Military Wants More Subs
February 4, 2006
By JESSE HAMILTON, Courant Staff Writer
The long-range defense strategy report released by Pentagon planners Friday maps out a more flexible, terrorist-fighting future for the U.S. military, offering both positives and negatives for Connecticut's submarine operations in Groton.
As expected, the Quadrennial Defense Review, a closely watched report written by top military officials, calls for a doubling of submarine production from one sub a year to two by 2012.
Because Electric Boat in Groton handles half of the nation's sub building, this reinforcement of what had already been seen in Navy projections is "very encouraging news," according to a statement from company President John P. Casey.
But another point in the report could be negative for the relevance of the U.S. Navy Submarine Base in Groton. The document calls for a shift in the submarine fleet that would put "60 percent of its submarines in the Pacific to support engagement, presence and deterrence," drawing down the Atlantic numbers. Right now, it's an even split between the coasts, each one home to half of the more than 50 fast-attack submarines.
Eric Wertheim, editor of Combat Fleets of the World, said such a move makes sense. "That's where the action is," he said. "If there is going to be a conflict that is going to involve submarines, in all likelihood it would take place in the Pacific."
China is emerging as a growing undersea power, and tensions over Taiwan's political status make a clash between the Chinese and U.S. navies a possibility, defense experts say.
U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, a Republican whose 2nd District includes Groton, acknowledged the "very real and growing naval threat in the Pacific," though he pointed out that passage under the ice caps puts Groton's subs closer to Asia and the Middle East than those based on the West Coast.
"I'm glad the Pentagon is taking the threat seriously," Simmons said in a statement, "but it must recognize that our submarine force is overstretched everywhere - if we don't increase our build rate and maintain adequate numbers across the board, then we are just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."
That was a sentiment echoed Friday by Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Connecticut's U.S. senators. All applauded the doubling of submarine construction but said it should start immediately.
"Electric Boat is contemplating layoffs today due to a lack of work from the Navy," Rell said in a statement. "The expertise the company will lose waiting six more years for the increase in production places the future of submarine production excellence at risk."
The Navy's long-range shipbuilding projections indicated last month that 2012 would be the year for a production increase. But as Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., said in a Friday statement, "The Navy has continued to push these target dates back." He added, "We can't afford to wait."
Though the Navy has said it needs 48 fast-attack submarines, its production schedule wouldn't meet that need because Los Angeles-class subs are being decommissioned faster than the newer Virginia-class subs are being built. "It cannot maintain its targeted level," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., said in a statement.
The report also presents the goal of building each Virginia-class sub for less than $2 billion. "We are working to drive cost out of the Virginia-class submarine program in support of the Navy's efforts to achieve a build rate of two a year as quickly as possible," Casey said.
This Quadrennial Defense Review, a plan for shaping the military in its next 20 years, is the first since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. To respond to the fight against terrorists, the report emphasizes increased flexibility, calling for increases in surveillance tools, psychological warfare, civil affairs specialists and special-operations capabilities. It also calls for increased spending to combat the threat of biological and chemical weapons, and greater investment in developing language skills.
"We have set about making U.S. forces more agile and more expeditionary. Technological advances, including dramatic improvements in information management and precision weaponry, have allowed our military to generate considerably more combat capability with the same or, in some cases, fewer numbers of weapons platforms and with lower levels of manning," the preface of the report states.
Another subject of interest to Connecticut is repeated mentions of the Coast Guard working alongside the Navy in conflicts. At one point, the report says, "Coast Guard and naval capabilities will be fully integrated."
That branch's future leaders train at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, and a headquarters in New Haven oversees the Coast Guard's operations in Long Island Sound - one of the nation's busiest waterways.
Wertheim said, "They are working closer with the Navy, and the lines are blurring." However, he added, the increasing role of the Coast Guard hasn't seen enough of an increase in personnel and funding.
Though Friday's report dealt with long-range plans, the shorter-range reality of President Bush's 2007 defense budget proposal is expected to be presented Monday. Defense officials have confirmed a proposed 5 percent boost in spending to $439.3 billion, with a proposed increase of almost 8 percent in weapons spending.
For every month they have effective border patrol they can have one more sub.
If they really do need them, they better start now.
It would proably take at least 10 years to get some into the fleet, if Congress approved them today.
Unless, they were able to appropropriate some more that are currently in production.
I'm surprised the East coast doesn't want all the subs, like they want all the F-22s.