SINKING THE FLEET
By ALBERT H. KONETZNI JR.
Forwarded by RAdm Steve Barchet, U.S. Navy (Ret) via BGen Bob Clements USAF (Ret)
EDITOR'S NOTE: Vice Adm. (ret.) Albert H. Konetzni Jr. recently testified before the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), the panel reviewing proposed military base closings. He served as Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, 2001-2004, and Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, 1998-2001.
AMERICAN military history records many instances of poor readiness or non-availability of war-fighting equipment when conflicts broke out. (More on that below.)
In that light, consider these facts:
- American submarines perform many missions - but serve as the premier anti-submarine weapons platform in the U.S. Navy inventory today.
- There are 400 submarines in the world today; about half are friendly.
- China has a larger submarine force than the United States.
- China is building at least five new nuclear fast attack submarines and two new ballistic-missile nuclear submarines today - greatly enhancing Chinese capabilities.
- Nineteen submarines were launched last year worldwide - nine of them in China.
- And… the United States has launched just four submarines in the last five years.
I've often wondered how many U.S. submarines were lost because of faulty torpedoes during the first two years of World War II. Less than half of our torpedoes actually functioned in combat - but the Navy's high command refused to admit the problem until late in 1942.
As important - would the war in the Pacific have ended sooner if we had reliable torpedoes early in the conflict?
Underscoring the tragedy (a scandal dramatized in the 1958 war drama “Run Silent, Run Deep”) was that the problem - faulty torpedo exploders and a failure to achieve proper run depths - well-known in the fleet, but the Navy's leaders back in Washington wouldn't believe it.
In fact, until late 1943 it took an average of 12 torpedoes to sink a single enemy ship. Several naval officers risked their careers by voicing great concern about the problems to naval leadership - all to no avail.
Intellectual arguments, analysis and tests were ignored - and many American submariners lost their lives. It wasn't until early 1944 that the needed modifications were made.
Sixty years later, the U.S. submarine force is once again facing a situation that will diminish its effectiveness as an instrument of national defense - if not result in the effective demise of this proud force.
The Navy, which has already been shrinking its submarine force, now proposes to compound the damage by removing the infrastructure necessary to train, develop and maintain that force - by closing the Naval Submarine Base in New London, Conn., and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Me. The closures will accelerate the demise of our powerful submarine force.
The closure of the Portsmouth facility will leave the Navy with inadequate capacity to maintain our submarines, reducing the public shipyard structure to one shipyard on the East Coast. All at a time, as a result of aging, our Los Angeles and Trident class submarines will require extra maintenance and modernization.
Every facet of submarine warfare is represented at New London - initial and ship training, maintenance, tactical development, undersea medicine, laboratories, major defense contractors - creating a powerful synergy that enhances each function. Losing that base will eradicate a vital Navy center.
That closure will also reduce our strategic flexibility: East Coast submarines deploy to the Pacific via the North Pole. New London is perfectly geographically situated to continue this practice as well as to support operations in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.
What is particularly troubling about the drive to close these critical facilities is the sudden shift in the analysis behind the U.S. military's approach to the structure of our armed forces, and its relationship to the budget.
Our submarine force has been the subject of 14 studies in the last 12 years. These studies are time-consuming, but for the most part they are appropriate and welcome - we should be ready to justify the billions of dollars that the taxpayers spend on submarines; if we can't, the money should be taken away.
Repeatedly, the submarine force has been able to show a solid case - both in real world “peacetime” operations and in speculative wartime usage - that provides a firm basis for the American taxpayer to be comfortable that this money is not being wasted.
But more recent studies are different: The pragmatic and balanced approach favored in the past - one that understood the need to maintain a force ready for war - seems to have been replaced by a “reverse-engineered” analysis that starts with a fixed dollar amount, then finds and attempts to design a force structure that fits the budget.
This approach threatens to damage national security; most of the analytically driven studies have shown a need for from 55 to 75 submarines. But the most recent Navy review in March put the numbers at 37 to 41.
This disparity needs to be further analyzed and resolved before we disable the U.S. Navy's Submarine Force by shutting down its infrastructure. If America can't afford a submarine force as a nation, the people of America need to know it now.
I hope that we as a nation will agree on the proper size of our Submarine Force before we decide to close important infrastructure. If we do otherwise, we imperil our national security.