William M. Arkin, Washington Post National Security writer, responds to the comments I made about his recent post discussing the USS Virginia in a new on-line post. Excerpt:
"As bubblehead said, submarines don't get a lot of mention and when they do, the faithful want it to be factually correct and, of course, complimentary.
"They're right about the first, they're wrong about the second...
"...I guess the bottom line is that amop33 and bubblehead think I should either be for them or against them.
"I don't have anything against submarines per se, and don't have anything against the Virginia class merely because each boat costs more than $2 billion. However, today this traditional tool has become a combined intelligence platform, special operations base and missile shooter, all tasks that could probably be done better by others in the future."
Read his whole post, and the various comments, and join the fun in responding to his post. Just be careful, though... his request in the last paragraph for information about what subs are doing in the GWOT is a red herring, because he knows that we can't talk about current operations in any detail. I hope he doesn't use our silence as "proof" that boats aren't doing anything, because they are. You'll just have to take our word for it.
I'll be back with more specific responses later.
Staying at PD...
Update 0111 04 Feb: Let's go through Arkin's post. He has about five paragraphs "clarifying" and, to his credit, admitting various mistakes he made in his original post. Granted, a lot of the stuff I had pointed out was kind of small potatoes, but my point was, and remains, that Arkin had apparently used one source (a New London Day article that I had picked apart earlier as being inaccurate) without checking any of the facts himself. He does seem to question my complaints about his mention of Bolivia in the earlier post thusly:
"One reader argues that the USS Virginia could not have spied on land-locked Bolivia -- I used it as an example of the political turmoil in Latin America now that might attract the U.S. to want to put a clandestine sub down there -- but that ignores land-locked Afghanistan, where subs played a role, shooting cruise missiles and snooping on Pakistan and others in the region."
Sounds good... but here's what he said in the first post:
"Undoubtedly the boat collected radar and communications signals and proved its "enhanced littoral intelligence-gathering capability," carrying onboard special eavesdropping equipment configured especially for Latin American signals and targets. Did it listen in on the governments of Venezuela or Bolivia or some other special event?"
Yes, of course subs played a role in Afghanistan, but not by listening in on people in Afghanistan. I had simply pointed out that his supposition that a sub might "listen in on the government [of] Bolivia" demonstrated a lack of understanding of geography on his part... or a reflexive naming of a country in South America that U.S. progressives and the denizens of Democratic Underground are convinced we're going to invade.
He then points out that submarines seem to exist due to bureaucratic inertia, and does allow that we might need "a few" to fight potential wars off Korea or Taiwan. Next, he gets into what seems to be the heart of his argument:
"But what if we didn't have submarines, or have so many? What if other countries, say a Germany or Turkey or India, had the room and the vision to decide not to have them?
"We all know that country x has to have submarines not just for "defense" but also to be a real military. In this way, submarines play together and bad-guy submarines provide some degree of justification for their existence in the first place. No one from country x is quite willing to say we don't really need submarines because that would connote that the military is not serious and not a varsity player.
"But consider this: What if some significant European or Asian power said 'we're not going to have submarines' and instead decided to put that money into building some military capability that matched its national character and policies? What if a bunch of Europeans said 'you know we care more about nation building than old fashioned warfare' and we're going to completely restructure our militaries to reflect what we believe in. And not only that, we believe in alliances and burden sharing and are going to leave it to the United States and others to protect us if there is truly an external threat.
"I can think of enormous reverberations in terms changing the rules of the game. What a wonderful world that would be."
That's a powerful vision. Let me put it to music:
♪♪ "Imagine all the pee-puh-ull... living life in peace..." ♪♪
OK, I'm better now. Seriously, though, many of our Western European allies are already in the process of restructuring their militaries. We're all part of an alliance, and one of the things that helps hold alliances together is that one partner doesn't start reneging on earlier commitments they've made. His suggestion would have the effect of requiring the U.S. to shoulder more of the conventional war burden from our NATO allies; not a very progressive suggestion. If, as he suggests, an India were to choose to get rid of their submarines, the result would be that, in the event of another Indo-Pakistani war, the Indian Navy, currently much stronger than their Pakistani rivals, would be stuck in port for fear of Pakistani submarines, while the Pakistani Navy would be free to range about as long as they stayed outside of the range of Indian air power. No Admiral with any sense will want to take on submarines without submarines of his own; frequent exercises continue to show that submarines are the best ASW platform out there, by a wide margin. An India that decided to get rid of their submarines would be one that decided to throw away their naval superiority for no good reason.
In summary -- yes, it was kind of silly to focus on Arkin's factual errors in his original post. But, as I said in the comments to that post, I really couldn't figure out what the point was he was trying to make. Now that he explained that it wasn't about the cost of the Virginia class boats, I can figure out that I still don't have a clue. That's OK, though... I've posted lots of stuff that confuses my readers. I'm just not representing a major newspaper.
And as for what submarines can do in the GWOT? An active duty submarine LT commented on Arkin's post, and did a pretty good job. Excerpt:
"Yes airplanes and surface ships can do this. But the airplanes just don’t provide the on station time that the submarine does. An airplane can monitor an area for a couple of hours, a submarine a couple of months. As for surface ships consider this analogy: Do you drive the same way you normally drive with a black Crown Victoria behind you? Extend this train of thought to country X. How are they going to react with a Littoral Combat Ship driving up and down the coast? This ability to monitor an activity for an extended period of time covertly provides the intelligence community with invaluable insight."
Earlier, I discussed how submarines might theoretically help track down pirates; it seems that they might be able to do the same with any ship suspected of moving terrorists or their weapons around the world.
I'll be back with more if I think of anything, or if there are some particularly juicy comments that crop up.