Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Making the Case for Technological Base

Rear Admiral Butler makes the case for maintaining our technology base in submarine design and production, and of course The Day (who wants to promote the relevance of the Groton sub base and Electric Boat) is all over the story:
The country is “on the precipice of a national disaster” if it continues to allow the weakening of submarine design capability at Electric Boat, the Navy officer in charge of submarine construction programs testified Monday.

Rear Adm. John D. Butler, program executive officer for submarines at Naval Sea Systems Command, said that for the first time since before World War II, the Navy does not have a submarine design project on the boards.

Of course the Admiral has a point--and one that I sympathize with. Readers of my blog have often heard me fret over our ability to prepare to meet the Chinese threat and continue to keep an eye on the Russians. Yet the tone of his argument bugs me. Is the Sub Force really at such a point that we have to start screaming that the sky is falling?

You tell me, but I'm catching a wiff of the shrillness found among the bureaucrats that preside over PBS. Can't we justify our existence without crying wolf? Besides, the article also hints at the fact that perhaps Adm. Butler has another agenda, and others aren't buying it:

Subcommittee members questioned whether Tango Bravo, a joint project between the Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, might keep some of the expertise alive.

2 Comments:

At 6:24 AM, Blogger PigBoatSailor said...

I will put forth this disclaimer immediately:
I work for RDML Butler (less directly than I have previously, but I still do...), and I respect him immensely, so my opinion here will be decidedly biased.

The thing to take note of here is:
It takes about 4,000 engineers and designers to develop a modern submarine

The number of engineers we have working on new submarine systems both at NAVSEA and spread throughout the warfare centers is staggering. And they are not idle, but all working on something. True, some harder than others, but none are idle. However, new systems are getting cut left and right, and the sub force took a massive hit for development $$ this budget go-round.

Now, it is true that we can maintain some of this expertise by farming guys out to other projects, like the Tango Bravo and the " “undersea superiority system” that the president has proposed in his defense budget " However, these are small systems, and still very much in early development, so they do not employ that many engineers. So we are going to lose skilled guys. A lot.

So is this a cause for worry? Well, yes, kinda. Keeping the expertise is important. It would be nice to have one seasoned guy to bring along newbies should we need to ramp up, hence the 2,000 number quoted. Could we start on a new design with fewer experienced guys? Sure, there are good engineers in this country who could be brought up to speed if the need should arise. However, it wouldn't be a quick process, and mistakes would happen, things would slip, until everyone was an all-up round. So crisis? Probably not the end of the world, but I agree it is a very bad sign. With fewer engineers, we will get less output, fewer new cool systems to convince Congress to fund us, and ultimately a less capable fleet when we are already slipping capability-wise. Just another way we are slowly letting the sub force slip away.

 
At 8:37 AM, Blogger WillyShake said...

Well stated, PBS: I sure wish you were RDML's speech writer!

Thanks for your candid disclosure.

 

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