BREAKING: Navy Hints at Cuts to Submarine Force-Level Goal

By Jon Harper

Photo: Navy

The Navy may trim its plans to beef up its submarine fleet in favor of other types of platforms, the service’s top official suggested Jan. 24.

Contractors and other observers in the defense community are eagerly awaiting next month’s release of the Navy’s new force structure assessment and 30-year shipbuilding plan. The results could be a disappointment for submarine manufacturers and a boon for makers of other vessels, based on recent comments by Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly.

“The force structure assessment is going to define a sort of a guidepost for where we need to head with the force, and then we'll develop a [shipbuilding] path to get as close to that as possible in the next 10 years,” he told National Defense.

The goal is a 355-plus ship fleet.

“There are certain elements of that that, [with] industrial base constraints, we're not going to be able to do that as quick,” he added. “For example, even in the last force structure [assessment from 2016], we were looking at possibly 60 to 66 submarines as a requirement. We don't have the industrial base to do that. We can probably get to 50 or so in the next 10 years, but that doesn't mean we still want to keep driving towards that” number.

Modly said there will be a shift toward other types of platforms, but he declined to identify them.

The Navy operates attack subs and ballistic missile subs. Modly did not specify which type of boat might see cuts under the new plan. But the Columbia-class ballistic missile platform is the service’s top acquisition priority, and officials are determined to procure 12 of them in the coming decades to replace the aging Ohio-class. That could mean fewer attack submarines if the Navy decides not to increase its subsurface fleet as much as the previous FSA called for. That assessment set 66 attack boats as a requirement.

Modly’s comments came after his appearance on a panel hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association and government consultancy LMI in Tysons, Virginia, to discuss the future of the Navy.

There’s a lot of attention being paid to the platforms that the service wants to buy, Modly noted during the panel.

“That's really the sexy stuff that most people care about out in the industrial base,” he said. “It's big iron and it's weapons and it's all that cool stuff.”

But investing in “gray matter” — the brains of sailors and Marines — is just as important as investing in gray hulls, he said. The department is making a big push to enhance education opportunities for its service members. A $300 million initiative will include establishing a new community college for enlisted troops to gain technical skills, and more executive education programs for officers.

A request for proposals for the community college, to be located at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, is expected to be released in March or April, according to John Kroger, the service’s chief learning officer. Civilian partners will deliver upwards of 90 percent of the education content, he noted.

Modernizing the Defense Department’s IT systems is an equally critical effort, Modly said.

Aaron Weiss, the Navy’s chief information officer, who stepped into the job in September, said the Pentagon is way behind the private sector.

“The biggest surprise to me coming from an industry CIO kind of [position] straight into the DoD … is the difference in the level of technological capability,” he said. “I'm not talking about the incredible platforms that we have that are highly customized, exquisite technology that we bring to bear on weapons platforms. That's incredible stuff. But … the day-to-day technology that we provide to sailors and Marines for them to get their job done was a shock to me.”

Some of the IT in the department is 15 years behind where private industry is now, according to Weiss. When he started his job at the Pentagon, he was given computer applications that he hasn’t used since 2006.

“We have a huge task ahead of us,” Weiss said. “We really need to bring the infrastructure capability at an enterprise level up to parity … so that our sailors and Marines can be productive.”

Topics: Maritime Security, Navy News

Comments (7)

Re: Navy Hints at Cuts to Submarine Force-Level Goal

I think it's more about money than anything else. We cannot pay for the industrial base. In the end, to get through the terrible '20's we will probably stick with 2 subs per year. The fly in the ointment is, that includes the 12 Columbia subs. Meaning we will drop to 42 subs and flounder around the low to mid 40's and then move up toward 54 subs. That is what protecting the industrial base looks like in the current budget environment. Hint, it could get worse in the 30's.

bryanb at 9:42 AM
Re: Navy Hints at Cuts to Submarine Force-Level Goal

The U.S. Navy has had a budget, construction, and scheduling problem for decades, and congress until recently did not even acknowledge the shortage. Now we have improvements/increases in construction capability at the two submarine construction yards, with promises of increased production rates where force levels will not fall futher behind. The submarine force cannot even meet current curtailed Unified Combatant Commander force requirements . . . and the Navy is considering reducing that further??? When a submarine submerges . . . it could be anywhere. Not so with a surface vessel. We need our submarines.

Curtis Conway at 6:30 PM
Re: Navy Hints at Cuts to Submarine Force-Level Goal

The 66 submarine goal was already dangerously low compared to the numbers of submarines the Russiand and Chinese are fielding. Now they consider even 50 to be out of reach? You might as well give up Asia then because China cannot be deterred with less than 50 submarines.

DD at 8:45 AM
Re: Navy Hints at Cuts to Submarine Force-Level Goal

Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) techniques need to be applied across every Congressionally funded program. There is waste to be found. Cost avoidance and application of system engineering methodologies should help in reducing risks to replacing aging weapon systems that are still performing beyond their original design life. However, caution must be exercised when pushing the limits of life extension and increasing failure rates.

John Kallenberger at 3:21 PM
Re: Navy Hints at Cuts to Submarine Force-Level Goal

This discussion shouldn't be shaped by our current industrial capacity; in the long run, that will lead us to ruin. Funding always matters so we need to match available and projected resources to a defined strategy and then build a number/mix of ships (of all types) that will enable the USN to execute that strategy. Rather than trying to achieve a number influenced by near-term constraints, we should take a longer view…industrial capacity will follow!

Merc at 11:14 AM
Re: Navy Hints at Cuts to Submarine Force-Level Goal

The bottom line much does it cost, and how complex does the USA have to get to kill or sink something? That essentially is the gist of it all.

The peer nation could drop thousands of depth charges from planes or launch TBMs into the oceans to "Explode the waters" of any and all underwater subs (and all Marine life in the shockwaves). That is an extreme unconventional ASW tactic on the cheap. Again, how much and how High-Tech does it have to be and get to sink something? And then decide on how long it will take to build these subs.

Granted, the Pentagon has had a stellar run of top-performing expensive High-Tech submarines over the decades...kudos.

P at 7:11 PM
Re: Navy Hints at Cuts to Submarine Force-Level Goal

"We don't have the industrial base to do that."
That's why you build the damn thing instead of giving up.

sferrin at 3:45 PM
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