Power projection points to pending problems



For the first time ever, all four guided missile subs are deployed to an AOR. We’re not talking about being underway at the same time, and sea trials don’t count. We’re talking about being on the tip of the spear. For you strategists out there, that equals a combined 616 Tomahawk cruise missiles on station, and the ability to deploy up to 264 special ops forces.

The historic mark was hit June 10, according to this Navy release. In the article, Rear Adm. Frank Caldwell, commander of Submarine Group 9 said “… back in the mid 90’s this was just a power point presentation.”

While a commendable feat, the fact that all four SSGNs are out also points to a growing problem. 

These subs, along with 16 to 18 attack subs and a few boomers, are needed every day to meet 100 percent of critical requirements. But these represent only one of four categories of combatant commander requests. In total, subs meet 50 to 60 percent of critical, high priority, priority and routine requests. Why?  Subs are few and missions are many.

Worse yet, the stretched sub fleet is diminishing. These four SSGNs will not be replaced when SSBN(X) comes on line. Instead, the Block III Virginia class attack subs will have a mid-module payload tube that will enable it to adopt many SSGN missions. 

In the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Navy in argued it must have no fewer than 48 attack subs to meet combatant commanders needs. But the 30-year shipbuilding plan released Feb. 1 would drop the current 53 attack subs to a low of 39 in 2030 then stabilize the fleet at 45 through 2040. 

If this keeps up, sub crews could expect a lot more “deployment records” in the near future. And some Virginia class crews may see deployment rotations that are more consistent with the SSGNs. Those submarines deploy for 12 to 15 months, with crews swapping every three months.

The result: Ohio, the first ballistic missile sub to be converted, deployed in October 2007. Michigan, Florida and Georgia followed, with the latter deploying Aug. 6, 2009. In only a few years, the four SSGNs together have more than 2,000 days underway.


About Author

A Navy brat who spent eight years in the Marines (two years aboard the carrier Independence). Worked in journalism in Eastern North Carolina through the latter part of the 90s, then became editor of Air Force Times in 2000. Stayed there five years, then took a break to finish some school. Now back in the game with Navy Times.


  1. There is probably no reason to plan follow-on SSGNs based on the presumption that the Tomahawk will be obsolete and is being made so by GPS-guided gravity bombs which do a better or equal job for much less money.

  2. Tomahawk will be obsolete? Much easier to upgrade a missile than to deploy new fighters these days, as we see with the F-35 and all its derivatives. Plus, there are a lot more SSN’s to fire them compared to our shrinking number of aircraft carriers.

  3. Pingback: The Iowa Class Submarines « New Wars

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