Last summer, reporter Vernon Loeb of The Washington Post wrote that U.S. submarine intelligence-gathering missions have increased 30% with the war on terrorism, so we probably need more subs. But at $2.3 billion a copy, we probably are not going to get many of them. More recently, in the March Proceedings, John Byron warned the Navy that it should get on with transitioning from a primary sea-control mission to sea-based land warfare—and acquire cheaper ship alternatives—if the service is to remain relevant. He also believes that the procurement and ownership costs of our current, very expensive submarine classes are more than we can afford, and estimates that about half the current sub numbers are all we really need to meet today's Navy missions.
All the recent submarine classes and designs—the New SSN, Seawolf (SSN-21), Virginia (SSN-774)—basically are the same boat. Because they are built around the only nuclear propulsion design around, and because that design requires a 40-foot hull diameter (more or less), and because you buy submarines, like all fish, by the pound, the submarine force has priced itself out of the market.