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group was only 45%. This shortfall existed in spite of the incentives provided by reenlistment bonuses (up to $28,000 for ten years), proficiency pay ($100-$ 150 per month), and, in many
The cost of nuclear refueling is considerable. For example, the average budgeted cost to conduct nonrefueling overhauls of three fast attack submarines (SSN-667/674/681) was $39 million. During this same period the average budget for three overhauls
An Impo$$ible Dream?
Arguments for constructing surface nuclear warships were cogently expressed by Admiral H. G. Rickover in a January 1975 Proceedings article entitled "Nuclear Warships and the Navy’s Future.” In this article, Admiral Rickover cited the unquestioned ability of a nuclear-powered surface vessel to operate at high speeds without refueling, the increasing costs and decreasing supplies of oil, and concluded that the Navy’s striking force ships (which includes carriers and major surface combatants) must be nuclear powered. Admiral Rickover also referred to the statuatory legislative requirements of the Department of Defense Appropriation Act 1975 (“Nuclear Powered Navy”), which provided that all major combatant vessels of the strike forces of the Navy would be nuclear powered unless the president has advised Congress that the requirement for nuclear propulsion “is not in the national interest.
Today, the national interest may be better, served by not constructing all major combatant vessels with nuclear propulsion.
The availability of personnel and personnel utilization are governed by the Navy’s size and composition, both in terms of ships and personnel. The increased percentage (by hull) of the fleet which is nuclear powered is due to a modest increase in the numbers of nuclear-powered ships built since 1968 and a marked decline in overall fleet size since 1968. (This decline has been accompanied by the decommissioning of many conventionally powered ships.) To illustrate, of the approximately 894 commissioned ships in the fleet in 1968, 78—8.7%— were nuclear powered, including four surface vessels. By comparison, of the approximately 476 commissioned ships in the active Navy on 1 January
1978, 113—23.7%—are now nuclear powered, among them eight surface units. As a consequence, the percentage of nuclear-trained personnel on active duty has also increased because of the increased requirements for nuclear-qualified personnel to man nuclear units and the concurrent decreases in overall authorized personnel end strength levels of the Navy (e.g., 529,000 vice 765,000 in 1968).
Meanwhile, the fleet’s conventionally powered units have become increasingly complex as the units of relatively simple World War II design are decommissioned. The remaining surface units include a relatively large number of aging and heavily maintenance-reliant 1,200-p.s.i. units. In addition, the first gas turbine-powered Spruawee-class destroyers have already joined the fleet, and the similarly powered Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigates will be following close behind. In short, the technological revolution, once confined primarily to nuclear- powered ships in a Navy whose surface Ship propulsion plants were of relatively simple World War II design, is rapidly spreading to encompass virtually every fleet unit. This, in turn, is producing corresponding, across-the- board requirements for the type of high-caliber enlisted personnel who were once unquestioningly channeled into nuclear power training.
Additionally, as the energy crisis grows, competition from private industry for nuclear-trained naval personnel will increase. In testimony before Congress in March 1975, Admiral Rickover stated that “I would estimate that 60 percent of all the people who operate commercial atomic power plants today got their training in the Navy.” Current retention goals for nuclear-trained personnel call for 55% retention of first-term personnel. For the one-year period ending September 1977, Atlantic Fleet retention of this
instances, submarine pay. In short, there is reason to doubt both the con tinued exclusive use of top enlisted personnel in nuclear power ratings an the continued availability of sufficient nuclear-qualified personnel.
comparative cost of nuclear propulsion, both its acquisition and maintenance. Initial construction costs of a nuclear-powered surface warship are about 50% greater than an equivalent size, fossil-fueled vessel equipped with the same weapons or sensors. (These costs include fuel for the following 10-13 years.) Total lifetime costs of a nuclear task force, consisting of a carrier and four escorts, were estimated in Admiral Rickover’s congressional testimony to be 6% greater than conventional units. Other authorities have estimated these additional lifetime costs at 10%. One effect of these higher initial acquisition costs has been to accelerate the trend toward fewer, larger nuclear-powered surface units. Admiral Rickover has testified- "It would be too expensive to have a large number of nuclear powered destroyers that together would have the same weapons we can put on fewer larger ships at much lower overall cost, particularly when you can get only so much construction money” (italics added). In a Navy whose overall numerical strength is now below prePearl Harbor levels, the choice between “fewer, larger” or “more, smaller” ships should be reexamined.
(SSN-649/668/669), which included re- tudings, was $52.5 million. The ' 3-5 million differential gives a r°ugh approximation of the cost of nuclear propulsion at the time of this Writing. For further comparison, the current average total repair cost to over- aul a World War II-vintage FRAM destroyer is $4.5 million dollars; the total repair cost of a conventionally powered Cfuiser of the Leahy class is about $ 16 million.
The time lost to these refueling overhauls is also significant. The over- “uls for three SSNs referenced above averaged 16 months each. This figure compares unfavorably with the pro- Jccted six-month overhaul for a gas turbine-powered destroyer of the Pittance class. Furthermore, it is possible to completely replace all four gas turbines in a Spruance in a few days, mould circumstances require. The new patrol frigates will also be capable
of similar rapid replacement of main propulsion equipments.
The preceding comparisons between nuclear power and gas turbines imply a further technological possibility: that for all but the very largest surface warships, the next generation of marine technology may not be wedded to the steam turbine, regardless of the medium (nuclear or fossil fuel) used to generate that steam, but instead, to the marine gas turbine. The nuclear merchant ship Savannah no longer plies the sea lanes, but several gas turbine-powered merchant ships are now in service. The Soviet Navy, presumably free from cost considerations where clear military advantage is at stake, has deployed no nuclear- powered surface vessels, except icebreakers. However, the Soviet Navy was among the first to use marine gas turbines for warship propulsion.
The factors cited here do not alone constitute sufficient justification to revise current ship propulsion priorities. However, they do indicate the requirement for a reassessment of these priorities in the context of current fiscal constraints and declining force levels. For too long, the requirement for a nuclear-powered navy has been an unchallenged article of the naval officers’ creed. Without detracting from the very real capabilities and accomplishments of nuclear-powered surface ships, I also consider that the requirement for a nuclear navy is—in Admiral Rickover’s words—“a matter of national priority.” However, I believe that priority needs to be revalidated in order to determine a realistic balance between the desirable and the possible, all the while keeping in mind the dictum attributed to Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union S. G. Gorshkov: "The better is the enemy of the good enough.”
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