A recent DoD Buzz website article (1) discussed SSN attack submarine levels as reported at a Sep 12th House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces hearing. Rear Adm. Breckenridge was quoted in the article as stating that SSN levels would fall from the current 55 or so to 42 in the early 2020’s. It was further stated by Navy leaders that the combined combatant commander’s demand for submarines “far exceeds what is available or possible”.
Given this kind of demand and the recognized stealth, power, and usefulness of SSNs, the drop in attack submarine levels from 55 to 42 seems reckless, at best. One would think that the Navy would consider the SSN to be one of the top priorities and would do everything in their power to ensure that adequate force levels are maintained. Clearly, this is not the case. By comparison, the Navy remains firmly committed to 50+ LCS despite no demand from the combatant commanders.
To be fair, the Navy’s 30 year shipbuilding
joke plan does call for a return to around 48 SSNs in the 2030 range or so. Unfortunately, no one outside the Navy believes the 30 year plan has the slightest chance of realization. The funding levels required to achieve the plan are so far beyond current budget levels or any reasonable extrapolation of budget resources that the plan may as well call for 100 SSNs – it isn’t going to happen anyway.
The real issue here isn’t the exact number of submarines (or LCSs!) that will be built or the exact funding that will be required. Rather, the issue is the obvious disconnect between strategic/tactical requirements and what’s being procured. It’s obvious that submarines provide enormous value as demonstrated by both history and the combatant commander’s demand. Why, then, are we building the LCS (or Zumwalt, or JSF, or JHSV, or whatever your favorite boondoggle program is) when we have shortages of platforms that can actually be of service? Wouldn’t it make more sense to fund SSNs to the required level before funding LCSs? I see this phenomenon throughout the military. We’re procuring far too many weapons, systems, and platforms that have only a nodding relation to our strategic and tactical needs and then we’re forced to try and fit them into our needs (anyone got a mission for the LCS?). It should be the other way around – our strategic and tactical needs should be driving our procurement.
The juxtaposition of the SSN and the LCS procurement programs is illuminating, discouraging, and reveals the lack of strategic/tactical focus by Navy leadership. Instead, the Navy’s acquisition strategy seems to be to procure anything it can, whenever it can, and worry about what to do with it later. This is how you find yourself on the losing end of combat.
(1) DoD Buzz Website, “Navy Confronts Anticipated Submarine Shortfall”, Kris Osborn