Released by JO1 Michael Howlett COMSUBGRU9WASHINGTON: If you think the military doesn’t listen to critics or friends, then you haven’t read one of the most interesting blog posts ever from the Pentagon. It’s by the Navy admiral in charge of the nation’s submarines.

The piece, by director of undersea warfare Rear. Adm. Richard Breckenridge, popped up on Navy Live, the service’s website, this afternoon. In it, the admiral states simply and clearly that unnamed people who believe that patrol records for the nuclear fleet show we can make deep cuts to the number of nuclear boats afloat are wrong. This looms large for the service because it plans to replace the current Ohio class nuclear missile submarines (boomers) with a new class known so far as SSBN-X. One problem: the Navy does not have enough money budgeted to pay the extra $5 billion a year the new subs will cost above the current shipbuilding plan.

Breckenridge says categorically that:

We have the right number of SSBNs to provide our required sea-based deterrent.

A source familiar with the issue tells me that the admiral is responding to a blog post by the wonderfully-named (and widely respected) Hans Kristensen at the Federation of American Scientists. Here’s the key bit from Kristensen’s recent blog post on the issue:

Does the U.S. Navy have more ballistic missile submarines than it needs?

Dramatic reductions in deterrent patrols – but not submarines – suggest so.

Over the past thirteen years, the number of deterrent patrols conducted each year by U.S. ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) has declined by more than half.

During most of the same period, the size of the SSBN fleet has remained relatively steady at 14 boats, after four were retired in 2001-2003. Yet the decline in deterrent patrols has continued.

Breckenridge says — effectively — balderdash.

“Some contend we can reduce our SSBN force and still meet requirements. This is not true. The current force of 14 SSBNs is necessary to provide 10 operational SSBNs and support our national deterrence requirements. Our SSBN force is sized with a clear recognition of the need to sustain required at-sea deterrence even during refueling overhauls and other modernization and certifications.”

Cutting even one boat would leave the United States with a gap in the coverage provided by the least vulnerable part of our nuclear triad, the admiral says.

He says the “number of patrols “is a poor predictor of days doing the deterrence mission,” attacking the core of Kristensen’s argument.

At the end of his blog post (really an official Navy statement), Breckenridge also tackles an argument Kristensen and others — including some at the Office of Management and Budget — have made, namely that targeting requirements will shrink and the Navy could compensate for fewer boats by stuffing missiles with more warheads. “Strategic planners do not do things this way,” he says flatly. OMB mulled a plan to increase the number of missile tubes to cope with the need to strike more targets from fewer boats. As Breaking Defense readers know, it did not fly.


  • David s

    Not sure what you meant when you said Hans Kristensen was “wonderfully named,” but you mis-spelled his name Christensen the second time you use it. How about the wonderfully flexible spelling of Hans’ name?

    • Colin Clark

      It’s a gift! Fixing now. His name is euphonious.

      • Zbigniew M. Mazurak

        But the only.people who “respect” him and take seriously what he says are his fellow leftist proponents of the West’s unilateral disarmament. Kristensen has spent his entire adult life, beginning in the early 80s at he apex of the USSR’s military power, campaigning for the West’s unilateral disarmament. He’s a saboteur, not a credible analyst.

  • Charles Lilly

    SCHPELing? So give our enemies reason not to attack our soil. Say something like Ohio Class Boomers, fast attack Wolf class and all of the rest moving targets. We are not in a spelling bee contest, we are ready. Of 8 billion people on this Earth, the US occupies 5% / 380,000,000 and we have potable water, shelter, wastewater disposal, plenty of electricity, food, cars, highways, trains, churches, judicial systems, a military that is looking out for the best interests of it’s people. Oh, I won’t go on because I too am attacked for my speeling. I can’t dot all of the i’s or cross the t’s either. Sequester the F35 and the Abrahms M1A tank that the ARMY does not want. Hats off to the bean counters; a 1 million dollar UH1 Helicopter cost 40 years ago $1 mil, todays Blackhawk, same mission, $30 million, it is interesting the C130’s are in full action and a hellova cheaper to build and operate than

  • or pick a name

    Keep the SSBN force as is and fully funded until you get another class fully operational. BTW when did the Ohio Class boats go from their 24 missile capacity to 20?


      4 boomers were converted to guided missile boats (SSGN). Count went to 20 to meet warhead agreements.

  • Charles Lilly

    Back during the Vietnam era in 1969, my SAT’s didn’t let me wiggle out of service, after examinations, I was qualified 1A, so I wasn’t looking to be an Infantryman or a Marine, because they get their sh all blown up and damaged. My choices were NAVY, US Coast Guard or the US Air Force. I had my pilot’s license. Things were getting hot after TET and I could only imagine my odds. I called up the US ARMY to start out as a WOC until intro to Helicopter Training you could wash out at about 50% rate, which then you got a different MOS as a LRRP, Artillary WO1, or a whole bunch of nice jobs. Well, I had a passion for flying helicopters. Air Rescue, most times picking up body bags full of Men and severly injured, oh I don’t miss the smell of burnt flesh or bleeding bodies. I had to stay focused, both Pilot and Co-Pilot had to have hands on controls at the same time during takeoff and landing. Now that time has passed into a little circle and I am concerned about are the Warriors coming home without a prize of a GI Bill. That’s the one thing I was counting on if I got back, of course it took 6 months of bugging the crap out of the VA, but I got it. There are now 22 Veterans who kill themselves every day after not getting a job, training or a debriefing. That’s 22 X 7 X 52 (do the math) OORA

  • PolicyWonk

    Rather than an entirely new class, we should be modifying Virginias into SSBNs instead. We’d save a ton of money – or alternatively – re-tool, improve and build new SSBNs based on the very successful Ohio class.

    There is no need to build something completely new…

  • mwd driiling

    “If you think the military doesn’t listen to critics or friends, then you
    haven’t read one of the most interesting blog posts ever from the
    Pentagon. It’s by the Navy admiral in charge of the nation’s submarines” really i like this sentence ,

  • Adam

    He says the “number of patrols “is a poor predictor of days doing the deterrence mission,” attacking the core of Kristensen’s argument. – Great thought