Home » Budget Industry » Navy Finds Urgency In Staving Off A Sub Shortfall Decades In The Making


Navy Finds Urgency In Staving Off A Sub Shortfall Decades In The Making

North Dakota (SSN 784) sits moored at the graving dock of General Dynamics Electric Boat prior to its christening ceremony in Groton, Conn. on Nov. 2, 2013. US Navy Photo

North Dakota (SSN 784) sits moored at the graving dock of General Dynamics Electric Boat prior to its christening ceremony in Groton, Conn. on Nov. 2, 2013. US Navy Photo

A spike in demand for the Navy’s attacks submarines, just ahead of a spate of decommissionings and a dip in new SSN construction, is leading the Navy to look at some previously unthinkable measures to mitigate the upcoming shortfall in the fleet.

Those measures include extending the life of some legacy boats and increasing submarine production despite the cost and workforce strain the Ohio Replacement Program will put on the Navy and industry.

The Navy has known it would face a trough in its attack submarine fleet since before 2006, when analysis was done that led to the 48-SSN requirement. Since that time, however, demand for the platform has gone up and funding has gone down, making a tough situation even more dire, Navy officials told USNI News.

Even though the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget request released in early February called for just one attack submarine to be built in 2021 – a deviation from the current two-a-year build rate to accommodate the construction of the first Ohio Replacement Program ballistic missile submarine – just two weeks later officials floated the idea of trying to find money to buy back that second attack sub.

USNI News spoke to Navy and congressional leadership to understand the dynamic situation and the events that led up to the submarine shortfall.

A Shortfall In the Making

The shortfall in attack submarines – set to span 2025 to 2036 and then 2038 to 2041 – didn’t catch anyone in the Navy off-guard. Program Executive Officer for Submarines Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley told USNI News in a March 3 interview that the Los Angeles-class attack subs (SSN-688) were built at a rate of up to five or six a year and are now approaching the end of their service life. Even building Virginia-class attack subs (SSN-774) at a two a year – a rate the Navy finally reached in 2011, after years of building either one or no attack subs, and has fought to maintain throughout sequestration and congressionally mandated spending caps – the shortfall is inevitable.

Current events, though, have shaped the trough in the fleet size and made the shortfall’s existence more dire.

An outline of the Navy's looming attack submarine gap prepared in conjunction with the FY 2016 Navy budget submission. OPNAV N97 Graphic

An outline of the Navy’s looming attack submarine gap prepared in conjunction with the FY 2016 Navy budget submission. OPNAV N97 Graphic

Despite a desire to continue building Virginia-class boats at two a year, the most efficient rate for today’s workforce and shipbuilder infrastructure, “when we laid the Ohio replacement class into the budget, due to budget constraints the Navy felt it could only afford one Virginia in each year it procured an Ohio replacement, so that made that trough even worse,” Jabaley said.

“There’s always the tension between the budget and warfighting requirements. … You don’t want to be in the position where there’s a budget-driven strategy,” he said, but to an extent that’s been the case with the Virginia class looking into the 2020s.

USS Miami (SSN 755) enters dry dock to begin an engineered overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Maine. US Navy Photo

USS Miami (SSN 755) enters dry dock to begin an engineered overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Maine. US Navy Photo

Early Mitigation Strategy

Seeing this situation approaching, the Navy devised a three-pronged approach in the mid-2000s to try to mitigate the upcoming strain on the attack sub fleet.

First, the Navy would consider extending the life of the Los Angeles-class boats – something almost unheard of with the carefully managed nuclear-powered subs. Schedules, and therefore nuclear fuel consumption, for these boats are rigidly managed throughout the life of the sub, and conventional wisdom dictates that a sub’s service life cannot be lengthened.

However, Jabaley said, the Navy has found some exceptions to the rule. A couple years before each Los Angeles-class sub hits the end of its life, the Navy has begun an engineering analysis process. First, will there be enough nuclear fuel to support a six-month deployment tacked on to the end of the boat’s life? If yes, proceed to the next question: will the submarine still be structurally sound enough to support submerging and operating for an additional six months? Jabaley said the Navy would not pay for additional work to extend the life of the boats, but if the answer to both questions happens to be yes then the Navy will deploy the Los-Angeles class boat once more, providing a bit of extra overseas presence to fill combatant commander needs, before retiring the boat.

Second, Jabaley said the Navy began lengthening some Los Angeles-class deployments – also considered taboo.

“By deploying for eight months instead of six, you’re using incrementally more fuel than you would otherwise in a normal operating cycle, so that can actually be counterproductive to the ability to extend that same submarine when you get to the end of life,” Jabaley said, explaining that submarines consume nuclear fuel more rapidly during overseas deployments than during in-port training or maintenance availabilities.
“It requires a very close management of fuel usage so we’re sure that the submarine has the ability to operate to the end of its life, and if you have more fuel remaining then you can consider the extension.”

Despite the complications it presented, Jabaley said the lengthened deployments were worth the extra overseas presence they provided as well.

Third in the mitigation strategy, the Navy would try to build the new Virginia-class submarines faster. Whereas the first Virginia-class boats took about 84 months to build, General Dynamics Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding now can deliver a sub to the fleet in about 61 months.

“We have a goal to get down to 55 months, the shipbuilders have a plan they call ‘Drive for 55,’” Jabaley said. That plan revolves around “productivity improvements, changes to the manufacturing and assembly plan to be able to deliver a submarine in as short a time as 55 months.” The faster the industrial base can deliver each submarine, the faster those boats can get through training and get out to sea.

The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS City of Corpus Christi (SSN 705) maneuvers into position to moor alongside the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land (AS 39) to complete repair maintenance actions in Guam in September 2015. US Navy photo.

The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS City of Corpus Christi (SSN-705) maneuvers into position to moor alongside the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land (AS-39) to complete repair maintenance actions in Guam in September 2015. US Navy photo.

Growing Demand

“That was all well and good in 2006: we had a problem, we knew we were facing it,” Jabaley said.
“But things have changed since then. In particular, the resurgence of Russia and the ascendance of China, both of which are producing numerous submarines, and in particular in Russia’s part, extremely capable submarines. So we’re facing challenges of both quantity and quality from our competitors.

“And then of course the continuation of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and terrorism in general, which submarines absolutely have a role to play in, although people might not recognize it,” he continued.
“I can’t really talk details because it’s so highly classified, but suffice it to say that submarines are out there every day on deployment and are doing things to keep America safe from terrorist organizations.”

Though attack submarine requirements can be hard to talk about publicly due to classification, the combatant commanders have, as Jabaley said, “started to proclaim quite clearly that they are not getting enough submarines on deployment.” During FY 2017 budget hearings, both U.S. Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris and U.S. European Command commander Gen. Philip Breedlove made clear to lawmakers they are only getting about 60 percent of the submarines they request, and they need more to keep up with evolving Russian and Chinese threats.

“All of that put together has made the urgency even greater,” Jabaley said.

USS Minnesota (SSN-783) under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding in 2012. US Navy Photo

USS Minnesota (SSN-783) under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding in 2012. US Navy Photo

A Unique Opportunity

For Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley, the entire situation presents challenges and opportunities. The challenge is maintaining the efficient two-a-year Virginia construction rate, while also moving into the larger Block V configuration in 2019 which includes a Virginia Payload Module section, while also keeping the Ohio Replacement Program on track – while grappling with other Navy shipbuilding needs, and while adhering to spending caps from Congress.

The opportunity, he explained March 3 at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ annual ASNE Day, is leveraging authorities given by Congress in the 2015 and 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to get creative. Not only did Congress give incremental funding and advanced construction authority for the Ohio Replacement Program to help keep costs down, lawmakers also passed a key provision “that allows us to look across programs, across years in terms of procuring material to buy it as efficiently as possible and drive cost down,” Stackley said.

“Quietly in the background we’ve been working with industry to figure out, given this significant amount of submarine workload coming, how can we best accomplish it in terms of not just efficiency but looking at facility investments that have to be made at our two boatyards, EB and Newport News,” Stackley said.
“We laid that all out, and in doing that we identified where we have risk and also where we have opportunity – opportunity in terms of capacity and also opportunity in terms of driving down cost.”

“What we see is opportunity, and if we don’t nail that opportunity down, if we let 2021 pass, we are not going to get that boat back in the future and it just deepens the valley we’re looking at,” he concluded.

Jabaley explained that the 2021 submarine is the most important for shaping the submarine shortfall. The shortfall would begin in 2025 or 2026, depending on the success of the effort to extend the life of the Los Angeles boats. A Virginia-class boat procured in 2021 would deliver in 2026, possibly staving off the start of the shortfall another year. Then, that boat would decrease the depth of the shortfall each year, slightly decreasing the impact felt by the fleet. And it would negate the one-sub shortfall expected in the last year of the trough, in 2036, and from 2038 to 2041.

Put another way, Jabaley said there is currently a 51 SSN-year shortfall over 17 years. The addition of the second 2021 boat — and its subsequent effects — could reduce the attack boat shortfall to 35.

Stackley tasked Jabaley and the rest of PEO Subs with making it happen, and he made clear last week how serious he was about buying back the second boat in 2021.

“That’s frankly our requirement this year inside our shipbuilding program to figure out how to get there because that is our asymmetrical advantage: we own the undersea domain, we cannot give it up and 2021 is our next big opportunity to deepen, frankly, deepen our hold on that,” Stackley said.

Virginia-class attack submarine Minnesota (SSN-783) under construction in 2012. US Navy Photo

Virginia-class attack submarine Minnesota (SSN-783) under construction in 2012. US Navy Photo

How To Buy Another Boat

When the Navy signed off on the Block IV Virginia-class contract in 2013, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus likes to say the service got 10 subs for the price of nine thanks to a series of efficiencies the Navy and industry identified. The Navy must now pull off something similar to squeeze in the must-have 2021 submarine.

“The environment has changed, the threat has risen, that requirement of 48 might go up and so it’s worth it to go off and look and see, can we put that submarine back in 2021?” Jabaley said. The first thing to figure out was if industry could handle the workload, and Jabaley said “we are convinced that it can.”

Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding have built several new facilities at their yards tailored to the Ohio Replacement Program, and “the end result is that at Quonset Point and in Groton (both at Electric Boat) and in Newport News there is some – but there is not very much – overlap between the facilities that you’re going to be using for Virginia and for Ohio Replacement,” Jabaley explained.
“So you can still continue to produce the modules for Virginia at your desired two-per-year cadence at the same time you’re starting the production of Ohio Replacement. We are convinced we can do this by adding the one submarine in 2021.

“Now, if you were to all the sudden say we don’t need 48 SSNs, we need a number which is a lot higher, and people start saying, okay, well can you add in that second Virginia every year you’re doing an Ohio Replacement? Could you do three Virginias in a year you’re not doing Ohio Replacement? What about three where you are? At some point … you’re starting to have collisions between all the work in progress and you’re now talking a huge expansion in facilities and work force. And we’re not ready to say that,” Jabaley continued.
“But we are definitely ready to say yes we can build that second Virginia in 2021. And when you understand the value of that submarine, you say we’ve got to find a way to make it work.”

With industry on board and ready for the workload, the next question is how to pay for the second 2021 attack sub.

First, “there are some savings just by adding it in,” Jabaley said, due to the savings that buying more units creates throughout the supply chain.

Second, as the Navy analyzes the Block V contract – it owes the Secretary of Defense a cost estimate for the addition of the Virginia Payload Module – “we’re aggressively looking for ways we can reduce cost, so the Virginia program has their work to do in lowering cost.”

And lastly, as Stackley alluded to in his comments about the contracting authorities provided in the NDAA, there are savings to be had if the Navy can find creative ways to move away from stovepiped contracting for each ship class and look more holistically at its overall shipbuilding needs.

“I need to bring [the Virginia class and Ohio Replacement Program] together, and I need to employ innovative contracting and acquisition strategies to find synergy and cost savings,” Jabaley said.
“As I’ve told my team many times, when we almost triple the amount of submarine work in terms of the man hours, the material that we’re going to be producing during this time period, someone is going to realize savings and profit from that volume of work, and it had better be the United States Government. The contractors will get their profit and the communities will be excited because there will be a lot of employment and good quality jobs, and it’s a win-win. But the government has to make sure that we get our share of the win because if I can do that, if I can combine innovative acquisition and contracting strategies to generate savings overall, then I can use those savings, combined with the savings I get automatically by adding that 10th ship in the Virginia on a per-unit basis … to reduce the incremental cost of adding that 10th ship to something that is very reasonable, and get it down into the area where the Navy and the Department of Defense and Congress all say, given the value of that ship and the work that has gone into making this price to add it so reasonable, we’ve got to do it. It’s absolutely the right thing to do. And then we’ll have accomplished the goal.”

Jabaley said he has not been given a dollar figure to work towards for the incremental cost of the 2021 submarine, but he said that “there’s clearly a strong case to be made for doing this, and it’s our job to present the business case that convinces everybody that it’s the right thing to do.”

The Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Newport News (SSN-750) arrives in Souda Bay, Greece Feb. 28, 2016. US Navy photo.

The Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Newport News (SSN-750) arrives in Souda Bay, Greece Feb. 28, 2016. US Navy photo.

Congressional Support

Fortunately for the Navy, some lawmakers are already onboard.

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), ranking member of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee who represents the Groton area, said he believes the momentum has shifted to the side of those pushing for more subs in the budget. In December the Congressional Budget Office found that the National Seabased Deterrence Fund and its authorities that Stackley and Jabaley spoke of could help the Navy save $10 billion over the course of the Ohio Replacement Program – money that should be used to help pay for the 2021 attack sub.

That CBO report, he said, “changed the contours of the debate where critics of the Fund have to address the fact that we’re providing a way to save billions of dollars and help the rest of the fleet. If people still want to undermine that, they need to come forward with alternatives.”

Courtney said there can sometimes be a hesitancy among lawmakers to tie the hands of future congresses – in the case of shipbuilding, agreeing to multiyear procurement and incremental funding authority can force Congress years down the road to spend money without having a say in the matter. In the case of submarines, though, Courtney said “we know the Ohio Replacement is foundational to national security. … There’s really not much risk about those programs, that Congress is going to change its mind. There should be, in my opinion, a lot of confidence that we can do this and we’re not going to end up with platforms that the country’s not going to feel is worth it down the road.”

As for industry’s capability to rise to the challenge, Courtney said he toured Newport News Shipbuilding recently and has met several times with Electric Boat’s human resources department, and the two are “very confident that they’re in the position to handle so much work.”

In fact, Courtney said the yards would need clarity sooner rather than later about how far Congress and the Navy might go, but he said he would support trying to continue the two-a-year Virginia procurement throughout the 2020s, even in years when Ohio Replacement subs are being built.

“If you look at the tile chart … even adding the sub in 2021, we’re still going to be below the 48-submarine requirement, which has been out there since 2005,” Courtney said.
“And frankly the world has changed since 2005, so that’s where I think these new developments that Adm. Harris and Gen. Breedlove shared with us is really changing people’s view of this issue and I don’t think, what we heard is they don’t anticipate these challenges changing any time soon. At some point it’s really responding to the needs of the combatant commanders.”

  • James Bowen

    The strange thing about this is that the world has not changed that much since 2005-2006. It was very evident then that China was building up its navy and Russia was still producing good submarines. This was a horrible decision that was driven by the prioritization of the Iraq War, and it was evident at the time that it was a horrible decision. Now we are just reaping the consequences of what was sown.

    • NavySubNuke

      The Navy started neglecting SSN force structure long before 2005/2006 or the Iraq war – the real issues started in the late 1990s when the drawdown really began in earnest and we allowed most of the production capability to whither away to nothing. But the trouble is no one actually starts caring until it lands in the FYDP and by then it is too late.

      • James Bowen

        Yes, I am aware of that. The post-Cold War drawdowns were way too steep, especially when considering that several Los Angeles-class fast attacks were retired way, way before the end of their service lives. There are two reasons why I mentioned the Iraq war. The first is that is the time period mentioned in this article when the decision was made to reduce the force level to 48 boats. The second is that, around 1999 and 2000 it was generally recognized that the post-Cold War drawdowns had been too steep. Admiral Bowman, NAVSEA 08 and the senior active duty submariner at the time, was writing that 72 fast attacks were needed. However, this was quickly forgotten when attention shifted to the Iraq war. At that point, they Navy in general and the submarine fleet in particular came to be taken for granted. Aside from a reckless reduction to a “requirement” of 48 fast attacks, the Navy also started sending sailors as IA’s to play soldier by the thousands, degrading the manning and preparedness of the fleet along with the force strength.

        • NavySubNuke

          You aren’t kidding about the impact IAs had on the force. They couldn’t even convince people to go to shore duty for a while because so many were being plucked out. The only way the Navy got people to start going reserve when they were getting out again was by giving them an in writing guarantee not to mobilize them for at least two years — that and a $10,000 bonus for a 3 year commitment to the reserves.
          ADM Bowman was certainly right about the 72 SSNs but it was a lot harder to make that argument in 1999 when the world was still rather peaceful and all big navy cared about was bombing the snot out of people who couldn’t hit back so it was all about carriers and aircraft. For now the pendulum has swung back but like the response of all over-bloated bureaucracies it is too little too late.

          • James Bowen

            Very interesting and very well put. I was on shore duty at Pearl Harbor when the IA program became big, and they often couldn’t run the attack centers because so many of the post-DIVO officers who normally manned those billets had all been sent to Iraq or some place.

  • RobM1981

    Build AIP SS’s. Call them SSK’s, or whatever.

    The SSN is perhaps the most valuable non-strategic asset in the fleet. It is arguably more valuable than a CVN, but there is no arguing that you need a lot more of them. They are limited, if just by sensors, in how much area they can effectively cover. They are awesome, but they are obviously very expensive.

    SSK’s are far more affordable, and actually *more* valuable in certain situations. We have seen, time and again, how NATO SSK’s slip past even our SSN’s. They are silent, they are long-legged, and they are deadly.

    All without a nuclear reactor, thus cutting costs by order of magnitude. Acquisition and operation costs, too.

    We need SSK’s to “fill the gap.” We need SSK’s to bolster our overall submarine force. Nobody is calling for the removal of SSN’s – that would be insane – but to bring back the non-nukes is, truly, just common sense at this point.

    We are seeing “Battleship Navy” thinking, except now it’s with Rickover’s descendants. They have a myopic loyalty: “If it ain’t a Nuke; it’s crap.” Even though they are sometimes bested by NATO SSK’s in exercises, they refuse to see the obvious. Even though those SSK’s operate at a fraction of the cost, this doesn’t matter to them.

    I love SSN’s, but I also recognize an obvious gap when I see one. SSK’s will provide tremendous capabilities – superior, in some instances- while lowering the cost per boat. They will allow us to better leverage our SSN’s, and better “stretch their coverage” by back-filling them with SSK’s where possible.

    This is obvious.

    • 2IDSGT

      SSKs have advantages, but being “long-legged” is NOT among their strong points.

      They are only useful when the enemy comes to you or is right next door. So unless Venezuela suddenly becomes our primary naval threat, your entire argument is invalid.

      • Patrick

        What if we based them in Japan?

        • KellyJ

          Part of the “long legged” philosophy isn’t just transit range, but also on station time. A lot of these missions require the boat to remain on station for a month to 6 weeks (or longer) undetected and able to still respond to something out of area at a moments notice. An SSK just doesn’t have the underway duration without having to come off station to recharge batteries. And they are still to slow to provide a rapid response to anything more than their immediate vicinity.

        • NavySubNuke

          Not close enough – we would need to base them in Taiwan for it to matter.

        • 2IDSGT

          Why don’t the Japanese build more of their own?

    • NavySubNuke

      The trouble with SSKs is that they deliver about 20% of the capability and presence for about 50% of the cost. Their extremely limited speed, endurance, and payload means that they aren’t capable of doing the things the US needs it submarine force to do.
      A Soryu class submarine costs about $600 million and has a crew of 65. If we were to buy the 4 – 5 Soryu’s it would take to provide the same presence, capability, and capacity of a VA class we would end up spending more during procurement and much more during sustainment since the crew is the most expensive part of sustaining a submarine.
      SSKs sound great on paper and they are fun to talk about at parties but at the end of the day they aren’t very useful if you are trying to contest the enemies access to sea in their own waters or projecting power ashore. Where SSKs do excel is in defending your own coastal waters where they can just wait for people to literally drive over them. Other than that there really isn’t much point to wasting the time, money, or effort on them.

      • RobM1981

        Hi,

        With respect, I challenge your numbers. The SSK is shorter legged, this is true, but it can easily patrol for a month. It doesn’t have a “fast cruise” capability, so we would still need SSN’s for anything that requires prolonged speed or under-ice.

        But for patrolling a harbor, escorting a slower convoy (amphib), or being deployed forward and then patrolling off of China (etc.)? It will do that as well, or better, than an SSN. The SSK is quieter and, depending upon how you build it, possibly much smaller.

        In the hands of a USN crew it would be as lethal, in those situations, as an SSN.

        • NavySubNuke

          The US doesn’t use submarines to patrol harbors, no convoy — even an amphib convoy — is slow enough for an SSK to keep up, and you can’t just “forward deploy” them off China — they have to get there somehow. Even if you left from Japan it would take you at least a week or more to get there and when you couple that with a week or more transit home you are talking about only being on station for two weeks.
          That is how I came up with the 4 – 5 number by the way — one on the way there, one on the way back, one actually there, and one or two in upkeep. With that many boats – all forward deployed to someplace close like Okinawa you could probably maintain continuous coverage for several months but it all breaks down by about month 6 or 7 when you start having to cycle them through extended upkeeps.
          Oh and while you are “on station” you basically have to wait for the enemy to walk over you since you don’t have the speed or endurance to come to them. If you find out they are 100 miles away from where you expected them it might as well be 1000000 because you aren’t going to catch up.
          That just isn’t how the US uses submarines and it won’t help the US use the SSN force better – in fact the diversion of resources and people would probably make things worse.

          • RobM1981

            Patrols off of China or North Korea or Kamchatka (etc.) would be staged out of Japan, Guam, or other nearby ports. Yeah, I know, we have tried that with limited success for SSN’s (particularly in Guam), but that’s just bad execution. WWII boats staged out of Guam with no problems, so it certainly can be done.

            Patrols in and around Europe would stage out of NATO ports.

            I agree that an SSK isn’t going to do a >20kt run across the whole ocean. As I say, the need for SSN’s isn’t dying – but the SSK’s AIP is cheaper than the nuke, smaller than the nuke, and quieter than the nuke.

            Our tests against the Gotland, back in 2005, were eye opening, were they not? And, as I recall, it had to be shipped to San Diego (it didn’t do the transit), but the Gotland’s *have* tangled with NATO boats in the mid-Atlantic during exercises. They do have some range to them.

            In a hot-war situation we *would* have to defend our harbors – how better than AIP? Aircraft, sure, but I still would want a boat involved.

            The article is stating that we don’t have the resources to build as many SSN’s as we need. Tests have shown us that in some situations the SSK is actually superior – and it’s definitely cheaper. A Gotland only ships something like 30 people, and isn’t even 1/4 the size of a Virginia. I’m not saying we’d want a boat that small, but it’s proof that it can be done – and that’s an old design, at this point.

            So, again, why not? Why not deploy a highly capable asset that’s cheaper to acquire, cheaper to operate, and superior in quite a few ways?

          • NavySubNuke

            Guam is over 2000 miles from the areas of interest. This worked in WWII because the Japanese didn’t have radar, spy satellites, or even reliable sonar. That isn’t the case any longer.
            The tests against the Gotland were not eye opening and have been repeated every year since with a variety of Diesel boats.
            As to why not build them? Because it isn’t worth wasting the time, money, or effort on a capability with so little performance, payload, or capability. Individually they may be cheaper but to buy enough to equal 1 SSN you have to pay more to buy them and to man and operate them.

      • Swiftright Right

        Well I had wanted to argue your points but in trying to build a response I had to come to the conclusion, your right.

        Building long endurance SSK capable of projecting force would probably cost nearly as much as a SSN. When you read about their cost efficacy bloggers seem to start with the basic model price and then handwave away the large cost of adding endurance and coverage. And then you hit diminishing returns. You want more endurance so you add more fuel which requires a larger hull which needs more power to move which gobbles up mostly of the added fuel.

        At 1st glance you see some promise, talk of modern SSKs with 70+ day endurances which “might” increase to 90. But what you sacrafic to get 70 days is absurd, like spending 2 weeks on the seabed without moving or 4kt transit speeds or an anemic weapons load out.

        It might be worth it if you deployed a number of boats extremely far forward with the knowledge they are never going to leave that region. Maybe a few in North Europe to ease up the requirements for SSNs there. I doubt it would make financial sense but it might (I stress might) be worth it to cover shortages. Idk, but what I do know is that I’m a army guy and if SSKs can barely handle my scrutiny I’m doubtful they hold much promise for our navy.

        • NavySubNuke

          Thanks for the reply – I appreciate you taking the time to research it. It is one of those ideas that does deserve to be looked at – but as you say it needs to be looked at honestly and without hand waving or simply blaming the “nuclear mafia”.
          I actually had the chance to ride a diesel boat for about two weeks as part of exercises and it was eye opening to say the least.

    • Rick Lewis

      I agree that we need non-nuclear subs (SSK?).

      ROLE: People object to the idea, saying the SSK wouldn’t be able to keep up with aircraft groups, but most of their ships aren’t nuclear either. Regardless, there are a few situations in which SSKs would be especially appropriate:

      1) Accompanying amphibious assault groups, so we can stop using SSNs there
      2) Patrolling near our forward bases, and in times of escalated threat, US ports
      3) Providing opposition force training for our attack subs

      TYPE: The German Type 214 (or Type 212 if we can get them) or The Japanese Soryu class would be excellent choices. We would have them build the first one or two, and build the rest here under license.

      How would we buy them in this budget environment? Our best bet would be to trade combat and reconnaissance aircraft for them, as both those countries use our equipment. Each Soryu could be traded for about five F-15s, for example.

      • RobM1981

        Precisely. By all means we still need SSN’s. If there’s one thing an AIP cannot do, it’s what you say: go very fast, or go fast for a long time. An SSN will routinely transit at High Speed, and an AIP just can’t do that.

        But your other points are spot on. Patrolling and defending is what AIP’s do, and they are as good as SSN’s (on balance), and a lot cheaper.

        I’d like to see us develop our own, but you are correct again when you say that the German and Japanese (and other’s, btw) boats are excellent already. Since we’d want to refit them with our own weapons suites, building from scratch makes more sense in the long run, but purchasing four or five to begin training with, developing doctrine, etc.?

        Yeah, that would work.

        How about “fewer LCS’s,” or “fewer F35’s?”

    • Mark Hutchings

      Those of us who worked at Mare Island Naval Shipyard knew that this day would come. The saddest part, for me, is that Mare Island Naval Shipyard was the ONLY Navy Shipyard that maintained Fast Attack submarines under budget and ahead of schedule, while the 7 other shipyards operated in the red, with Bremerton being the worst (in 1993). Now it seems that the Navy could use Mare Island and it’s outstanding employees – 20 years (on April 1, this year) too late.

      • TheEvilBlight

        Well, the divesting of shipyards has come home to roost. Now it’s electric boat or bust.

  • As long as we have nuclear powered carriers we’re always going to need nuclear subs that can keep up with them and do ASW for the CBG. As for the other missions that are driving up the need for subs, I agree with RobM1981, adding AIP to the mix would be very interesting as they are cheap and practical and the it would give the US experience building them.
    A mixed force of AIP’s and nuclear subs particularly with the US’s continued air and surface domination could provide a very potent littoral and shallow water threat to calm down the Chinese militarization of the South China and for a number of other missions.

  • I agree with RobM1981 – Build non nukes. We do not have to go back to the drawing board. The Japanese, the Germans, and a couple of other countries have excellent AIP boats. Of course the nuke mafia would turn out in force to block any move. I think it is three for two AIP vs. nuke. They would be smaller, less crew, and of course (unless the defense contractors get their greedy hands on) cheaper.
    If we build good boats they could become export items. I have been a diesel and nuke boat sailor and have seen the nuke mafia in action. MMCS(SW)(SS) USN Ret.

    • NavySubNuke

      The submarine mafia would turn up to block any such move because it would be a foolish waste of resources. Sure you can buy SSKs cheaper and you can crew them with smaller crews – but you are also getting a slower and less capable platform with much less overall capabilities.
      To buy enough SSKs to match the capabilities of an SSN you end up spending more because you are buying 4 – 5 SSKs to do what 1 SSN could do.

  • This is why the US Navy should build AIP SSK’s. They can be used in places where an SSN can’t be everywhere. Perfect for supporting special forces in the littoral’s and perfect for littoral operations. They can even be used in places like Guam, Diego Garcia, Rota Spain and even in PR and AK as gate guards.

    • NavySubNuke

      All of those places are way to far away — we would need to base the SSKs in Taiwan for them to matter. And even then we would be spending more to buy 4 – 5 SSKs just to try and match what one SSN can do.

      • I would put SSK’s in Guam, Diego Garcia, Rota Spain and Puerto Rico. I would still leave the SSN’s back home

        • NavySubNuke

          Still way to far away. Guam to Hong Kong for instance is over 2000 miles – it would take a Diesel submarine almost two weeks to cover that distance. Longer if they were try to do it in a stealthy manner. And once they are actually on station their slow tactical speeds make them almost useless unless the enemy drives right over them.

          • Have you looked at the current AIP SSK subs these days. They can travel easily and cover the 2000 miles.

          • NavySubNuke

            I’ve seen them and yes they can cover the distance if you provide them with enough weeks to get there. And once they get there they can sit and wait and hope that someone drives over them so they can use their extremely limited supply of weapons on them and then spend a few weeks transiting back to reload and come back for more.
            You really need 4 – 5 AIP SSKs to do what an SSN can do and at that point you are actually costing more money to buy them, more money to crew them, and more money to keep them in service.
            AIP SSKs work great if all you care about is defending your own coast but as a means of project power they just don’t offer much because of their limited speed, capacity, and capability.

          • Look at countries that have a mix of SSBN, SSGN, SSK’s and SSN’s like Russia and China. Both of them use SSK’s to guard the EEZ while the SSN’s go Hunting.

          • NavySubNuke

            But the US doesn’t need to use them to guard the coast – we aren’t using SSNs to do it today nor would we in the future. We use our submarines to project power.

          • That’s why I think we should get AIP/Fuel Cell SSK’s to cover the coast and Protect key interest.

          • NavySubNuke

            Yes but we don’t need to cover the coasts and all of our key interests are thousands of miles away from any of the places you listed.

  • EngineerRich

    Lets talk hybrid AIP/Nuk, a sub that utilized a small nuke plant to extend operation, but normally operates of stored electrical energy. A small nuk plant would mean reduced cost and be quieter. Yes, you won’t be able to sustain full speed over long transits, but you do get the endurance.

  • Sharkey

    I have watched the sub building program both in the 60’s (commissioning crew SSBN 623) and have kept up to date as best I can by attending meetings and lectures given by both current and former submariners. I believe the Navy is getting the support it needs to go ahead with the ORP and SSN fleets. The real problem is the congress’ continuing attempts to cut budgets (sequestration) and maintain the programs at the same time. There can be no excuse for delaying them without great harm being done to the overall triad based security of the country. We have a chance to weed out the doves who put reelection barriers up and to support those hawks trying desperately to meet the fleet demands. So vote your conscience and think through whom you wish to support in these election.