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April 07, 2009

A perennial problem

Writing for Armed Forces Journal, professor of operations at the Naval War College Joint Military Operations Department, Milan Vego argues a shortfall of nuclear-powered attack submarines can be mitigated with conventional submarines. Vego offers an outline - and alarming - history of the USN submarine order of battle from its high point under President Reagan to today's skeleton force.

More tellingly, Vego criticizes the Navy's current approach to determining the size of its submarine force: The USN is buying what it can afford rather than buying what it needs to protect the United States. Its projections reflect budgetary rather than military reality.

Determining the proper size and the composition of the Navy and each component of its battle force is not an exact science. Many assumptions regarding current and projected threats and the budgetary sources must be made many years out. In general, the broader framework set by national military and maritime strategy, and in the U.S. context its maritime theater strategies, should dictate the Navy’s size and composition, including its SSN force. However, the Navy first determines its SSN force level based essentially on the budgetary realities, then conducts SSN-force-level studies to validate that decision. This method of determining force level is deeply flawed. The budgetary restraints should come into play only after the desirable force level is determined from analysis of the current and projected military and maritime strategic situation. Budgetary realities almost always create a gap between the desired and affordable force levels. Any mismatch or disconnect should lead either to scaling down the ends or increasing the means; otherwise, the resultant SSN force level might be either too low (most likely) or too high relative to the Navy’s actual requirements.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at April 7, 2009 09:22 AM


Sounds like they've been studying under generations of paper pushers at NDHQ: the CF has been determining needs this way for decades now...

Posted by: Damian [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 7, 2009 09:59 AM

Subs are the least militarily useful of all capital naval assets when fighting a COIN war in a landlocked country. So you know well in advance how SecDef Gates feels about them. =)

Besides, in the latest formulation of the Gates Doctrine, the United States is already dominant in subsurface warfare, and doesn't need another expensive assset to further "run up the score". Especially when said asset can't be used in the fights we already have.

As the man said:

"Our conventional modernization goals should be tied to the actual and prospective capabilities of known future adversaries – not by what might be technologically feasible for a potential adversary given unlimited time and resources. I believe the decisions I am proposing accomplish this step."

In other words, despite the fact that China has stolen wads of military secrets—including the designs to every single nuclear warhead in the US arsenal—it's still going to take a decade or two before they can synthesize it into anything militarily useful. Because their economy sucks. Or something.

The measures he has introduced in this budget will lower the United States' margin of dominance in several areas, with 20-30 year duration.

I am praying that Gates has some secret knowledge of the future that the rest of us don't. Otherwise it feels a lot like living in 1936, watching the fascists close the gap in technological advancements, while the US is content to sit around on the laurels of yesterday's gear.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 7, 2009 10:12 AM