The 2011 Submarine Technology Symposium (STS), held at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and cosponsored by the Submarine League, was one of the best that I have ever attended.
ADM Kirk Donald set the tone of the meeting with his realistic assessment of the strengths and challenges that we face today with the now evolving pressure for reductions in the defense budget against the costs for both two VIRGINIA Class SSNs and the OHIO Class replacement. The eventual retirement of the four SSGNs only compounds this problem as the Submarine Force today is the principal contributor to sea-based land attack as was aptly demonstrated at the beginning of the Libyan conflict. (more later).
V ADM John Richardson, the SubForce Commander, RADM Mike Connor, then Director of Undersea Warfare on the Navy Staff, and RADM Frank Caldwell, ComSubPac, then presented their integrated strategic plan for the way ahead. The reputation of the Submarine Force has never been higher in recent years with the continued success of the VIRGINIA class building program and the SSGN conversion as was presented by RADM Dave Johnson.
These briefings set the tone for the excellent technology presentations that followed which addressed the principal issues of improved JSR, stealth, and weapons capabilities as we focus on more forward presence in the littorals, clearly an important mission for future warfare.
I suggest that industry and the Force should now strive to take advantage of these evolving technologies, many examples were given during the presentations, to make our platforms even more capable. RADM Mike Connor’s presentation on improving our weapons is the best example of exploiting evolving technologies to enhance the capabilities of our platforms. I have long advocated a strong focus on developing smaller and more effective torpedoes thus increasing the kill potential for the force. The SSBN/SSGN transformation is the prime example of this issue and has given our Submarine Force an entirely new capability. This was so realistically demonstrated in the utilization of FLORIDA to completely suppress the Libyan air defenses at the beginning of that conflict. Technology improvements to the SSN weapons payload must be equally pursued.
The Submarine Force has worked closely with such organizations as Penn State and MIT/Lincoln Labs in developing and improving the capabilities of both the SSN and the SSBN weapons systems. I recommend an increased effort to reach out to other universities, and possibly to the Naval Academy, to pursue technology enhancements for the Force. The Submarine League could play an important role in this process by working closely with both the Force and with NavSea in developing these initiatives.
In concluding let me quote from Mike Connor’s recent excel-lent article, “Investing in the Future”, that was published in the June issue of the Naval Institute Proceedings. “A lethal, survivable undersea force is essential to the current and future national security of the United States and its allies. The challenge we face is how best to address essential warfighting issues .. .in the face of extremely tight fiscal realities. We need a coherent plan that addresses platforms, payload, payload volume, and people.”
The 2011 STS symposium presented us with the challenge to develop improved payloads and payload volume. We should seize upon that opportunity.
(And may I add a Postscript kudos the former Force Commander George Emery and Sub League Executive Director Mickey Garverick for these superb efforts in organizing the 2011 STS.)