Navy's Submarine Force in Crisis

WASHINGTON (06/30/2000) - 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 U.S. 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 decision-makers.

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 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. 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, a Republican from South Carolina. "We must commit to buying more attack submarines than the current budget envisions."

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