Thank you for the introduction. And thank you also for the opportunity to speak once again at this symposium. I very much appreciate the chance to share my views, and as I’ve mentioned on past occasions, I think it reflects well on the submarine community that it welcomes outside perspectives, even when they’re critical.
At the outset, I need to mention the standard disclaimer that these views are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer.
I want to start today with a few comments about individual submarine programs, and then proceed to some more-general issues that I think are of pressing importance for the submarine community.
In terms of individual submarine programs, I want to start with the 688s, because, when it comes to discussions of the future of the Submarine Force, they’re a bit like Rodney Dangerfield: The focus is usually on the Virginia and Ohio-replacement programs, and the 688s often go unmentioned, even though they’ll be a significant part of the attack boat force for many years to come.
So let’s repair that a bit by starting with the 688s for a change, and here I want to make two points. The first concerns the ARCI program. The Navy is building a new attack boat force over time largely through the Virginia-class program, but to no small degree, it’s also building that future force through the ARCI program. You can’t see that in the sand charts of the projected attack boat force-all you can see are the numbers of 688s steadily declining, and not the fact that, at the same time, the significant numbers of renaming 688s are having their capabilities substantially increased through the ARCI program, thereby substantially improving the capabilities of the future force.
This program is something the Submarine Force might consider talking about more. I know I said that at last year’s symposium, but I’m saying it again because I didn’t see much change in this regard since last year. The reason to talk more about this program is not just because of its cost effectiveness, or because it’s a case study in open architecture, but also because it demonstrates good stewardship of existing assets, which can be important as part of a larger argument about investing in Submarine Force’s future, which is a topic I’ll get to later.
The second point I want to make about the 688s is to suggest again, as I did last year, that the Navy might consider examining the option of mitigating the projected attack submarine shortfall by refueling a handful of the final 688s and extending their service lives by something like I 0 years.
I don’t know whether this would be feasible or cost effective, and I won’t be surprised if the answer that comes back is, “No, it wouldn’t be feasible, or “It would be feasible, but not cost effective.” But if that’s the answer, it would be helpful to reach it after a proper study, rather than an intuitive judgment, and then report that answer to others, because doing so is something that could help in an effort to win support for mitigating the attack submarine shortfall by putting additional Virginia-class boats in the shipbuilding plan.
Stated differently, I can’t imagine why someone would agree to put additional Virginia-class boats in the plan to mitigate the shortfall unless the Navy had already shown, through a formal study, that the alternative of SLEPping some 688s wasn’t feasible or wouldn’t be cost effective.
Let me turn now to the next submarine program, the SSGNs. And on this program, I again want to make two points.
The first concerns their role as cruise missile platforms. That role was put on display at the start of the recent Libyan operation, which was a feather in the cap for the SSGNs, and for the Submarine Force generally.
The point I want to make here is that the Navy might consider showing more widely to others the huge drop off in the number of Tomahawk-sized weapons that can be carried by the general-purpose Submarine Force that will suddenly occur when the SSGNs leave the force. That drop off is fairly startling, and even though it won’t occur until the late-2020s, it can be helpful to acquaint more people now with those numbers, in connection with discussions of the Virginia-class procurement rate in coming years, and the proposal to build at least some Virginias in the future with an additional mid-body section containing some large-diameter vertical tubes.
Of course, it’s easy enough for others to calculate the drop off in these weapon numbers on the basis of open-domain information. But it carries more weight when the numbers come in a Navy briefing. If the submarine community doesn’ t take the time to show these numbers to others, then others might conclude that it’s not an important issue for the submarine community.
The second point I want to make about the SSGNs concerns their role as SOF support platforms. This was one of two key warfighting roles, along with firing Tomahawks, that was emphasized to policymakers when the decisions were made to spend about $4 billion to refuel these boats and convert them into SSGNs. And it’s a role that policymakers may begin paying even more attention to, given the increased interest in the SEALs following their raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.
The SSGNs, of course, can perform the SOF support role today. But if this role takes on increased importance to policymakers in the future, then it might be helpful for the Submarine Force to show that it has a program in place to give the SSGNs -and the SSNs, for that matter -an ability to perform it better in the future through production of more-capable replacements for the dry deck shelters.
The Navy and SOCOM have now had two bites at this apple -first with the ASDS, and then with the JMMS, which was cancelled last July. The FY12 budget submission says that, as a replacement for JMMS, a new SOF Underwater Systems acquisition strategy was approved in November. But that’s all it says-no details are provided on what this acquisition strategy might lead to, or when.
In the same way that the ARCI program and other efforts to improve submarine sensors and payloads show good stewardship of existing SSNs, it may be helpful for the submarine community, particularly in connection with requesting funding future platforms, to show that it is maximizing the utility of the SSGNs in one of their two core advertised warfighting missions by putting into place a program for, finally, replacing the dry deck shelters with multiple copies of a delivery system that meets the requirement for a manned, dry combatant submersible that can act as a clandestine mobility platform.
I want to tum now to the Virginia class. As you know, earlier this year, there was a possibility, given the unsettled situation concerning the FY 11 budget, of losing the second FY 11 boat and breaking the multiyear contract. That did not happen.
Given overall budget pressures, however, I believe there remains a chance that one or more of the second boats in the years FYl4 through FY18 might be dropped from the shipbuilding plan, and that some-or even most or all-of the Virginia class boats shown in the 30-year plan in the years when Ohio-replacement boats are procured might also disappear from the plan.
I outlined this concern in my address to this symposium last year. And in a follow-on lunch address to the National Capital chapter last September, I detailed some of the specific potential implications that the submarine community might need to begin thinking through to be prepared for a scenario in which most or all of the Virginias that are opposite Ohio-replacement boats are dropped from the plan.
I don’t want to repeat what I said in those two talks-I only want to state that developments since September have not caused me to alter my conclusion that these boats are at risk of disappearing from the plan-unless current circumstances shift in some way, which I’ll get to shortly.
The second point I want to make concerns the proposal to build at least some future Virginia class boats with additional mid-body large-diameter tubes as a replacement for the large-diameter tubes on the SSGNs, and for increasing the strike capabilities of the attack boat fleet generally. Whether this proposal gains support from policymakers remains to be seen-it may depend in part on what effects it would have on unit procurement cost and on the total number of Virginia-class boats that can be procured within available resources. And as I mentioned earlier, it may also depend on how well the submarine community explains to others just how large a drop in Tomahawk-sized weapon capacity the general-purpose Submarine Force will experience when the SSGNs retire.
The final individual program I want to talk about is the Ohio-replacement program. I have spoken here in the past about the need to make sure that the design for this boat has no unnecessary bells and whistles, so as to make it as affordable as possible, and it appears that the Navy is on this path. As you know, the Navy has reduced the estimated unit cost of follow-on boats in the program from more than $6 billion in FYIO dollars to $5.6 billion, and is examining options for getting the cost down to the target of $4.9 billion.
Whether the Navy will be able to achieve that target cost isn’t clear. Getting closer to that figure would ease the overall affordability equation for Navy shipbuilding, but even achieving the $4.9 billion target would not, in my view, eliminate the risk of losing some, or even most or all, of the Virginia class boats that currently appear in the 30-year shipbuilding opposite the Ohio-replacement boats. And if some of the Virginia class boats in these years are dropped from the plan, it could, other things held equal, increase the cost of the Ohio-replacement boats by reducing economies of scale in submarine production.
Last year, in the 11th Congress, there appeared to be an emerging interest among some in the House in the idea of making the boat substantially smaller and Jess expensive by designing it around a C-4-sized missile. This year, in the 112’h Congress, there has been a shift in oversight focus on the program, and there’s now a concern in the House that the Navy may have taken its cost-reduction efforts too far in one area by reducing the number of tubes on the ship from 20 to 16. The House version of the FY 12 defense authorization bill contains a provision that would require the Navy to justify the reduction to 16 tubes in greater detail.
The issue about the number of tubes is rooted in a concern about whether the planned fleet of Ohio-replacement boats will have sufficient capability to perform their deterrent mission out to the year 2080. But in terms of performing their deterrent mission over their entire service lives, there’s another issue to consider, and that’s whether a force of 12 Ohio-replacement boats, rather than 13 or 14, will be enough to keep the required number at sea at any given moment during the middle years of the class’ life cycle.
Since the boats will have life-of-the-ship cores, they won’t need a mid-life refueling. But the Navy has not yet found a way to eliminate the need for a mid-life overhaul, so one or two of these boats might still be hard down in such an overhaul during the middle years of the class life cycle, which in tum could prevent a force of 12 boats during those years from meeting the requirement for having a certain number at sea at any given moment. The Navy is currently skating by on this issue, but unless the Navy can find a way to eliminate or significantly reduce the length of that mid-life overhaul, this issue may eventually need to be addressed in terms of either adding one or two boats to the program or reducing the at-sea deterrent requirement during the middle years of the class’ life cycle.
A final point about the Ohio-replacement program concerns the way the lead boat is being funded in the budget. In the FY12 submission, for the sake of smoothing out the R&D funding profile for the program, the Navy was allowed by OSD to shift some of the detailed design and nonrecurring engineering (DD/NRE) costs of the program from the procurement cost of the lead ship to the Navy’s R&D account.
The amount of funding shifted was relatively small compared to the total amount of DD/NRE costs for the program, but the permission that the Navy was granted to do this renews, in my mind, the question of whether any of these DD/NRE costs should be attached to the procurement cost of the lead ship. The practice of attaching the 00/NRE costs of a new class to the procurement cost of the lead ship goes back many years, but is not followed in other areas of defense procurement, and can lead to distorted understandings about what the second and following ships in a class might cost to procure.
If a small portion of the ship’s DD/NRE cost can be shifted to the R&D account, then I think it’s fair to ask why it all couldn’t be shifted there, and not just for the Ohio-replacement program but for other shipbuilding programs as well. Doing this wouldn’t reduce the cost of the Ohio-replacement program, but it could make it easier for people to understand the relationship between lead ship and follow-ship procurement costs
I want to shift now to the second part of my talk, which focuses on some more-general issues of pressing importance to the submarine community. These issues concern the debate over the future of the federal budget, the future of the defense budget, and the Navy’s share of the defense budget. These issues are matters of wide-ranging discussion right now. They overshadow-and can affect-everything I’ve said until now about the specific submarine programs.
Right now, we’re in the midst of what is shaping up to be a historic debate over the future of the federal budget. It’s a debate so fundamental that, among other things, it has given rise to a potential scenario of the country defaulting on its debt for the first time this coming August.
What this debate might mean for the future defense top line is unclear, though the range of possibility appears to be bounded on the high end by a defense top line that in real terms remains about where it is, or perhaps grows by a little bit, and on its low end by a reduction of about $100 billion per year, or roughly one-sixth. Where things might wind up within that broad range of possibility is difficult to predict with much certainty, because it will be affected by decisions on entitlements, domestic discretionary spending, and taxes.
The possibility of a declining defense budget, however, has led to talk about a roles and missions review, and about the need to make strategic choices in defense spending, as opposed to across-the-board cuts.
If that’s the case-if we’re entering into a basic reexamination of defense spending of this kind-then it seems to me that this would be best debated by the country as a whole, as opposed to just within DOD. A debate of this scope and importance would benefit from a broad participation that is infonned by strongly presented competing views.
It’s in the context of this unfolding debate that I want to focus on the large projected shortfalls in the 30-year shipbuilding plan.
The largest of these shortfalls-the one projected for cruisers-and destroyers-just got 6 ships bigger, because the Navy recently announced that it has increased the cruiser-destroyer requirement from 88 ships-where it had been for five years-to 94 ships.
The shortfall in cruisers and destroyers is projected to span most of the years of the 30-year plan, and to bottom out at 68 ships in 2034. That’s a peak shortfall of 26 ships, or 28% of the goal. If the Navy doesn’t SLEP some of its existing destroyers, then ensuring that the cruiser-destroyer force doesn’t drop below 95% of the stated requirement would entail adding 22 more destroyers to the shipbuilding plan.
The second largest projected shortfall is in attack submarines, and I don’t think I need to give you the details on that. And there are projected shortfalls in other ship categories, including amphibious ships.
Except for the shortfall in amphibious ships, which affects a client service, these shortfalls haven’t received nearly as much attention one might expect. Perhaps that’s because they look to be far in the future. But doing something about these shortfalls is not necessarily a far-tenn issue, because adding ships to the shipbuilding plan might be easier to do in the years prior to the Ohio-replacement boats-meaning the period starting now and extending for the next few years.
At bottom, these projected shortfalls are an expression of a fundamental imbalance between Navy program goals and projected Navy resources.
Now at this point, you might hear the argument that these projected shortfalls aren’t that important, because it’s impossible to know with certainty what exact kinds of ships we might want to procure 20 or 30 years from now, so the 30-year plan’ s just a fantasy anyway. I’ve heard that argument a few times.
The people who make this argument either don’t understand the purpose of the 30-year plan, or they understand it perfectly well, but want you to discount its importance by offering you a false idea about what the plan is supposed to do.
The purpose of the 30-year plan isn’t to make predictions about the exact kinds of ships we will be procuring 20 or 30 years from now. It’s to bring to the surface long-range planning pressures that would otherwise be easy for the Navy or others to ignore or sweep under the rug. By surfacing these planning pressures, the 30-year plan gives policymakers a chance to do something about them, before it becomes too late to do anything, at least at reasonable cost.
The combination of, on the one hand, a wide-ranging debate about the future of defense spending and strategy, and, on the other hand, a fundamental imbalance between Navy goals and resources, suggests that if there was ever a time for supporters of naval forces, including Navy leaders, to make a strong and explicit public argument for preserving or even increasing planned spending on naval forces, it’s now. Not when the next QDR debate gets underway inside the Pentagon, but now, because the public debate on the future defense spending is already underway.
As a CRS analyst, I can’t take a position on what the outcome of that debate should be. But my hope is that the outcome will be informed by strong presentations of competing views, because that approach is more likely to result in the best possible decision.
For supporters of naval forces, what might those arguments include? Well, elements have been presented over the years, but it seems to me that supporters of naval forces are so familiar with these elements that they have forgotten how to integrate them into a logical chain that is coherent to other audiences.
So if you were to bring together these elements into an inte-grated argument, what might it sound like? Well the opening parts might sound something like this, if you’ll bear with me for a moment:
“Most of the world’s people, resources, and eco-11omic activity, ” the argument might begin, “are’nt in the Western Hemisphere, but ill the other hemisphere, particularly Eurasia. Consequently, a key element of our 11ational strategy, going back many decades, is to pre-vent the emergence of a hegemon in one part of Eurasia or another, because a hegemon could deny us access to the other hemisphere’s resources and eco11omic activity.
“Preventing the emerge11ce of a hegemon in the other hemisphere is a big reason why our mililmy is structured with significant naval forces, 1011g-range bombers, and long-range airlift. And we ‘re unique in this regard: We ‘re the only cozmlly whose military is designed to move itself to another hemisphere and con-duct large-scale military operations there. The other countries of the Western Hemisphere don’t do it because they can ‘t afford to, and because we ‘re already doi11g it for them, and countries in the other hemisphere don ‘t do it, because they ‘re already in that hemisphere, where the action is, a11d they instead spend their mo11ey 011 forces for influencing eve11ts in their own neighborhood.
“That’s important to keep in mind when you see our military compared to those of other countries. Our military includes a sig11ifica11t Navy, and also long-range aviation forces, because it’s designed to do something that other countries don ‘t aim to do.
“More than Mo-thirds of the world is covered by water, much of which is internatio11al waters. So even though our naval forces are not inexpensive, they give us the ability to convert a major part of the world’s surface into a huge, globe-spanning medium of maneuver and operations for projecting power ashore and protecting our interests in various parts of the world, particularly Eurasia.
“This wouldn’t be so important if less of the world were covered by water, or if the oceans were carved into territorial blocks, like the land. But most of the world 11. covered by water, and most of it does exist in the form of international waters. So it’s not that naval forces are inherently special or privileged -it’s just a consequence of the physical and legal organization of the world. At a time when a lot of people are talking about other cou11-tries’ asymmetric capabilities, our own naval forces, because of how the world is organized, arguably repre-sent one of the biggest asymmetric advantages enjoyed by any nation. Given that leverage, one can imagine an argument being made that funding for naval forces should be protected -or even increased -not in spite of a flat or declining defense budget, but precisely because the budget is flat or declining, on the grounds that naval forces are a high-payoff investment that preserves a lot of options for U.S. leaders.”
Of course, supporters of other military force elements will bring their own arguments to bear-and that’s just the point: Everybody brings their best arguments to the table, and decisions on how to spend defense dollars are then made on the basis of those strongly made arguments.
As a part of a process for putting forward an argument for naval forces like the one above, the submarine community could consider explaining to others not just the ability of submarines to penetrate enemy defenses and perform their missions but also, in doing so, their ability to magnify the effectiveness of the surface fleet and of naval aircraft, and thus our naval forces in general.
And perhaps most important, this process could involve stat-ing plainly to others what the submarine community would need to more fully meet its requirements under the 30-year plan, as opposed to what the community might think the traffic will bear. Some might say that in the coming defense budget environment, the Navy as a whole, including the submarine community, should be more modest about what it asks for. That is certainly one logic, but there’s an alternative logic which says that the coming budget environment is exactly why the Navy as a whole, including the submarine community, should ask for what it needs to more fully meet its requirements, because otherwise, people attempting to make strategic choices on defense spending will not fully understand the operational consequences of their decisions.
If there’s any sense to that alternative logic, then why ask for only 1 or 2 additional attack submarines? Why not ask for 3 or 4, which is what would be needed to prevent the attack boat force from dropping below 95% of its stated requirement? Five years ago, the Navy stated that 4 more boats were needed to meet the wartime demand for being able to generate 35 boats within a certain amount of time, and would also eliminate most of the 7-month deployments that would be needed to support a certain level of forward presence on a day-to-day basis.
In this view, in other words, if 48 is the required number, then why not ask for a procurement plan that gets closer to supporting it, in conjunction with a broader argument about the value of naval forces in a flat or declining budget environment?
Right now, the projected shortfalls in the 30-year plan are the elephants in the room that aren’t being talked about. But sooner or later, someone is going to start paying more attention to them-and to what the Navy is, or is not, planning to do about them.
As my CBO colleague Eric Labs has pointed out, the longer that the Navy, including the submarine community, doesn’t ask for a procurement plan that gets the force closer to the stated requirement-the longer, in other words, that people think that the Navy is OK with a force that bottoms out at 40 boats, or perhaps 41 or 42 boats-then the greater the risk becomes that others will begin to doubt the validity of the 48-boat requirement.
In this view, the coming defense budget environment is pre-cisely the reason why the Navy, including the submarine community, should be asking for more, not less. In the coming defense environment, supporters of this view might argue, if the submarine community asks for 1 or 2 more boats, what do you think the community will wind up getting- and where would that leave the Submarine Force years from now?
Again, I can’t take a position on the outcome of this debate. But I’m of the view that decisions on debates that are this wide-ranging and important to the country’s future are better made with broad participation, and after weighing strongly made arguments from competing points of view, rather than arguments that are made partially, or not at all.
And that’s the final thought I want to leave you with. Thank you again for the chance to speak today, and I hope you found these comments of value.