William Arkin Dips His Toe Into Sub Waters Again
Back in early 2006, Washington Post National and Homeland Security writer William Arkin (best known in the mil-blogosphere for his recent "the troops have obscene amenities" article) wrote about USS Virginia's initial deployment to SOUTHCOM; his story had so many errors that he was forced to devote another column to correcting them a few days later. (My responses to those articles can be found here and here.)
He's venturing back into the submarine waters again with today's post, based on an E-mail he received from an alleged Trident JO with a bad attitude who was responding to his post earlier this month expressing horror at the SSGN conversion program. (That first post this month managed to make it all the way past the first comma before providing a factual error, saying their are five Tridents in the SSGN conversion process instead of four.)
For today's post, here's some of what the alleged submarine officer wrote:
Submarines, however, having such a smaller number of people, are in a bit of an internal quagmire as they attempt to figure out how they can be relevant in a post cold war world.The first thing I noticed was that he called his boat a "Trident-class submarine". I mentioned in Arkin's comments that this shows that he might not be a real submarine officer, since he made the simple mistake of not saying his sub belongs to the "Ohio-class". Based on the whining that goes on later in the E-mail (bolded above), I really don't have any doubt that the writer is at least a Sailor on an SSBN -- possibly he's a Petty Officer, and Arkin just shortened that to "officer".
The answer is really, that they can't be. Submarines, in this day and age have little to no practical use. I've been an officer aboard a Trident Class submarine for about two years, and can tell you that I have done nothing of value to this nation or its taxpayers in this time. In some esoteric sense, you could say that strategic deterrence is necessary, but in actual fact, the imminent nuclear threat doesn't REALLY exist anymore, and any idea that the USA would respond to a nuclear terrorist attack with a nuclear strike is at best COMPLETELY frightening to any level headed person. I also think it's highly unlikely, even with the current administration.
Further, the fast attack submarine community is at a loss due to the fact that there is no more cold war country producing similarly classed submarines to track and trace anymore. The threat just doesn't exist. The SSGN is an attempt by the submarine community to re-establish its relevance. Personally, I acknowledge the value of maintaining a submarine community for the sake of not losing the proficiency (submarining is highly specialized work, and developing it again from the ground up in 10-20 years would not be to nation's advantage), I really think that the current nuclear submarine community is perhaps the largest single waste of money in the military. I literally do nothing but train for inspections, go out to sea, wait for the supposed end of the world due to completely laughable scenarios as seen in your blog, and come home. We're far too afraid of terrorist attacks to even let the people that work aboard the sub to park within 2 miles.... 2 MILES of the submarines, showing a complete sense of irrational fear, as well a complete disregard for the quality of life of the individual sailors. It's infuriating...
Regarding the points the alleged officer makes about the Sub Force looking for a mission in the post-Cold War world, there's no doubt that we're trying to find a way to convince the public that we're still relevant -- since all the GWOT missions (like our Cold War missions) are classified, we can't go out and trumpet our successes like other branches can. Based on this E-mail, though, we might want to think about giving the Trident crews some briefings on some of our SSN missions, if for no other reason that to let them know that there's light at the end of the tunnel for their next sea tour (if they can get on a sea-going SSN, that is).
Arkin concludes with some thoughts that I really can't quibble with:
Before 9/11, I would have never thought the military needed more Trident submarines. Now, however, I see their value: Quietly patrolling, threatening no one directly, occupying no one's soil, they help to keep order. And they send a powerful message that says we all have no choice but to play by certain rules and respect each other.I would add that the existence of our submarine-based nuclear deterrent is what really tells people who would do us harm that they can't ever really "win" a war against the U.S. -- if we chose to bring all of our power to bear. They continue to exist only because of our restraint, and if they do something to make us lose our patience, their fate will be horrifying and final.