03 June 2005

US Sub Force Drawdown

Ok, I started this post because of an article I went to via The Sub Report that starts out discussing the proposed closing of New London. While some of Mr. Devenny’s points are a little off (the Pacific via the polar ice cap route argument again), many of them are spot on, and deserve a quick run-down. Specifically, he highlights how the NLON closing is simply a symptom of the general sub force drawdown.

The submarine fleet is a frequent Washington whipping boy, forced to give up more and more of its funding to pay for other Pentagon projects. These funding cuts have begun to seriously limit the future viability of the overall nuclear submarine program, with current expenditures only allowing for the construction of one boat per year. This paltry allowance would serve to cut the total force from the current 54 boat flotilla to a ridiculously insufficient 28 boats over the next two decades.

This, despite the fact that the Pentagon has reported that studies indicate that 45-50 boats at a minimum are needed for future submarine tasking.

Now, why should the sub drawdown be of concern? Devenny goes into detail about China’s buildup, but that is only one piece of the puzzle. Let’s look at the rest of the world’s sub fleets, and what this might portend for the US fleet:

China and Russia: These are still the big boys on the block that we might have to deal with. A really good snapshot of what China is doing can be found here in the June 1st entry. If you bother reading the entry for June 3rd, I will say I disagree with the assessment that “China already faced long odds in a conflict over Taiwan.” Apparently, they have been looking at different war-gaming scenarios than the folks I know and trust. But the long and the short of it is, China is building up, not only will she soon have 8 top-of-the-line Russian Kilo’s, but she is buying any and all Russian hardware she can get her hands on. And she is looking to new, non-traditional sources for new military technology as well.
And lest you think the Russians are simply in the weapons business to sell them for cash to others, let’s remember that she is developing some potentially scary new weapons systems for herself as well.

The Rest of the World: Guess what? The rest of the world loves buying subs, too. It is like a status symbol of a maturing military. And some of these guys have really good fleets, and large, too. Here is a quick, incomplete rundown, derived from Global Security, The Global Defence Review, and a Canadian report detailing their need for a better sub fleet. Too late I started double-checking via Jane’s. Only the latter half of the list has been cross-referenced with their info.
Very basically, the number of countries that have subs is staggering:
Iran (Kilo’s from Russia, getting good at using them, too)
Romania (Kilo)
Poland (Kilo and Foxtrot and 5 five Kobben Class from Norway – quite modern)
India (Lots, including 10 Kilo’s, Scorpenes from France, SSGN Charlie class from Russia, at least 2 Akulas! And she is looking to start building her own SSNs, too. Bringing her sub fleet up towards 20 boats)
Algeria (2 Kilos – plenty to choke the Straits of Gibraltar)
Argentina (2 TR 1700s from Norway, 1 209 from Germany, 1 other ??)
Peru (6 209’s, looking to buy some Kilos. They have operated with US forces, and did very well. Very well.)
Columbia (Ok, their 2 sub fleet is mostly inoperable and a little laughable)
Venezuela (2 209’s, recently updated)
Ecuador (2 209’s, only one operable at the moment; Gal class?)
Indonesia (6 206’s, purchasing 2 Korean made subs , 2 209s, 1 of which was upgraded by Daewoo, yes Daewoo in 2004. Looking to expand to 12 subs total)
Chile (2 209’s, 2 Scorpenes <2>, Oberons?)
Brazil (2 Oberons, 4 209’s, building her own SSK 209-variant (AIP?) as a building block to building her own SSN class, which has already begun)
South Korea (9 209’s, 3 214 AIPs on order, will be home-built with German made parts. Developing her own SSX program. A slew of midget subs)
North Korea (Slew of midget subs)
Turkey (6 209/Type 1400, 6 209/Type 1200, building 4 AIP 209’s, 2 of which are already delivered)
Greece (4 214’s under construction, 1st to be delivered this year, 4 recently modernized 209s, 3 other 209’s to be updated to AIP)
Israel (3 Dolphins, planning on 2 more that will be AIP, 3 Gal class, recently updated and returned to fleet use)
Pakistan (1 new Agosta, 2 more being built All will eventually be AIP, and more planned on being built in Pakistan. 4 Daphne class, currently being refitted, couple of midgets)
Singapore (5 Swedish Sjoormen class, 4 operable, one a spare parts boat)
South Africa (Daphnes – recalled from service. 3 209’s under construction)

It could be said that the Sub fleet is used to doing more with less, as we have always been considered the red-headed stepchild of the regular Navy. Some might even point to WWII as an example of how the sub fleet can make do despite the odds, when submarines sank 55 percent of all Japanese ships lost in the war, more than the U.S. surface navy, its carrier planes, and the Army Air Corps combined. They did it with too-quickly made and poorly tested torpedoes and starting with only 51 boats in the Pacific (319 were eventually in-service). While all this is true, and beyond admirable, we should not ever put what has proven to be one of our most effective services in that position again. And yet, with submarines more prevalent in the world than ever before, and the tasking subs receive more variegated than ever, we are starting a massive drawdown.

Now, I understand that there is a severe budget crunch going on, and asking for more money borders on insane. However, there are developmental programs currently receiving money to accomplish missions that would be better accomplished by spending money to improve the Sub Force we currently have. I will make my first example the Tango Bravo, a submarine project, so that there are no claims of bias. While $21 million isn’t a huge number in terms of big Navy budget, it could still be better spent elsewhere, and only points to more money being poured towards this project in the out-years. Another project is the Power-Point engineered LCS (Littoral Combat Ship, or Little Crappy Ship to some). While this is billed as a multi-mission, inexpensive ship, the truth is it will not be all that multi-mission, and it has serious drawbacks, yet money is being thrown at it because it is new and cool. It is meant to be geared towards Mine Warfare (subs can do it, but more development is needed in ARCI to do it really well, PUMA does it quite well also), ASW (no one does it better than subs), ASUW (again, subs are great at this), and small surface craft warfare (plenty of other platforms can do this). This is a project that has not yet proven itself, yet it has a robust funding line. Redistribute it towards proven platforms. Lastly, the DDX is still on the drawing board, and its value can be seriously questioned. Stealth and land-attack with Tomahawks? Yeah, subs do that really well already. Ok, it will have a cool new gun system. Develop that separately then. Please do not think these are ideas I came up with out of the blue, they have already been bandied about, including by the Congressional Budget Office. Canceling the LCS and DDX could save up to $1.6 billion! Now, what would I like to see that money spent on instead? For starters, we should not be cutting back the VA-class. Here is a boat that incorporates COTS equipment to ensure constant technologic superiority, a design made for the littorals (the Navy’s new battlespace), and the quieting and propulsion improvements of the SEAWOLF. Its lead boat is starting final testing now, but already we are talking about cutting this class back? Additionally, the Navy wants a more integrated battlespace, and the claim is subs do not play well with others, hence surface ships should do the job. Then spend the money on at-depth communications for subs. It is cheaper, and we already have the beginnings of these systems. For example, ACOMMS shows a lot of promise. Yes, it has drawbacks, but it is relatively inexpensive, and put some more money towards it and I bet it will only improve. Lastly, and non-sub related, the ADS (Advanced Deployable System) program should be expanded. It is basically a portable SOSUS array, that, if some effort was put towards it, could communicate real-time with surface and sub forces, for those times when you just can not get a sub there in time, at least you will have a good ASW detection capability.

However, the sub fleet is currently sorely lacking a voice in the inner halls of the Pentagon, so none of these suggestions will probably ever gain steam. I would like to say the sub fleet is at a crossroads, but that sounds far too dramatic. It is probably better described as the beginning of a long, slow downward slope. Yet no one seems to notice just how bad it looks when the sub fleet can not even support the surface guys for training, and they have to look elsewhere. I only hope we can reverse the trend before it bites us.

If you are unfamiliar with any of the aforementioned systems, and would like some clarification, just let me know! And yes, I know Willy, I still owe you my thoughts on the VA-class ;-)

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At 6/03/2005, Anonymous Bernie said...

Here we go again! In the age of record deficits and national debt, every community is claiming that they need the funding or we will have ragheads knocking at our door forcing us to bow to Mecca 5 times a day. 13 years and 5 boats, all I have to show for it is countless inspection work ups and enless field days. Not a real mission ever! Close the checkbook and shut em down!

At 6/04/2005, Blogger PigBoatSailor said...


Everywhere you comment you seem to think that because you saw no action, the sub fleet en toto is not worth it. If you really think a sample size of 1 is significant, I suggest you head back to school.
However, if you have something useful to offer up, feel free.

At 6/04/2005, Blogger Lubber's Line said...

Bernie, do you own any life insurance? Have you ever used it? NO, must be a terrible waist of money for you, you should shut down your policy.

Just because you haven't used something doesn't mean it's worthless. I had my share of scrubbing shitters on SSBN's during the 80's but just because I never lit off a Trident C4 except to test it didn't make them less effect a deterrent or less valuable to national security. It’s no longer 1940 and we can no longer afford to count on time and distances as a method to attenuate a threat, preparation for and deterrence of threats is the key.

PBS, Excellent post. I think Bernie is missing the overall point that I’m seeing. That budgetary applications are off base and that the target drivers that run the Navy and the politicians who run the DOD look at Nuclear Submarine Fleet primarily as an expensive cold war expenditure and source for cuts and nothing else. To me they’re punishing success and starving the Sub Force for pet projects, at the mean time they blow smoke up your butt by calling it force restructuring or transformation. I’m afraid that these cuts particularly in the Northeast will create your slow and steady draw down. Modern submarines unlike their predecessors cannot be pumped out like the Liberty Ships in WWII. 10 years design and engineering development followed by 10 years of a production run then 20-30 years of service life is now the normal life cycle. Cutting programs now will have a detrimental effect on our future capabilities 10 to 20 years from now. That is the timeframe when countries like China could pose a much more significant threat. I rather not be having a 20-20 type conversation about the poor state of the Sub Force in 2020.

At 6/05/2005, Blogger Alex Nunez said...

Excellent, excellent post. It's presented so well that one can't help but be frustrated at the logic driving programs like LCS and DDX.

For heaven's sake, as the Virginia class was being developed, it's dominance of the littoral battlespace was an oft-repeated mantra. Why use a surface vessel that can be seen by a potential enemy when you can do the job with something that's invisible?

Regarding the DDX as a platform for attacking land targets, wouldn't one of the four converted (or soon-to-be) Ohio-class SSGNs be just as effective at ruining someone's day?

I don't know. I think using submarines to do these types of jobs whenever possible is a no-brainer.

At 6/05/2005, Blogger PigBoatSailor said...

alex, notice I did not even mention the SSGNs. You are exactly right, they have the ability to -level- a large chunk of land, with no prior warning and no real hope of counter-attack on the firing platform.
The reason I did not bring them up is because the 'Big Navy' did not ask for them, but it was dictated to them from the Rummy-level. Go figure, a skimmer CNO did not want a sub to have as many Tomahawks as an entire CVBG. Where does that leave the surface 'cans? However, the SSGN funding should be a pretty sure thing, because 1) It is only a limited number of boats, and the conversion is relatively cheap; and 2) Who's gonna tell the SecDef "no" on that one?

Obviously, I agree, though, that land attack and surveillance is better done with a sub - especially when the LCS looks more like a planned expendable boat on par with the PT boats, only bigger, coupled with the public's unwillingness to lose a single warfighter (not that I think this is necessarily a bad thing). Sub can do the job without putting the sailors in such a risky situation.


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