Might the Navy Get Conventional Submarines?
This is a modest proposal on what some would consider unlikely, the return to building conventionally powered, nonnuclear submarines in the US Navy. First, here is the setup via Raymond Pritchett:
If the Navy wants to reduce the number of nuclear submarines, maybe Congress should impose a new law that requires the US Navy to maintain 8-16 non-nuclear submarines. The world is building conventionally powered submarines at prices 1/10th the cost of a Virginia class, and the often used endurance argument for submarines is a load of crap when one considers how Germany operated off the US coast in WWII with submarines that came in at less than 1000 tons. Congress has already legislated the Navy to only use existing hulls for surface combatants with their nuclear power requirement. There is nothing restricting Congress from making an energy initiative out of the submarine community to forward battery and hydrogen power technologies.
I don’t think it matters if Congress wants to reduce submarine orders, but that’s happening. Now it appears the Navy is backing away from its plans to build 2 Virginia boats annually, we will likely struggle to keep boats at 30 total as the Cold War era Los Angeles, still the backbone of the force, retires from age.
But hope is not lost, and we get a gleam of it from the following DefPro article:
Today at Fincantieri’s shipyard in Muggiano there was the ceremony to celebrate the cutting of the first sheeting – marking the start-up of construction of the first of the second pair of class U212A “Todaro” submarines, ordered by the Central Unit for Naval Armament – NAVARM for the Italian Navy…
Construction of the two submarines is the continuation of a program which started in 1994 in cooperation with the German Submarine Consortium, which led to two submarines being built for Italy – the “Todaro” and the “Scirè”, delivered by Fincantieri in 2006 and 2007 respectively – and four submarines for Germany.
At an overall length of 56 metres, the vessels will have a surface displacement of 1,450 tons and a maximum diameter of 7 metres and be able to reach a submerged speed of 20 knots with a crew of 24.
So, what does German submarines built by an Italian shipbuilding firm, for the Italian Navy have to do with the USN? Well, Fincantieri recently purchased the American shipbuilding company building the Navy’s littoral combat ship (LCS). It might not be a stretch for the same company to construct U-212s for an American customer.
I would hope it would still be the U-212 boat, a great design, practical and affordable. It is far from a Blue Water battleship, nor should it be. Here is a good coastal boat which could operate with our littoral forces, in confined waters where the giant Virginia’s probably should not venture, due to their exquisite cost and small numbers. The following post via Softpedia gives an idea how this might work:
Being able to operate in shallow waters, near the shore, with a minimum depth of 18 meters, far beyond the capabilities of a nuclear submarine, the U 212 can launch the German equivalent of Navy SEAL, special forces units that can go undetected and sink docked ships, neutralize the crew or rescue secret agents when all other means failed, and all this before the enemies ever knowing what hit them.
What more could you ask for in modern war at sea? With some 400 examples of non-nuclear submarines in the world’s arsenals, it is obvious the concept is not obsolete and you can buy at least 4 for the price of 1 Virginia class. The nuclear boat never displaced their cheaper, less capable alternatives, only made a already incredible capability better. As we see with the numbers, and America’s sub fleet now at half size and falling, the drawbacks of an all-nuclear sub fleet is you can’t afford enough of them especially in a era of spartan naval budgets, which may fall even further.
More here from Milan Vego on SSN’s versus SSK’s.
*That’s the Italian Type 212 submarine Scire in the poster, from a USN photo.