Undersea Warfare The Official Magazine of the U.S. Submarine Force. Winter 2004 U.S. Submarines... Because Stealth Matters Cover for Winter 2004
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2004 – A Year of Transition
Photo of RADM(sel) Michael C. Tracy, USN “You will see more evidence of why submariners will look back on 2004 as a pivotal year.”

We stand at the beginning of 2004 – a year that will mark the start of a new chapter in the history of the Silent Service. It has now been almost six years since the United States commissioned a submarine - the Seawolf-class USS Connecticut in 1998 - the last of a venerable string of Cold War nuclear attack submarine classes that began fifty years ago with the transformational USS Nautilus.

The surprisingly abrupt collapse of the Soviet Union brought with it the prospect of an unstable multi-polar world where regional conflicts were no longer held in check by superpower pressure. For the Navy, this meant that the “front lines” would move from the deep ocean to the littoral seas – and that the design of our submarines needed to follow suit. By 1993 we had decided to interrupt the Seawolf class and go back to the drawing board to craft the design of a New SSN (NSSN) specifically built to handle the challenges of operating in crowded and shallow coastal waters. This was the beginning of the Virginia class.

Later this year our six-year drought will be over and Virginia will be commissioned – the first of the flexible new submarines designed after the end of the Cold War to face the security environment of the 21st century. Although Virginia looks much like her advanced predecessors, beneath the black paint and rounded hull, she is a fundamentally different ship. Equipped with an integrated chin sonar enabling her to “see” her way safely through uncharted shallows, precision automatic depth control, and a radically different two-man ship control station, Virginia has greatly enhanced ability to penetrate safely deep into the littorals. The torpedo-room is really a “payload bay” designed to support all of the standard submarine weapons, as well as a full range of unmanned underwater vehicles, Special Operating Forces (SOF) support equipment, and other transformational systems still only in the concept stage. Her diver/SOF support capabilities include an integral lock-out chamber capable of supporting an entire team of equipped SEALs and the ability to carry either Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) or the Dry Deck Shelter (DDS).

Add to Virginia the arrival of the USS Jimmy Carter next year and the excellent progress on the refueling and conversion of SSGNs, all four of which should be in service by 2008, and you will see more evidence of why submariners will look back on 2004 as a pivotal year. The warfighting value of SSGN has grown over this past year as we have learned from Sea Trial experiments, demonstrations, and various war games that the role of SSGN will extend far beyond the SOF/Strike missions initially envisioned. Just as important have been the opportunities created by the ability to use large diameter UUVs with greater payload and endurance, UAVs, and other transformational unmanned vehicles to expand radically the way we can exploit SSGN as a stealthy “Sea Base.”

Together, Virginia Class submarines and the SSGNs will provide the Joint Force Commander with exceptional operational flexibility. Submarine missions, whether they involve surveillance, special forces, or the application of force, can be undertaken without the expensive and vulnerable burden of defensive and logistic support. This smaller support organization means greater flexibility, lower cost, and reduced risk. Perhaps more importantly, the ability to mount substantial operations without a provocative presence will ensure that the adversary remains unalerted – the kind of unpredictability that provides an extraordinary military advantage in peacetime, wartime, or anytime in between.

Hail and Farewell

Finally, UNDERSEA WARFARE welcomes our new military editor, LCDR Scott Young, and bids farewell to LCDR Dan Montgomery as he heads back to the fleet for duty as Executive Officer on USS Toledo (SSN-769). Dan did superb work here on my staff – not only heading the magazine team, but also playing a key role in congressional liaison, US-UK relations, and special operations support. I encourage those of you approaching shore duty to strongly consider coming to Washington, D.C. It’s an exciting place to live, you get exposure to the full spectrum of issues, and there is a real opportunity to make a difference.

RADM(sel) signature
RADM(sel) Michael C. Tracy, USN
Director, Submarine Warfare