AND FASTER, TOO, PLEASE: The U.S. Navy Needs to Build More Attack Submarines.
There is an absolute requirement to modernize both the SSBN and SSN fleets. The Los Angeles-class boats are reaching the end of their nominal 33-year service life although life extension of 5 – 10 years is possible. The oldest of the Los Angeles-class SSNs, the USS Bremerton, was commissioned in 1981 and the youngest, the USS Cheyenne, was commissioned in 1996. So even with the most optimistic predictions about the Los Angeles class’ service life, the remaining 36 boats will have to be decommissioned over the next two decades.
The problem for the submarine force is that the need for attack boats is rising precisely as the Los Angeles class is being retired. According to recent Congressional testimony, U.S. Pacific Command operates about half the number of SSNs it requires and this is in peacetime. At the same time, both China and Russia are building large numbers of advanced conventional and nuclear-powered attack and cruise missile submarines.
The Navy once believed that 48 SSNs as part of an overall force level of 308 ships would be enough into the middle of the century. The Navy’s new goal is to maintain a 355-ship fleet, of which 66 would be SSNs. Unfortunately, the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan does not build enough Virginias even to meet the prior, lower goal for the SSN force.
The oceans aren’t getting any smaller, and the Virginia-class attack boats have been a rare procurement success story for the US Navy — now coming in ahead of schedule and under budget.