Regarding the place for SSGN cruise missile subs in the fleet, a number of folks wonder about the real feasibility of using huge boomers to perform special operations missions.
There’s no doubt that the sheer physical size of the missile boats works against some aspects of covert operations, particularly close to shore. The failure to field the Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) mini-sub certainly hurts this mission, and the current SDV just isn’t good enough. The relative spaciousness of the SSGNs does allow the SEAL teams to have more gear along, though, allowing them a lot more options when it comes time to head out.
Some readers wonder why we need SSGNs as cruise missile platforms when so many current ships are already capable of launching cruise missiles.
The answer here is, of course, that while we don’t necessarily NEED another cruise missile platform, a heavily loaded SSGN secretly deployed to potential trouble spots could make all the difference when it matters. The stealth of the SSGN will allow our missiles to be launched closer to their targets with little warning when compared to surface ships. For instance, while all the world’s attention remains fixed on the aircraft carriers in and around the Arabian Gulf, who’s to say that an SSGN with 154 Tomahawks isn’t in position to strike with no warning? And even if there isn’t, doesn’t Iran have to spend valuable resources defending against the threat anyway?
One commenter suggested switching most or all of the boomer fleet over to SSGNs, except keeping four Tridents aboard each one so that one boat could handle both tactical and strategic missions as needed.
This approach has some definite advantages, but a major drawback would be the fact that a sub with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles would be spending time snooping around the coastlines of enemy nations. While the SSGNs are almost undetectable and nearly impervious to attack, the key words here are “almost” and “nearly”. We’d be running a risk by sending in a strategic deterrence asset to drop of a SEAL team, and firing off cruise missiles would certainly compromise the boats position. We don’t want our ballistic missile subs to be “hidden”, we want them to seem “non-existent”. Mixing the missions would probably hurt more than it would help.
Another suggestion was to rely solely on our ballistic missile sub force as our nuclear deterrent, scrapping the nuclear strategic bomber and ICBM programs.
While it’s likely that the SSBN fleet represents the most survivable leg of the nuclear deterrent triad, it’s always dangerous to put all of your eggs in one basket. With ICBMs, SLBMs, bombers, plus the possibility of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, any potential enemy has to work multiple problems and solve all of them satisfactorily before going ahead and launching their world conquest plan. Though defeating our boomer fleet would be a very difficult proposition for even the most advanced enemy, making their work easier by limiting the threats they face is not in our best interest. The more heads a hydra has, the more dangerous it is.
Concerning the need for a large attack sub force and the perceived atrophication of our anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability, take a look at this headline from this morning:
Venezuela Eyes Russian Subs
Chavez said his arms buying spree is necessary to rebuild the country’s outmoded armed forces and to protect against what he brands U.S. imperialism.
In 2006, Venezuela signed more than $3 billion in contracts with Russia to buy 53 Mi-24 armored helicopter gunships, 24 Sukhoi-30 fighter planes and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles.
The submarine reportedly under negotiation is known in Russia as the Project 636 and in NATO classification as a Kilo Class vessel.
Modern conventionally-powered subs like the Kilo class could play a major role in a military confrontation with the US Navy. Just the threat of the things could keep our carrier groups from operating where we want them to, and if one were to get through the screen somehow the results could be disastrous. By laying on quiet and waiting for us to pass by, for example. Also, though I believe the results to be strictly classified, my understanding is that the Swedish HMS Gotland, playing aggressor, perfomred quite well against the Reagan group in exercises.
Submarines, particularly cheaper diesels, are the guerrilla fighters in a naval war. Haven’t we had enough trouble with guerrilla-types lately?
Additionally, though shadowing Rooskie nuclear subs isn’t much of a going concern in this day and age, the intel gathering requirements have increased on our attack subs. While their ability to directly intervene in ongoing campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere may be limited, there is no shortage of work for the attack boat fleet these days.
I believe that our sub force often doesn’t get the credit it deserves for our victory in the Cold War (which I call World War 3), and to see the force drastically reduced today seems like a dangerous over-correction.