The Navy is beginning to increase the tempo of its drumbeat calling for additional shipbuilding money to pay for the long planned replacement for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine. The ship is not unexpected, which is why the plea for more money is surprising– or at least it should be. How has the sea service arrived at this strategic juncture without enough money already inside of its budget to pay for one of its most critical assets?
That’s an important question. After all, the Navy has a $165 billion budget, and the Ohio-class submarine is the cornerstone of the fleet. During a recent presentation before representatives of the maritime strategic community, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said that his efforts to support naval presence missions were his No. 2 priority, right behind strategic deterrence, the military’s term for the nuclear arsenal. It was a statement that passed with little notice. For nearly 70 years a fundamental and accepted truth and the foundation of American national security strategy: We have to maintain our ability to strategically deter those who would make themselves our enemies. He made the statement the way a homeowner says, “I have to pay the mortgage.” No brilliance, just common sense.
Except, in the present fiscal environment, the Navy is displaying a dangerous lack of common sense, as evidenced by its inability to appreciate the real economic challenge that faces the nation and its Navy. For almost a decade the Navy’s annual shipbuilding budget has hovered around $14 billion in adjusted dollars within an overall budget of $160 billion. But beginning in fiscal year 2020, the Navy will request an additional $5 billion dollars per year to pay for submarines to replace the 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile “Boomer” submarines that have been performing nuclear deterrence patrols since 1982 and are set to begin retiring in 2027. This seems like a long way off, but isn’t on shipbuilding calendars.
It is critical that the United States maintain a credible and survivable nuclear war response capability. Ballistic missile submarine crews perform the most weighty and terrible of missions. They wave goodbye to their families, depart their docks, submerge, proceed quietly to undisclosed locations, wait to receive word that the worst – i.e., a nuclear attack – has occurred, and then launch their missiles, which can reach out thousands of miles to exert retribution on those who attacked their homes. Today’s Ohio-class boats are amongst the quietest submarines in the world, and their Trident D5 missiles equipped with nuclear warheads serve as the most survivable leg of the nuclear triad that ensures the United States continued existence in a nuclear age.
The Navy needs to move quickly to reorder its priorities. If strategic deterrence is our primary mission, then funding the next submarine for that mission is the first priority. We have to pay the mortgage. It’s common sense.
Full article: Why Does the Navy Still Not Have Enough Money for New Submarines? (Defense One)