HASC Chair Skelton Wants Diesel-Electric Subs

The cruise-missile carrying, stealthy submarine may very well become the ship of the future, says Rep. Ike Skelton, the influential chair of the House Armed Services Committee. Determined to see the Navy battle fleet grow to 313 ships (today’s fleet is 286 ships), and mindful of shipbuilding costs, he thinks building larger numbers of smaller, perhaps even diesel-electric, submarines, instead of large capital ships, might be the answer.

The nature of warfare has changed, Skelton said. World War I was the era of the Dreadnought. World War II was the era of the aircraft carrier. In the future strategic era, one where enemy battle networks are ever more capable, the stealthy submarine may reign supreme. Small, stealthy submarines have utility in both high-end, large scale wars and low-end, guerrilla conflicts, he said, speaking to reporters in Washington this morning.

“Numbers make a difference, presence makes a big difference… just an American ship in the area makes a big difference.” Skelton is so adamant about naval forward presence that he said just “put sails” on any ship and get it out there.

The Navy says they want 313 ships, but the budget they sent to the Hill doesn’t get there, so Skelton’s committee is examining ways to increase ship numbers. Slowing the Navy’s retirement of legacy ships is one option. “A lot of these ships are able to carry on for another three, four or five years,” Skelton said. He’s also willing to shift money from other parts of the defense budget into shipbuilding to “buy another ship or two.”

— Greg Grant

  • pedestrian

    Ike should mention to develop fuel cell submarines instead. It is damn quite, provides drinking water through chemical reaction, it is green energy, and does not risk to much to get back up to the surface to deal with the recharging the battery while emitting smoke. There was once during the former President Bush era which the fuell cell was considered as a potential submarine candidate for the Navy. However, the Navy did not like it and got along with building a scaled down compact nuclear power plant for cost cutting concenpts. However, the Navy is also concerned of AIP submarines, and undestand its potential.

  • pedestrian

    One of the problems may be lost of the knowledge of building non-nuclear submarines. In the cold war era, US terminated all its non-nucealr sub building, and the last non-nuclear submarine was sold to Taiwan.

  • brian

    Umm we have a long term goal of using a blue water navy. How does a diesel sub fit into that scheme? Diesel subs would be fine for a limited coast line defenses against a large blue water navy, but we don’t need that as there isn’t a large blue water navy to fight against and our coastal regions are too large to defend against. I am not saying it would be useless, but those kinds of subs don’t have the same level of utility a as nuclear powered sub where we can send ships wherever and whenever we need to.

  • Sean Wagner

    One of our trump cards against Japan in WWII were the subs and their crews. An interesting idea, though I don’t understand how they could be of more than passing low-end use.

  • blight

    Subs work best against other subs. And god knows if cruise missiles did any good…we bombed Iraq with cruise missiles under Clinton and god knows if that did any good.

    Maybe if we get semi-submersible carriers and LSTs we’d have something. But our submarines are turning into missile trucks (just like the rest of the surface navy)…

  • BAJ

    It bears repeating, in the oceans of the world, there are two kinds of naval vessels: submarines and targets.

  • mike

    I see why Skelton would make the argument. We dont need billion dollar Burke’s just to launch tomahawks which a $400 mil deisel sub can do, and LCS can do a much cheaper job of anti surface/anti submarine warfare.

    ofcourse this whole argument is mute if we cant keep the the deisel sub costs down just like LCS

  • mike

    to skirt around the limited range by deisel subs is to forward deploy them to strategic areas around the globe like Bahrain, Guam, and Japan

    remember sometimes a low budget solution is better than a high tech one, it was a small midget North Korean sub that took down a South Korean patrol boat. They didnt need a complex solution

  • Tad

    This is an awesome idea! And it is about time! The nuclear boats are vastly more expensive (= fewer) and noisier (= more vulnerable). This should have been done 20 years ago with the fall of the Soviet Union.

    • elgatoso

      nuclear noisier ???Ask some real submariner.

      • http://www.facebook.com/george.jacobs1 George Jacobs

        Yes, nuclear is noisier. Just because the US/UK have gotten really good at preventing that noise from getting into the water doesn’t mean it isn’t there. A diesel sub on the battery or AIP system has much less auxiliary equipment running than an SSN.

        • Mr Rose

          What about when it is running on diesel?

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/E_Khun E_Khun

            Then it’s in transit and not attacking or evading.

            The main difference in noise is that a diesel/electric sub can shut down all of it’s systems and just drift.

            The nuclear reactor and all it’s cooling pumps can’t be shut down so you will always have mechanical background noise. Which you can try to cancel actively and passively but you will always be at the mercy of the other guy inventing a better microphone.

            As for range, what’s wrong with a submarine tender?

          • Locarno

            The fact that you can find the tender a lot more easily than you could find the submarines. Which I suppose is fine if you don’t mind a neon sign saying “subs in this region”. Provided you can protect the tender.

  • Steve B.

    The US does not need a coastal navy. If we want to be isolationists and give up power projection to others, fine, build diesels. If we want to power project, you can’t do it with anything other then a nuke.

    It would be something else entirely if we had an extensive network of secure oversea bases from which to stage the shorter range diesel/AIP’s, but those days are over and now-a-days we are staging out of San Diego, Pearl, Norfolk, thus need the range that a nuclear power plant provides.


    • mike

      I think what Skelton wants to do is add the deisel’s in addition to the nuke fleet. Look the world is changing, we dont need to a vast array of subs at a high cost.

      Having (all hypothetical numbers) 60 SSN’s will be a high cost, so why not have 42 SSN to project power and 18 SS home ported in Guam and Bahrain to fill the Spec Ops/current threat.

      this way we can actually afford our fleet. Its not about the US giving up on projecting power, its all about what we can afford. Sadly, its not the threat that will kill our military, its rising costs for programs like JSF, LCS, CVNX, SSBNX, DDX.

  • Drake1

    So which services budget is he going to rob? Air Force,.Army, or the Marines?

  • Will

    These comments are unconvincing arguments to maintain the status quo. AIP boats are stealthier than nuclear boats, esp. if there’s carrier and/or land based air to harass enemy ASW platforms. German U boats crossed the Atlantic to attack ships within sight of the Atlantic Coast 70 years ago. Bigger, modern AIP boats will have better range. US companies that build nuclear boats will be able to build simpler AIP boats. They won’t have to start from scratch, they can adapt the designs already in production by our Euro allies.

    • http://www.facebook.com/george.jacobs1 George Jacobs

      The trade off is speed and endurance. An AIP equipped diesel can’t match an SSN for a speed run across the Pacific.

  • STemplar

    I think it’s an idea worth exploring. I don’t read this as an all or nothing issue either. Skelton is making a suggestion how to add ships to the fleet for less cost. There are ways these types of subs could be deployed regionally, like from Guam and our Pacific holdings.

    The world is changing as well. Contacts between China and Cuba, Brazil negotiating on strategic issues in the middle east, uncertainty in Mexico, there could be a time where diesel electrics deployed from US Gulf ports is a perfectly sound idea.

  • John Moore

    Maybe its more about ebing tricky and being able to export something? Germany pretty much has the market cornered on disels right now and we have nothing to export sub wise.

    Many of our allies are in need of them so sounds ok but I thuaght out subs were the only things coming in on time and under budget am I wrong?

  • Bob

    The big question? Will the military-industrial complex benefit from building smaller, cheaper, less sophisticated ships/subs.

    • Chops

      The answer is yes they will profit.They will give an original cost per unit of 1.5bil. by the time they deliver the boat 7yrs. later the cost will be 8.5bil.

  • bobbymike

    Former Navy Sec John Lehman has an interesting observation:

    “There were about 1,000 people in the Bureau of Ships during World War II…. And they were the ones that mainly ran the shipbuilding program—not micromanaged the contractors, but developed and did the systems integration and oversaw the program. Through World War II, they built on average about a thousand ships a year. That’s one ship per person.

    Now in my day, there were 4,000 people in the Bureau of Ships, and we averaged 28 ships a year.

    …Today, we’re averaging about 6 to 7 ships a year, and there are 25,000 people in the equivalent of the Bureau of Ships. That’s a whole Pentagon-load of people in the Bureau of Ships. Now they’re scattered all over the country in different offices and functions, but the numbers are—you can get into lots of quibbles about it—but the numbers increased, 1,000; 4,000; 25,000 as the numbers of ships decline precipitously.

    And so what’s the answer? Reform? We have a new budget that will add 20,000 additional civil servants to oversee the already-bloated layers of bureaucracy that are there today”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001038242731 Stephen Russell

    OK diesel electric but nuke reactor for powering batteries thus NO need to surface . Have mini reactor provide electric power & diesels drive sub. Problem solved

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/E_Khun E_Khun

      Look at this: http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/gotland/

      The problem with nuclear (as far as noise goes) is that you can’t shut it down.

  • Interested Observer

    Maybe folks should be looking into the cooperation between the USN and the Royal Australian Navy on diesel boats. Has been going for a while and looks to continue into the future, especially considering Australia is looking at 12 long range, blue water replacements for the current fleet of Collins class subs.

  • blight

    Next gen navy: Submarine carriers capable of refuelling SSK’s.

    steve: A “mini reactor” still needs to run a coolant system though scale of cooling is based on nature of the design. It’ll have disadvantages of both systems, and that’s rarely a engineering bonus.

  • Paralus

    The idea of a Hi/Lo mix is very attractive. We’ve seen Allied diesel subs get ”kills” during exercises against our carriers e.g. HMAS Collins class subs. A swarm of USN AIP Diesel’s cruising silently around the First Island chain would give the PLAN second or third thought about stirring things up. Other diesels operating out of Singapore or northern Australia would keep things bottled up. A second string of USN SSN’s backing up the Diesels would be quite daunting.

    And there are a variety of different builders of AIP Diesel. Spanish S-80s, French Scorpene/Marlins, German 214”s, Swedish Gottlunds te US could purchase a license from and *gasp* help advise in building them. Or the US could build our own design and sell them to Taiwan. The Australian White Paper stated the HMAS desire to operate 12 diesel submarines. Why not team up with Australia to design a class of AIP diesels?

  • Tony C

    The German U-214 is a good starting point for such a sbmarine building program. Perhaps to save money, the US Navy should get the license to have a US shipyard build the U-214 and have the US contractors equip it with the weapon systems. The AIP allows up to three weeks of endurance and that is plenty of time to get into a hostile area and complete a mission.

  • Matt Musson

    I had a friend who joined the Navy to see the world.

    He spent 4 years on a submarine.

  • Matt Musson

    Polywell or Focus Fusion powered subs are closer than you think.

  • http://twitter.com/Earlydawn @Earlydawn

    Diesel subs are an excellent idea. We have forward basing, and we can work around the fuel issue. We need quantity right now, considering the Chinese strategy of defense-in-numbers. It’s the sensors, weapons and electronics that make the difference, anyway.

  • B.Smitty

    The Japanese Sōryū class is closer to what I would want for the USN. The Type 212/214s are too small.