Home » Budget Industry » Panel: Navy May Have to Choose Between New Ballistic Missile Subs or 355 Ship Fleet

Panel: Navy May Have to Choose Between New Ballistic Missile Subs or 355 Ship Fleet

Gold crew of the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Louisiana (SSBN-743) arrives home to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Wash. US Navy Photo

The Navy could be forced to make hard choices sooner rather than later when it comes to finding the money to replace its aging ballistic missile submarines or reach its goal of having a fleet of 355 warships, a panel of security and budgetary experts said this week.

When asked by USNI News what the future holds for fleet size and ballistic missile submarines now that the Democrats control the House, Frank Rose, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former assistant secretary of state for arms control, he said: “There is not enough money” for both, and “priorities need to be taken.”

Rose and Jim Miller, a former undersecretary of Defense for policy, came down firmly on the side of building the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, the replacements for the current Ohio-class, in setting priorities for Navy spending.

For the U.S., the ballistic missile submarines “secures the second strike” in event of a nuclear attack. “It really is the backbone of our nuclear force now and for the next 70 to 80 years,” Rose said.

The Navy shouldn’t be allowed to say, “sorry, we ran out of money” when it comes to paying for the ballistic missile submarine because the shipbuilding account was used for other kinds of warships. “The Navy needs to step up to that bill,” Miller said.

That line of thought is not confined to think-tanks.

Rep. Adam Smith, (D-Wash.), who is expected to become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee when the new Congress convenes in January, has long expressed skepticism over the Navy’s shipbuilding plan leading to a fleet of 355 warships. He has several times at recent public events referred to it as “simply a number thrown out there.

A sense of how the Republican-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee will line up on fleet size and modernizing the nuclear triad could come Tuesday when the full panel looks at the recommendations of the commission on the National Defense Strategy and that afternoon its sea power subcommittee looks at current and future shipbuilding plans.

In his presentation, Miller said a fleet of 355 ships, meaning a growth of about 70 from the current size “are numbers that should be challenged” as should those increasing Army end strength from about 450,000 soldiers to 510,000. If all the services force structure numbers were challenged there would be funds for readiness and modernization, including the nuclear triad.

“Will this administration put its money where its strategy [of deterring new-peer competitors — Russia and China] is?” he asked rhetorically.

There is some concern that the Trump administration will pull back from long-term, continually rising Pentagon budgets. The Defense Department was planning for a request for Fiscal Year 2020 of $733 billion, but it has now been told by the Office of Management and Budget to work with a $700 billion top line.

The question for all the services is: “can they get by with current force structure” if missions are also re-examined to free money for readiness, modernization and investment in the future like cyber resilience and space, especially sensors for missile defense.

Michael O’Hanlon, who moderated the session at Brookings in Washington, D.C., added in answer to the USNI News question that for the Navy it means looking at the missions its accepts critically. For example, does the lack of an aircraft carrier strike group presence in the Persian Gulf upset security in the region. Or is it a way to free money for other things. He pointed out that when there was no carrier present there for months Iran did not act more aggressively.

“The Middle East was a mess before; the Middle East was a mess after. [The Navy] can be more flexible [and that] could be with a smaller fleet,” he said.

Miller said during the presentation and later with USNI there was a tradeoff that needed to be understood between “quantity and quality.”

Following the presentation, Miller said the Navy “is in a bind” when it has to choose between large capital surface ships, like carriers, “and places where it has an advantage, like submarines — boomers and attack and unmanned undersea vessels. He added modernizing the amphibious fleet remained a priority to meet the need for rapid response of Marines and special forces.

Overhanging all this discussion of where the Pentagon should spend its money is the old bugaboo — sequestration, the automatic across-the-board cuts in defense and domestic spending if deficits are not offset, as required by existing law.

Maya MacGuiness, president of the Committee for a Responsible Budget, said unless Congress reaches a spending agreement Pentagon spending would automatically fall back to $576 billion because the Budget Control Act of 2011 remains in place. As it has in the past, Congress has reached an agreement to lift the caps, but is no longer trying to offset those hikes in spending with comparable cuts in other programs.

With a trillion dollar deficit and national debt “the highest it has been since World War II,” she said the United States “faces incredible fiscal challenges,” but administrations and Congress aren’t making the choices in where to cut, where to spend, how to find revenue to pay for programs, cover entitlements — in and out of the military, and meet the interest payments on the debt.

Instead, there has been “a doubling down” on spending and cutting taxes. The reality has become “I won’t pay for mine; you won’t pay for yours.”

MacGuiness said, “We have to stop the notion we can have it all” in federal spending on guns and butter. She did not predict whether the new Congress would make those decisions.

While expecting House Democrats to exercise more executive branch oversight, Elaine Kamerck, of Brookings, said didn’t see their approach come the New Year as an all-out assault on Pentagon spending. The party’s leadership is concerned about keeping its majority having taken seats in more conservative suburban areas after 2020. A more interesting question come January will be “how does the Republican leadership in Congress take the lessons from the elections” that saw “them decimated in the suburbs” and their winning margins cut in rural areas, she said, and apply them to the budget.

  • vincedc

    Not sure where they got the idea that this was the Navy’s choice to make. Congress sets the priorities and the budget and the mix of ships to boats. It’s the Navy’s job to salute smartly and charge up the hill.

    • NavySubNuke

      True on the final decision but the Navy, via the president’s budget, does get to make the first proposal. They can put together a budget that calls for what they want, as part of the overall DoD budget and submit it to Congress. Then it is up to Congress to make the final call.
      Hopefully they ask for 14-16 SSBNs – 12 just isnt enough!

      • ron_snyder

        We have 18 SSBN’s now. The need for more surface warships is of greater importance. SSBN is deterrent, surface warships win wars.

        • NavySubNuke

          We actually have 14 SSBNs right now and all of them are old and getting older. The oldest 4 were converted to SSGNs over a decade ago.
          And we are replacing the 14 OHIOs with 12 COLUMBIAs… but dropping down to 10 SSBNs during the transition.

          • ron_snyder

            Appreciate the correction. Can any other Nation match our Ohio’s, let alone the Columbia’s?

          • NavySubNuke

            Match? No. But we still have to replace the OHIOs. They were originally designed to serve for 30 years, the Navy crunched the numbers and decided we can safely operate them for 40 years (of operations, doesn’t include mid-life overhaul period) – but that is it.
            We’ll remove all 4 SSGNs and the first 4 SSBNs from service at over 40 years of age — older by the way than any nuclear submarine ever in the history of the US navy by ~7 years — before we actually get the first COLUMBIA on patrol. That is why we will be down to 10 during the transition.
            There is certainly a chance that China or Russia will be able to match OHIO by the 2030s when they are being retired.
            The bigger question is if they will have SSNs/SSGNs that are capable of threatening them, and how many of the those they have. That is the real risk to our SSBN force and why we can’t simply rebuild the OHIO but need the added stealth COLUMBIA will provide.

      • I must agree. While porkbarrel and shipyard politics largely drive defense appropriations, we occasionally here the public argument: “Why are we buying weapons that our own military commanders say we don’t need?”

        That’s where Navy brass gets its power to impact the allocation of ships and planes. It eventually occurs to congress that they need buy-off from DOD and the White House, and those two offices rely on admirals and generals to provide legitimacy from the field. The public trusts military commanders more than their own congress members.

        Regarding sub construction, the Columbia SSBN will definitely be built because it has strong 3-prong support of DoD, a hawkish GOP, and the New England congressional delegation (practically all Democrats) who defend jobs at Electric Boat shipyards. It’s a done deal.

      • Jack

        And 4-6 SSGN based on the Columbia design

    • Duane

      These folks know how the system works. They are not suggesting that CNO gets to make these decisions – Congress makes them, always has, and always will. Even POTUS is just a bystander, like the rest of us.

      • vetww2

        I concur.

  • Leroy

    Let’s face it, Americans want no cuts to Social Security and healthcare, but are willing to see the defense budget cut. That’s today’s political reality. Unless the security situation changes, this will be tomorrow’s political reality too.

    We knew the deficit/debt would finally catch up with us. Currently debt service stands at about $500B per year. With interest rates rising, and deficits building up total debt (currently at $21.2T), things are only gonna get worse.

    DoD needs to plan accordingly. That means chop-chop. I’d say a new fleet of boomers is far more important than 355 ships. Expect that to be the direction Congress takes

    • a new hope

      We are not paying for medicare and medicaid either a 1.4 trillion dollar yearly expense. We could pay for it by raising the medicare tax to 15%. But right now we choose deficit spending

      • Leroy

        At some point we reach the end of the road. The light at the end of the fiscal tunnel is definitely in sight. DoD had better adjust accordingly. Hard choices lay ahead.

        • a new hope

          Thats why a smaller nuke centric military wiould be better as it is more powerful and cheaper and much less personnel intense

          • Bryan

            I’m not sure what you mean by nuke centric?

            Nukes only get one so far. What I suspect needs to happen is a hand off of superpower to superpower coalition. There is no reason we are in charge of the Med. We are not. Europe is and can handle it just fine. We should send our ships to the Med, North Sea and Baltic as a training partner/presence force with our allies.

            Of course that requires humility, leadership and strategy. We haven’t had much of those things in a long, long time.

          • a new hope

            Similar to Russian model and 1980s under Reagan: large number of tactical weapons dispersed between ships army units air force plus a strategic force

          • Bryan

            Same problem as in the 80’s….why waste the money? How many times do we need to kill every city in Russia and China? MAD is what it is. That’s it.

            We still need a strategy to maintain an acceptable world order. Unless you think letting China run a third of it is a good idea. We’ve seen that even other communist countries don’t want anything to do with them(Vietnam and Russia).

            There are other ways of doing it without going bankrupt or ceding the world order to a totalitarian state.

          • Leroy

            That’s what Russia was forced to do. They can’t project power much (a little as we see in Syria) but they can defend their territory and local interests. Their nuclear capabilities fully protect the Russian homeland. Will we be relegated to that type defense model? Could happen.

            China is rising, and thanks to debt, like post-WW1 Britain we are fading. Either we act now or that’s it for us. We will be second to China and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that coming.

            For the Navy, they need to think force structure. Can we maintain 11 CVNs or do we pull back the total number and relegate tasks to America-class LHAs? Do we maintain a fleet of SSNs or do we forward-deploy AIPs? Do we pull back from Europe and focus our military in the Pacific and ME while rich NATO nations take primary responsibility for protecting Europe? Questions have to be asked, decisions made.

            Adjustments are coming for all the services. They can be organized and reasoned or chaotic and illogical – the choice is ours. Congress will ultimately decide because they hold the purse-strings, and in the end political decisions, choices, will be made. Let’s hope for intelligent compromise.

          • a new hope

            We are more like Russia. More nukes and reduced commitments around the globe and reduced conventional forces will help us.

          • Leroy

            It’s called an Empire in decline, and because we kept getting involved in war after war, building our “global strategic-holdings portfolio”, all of which are “too vital” to national security to abandon, growing and growing and growing, a beast feeding itself, gorging on our national wealth, well …. we are now financially crumbling. It was predictable. We are way too spread out spending way too much money to sustain our global footprint. It’s happened to empires throughout history. Downfalls.

      • Bryan

        You are right. I like to point out to people that to fix the problem of the debt is to simply balance the budget permanently. We’ve waited so long and played politics that to fix it we will end up freezing SS/Medicare and cutting the federal military budget in half. Of course that only gets us half way there. We will see Savings, healthcare and IRA accounts frozen for various, “rich” people, meaning middle class as the rich don’t need those accounts. They have companies to shelter the money. Why? If we can no longer rely on a depleting SS/Medicare account to borrow from we will borrow from the people. It’s happened in other countries and will happen here.

        Of course there are other things….we can make the bad guy into a really bad guy and start a war. It will be convenient that the particular country holds a lot of our debt. Voila, budgetary wiggle room.

        We as patriotic citizens like to think we won’t do that. But we have/are backing ourselves into a corner. A cornered tiger is a dangerous one.

    • Bryan

      I agree. One way I try to explain to folks is the Navy (Military) is not resilient to sustained budget cuts/recessions. So Admirals make stars by pushing pure warfighting as they see it. Right now that’s carriers. When a recession comes along they ride it out then stretching the fleet to do more with less. We saw how that is working out.

      The Navy tried to prop up the carrier budget by doing several foolish things…put more immature tech on it’s boats (protect it from budget chop) and dumb down the low end to keep room for the carriers.

      The outcome…ineffective new class of carriers and ineffective low end ships. Russia and China remaking the rules to favor totalitarian systems. These are directly linked to the economic outlook.

      Admirals do this because it has worked in the past. As you point out they should know that it is not working anymore. If we keep going we will have very few low end ships that don’t work and carriers parked on a pier with only a reactor crew.

      The answer can be one of several different strategies. But for the strategy to work long term one thing is common….less CVN and less SSN. And that is just the start. As the budget goes even farther down we will have to do more extreme things such as diesel subs/missile centered forward posture/conventional carriers (cvl), etc.

      If we remake the fleet willingly we have a chance to showcase a powerful Navy that works well to stand shoulder to shoulder with our partner/allies. I suspect we will go the park it routine.

      • Leroy

        Good analysis.

    • Matthew Schilling

      We can simply cancel a large portion of our current national debt, since we own it. We loaned a massive amount of money to ourselves and now we’re paying a huge amount of interest to ourselves. It’s so silly, only a government could do it.
      The Fed Govt owns over half of every single acre of land west of the Mississippi. A lot of that land is incredibly valuable. Any other person or entity with a lot of debt would be required to sell valuable assets. It’s high time the Fed Govt develop a comprehensive plan to maximize the income it can raise by selling, leasing, or renting vast tracts of real estate.

      • Bryan

        The problem with how we own it is? The trust funds are going to go down due to demographics. The portion of the debt that we bought and pay interest on is going up at the same time. I could go on. It’s not a free ride when a nation just prints money. That’s true even for a super power.

        One sign of a power on the way down is that they do stranger and stranger maneuvers to keep the money flowing. We saw this is 2008. After 2008 larger countries such as Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, started making side deals to trade in other than u.s. dollars. During the next large recession we will see that occur. At that point there isn’t much reason to go back to the dollar.

        All financial experts say we get a boost because the world trades in dollars. The number most guess is 15%. When that dollar trading stops we will permanently drop and not come back. Think a recession where we loose 15% permanently. It will look like 2008 but only worse.

        At that point we can’t afford to borrow any money the next year and must balance the budget. Or we can just print it and suffer the massive inflation. Either way we will not be putting hulls in the water at that point. We will be the Soviets. For them it wasn’t just disengaging from the world. Their internal problems were massive. Suicides went up. Emigration went up. Length of life went down. It is still a mess for them.

        That is where we are going. The sad part is there is a soft landing. All we have to do is balance the budget. But our government political parties and to an extent citizens are like a bunch of rats fighting over a stale moldy piece of cheese. We and our children are going to pay a dear price for that stupidity.

      • Leroy

        ” … the Fed Govt develop a comprehensive plan to maximize the income it can
        raise by selling, leasing, or renting vast tracts of real estate.”

        The enviro-crazies, and they are in many cases uncompromising lunatics, will never allow it. They’ll dream up a “sacred” Indian graveyard, an endangered mouse, some watershed or perhaps even a prehistoric graveyard left behind by a lost civilization – anything – to stop development and land-sales like this from happening. Heck you couldn’t even build the Golden Gate Bridge or Hoover Dam nowadays without these nuts laying down in front of bulldozers and cranes to stop construction. Then some vote-desperate liberal politician will champion their cause in Washington and BINGO! No sale.

  • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

    The 355-ship requirement seems a bit arbitrary given we don’t know the capabilities of either the Small Surface Combatant (SSC) or Future Surface Combatant (FSC). (Or what if anything LCS will eventually deliver).

    I’d also agree with Mr. O’Hanlon. The Navy’s reliance on “carrier presence” to justify it’s force structure has always been questionable and unprovable.

    The Navy likes to say that simply having aa carrie strike group (CSG) in-theater deters potential adversaries. No one seems to question that assumption – or even admit that it is an assumption.

    My gut instinct is that CSG presence has much less of a ‘shaping’ effect on adversary behavior in 2018 than it did in say 1988. Adversary integrated air defenses have gotten much stronger, and there are more, credible threats to the aircraft carrier itself.

    If we reconfigured from a “presence based” Fleet to more of a “surge ready” Fleet – similar to WW2 – our force structure might look very different.

    • Bryan

      I agree. China is taking the SCS under the nose of our carriers. Their presence has not deterred much. I see it as a peacetime presence to enforce/stop theft of resources(such as the SCS), daily weekly FONOPS and to bring more land attack/anti-ship missiles forward to punish if the need arises on a first day of war. And keeping our carriers safer from a preemptive attack when not on a war footing.

      To me that means a larger vls load on a small number of forward based frigate/light destroyers that are level 2 survivable and supplemented with vls on a cheaper auxiliary ships kept farther away(over 1,000 miles away). LHA’s used as CVL’s distanced/positioned to strike outlying bases immediately and then move to escort AF bombers to strike the mainland.

      Then keeping a smaller amount of carriers(7-9) that are used then as an instrument of war not presence.

      • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

        Certainly. Carrier surges haven’t seemed to deter or dissuade China, Russia or Iran.

        The Future Surface Combatant offers the Navy the opportunity to shift from a carrier-based force structure to a force structure based on dispersed, high-end surface ships.

        • Bryan

          Yep. But we don’t have the money for that AND buy 12 carriers and 60+ SSN’s. My idea is that the budget problem will only get worse. We need a new strategy that survives on less money and with great humility joins with our allies as true partners instead of treating the great nations as subjects.

          A couple examples:

          Peacetime CSG in the Med year round? Simple, if we can coordinate with France, Italy and U.K. with overlapping (for training) cruises.

          Peacetime, use LHA’s as do it all CVL’s in the Med and Indian Ocean.

          Let the SSN’s naturally fall and stabilize at around 30. Rush to build a few SSK’s from Japan. Then slowly ramp up the build to 30 of them for a sustained industrial base of one SSN and one SSK build per year. Forward deploy the SSK’s in Japan, Guam, Australia, U.K., Iceland, etc.

          We often use LHA’s without escort. Sometimes we have French and U.K. escorts join in for training. We should encourage this more and more.

          Arabian Gulf, We saw what we can get by with during the lack of LCS fiasco. Use
          the LCS if they ever get out there. Replace them with up gunned patrol boats such as Ambassador Mk III and a common auxiliary for mine hunting. Send the frigate in when and if Iranian subs get frisky. Or develop a small corvette with ASW for the Gulf and to work with our allies in the North Sea/Baltic.

          Is any of this perfect? Not a chance. But it is realistic and resilient.

          • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

            I don’t agree with all the details of your approach. For instance: I believe SSKs are largely a waste for USN. Too short legged. We should instead build more SSNs.

            However – I think we’d agree that a long-term, resource-informed, threat specific strategy is needed. Get that right and then we can figure out the shipbuilding plan.

          • Bryan

            I disagree about the SSKs. The Navy puts out their fear of ssks because they are so advanced. They are more advanced. The secret to a peace time/first day of war fleet is….it’s made up of mostly forward deployed hulls. Run the geography of Japan. Look at the range/range of submerged for the Japanese subs. Stationed forward in Japan and Guam they are perfectly matched for patrol of the first island chain. The same could be said of Iceland/U.K. and the North Sea.

            Again, we are not talking a perfect world here. We are talking a budget crisis that can idle the entire Navy. Do it right and we can survive with hulls in the water. Do it wrong? It’s going to look like the Soviets. The big difference? We will sit by and watch China and Russia carve up their region. Our way of life will change drastically. In the end that change will more than likely involve a world war.

            That is just how the course of history treats the end of most empires. We are not special because, “America” has a better way of treating others as compared to the Soviets or Red China.

          • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

            I think you understate the numbers of subs and crews that would be needed to maintain an SSK forward deployed from Guam or Pearl.

            It’s roughly 1,600 nm transit from Guam to Spratleys. That’s a two week transit on a sub going 5 knots. You’d have very little loiter time remaining by the time you got there.

            An SSKs short range and slow speed inherently ties them to close-in, vulnerable shore bases, which can be easily targeted and destroyed on day one of the war.

            SSKs are great if you are defending a coastline. They just don’t fit into the US Navy’s operational concept. We fight an away game.

          • Bryan

            A sub with over a 6,000 mile range will do just fine. Sub tenders working well outside the first island chain would be part of the deal. The Japanese use them for their island chain. Forward deployed it will work quite easy. No we wouldn’t want to bring them back from CONUS.

            And if we go bankrupt, who cares if you are correct. An SSN sitting in dock with just a crew to keep the core from melting down is where we are headed. We are broke…

          • Duane

            Diesel electrics are simply grossly inferior to any SSN. Ditto with AIPs. The only value of these low end subs is for coastal defense, where short endurance doesn’t matter and where there is plenty of backup from air power available nearby.

            For USN, our needs for submarines are for ISR (spy missions, basically) and anti-shipping in forward deployment, far from our shores. The long range, the long endurance, the sustained high speeds, and quiet afforded by current generation reactors (far quieter than early gen SSN power plants) as well as superior sensors and weapons makes our SSNs unsurpassed killers of both all those low end enemy subs, as well as their SSNs, and enemy surface shipping.

            And now we are starting to team up our SSNs with unmanned systems, both UUVs and UAVs.

            The cost of nuclear power isn’t really all that high anymore – what is expensive is building capable submarines, regardless of power plant.

          • tfowler

            SSKs could work for the USN if we home port them in allied countries. Otherwise I agree that they are too short legged. And generally with out interests all over the world they are too short legged to make up a majority or even a large minority of the navy’s submarine force even if they are home-ported overseas. If they are to be built it should be more as a supplement to SSNs not some sort of replacement.

    • DaSaint

      I think the Navy has already tipped its hand in acknowledging that they’re not getting 355 ships, when they stated recently that they’re seriously exploring up-gunning the ‘San Antonio II’ class with VLS. With distributed lethality, the possibility exists to create contributing combatants from amphibs (all of them). It’s a lot cheaper to retrofit Mk41 VLS, NSMs, SeaRAM and associated sensor and control systems, with cooperative launch capabilities, than building new $1 Billion hulls.

      • tfowler

        The San Antonio class is too slow to be main combatants even with VLS missiles and better radar. I suppose if there is the room without sacrificing their current mission, they could be used to carry additional missiles as a way to defend amphibious landings (in conjunction with major surface combatants and likely a carrier or two, not all by themselves).

  • PolicyWonk

    When asked by USNI News what the future holds for fleet size and ballistic missile submarines now that the Democrats control the House, Frank Rose, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former assistant secretary of state for arms control, he said: “There is not enough money” for both, and “priorities need to be taken.”
    The Democrats controlling the house wasn’t the problem years ago when this program was just getting off the ground. The issue from the start has always been about how the USN was going to afford the SSBN(X) program at all, given the state of the shipbuilding budget. This was why someone in the HoR’s cooked up a financial option to fund what is now the Columbia program *outside* of the USN’s ship building budget.

    Giving tax breaks to (and transferring wealth to the rich) the ultra-wealthy when the nation can’t afford it at the expense of the middle and working classes under the transparent fig-leaf of “tax reform”, while causing our national debt to skyrocket and irresponsibly compromising our economic future, was the height of lunacy on the part of the GOP. They got creamed for it in this last election, they’ll be creamed for it in the next one, and totally forgot what it is/was to be fiscally responsible.

    Now that the Democrats have taken over the house, the GOP will have to return to the realities of comparatively responsible governance, meaning no more blank checks for them or the POTUS.

  • Jack

    So much for the National Sea Based Deterrence Fund..

  • Marcd30319

    I have re-read this article and have yet to determine what this “panel” was about. Specifically, what was the name of this panel, who were its participants and from what organization, who was sponsoring this panel, when and where did the panel take place, etc.

    In other words, the basic journalism 101 of who, what, where, when, and how. I am surprised that a veteran journalist like John Grady would overlook this most elementary factor in reporting this “panel” to the USNI News Blog.

    • waveshaper1

      Yep, sadly the article is not very clear about who was on the panel. There are a few clues contained in the article about the panel members but not much info on their overall motives/sponsors/etc/etc; Note; This panel took place at the Brookings Institution located in Washington, D.C. A.KA. The Swamp;
      – Panel member Michael O’Hanlon; He moderated this panel session at the Brookings Institution located in Washington, D.C. He’s a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, where he specializes in U.S. defense strategy, the use of military force, and American national security policy. He is also director of research for the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. He is an adjunct professor at Columbia, Princeton, and Syracuse universities and University of Denver. He is also a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. O’Hanlon was a member of the external advisory board at the Central Intelligence Agency from 2011 to 2012.
      – Panel member Frank A. Rose; Senior fellow for security and strategy in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution. He focuses on nuclear strategy and deterrence, arms control, strategic stability, missile defense, outer space, and emerging security challenges. From 2017-18, he served as principal director and chief of government relations at the Aerospace Corporation, a federally-funded research and development center focused on national security space. Note; He basically did the same stuff when he worked with in the US Government.
      – Panel member Jim Miller; Miller is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, where he is an advisor to the Combating WMD Panel of DoD’s Threat Reduction Advisory Committee and the Defense Science Board. He’s also a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies., and as senior associate member at St. Antony’s College, Oxford England.
      – Panel member Maya MacGuiness: Currently the president of the Committee for a Responsible Budget and previously she worked for the Brookings Institution, Debt Reduction Task Force, New America Foundation, Wall Street, and Concord Coalition.

      • Marcd30319

        It appears several of the participants held official positions in the previous administration.

        – Jim Miller is James N. Miller who served as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

        – Frank Rose served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, and later as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Space and Defense Policy.

        Also, in addition to her duties at the Brookings Institute, Elaine Kamerck has served on the DNC and its Rules Committee since 1997 as well as served as the senior policy advisor to the 2000 Gore presidential campaign.

        To coin a phrase, it does seem pretty swampy to me.

      • Curtis Conway

        By accident of birth at a specific time on the timeline they miss their opportunity to become millionaires off of Defense Contracts. Time to man-up. Probably no Eagle Scouts in this bunch.

        • Not like the heady days of “41 For Freedom” – so now we have 14 and soon only 12. How does the saying go: “We’ve been doing more with less, so pretty soon we’ll be able to do everything with nothing.”

          • Duane

            The “41 for Freedom” was in a different world. The peak of the Cold War dictated the number of SLBMs and warheads and submarines needed. And the missiles were much less capable in the heyday of the 41 … shorter range, fewer warheads, less accurate. The subs in those days were also less capable – noisier, first and foremost, than the Ohio class that replaced the several classes of earlier boomers. And the Columbias will continue to be quieter still than the Ohios, with better sensors, and a life of ship reactor, meaning a higher percentage available for patrol.

          • The Freedom of the American People is waning even faster than the number of ships and submarines available for the protection there of. Freedom is not free. It cannot be purchased with the latest wiz-bang technology. Freedom is an ingrained belief of a people – the American people. The sooner the people get their faces away their flat screen TV’s and smart phones, the better chance they will have at retaining that Freedom.
            The money wasted on professional sports and rigged elections alone would buy substantial improvements in our forces – assuming of course that the acquisition bureaucracy wouldn’t waste the money even faster.
            But you’re right Duane – it was a different time. It was a time when we were a Free Nation.

          • Duane

            We’re still free … very free. And powerful, and capable and prepared to defend our freedom.

            Whether people today are doing different things with their time is not a commentary on maintaining our freedoms.

            I served back in the 70s. I remember the old far*s of the day proclaiming that our generation was going to heck in a handbasket, we were all just wasting away in a haze of marijuana smoke, free love, and LSD, blah blah blah. They were wrong then, and their equivalent are wrong today.

            Our turn in the arena, as the so-called “baby boomers”, in the 60s and 70s, was not much like the popular media conception of the day. Believe it or not – it’s true! – young men (mostly) and some women volunteered for the military at much higher rates than the so-called greatest generation did in World War Two, despite all the drugs, s*x, and rock’n roll. About 8.8 million young Americans served during the Vietnam War era, of which only about 2.2 million were drafted – about 25% of the total who served. Meaning three quarters volunteered for duty, as did I and most everyone I knew in my hometown. Whereas in WW Two, 10 million of the 13 plus million of the men who served – about 75% – were drafted.

            So which generation was more patriotic? Well, I don’t think that that can be proved one way or the other … but clearly, the young people criticized by their elders at the time as ne’er do wells certainly toed the line and volunteered at a far higher rate during the Vietnam War era than did their supposedly more patriotic parents.

            I rather suspect that in the event of a future fight to defend our freedoms, plenty of Americans will step up … just as they did in 2001.

          • Centaurus

            I guess we just need to avoid any of those “Hunter Killer” movie-script scenarios.

          • Centaurus

            So in a nutshell, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. It seems that we can’t even repair our subs that we already have, according to a recent eval. posted here or there, recently. Anyone remember when the DoD budget was “only”$250” B ? It seems like only yesterday, but it wasn’t. I guess we must set our objectives within the means of attaining them. Shyteey….what a novel concept.

      • vetww2

        Brookings, though, usually a good source has been stuck in this mode of thinking eor oner 10 years. I challenged one of their conclusions, that pertained to my long term R&D plan and they backed down, completely, acknowldging that they were not aware of some of the technical driver predictions I had used. These included the rapid progress I predicted for computer power and AI.
        SO, I suggest that you take their findinge with the admonition on my Nuclear propulsion diploma from KAPL, which reads,”CUM GRANO SALIS.”that is”with a grain of salt.”

    • Ed L

      Disappointed Politicians messing around with national security?

      • Curtis Conway

        Describe the Democrats to a “T”.

    • Curtis Conway

      You missed “Why” which is probably the most important reason, and why it is not mentioned.

      • Marcd30319

        I suspect the “why” is pretty obvious — no 355-ship navy.

        • Curtis Conway

          My “What” is national defense, which requires a global Presence even if it is just to maintain the peace. Our international economy depends upon it, and in some cases we support law enforcement activities (anti-piracy, smuggling, and everything that happens as a consequence of our presence when we are there), which is why much of this activity could be passed to an expanded US Coast Guard.

          • Marcd30319

            I am sure that the threat of dispatching a USCG boarding party would have deterred Iraq from invading Kuwait back in 1990.

            All joking aside, the Coast Guard is an outstanding organization which does a brilliant job in maritime law enforcement. Unfortunately, not every overseas crisis is a law enforcement issue. In the case of the aforementioned Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, this was a combat situation. The the first combat aviation available in-theater to US policy-makers were aboard two aircraft carriers.

            Forward-deployed general-purpose naval forces have to do the job, and that requires a balanced fleet.

            As far as the Columbia-class boomers, I was under the impression that these ships would be funded by a separate appropriation fund dedicated to maintaining our strategic nuclear forces .

            This “panel” appears to be trying to lump funding for the Columbia class and other Navy shipbuilding projects into a single account to create an either/or scenario. I think this is a false or misleading choice.

          • Curtis Conway

            Iraq invading Kuwait is OBVIOUSLY a worse case scenario, and even a US Navy Presence (and it was there) could not stop it. However, there are numerous places around the globe where this is a good tactic (both coasts of Africa, Central-South America, a couple places in Asia, and the Arctic/Antarctic). Agreements exist, and we conduct training while growing their forces like Nigeria/Ukraine/Papua New Guinea/Brunei). I hope the OPC can handle heavy seas and long cold deployments.

            I have always said that the TRIAD requires its own budget vehicle and it has the highest priority for the very purpose of taking this quintessential national deterrent capability OUT of the political realm. The current debate and threats make the case. The PEACE has been kept based upon that capability for over half a century. Now we have policy makers who do not even appreciate HiStory, and certainly never seen a nuclear test. That “…false or misleading choice(s)…” is Satan trying to bring on Armageddon…IMHO.

          • Marcd30319

            Those carrier battle groups and other forward-deployed naval forces definitely deterred Saddam from turning south into Saudi Arabia in 1990.

            The false or misleading choice I alluded to is the attempt by these panelists to use the Columbia class to siphon off funding from the general-purpose shipbuilding budget.

          • Curtis Conway

            I’m in total agreement with that conclusion, and restate that A National Nuclear Deterrence Fund to support operations and recapitalization of the TRIAD should be established to avoid this very activity.

            The Democrats have not only shown a propensity for, but demonstrated a propensity to dis National Security for their own political gain, and when the resulting and inevitable blood shed comes they blame it on the warmongering hawk Republicans. A dozen Regionally tasked AIP SSn(s) underway right now around the globe, that help create an artificial reef (use the older torpedoes) every-time they reenter US waters for ‘maintenance yard periods’ using old mothballed MSC ships, would go a long way towards calming things down a bit as well.

  • vetww2

    A 10% cut in welfare programs (well below the fraud estimate) would solve the problem.

    • Bryan

      Actually it won’t. We could cancel all of welfare or cancel all the military and still run a deficit. It’s a big cripe sandwich and everyone is going to take a bite. We can do it willingly or not. But we will do it.

      • vetww2

        A deficit, yes, but due to our overwhelming, not prepaid, entitlement, programs (Medicaid, Food stamps, Family assistance, etc.) are the main sinks. I am not commenting on the desirability of these programs, only the facts of the expenditure sources. Pre paid (Social Security. Medicare,) do not detract. The best approach to a solution is an expanding economy, which is resisted by some, as cruel.

        • Bryan

          But it won’t solve the problem. Cutting all of the program won’t solve the problem. We will probably have to cut all the program except food stamp. Think 50% cut. Then we can cut about 50% of all the military. That would get close to balancing the yearly budget.

          You used the term, “Solve the problem”. My comment is meant to suggest, “Not even close. Perhaps as a start.”

          • old guy

            I agree that the calculations can be very mysterious, at times. It might be constructive to go back to Prez Clinton’ balanced budget and chart the variations.

  • Bob

    Cancel the Columbia boomers that will cost $12 billion each. Build 12 more expanded Virginia subs capable of carrying 40 nuclear cruise missiles each and cost only $3 billion each. This allows over 100 more ships or subs in the fleet.

    • Duane

      Try $6B each in today’s dollars for the Colombia class.

      Virginia class are not capable of deploying SL-ICBMs. If they were modified to deploy such missiles, they would cost just as much as the Colombia class.

    • Bryan

      The problem is one would need three subs to equal the number of warheads. So added complication for no gain. Not sure that is a realistic option…

    • DaSaint

      Current generation cruise missiles are slow and relatively limited in range in comparison to SLBMs.

  • a new hope

    We dont need a large conventional military. Instead a smaller nuke centric force with 10000 strategic and tactical warheads would not need a 355 ship fleet or even aircraft carriers. 150 subs would do, 20 missile subs and 130 attack subs
    We would not need so many oversea bases. We would need strategic bombers and 300 p-8s but probably only 1000 fighters 100000 marines and 300000 army troops.
    We would have a more powerful military w a budget of 500 bill per year
    Any conventional war between major powers has to quickly become nuclear before conventional forces take out the opponents nuclear assets

    • Duane

      Getting rid of conventional forces guarantees that we, the United States, will either 1) be forced to accept whatever s-sandwich our enemies intend to shove down our throats, because they DO have conventional forces which they are quite willing to use, or 2) we actually lose a conventional war because we don’t have the forces to fight one, or 3) the entire planet ends up a smoking hole in the solar system.

      None of those outcomes are acceptable.

      There is no substitution for having a strong, credible, capable conventional military, backed up by a credible second strike nuclear capability to forestall a nuclear war that the entire human race loses.

      • a new hope

        Having conventional forces which are 40% smaller is not the same as getting rid of conventional forces. Our allies need to fill the gap. In a nuke centric force like russia with nukes on all levels of the military nobody ever would attack you.

        • Duane

          40% smaller when the enemy is drastically growing their force is a recipe for defeat. Period.

          Look up 1930s Europe … they tried that then, and it resulted in the bloodiest war in human history, 60 some millions killed, an entire continent with leveled cities, etc. etc.

          • a new hope

            Nukes are the big equalizer
            We should learn from Russia

          • ron_snyder

            Stop hyping the POS LCS and build real warships.

    • Ed L

      Don’t forget logistics can’t live without them

  • Duane

    The Colombia class submarines must and will be built … the alternative is to subject the USA to unacceptable risk of a nuclear first strike.

    The 355 ship fleet is not going to happen, period. It was nothing but loose political talk and never reflected a realistic assessment of what the nation can afford to build and maintain as a naval fleet. Just as with the Air Force’s recent stated desire to add 75 new squadrons of aircraft. Not gonna happen.

    It is not a choice of spending money the US doesn’t have vs. spending no money at all. It is a question of how much can we afford to spend, and of how do we get the best value for what we spend.

    Growing the fleet has been the policy of the United States ever since it hit a low point more than a decade ago of around 268 ships. Prior to the recent NDAA (2018, I believe) the stated goal was 308 ships, vs. the 270 or so it was at the time. Now we are up to about 282 ships. Getting to the 310s, maybe 320s by the end of the 2020s seems a reasonable, achievable, affordable goal.

    But again, the raw numbers matter much less than capability. The Navy needs to build many more ships and retire the oldest ones that are maintenance dollar consumption machines, and which lack 21st century sensors, weapons, defenses, and comms and which lack new reduced crew sizes from heavy automation.

    Get rid of the old 688 SSNs, design and build a new updated version of the older smaller ISR/anti-shipping SSNs that aren’t bloated up with the unnecessary land attack vertical launch modules. Retire the old DDG 51 Flight Is, which are simply no longer capable 21st century warships, and replace them quickly with a combination of Flight IIIs and the planned new Future Surface Combatant ships, plus a plethora of new, relatively cheap unmanned vessels. Accelerate the construction of new America class aviation-centric amphibs. If we can do all of that in the next decade and still end up in the 310s to 320s, we’ll have a significantly larger and much more capable fleet than we have today.

    And buy as many F-35s, both B and C models, as we can stuff on our CVNs and LHAs.

    That is achievable, and affordable.

    • ron_snyder

      Really Duane? 18 SSBN’s and the other two parts of the Triad are not sufficient to deter a strike by a State actor? What cites do you have for “unacceptable risk”?

      • Duane

        We don’t have 18 SSBNs, we have 14 SSBNs and 4 SSGNs that do not deploy nuclear SLBMs. All of those Ohio class vessels are old and wearing out and, at least the SSBNs, have to be replaced by the time the first Columbia class will be ready for patrol. The oldest SSBNs will reach the end of their service lives in less than a decade from now.

        The Colombia class will replace the 14 SSBNs with 12 new SSBNs that will have projected service lives of 50 years. 12 Columbias can do what 14 Ohios did by virtue of a life-of-ship reactor that eliminates a mid-life refueling required on all of the existing Ohio class boats.

        • ron_snyder

          Okay, so 14 (or 12, or 10) Columbias and the other two parts of the Triad are not sufficient to deter a strike by a State actor? What cites do you have for “unacceptable risk”?

    • Ed L

      8 SSBN’s are more than enough. One SSBN can lay waste to a good percentage of the Earth. But we have more to fear from an EMP burst 200 miles above St. Louis Mo. America without electrical power for a couple of weeks would really hurt the people

      • ron_snyder

        Excellent point Ed. Without electricity we are back in the 1600’s within two weeks. We could not restore electrical power in years IMO. Almost no one knows how to live without current, modern infrastructure. I would probably be dead in a month due to lack of medicines. Back in 1971 EMP protection was much talked about in the USAF- not much came of it. I’ve worked with Electrical Utility companies for over 30 years- they are not in the least bit prepared for an EMP hit.

  • RTColorado

    A silly premise…the Navy has to decide…the Congress and the President decide and the Navy has to live with that decision…that’s how it works or has everyone forgotten how the process works ? The Navy submits whatever requests and recommendations it feels are necessary…then it goes through the Department of Defense and then the Congress and then the President either signs the appropriations bill or the President send it back to the Congress for “refinement”. In Leadership 101, a leader doesn’t narrow a request…a leader makes an honest best effort appraisal of what is needed and submits that request…it’s up to the next level and then whatever subsequent levels to add to, reduce or even delete portions of that request. The Navy leadership needs to grow a pair and review the materials included in the basic leadership course to find out what thy’re suppose to do…then do it and let the process work its magic.

  • Grimwald

    The first question to ask is “how many nukes does it take to end life on Earth”. Once you reach that number, you don’t need more.

    • Matthew Schilling

      How many nukes does it take to survive attacks on our nukes so that we still have a credible nuke deterrence? Mutually Assured Destruction has been in place for a full generation and has proven to be priceless.

      • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

        Perhaps. Or perhaps not. It is very hard to prove the reason why something (i.e. nuclear war) didn’t happen.

        • Duane

          Nuclear war did not happen because the regimes involved in the competition were not suicidal, and they also took reasonable and competent precautions to prevent an accidental nuclear war.

          Where things get dicey is when regimes that might just possibly, under the right circumstances, become suicidal, or merely incompetent, while possessing nuclear arms. Like a North Korea, or an Iran. Or a non-state actor like Al Qaeda or ISIS.

      • Duane

        We need a credible second strike ICBM threat. That is precisely what the SSBNs provide, because it is impossible to take them all out at one shot and prevent a second strike on an attacker’s homeland. Land based missiles can be taken out in a first strike, as well as airbases that support aircraft deploying nukes, and the aircraft themselves are more vulnerable to detection and destruction than are super-quiet modern SSBNs. A single Columbia class SSBN can launch up to 192 independently-guided warheads. At any given time we have at least 1/3 of our SSBN fleet on patrol. That is enough warheads to ruin any attacker’s day.

  • MDK187

    Inordinately expensive platforms dedicated to a narrow mission based on the bunk theory of “deterrence”, with no contribution to practical warfighting otherwise cannot be justified. Drop the SSBN. Move the money over to missiles and munitions. Build some simple things that can shoot LR missiles in volume and can be replenished at sea. Like that friggin Arsenal Ship – build it strong, build it simple. And don’t fvking mess around with it for decades – get it done in no more time than it takes to float a blasted bulk-carrier.

  • tim

    I said that years ago – Columbia is too expensive- we cannot have it all. Don’t get me wrong, I would like to see them under my Christmas tree, but my family can’t afford all the toys on my wish list. It is as simple as that. More seriously, I wished the question to be framed differently (and am sure that is what is being done, I just don’t get to read this): what threats do we see in the future and what do we need to face them, if we want to face them?! Not knowing what that results in, I cannot make an educated posting here. However, Columbia is a system that we do not want to use (at least we all pray for that). As a deterrent, it is “lost” money we pay as an insurance policy. But like real insurance, where they do not allow you to be over insured, do we need a triade? Is a “double-insurance” not already twice of what should do the trick? This is why – IMHO – not knowing most of the facts and case scenarios, I suggest to scrap Columbia.

  • Lazarus

    None of those panel members are naval experts. They seem an echo chamber/rubber stamp on Democrat plans to slash the conventional shipbuilding program and divide budget money equally among the services regardless of where the threat is.

    • Duane

      I don’t believe there are any actions or recent statements by leading Democrats in the House or the Senate suggesting a cut in shipbuilding programs, or in defense in general. After all, huge veto-proof majorities in both houses of Congress voted for the current defense expenditures.

      Where Democrats have made definitive statements of different priorities, it is in limiting the spread of tactical and low yield nuclear weapons.

      Nobody in either party is actually willing to vote for a huge increase in defense spending above current levels, as would be necessary to actually build a 355 ship Navy or to add 75 more squadrons to the Air Force. The dollars aren’t there. The statutory language in the 2018 NDAA that stipulated a 355 ship fleet was just empty rhetoric, and is unenforceable. No current Congress can bind a future Congress to spend a particular dollar amount on defense or any other category of Federal spending.

      • old guy

        You Bet. Same Old, Same Old!!!

  • Secundius

    I suspect the US Navy is going to choose the Submarines over what;s best for the Surface Fleet. As I recall, the Flight IV Arleigh Burke’s were cancelled in 2014 and the money allocated in there construction, in favor of the “Columbia” class Ballistic Missile Submarine…

  • rotorhead1871

    we need the new boomers and we need 400 other ships, and we need more sealift capacity……..get out the checkbook NOW!!….2100 is sneaking up on us….

    • Secundius

      Who’s going to Man “THESE” Ships and Submarines with No Draft and/or Compulsory Service emplace? The US Congress has mandated for a ~322,700 Supernumerary Navy, unfortunately the US Navy is experiencing an ~13,000 supernumerary Shortfall in Crewing these Mythical Ships…

  • old guy

    What is this obsession with 355 ships? Especially if many of them would be no more useful than the LCS? Would 335 completely ruin some mysterios strategy? Silly childishness.

  • old guy

    Here’s a novel idea, Congress passes an UNDESIGNATED, defense budget, and DOD sets the expenditures.