On this, our 112th birthday, it's only fitting that we should take some time to be grateful for what we've inherited from our past, and to think about what this means for our future.
Currently, there is no undersea force — indeed, no other maritime power — that can match the U.S. Submarine Force. This superiority has been forged by a history of bravery, creativity and innovation from our early pioneers, our World War II heroes and our Cold War warriors. As we celebrate 112 years, looking forward, we're on the leading edge of what I see as the fourth generation of undersea warfare. Let me explain.
We got started over a century ago, when a few brave and bold men saw opportunity and advantage in the ocean depths. They wanted to explore this domain — to dive beneath the surface and return. Men like David Bushnell and Jules Verne captivated their imagination, and on April 11, 1900, the U.S. Navy purchased what would become USS Holland. Our early years as a force saw other brave men expand on this initial effort — diving deeper and going longer. It took decades of fortitude and creativity, but in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the first generation of undersea warfare — our experimental phase — came to a close as the Navy produced fleet boats with the speed, endurance, weapons and payload that would make the submarine a warfighting platform.
And this happened just in time — literally on the dawn of World War II. And we didn't get it all quite right. Our tactics, training, and weapons were built for fleet support — to operate as scouts for the battleships that were the capital ships of the day. It was only after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which virtually eliminated the battle fleet, that we once again had to get creative and adapt on the fly. And once again, it was a few bold visionaries who built a Submarine Force that was to dominate the seas and make a decisive difference in the war.
It was this second generation of undersea warriors — our WWII heroes—that set the high standards of performance that still define our Submarine Force. In those days, less than 10 percent of the students could pass Submarine School. It was demanding, and only the smartest and toughest had what it took to fight the entire boat — to learn not only his job, but the job of other shipmates as well. Submarining was then, and is now, a fight for efficiency: every bit of space was used, and every person on board knew how to fight in every space. Once a person learned how to fight their boat — their whole boat — they would qualify in submarines and wear the dolphins that garnered respect from all who saw them, just like today. And the Force punched way above its weight — penetrating defenses, operating in hostile seas, imposing a tremendous cost on the enemy. Then, as today, the Submarine Force accounted for about 6 percent of Navy personnel. But submarine crews accounted for more than 55 percent of the ships sunk during the war, becoming what the Japanese naval historian Masanori Ito describes as "… the most potent weapon … in the Pacific War."
The third generation of undersea warfare was defined by the advent and adaptation of nuclear power — in weapons and propulsion. Again, here we see the unbeatable mix of bold, creative people putting advanced technology to use to secure our nation's interests. All of the standards of training and performance established by the warriors of WWII would serve us well as we took endurance and firepower to another level — revolutionizing undersea warfare in an amazing transformation that took only 12 years from the first fission on the squash courts in Chicago to USS Nautilus getting underway on nuclear power. Through the decisive professionalism and perseverance of the SSBN crews, coupled with an SSN team that constantly threatened the Soviet submarines and the rest of their navy, the United States smothered the Soviet Union, defeating them while avoiding a nuclear world war—the ultimate testimony to the value of deterrence and a validation of George Washington's statement that, "To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving the peace."
We're now entering a fourth generation of undersea warfare, defined by even more aggressive area and access denial made possible by the proliferation of long-range precision weapons. This generation will also be characterized by pervasive ISR, vastly increased use of unmanned systems, and cyber and other "soft attacks." The security environment will again require us submariners to dig deep to stay ahead of these trends and preserve our superiority in the undersea domain. We must continue to define the destiny on and beneath the seas. We must continue to provide our leaders with the full range of responses — from fully clandestine to highly kinetic. We must continue to be ready to prevail in any maritime conflict should an enemy take us on.
As we look to our future, one thing is certain; our Force has never been more relevant or important to national security. As we've seen in history, our Force will continue to evolve with new platforms, new missions and, as you'll see in this edition, new payloads. Through these efforts, as outlined in the Design for Undersea Warfare, we will solidly support our CNO's tenets of "Warfighting First, Operate Forward and Be Ready."
I am incredibly proud of each and every member of the undersea team, including our families, who sacrifice along with us. Just as the earlier generations did before us, we fourth-generation undersea warriors will be ready to surge to any crisis — first to arrive and last to leave. Let it always be a comforting reassurance to our friends and the worst nightmare for our enemies to know that the U.S. Submarine Force is on the job.
Happy Birthday Submariners!