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The Fleet’s New Game-Changer

July 8, 2010

BUSAN, Republic of Korea (June 28, 2010) The guided-missile submarine USS Michigan (SSGN 727) passes the Olyuk Rocks as she arrives in Busan for a routine port visit.

I have to give the US Navy some rare credit. They have deployed an amazing capability with the new Ohio class SSGN boats in a short time, and they didn’t have to strain the budget to get them, since they are “off the shelf”. Here is Mark Thompson at Time:

That’s why alarm bells would have sounded in Beijing June 28 when the Tomahawk-laden 560-foot USS Ohio popped up in the Philippines’ Subic Bay. More alarms likely were sounded when the USS Michigan arrived in Pusan, South Korea, the same day. And the klaxons would have maxed out as the USS Florida surfaced the same day at the joint U.S.-British naval base at Diego Garcia, a flyspeck of an island in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese military awoke to find as many as 462 additional Tomahawks deployed by the U.S. in its neighborhood. “There’s been a decision to bolster our forces in the Pacific,” says Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “There is no doubt that China will stand up and take notice.”

This is an interesting development since normally you only hear such talk in reference to the fleet of giant Nimitz class supercarriers. Now, instead of the President asking “where are the carriers” you have China questioning “where are the missile firing submarines”. The problem for Beijing being-they could be most anywhere, popping up where they are least expected.

Last month, the Navy had announced that all four of the Tomahawk Tridents were operationally deployed away from their home ports for the first time. Each vessel packs “the firepower of multiple surface ships,” says Capt. Tracy Howard, commander, Submarine Squadron 16 in Kings Bay, Ga., and can “respond to diverse threats on short notice.”

To me this signifies a profound moment in naval history. Those worried over the declining number of giant flattops should consider the immense capability of these mighty stealth vessels, which likely could take on the PLAN single-handily and be a threat to Chinese bases on shore, with a battery of  616 precision guided weapons.

*****

34 Comments leave one →
  1. leesea permalink
    July 12, 2010 10:03 pm

    East Coast SSGNs go to IO and PG.

    lets not forget their tenders! The USS Emory S. Land has deployed to Diego Garcia for an unidentified period. The first coed AS were there back in the 80s.

    BTW the LAND has a hybird crew of sailors and mariners

    http://www.msc.navy.mil/N00p/pressrel/press10/press31.htm

  2. Graham Strouse permalink
    July 10, 2010 5:13 am

    Mike,

    You forgot that the SSGNs can also deploy up to 102 SEALs each… :)

  3. Graham Strouse permalink
    July 10, 2010 5:12 am

    I am a huge fan of the SSGNs. Screw with them & they can really mess up your day.

  4. Anonymous permalink
    July 9, 2010 3:59 pm

    Oh well you live, you learn…

    Al

  5. B.Smitty permalink
    July 9, 2010 3:44 pm

    Al,

    I imagine a Mk41 VLS doesn’t handle being submerged very well.

    If you want more missiles, just keep adding additional Virginia Payload Tubes.

  6. Anonymous permalink
    July 9, 2010 2:42 pm

    Ignore the comment about links on my last post.

    Al

  7. Anonymous permalink
    July 9, 2010 2:41 pm

    Warning: Another crazy Idea. Read At Your Own Risk.

    For a quick and cheap(er) SSGN, extend the hull of a Virginia class SSN by ~30 feet and add a 61-cell VLS.

    Specs for VLS can be found here:
    http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ship/weaps/mk41-strike.pdf
    (sorry, haven’t figured how to do links yet).

    As I said it’s a crazy idea, but I think it just might work.

    Al

  8. Anonymous permalink
    July 9, 2010 2:08 pm

    Fencer said: “Anonymous, I don’t think that the SSBN Ohios will have much (if any) service life left in them by the time the new SSBNs join the fleet.”

    Excellent point, I should have thought of that. (Shows how new I am here).

    Al

  9. Fencer permalink
    July 9, 2010 12:22 pm

    Anonymous, I don’t think that the SSBN Ohios will have much (if any) service life left in them by the time the new SSBNs join the fleet.

  10. July 9, 2010 5:37 am

    What is needed is to get GPS guided artillery to sea enmass cheaply. Imagine being a battalion commander that has 1000 magic bullets on call to aid his advance.

    50,000 pounds a shell x 1000 is only 50,000,000 which is about the price of one JSF.

  11. Chuck Hill permalink
    July 8, 2010 11:46 pm

    Generally the new SSNs include additional tubes for missiles so they are all essentially SSGN.

  12. Anonymous permalink
    July 8, 2010 10:30 pm

    Tangosix said: “I would not expect future fleets to include many such vessels unless there is a large reduction in strategic nuclear forces leading to more redundant hulls.”

    ArkadyRenko said: “Or, the USN should design the new SSBN so that it can be easily redesigned into a SSGN. Then, to achieve economies of scale, keep the production open. So produce say 12 SSBNs and 4 – 8 SSGNs, with the same hull shape and everything. ”

    Has anyone considered converting all (or most) of the Ohio SSBNs into SSGNs once the new SSBN class is built? I think that would probably be cheaper than building new ones, and wouldn’t require a large reduction of SSBN forces.

    Al

  13. July 8, 2010 5:36 pm

    Hello,

    having looked at Chuck Hill’s link,I knew I had heard the phrase Arc Light somewhere before:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Arc_Light

    tangosix.

  14. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 8, 2010 4:36 pm

    Juramentado,

    I was thinking that you were comparing DOD with the real NIH – the National Institutes of Health. My mind simply skipped over NIH (Not Invented Here). This is definitely not the first occurrence of such a moment of AIC (Acronym Inspired Confusion) here at New Wars or on other milblogs… ;-)

  15. Juramentado permalink
    July 8, 2010 4:26 pm

    D.E. – not sure if we’re mixing up acronyms (entirely possible since we’re on a milblog), but I couldn’t follow the last part of your post. When I say NIH, I mean Not-Invented-Here; so if it’s not US created or made, it’s not likely to make the short list of candidates (there are exceptions of course, but not many). So ASM-3 or BrahMos would both be disqualified, especially since it’s a major fires decision…

  16. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 8, 2010 4:18 pm

    Juramentado,

    It’s just an idea for what to do when there is a dearth of supersonic cruise missile capability within the USN. Instead, what about the deployed supersonic BrahMos or the in-development hypersonic BrahMos-2.

    As to the NIH vs DOD comparison, I think the Pentagon has an easier task. NIH efforts are confronting a larger number and more adaptive / evolutionarily adaptable array of foes.

  17. Chuck Hill permalink
    July 8, 2010 4:15 pm

    Then there is this item on using the VLS to deploy prompt global strike.
    http://defensetech.org/2010/07/08/loading-prompt-global-strike-in-vls-cells-will-transform-u-s-naval-power/#more-8094
    Looks like Mike’s “battleships” are growing into the role.

  18. Juramentado permalink
    July 8, 2010 4:07 pm

    D.E. – thanks, but the ASM-3 only has a range of 200km (approx. 107nm). Granted, it’s a longer range than even the Harpoon II, but still nowhere near the 780 nm of the TASM. I guess any supersonic SSM capability would be better than none, but the DoD has a track record of NIH when it comes to procurements…

  19. Chuck Hill permalink
    July 8, 2010 3:59 pm

    They can make the CVs’ chances of survival much better by taking out targeting and command and control facilities.

  20. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 8, 2010 3:40 pm

    Juramentado,

    The Japanese are testing a home-grown, air-launched, supersonic anti-ship cruise missile. With a booster rocket and other modifications to enable surface and/or subsurface launch from VLS cells, then that might serve as a ship-killer for the USN.

  21. Juramentado permalink
    July 8, 2010 3:30 pm

    “But likely able to take on the PLAN single-handedly? You don’t honesetly belive that do you? I don’t think even the sub guys would buy that one!”

    Hokie – I’m with you. When TASM was retired, we lost the last credible long-range unmanned Strike threat against surface combatants. The proposed Raytheon upgrade announced last year to Block IV TLAM being converted to ASM suitability is a good first step back, but I suspect that the new Chinese FFGs and DDGs are more than capable of putting up a good defense against a subsonic skimmer. We need a good equivalent to say, a Sunburn, even if they’re only limited in numbers.

  22. ArkadyRenko permalink
    July 8, 2010 3:27 pm

    What this shows is that when the USN looks to replace the SSBN, which will have to occur sooner or later, the USN should keep the shipyard running after the detterent fleet is made.

    Or, the USN should design the new SSBN so that it can be easily redesigned into a SSGN. Then, to achieve economies of scale, keep the production open. So produce say 12 SSBNs and 4 – 8 SSGNs, with the same hull shape and everything. That will be a useful and better way of applying the newly designed missile subs. Plus, all those cruise missiles will give the Chinese pause. Especially if the USN finds either a 500 nm super cheap and smaller cruise missile, say 10 + per cell or a 500 – 1000 nm high speed and stealthy cruise missile. And they USN can go for the piece de la resistance, a sub launched IRBM, say 3 per cell, to counter the ASBM. That would turn the tables in the Pacific.

  23. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 8, 2010 2:02 pm

    Mike,

    Only three of the SSGNs were recently observed surfaced: one in South Korea; another in the Philippines; and then the third at Diego Garcia. Where’s the fourth, USS Georgia (SSGN-729, with its 154 TLAMs)? My guess is either the northern Arabian Sea (near Iran) or operating northwest of Guam, perhaps east of Okinawa or Taiwan. Just speculating…

  24. Charley permalink
    July 8, 2010 1:57 pm

    I’m sure that Beijing took notice and alerted their pals in Pyongyang.

  25. July 8, 2010 1:57 pm

    Hello,

    these submarines would be most useful when working with carriers.
    All those cruise missiles are a great way to gain the upper hand on the first day of an air war.
    The submarine has the advantage of being able to get in close covertly,allowing it to attack airbases and radars in depth and in volume in the first minutes of the conflict.
    That makes it much easier for aircraft to gain aerial superiority.

    Regarding the cost,these conversions cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
    Had they been new builds rather than conversions of unneeded bombers (boomers),the cost would have been astronomical.
    I would not expect future fleets to include many such vessels unless there is a large reduction in strategic nuclear forces leading to more redundant hulls.

    tangosix.

  26. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 8, 2010 1:25 pm

    Thanks D.E.! I was using the math in the article, or maybe I misread it.

    They certainly are a bargain, and remind me distinctly of the Iowas from the 80s, only more formidable. I was thinking of the PLAN’s big ships specifically, but they might prove a grave obstruction to any attack on Taiwan.

    Joe, you got it!

  27. Joe permalink
    July 8, 2010 1:12 pm

    These four subs are truly an “influence squadron”.

  28. July 8, 2010 1:03 pm

    I’m a surface man, through and through, but I have to admit, this was the best use of a ship I’ve seen in a long time. Converting these SSBNs to SSGNs was tantamount to putting angled flight decks on old flattops. Whether they could take on the Chinese Navy single-handedly might be questionable, but the fact is that they could definitely augment any carrier group’s activity against China or North Korea, not that we’ll ever be at war with those two.

  29. Distiller permalink
    July 8, 2010 12:39 pm

    Or: Those ~600 cruise missiles could be carried by ~24 modded large cargo aircraft, or modded airliners, or large bombers. Which would open 20 more attack vectors, could move into position much faster, and could fly back home to get another helping of missiles. (Ok, tankers would also be needed). Morale of the story: Cruise missile spewing SSGNs make me think of a work creation scheme for the Navy.

  30. Marcase permalink
    July 8, 2010 12:39 pm

    SSGN; the new and improved SSBN…

    I wonder if this will start a trend. It’s not too difficult to build a boomer loaded with conventional SLCMs than ICMBs (a PLAN Xia follow-on?), and the threat it poses would be the same. Perhaps even bigger, as the threshold for launching a massive conventional strike is far lower than a nuclear one.

  31. Hokie_1997 permalink
    July 8, 2010 12:31 pm

    A threat to fixed bases? Definitely. Although one wonders what will happen after the initial salvo. China has an awful lot more targets than the SSGN force has missiles.

    But likely able to take on the PLAN single-handedly? You don’t honesetly belive that do you? I don’t think even the sub guys would buy that one!

    This goes back to the whole challenge of striking a fixed target vs. a mobile one. Counting warheads is a gross over-simplification of strike capability when you’re talking about striking a moving target.

    Who is providing the targeting? And how would this be communicated to an SSGN? And how would the SSGN be able to dynamically re-position to strike multiple targets? The devil is in the details, Mike.

    I’d also point out once again that a carrier and its airwing does an awful lot more than drop bombs.

  32. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 8, 2010 12:28 pm

    Mike,

    If all four of the SSGNs are forward deployed in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, then that’s a total of 616 TLAMs available for strike.

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