Navy's submarine force in crisis
- By Dan Verton
- Jun 30, 2000
By 2004, the number of submarines available to conduct critical intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance missions will be at 45 — the lowest in decades
and a far cry from the 68 submarines Navy commanders say they must have
to meet the nation's security needs.
Modern submarines play a vital role in supporting senior government
policy-makers and military commanders with real-time signals intelligence
and other information about hot spots around the globe. Unlike many other
intelligence-gathering systems, the stealthy characteristics of submarines
allow them to enter crisis areas unnoticed, deploy a rich complement of
surveillance and reconnaissance systems and transmit that information to
Today the Navy operates a force of 56 submarines, down from a Cold War-era
high of 99, and the total will continue to decrease. In 2004 the Navy will
have 45 submarines but will be able to deploy only nine at a time worldwide
because of rigorous maintenance requirements, according to Rear Adm. John
Padgett III, commander of Submarine Group Two Navy Region Northeast.
According to Padgett, who submitted written testimony this week to the
House Armed Services Committee, the shortage of submarines has forced the
Navy to "repeatedly say no to important requirements in the interests of
In 1999, the Navy decommissioned 20 percent of its Atlantic Fleet attack
submarine force, but demands for submarine intelligence and surveillance
have more than doubled in the past 10 years, according to Padgett. The result
has been that the Navy's Atlantic Fleet has only five attack submarines
available for operations at any given time.
The Pacific Fleet is facing similar challenges, said Rear Adm. Albert
Konetzni, commander of the Pacific Fleet Submarine Force. The United States
can deploy 26 submarines in the Pacific, but there are 268 non-U.S. submarines
operating in the Pacific, including 19 belonging to nations that would not
be considered friendly to the United States, Konetzni said. He said the
Pacific Fleet desperately needs at least 35 submarines.
"I must forcefully state that 68 [submarines] is the [total] number
of attack submarines the nation needs," Padget said in his written testimony.
"I believe that we are at a critical decision point with respect to
the Navy's submarine force," said Armed Services Committee chairman Rep.
Floyd Spence (R-S.C.). "We must commit to buying more attack submarines
than the current budget envisions."