Navy Sub Chief proves that America cannot afford to cut its SSBN fleet

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This article was originally published by Zbigniew Mazurak on May 19, and subsequently reposted on on June 21, 2013.

The Left, which has been after America’s nuclear arsenal for decades and which has always sought to disarm the US unilaterally, has targeted the USN’s ballistic missile submarine fleet for deep cuts, claiming that it’s too big and too expensive and that 8 “boomers” loaded massively with missiles could do the job of nuclear deterrence as well as the Navy’s current 14 boomers or planned 12 boomers could.

But the Rear Admiral in charge of the Navy’s submarines has recently refuted these blatant lies.

Some leftists, such as imported Danish pacifist and saboteur Hans Kristensen, have been claiming that the Navy has too many subs because the number of patrols it performs annually has allegedly decreased significantly. Yet, RADM Richard Breckenridge, the Navy’s Director of Undersea Warfare, responds that:

We have the right number of SSBNs to provide our required sea-based deterrent.

Some contend we can reduce our SSBN force and still meet requirements. This is not true. The current force of 14 SSBNs is necessary to provide 10 operational SSBNs and support our national deterrence requirements. Our SSBN force is sized with a clear recognition of the need to sustain required at-sea deterrence even during refueling overhauls and other modernization and certifications. Reducing the force by even one operational SSBN today would gap deterrent coverage. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review acknowledged this when it noted that only as the end of the refueling overhauls is approached in 2015 should we begin to consider the potential to reduce the SSBN force to 12 ships.

Operational SSBNs remain as fully utilized today as they have been over the last decade.

Use of data on the number of patrols and notional “typical” values for patrol length and operating cycles can be misleading. In particular, the “number of patrols” is a poor predictor of days doing the deterrence mission. It is true that since the mid-1990s, the SSBN deterrence requirement has been reduced to reflect a smaller force (14 total vice 18) and the commencement of overhauls of those 14 SSBNs (now only 10 to 12 operational SSBNs vice 18). Since those adjustments, however, the pace at which our operational SSBNs go to sea in the conduct of the deterrence mission has remained essentially constant and offers no slack.

Looking forward, the Navy needs to sustain at least 10 operational SSBNs to meet requirements.

It has been posed that the SSBN force can be reduced even more than planned because the targeting requirements will decrease in the future and the Navy could compensate for a smaller force by loading more warheads onto each missile. Strategic planners do not see things this way. The nuclear trajectory of the international community is in grave doubt, and there is every indication that U.S. deterrence will play an increasing – not decreasing role in the future. This occurs even as we reduce our SSBN-loaded missiles from more than 240 today to 160 when the last Ohio retires. There is already risk in this projection; there is no need to introduce more.

In order to sustain 10 operational SSBNs from now through the introduction of the new SSBN, we must complete refueling overhauls of all 14 Ohio SSBNs and operate the 12 newest of them to their full 42-year extended life. Doing this successfully will require extraordinary attention, careful maintenance, excellent engineering skill and dedicated, well-trained operators, and it will produce a lean SSBN force working very hard to provide the Nation with the required survivable assured nuclear response capability while doing the necessary maintenance to support obligations over the long-term.”

RADM Breckenridge is absolutely right. The number of annual patrols is a poor indicator of how many SSBNs are needed. Furthermore, the retirement of the Ohio class itself will cause a deep enough (in fact, an excessively deep) cut in the number of SLBMs deployed on SSBNs – from more than 240 today to 160 when the last Ohio class SSBN retires. As the admiral says, “There is already risk in this projection; there is no need to introduce more.” In fact, already THAT is too much risk.

Remember, folks: we’re talking about nuclear deterrence. In this business, there is NO permissible margin of error and NO permissible risk.

RADM’s rebuttal of Leftist proposals and lies follows last year’s stern rebuttal of Leftist lies and proposals regarding America’s nuke deterrent and its ICBM leg by MGEN William Chambers, at the time the USAF’s chief officer for nuclear weapon affairs.

The opinions expressed in Ziggy’s Defense Blog do not necessarily reflect those of

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