not allow R&D in any form of non-nuclear propulsion. Accordingly, the rest of the Submarine World (Russia, Sweden, Germany, France, and Japan) is building non-nuclear submarines with Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) systems. Most of these boats can maintain a quiet patrol of a month or so without operating conventional diesel engines-in other words-very quiet boats! Such boats would provide superior littoral platforms for ISR and combat, as well as valid and vital non-nuclear targets for ASW! This would be done at less than a half of the cost of SSNs! We could have maintained a much more flexible and capable submarine building and repair shipyard inventory by building such boats and could have responded to the requests of at least two nations to build some for them-essentially allowing writing off a major part of our own R&D costs! The party line was that we could not do so without revealing our super quiet technology to others! That was a false premise then, and more so now, for rafting and machinery quieting is SOP in all foreign subs. According to the party line now, we don’t have the ability to design and build non-nuclear submarines! If this wild statement is correct, we are in deep trouble indeed!
Point Four: The Submarine Force dug itself into a deep political hole in ramming through what resulted in the three super SSNs at outrageous price, and now seem to be about to lose force level because of the extremely high cost of VIRGINIA. There is no doubt that these submarines are potent and highly capable, but can only be in one place at a time, and presently represent overkill against all known potential enemies.
Point Five: Although not Politically Correct, I believe that China represents our most likely future enemy at sea, even before a resurgent Russia. The strength of the Chinese Navy will be numbers of good e11011gh boats, and numbers of less capable boats, yet operational, to outnumber us by more than 2 to I. When combined with mining, the new Chinese Navy represents a very real future naval threat which our SSNs will find a major challenge.
On balance, the authors did represent one point of view, but the other side of the discussion has already been made repeatedly by our Submarine leadership, and through venues like the annual Sub League symposiums, where the superior people who man our boats are seen and heard! The problem again is that each superior platform can only be in one place at a time. The enemy can trade I or even 2 for I for longer than we can accept! I submit once again, that we should be considering and funding R&D on both nuclear and non-nuclear boats for different missions.
Editor’s Note: The question of funding for submarine reactor systems R&D will be addressed in an article about the first decade, appearing in the next issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.