Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

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.
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.
Let's count the ways this statement is untrue or misleading:

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.


Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

It's a good and timely editorial and needs to be read in context. Accompanying it is another splendid essay, by Bill Owens. Together they say that 'business as usual' is a foul course for DOD and the Services.

Having banged this same drum for years now, I can only cheer that others are signing up. I had hopes for the earlier regime, but Rumsfeld failed at the point early on (before Iraq) when he opted for 'all the above' in setting Defense spending priorities: do everything we can to modernize and transform the Services...but keep buying all the Cold War legacy systems also. The NYT editorial hoists the bullshit flag on all this and says it's time to truly transform.

If the guy you're hunting for lives in a cave, the efficacy of a new submarine to find him is a bit questionable.

12/21/2008 10:45 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If the guy you're hunting for lives in a cave, the efficacy of a new submarine to find him is a bit questionable."

Plan for the next war, don't assume that every enemy is going to live in a cave.

12/21/2008 11:02 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, Ducky, I read the entire editorial (context included). The only reason the NYT gives that would have any bit of logic behind it is "we need to save money." Joel did a fine job of rebutting each of the (non) factual reasons given for cutting the VIRGINIA Class. So the "bullshit flag" the NYT hoists is fairly transparent and seems to be stained with their own deeply held opinions. Which is fine, the NYT is entitled to an opinion; I just happen to find it uninformed and wrong-headed.

As for the efficacy of submarines in combatting terrorism, I will just say that there is a clear role for subs to play, and they are doing just fine in it. The best way to understand the enemy is to monitor without being seen. And you don't have to be in the cave to monitor the occupant.

12/21/2008 11:07 AM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

And that next war would be with who? China? Dubious (but thank God for China or the Navy's rationale for all the glitzy big stuff would be completely bankrupt). Russia? Not a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of. Anyone else? No, as far as bluewater and a need for submarines.

We need just enough SSNs to keep the art alive, and that's probably more to maintain the culture of excellence through training than it is the industrial base. The opportunity cost of anything beyond this gets paid in reduced capability to do what is really needed in defense, which is more emphasis on wog-bashing (to use a singularly indelicate phrase from the days of Royal-Navy grandeur) and less on peer competition.

The case has been made successfully for the SSGNs/Trident conversions, but the cost-per-deliverable Tomahawk or Seal is extreme.

What's clear is that reform of military procurement will never come from the Services or the Service communities, nor from the contractors, nor from the Congressional constituency. True reform can only be hammered down from the top, and the Times editorial (and Admiral Owens' essay) make strong case that this needs to happen.

12/21/2008 11:15 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

And the MSM don't understand why readership and revenue is dropping! Just because they think it does not make it true.

BTW, Rubber Ducky, I would submit that neither you nor the NYT understand the duties submarines are charged with. There is a damned good reason it's called the silent service! I am grateful that the commitment to remain silent has been honored for so long by so many.


12/21/2008 11:54 AM

Blogger cheezstake said...

Having done a short MLPO stint on the CONNECTICUT (fastest in the sea!) and popped in on the VIRGINIA while at Electric Boat, to say the VIRGINIA class is modeled after SEAWOLF is one of the funniest things I've read lately.

We need the VIRGINIA boats, as the old attack subs are definitely showing their age and "battle scars" from their diligent duty over the last 30 years.

I am always in awe of how journalists can get away with not doing any research for an article. It justs gives us Nukes (past and present) appreciation for our professionalism and goal of perfection.

Thanks for bringing this horrible OpEd to light. Since I can't stand the NYT, I would have never seen this.

Also... to all those on active duty and veterans who voted for the One. It's soon time to get what you voted for.

12/21/2008 12:07 PM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

"BTW, Rubber Ducky, I would submit that neither you nor the NYT understand the duties submarines are charged with."

With 37 years in the boats I have some idea...

12/21/2008 12:25 PM

Anonymous Ross Kline said...


Did you spend 37 years serving on operational boats? Or was it 37 years building them? Or, worse yet, 37 years reading the MSM articles on them?

There is still one huge need for the SSN fleet. There is nothing that can do the job better, for less, and more accurately than a good, well trained SSN/crew.

I might relent, a small bit, on the need for the SSBNs, but it is probably easier to keep them and not need them than it would be to get rid of them and then try to recover.

And, by the way...didn't you notice the russians (they of no pot to piss in and no window to throw it out of) have just launched a new class SSBN? Or did that not appear in your beloved NYT?

12/21/2008 12:58 PM

Blogger blunoz said...

Oh my gosh that's funny. Your analogy of the Prius to the Hummer is AWESOME!!!

12/21/2008 1:02 PM

Blogger Mark said...

"The case has been made successfully for the SSGNs/Trident conversions, but the cost-per-deliverable Tomahawk or Seal is extreme."

Amortized over a 40-year hull life, the submarine is an excessively good investment. What really torques my jaws on this piece is the near-criminal shortsightedness of the whole thing. For a Northeastern paper, which are historically the most pro-Naval in the country, the suggestion that we should build up our standing army, useful only in war, at the cost of our Navy, which guarantees the security of our substantial shipping interests always, is phenomenally distressing. Our submarines being the versatile machines that they are - deployed in intelligence, covert ops, hunter-seeking, strategic deterrence, now air support, carrier group operations, &c. - I should hope that any forward-looking individual would support the program. The United States has been an excellent guarantor of maritime stability, and to piss that away on the transient terrorism phenomenon is tragic.

12/21/2008 1:26 PM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

"Did you spend 37 years serving on operational boats?


12/21/2008 1:28 PM

Blogger Mark said...

cheezstake, we'll see what I get. I hope it's not more vague non sequiturs.

12/21/2008 1:40 PM

Blogger Papaya Mom said...

littoral warfare is the future and the VIRGINIA class is all about that.

We voted for Obama and also know he's smart enough not to take policy advice from the NYT. The whole Republicans are good for military members thing does not actually play out in the numbers, so yes, I'm looking forward to a Democratic administration.

The NYT is being stupid on this one, and unfortunately the Submarine force can't fight back publicly without sharing classified information - luckily those who decide know how much they ask of these men and know the need for the boats now and in the next 50+ years.

12/21/2008 1:48 PM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

If the push is for submarines, keep pushing. But if the push is to apply a constrained defense budget in a wiser way, take a number and get in line with all the other special-pleaders.

The key point of the editorial was in the last section: more Army and Marine Corps, less Navy and Air Force. Balance real spending against real need, not against parochial wishes. It's a sound argument and the Times got it just right.

12/21/2008 2:02 PM

Blogger Suetonius said...

While I agree with Bubblehead's point-by-point rebuttal of the NYT editorial, I think that we cannot miss the overall point - the defense budget will likely be cut, and those cuts have to come from somewhere. We in the submarine force will probably have to do some belt tightening. I think that we all understand that, but it is human nature for us to say "we need to make cuts...but don't cut my service/community."

I would personally like to see some of the belt tightening be directed at nuclear forces and BMD. I think that if we worked to meet our obligations under the NPT, we would stand to regain much of the political capital that the US has lost as of late. I also think that STRATCOM is a bloated bureaucracy that needs decimated.

12/21/2008 2:09 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simply amazing to me that Rubber Bath Toy (aka Chicken Little) spent "37 years on operational boats" and can completely miss the forest for the trees. (BTW, how is possible for anyone to spend 37 years actually on boats? Didn't you have some shore duty in there? Were you around during Operation Petticoat?) Once again, Ducky proves to be completely incapable of rendering a logic based rebuttal, in this instance, to Joel's logical deconstruction of the NYT's standard BS.

12/21/2008 2:40 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Because these missions are classified..."

It's hard to publicly debate the value of a weapons platform when its important missions are secret. These machines are very expensive to build and operate, and the public, who pays the bill, is going to look at this type argument as somewhat patronizing.

Ultimately the military budget will face cuts, and there will be discussions (likely secret) as to what will be saved and what will be cut. The public will want to know that the decisions made benefit the country, and not individual service pet projects.

Is the Virginia class submarine a Navy pet project project? I really don't know, but if we do spend money on it, I hope policy makers will present a better argument than "its great for the GWOT, but I can't tell you how."

12/21/2008 3:19 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The authorizers and the appropriators understand, because they DO get the classified briefs. Several skippers have briefed important GWOT missions on the hill recently. It's no surprise that Congress has authorized the next VIRGINIA contract, which should be awarded very soon (several articles out last Friday). Five years, 8 boats - good for the nation, the Navy, and the sub force, whether rubber ducky believes it or not....

12/21/2008 3:37 PM

Blogger cheezstake said...

Good response. I am eager to see how he'll do. I'm not implying that McCain could have done any better. I just don't want to see the Navy's presence cut back.

12/21/2008 4:31 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ducky, you're just in a snit because you want us to go back and build diesels. Ain't. Gonna. Happen. If you want both a sea control and power projection navy, then you're just as dumb as a box of rocks for wanting diesels.

Worse, is the whole idea of trying to upgrade and hang on to subs that are getting very long in the tooth. When were the FlightIIs commissioned? Huh? And you want to stop the ONLY DAMN PROGRAM the Navy has that's on time and on budget? Get a grip, Ducky, there's plent of dumb programs to get rid of, starting with that white elephant the LCS and it's overgrown hog brother, LPD-17. Virginia is a damn good bargain, and is just the ship we need at the right time. And if you can't appreciate the possible threat the PLAN can pose to us, then it's a wonder that you wore Navy blue for so long. Simply amazing.


12/21/2008 5:31 PM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

"Ducky, you're just in a snit because you want us to go back and build diesels."

Be crystal clear: I've argued against diesel submarine construction in the US Navy for nearly 30 years.

12/21/2008 5:44 PM

Blogger DoYou said...

Before I ever read Joel's responses, I pretty much thought the NYT article was full of inaccuracies and well..basically B.S. Having just retired from the Navy and the submarine force, they have cut the budget immensely, having to do more with less. My last boat (SSBN), we had equipment that was not vital and not repaired due to lack of funds. In my cold war SSN days, if ANY piece of equipment was broken, it was balls to the wall to repair.

Not anymore. Number one excuse? Cut backs to support the global war on terrorism. If I had a nickel for every admiral who said the submarine force was the tip of the spear in the GWOT, I would be rich man. They must have been referring to the Individual Augmentees and the submarine funds that have been diverted to the GWOT effort, because I never saw a terrorist through the periscope.
But there are still threats out there that threaten our security. The Chinese and Russians come to mind. Just because the MSM makes them out as not an adversary, the MSM are not out there on the battle front of the sea to see the real picture. Plus the numerous countries with submarines that could have some type of action against the U.S.

I don’t really care for the New York Times, but my bird, and dog appreciate that rag’s true value.


AO-179; SSN x 4 and SSBN x 1

12/21/2008 5:46 PM

Blogger H. S. Normal said...

Rubber Ducky has it right. So do some of the other commenters, but overall, Rubber Ducky hits the nail on the head. My basis for saying this: 31 years in the Navy, and service on four submarines, including CO of an SSN. Plus a battlegroup staff.

The best reason that can be given for the existence of the SSN force today is to deter possible opponents of the U. S. from building any sort of blue-water navy. U. S. SSNs virtually guarantee that any such force would be on its way to the bottom in short order in the event of a conflict. How many SSNs does it take to do this? Everybody has an opinion, mine is about 30. Fits nicely with building of one per year, 30 year life. This is a number worth defending.

Kudos to Joel for pointing out the idiocy of 'extending the life' of a vessel designed to operate for 30 years (especially now that the most recent ones are not designed to be refueled.)

The SSN contribution to the GWOT is neglible, briefings by SSN CO's to Capitol Hill notwithstanding. Anonymous, the perrenial claim that 'the combatant commanders always ask for more submarines' doesn't carry much weight. What mission are they looking for more of? Whatever mission that is, I'm convinced that it could be met to the same or better quality, much less expensively, by other means. Intel collection by subs assumes an oversized role in a non-war-at-sea environment because there really is no other peacetime role for subs. Fighting piracy? Nope. And this lack of utility shoots a lot of holes in the 'keeping the sea lanes open' argument.

Another area where Anonymous is misses the mark is the utility of LDP17. This is truly the platform the Navy needs for the war we actually find ourselves in today. This is the platform that can actually go make a difference off the Horn of Africa, or Gulf of Guinea. SSNs, sorry, not so much.

12/21/2008 7:11 PM

Blogger beebs said...

Fifteen SSNs. Five for each coast, five in refit.

12/21/2008 7:47 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey H. S. Normal, when ya gonna udate your blog?

12/21/2008 8:12 PM

Anonymous ex ssn eng said...

Guys, this is clearly labeled as an Opinion piece. If anyone thinks that the 'military judgment' of the NY Times editorial page is to be studied and acted upon by anyone in the real (versus armchair) professional military, then God rest their souls. I would have to assume that their Alzheimer's disease is well advanced and that they're not long for this Earth.

As Joel points out, the brief mention of submarines has too many factual errors -- from numbers to basic design -- for it to be taken seriously. It's just their ill-founded opinion.

Count me as a serious disbeliever that any substantial reduction in the Virginia class production will result from any of the hot air and flapping of periodontal gums.

12/21/2008 8:43 PM

Blogger Bigbill said...

This blog has a lot of discussion about our current enemies both with and without a flag. Surface combatants have a big place in our Navy, especially in countering maritime threats such as pirates.

I think the question that we need to ask is how many threats to our freedom of the seas have been prevented by the fact that we own the undersea battlefield. To what extent is China, Russia, and India contained by the possible presence of US submarines?

I'm a member of the horizontal stripe ribbon club, I know what submarines are capable of.


12/21/2008 9:29 PM

Anonymous TJ said...

There are two separate arguments here and people are getting them mixed up. First, the NYT article although an opinion piece should be based on verifiable facts and it is not - so it is a poorly researched and written article. I don't see much room to argue this point, and frankly I wouldn't expect anything better from the NYT.

The second discussion is the standard "how many subs do we need".

Don't crisscross these - just because you may agree that we could do with less subs don't use that as a rationalization to defend poor journalism.

12/22/2008 1:25 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am not arguing either that there should not be more Virginia class submarines or that the NYT does crappy research. The fact is that the information necessary to properly debate the cost/benefit of Virginia class submarines is not available publicly. That is true of many military programs that are described in the Times piece.

The result of this is that if a decision is reached (say) favoring a fleet of Zumwalt destroyers at the expense of 0 Virginia class submarines, we won't be able to judge whether or not the decision was the correct one. The result will be many ill-informed discussions among partisans (I guess you guys are pro-submarine), who in the end have no idea why the decision was made. This is terrible for an open society.

And my example only deals with two Navy projects. How many of you guys remember the big fight with the Air Force over the United States aircraft carrier program of the 50s?

12/22/2008 3:28 PM

Anonymous ex ssn eng said...

On the news wires just now:

5:24 p.m. [GD] General Dynamics Navy order calls for 8 Virginia-class subs

Looks like the NYT's crappy, biased, opinion-oriented journalism loses. Again. What a shock.

12/22/2008 3:34 PM

Blogger Sabra said...

You got me with #5. I was only married to the ex through one boat tour; that was the USS Boise. When he reported to it, it was called the Crackville due to 34 hull cracks visible to the naked eye.

There wasn't a single deployment more than a week long that the Boise didn't have to come back from early for repairs. Even the Med Run was delayed because of repairs. They were gone something like 48 hours before turning around & coming back to Norfolk for necessary repairs.

And that's not the whole of it, just what I'm reasonably sure can be talked about. Let it suffice that the crew's life was endangered at least once because of these things.

The argument that SSNs aren't valuable in the GWOT doesn't really fly with me either. The Boise as well as two other subs (the Newport News and one other whose name I cannot recall) were involved in the initial bombardment of Baghdad back in 2003. It's been mentioned fairly recently in the comments that SSNs can and do provide firepower for ground troops.

12/22/2008 6:18 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Russia and China are not worth getting excited about. If you KNOW the history of their navies during the 20th century you'll recognize that they're not "blue water Navies" in the tradition of the USN, RN, and IJN. I had enough experience on two PacFlt diesel attack boats in the 60's and 70's as well as a tour on SubPac Staff where I read the classified intel briefs daily to know they're a "one-shot" operation if they can get out of the harbor.

China doesn't need to face us militarily. they and their partner WalMart "own" the US economy. The Chinese premier doesn't need to threaten cashing in those Treasury notes to put the US in our place. With the current economic mess all he has to do is say we're not buying anymore.

The cold war has been over for more than 17 years. We need, probably by my estimate, about 40-45 SSN's. the real challenge to our our SSN's is again ASW. this time it's the advanced, closed-cycle, conventional submarine. We had the opportunity to learn the lesson in 05-06 when HMS Gotland was "cleaning clocks" out of San Diego. If our boats are going in "harms-way" in the gulf, and Iran is buying those boats, we need to get our game on.

I'm with rubber-ducky. USA won't be building anymore diesel boats--ever--for us or anyone. Germans and Swedes got that all sewed-up. For our submarine yards, the anology is US automotive industry. They don't make no money building small simple cars, EB doesn't want to do it because their isn't enough profit in it for them.

My two cents and keep a zero bubble......


12/22/2008 6:56 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like what DBFTMC(SS)USNRET said. He made it quite plain and simple really.

Could we mop the deck with China and Russia(combined)nowadays...Yes I'll bet the house we can. With ground forces alone, I know we're well able to do so. A little help from the the Submariners wouldn't go unnoticed as well. Those little things in life like fire support and intel based on sonar and radar reports are a considerable help too. In early 2002 to late 2005, we had more help from the USN Subs than we did from anyone else.

The Bubbleheads didn't blast everything out of existence each time we had contact with them. But they sure were quick on the draw when we needed an additional set eyes and ears to help us out.

As an outsider looking in, I don't know how many new fast attacks we need in the next 10 years...but I say, the more the better.

Lemme ask a dumb ass question, if I may. What about getting rid of all these ghost fleets I hear about on the West Coast, the Pacific NW, and on the East Coast? Why keep ships and subs longer than 10 years in reserves once they've been sent to the Mothball Fleet? Why not make more of an effort to sell 'em, scrap 'em or turn the best vessels into museums a little faster?

Wouldn't a little expediency in this area help save some money for the new subs being built along with the ones still on the drawing board?

Thanks, J.

12/22/2008 9:59 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The submarine defenders need to start with a little more logic/ fact-based argument and cut down on the personal attacks if they want to have a noticeable impact on the discussion. You guys are not reflecting well on what remains of the smartest warfighting community in the Navy.

The bottom line is that subs are specialized platforms which excel in a mission (ASW, ASUW) that *may* be of primary importance in 50 years' time. For the forseeable future (say 20 years), subs' real-world tasking could be much more cheaply accomplished by unmanned or other manned platforms, freeing up limited financial resources for the things we *know* will be necessary in the next 20 years (boots on ground).

Where do the USN cuts comes from if not from the sub force? TACAIR? SEALs? Surface Navy/Amphibs? None of those options make any sense given the communities' contribution to national defense priorities. It's not enough just to say "subs are an awesome sole-source collection platform, and cannot be cut under any circumstances." You need to have an alternate proposal.

If it were up to me, I'd cut the SSBN and SSN forces by half, double the SSGNs, and go from there. And even that probably wouldn't be enough of a cut.

12/22/2008 11:54 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You certainly need a lot more SSNs, when they spend a large portion of their time getting fixed.

12/23/2008 12:21 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I'll put my two bits in here:

Joel does a good rebuttal of the OpEd piece. I'll use him as the "pro" view. Rubber Ducky seems to be heading the opposition so he'll be the reference for my "con" side of the argument.

"Combatant commanders need more, not fewer, submarines to fill the vital role submarines play in the prosecution of the GWOT."

I agree. Take it from a guy who spends his time "plugging the leaks" so to speak on an old first flight '88. These boats are old and wearing out fast and the time and effort needed to keep them going is soon (if not already) going to exceed the benefits of replacing them. I could cite several anecdotal references, but almost certainly all resticted data, so please take my word for it. With our current, shrinking sub force, the stress on both boats and crews is huge to try and fill the gap between what needs to get done and what can get done. At the rate we are operating currently it's common after a deployment to ask "So what's the most broke and how many crew do we need to replace after the last run." So yes, I agree that for our current mission planning we need more subs.

Now, what do we need our subs for? No easy answer to that one. It's easy to cast the "classified mission" cloak over the justifications behind our sub force. If you want to listen in on someone's cell phone convo from a cave, there are much more cost effective and easier ways of doing it than from underwater. If you want to keep a country wondering how much firepower you have tracking their navy, then a nuclear sub is great. If someone tries to justify an SSN as supporting GWOT, I call shenanigans. Call a spade a spade and say they're there to keep China out of Taiwan. But the rationale behind that kind of thinking seems to be a bit stretched to me. The cold war is over and much as some would like, you can't keep justifying the coldwar mindset of "Peace through superior firepower".

12/23/2008 12:26 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm still struggling to understand people's love for the SSGN's. They, like the VCS, are unproven in any kind of environment. Name a VCS submarine that has done a full 6 month deployment and I'll call you a liar. We need to keep building and working out the kinks on this class so that we aren't doing it during the middle of a war.

12/23/2008 7:18 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

OHIO just return from a FOURTEEN (14) month deployment that was EXTREMELY successful.
Florida is kicking ass on deployment as we speak and
MICHIGAN (the best of the class from what my friends in Bangor say) is on WESTPAC now.

SSGNs are proven. Great investment.

12/23/2008 8:45 AM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

Amy submarine can deliver snake-eaters. Any barge can deliver Tomahawk. The pricetag per unit delivered from these boats is too high and none of our potential or real enemies are deterred in their conduct because these boats are deployed.

Yes they work. Yes other platforms could work as well and for a lot less resource input. Is this the best use of the scarce defense dollar?

12/23/2008 12:02 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, ducky, SSGN is deterring enemies.
$1B/ship for 20 years service.

DPRK called OHIO the "Death Star" and it's CO the Death Master or something like that.

There's an article on the actual DPRK official news website about it.


12/23/2008 2:23 PM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

"Actually, ducky, SSGN is deterring enemies."
Where? Pakistan? Afghanistan? Iraq? ... Mumbai?

12/23/2008 2:55 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quote: "DPRK called OHIO the "Death Star" and it's CO the Death Master or something like that."

Those idiotic rice eaters actually said something to that effect? I think that's funny as hell. I hope the men on the Ohio are taking pride. That's actually something to be proud of.

Thanks, J.

12/23/2008 3:14 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The actual quote was "devil of deterrence" and it was the Xinhua Chinese news agency!

So, it's the CHINESE who are deterred. (See below!)

Ohio sub a new twist on underwater warfare

By Eric Talmadge - The Associated Press
Posted : Friday Feb 15, 2008 17:17:15 EST

ABOARD THE USS OHIO, SOMEWHERE IN THE PACIFIC OCEAN — Capt. Andy Hale has just worked out and is still in a sweaty T-shirt and shorts as he stands in the battle command center. He watches a flat screen display that shows what’s happening outside on the bow and the aft.

His billion-dollar submarine — the Navy’s newest twist on underwater warfare — is hovering just below the surface off the Pacific island of Guam as a submersible disappears into the dark waters, carrying a team of commandos.

The Ohio is the first of a new class of submarine created in a conversion from 1970s vessels by trading nuclear-tipped ICBMs for conventional cruise missiles and a contingent of commandos ready to be launched onto virtually any shore through reworked missile tubes — against conventional forces or terrorists.

The sub’s cruise across the Pacific comes as China builds its submarine fleet into the region’s largest as part of the bulking up of its military. The voyage is the Ohio’s first deployment since the makeover, and Hale is in the odd position of showing the ship off.

It’s odd because the sub is all about stealth.

Hale can’t talk about where the ship is going. The aft end of the ship, where the nuclear power plant is located, is off limits. The leader of the SEAL commando contingent aboard can’t be named, and the commandos themselves can’t be photographed in any way that shows their faces.

But, over the next few months, the Ohio will be making a very public statement, training intensively in some of the world’s most crowded and contested waters and joining in exercises with America’s Asian allies. Instead of hiding them, the Ohio will be showcasing its abilities to elude detection and operate too deeply and quickly to be tracked.

Then it will likely do what it does best — vanish.

“Submarines are the original stealth platform,” Hale told the Associated Press, the only news agency allowed on board. “Submarine forces have always viewed the Pacific as a very important strategic area ... it’s certainly grown in importance in the last 10 years.”

Just about every country with a coastline in Asia wants or has subs.

China, Japan, Australia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Singapore, Bangladesh and South and North Korea either now have or are planning to acquire them.

Most don’t pose much of a threat to the more advanced American fleet. But that is changing.

While Russia continues to be a factor, China now has the biggest submarine fleet in the region, with nearly 60. The U.S. has upped its presence in the Pacific, and now has more ships — and more subs — in this part of the world than in the Atlantic.

But they are still outnumbered.

“There are many challenges in the Pacific,” Hale said. “China is certainly one of them, but it is not the only one.”

China’s subs are mainly diesel-powered, meaning they must come up for air more frequently than U.S. nuclear-powered vessels, and their crews are not thought to be as well trained as American submariners, who spend several months at a time at sea.

China’s fleet is also highly focused on patrolling its own coastal waters and on dealing with potential hostilities over Taiwan, rather than with “projecting force,” or trying to control faraway shipping lanes.

But its long-term goals remain opaque.

In 2006, a Chinese sub shocked the Navy by surfacing within torpedo range of the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk near the Japanese island of Okinawa. Beijing claimed the sub was in international waters and was not “stalking” the carrier, which was taking part in a naval exercise.

The growing rivalry was underscored in November, when Beijing refused a scheduled port call by the Kitty Hawk’s battle group to Hong Kong, forcing thousands of sailors to spend Thanksgiving at sea. In January, however, China allowed a visit to the port by another U.S. Navy vessel.

Washington has repeatedly expressed concern that China is pouring money into expanding its forces. Beijing increased its military budget by nearly 18 percent to about $45 billion last year, the largest annual hike in more than a decade, and U.S. officials think actual spending is greater.

The Chinese, meanwhile, are closely watching to see how U.S. concern translates into changes in the U.S. Navy. When the Ohio, which is based in Bangor, Wash., docked at Guam last month, China’s official Xinhua news agency called the submarine a “warehouse of explosives” and a “devil of deterrence.”

“If the Ohio turns west from Guam, it would need only hours to travel to the coastal waters of many Asian nations,” it said. “The U.S. Navy believes the power of the cruise missile-armed nuclear submarine will be tremendous in a future war.”

That is exactly what the Navy wants China and others to think, and why the Ohio is in the Pacific.

“The advanced capabilities that we have brought to this ship make it a premier front-line submarine,” said the Ohio’s executive officer, Lt. Commander Al Ventura. “This has taken the submarine force to a whole new level.”

The Ohio has both vast firepower and the ability to deploy quickly to wherever it’s needed.

It has 24 launch tubes, 15 of which have been fitted for multiple Tomahawks — more than 100 in total. That’s more than were launched in the entire first Gulf War. From an offshore position in the Pacific, it could strike Pyongyang, North Korea. From the Indian Ocean, it could hit anywhere in Afghanistan.

The switch to conventional missiles is a concept borne of necessity.

Under a 1992 disarmament treaty, the Navy had to give up four of its 18 “boomers,” huge submarines that have for decades served as mobile launch platforms for long-range nuclear missiles and were primary players in the Cold War game of cat-and-mouse between Washington and Moscow.

Instead of scrapping the ships, however, the Navy converted them. The nuclear weapons were replaced with conventional Tomahawk guided missiles and several of the launch tubes refitted to deploy the Navy SEALs in submersible boats.

Because of the sheer size of the sub — it’s 560 feet long — it has more room for its 160-member crew and dozens of commandos than an attack submarine. While still cramped and claustrophobic, sailors have bigger beds and several places for working out, which the SEALs do constantly.

Among the SEALs, stealth remains a way of life.

In a wardroom just yards from the Tomahawk missile tubes, the head of the SEAL contingent agreed to be interviewed, but only if he wasn’t identified or photographed, lest he or his family be tracked down by terrorists, for whom killing a SEAL would be a major propaganda coup.

“We go places,” he said. “Let’s just leave it at that.”

While near Guam, the SEALs conducted operations simulating an undersea launch in their submersible and a landing to assess a fictitious terrorist threat. Guam was dubbed “Backwateria” and the terrorists called the “Al-Shakur.” The names of the terrorist leaders were taken from a popular TV cartoon.

The island could just as well have been Taiwan, or the shores of North Korea.

The SEAL commander said the simulations were not aimed at any particular country.

Still, he said, it’s not just idle training.

“This capability has been used before, and it will probably be used again,” he said.

12/23/2008 3:46 PM

Blogger chief torpedoman said...

Hey Ducky, you said: “Any submarine can deliver snake-eaters. Any barge can deliver Tomahawk. The price tag per unit delivered from these boats is too high and none of our potential or real enemies are deterred in their conduct because these boats are deployed.”

Being as how we had to give up four of our SSBNs because of the START II treaty, would it have been a best use our defense dollars to just scrap those four when they had lots of useful life left in them. Isn’t there value in having a capability to put up to 154 tomahawk missiles on target almost immediately? I know you say that any sub of surface ship can do t hat, but 154 of them? Also if your enemy thinks we have no assets in the immediate are to launch that many tomahawks, there is not that much in deterrence is there? How many SSNs would it take to launch 154 tomahawks on short notice? Do you think we have that many SSNs in one area?

Now if your enemy cannot discount you having an SSGN within range to launch that massive strike very, very quickly, then I would says that is a whole bunch of wup ass deterrent!

The value in defense dollars is in not scrapping four subs that have lots of life left in them and indeed adding capability to them. As for any sub being able to deliver seals – hey that is a great capability to have.

I would also speculate that at least one indicator on whether we are deterring any enemies is to see what systems they are developing to try and beat our threat.

12/23/2008 6:29 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If it were up to me, I'd cut the SSBN and SSN forces by half, double the SSGNs, and go from there. And even that probably wouldn't be enough of a cut."

Hmmm. Do that and I'd like to see you keep 'em manned given teh current mission tasking and Op Tempo. Op Tempo is NOT going to decrease and cutting the available boats in half will essentially require being at sea 150% of the time. How ya gonna do that?

12/23/2008 6:56 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 6:56 -

Optempo is a function of tasking and available boats. Shift 50% of current tasking to alternate platforms (robots, surface ships, P-3s) and you can cut the hull count by half while maintaining Optempo constant.

Does anyone really think we need plow 4 years of training into JOs so they can shuffle around in semicircles on the conn for months at a time? Much of current tasking could be accomplished much more cheaply than it currently is, which is one of the reasons we should shift resources to other platforms.

12/23/2008 8:08 PM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

If you want to deliver a big number of Tomahawks for small cost, here's the answer:

12/24/2008 3:51 AM

Anonymous Tom said...

I don't know if Virginia and its high cost is the right answer. Most likely as a defense against burgeoning China, perhaps. But likewise, its not the right solution for Litorial Ops, or drug interdiction. Its not even a very efficient way to hurl cruise missiles at Arab countries that don't have Navies.

No soon we'll say we need Nuclear submarines to fight pirates.

I'm a true blue submariner like all of you - and I believe there's something to be said for cheaper alternatives to a vast and costly SSN fleet.

How about more Litorial combat ships? Corvettes? Soviet style AGI's?, Diesel boats?

And so on.

Tom Desrosier
CDR, USN Retired

12/24/2008 4:10 AM

Blogger chief torpedoman said...

Hey Ducky: The Arsenal ship would have been mighty impressive, but I think you are missing the point. You were speaking about getting the best use of our defense dollars. Well we had these four strategic assets that we could no longer use in their original mission, so instead of scrapping them and wastintg the taxpayers money, they were loading with an awsome capability. I would call that a good use of our defense dollars.

12/24/2008 5:49 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, despite the crap from the NYT, the debate is over for at least the next five years. And I LOVE the lead paragraph in the New London Day's front page article today:

As the nation's 44th president, Barack Obama will have to make many decisions affecting the future of the U.S. military, but he will not determine how many Virginia-class submarines the Navy needs.

Read the full article here:

12/24/2008 7:04 AM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

TMC: the life-cycle costs on the SSGNs are certainly greater than the arsenal ship on a per-Tomahawk basis. Existence of SSGNs weakens any argument for SSNs as special-forces-delivery vehicles.

It's a narrow call and I've been ambivalent until lately, but the increased uselessness of these boats sways the argument.

12/24/2008 7:46 AM

Anonymous ex ssn eng said...

Duck: And how, pray tell, would you rank the survivability of the arsenal ship -- were one to ever be built, which they have not been, nor are they even designed fully -- versus the real-world SSGN?

You don't have to have a navy to launch land-based anti-ship cruise missiles, and even one hit on an explosives-laden arsenal ship would make for quite a fireworks show...not to mention put a damper on next-generation armchair military strategists.

Bottom line: asymmetric warfare does not favor the fanciful and pretentious arsenal ship, nor do concrete world realities.

12/24/2008 8:02 AM

Anonymous ex ssn eng said...

Anon @ 12/22/2008 11:54 PM:

Your premises and arguments are as flawed and disconnected from reality as the New York Times article that has now been rendered ridiculous.

But let's take them one at a time:

(1) "The submarine defenders need to start with a little more logic/ fact-based argument and cut down on the personal attacks if they want to have a noticeable impact on the discussion. You guys are not reflecting well on what remains of the smartest warfighting community in the Navy." first argue against personal attacks, and then lamely try to lob one? I think we have your number, and it does not reflect well on you, or your ability to provide a high-quality personal attack. Moreover, the fact is that the NYT article in question was wholly wrong on the facts regarding the Virginia class submarine that they tried to undermine. Those are some facts that you chose to ignore, or are truly ignorant of.

(2) "The bottom line is that subs are specialized platforms which excel in a mission (ASW, ASUW) that *may* be of primary importance in 50 years' time. For the forseeable future (say 20 years), subs' real-world tasking could be much more cheaply accomplished by unmanned or other manned platforms, freeing up limited financial resources for the things we *know* will be necessary in the next 20 years (boots on ground)."

No...the bottom line is that eight Virginia class submarines were just authorized. Your presumptuous arguments somehow did not dissuade the Navy, and it's not like they're not taking all of your hypothetical if not hysterical arguments into account.

(3) "Where do the USN cuts comes from if not from the sub force? TACAIR? SEALs? Surface Navy/Amphibs? None of those options make any sense given the communities' contribution to national defense priorities. It's not enough just to say "subs are an awesome sole-source collection platform, and cannot be cut under any circumstances." You need to have an alternate proposal."

Where to begin? No one made the hissy-fit statement that you allege, and the ASSumption of a budget cut is not a reality. And what do you know, really, about submarine contributions to national defense priorities? Apparently, given the recent 8-VCS purchase, not much. You seem to be in disagreement with SecDef Robert Gates...a bad bet at best.

(4) "If it were up to me, I'd cut the SSBN and SSN forces by half, double the SSGNs, and go from there. And even that probably wouldn't be enough of a cut."

Sheesh. And incur what kind of costs for inactivation and contract cancellation, oh budget-oriented one? Many billions? And all this having the sole effect of reducing the nation's overall combat capabilities? I'm only left to wonder: are you Chinese, Russian or Iranian...?

Let's just say I'm damn glad that Robert Gates, not you or Rubber Ducky, is running the show.

Merry Christmas to the men and women of Electric Boat...and thank you for your service to our nation.

12/24/2008 8:32 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

ex-ssn-eng: (from anon 1154)

Lot of anger there for an internet discussion. Not too many arguments though. Here's how I interpret your message:

(1) No idea what your point is here
(2) The Navy decided to buy some 754s, so the boats must be the perfect platform for everything they can do Still looking for some rebuttal to the capability vs cost point
(3) Robert Gates loves 754s and you should too. I don't even know if that's true
(4) Restructuring costs money so you should never restructure. I'm hearing echoes of GM and Chrysler here

My take: you didn't make the cut for XO/CO, went to the defense contracting side (maybe 2340 or NAVSEA) and now have your livelihood tied to submarine construction. Why else would you get so emotional over an essentially practical discussion topic?

BTW - I do have an ethnic background that you mention in your silly "ant-subs=anti-america" sentence. But that really has nothing to do with the argument at hand, a theme that seems to run through every sentence of your post.

12/24/2008 11:45 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey anon 1154 - you should really do some research before you try to argue with this crowd. With each post you just expose your ignorance even more. SSN 754 is the TOPEKA. USS VIRGINIA is SSN 774. If it were once, I'd give you the benefit of a typo doubt. But two points define a line....

12/24/2008 1:38 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Following up on an earlier post of mine RE: ASW challenge,

Pakistan just commissioned their third Agosta 90B advanced diesel-electric boat. This one also has an AIP system. The two previous boats of this class are to be retrofitted in the near future. Source: December 08 NIP.

We better step up our game if we want to stay on top of all these guys and their AIP boats.

My two cents, and keep a zero bubble.....


12/24/2008 2:21 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another headline this morning.....

Pakistani Talaban have taken over the SWAT Valley inside the borders of Pakistan and less than 100 miles from Islamabad.

Any bets on Pakistan becoming the next "failed state" and with NUCLEAR WEAPONS!!!!?

Better get that submarine base in Diego Garcia up and running pronto. Get those SSGN's and a couple of SSN's out there as well.

My two cents, and keep a zero bubble......


12/30/2008 11:12 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another headline this morning.....

Pakistani Talaban have taken over the SWAT Valley inside the borders of Pakistan and less than 100 miles from Islamabad.

Any bets on Pakistan becoming the next "failed state" and with NUCLEAR WEAPONS!!!!?

Better get that submarine base in Diego Garcia up and running pronto. Get those SSGN's and a couple of SSN's out there as well.

My two cents, and keep a zero bubble......


12/30/2008 11:13 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another headline today!!

Congressman sends letter to President-Elect..... Lays out why he needs to support current submarine construction plan.

sounds like the political supporters for submarine construction are hard at work.

My two cents, and keep a zero bubble.....


12/31/2008 12:49 PM


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