16 June 2005

The Admirals Weigh In

Three of the Sub Force's leading Admirals banded together in New London to talk to members of the House Armed Services Committee and send a message to the BRAC. The Dolphin, the SUBASE's paper put out by its PAO, has the story (who knew they had it together enough to get the paper online? Not me, and I was stationed there...)

My Summary:
Vice Adm. Charles L. Munns, Commander, Naval Submarine Forces (formerly SUBLANT, now he has the whole kit and kaboodle);
Adm. Kirkland H. Donald, NAVSEA(08); and,
Rear Adm. John D. Butler, Program Executive Officer (Submarines) - my old boss!
These three Admirals all broke with the official Navy line to push the importance of the Sub Fleet. Now, one might ask a few things about this, like, "Why didn't they do this before now, and maybe help shape the Navy's position beforehand? Or did they, and since they didn't get what they want are they now just trying to circumvent the problem? Isn't this just submariners trying to protect their little ricebowls?"

My answer to the above questions, and a synopsis of their meetings with the members of the HASC can be read in the 'Full Post' below.


Regarding the reasonable questions that might be raised concerning the ADM's reasons for talking directly to the HASC:

1) "Why didn't they do this before now?": VADM Munns is the sub fleet's -operational- commander. He, more than likely, did not get nearly as much visibility into the BRAC process as the admin side of the Navy did, as this was almost exclusively a Pentagon and support-side excercise. So, paradoxically, his view was probably only minimally considered for a process whose primary goal is supposed to be military value, something he has more insight into regarding subs than anyone in the fleet. As for the other two, see the next question as to why they didn't play into the original Navy recommendation as much as they should have.

2) "Are they just trying to circumvent the problem?": Well, yes, but for good reason. ADM Donald is Naval Reactors. NR has a historically stormy relationship with the CNO going back to Rickover, and while it is not quite as combustible as it was back then, it is not exactly amicable yet. Do you think they asked him what he thought, even if he is the highest ranking submariner? No way, leadership still rankles at the perception that NAVSEA(08) runs the Navy since he has a significant say in its two most valuable assets, Carriers and Subs. VADM Munns is about to lose significant capability -and- his biggest SUBASE, so he is going to do whatever he can. RDML Butler is 'just' a Rear Admiral, and inside the Beltway that doesn't give you much weight. Plus, he is an aquisition and development guy, who reports to the Asst. SecNav for Research, Development, and Acquisition - he doesn't report to the Pentagon, and they don't have much desire to solicit his thoughts on much of anything, often to their loss.

3) "Isn't this just submariners trying to protect their little ricebowls?": Well, to a degree. VADM Munns obviously does not want to lose sub force capability, as that makes his already hard job harder, nearing impossible. However, ADM Donald won't be significantly affected by NLON closing. He will have to relocate his field office, but they will still be employed. On a larger scale, if the sub fleet keeps cutting back, his engineers will have less to do, but they are not truly threatened yet. So it can be deduced that he is doing this because he feels it is his duty to speak up as the Navy's highest ranking submariner - most (08)'s have felt this way. RDML Butler is an ED (Engineering Duty) officer, not a career submariner. Add to that that he is due to retire in a few months. He has nothing left to protect, and nothing to lose by speaking up. He is in the enviable position of being able to be completely honest without having to worry about the consequences.

Now, onto a summary of what was said:
Mostly, the ADMs concentrated on how many subs we need for future tasking. Their points all hit on this central theme from slightly different angles.

VADM Munns, unsuprisingly, discussed how the number of submarines in the fleet was affecting our ability to meet operational tasking, getting right to the core of the BRAC debate, military value. Specifically, the VADM said that currently, "the combatant commanders deployment requests for daily submarine operations is in excess of what can be provided." So, -now-, with 54 boats, we cannot do everything they want us to do. Yet the sub fleet will be cut back further?
ADM Donald focused on preserving the industrial base necessary to build subs - because, even if we cut back the fleet, we still plan on building some, and the need for more -will- come at some time. The ADM revelealed that:

In 1992, the Navy began a series of studies to identify what is required to preserve the nuclear-powered submarine industrial base.
"All three studies supported the conclusion that low-rate production would be the minimum necessary to sustain the industry and that a construction hiatus created excessive risk of permanently losing the ability to produce affordable, quality submarines," said Donald.
He added that low submarine production actually increases program costs, which runs counter to the Navy's commitment to contain those costs.

This last point is, at first blush, hard to comprehend. The more subs we buy, the cheaper they are - yes, it is kinda like going to the Sam's Club. But as the Navy keeps cutting subs from the plan, they keep getting more expensive to build, which in turn makes them a more attractive target for cuts. It is a vicious cycle that the ADM is trying to help break. The ADM had some hard figures to back this claim up, adding, "We would save about $70 million per year on Virginia reactor plant components just in overhead if we were buying two shipsets instead of just one." And for those of you who might think he is just SWAG'ing that number, well, you must not know too much about NR. They save the swags for RADCON.

RDML Butler commented on why each time we cut back on the number of planned boat constructions, the cost from the shipyards goes up:

"We pay the shipyards $18 million per ship just to get
them to reinvest inbuilding more ships," Butler said. "Since 1995, the start
date for a two-per-year Virginia-class submarine build rate has changed seven
times. Eachtime a dates moves...we lose credibility with suppliers whose
business consistslargely of Navy orders"

We are slowly, inexorably, driving shipyards out of the sub building business. There are only 2 left, and they are right on the hairy edge of going out of business. While retraining engineers is doable, recertifying a shipyard as SUBSAFE and nuclear certified is -HARD-. We cannot afford to lose anymore sub builders, and yet, we keep doing our best to kill them.

So, the ADMs made a good case for the sub fleet, and, in so doing, a good case for New London. This focused less on immediate Military Value, which I still think needs to be hammered home, and more on future sub fleet sustainability. It was, however, a series of very good defenses. Here is hoping that someone heard them...


Read the Full Post

3 Comments:

At 6/16/2005, Blogger Vigilis said...

Thank you for another, unusually good insight, PBS.

 
At 6/16/2005, Anonymous badbob said...

I concur, good insight.

I would add that Munns may be "corrected" before he gets any further out of the box...if he wants a shot at 4-stars. But this is a good time to act for him- a new CNO is coming aboard. soon..no more MBA CNO.

For you Bubbleheads, this is Waterloo! Some of you may think what you will, but lose Groton and you will become irrelevant, incrementally of course.

BTW, I am a retired Brownshoe who has kin in the area who I don't want to see adversly impacted but I am also a retired officer who sees that it is a bad idea- both operationally and economically.

B2

 
At 6/16/2005, Anonymous badbob said...

I concur, good insight.

I would add that Munns may be "corrected" before he gets any further out of the box...if he wants a shot at 4-stars. But this is a good time to act for him- a new CNO is coming aboard. soon..no more MBA CNO.

For you Bubbleheads, this is Waterloo! Some of you may think what you will, but lose Groton and you will become irrelevant, incrementally of course.

BTW, I am a retired Brownshoe who has kin in the area who I don't want to see adversly impacted but I am also a retired officer who sees that it is a bad idea- both operationally and economically.

B2

 

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