The USS Ohio being converted from a nuclear missile submarine (SSBN) to a conventional missile one (SSGN). By 2028, all four SSGNs will have retired.

The USS Ohio being converted from a nuclear missile submarine (SSBN) to a conventional missile one (SSGN). By 2028, all four SSGNs will have retired, with no plans to replace them.

[UPDATED]: WASHINGTON: Tomorrow is a big day for Navy submarines on Capitol Hill. A hearing of the House Armed Services seapower and projections forces subcommittee will focus on some of the knottiest issues in undersea warfare:
- staying ahead of the Russians and Chinese.
- getting extra funding for the Navy’s new ballistic missile submarine, the SSBN-X.
- keeping the production rate of the Virginia-class attack sub at two a year despite the sequester.
- pushing ahead on the Virginia Payload Module, a multi-purpose launcher for both missiles and unmanned vehicles. Senate appropriators stripped all funding for the VPM.

Those are the top issues Rep. Randy Forbes, seapower chairman, outlined to me ahead of his hearing tomorrow with two-star admirals Richard Breckenridge and David Johnson. Notably absent: the usual congressional complaints about the shrinking sub fleet.

There’s a good reason for that: We can’t do much of anything about it because of decisions made 20 years ago. The Bush and Clinton administrations only bought two subs in the entire period from 1991 to 1998. That gap means almost every submarine in the Navy today was procured either during the 1980s or the 2000s. When the Reagan-era subs wear out, there is no 1990s cohort behind them. Short of World War II-style crash production, which would require massive spending just to rebuild the much-shrunken industrial base, there’s no way to build new submarines fast enough to replace the old ones.

There is wiggle room. Forbes said he wants to take a hard look at “the retirement rates of some of our existing boats” to see if we can keep them longer. That’s something the Navy is studying for the Los Angeles attack subs, which first entered service in 1976. (The Ohio missile subs, first deployed in 1981, have already had their service lives stretched out from 30 years to 42). Meanwhile, the shipyards are building Virginias faster than expected, and both HASC and House appropriators voted for hundreds of millions in extra funding to keep that program on track. (Their Senate counterparts fully funded the President’s 2014 request but added no more, so we’ll have to see how that goes in conference). The Navy is also looking at longer deployments – up to seven months – and forward-basing an additional sub in Guam to get more patrols out of a smaller fleet. But the Navy estimates that all these efforts put together still only make up for about a third of shortfall.

So we come back to the number of hulls. Even if sequestration leaves the Navy with two subs a year – and there is considerable support in Congress for various fiscal gimmicks and workarounds – the fleet is going to shrink. The attack sub (SSN) force will fall from 55 today to 42 in 2029. The four guided-missile subs (SSGNs) will go away altogether in 2028: They were built by converting spare nuclear-missile subs (SSBNs) at the end of the Cold War, and now there are no SSBNs to spare. In fact, the 14 Ohio-class SSBNs will start retiring in 2027 at the rate of one a year.

It’s those painful trends that make the Ohio replacement and, less obviously, the Virginia Payload Module so important. Until we achieve President Obama’s dream of “global zero” – the hope that, someday, somehow, we might rid the world entirely of nuclear weapons, a goal on which the president has placed some very careful caveats – national security experts consider a nuclear deterrent non-negotiable. Missile subs lurking underwater are the one part of that deterrent that can survive even after America’s cities and missile silos are baked to glass by a surprise first strike.

The Navy thinks it can replace 14 Ohios with 12 new SSBN-X missile submarines. (For one thing, the new subs won’t need as much time for their mid-life overhaul as the four years required for an Ohio, so more SSBN-Xs will be available for duty at any given time). The Navy has also postponed the first SSBN-X patrol to 2031. Even so, to be ready on time, the Navy says it needs Congress to give it $787 million for research, development, and design in fiscal 2014 alone – the total development cost will reach $4.6 billion – and $7.4 billion by fiscal 2021 to build the first actual sub. (Later SSBN-Xs will cost less, an estimated $5.6 billion). For comparison, in a typical year, the Navy gets at most $14 billion for its entire shipbuilding program, from subs to destroyers to Littoral Combat Ships.

[Updated: Overall, Rear Adm. Breckenridge said at the hearing, the Navy needs an additional $60 billion over 15 years -- "less than one percent" of the Defense Department's spending over that time -- to afford the SSBN(X). Otherwise, since the nuclear deterrent is non-negotiable, the Navy will have to pay for the ballistic missile subs by cutting approximately 32 other ships, he said]

“I don’t think there’s anybody in their right minds that would say we should take away our entire shipbuilding budget,” Forbes told me. “The Ohio class replacement [SSBN-X] is an enormously big ticket item… I have advocated very strongly for not taking that out of the Navy shipbuilding budget and looking at that as a strategic asset that should come out of DoD as an additional line item.”

But how does Forbes plan to convince the other parts of the Pentagon, or for that matter the other subcommittees of the HASC, to give up budget share to save the Navy? They certainly won’t go quietly. “I think we’re going to ultimately see the need for this is so compelling that that squawking is toned down a little bit,” Forbes told me.

At least, there is consensus among the four key committees – authorizers and appropriators, House and Senate – to support the Navy’s 2014 request for funding to develop the SSBN-X, give or take a couple million. There’s no such consensus on the other big-ticket, long-term item that Forbes considers “an absolute necessity” for the future fleet: The Virginia Payload Module.

The current version of the Virginia class, like 31 of the later-model Los Angeles subs, carries not only torpedoes to sink enemy ships but Tomahawk cruise missiles to attack targets deep inland (in Afghanistan or Syria, for example). But each attack sub can only carry 12 missiles. For comparison, a single Ohio converted into a conventional missile sub – an SSGN – can carry 154 Tomahawks. When all four SSGNs retire, that takes 616 Tomahawk launchers out of the fleet.

To replace that firepower, the Navy wants to start building Virginia boats that are 25 percent longer to accommodate more missiles. The hull extension, called the Virginia Payload Module, would use new and larger launch tubes that could hold several Tomahawks at a time, some bigger future missile, or even an unmanned vehicle plus the gear to launch and recover it. The Navy argues the VPM would get a lot more out of each sub, for a wider range of missions for only a 13 percent increase in cost. The modules’ flexibility is great, Forbes argues, and “as we see some of the [SSGN] retirements taking place, I think it’s going to be an absolute necessity.”

But Senate appropriators aren’t convinced. Unlike the three other defense committees, the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee whacked the president’s request for $90 million in 2014 to develop the VPM to zero. The appropriators were uneasy about modifying a well-established design to insert a 94-foot-long module in the middle of the sub and they’re not confident the Navy knows what it’s doing.

“The committee believes that the module’s requirements are not defined, and will result in instability to a proven submarine design, disrupt a stable production line, and add significant cost risk which is not affordable in these difficult fiscal times,” SAC-D said in its August 2013 report, “[and] Joint Requirements Oversight Committee validation is still incomplete.”

“We’ve created an environment where change is not something that’s normally promoted, where innovative thinking is not promoted,” Forbes laments. That’s true not just for the Virginia Payload Module but across the board, affecting “the kind of innovation and capability to change that I think is going to be dramatically important for us to meet the [challenges] that could take place from the Russians, Chinese, down the road [from] things that we don’t even know about today.”

But long-range research, Forbes acknowledges, is one of the easiest cuts to make when budgeteers look for short-term savings. How can he defend any of his priorities when sequestration and the uncertainty it creates looms over every item in the budget?

“I can’t make good decisions on defense based on bad decisions that have been made on budget issues,” Forbes says. “I’m not going to try to fit a round peg in a square hole. What I’m going to try to do is say, ‘here’s the capacity that we need,’ and then go back and try to change some of those budget decisions.”

In a bit of classic understatement, Forbes notes: “It is not easy.”

 

Comments

  • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

    On top of that, they need to build SSK submarines to supplement the SSN, SSGN and SSBN force. Maybe they can revive the 688I design and build a SSK version of one.

  • M&S

    One of the few, if any, reasons for the SSBN-X to be driven by a 12 hull fleet requirement is the need for added tubes at sea to satisfy varying HDBT targets, conventional counter force silo/airfield busting and high leverage (EMP) threats as well as decapitation of ‘rogue state’ threats from a close-in position of depressed trajectory fire at less than 500nm offshore.
    The various mission requirements for which necessitate combinations of 8-10 full-bus strategic, 1 hard case conventional or strategic (digger), 1 very large airburst/ER warhead and of course single warhead, point-target, low yield, nuclear MIRVs.
    In theory, if you are looking at these systems as single baseline ‘insurance policies’ against a preemptive, you might need 3-4 at sea, all the time, to cross cover the essentials and more on a couple weeks surge priority basis.
    Here’s the problem with that:
    1. SSBN-X is reverting back to the old GW/Polaris standard of 16 tubes per boat when the New START limits require a demilling only to 20 tubes, even on the 14 hull class Ohios. This is nominally being done because the use of fewer tubes requires a lower power loading which in turn means more use of Virginia rated plumbing and hardware (pumps and reactor lines etc.).
    2. I am not sure that the Submarine deterrent is ‘safe’ today from multispectral sea imaging, especially in the littorals where a sudden strike option might be useful or necessary to beat threat satwarning. I am sure that it won’t be safe, both from direct imaging and from cyber interdiction by the time the 2050s roll around.
    3. With the success of the Ohio conversion SSGNs, no one is considering the possible role of the new class as a conventional cruise carrier from the start in an era when HSSW type weapons will ensure the ability to strike as much as 1,000nm inland in as little as 10 minutes. This is a particularly disturbing disconnect given that we were ‘surprised’ that the Chinese can hit carrier sized targets with the DF-21D out to 1,500nm and now are facing a situation where even the F-35 and UCLASS don’t have the legs to keep the CVSG safely outside the ASBM limits. Something has to engage in rollback and/or replacement for A2AD delayed carrier entry.
    4. One of the easiest fall backs: out and out conversion of the Virginia class was deemed unacceptable because the combination of an outsized centerhull missile bay (which also has origins in the GW class) and/or shorter missiles was deemed too compromising to performance and too expensive as a new ballistic missile development effort by an industry that hasn’t made the attempt in over 30 years. Particularly given the positively ancient status of the LGM-130 force, this suggests to me a Navy that is unwilling to look at alternative (multiservice useful) approaches to getting the VPM they want so badly.
    5. The SSN force reductions are meaningless in a world condition where budgetary poverty if not outright fiscal collapse requires us to hold our forces on short tether from CONUS home ports and to potentially reduce the number of operating carrier groups to as few as 6 with 2 in SLEP or ready reserve. Looked at from this perspective (no boats on patrol, half the 2-hull carrier escort requirement gone) the 42 SSNs may actually be looked at as a surplus capability. Unless you are willing to make the VPM and the ballistic fit match up together with a Midgetman equivalent followon missile for the strategic land forces which will, in any case, be more operationally reliable for want of being located on our territory in a severely cyber and open-ocean patrol area degraded stealth as operative C2 condition.
    CONCLUSION:
    Rather than ask for a strategic funding indulgence for a 5 billion per year new hull class _ontop of_ existing Virginia purchases, a fiscally wise USN might prove the need for such a large deterrent force in the face of waning strategic threats and a much more pressing need to modernize our landbase deterrent, by instead showing us that:
    A. A new ballistic submarine is survivable thru at least the mid-century period of likely global satwacs look through to astonishing depths, particularly on-shelf (where additional threats like long-line SONAR and SOSUS equivalents must also be considered).
    B. A total on-boat capability of 16 SLBMs is needed when direct decapitation threat to a COG via one unitary kill and one max-MIRV’d nuclear missile could easily handle the full spectrum of regional rogue state to main-threat target defenses. Leaving more exotic options to less destabilizing weapons which were CONUS based.
    C. There is consideration for the vulnerability of the aging carrier concept in which subsonic strike aircraft of 1,000nm capability in a vastly more useful arrangement of 4-6 weapons per tube -over and above- the 2 SLBMs for a total of 24 SLCM or 4 SLBM, possibly with conventional warheads to help break carriers into an A2AD dominated threat region. Or at least hold the door open until they could arrive in more conventional circumstances.
    D. That there has indeed been adequate consideration over the ‘value to the defense industrial base’ (worthy of 5 billion a year above the existing 14 billion the Navy thinks they will continue to get) inherent to developing a new class of subs which only benefits the USN. Versus -sharing- the development of a new class of dual-force missiles which is competent to both replace the Minuteman and the Trident, even if it means marginally shorter launch footprints (as with say a 2-3 stage bus weapon for land use and a single upper-stage naval option), a condition which is likely to result in no loss of operational capacity if the strategic SSBN force is committed inshore with conventional HSSW weapons. But which could significantly effect the overall ‘look’ of a post 2050 fleet which was based on much shorter SLBMs and much more capable mix of Virginia class sub-flights whose VPM was essentially swing roled between nuclear and non-nuclear strike. Specifically: Can the Virginia class handle a pair of SLBMs if it’s not actually -performing as an attack boat- but rather in a protected sanctuary space guarded by them, perhaps as a function of the excess capacity likely to result from a major downgrading of flight decks in the active inventory.
    CONCLUSION:
    It’s amazing to me that nominally trained people who _know_ they are facing the largest defense cuts in our nation’s history as counteragent to an 80 trillion dollar unsecured debt service, can say the things they do and still look themselves in the mirror as they put on that uniform every morning.
    Parochial self interest refusing to see the herd of elephants in the room doesn’t hardly even /begin/ to cover the hypocrisy of assumption here.
    Our currency failing because it’s no longer supported by petrotrading and no one will take our check for basic consumer goods while the country schisms into post-Union ethno states based on entitlement populations would be the biggest threat to our ‘national defense’ _ever_.
    Wake up, cross the ring and start talking _real cuts_ with your opposites in the other services. Or Congress, that bumbling bunch of political lapdogs, will make the cuts based on -their- wisdom and you will end up with a hollow, obsolescent, force and a massive overhead of worthless bases as manpower benefits which will cripple the services from getting back up on their feet, assuming we can get a solvent new-dollar going.
    That is the reality here.

    • brownie

      Great article.
      I can only add that having a poorly read rank amateur as POTUS has been nothing less than a strategic disaster. One can only con the Russians and Chinese for so long.

      Meanwhile, I’d invite you to analyze Russian intelligence sources alleging that Chinese nuclear weapons stockpiles now number between 1,200 – 2,000 (and rapidly growing). And the Georgetown U. study a few years back estimating 3,000 nukes buried in a vast and expanding tunnel system. These numbers conflict with the 240 bantered about by the disarmament club.

      • PolicyWonk

        When it comes to national security, according to all 16 of our national intelligence agencies, your perspective w/r/t the POTUS is dead wrong. It is his predecessor, who despite is time “serving” his country, caused the worst foreign policy and national security disaster in history, leaving behind an exhausted military and broken economy (making rebuilding and/or replacing aircraft, trucks, and everything else worn out from Iraq, etc., very difficult if not impossible). Add to that an obstinate and unproductive HoR who refuses to undo the “reign of error” the GOP’s years of incompetent “management” of this nations assets and your left with quite a dilemma.
        And history clearly demonstrates that this POTUS predecessor was a very poor negotiator when it came to either the Chinese or Russians, or managing the nation’s affairs. Read Patrick Buchanan’s years of editorials during 2001-2008 for multitudes of disturbing examples.
        Regardless, the POTUS was right to request funding to extend Virginias to take on a larger missile load. While not a perfect solution, I haven’t seen any that are better at the same price point.
        BTW – the Georgetown U study was debunked – but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the Chinese had far more than what we know about.

        • ziggy1988

          Actually, Obama has already proven himself to be a far worse steward of America’s foreign policy than George W. Bush had ever been. I won’t even delve into the details of his utterly failed appeasement policy towards Russia and China – Bush (and before him, Clinton, Daddy Bush, Carter, Ford, and Nixon) also tried it with exactly the same dismal results – and will only reply to your charge WRT Iraq.

          Bush did make a mistake by going into Iraq, but that’s what we know NOW, in 20/20 hindsight. As I remember it, in 2003 the issue wasn’t nearly so clear-cut and there were good reasons for, as well as against, going into Iraq.

          As for your beloved Obama, he augmented the number of troops in Afghanistan by a factor of 3, instead of withdrawing the US immediately from there, and has thus driven America deeper and deeper into that useless quagmire where nobody has previously won, and it won’t be until 2014 until the troops are home (and word is, some troops will remain there even after that). In essence, Obama has Johnsonized the war, just like Johnson expanded the Vietnam War – and like LBJ, Obama has forced US troops to fight with their hands tied behind their backs.

          Obama has also toppled Qaddafi when he was no longer a threat, allowed him to be replaced with an Islamist government, permitted 4 Americans to be killed in Benghazi a year ago, has lied about it, has allowed other pro-American dictators in the ME to be replaced with Islamist, anti-American governments, and has, at the last minute, backed off from involving America into yet another useless war in the ME that he wasn’t even willing to win or wage wholeheartedly.

          And of course, who can forget Obama’s continous appeasement of the Russians, the flexibility promise, the sabotage of US missile defense systems, and his unilateral cuts of the US nuclear arsenal?

          The Georgetown University study has not been debunked by anyone so far, despite being heavily attacked by the pro-unilateral-disarmament crowd, which needs to perpetuate the “China has only 240 warheads” fiction to promote their agenda of disarming America unilaterally. It is a documented fact that China has over 3,000 miles of tunnels and bunkers for ballistic missiles – and you don’t build such a vast network for just 240, 300, or even 800 warheads. No, you would need such a network only for an arsenal of thousands of warheads. The Karber study’s results were more or less confirmed by the study by General Viktor Yeltsin, who estimates China has 1,600-1,800 warheads, with 800-900 being operationally deployed.

      • M&S

        Brownie, I’m a racist so there is nothing positive that I can say about electing a man as a fashion statement or skin-color appeasement to the 13% of our population who have the largest percentage prison population (36%); the highest yearly murder rates (48-52%); the largest annual rape rates (35,000); the largest population group welfare dependency rate (40%) and the lowest IQs (87).
        Everything I would say is going to be biased by my contempt for the 1964/65 acts which were supposed to be about the quality of character but have become a quota system of appearance over competence as a ‘disparate impact’ lack of _merit driven_ social norms.
        Something which is proven by the fact that this man came to us with less than three years experience in the U.S. Senate and a murky past in the Illinois one and throughout his soundbyte campaign the media never saw fit to provide us his college transcripts nor his proof of U.S. citizenship.
        The latter did come out, eventually, only long after he took The Oath and speaks to the nature of the ‘post racial’ Hollywood politics of this nation.
        A system of eternal sunshine of the mindless spot that can’t last in the real world of international statesmanship and global influence creep as rising consumer goods demand and depleting resources that will characterize a planet groaning under a 14 billion population level, less than 4% (565 million) of which will be white, like me.
        Largely because our government has sold us out as the ethnostate that our founders intended.
        That said, the Republicans put up no one better to run opposite Mr. Obama so there is no way to know for sure that this man was raised to our highest elected office based solely on the sheepminded campfollowing of the stupid electorate; for want of stronger options in a Republican or at least conservative Democratic alternative; or the sheer ill will generated by the damn-the-torpedoes attitude of the Bush Administration.
        I have absolutely nothing good to say about Mr. Obama’s Stimulus plan (trickle…up?) as racial rewards policies. Nor about his utter gutlessness as Energy Policy (One convenient ‘accident’ and on-shelf drilling is again verboten while the best he can do is listen to his daughter? Please.). I frankly don’t know enough about the occulted tax credits to the wealthy he signed off on but don’t suppose that it can’t be anything legal as the upper 2% of this nation’s wealth class went from a 36% income reduction in 2008-09 to a solid, 17% increase over the past two years. Which can only be happening in our depressed economy if they are sending MASSIVE amounts of money overseas to invest in developing world regions, preparatory to the collapse of the dollar.
        Mr. Obama inherited the war but certainly did nothing courageous to secure 120 billion barrels of the ten-year unexploited Iraqi reserves as a control rod on hostile OPEC price indexing of the later 90s.
        Walking away from that in favor of the French ELFI company, he is now pulling out of AfG as well. This after billions were invested in Western Bases as the sole means we have to keep the Iranians on their toes and assuring the rise of Pipelineistan as a means to deliver LNG to The East (which is to say the beginning of the breaking of the USD as a fiat petrocurrency, as the beginning of the end of the United States…).
        I actually do believe that universal health care and a living wage plus mandatory housing is something this nation needs to concern itself with if we are committed to a multicultural society in which maybe 5% of the total population (15-16% of whites) have the 115-120 baseline college IQ to compete in an Infodominant, post industrial, 21st century.
        Never mind moral leadership of the supposedly ‘Free World’, at the pragmatic level, we are leaving behind whole segments of our working blue collar population and inviting in rafts of service industry high criminality, (70% of our prison populations are non white), 3rd world, wage slaves to replace them.
        Such divorce from ethnic base and replacement by ethnic balkanism as liberal vote service is a recipe for civil war and national collapse.
        As such, a lifetime social-contract commitment to even the most worthless of U.S. citizens has to come with secured territorial integrity (welfare state or open borders not both) along with mass sterilization for the chronically indigent, retarded and addicted.
        So that we can generate an in-place eugenics approach to ensuring that the next generation of working, moral, people aren’t burdened by an even larger number of welfare babies and chain migration.
        To further help thin the herd of eaters, a death penalty on a fast track of short trial, short sentence (nobody more than 3-5 years), three felonies (or fifteen misdemeanors) and _you’re outta here_ basis of application must also be instituted.
        No matter how ‘disparate the impact’.
        With some 2.3 million people incarcerated (China only has only 1.6 million with three times the total population) at 40,000 dollars a year per high-security inmate, teaching a graduate course in how to be better criminals is something we do not need to be paying out _92 Billion Dollars A Year_ to the prison system for.
        Not when we could ankle-bracelet their useless behinds, give them an EBT card for once a month delivery of food and cable service for a lock down tenement apartment (studio apartments the size of prison cells) at less than 5,000 dollars per annum.
        And still achieve the same ‘keep society safely separated’ norm for about 11.5 billion dollars a year.
        That right there is your Sequestration money. Right. There.
        Unfortunately, we are so deep in the /other/ unsecured social entitlements debt hole and have sold off so much of our real-people-work-here industrial base and are so far down the path to ‘New World Order’ global socialist corporatism as the likely intended outcome, that I cannot see the Armed Forces, which must serve the standing agenda, as having any real use in stopping things from further degradation.
        Not when the principle source of recruitment is the rural and urban poor who form such a large part of ‘the problem’ to begin with.
        Instead, when the end comes, we are likely to see a uniformed vs. civilian blood letting on a scale which leaves massive distrust and resentment, on both sides.
        Until and unless the NWO plot (which every president since at least Nixon has been party to) is revealed in all it’s ugliness and fails so miserably that, again, a post-Union America must be the smaller tax-base outcome. Then we will need trained shooters and the willingness to die for something more than ourselves to hold onto whatever is left.
        As such, we must model our new defense strategy around doing the least harm to the existing population while leaving a small enough, lethal enough, legacy force to be affordable as a deterrent to whatever globalist army tries to destroy us as the last nation state.
        To be part of the solution and not just the problem, even covertly, the Armed Forces have to face the fact that they are going to be made much smaller in preparing for that sustainable, post-U.S., non-fungible, outcome force rather than today’s defense needs.
        With that as the unspeakable, treasonous for the present, reality; you must still be the adults in the room and not let the Legislative or Executive children get any funny ideas that you haven’t thought through beforehand as collective ways and means to seriously redefine America’s post superpower force structure.
        Given the intense rivalry as R&M turf protection between you, I would suggest that the most sensible method is to get behind closed doors, order room service and not come out again until some basics have been hammered out.
        The first of which is that things we can agree that we hardly use may have to be treated as vestigial to our needs.
        The Triad being the first to get axed on a keep-2, yield-1 basis.
        With the Four Airforces, Two Armies and Two Navies to follow.
        To return to topic for a moment, Subs with MRBM threshold aeroballistics that have precision terminal homing have the chance to out and out replace theater bombers as a faster response to the depths of Asia with zero manned platform risk to aviators in a post-2030 world liable to be threat-driven by optical tracking and DEWS flashlight weapons that make ‘stealth’ and ‘supercruise’ worthless.
        But this is ONLY TRUE if the missiles in question have equal applicability to conventional as nuclear conflict. Which means they have to be cheap and small enough to be used as a sortie:shot equivalent replacement. Two bombs = Two missiles on a constant basis of major theater target list reduction (CAS/OBAS is not the strategic bomber’s job).
        And to be so applicable means taking a big hit in the dominant AIr Navy budgeting for carriers and airwings because _nobody_ is just going to ‘sacrifice’ five billion dollars because the Navy says strategic defense is important.
        Their more likely response being: “Well, maybe LCS isn’t.” “Well, maybe you have enough attack boats then.” Or “Well, how about a lot fewer Burkes and early retirement of the last of the CG-47s?”
        Or how about six fewer carriers.
        For two years, force the USN to model their entire fleet capabilities around a six CVBG standing force with an allocated 1,500nm training cruise limit per year, per strike group and see what they can do with it. You don’t retire the others out of hand, you just see how much you can do with less. Cancel deployments, cancel joint training exercises, deploy airwings but not full decks etc. Then take two carriers out of that bunch and SLEP them while increasing the remainder to 2,500nm training rotations. And see if it gets any better as a function of recovered forward basing and joint exercises.
        And use that as your base-force model.
        It’s these kinds of empirical defense ‘try it and see!’ exercises that can only result in better horse trading at the highest levels, absent outsiders as egos, someplace where the service chiefs are privately beyond politics.
        Until you have done it and bounced back, with numbers on the table, I guarantee that nobody is coming up with adhoc solutions that make your future as a national or post-national force structure tenable.
        As a further hint to where we might go: “Only 800 tactical aircraft!” With all control over air-related (training pipe, infrastructure, spares, procurement etc.) handled by the Air Force.
        This means that every jet has to be Carrier Qualified, not just structurally but systematically, as an autolanding platform via differential GPS and video tracking ala JPALS.
        I would suggest that the ratio of 30-40% manned vs. unmanned would be the basis for deactivating 80% of the Guard and Reserve manned force (all but tanking and special mission) manned air elements while maintaining residual actives training levels at or near cold war peaks in trade for 10 times a year check flights and once every three years Red Flag deployments on Reserve maintained UCAVs.
        To delay early-aging of the warfighter airframes, you would likely need to buy a secondary supersonic trainer as X4 squadron training hacks. These would not have to be carrier or even weapons qualified but rather, use virtually modeled system standins (EODAS, Radar, EW etc.) across an IFDL network to avoid buying the real apertures.
        Such aircraft handling and G-tolerance airfames would run maybe 3,500 dollars per flight hour (T/A-50) instead of 30K+.
        If you are flying fourship trainer tactics prep using virtual stealth, you have instantly derailed Lockheed’s business plan for making up production cost losses on the backend of a trillion dollar F-35 service package.
        Which can only be considered a good oak stake reason to heart stab that undead beast.
        The JSF is an ideal example of what is wrong in our services where three landing modes act as divide et empera means of rent seeking justification for three fixed wing air forces.
        Such is _utter Insanity_ given that landing and takeoff consume less than 1% of each mission and 2 of the 3 variants are utterly unable to operate on the other third’s ships. Which means that 2/3rds of the inventory are left at home in a Pacific Pivot war where the threat is smart enough to attack the Andersen/Kadena weak links.
        No JSF opens the possibility of a followon F/A-XX which is essentially a tweaked F-22 spec with naval gear. F/A-XX can be a 30% ninja force to open the castle gates to the Samurai UCAVs. Which means you don’t have to have 2,400 stealth jets but can have 300 VLO and 500 sorta-LO robotic platforms.
        In return for this offloading of Navair component maintenance requirements, the Navy gets to spend it’s full budget on HG&U hull counts as procurement, upgrade, maintenance, munitions, whatever.
        No air budget therefore = 6-8 SSBN/SSGN mixed class vessels.
        Such strategic management ‘by subdivision’ being a typical corporate trick for concentrating knowledge base as fiscal responsibility.
        Marines get basically the dirty end of the stick but then they have let themselves get awfully fat. They flatly don’t need 180,000 men, never have. In trade for a reduction to perhaps 10-15,000 effectives and 5-10,000 support units, they get authority over a new rifle, a new JLTV, a new CAS vehicle (manned or unmanned but able to STOVL and escort the V-22) as well as a new, light, AmTrac.
        I would see Marines become global SWAT. Not a heavy force but able to do the kinds of three-day-prep, three-week-commit, organic operations as remote-STOM forced entry that nobody else can, whether they come in by Sea or by C-17 doesn’t matter. That they can do the job once in-theater is all that counts.
        Feistier Marines = No Rangers.
        Staying small means they cannot stay long which means that we cannot commit to wars we don’t need to win and the UN will have to use some of those global-traffic tarrifs as tax base to raise the peacekeeping/stabilization forces necessary to handoff to when we retire from the field.
        These New Marines must be 100% mechanized in theater, they must be able to deal with large crowds of panicky civilians _without killing them_ (ADS or LRAD) and they must be able to switchup from LTL to standoff precision kill systems (Jumper or Spike) within the same base force configuration in a heartbeat so that they are never nose-to-toe with a bigger force than they capable of handling are while armed with CQB weapons.
        The Army takes the second biggest hit, essentially shrinking to one CONUS heavy maneuver division element composed of two active brigades and two reserves (one combat, one CS/CSS) on each coast with emphasis on rapid deployment to backstop necessary Marine ops first responders on a 7-day, 90 day sustainability basis.
        If need be, the USAF would retire the C-5M and plusup an additional 100-200 C-17B to support the ton:mile lift of rapid theater delivery for independent Wespac and Africa missions.
        The USAr driving commitment would remain traditional counterforce vs. hostage rescue, embassy evac etc. with a lot of bleedover into covering force missions. They too would be 100% mounted but whereas the Marines would be mech they would be armored, albeit NERA+APS rather than DU and Composite Chobham.
        A secondary Army commitment to infrastructure maintenance (ACE) and Guard missions would comprise another three brigades without heavy combat or deployment gear to maintain Posse Comitatus alignment as yearly ‘authorized within these states’ Continental Force structure budgeting in interstate roadway, flood control, water and electrical services maintenance as well as border security. These would be make-work units that trained young men and women in basic skills of carpentry, plumbing, electrical, law enforcement etc. specialties after a short military indoctrination.
        They would be the first to standup and absorb demobilizing overseas units because I don’t want to dump a bunch of trained killers on a saturated ‘services’ job market with 16% real unemployment after the insular life of three squares and a rack assured existence that they had conformed to and come to depend upon. History doesn’t speak kindly of crime rates in the wake of mass demobilizations.
        Speaking of the drawdown, all ground elements in East Asia and Europe would be withdrawn in trade for turn-key nuclearization for ROK, Taiwan and Japan. Europe would pay 75% of NATO’s cost instead of the U.S. and if they didn’t want to, the treaty and our European commitments would be allowed to lapse. There would be a five year grace period so that as much of EE and the Ukraine who could would make a reduced threshold for membership.
        Where practical, base-in and transient rights for ACC and AMC units would be maintained. Where not, we would look for new basing leases (Horn of Africa and Gold Coast as ‘the southern route’ for instance), in or near likely hotspots.
        In trade for the Abrams and Bradley mass retirement, the USAr as industrial base would get a new common IFV/tank/indirect chassis in the 10-20ton class as what FCS should have been all along to go with a new, 250 knot, JFVL heavy lift VTOL. They would remain dependent upon Marine JLTV to drive off of it as well as to source Rifle and PE-SSM selection since, among other things. This as a precursor to merging the ground forces towards environment specialized but single chain of command/spares driven Joint Command status.
        Between these cuts, we would see roughly 50-65% reduction in total force structure across the board and the shutdown of at least three major new-equipment recap programs (Ford, JSF, GCV).
        Before we can start congratulating ourselves about having survived the Obamination, we need to seriously Man Up ourselves with an future look toward “What an Armed Force can do and what it can’t” under these preemptive budgetary concessions.
        Because that acknowledgement is going to be the beginning of a force structure which we can hand onward as a useable tool to the nation that comes after this one. One which might just be survivable enough to last.
        As this one most likely no longer is.

      • http://www.asdf.com DerangedPhoque

        Considering that Russian intelligence has only ever been about making the West terrified of non-existent threats, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

  • ziggy1988

    The Navy should recommission all previously decommissioned LA class subs, none of which have served longer than 24 years (most have served for only 16-18 years), which is way too little, considering that the Ohio class – as Mr Freedberg has mentioned here, will, by the time they retire, have served for 42 years on average. Also, the Navy should repair, not scrap, the USS Miami.

    As for the question, “where to get the money to do that and to build more SSNs and maintain them in the fleet”, here’s my answer:

    1) CUT OVERHEAD DEEPLY! According to former USD(P) Michele Flournoy, the DOD spends over $200 bn every year on overhead.
    2) Cut the carrier fleet to, say, 9 or even 8 vessels. This will be a very difficult and unpalatable decision, but it might prove to be a necessary, even if bitter, pill, considering the financial circumstances. Carriers today are prohibitively expensive and terribly vulnerable: one DF-21D ASBM or one Moskit (SS-N-22 Sunburn) ASCM would be enough to sink one flattop.

    A single Ford class carrier costs $12.8 bn – for that amount of money, you could build FIVE new Virginia class subs, even with the VPM… and for the same amount of money, China can procure at least 1,200 new DF-21D ASBMs. And remember you need to spoof, fool, avoid, or intercept every single one of these 1,200 ASBMs to protect the carrier. On top of that, you need to protect them against the 500 SS-N-22 Sunburn missiles in China’s arsenal.

    Carriers are way too vulnerable to be useful today. Being big, fat, and having a large radar and acoustic sig, they’re an easy and tempting target for everyone – from missileers to H-6K and Tu-22/142 pilots, to surface combatant captains, to suicide boat drivers, to the wily skippers of attack subs. Their time is over. It’s time to switch the Navy from a carrier-centric to a submarine-centric force – and change Navy budgetary priorities accordingly.

    What is it that carriers can offer? Not much: their aircraft are not stealthy, don’t carry much ordnance, and have short combat radii. If there are few targets to hit and they are soft and static, the most cost-effective way of eliminating them is launching Tomahawks. If targets are hardened, protected by IADSes, deep inland, or moving, stealthy bombers like the B-2 and the new Air Force LRSB are the appropriate tools.