Wednesday, April 14, 2010

SSBN(X) - you'll be lucky to get 10

Ok, in line with the "drip-drip-drip" series of posts about something no-one wants to talk about (the trainwreck of shipbuilding that will be the Terrible '20s), let me make a little long range prediction for 'ya. First though, set the scene.

- The fiscal nightmare of the series of deficits we are building and the debt service they will bring - along with the budgetary realities of building a Social Democracy (only tremendous political changes in '10 and '12 elections will change this), will create budgetary pressures that will drive defense spending to below 3% of GDP by 2012 (it is 4% now).
- The largest shipbuilding pressure in the 2020's will be the re-capitalization of the SSBN force.
- Don't forget the new Nuclear Posture Review ...

From the
CBO, go to table 2. They are calling it going from 14 to 12 SSBN.

I'll call it now, we will be lucky if we get 10 SSBN(X). Make that a planning assumption.

Here is some more from the Bureau of the Hard Truth (BUTRU):
- Budgets will get smaller.
- Tiffany Navy shipbuilding costs will not get significantly smaller if we continue the attitude and practices from The Lost Decade.
- We will be at sub-250 ships at the end of the Terrible '20s unless something new happens in the next 5 years.
- This is not industry's fault; this is not Congress's fault. This is well in excess of 51% uniformed military's fault.

Way forward? We need radical change at the highest levels of leadership. Clark-Mullen-Roughead lineage got us here. Who am I looking for? Someone like this,
At the time of his appointment as Chief of Naval Operations, (he) was still a Rear Admiral, Upper Half (Two Star) and was promoted over the heads of many Flag Officers who were senior to him. (He) had never served as a Vice Admiral (Three Star), so he was promoted two grades at the time of his appointment as CNO.
That is a fresh start. And what did that give us?
Admiral Burke served an unprecedented three terms as CNO. He served at a critical time in world history, the depths of the Cold War. The facts that he was relatively young compared to other Flag Officers at the time, and was an excellent manager and organizer, were keys to his success. He supported the touchy Adm. Hyman Rickover in the development of a nuclear Navy. More directly, he promoted the Polaris missile program at a time when others in the Navy were very skeptical of the idea of a missile launched from a submarine.
Admiral Burke as CNO was intimately involved in the Eisenhower administration discussions of "how much is enough?", as to the number of US nuclear submarines needed for deterrence. Burke argued that a force of around 40 Polaris submarines (each with 16 missiles) was a reasonable answer. Burke further argued that land-based missiles and bombers were vulnerable to attack, which made the U.S.-Soviet nuclear balance dangerously unstable. By contrast, nuclear submarines were virtually undetectable and invulnerable. He was very critical of "hair trigger" or "launch on warning" nuclear strategies, and he warned that such strategies were "dangerous for any nation."

Earlier, Admiral Burke was involved in the "Revolt of the Admirals", a near mutiny by the leaders of the Navy in the late 1940s, and was saved from being fired by the intervention of President Harry S. Truman. His terms as CNO were times of growth and progress in the Navy. Upon completing his third term, he was transferred to the Retired List on August 1, 1961.
Time for 1955 thinking again or we will wind up having two Admirals for each ship.


MR T's Haircut said...


We need a Burke... oh my kingdom for a Burke!

AW1 Tim said...

You Betcha! 

 Not only an Admiral Burke, but folks who understand that technology is only a PART of the equation, not the reason for building the ships.

CDR, FWIW, I have some more on the Ohio-replacement story over at my place

Master AssClown said...

Would outsourcing be a viable option?

Steeljaw said...


 I'm glad you brought up AB -- I truly wish more folks of this era would take the time to go back and familiarize themselves with AB and those around him during a period of real crises for the Navy.  During the 50's when the Lemays and others of that ilk were preaching nuclear weapons uber alles (delivered by USAF ICBMs and bombers), supported by civilian analysts who were disconnected from the terrible consequences of wholesale use of nuclear weapons, Burke and others like him from the Navy were voices of moderation. And I think it safe to say that the proxmate reason wasn't because of inter-service rivalry or competition over nukes (though it was present), but rather a difference in the culture, background and ethos of naval service.  I've often pondered on this during my times spent around nuclear planning and policy, observing (and sparring) first hand with a uniformed and civilian advocates deeply beholden to the concept of nuclear warfighting - and few, very few were from the Navy.  The height of that folly I've written of elsewhere, but would be interested in yours and others take on this observation.
Consider it the seeds of a future think-piece...
w/r, SJS

Grumpy Old Ham said...

Time to go for a little Norm Augustine:

"In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3-1/2 days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day."


surfcaster said...

I hear of 4 rather large submarines with a conventional land attack profile, maybe they can be converted to to launch ICBMs. Heck, they already have states named after them...

Seawolf said...

One thing to keep in mind is that submarine new construction has been the one area where we are still getting a reasonable bang for the buck.  EB is one of the few contractors who have brought down both cost per unit and construction time with limited rework after initial sea trials.  So the Tiffany Navy comments are not so applicable here.  We are actually building subs to sustain the force levels into the 2020s.  Unfortunately, when the rest of the shipbuilding budget takes a hit, submarine construction will as well.

cdrsalamander said...

You are scope-locked.  Step away from the periscope.  Shipbuilding all comes out of one pot.  "Navy" does not equal "Submarines."

This is a macro post - not micro.

ewok40k said...

@24, 8-mirv-ed SLBMs each 8 SSBNs will be entire force allowed by new START, mind you...
unless major de-MIRVization follows you will be lucky to have 4 SSBNs

Anthony Mirvish said...

According to the President, we won't need many boomers anyway because everyone will love us (except our most reliable allies whom we'll have shafted) and will be on the way to global nuclear disarmament.

In the 50's, the emphasis the Eisenhower administration put on nuclear weapons wasn't so much because it thought nuclear war-fighting practical - the views of the Lemays and others notwithstanding - but because Ike thought it represented the best way to keep the Cold War cold, at a relatively affordable price.  He believed that the threat of any direct combat between ourselves and the Soviets escalating would create restraint.  Of course, the nuclear balance was heavily in our favor then, too.  All of that reflected conscious grand strategic-level thinking with forces tailored accordingly.  And, there was a high degree of bi-partisanship within the Congress about the associated assumptions.  None of that is really true nowdays, and without a coherent strategy (even if proposed by one or more of the services as a baseline), priorities cannot be easily set.  Ship-building suffers accordingly.  Of course, much of the senior leadership has higher priorities than strategy or shipbuilding, diversity for one.

The Brickmuppet said...

Cdr. Salamander you wrote: " <span>....along with the budgetary realities of building a Social Democracy (only tremendous political changes in '10 and '12 elections will change this)</span><span>will create budgetary pressures that will drive defense spending to below 3% of GDP by 2012</span>"

...and therin lies the rub. Barring a major change in direction in 10 and 12, the jig is up. The US will end up like the social democracies in Europe, but without a USA to back us up and bail us out. Social democracies are Ponzi scheme management enterprises. Forget Boomers, we'll be hard pressed in the long run to afford sea control ships.

Procurement and overall force levels are generally strategic matters. However, in this case they are tactical.

This is ultimately a political problem.

There are certainly things to be done to fix the procurement system and mitigate block obsolescence and the lack of numbers....but they will only prolong the inevitable if there is not a major change in the direction of the country and its relationship with its government.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Or a Nimitz. Nimitz took responsibility for his mistakes, as well as his successes.  We do need a Burke, or at least a real group of Admirals, rather than political flags.

Skippy-san said...

How many do we need? As a measure of supportability-and measured against a credible threat. If 10 is not enough how many are we supposed to have?

I'm not being faecetious- but it would seem that there are other ships and aircraft we need more. If we have 10 we still have the ability to deliver 2000+ warheads .

DeltaBravo said...

This and so many of your topics, Phib, make me think of long ago days sitting translating Latin in class.  Interesting story put to words by some of the best lyricists in the history of pop music.  (Don't listen because of the pretty Swedish ladies.)  Good literature and good songs are timeless for the lessons they teach and reteach.

cassander said...

Is there some reason we just can't just build new Ohios?  Has there been some revolution in boomer technology that requires an entirely new platform?

G-man said...

As an airdale flag aide to a blackshoe flag I learned yes, there is a difference in building ships and submarines.  We have almost a dozen yards that could - and do - build skimmers.  But not so with the subs.  When we were building the Ohio class I went to EB for a christening with NavSea 00, and we had a nice chat with the pres of EB.  he told the VADM that they could build a sub to last 40-50 years, but the life cycle cost would be prohibitive.  Why?  Not so much due to equipment and engineering differences, but because you could not maintain a level stable work force.  When the trained engineers stop building subs and go build refrigerators, they don't come back to building subs.  They want stability.  With the economic tidal wave of doom heading our way we will be lucky to get 4-5.  And when you see the sad state of shipbuilding, the lack of senior leadership, and now the USS Murtha - mutha of all affronts - yes, we need an apolitical hero to step up to the plate.  He is out there.

The Brickmuppet said...

Regards the screwed up procurement/shipbuuilding situation, the closest historical analogy is probably the UK in the 1880s. At that time their shipbuilding program was terribly screwed up, with problems that included cost overruns, excessively long build times, ships massively over budget as well as overdue, quality control issues, problems integrating new technologies, block obsolescence and simple corruption (sound familiar?). The response was to, for a time,  order only second line vessels such as gunboats and auxiliaries as well as a few experimental technology test beds such as experimental high speed craft (the torpedo boats).

These were often ordered outside the usual defense procurement clique.

In the meantime investment was made in physical plant improvements at the shipyards and  the procurement system was reformed, Concurrently, a determination of what sort of vessels were needed was made. Then rational, attainable requirements for the various types of vessels were drawn up that matched the then current technologies, the national strategy of the time as well as the gamut of potential scenarios.

The Naval Defence Act was probably the bese example of how to turn around a dysfunctional defense establishment. It dealt with that eras equivalent to all the issues we now face save one.

The UK was not staring bankruptcy in the face.

Which leaves us to sit and listen to the steady, maddening,  drips.

Even wih a lot of money sucked up by the SSBM programme,  careful and ruthless deccisions might allow us to bridge the "terrible 20s" with numbers of something akin to Absalon  and perhaps some austere "gators " ...but the money is going to dry up in the 20s if we don't turn things around on Capitol Hill.....and if we don't, in the 30s or 40s we'll be byuing hand me down bouy tenders from some scrapyard in Goa.

So contact your local precinct captains, and see what they need.

sid said...

No Worries!

We can just plug a swell elegant module into the LCS!!

ShawnP said...

If GD and Newport News can build them together like the Virginia class. I can see 12-14 being built with the extra political pressure from two big shipbuilding states. Is it John Murtha style pork nope but a bit Porky Pigish.