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Franklin Miller is a Principal at the Scowcroft Group in Washington D.C. He served in the White House as a Special Assistant to President George W. Bush and as Senior Director on the National Security Council. He also served for twenty-two years in the Department of Defense in a series of progressively senior positions under seven secretaries. During his career he had unusual influence on tire evolution of national deterrence and nuclear targeting policy.

Admiral Mies, Admiral Padgett, distinguished guests, friends too many to name lest I overlook anyone…

It is nice to be back with my adopted community again. As I have said more than a few times in the past, it says a great deal about the Submarine Force that many years ago you were willing to make me a member of the family, especially since I started life as a surface warfare officer- and as an ASW officer at that!

Seriously, it is a privilege and an honor to be with this extraordinary group of professionals. I thank you, all of you, for what you do every day to defend this great nation of ours. I also want to thank your families, without whose support your jobs would be so much more difficult. And I want to congratulate all of the awardees- and their families- for the significant accomplishments for which they have been recognized over the last few days. As a former Distinguished Civilian honoree, I know what it means to be honored by the Naval Submarine League .

It’s a particularly pertinent time to talk about naval power. Tomorrow is Trafalgar Day, the 206th anniversary of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson’s epic victory over the combined French and Spanish fleets in 1805, a victory which ensured Napoleon would never be able to mount an invasion of the United Kingdom. Now Horatio Nelson never saw a submarine, let alone a nuclear submarine. It’s not clear he even knew about the first wartime use of a submarine, the attempted attacks by David Bushnell’s TURTLE against ships of the Royal Navy during the American Revolution. But it is pretty clear that Nelson, a master strategist and master tactician, would have immediately appreciated the vast capabilities which nuclear submarines embody. He understood the need for fast ships to obtain vital intelligence. He understood the need for massive firepower. He understood the need for stealth. He understood the vital role sea power plays in defending the homeland.

Our Navy’s Submarine Force plays a key role in each of these missions.

Let’s begin with defending the homeland. Our SSBN force is the very backbone of the nation’s strategic nuclear deterrent. In fact, it was the Ohio class SSBN with its Trident D-5 missiles which defeated Soviet nuclear strategy and helped bring the Cold War to an end.

Much has been said and written over the past several years to the effect that the nuclear deterrent is yesterday’s news. The President has said it is his goal that nuclear weapons should be abolished some day. But it is certainly true that very few nations which currently deploy nuclear weapons share his ambitions.

Despite what the spin-doctors say, President Obama’s Prague speech and vision of a world free of nuclear weapons has not had great resonance in the capitals of other nuclear weapons states, with the possible exception of some of the chattering class in London. Not in Paris. Certainly not in Moscow or Beijing. Not in Islamabad, or Tel Aviv, or New Delhi. And definitely not in Pyongyang- or in Tehran for that matter- each of whom will want nuclear weapons whether we have them or not in order to deter our conventional capabilities.

  • In fact, in Moscow, policy moved to increase, rather than decrease, the role nuclear weapons play in its national security policy.
  • It’s pretty clear by now that Messrs. Putin/Medvedev place a very high reliance on nuclear weapons. In the same period of time that the United Kingdom and United States Administrations have been advocating reducing the role of nuclear weapons in their respective national strategies and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons altogether, here’s what the Russian government has done:

– publicly threatened nuclear use against their neighbors over the past three to four years, to include an exercise in the fall of 2009 which simulated nuclear weapons attacks against Poland;

– authorized Russian strategic bombers to undertake repeated highly provocative flights near and into Japanese, British, US, and other NATO airspace,

– allowed (and never contradicted) a senior Russian Defense Ministry spokesman announcing the development of a new hypersonic nuclear-armed cruise missile whose mission, aboard the soon-to-be-deployed attack submarine SEVERODVINSK, is to strike “aircraft carriers of the potential enemy;

– threatened last December to begin a new nuclear arms race if the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the “New START’ treaty;

As we meet here today, Russia is deploying a new generation of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile, is contemplating building a second new type, is testing two new types of submarine launched ballistic missiles, and is building new strategic ballistic missile submarines. For the record, China is deploying two new types of ICBMs, is developing a new SLBM, and is the only one of the so called P-5 nuclear weapons states which continues to increase its nuclear arsenal. And Pakistan continues to build up its nuclear arsenal and is expected to soon have more nuclear warheads than the United Kingdom. So much for the notion that if we and our allies demonstrate that we are intent on reducing the role our nuclear arsenals play other states will follow suit.

So, nuclear weapons are going to play a considerable role in protecting the United States for a long time to come. This means we are going to need a modem, capable, SSBN force crewed by the finest officers and sailors in the world for a long time to come. The New START treaty doesn’t alter this fact one bit. In fact, the Nation’s reliance on the SSBN force is increasing. As indicated by the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the sea-based leg of the Triad will become increasingly important and relied upon to deliver a credible nuclear deterrent. When the treaty is fully implemented, the SSBN force will represent about 70% of America’s strategic nuclear warheads. The force will continue to be a significant hedge against technical failures in other legs of the Triad. And it will continue to be the only truly survivable leg of the Triad. But it is an aging force.

For the future, PEO Subs, Rear Admiral Dave Johnson and Director, SSP, Rear Admiral Terry Benedict, and their teams have been working together closely for some time to ensure that the follow-on to the Ohio SSBN similarly provides the United States the ability to deploy a strategic submarine force that’s sized to meet the need. But we need to get on with beginning to build the new boats. As the Ohio’s retire, their successors must be available – in time – to replace them. We need a commitment from the Administration that this is going to happen.

Furthermore, the D5 Strategic Weapons System (SWS) has been deployed on the OHIO Class SSBNs for more than 20 years, and is planned for a service life of more than 50 years. This is well beyond its design life of 25 years, and more than double the historical service life of any previous sea-based deterrent system. Significant additional sustainment efforts, including procurement of additional missile assets, will be required to sustain a credible and viable SLBM capability from now through end of life for the OHIO Replacement SSBNs in 2080. As the D5 SWS ages, sustaining demonstrated reliability and performance is expected to become more challenging. The importance of high quality preventative and corrective maintenance continues even as supporting infrastructure ages, including facilities and unique support equipment, at the Strategic Weapons Facilities. Efforts are necessary to address operational support challenges and aging issues for the D5 SWS. The D5 SWS Life Extension (D5LE) program currently underway provides one-time component replacements for the guidance system and four missile electronics packages and procures additional missiles for flight testing to meet peak out load requirements in 2028 for the OHIO Class SSBNs. Continuous low rate procurement of Solid Rocket Motors (SRM) is in progress as a hedge against potential aging failures, and ultimately as replacements when existing motors reach the end of their design life. But many other components which are at risk for age related failure modes do not yet have replacement efforts planned or funded and in some cases Jack stable industrial technology bases. A research and development (R&D) program must be initiated to develop alternative technologies to reduce mid-term risks and prepare to address long term program inventory shortfalls. Such a program should enable the development of affordable replacements integrating accessible materials, current technologies, and state of the art manufacturing capabilities at lower total ownership costs of the program going forward.

Make no mistake about it: the reason the possibility of nuclear war is so low is because of the massive firepower inherent in the survivable leg of our nuclear triad- our sea-based deterrent. It’s at work every day.

Let me tum now to the SSN force. Where else can you find a military platform which gathers intelligence information which is invaluable, covers the gamut from strategic to tactical, and which the enemy doesn’t even know is being collected? Where can you find a platform which can transform itself from intelligence gatherer to war-fighter in an instant? Where else can you find a platform which combines these attributes with virtually limitless range and endurance? And which requires no forward support? The answer is simple: you can’t! The modem attack submarine is truly a military marvel, matched only by the officers and men who man it.

As a global power, the United States must continue to be involved around the world. We must be deployed forward. And only naval forces can provide the requisite freedom of action and flexibility which our national interests require. Our naval forces will increase in relevance as the current ground wars wind down.

Within this broad context and framework, attack submarines, and I include SSGNs in that category, play and will continue to play, a key role in the influencing posture. They will, by virtue of their very existence, provide conventional regional and local deterrence; they will provide the JSR which regional and national commanders will need to make sound decisions; and armed with tomahawk cruise missiles, they deploy responsive and lethal firepower to implement those decisions if necessary. In addition, since our potential adversaries recognize what our shorter-range forces can do, they will seek to keep us as far away from their shores as possible. Anti-access strategies will become more and more prevalent. And there is no better weapon to def eat the anti access strategy than our Submarine Force, stealthily gathering data on the enemy’s deployments and then punching holes in their forces to allow the rest of America’s capabilities to close in for action. But our enemies are not stupid. They also recognize this fact. They will increase their own ASW efforts and peer competitor Submarine Forces will grow.

But, against this backdrop of increasing undersea demands we must consider our shrinking US undersea forces.

  • Execution of the current Program of Record (POR) will lead to a drop in the force level of about one third over the next 20 years.
  • The attack Submarine Force will steadily shrink by 29 percent (from 55 to 39) over the next 20 years.
  • Our forward deployed undersea presence will reduce by 43 percent over the same period, resulting from both a smaller SSN fleet and the retirement of all four OHIO class SSGNs.
  • This SSN and SSGN force structure reduction will also result in our undersea strike capacity shrinking by about 60 percent by 2030. With the prospect of reduced federal resources in coming years will result in more budget cuts, the reduction in the undersea force may be even greater. The sharp contrast between the growing future demand for undersea forces and the presently programmed decline in undersea forces highlights the need for a carefully crafted undersea investment plan that identifies priorities.

Such a carefully crafted plan includes:

  • Reducing the SSN shortfall by sustaining VIRGINIA procurement at two per year through 2025 and by extending the service life of selected Los Angeles-class SSNs
  • Leveraging the successful VIRGINIA design and reducing risk during the construction of OHIO Replacement by building VIRGINIA SSNs beyond the currently planned 30 hulls
  • Ensure sufficient weapons are available by resuming production of heavyweight torpedoes, incorporating modular design elements for cost control and future capability spirals and by adding extended range anti-ship cruise missiles to the SSN arsenal.
  • We also need to

    • Reduce the imminent shortfall in undersea strike capacity and general purpose undersea payload volume by inserting a VIRGINIA Payload Module (VPM) with four large vertical tubes into 20 planned VIRGINIA-class SSNs starting no later than Block V
    • Support the development of future conventional strike systems that are faster, more survivable and more capable than TLAM
    • Introduce the ability to hold the emerging new set of fixed undersea targets at risk with either long-range undersea strike weapons or short-range capabilities where appropriate. In this regard, I absolutely disagree with the Administration’s refusal to proceed with introducing a small number of conventionally-armed Trident D-5s into the force. It is a quick, easy, and affordable way to provide the United States with an initial prompt global strike capability which we so badly need.

    Finally, we need to provide a sustained undersea ability to insert, support and extract Special Forces.

    All of this poses two special challenges. There is a challenge to all of you to continue to be the best submariners in the world. I am certain you are up to the task. And there is a challenge to those who support you- both inside and outside of government- to ensure that you have the best platforms and equipment in the world, and both of those in sufficient numbers. I hope we are up to that task. But I am certain the Naval Submarine League will be in the forefront of the fight to ensure you have all the support you need and deserve.

    Thank you, and may God bless the United States of America and its magnificent Submarine Force.

Naval Submarine League

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