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Jerry Holland writes on maritime subjects and has been a frequent contributor to the Submarine Review. He is Vice President of the Naval Historical Foundation and the Editor in Chief of their book. The Navy.

The direction in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) to increase the submarine building rate to two a year by 2012 is heartening to all interested in maritime supremacy and knowledgeable of the submarine’s role in achieving and maintaining it. After years of being cast by analysts and editorial writers as a Cold War weapon without an enemy, the importance of the submarines role in maritime dominance in East Asia is now evident. Endorsements come from such diverse authorities as Richard Armitage, “Thank God we did not cancel submarine construction as proposed in the nineties”,; and Andrew K.repinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budget Assessments, long an exponent of canceling submarines entirely. K.repinevich is most explicit in his analysis of the positive in the QDR where he says:
“Increasing our submarine production to send a clear signal to China, and our allies, that Beijing cannot expect to threaten U.S. freedom of action in an area of vital interest or coerce friends and allies in East Asia.””
As encouraging these signals are however, other matters presage coming difficulties as surely as the falling glass heralds a coming hurricane. And while submarines can dodge the storm at sea by going deep, realities that cannot be dodged promise to plague future planning.

  • The Navy in general and submarines in particular do not have much of a role in the anti-terror wars in Middle East. As the insurgency drags on and leadership concentrates on withdrawal from Iraq and homeland security, the Navy will have even less relevance in the minds of many responsible for the country’s defense.
  • The costs of Middle East Wars, particularly infrastructure repair in Afghanistan and Iraq, will demand large amounts of the Federal Government’s discretionary income- shifting them out of Defense and foreign aid.
  • The need to repair and replace Army and Marine equipment worn out in the Middle East and to fund the already approved increase in the Army’s end strength will have priority in the Defense budget for the foreseeable future. These considerations will shift money in the Defense budget away from the Navy and Air Force
  • The large and growing Federal deficit eventually will limit government’s borrowing and spending power and eventually cap the monies available to the government. The federal budget deficit has already begun to limit funding for existing programs in the civil sector and when the demands oflraq ease will almost certainly crimp the defense budget.
  • The cost of the all-volunteer force will continue to rise as demands for technically skilled people increase and disincentives to join or remain have to be balanced by additional financial rewards
  • Controlling the costs of doing business, i.e. infrastructure maintenance and repair, personnel, and other semi discretionary funding, will not be adequate to compensate for the scope of the reductions resulting from these influences.

Faced with these economic and political pressures, the Navy will find it difficult to maintain a strategic vision in which control of the seas remains paramount. But such a vision is crucial to make clear, first to the Navy itself, and then to policy makers and public sponsors a consistency of purpose and dedication to maritime dominance. Building such a long-range focus is possible because while the Army and Marines are engaged in an intense conflict requiring all their resources, the Navy is being allowed a high but relatively peaceful tempo of operations. This relative leisure permits formulating a coherent strategy recognizing that the most important improvements and innovations take twenty years to bring to fruition. Avoiding infatuation with the short-term focus on the FYDP and the political objectives of any particular administration will be necessary to avoid sharp swings of the rudder that waste resources on fads.'”
During this phase, submarine supporters must resist the demands of those shouting for lower expenditures or economic analysis that rationalizes all things to a bottom line can never be meet. This will
not be easy: “keeping faith with ideas rather than things is difficult when institutions and resources are focused on things”.”
Outside the service few recognize that the most important parts of a Navy, the ships and the sailors who man them, cannot be generated quickly. Warships are long-lead time items and cannot be mass-produced even in a full wartime production. On the other hand, today’s ships and aircraft are long-Jived assets not throwaway toys. The Navy’s first submarines were built in twenty months and had a service life of less than eight years. Today’s submarines require four or more years to build but last forty. Such long-lived assets deserve as much intellectual effort as monetary capital investment. To use these resources efficiently requires steering a straight course.

Naval forces face significant changes in the environment in which they will have to operate in the years ahead. The nature of potential enemies has changed, the technologies related to detection and computation of target location as well as those related to command and control continue to improve exponentially, and military forces will be employed in endeavors which both transcend the capabilities of single services or organizations and are of increasingly broad nature. This triad of change, political, technological and military, changing at different rates and in different ways, complicates the omens on which prognosticators rely when moving from the realm of educated guess toward flights of fancy. But it is possible that, unlike oracles of old who read tea leaves or entrails of animals, seers today can provide a glimpse into the distant future – and if it can be done, does it make a difference?
Four facets of the long-range vision can be easily identified. These basic factors underline comprehension of the possibilities in the future. They are propositions that Admiral Art Cebrowski taught when he said, “We know a great deal more about the future than we think we do” .

  • Geographic realities will not change. Three-quarters of the earth’s surface will continue to be covered with navigable waters.
  • Technology will continue to define what is possible. Development of truly unique technical changes takes time. Careful examination of present research and development trends permits more than simple extrapolation of what may be likely to be possible in twenty years. Reasonable expectations for improvements that technology will bring can generally be forecast with some degree of reliability as long as the predictors recognize that there are Laws of Physics
  • Technical advances will drive the operational arts. Careful attention to technological opportunities, in-depth experimentation and realistic exercises will be necessary to be able to keep pace with the technical changes taking place. The Development Squadrons are now more important than they have been any time since the early 1950’s even though the employment of the submarine in future roles is much less clear now than then.
  • Political considerations will Jay the background on what military forces will be used, how and where. These are the most difficult eventualities to predict and least likely to be accurate.

In spite of the hazards in predicting the future, the value of attempting predictions cannot be gainsaid. Analysis of computer software development demonstrates that careful planning and design yields great dividends; the cost to make changes in the design phase are twenty times Jess than the cost of making those changes after the program is coded. The same sort of benefit obtains if one carefully examines the expected environment. A proven corollary is that the longer the look ahead the greater the potential return.

During this century, technology will continue to offer many more opportunities than can be turned into capabilities quickly. But investments in such opportunities must address the questions “What for?” “Why submarines?” “How much?” In this environment, the Navy as a whole must be careful to pay attention to its historic tasks because few others will. Jointness is a wonderful concept but does not apply here; no other service or entity cares except NOAA.
Addressing these historic tasks becomes a Mahanian quiz for which answers are not always understood much less appreciated:

  • What is the requirement for Naval presence?
  • How do we bring useful forces to bear in a timely manner?
  • Where do submarines fit in these questions?

These questions do not address a specific scenario or enemy. Specific scenario planning has a weak track record. As future threats become less well defined, the potential utility of forces, units and systems designed for specialized or unique purposes will become less and less. Since the future is dimly perceived, in meeting the
CNO’s announced aim of flexible, persistent and decisive forces, those forces and equipments with wide ranges of utility will be most valuable.’
While theorists can fairly agree on these points, translation of these into a consistent long term policy is necessary so that someone may bend metal to achieve their ends. Such a policy needs concrete pillars to serve as guides and support that transcend individuals’ tenures and buttress organizational consistency when assaulted by
political forces that have other goals and mores. History again offers guidance:

  • Build warships to win wars: on the sea first and only then to
    influence actions ashore.
  • Build no second rate ships.
  • Resist the calls for limited mission or special purpose hulls.
    There won’t be enough ships to spread around to all the potential
    trouble spots all the time so the ones there are must be able to go
    where needed quickly (fast) and stay for a long time (endurance).

This means
” … platforms and their weapons systems must be multipurpose. Equipment cannot be optimized for service in the
Norwegian Sea … if it means their performance would be
marginal in tropical waters … and we cannot afford to buy and
maintain more than one set of forces. ”

  • Continue to insist that those parts of the ship that will have long life (hull and propulsion plant) must be first class. Electronics and weapons will change two to five times in the ship’s life, the hull and propulsion never.
  • Build ships that have enough weapons to make a difference, enough people to fight the ship, enough room to allow new weapons systems to be added, and can sustain battle damage.

Expectations that technology will reduce crew size should be treated with great skepticism. The current concern with personnel costs is driving surface ship designs to limit crews to handfuls of people with little regard to historical experience. The Navy’s track record here is abysmal: and the Submarine Force’s probably the worst. Submariners invented hot bunking, a custom that does not add glory to our reputation. Every class since 1908 has needed more people to operate and maintain the ship than the design predicted. Manning a ship in peace is easy but prolonged operations wear people out. The US Navy is not a Baltic flotilla that goes into port each night and on the weekends. Every proposed Watch Quarter and Station Bill must provide for General Quarters for days and Condition Two watches for weeks.

  • Building ships that can fight hurt requires enough people to find, fight and repair the damage. The Soviet’s experience demonstrating the limitations of unmanned fire suppression and automatic isolation systems should reinforce conservative design in damage control.
  • Push the technical envelopes. Small numbers (one?) in a ship class are best in times of peace even though the budget process shouts for production runs to spread the initial development costs over a number of platforms, and logistic and maintenance organizations loath one-of-a-kind units that complicate support. In the coming years, large numbers of ships will not be authorized or funded in any case. Current plans for the Virginia class,
    where each ship differs from the last in significant features, allows incorporating technology changes in an orderly fashion and helps keep competent design organization alive.

Trial and experimentation must follow construction because some designs will fail, e.g. GLENARD P. LIPSCOMB and TULLIBEE. When that happens, the ship can be retired in order not to perpetuate error by throwing good OM&N money after poorly spent SCN funds in spite of the heat that will be generated by accountants and media critics.

  • Finally in planning modernization, new designs must be vigorously defended. Expenditure for better ships is hard to justify when present construction is turning out ships better than any others in the world. But to have good enough in the future, one must commit to excellence in the present.•ii Twenty years between major designs is too long to keep a design base healthy. Building more complex ships has the advantage of challenging the constructors and enervating their work forces. Keeping that industrial base alive in order to support the inevitable expansion is important and not well understood outside the Navy and the representatives of those states and districts hosting such facilities.

Development of the expertise of the people who will use the new equipment will be as important as construction of the best possible ships and the development of technology. However advanced future technologies may become, their military application has to be developed and their implications understood by those adopting them to doctrinal and organizational structures. Technology requires appreciation of the physical limits plus an understanding of the
battlefield environment on which it will be applied in order to maximize its potential. For the Navy in general and for submarines in particular, this is NOT a joint warfare task. The joint field has places where technologies overlap- stealth aircraft, communications and information systems (in part – a chart looks different than a
map), propellants and explosives – but most of the technologies crucial to maritime dominance do not overlap other services, most especially where submarines are concerned. Dedication of resources to these service unique functions will always be under fiscal fire from those who do not see an enemy at sea or understand the nature
of modern maritime warfare. Long term strategic planning today requires a vision of the future that is not necessarily constrained by an identified enemy. In the post-Soviet world, this sort of planning requires more than a simple definition of who and what the enemy might be and creation of
scenarios related to a best guess technique.
In fact, the enemy of sound long term defense planning is the scenario based approach in which well meaning officials respond to the pressures of short termism by trying to predict the way in which forces may have to be used. This method has a historical record of being almost 100% wrong; based as it is on a combination of wish
fulfillment and the assumption that even well armed regimes are amenable to arguments of reasonable men.”
The intellectual capital that must be invested in planning for this future is immense. Reaching consensus will be daunting. Issues will be dynamic and the institutional memory short. Programmatic difficulties will grow as resources dwindle. Nevertheless, Long range planning must be a priority to inform, educate and facilitate
decisions on the allocation of resources. Not everything planned will come to fruition, but the act of planning will identify opportunities as well as uncertainties.
The output or conclusions of long term strategic planning will be
formulative rather than definitive. Its aims should be:

  • To provide comprehensive long term view of the elements and needs of American maritime power as guideposts for those at lower echelons on what elements have the most enduring worth.
  • To aid the Navy’s leadership in real time budget decisions particularly when those decisions must be made under economic and/or political stress.
  • To buffer the effects of volatile political change in regimes: administrations that last four years cannot adequately plan or promote ships that take ten years to design, build and test.

“The swift changes in regimes in France, some of whom were mere ‘ placemen’, … had … [the] consequence that … although large sums of money were spent on the French navy, the money was not well spent: the building programs reflected frequent changes from one administration’s preference … to another’s … {leaving} the navy itself with a heterogeneous collection of ships that were no match for those of the British or later the Germans.'”

  • To guide the Navy train back onto the tracks after political decisions have switched the train onto a siding. Guideposts to consistency and utility are particularly valuable when mistakes have led to error in design, resources or decisions.
  • To publicize an appreciation of the present and future needs and to elicit comment and to elicit reaction from those inside and outside the service on the planning aims and goals. While partly propaganda, the products of such planning serve to build understanding and consensus among the officers of the submarine force and the Navy, its constituency in the political arena and in the general public. This last is particularly helpful in preparing
    for the storms of lowered resources and increased expectations.

As the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Mike Mullen, has observed, the defense budget is at a high point in its cycle. The QDR’s prescription for more submarines is only of moral value: its actual decision point to increase production is pushed into the next national administration’s budget. Policy statements made public in the recent past have been Jong on rhetoric and short on substance. Thinking longer is important. With the storm approaching, it’s time to rig for heavy weather.

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