Flashpoints

Cuts Loom Over US Subs

The US has a sizable lead over other nations with its submarine force. Will budget cuts eventually undermine this?

The US Navy’s roughly 55 nuclear-powered attack and guided-missile submarines represent one of the United States’ biggest advantages over potential enemies. The Navy this year managed to double, to two a year, the annual production rate for Virginia-class submarines, resulting in a long-term attack sub force of no fewer than 40 vessels – more, by far, than any other nation.

But budgetary pressure could result in future cuts to the undersea fleet. At $2 billion apiece, attack submarines aren’t cheap. Possible sub cuts are a major concern for US lawmakers, particularly Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, whose state of Connecticut is home to the United States’ major submarine shipyard, Electric Boat. The Diplomat spoke to a staffer in Sen. Lieberman’s office about the importance of, and fiscal threats to, the US submarine fleet.

‘The biggest challenge facing submarine production is the broader fiscal environment and the uncertainty surrounding the defense budget in light of the deficit-reduction effort on the table today,’ the staffer said. 

‘The flipside is that, in terms of the programme itself, particularly the Virginia-class programme, it’s a programme delivering ships ahead of schedule and under the target cost, so that the programme is as healthy as any in the (Defence) Department’s portfolio – and in many ways could be a model programme for shipbuilding and any form of (military) acquisition.’

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‘Obviously our submarines provide a unique and uniquely American capacity for endurance, mobility and stealth in all missions they perform really in any environment in which they operate,’ the staffer concluded. ‘The key is to make sure that everyone weighing these decisions understands the unique…capability submarines bring to the fleet.’