Submarines: December 11, 1999

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: The US Navy is considering three options to keep its submarine force at acceptable levels. The Clinton Administration had ordered the force cut to 50 by retiring Los Angeles-class boats as they came due for refueling, but this strength has been found to be completely inadequate for the missions required. The three options are: 
@ Stop decommissioning Los Angeles-class boats and recommission some of them which have recently been mothballed. This is fairly expensive, and while the Los Angeles is the most modern submarine in service anywhere, the Navy clearly would prefer to have more modern subs as soon as possible.
@ Increase plans for construction of new SSN-21s, accepting an inadequate force now in exchange for having more advanced boats in service a decade from now. The Navy likes the idea of building more SSN-21s, but doesn't really want to live with the current force for as much as 15 years before any significant number of more capable boats become available. 
@ Convert two or four Trident nuclear missile subs to carry 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and a large SEAL team. This appears to be the preferred choice of the Clinton Administration. While it would involve some spending to refuel and convert the boats, the huge number of cruise missiles (Los Angeles-class submarines carry only 14) would have an advantage. One of the current missions for submarines is to stand by regional conflicts (e.g., Yugoslavia, the Persian Gulf) in readiness to fire their Tomahawks. One ex-Trident with 154 Tomahawks could replace the three or four Los Angeles-class boats now assigned to such missions, and do a better job as they have more missiles. By putting four Tridents into such service, this would be the equivalent of a dozen Los Angeles class boats returning to duty. The plan would be to mount seven Tomahawks in each of 22 of the sub's 24 missile tubes. The other two missile tubes would be converted into airlocks for the SEAL teams. --Stephen V Cole

 


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