New York Times Doesn't Like New Submarines
Not surprisingly, in an editorial about how President-elect Obama should "reform" the armed forces, the New York Times says we should "(h)alt production of the Virginia class sub". Also not surprisingly, the New York Times was able to fit several inaccuracies and falsehoods into two short paragraphs, thusly:
Ten of these unneeded attack submarines — modeled on the cold-war-era Seawolf, whose mission was to counter Soviet attack and nuclear launch submarines — have already been built. The program is little more than a public works project to keep the Newport News, Va., and Groton, Conn., naval shipyards in business.Let's count the ways this statement is untrue or misleading:
The Navy can extend the operating lives of the existing fleet of Los Angeles class fast-attack nuclear submarines, which can capably perform all needed post-cold-war missions — from launching cruise missiles to countering China’s expanding but technologically inferior submarine fleet. Net savings: $2.5 billion.
1) "Unneeded attack submarines": Combatant commanders need more, not fewer, submarines to fill the vital role submarines play in the prosecution of the GWOT. Because these missions are classified, though, they don't show up on the pages of the New York Times, so the editors there apparently believe they don't exist.
2) "Modelled on the cold-war-era Seawolf": In fact, the Virginia-class boats are a complete re-design of the attack submarine. The Seawolfs were the culmination of Cold War submarine design (in that they have more and bigger of everything), and they're the best submarine in the world. The Virginia-class was specifically designed for littoral warfare and to cost less than the Seawolf. Saying the Virginia is modelled on the Seawolf is like saying the Prius in modelled on the Hummer, in that it came later and they both have 4 wheels.
3) "Ten of these... have already been built": Actually, only five have been "built"; 11 of them have been named, and the tenth won't be "built" enough to join the fleet until 2014. I think they just made that number up.
4) "Little more than a public works program": Actually, it was the last two Seawolf-class boats (the ones I was the initial manning Eng on) that were the public works projects to keep Electric Boat alive. The Virginia-class submarine is needed to replace the aging fleet of Los Angeles-class submarines to keep us from dipping down towards a fleet of 20-30 submarines we'll have in 2025 unless we build more boats. The "public works" aspect of it shouldn't be discounted, however; we need to keep specialists like nuclear welders proficient. That's a skill that would take years to reconstitute if those workers ended up leaving to fix slot machines.
5) "Navy can extend the operating lives": Here's why you don't want journalism majors deciding things that need to be left to the engineers. Submarines dive and surface as a part of operating; each surface and dive, and change in depth, causes strain on the hull. After a certain number of cycles, the hull becomes weaker, and there's more danger that the hull will break. With many components, you can reset this strain curve by annealing the piece of metal involved; however, submarine hulls are just too big to anneal. Sure, you could keep the old subs operating by reducing the engineering safety margin, but I'm sure the New York Times wouldn't write an understanding editorial if some old LA-class boat suffers a hull crack and loss of crew sometime in the 2020s.
6) "Net savings: $2.5 billion" : This is another number they just made up. Each Virginia-class boat costs about $2 billion, and there are 18 more to be built beyond those authorized. Refuelling an LA costs about $400 million. No matter how you slice it, it's a made-up number.
Luckily, I have a feeling President-elect Obama won't be listening to the New York Times; I think he'll like the "public works project" aspect of sub building for "blue" states (especially the new "blue" state of Virginia), and that will be good for the Submarine Force.