Submarine Force Structure To Drop To 41 By 2028, Admiral Says

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Since 06-21-05

Excerpted from NSL UPDATE 06-15-05

By Geoff Fein, Defense Daily, 10 Jun 05

The Navy's future submarine force structure will drop to 41 by 2028 and it appears there isn't much the service will be able to do to change that course, according to the director of the Navy's submarine warfare division

Rear Adm. Joe Walsh told attendees at the annual Naval Submarine League Symposium in Alexandria, Va, there is no escaping the fact that the total number of submarines will bottom out by 2028.

"There is nothing we can do about it," he said on Wednesday.

In March, Secretary of the Navy Gordon England said that by buying one Virginia-class submarine a year, the Navy would "stay above 50 attack subs until 2018" (Defense Daily, March 22).

In 1999, a Joint Chiefs of Staff Submarine Force Structure Study determined that the ideal submarine force would include 68 attack submarines (by 2015) and 76 a decade later. The Navy currently has about 50 submarines.

Although the Navy plans to begin buying two Virginia-class submarines per year in 2012, the service will also begin to decommission its Los Angeles-class attack submarines (SSN-668) at a rate of four per year beginning in 2013, Walsh said. By 2021 half the sub force will be made up of
668s with the other half Virginia-class, he added.

The USS Virginia (SSN-774) has already been commissioned. Six additional subs are under construction and there are a total of nine ships under contract, Walsh said. Along with the Virginia, are the USS Texas (SSN-775), USS Hawaii (SSN-776), USS North Carolina (SSN-777), USS New Hampshire
(SSN-778) and the USS New Mexico (SSN-779). The Texas will be delivered later this year.

Although the Navy is clear that the Virginia-class brings new capabilities and is an outstanding submarine for operating in the littoral, lawmakers have raised concerns over the ever-increasing cost to build each submarine. The Virginia cost approximately $2.4 billion. The subs are being built by General Dynamics [GD] at its Electric Boat facility in Groton, Conn., and by Northrop Grumman [NOC] in Virginia.

Walsh made it clear that the Navy and industry have to drive down the cost of building the Virginia-class submarine or the service won't be able to afford them in the future. John Casey, president of Electric Boat, said the primary way to drive down the cost is to build more ships. He added that the sub industrial base has to do a better job of marketing itself to Congress and the public. "Our silent services have been very silent."

Increasing the number of subs the Navy buys would also make the construction process more efficient, Casey added.

But the current Navy budget calls for building only one sub per year until

There are several parts to driving down the cost, Casey told reporters during a briefing Wednesday on the Virginia-class program. For example, the learning curve for building the submarine will fall as more subs are built. Additionally the cost of materials the two companies buy would also drop. "Increasing volume could drop [material] costs by 10 to 20 percent," he said.

But Casey said it would be a challenge for shipyards to lower the cost of each Virginia-class submarine below $2 billion.