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Sure to give you heartburn... - Hartford Courant article on the Sub Forc

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Postby 84-1114883824 » Tue May 24, 2005 6:38 pm

Submarines' Role Being Reduced To Fit In With New, Leaner Military

By JESSE HAMILTON

Courant Staff Writer May 22, 2005

Nobody hunts for Red October any more.

U.S. submarines that for decades have silently ruled the world's oceans
have slipped quietly out of favor. Hollywood depictions of their Cold War
exploits are more historical footnote than current-affair documentary.

And in the steady decline of the U.S. submarine fleet, specifically the
nuclear-powered fast-attack subs designed to hunt other vessels, nothing
is sacred - certainly not the Naval Submarine Base in Groton.

The proposal to close the country's first sub base - where 90 years of
undersea service have encompassed two world wars, the birth of
nuclear-powered subs and shadowy missions against the Soviets - has
provoked probing questions: If this hometown of the submarine goes dark,
what's in store for the Silent Service? What is the U.S. Navy's future
under the sea?

And, foremost: Is the world moving beyond nuclear submarines?

The U.S. fast-attack fleet - the hunters, which outnumber the
nuclear-missile subs - counted almost 100 boats in the 1980s. Since their
Cold War height, the number has been cut almost in half, in step with the
waning power of the enemy with whom the fleet was once closely matched.
Navy projections for 30 years from now suggest there could be as few as
37 submarines.

Those who still believe in subs have searched hard for new missions in
the war against terrorism. These days, it's about operating in the
"littorals," the shallow areas hugging the coastlines, said Lt. Cmdr.
Jensin Sommer, spokeswoman for Commander Naval Submarine Forces in
Virginia.

It's about putting special-operations commandos or missile attacks
exactly where they are needed. It's about catching drug and weapons
traffickers and listening in on communications.

That is a complex array of mission for boats originally designed with a
simple aim: to hunt enemy ships and submarines. It was a job they
excelled at in the deep-ocean cat-and-mouse played with the Soviet fleet.
They tracked less sophisticated Soviet subs around the world, even in the
enemy's own ports. A sideline developed, too, that drove submarines
deeper into the espionage game: tapping underwater communications
cables.

But when those missions faded, the Navy was left with a big fleet of
submarines and an industrial base - including Electric Boat in Groton -
that relied on the Navy's appetite for more.

Adm. Vern Clark found himself arguing last week for closing the base in
Groton. But nine months earlier, the chief of naval operations stopped at
the sub base and talked about the new roles for its submarines, "to
project more offensive punch with the Tomahawk [missile] capability and
the surveillance capabilities the submarine forces bring to bear."

"This is what tomorrow is about for the U.S. Navy - the ability to
project credible combat power to the far corners of the earth," giving
the president options "around the world and around the clock," a Navy
scribe reported Clark as saying.

Sub supporters point to a number of military studies and reports
justifying an even larger fleet in the future, including a 1999 study
released by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying 76
fast-attacks would be needed by 2025 to work critical peacetime
missions.

They refer to the fact that naval commanders who request submarine
support are routinely turned down. They talk about the growth in sales of
advanced diesel subs around the world, including fleets belonging to the
remaining two members of President Bush's Axis of Evil: Iran and North
Korea.

Russia is still in the sub game, too, with Akula-class boats that rival
U.S. advancements. And China's fleet gets bigger and more advanced every
year.

But opponents say the U.S. sub fleet is bloated and expensive. A 2002
report from the Congressional Budget Office said each of the latest
submarines costs about $2.7 million for every day it conducts active
operations, an average of 35.7 days a year.

Christopher Hellman, a defense analyst at the Center for Arms Control
and Non-Proliferation, is no fan of the Virginia class subs, which he
said have run up a price tag that is "beyond stunning."


There's more, but that is all I can post for now without heaving....
Tom
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Postby Seadragon021 » Tue May 24, 2005 8:28 pm

Has anyone noticed that none of our potential adversarys seem to have "defense analysts", or anyone else for that matter, telling their respective governments that they are spending too much money on weapons systems like submarines?
"From the Depths I Rule" - Motto of the USS Seadragon SSN 584
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Postby Robert » Tue May 24, 2005 10:01 pm

I'm ignorant of course, but it would seem to me that the number of adversaries against which a nuclear sub is useful is rather limited. Basically, China. Of course it used to be, basically the USSR so it's still 1:1. But it would be far easier for China to attack us economically with our dependence upon them to buy our dollars, take our jobs, and make the goods to sell us at Wally World...

Still, in the May 2005 issue of Boats U.S. advertising magazine is mentioned a program called Oceans 21, which, the story implys, is evidence of a U.S. gov't resurgence of interest in the seas. While it might disapoint those who are particularly interested in military hardware, an equivalent increase in non-military submersible technology ala the 1960's would still be interesting, particularly since the military seems adept at using 'non military' research to continue onwards (witness the Sealab, Halibut, DSRV, Alvin, etc.)

Note: none of my comments should be considered as disparaging or dismissing of the Silent Service or those who model her. My point is simply that things go in cycles. As long as it's in or under the water, I'm still interested :)

Speaking of my ignorance, just what is the current state of the art with respect to China and missile/attack subs? As in, do they have missile subs?
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Postby 84-1114883824 » Tue May 24, 2005 10:53 pm

Agree with you Seadragon; this country seems to be overrun with analysts and consultants who all believe that they can divine the situation far better than those who have expertise & background in the area. Just like the '60's and the McNamara whiz kids all over again.....

Robert-The Chinese had a first generation SSBN in the Xia class. As far as Halibut and the DSRVs in the 1960's, they were involved deeply in military matters, not research. With regard to the situation overall, here is another excerpt from the article:

The risk, Wertheim said, is that "you can't just build a submarine like you build extra airplanes. ... If we don't have them available, then it'll be too late."

<everybody clear on the above point?>

Across the Pacific, the Chinese navy, with some help from Russia, is refurbishing its aging force of more than 60 subs with a mix of the latest diesel subs and newly designed nuclear subs - including ballistic-missile boats. In the coming years, its fleet could be among the most potent in the world.

"That's a threat we haven't had to worry about for a long time," Wertheim said.

Former U.S. Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, in a recent pass through New London, talked about the Chinese navy and the reduction of U.S.forces. "We're creating a vacuum in the Pacific," said Lehman, who preaches that "shortsightedness creates the next war."

Also, a number of the most advanced sub-building nations have been improving diesels and selling them to the tiny navies of developing countries.

<snip>...today's diesels have come a long way. Experts say they are quiet and can stay down for weeks. And they are available to anybody who can afford them.

Once the submarine building base and the sub bases go away, they are not coming back. Make your call....
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Postby Robert » Wed May 25, 2005 11:34 am

Tom, regarding Halibut and the DSRV and Sealab, that's why I put 'non military' in quotes. The cover stories for two out of the 3 was that they were for civilian research. I included Halibut, perhaps wrongly, because it helped carry on the facade by carrying a diver lockout chamber disguised as a DSRV.

You make many good points, but the one that sticks with me the most is the use of smaller, more easily available, diesel subs. A few of those floating around in the wrong hands would be very bad news, since we likely couldn't as easily follow them with attack subs the way we followed big boomers.
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Postby 84-1114883824 » Wed May 25, 2005 12:35 pm

Robert- Many friendly, foreign countries with diesel submarines have exercised against US forces. Many friendly, foreign diesel boat skippers have very nice periscope photos of nearby US carrier battle groups (a fact not widely advertised by the US Navy). In fact, in a shooting war, I beileve that a diesel boat could rather handily sneak up on a US carrier and cause grief. The fact is, running on batteries or AIP, diesel boats are much quieter than nuclear submarines.

There is a very disturbing report on US Naval capabilities that is circulating on the web (posted the link below) which addresses many aspects of US Naval strategy. I'm not sure I agree with all of it, but some of it will make you squirm.
Tom
Is the US Navy overrated? Roger Thompson
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Postby Robert » Wed May 25, 2005 5:03 pm

I'm reading through it now. It's quite interesting. I sidetracked myself though. After reading about the 1992 Nova documentary, Submarine!, I've been looking for it and can't find it for sale new or used anywhere. In fact I can't even find it mentioned on the Nova site. The only mention of it at all is on a side about the guy who produced it. Anyone know where I could get a copy, DVD or tape, US format?
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Postby FX Models » Thu May 26, 2005 11:28 am

As usual, the Hartford Koran... got it wrong. It seems that these reporters have habitually ignored world developments when they write these wonderfully humanistic, 'cant we all just get along' tomes in their papers. LUCKILY, most readers know to take it with a grain of salt.
I work in the submarine industry as many of you know. I know TWO things that I will state as factual information that no one has to take MY word on actually. :

1: The SURFACE fleet is in danger of obsolescence not the SUBMARINE fleet. The reason is well known and well documented: As terrorists and adversarial nations such as China, Iran, and Korea grow in strength, the danger is escalating that a large surface ship like a carrier could be taken out by such nations/groups using WMD. Close in support weaponry only goes so far, and large battlegroups are vulnerable. Such dangers do not exist with the submarine fleet. Their vulnerabilities are different but the advantage we have is that to this point in history, we hear them before they hear us. Either way, targets are always in the shadows, and not cruising on the surface at 20knots.

2: China is rapidly building to have the largest submarine fleet in the world. It is their intent to build enough submarines to manifest Chinese Naval power in all corners of the globe, something they currently cannot do. Although there is rumour that the Chinese really control the Panama canal now, and this rumour is based on hysterically exaggerated observations, the Chinese simply do not have the strength and global reach currently to manifest a defense of the canal should it be 'taken' by them or held by any nation in fact.
This however is going to change. With the advent of their highly successful submarine force, they could extend their global arms into many tentacles which will spell the end of American dominance should we let it happen. The primary battle of the next millenium is going to be with the Chinese whether you like to hear it or not and it will be a submarine based war.

The Pentagon planners and Joint Chiefs know that the submarine force is a lynchpin in the organization and is not performing merely a supplementary role. Closing Groton does not have bad forebodings about the submarine force. In fact, the thought of closing Groton [which wont happen I dont think for many reasons] is that the theater of operations is shifting from Cold War N. Atlantic to the Pacific and Chinese theater of influence. In the scheme, Groton is too far from Chinese waters although a number of the boats can transit the pole and reach the Pacific quickly.

So that is my take on the article written by the ever uneducated reporters at the Hartford Koran.
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