Submarine force in crisis

By 2004, the number of submarines available to conduct critical intelligence,

surveillance and reconnaissance missions will be at 45 — the lowest in decades

and only two-thirds of the 68 submarines Navy commanders say they must have

to meet the nation's security needs.

Modern submarines support 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, submarines

can enter crisis areas unnoticed and deploy an array of surveillance and

reconnaissance systems.

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.

In written testimony last month to the House Armed Services Committee,

Padgett said that the shortage of submarines has forced the Navy to "repeatedly

say no to important requirements in the interests of long-term sustainability."

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.

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