The suggestion that PAOs be done away with is not as drastic as it may seem. Properly trained enlisted personnel could continue to crank out publicity releases to hometown papers, as they do now. Experienced petty officers could handle media requests and direct reporters to the proper individuals. Anyone wearing the uniform of the U.S. Navy—from admiral down through the ranks—needs no spokespersons, no spin experts. Nor does he need a high-ranking PAO to act as scapegoat when a story in the press is not to his liking. He should be trustworthy enough to give honest and accurate answers himself. And he should know that there will be times when he may decline to talk. There is no law that says a request from 60 Minutes must always be complied with, no reason that every demand for an interview be honored. When a reporter's question reflects the reporter's ignorance, either of military practice or the requirements of security, an officer need only say, "Sorry Sam, or Charlene (or whoever), you should know better than to ask that. Next question." Such an answer might well do more than irritate or embarrass the questioner; it also might move an editor to find a knowledgeable reporter next time. That would be a valuable payoff indeed.
(See T. Philpott, pp. 132-135, May 1997 Proceedings)
Norman Polmar, Author, The Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet —Tom Philpott's review of Congress and defense issues effectively summarizes the 18 March hearing of the Military Procurement Subcommittee of the House National Security Committee. In beginning the five-hour session, subcommittee chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) called the New Attack Submarine (NSSN) the "single most controversial procurement issue in the last Congress and maybe in this one as well."
The current controversy is centered on congressional desire to have the Navy build four "operational prototype" submarines to evaluate innovative design concepts and new technologies; the Navy is seeking to initiate series production of the NSSN design, with new technologies planned to be "inserted" into the submarines as those technologies become available.
This is the second major controversy over the NSSN program, the first having been an earlier decision by the nuclear propulsion directorate to build all of the planned 30 new attack submarines at the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corp. in Groton, Connecticut. The other surviving nuclear-capable U.S. yard, Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, was frozen out of the NSSN program until 1996, when Congress directed the Navy to divide the construction of the first four boats between the two yards.
Subsequently, in February 1997, the Navy revealed an unusual teaming arrangement between Electric Boat and Newport News that had been initiated two months earlier: both shipyards would use Electric Boat's digital design data base to construct the NSSN, and each shipbuilder would specialize in certain assemblies, thereby approaching single learning curve efficiencies.
Under this plan, Electric Boat would build the control spaces and engine rooms of all NSSNs, and Newport News would build the bow, sail, habitability/machinery, and stern sections. Both yards would build the reactor compartments, with the yards alternating for the final assembly, testing, outfitting, and delivery of the boats. Thus, each yard would have roughly 50% of the program. The first submarine is to be completed at Electric Boat in 2004, the next at Newport News in 2005, and so on.
The Navy anticipates that this teaming approach would be less expensive than building all of the first four NSSNs at Electric Boat—$10.4 billion versus $13.6 billion—although the fifth and subsequent submarines would be more expensive—$1.65 billion each versus $1.55 billion each if all were built at Electric Boat. In addition, the teaming approach would keep Newport News in the submarine construction business. (The yard also constructs and overhauls nuclear-propelled aircraft carriers, does commercial work, and is interested in building surface combatants; Electric Boat builds only submarines for the U.S. Navy.)
But this teaming arrangement violates legislation directing the construction of four operational prototypes to evaluate innovative submarine designs and technologies. It would preclude the initiation of series production until some or all of the prototypes had been designed, developed, and evaluated, at least on the basis of computer modeling and model trials. The competitive prototypes, however, probably would lead to major increases in submarine performance capabilities.
In his opening statement at the hearing, John W. Douglass, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and Acquisition) defended the NSSN as a highly capable and affordable submarine and cited the advantages of the shipyard teaming arrangement. He noted that teaming has been highly successful in other Department of Defense programs, including the Javelin antitank system, RAH-66 Comanche helicopter, V-22 Osprey vertical/short take-off and landing aircraft, F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter, and the Standard SM-2 missile. Significantly, Mr. Douglass's list did not include any ship construction programs. Indeed, the last submarine collaboration between Electric Boat and Newport News—albeit very different from the current teaming concept—was a virtual disaster for the Los Angeles (SSN-688) program.
In the fall of 1995, Mr. Hunter had asked four civilian specialists (Dr. Lowell Wood, Dr. John Foster, Tony Battisa, and myself) to examine contemporary submarine issues. Our objections to the Navy's plan center on four issues:
Innovation . Teaming defeats innovation. All four of the NSSNs will be virtually identical; thus, the Navy will lose the opportunity to push the envelope in submarine design and construction.
The Navy has stressed that the New Attack Submarine program provides for massive "technology insertion opportunities"—the ability to add new technologies to the NSSN design as submarines are being produced. It has listed 72 technologies for possible NSSN insertion; however, 34 of those (47%) are listed for the fifth or later submarines. The fifth NSSN currently is proposed for authorization in fiscal year 2004, and would enter the fleet about 2010. In addition, 14 ( 19%) are payload technologies, basically new weapons, such as the Tomahawk upgrades and the Navy Tactical Missile System, and unmanned vehicles, which can be back-fitted into existing submarines. Many of the other Navy-proposed technologies also can be back-fitted into submarines that are built earlier in the sequence as well as the NSSN; therefore, these insertions still could be made to NSSNs if they are developed as competitive prototypes.
Some promising technologies that could affect submarine performance or capabilities cannot be inserted. These include hull design, appendages (e.g., sail or water intakes), control surfaces, wave and wake suppression, boundary layer control, gas and polymer injection, external weapon launchers, and automation. Series production of the NSSN design could not exploit these technologies effectively.
Responsibility . Teaming is a complex relationship. This is particularly true in shipbuilding, where every ship or submarine is an individual platform, with major differences and—in some cases—different subsystems. A relatively minor change in one section of the submarine built by one yard easily can have a substantial impact on a section of the submarine being built by the other yard. This is not an insurmountable problem, but at this time there is little evidence that the Navy submarine community understands its potential magnitude.
Costs . The Navy believes that there will be cost savings in the proposed teaming arrangement compared with building the operational prototypes or alternating construction in the two yards followed by competition between the two yards. This view may hold true for the near term, but competitive design and procurement will provide improved quality and cheaper submarines over the long term. Costs are reduced through competition; teaming is not competitive.
Roles and Functions . Perhaps the most important question with regard to initiating series production of the NSSN at this time is how nuclear-powered attack submarines should support U.S. military and political interests in the 21st century. The attack submarine force is undergoing a severe reduction, from 95 submarines at the end of the Cold War to about 50 by 2000. Coupled with this dramatic cutback, the attack submarine's primary role has shifted from open-ocean and Arctic antisubmarine warfare to a more complex regime in the littoral or coastal areas. The Navy still is sorting out specific roles for submarines in the littoral environment, but already it has become apparent that our torpedoes, sonars, and tactics are not as effective as in the open ocean. In addition, we still must maintain the open-ocean submarine capabilities.
The Defense Science Board—the primary advisory board to the Secretary of Defense—in May 1997 initiated a task force on the future of attack submarines. Chaired by Mr. John Stenbit of TRW Corp., the task force consists of several distinguished civilians and retired naval officers, who are to examine the future environment and requirements for attack submarines. The group is scheduled to report its findings by the end of 1997.
Hopefully, the panel will take a broad look at submarine requirements, including probable threats, operating environment, and roles for the early part of the 21st century. Such a long-term view is necessary because of the end of the Cold War and the resultant "threat holiday"—there is no major military threat to the United States and its overseas interests for at least a decade; the Navy and the nation can afford to take an objective look at submarine issues, to "get it right."
In the near term, the greatest benefits from investments in attack submarines undoubtedly will be the continuation of the operational prototype program already established by Congress. The technologies examined and the developments initiated in that effort would be equally applicable to either series production of the NSSN or a new approach to attack submarine development.