Saturday, January 24, 2015

To Buy or Not to Buy (NewTrident): That is the question...

The people at the Ploughshares Fund are attempting to kick start the greatly needed debate about funding the next generation of ballistic missile submarines.

In the following article the authors rightly question the "terrible precedent" that would be set should the Navy be allowed (with the help of Congress) to fund a new fleet of boomers (as they are fondly known in the Navy) outside of the Navy's shipbuilding budget.

They call for fiscal responsibility, and are also right to question the "strategic sense" of funding 12 ballistic missile subs, and as a consequence have to forgo (according to the Congressional Budget Office) 69 ships of the Navy's conventional fleet.

The authors ask, "...could the Navy maintain U.S. security with fewer than 12?" Their answer is yes, and they state that the Navy could do the job with 8 rather than 12 subs.

What is intriguing about this rationale is how they came to it. Based on traditional thinking (strategic nuclear deterrence doctrine), weapon system capabilities, and treaty obligations it is not any stretch to realize that 8 Tridents are enough (to destroy life on earth as we know it).

What is missing (for me) in this article is any discussion of why we need to build any New Tridents! While much of this article is on the right track, the authors seem to be playing it safe by not venturing into the dangerous waters of questioning the validity of our nations current nuclear pursuits.

What of the doctrine of strategic nuclear deterrence in a post-Cold War world? Should it not undergo a thorough evaluation by experts with no vested interest in building and deploying nuclear weapons? And should such questioning be done well before we start preparing to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in new nuclear weapons systems ($100 billion in the case of New Trident)?

At any rate, I'm grateful to Ploughshares Fund for contributing to what I hope will be a more public dialogue on an issue that affects the future of every citizen of this nation as well as the future of humanity. Perhaps the question is not how to find "a better way to buy nuclear submarines," but whether to buy them at all.

Ironically, the authors close by saying that "The worst thing we could do right now is waste scarce resources on yesterday’s weapons, starving the programs we really need."

A Better Way To Buy Nuclear Submarines

on January 23, 2015 in Breaking Defense

The Ploughshares Fund shares the Obama’s Administration’s goal of eventually eliminating all nuclear weapons. Whether you agree with that goal or not, Tom Collina of the fund offers here a choice that those on the outer reaches of both political parties may agree on: forcing the Navy to live within its regular budget. The service, and most strategists, believe the Navy must get funding to buy a full complement of replacements for the Ohio class of nuclear missile submarines for the United States to remain the world’s dominant power. That, they say, will require special funding for the Ohio Replacement Program. They believe the service must receive money for both a robust surface fleet, attack submarines and a fleet of nuclear missile submarines. Do we maintain the most advanced nuclear triad in the world, with a fleet of survivable and advanced boomers or not? And how will we pay for it? It’s a choice that will be hotly debated. The Editor.

The Obama administration is expected to submit a military budget on February 2 that is more than $30 billion over the amount Congress can approve. That money will have to be cut from somewhere. Fortunately, the Pentagon can save billions of dollars and advance U.S. security by scaling back the excessive program to replace the Ohio nuclear-armed submarine.

The Navy is particularly strapped for cash as it tries to sustain a 300-ship fleet while also building a dozen of the new nuclear missile submarines for about $100 billion. As the Navy admits, it cannot afford to do both. But instead of scaling back its plans, the service is seeking an additional $60 billion from outside its budget.

This is no way to run a Navy. Congress needs to enforce budget discipline and encourage the Navy to live within its means. Unfortunately, some on Capitol Hill are heading in the opposite direction by creating a special bank account for extra Navy money, the Sea Based Strategic Deterrence Fund.

But wait, there’s one catch: the bank account is empty, and there is no realistic prospect of filling it. It was created by the congressional authorizing committees, which set policy but do not sign checks. The appropriators handle the money, and they are not buying. There is just not enough cash to go around.

The Sea Based Strategic Deterrence Fund is a pipe dream, and the Navy is kidding itself if it thinks it can buy the new submarines on the cheap from someone else’s budget.

As Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall said in September, budget gimmicks, like the sub fund, don’t actually solve anything. “At the end of the day we have to find money to pay for these things one way or another, right? So changing the accounting system doesn’t really change that fundamental requirement. We still need the money and it has to come from somewhere.”

The sub fund also sets a terrible precedent for congressional budgeting. The Air Force, for example, also wants to modernize its nuclear weapons and is also strapped for cash. Can the Air Force have a special account too? Where does this end?

There is a better solution that few seem to be considering: buy fewer submarines.

Yes, current Ohio-class submarines are aging and will need to be replaced. Yes, the subs are the most survivable leg of the nuclear “triad”—which also includes land-based missiles and bombers—which together will cost up to $1 trillion to over the next 30 years. But 25 years after the Cold War and with the new subs estimated to cost $7.7 billion each, could the Navy maintain U.S. security with fewer than 12?

The answer is yes.

There is nothing magic about 12 submarines. In fact, the Navy is planning to have only 10 during the 2030s, and eight would do just as well.

The requirement for 12 subs is driven by the Navy’s mission to “forward deploy” about five of the subs close to targets in Russia and China for “prompt launch.” The remaining subs would be in transit or dockside. In other words, the Navy wants 12 subs so some can be within range of potential targets 24-7-365.

This may have made sense during the Cold War, but strategic submarines no longer need to be forward deployed in this way. Modern missile subs are invulnerable once at sea. If they ever need to launch a nuclear-armed missile (which has never happened) there is no reason the Navy could not wait even a few days for the subs to reach launch position. In the highly unlikely event that immediate launch were ever needed, the Air Force has ground-based missiles that can do that.

Once the requirement for forward deployed subs is reduced, the main factor driving the number of subs is how many warheads they can carry. The Pentagon plans to deploy about 1,000 nuclear warheads at sea for the indefinite future. How many subs do we need for that? Just eight. (Each sub can hold 128 warheads.)

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), buying eight subs rather than 12 would save $21 billion over the next decade–and that is real money.

The alternative? The Navy could fund the subs from its own budget, but only at great cost to the conventional fleet. At current funding levels, the Navy says 12 new missile subs would crowd out 32 combat ships. This is the rosy scenario. CBO estimates look much worse, with the Navy foregoing a total of 69 ships, including two aircraft carriers, 17 attack submarines, 20 destroyers, 19 littoral combat ships, six amphibious ships and five combat logistics and support vessels.

This does not make strategic sense. Carriers and destroyers are the backbone of the fleet. These are the ships that make America a global power–that let it hunt terrorists, clean up after tsunamis, and do exercises with allies, all at the same time. Not having these ships would limit America’s ability to project power around the world and effectively respond to unforeseen threats. These ships would be missed.

Compare that to having a few less nuclear-missile subs. Would anyone even notice?

Pentagon procurement decisions worth tens of billions of dollars should not be based on obsolete strategy. The Pentagon and the White House need to adjust the nuclear strategy and budget to the declining threat. The worst thing we could do right now is waste scarce resources on yesterday’s weapons, starving the programs we really need.

Tom Z. Collina is Policy Director and Jacob Marx is a Research Assistant at Ploughshares Fund in Washington.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Trident's role in Asia-Pacific Pivot???

The Obama Administration continues to doggedly pursue the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would stretch from Chile to Japan and - Ooops! - exclude China. China, of course, has its own ideas about trade partnerships at this stage in the game, and is pursuing its own agenda.

"Obama had hoped his foreign policy “pivot” toward Asia would shift U.S. government attention away from trouble spots like Afghanistan and Iraq and toward a region brimming with economic opportunities." His strategy for exploiting "economic opportunities" seems to be the old school methodology - shift as many military assets into the region (can you say gunboat diplomacy???) as possible and see how it plays out.

The article below, which touts the need for expanding the capabilities ($$$$$$$) of the shipyard that will build the next generation ballistic missile submarines (as well as more tactical subs) for the United States, makes it crystal clear that all of this is about the "U.S. foreign policy's pivot to Asia." The article also makes it clear that it's also about "the ability to project power from the sea."

One might well ask what ballistic missile submarines bristling with enough thermonuclear weaponry  (just one Trident submarine) to incinerate and render uninhabitable an entire region has to do with any reasonable strategy for sensibly engaging economic opportunities in Asia (or elsewhere).

Should the US should be thinking more about how to deal with its future resource needs in a way that precludes (dangerous and risky) gunboat diplomacy? Do nuclear weapons have any rational place in any part of the Asia-Pacific Pivot (or anywhere else for that matter).

For now, these critical questions will not be asked while we continue the march to the (East China) Sea.

EB Chief Says Nuclear Sub Demand Could Mean Major Shipyard Improvements

By Brian Dowling, January 15, 2015, Originally published in the Hartford Courant

GROTON — The head of Electric Boat said Thursday that revived demand for nuclear submarines as part of the U.S. foreign policy's pivot to Asia will result in $500 million being spent over the next decade to upgrade the company's shipyard here.

"The Department of Defense strategy tends to favor the Navy and the ability to project power from the sea," said Electric Boat President Jeffrey S. Geiger.

Considering that strategy, and the need to replace an aging fleet of the Navy's tactical submarines, the submarine program should prevail over the challenges of a shrinking military budget and the possibility of additional forced budget cuts that could reappear in 2016, Geiger said.

To handle the coming work, Electric Boat plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on facilities and machinery. The largest chunk would pay for an expansion of the company's assembly building, which currently fits just one submarine at a time.

With Electric Boat, a division of General Dynamics, expecting to begin construction of new Ohio Class replacement submarines in 2019, the Groton assembly building will need room to piece together one Ohio Class submarine and one Virginia Class submarine.

Geiger expects that the replacement Ohio Class program will reach $100 billion, and given that Electric Boat has led its early-stage design, hopes the company would land the contract to build the submarines. But the Pentagon has given few hints at how it would award contracts.

"Whether this is going to be a competition, we don't know," Geiger said.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney said there is a dire need to replace the Ohio Class fleet. Their nuclear reactors were originally planned to run 30 years but have been extended to 42 years.

If all goes as planned, Electric Boat expects it will need another thousand workers by 2030 at its Groton and New London locations; the two now employ about 9,000. Payroll for the whole company would jump to 18,000 from its current 12,500, Geiger said.

Electric Boat has placed a bid to pick up submarine maintenance work that the U.S. military's backlogged shipyards need covered. Winning that bid could add as many as 600 jobs, according to a company presentation.

Copyright © 2015, Hartford Courant
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Sunday, January 11, 2015

New Trident: Strategic Asset or Liability???

As we move into 2015 the Fiscal Year 2015 funding cycle is but a memory, and New Trident got its funding. Looking forward, with all the concern about the OHIO Class Replacement sinking the Navy's shipbuilding budget, we could see funding problems for New Trident in FY2016.

However, there is no need to fear (if you are General Dynamics Electric Boat or Newport News Shipbuilding that is); if some members of Congress have their way New Trident will have its own special slush fund. With the funding in hand (outside of the normal funding channels, and outside the Navy's shipbuilding budget) it would be smooth sailing for Electric Boat and Newport News.

This is what "deterrence" looks like.
Yet, beyond the funding issues lies the fundamental question no one dares ask: "Why build an outdated Cold War nuclear weapons system that will only serve to increase both global nuclear proliferation and the risk of either accidental or intentional nuclear war."

The following article goes to the heart of the problem - the corporate press parroting the propaganda handed out by the Pentagon. In the second paragraph the writer refers to Trident as playing "an increasingly important role in America's ability to deliver a nuclear punch." It would seem like Trident's heyday should have ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The only reason Trident would be playing an "increasingly important role" is that the US is creating a perceived need for nuclear weapons through its foreign policy pursuits, which place nuclear weapons front and center.

The article quotes Rep. Rob Whittman referring (as has just about every backer of New Trident) to Trident as "a national strategic asset". The ultimate question we need to ask is whether Trident (and especially New Trident) is an asset or liability. We don't want to learn the answer the hard way.


Funding new submarines outside the Navy?

By Hugh Lessig, Originally published in the Daily Press, January 10, 2015

Newport News Shipbuilding has a stake in a new and potentially divisive method for funding a future class of submarine, a project considered the Navy's top priority.

At issue is how to replace the aging fleet of Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, often referred to as "boomers," which play an increasingly important role in America's ability to deliver a nuclear punch.

Replacing the Ohio-class fleet with new submarines has been deemed so important — and so difficult to afford in tight fiscal times — that Congress has proposed funding them outside the Navy's $15.7 billion annual shipbuilding budget.

The Newport News shipyard, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, has worked as a subcontractor to help design and engineer the Ohio-class replacement, also known as SSBN-X. Working in the lead is General Dynamics Electric Boat of Groton, Conn.

Those two yards now build the Virginia-class fast-attack submarine in a teaming arrangement that the Navy considers a big success. The boats are routinely delivered ahead of schedule and on budget.

Newport News officials, as well as two local congressmen influential on shipbuilding matters, expect the yard to play a role in building the SSBN-X as well. Construction is set to begin in the early 2020s.

But first, a majority in Congress must agree to squirrel away a few billion dollars in something called the National Sea Based Deterrence Fund.

Lawmakers created the fund in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. Language allows for $3.5 billion in seed money to be transferred there from unspent accounts. Ultimately, supporters want it to have a dedicated source of revenue from the Pentagon, not just the Navy.

"We felt it needed to be viewed as a separate national strategic asset as opposed to something that ought to come out of the Navy's shipbuilding budget," said Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, who heads the Sea Power and Projection Forces subcommittee.

"This is a national strategic asset that happens to be in the Navy," agreed Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, who oversees the panel on military readiness.

Both point to the difficult math when considering Navy's long-range shipbuilding plan. It sets aside about $15.7 billion annually for new ship construction. The Ohio-class replacement submarines are expected to cost around $5.5 billion a year and possibly more. Forbes said the annual shipbuilding budget would need an extra $4 billion to accommodate the project.

Doing that would rob the Navy of its ability to build other ships, Wittman said.

"What do we do then? Do we not build an aircraft carrier? Do you build several destroyers? That's the magnitude of what we're talking about if you keep it within the shipbuilding budget," he said.

Creative accounting?

Not everyone is convinced.

"From a budgeting standpoint, this makes no sense," wrote Ryan Alexander, head of the group Taxpayers for Common Sense in October 2014. "It isn't reducing the cost of the submarine. It doesn't lower the top line of Pentagon spending. All it does is temporarily relieve the pressure on the Navy's budget."

In December, the group took another shot at the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund in a blog post under the headline "Deterring What Exactly? Good Budgeting Practices?"

It raised the point that other services might want to get into the game.

"Calling submarines national assets because they are 'owned, operated or controlled by the Department of Defense' is hooey. We're pretty sure that the Air Force's silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles are similarly owned. ... Why should the Navy be the only service to benefit from this creative accounting?"

Wittman said such a request from the Air Force wouldn't surprise him.

"That's always a possibility, especially in a time of scarce resources," he said. "We do need to modernize our nuclear arsenal. But we are much, much closer to the stage of needing to begin construction of SSBN-X than we are with the other parts of our nuclear arsenal."

Added Forbes: "We always see institutional inertia and protectiveness about services and agencies. To say that wouldn't have a role would be naive on my part."

But there are estimates that the Ohio-class replacement could make up 70 percent of America's nuclear deterrence — the most important leg of the U.S. nuclear triad that includes land-based missiles and long-range bombers.

"When you look at that component, it would be hard for someone with a straight face to say we don't need this," Forbes said.

Aging fleet

Eighteen Ohio-class submarines entered service between 1981 and 1997, according to data from the Congressional Research Service. Originally designed for 30-year lives, the boats were later certified for 42 years of service.

During the Clinton administration, the first four Ohio-class boats were converted to cruise-missile submarines, which do not carry a nuclear payload. The current fleet stands at 14, homeported in King's Bay, Ga., and Bangor, Wash., in Puget Sound. Unlike other Navy ships, Ohio-class submarines operate with alternating crews to maximize their time at sea.

Its basic mission is to stay at sea, in hiding, ready to launch its ballistic missiles. It is considered the most survivable leg of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The Ohio-class replacement program proposes to replace the current fleet of 14 submarines with 12 more advanced boats. The first boat in the class is expected to cost $12.4 billion. The Navy has estimated the cost of the remaining boats at $6 billion, with the goal of reducing that to $5.5 billion, according to a December report from the Congressional Budget Office.

CBO says the submarines will be more expensive, pegging the lead ship at $13.8 billion and a $7.1 billion average cost for the remaining ships.

That's a good deal less than the smaller Virginia-class submarines, which are now being built at a rate of two per year. Last fall, Newport News christened the John Warner, expected to come in at less than $2 billion.

An economic boomer

The Ohio-class submarines were built at Electric Boat in Connecticut, and that yard is leading the effort to design SSBN-X, with Newport News also performing work.

Electric Boat and Newport News are the only two U.S. shipyards capable of building nuclear-powered submarines. Because of that, and because the two yards have worked together to build Virginia-class boats, Wittman and Forbes are confident that Newport News will see a chunk of business from the Ohio class replacement program.

"We only have two games in town," Forbes said. "It's not like you can go to a mall somewhere else."

Newport News officials, through spokeswoman Christie Miller, said they are confident about playing a role in the Ohio replacement program, with specifics yet to be determined.

The Virginia class teaming arrangement happened in part because Congress wanted two shipyards with the capability to build nuclear submarines. That way, if one yard is knocked out of commission or the U.S. wants to ramp up production, it has the flexibility. Wittman said that argument still holds.

"I think the teaming arrangement is absolutely critical," he said. "When we get to the point of the design being mature and the development process started, I fully expect that Congress will be very specific about how it sees this process taking place. My vision is that it will involve both yards — details yet to be determined."

Lessig can be reached by phone at 757-247-7821.

Copyright © 2015, Daily Press

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