Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Rob Simmons: SUBASE Savior or Liability?

Cross-posted from Noonz Wire...

If you peruse the news articles regarding the potential closing of SUBASE New London (Groton, CT) as recommended by the BRAC committee, you will find many well-thought-out arguments from people who want to keep the base right where it is. If you poke around the blogosphere, you'll happen upon excellent commentary that compellingly argues for keeping Groton open as well.

Sadly, Congressman Rob Simmons (R-2, CT), whose district is home to the base, is not one of the people making rational arguments. In fact, reading the latest comments from Simmons is enough to lead one to wonder if he is fast becoming an albatross around the necks of those working to save it.

If SUBASE New London is closed, some of the submarines homeported there could be relocated to Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. Last week, Simmons visited Norfolk on a fact-finding mission intended to help him bolster his position that closing Groton is a terrible idea. This sort of due diligence is welcomed and expected. Simmons is the congressman representing the people who live and work on and around the base. Advocating for those people and the base that is the economic backbone of his district is his job.

Unfortunately, Simmons' advocacy requires him to open his mouth and address the media, and this is where things get dicey. Via an AP wire story carried in papers all over the state today, here's what Congressman Simmons had to say after visiting Norfolk:
"Do we want to create a bigger target for terrorists? Do we want another Pearl Harbor?"

He did not just intimate that moving additional subs down to Norfolk would be a catalyst for a modern Pearl Harbor-style attack did he?
Simmons said Saturday that a shift of manpower and boats to an already congested Norfolk base could create "a massive Pearl Harbor" and make Virginia a target for terrorists.
Wow. I guess he really did say that. Someone in Simmons' office needs to control him, because that statement is alarmist and irresponsible.

Norfolk is already home to sixty-one vessels, five of which are nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. It is already a massive base, and, by extension, a potential terror target. The Pentagon knows that, and any rational thinking human being could come to that conclusion. Potentially adding more subs to what is already stationed there is not going to change this at all.

Invoking Pearl Harbor here is outright pandering. Frankly, I think that this attempt to exploit people's fears of a terror strike and memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor does far more to discredit Simmons' efforts to save the base than anything else.

More from Simmons:
Simmons called Norfolk a "fabulous naval station" but very congested. Additionally, Norfolk would have to build more piers, barracks and other facilities to accommodate the new arrivals.

"This is something that would cost millions and millions," he said. "Where would the savings be?"
Ugh, my 2-year-old is swift enough to see the "fabulous naval station" line for what it is: a meaningless platitude. And as a civilian, hearing the Congressman talk about how Norfolk is "congested" elicits a resounding "DUH!" from me. It's a large naval station. I would expect it to be busy and congested.

Bringing up cost is totally fair here, but Simmons is now officially all over the map.

"It'll be a terrorist Pearl Harbor." "It's too crowded." "It's too expensive."

Too many themes, Congressman. Pick the strongest one and ride it. This buckshot approach is not effective.
The Norfolk base's focus is on building and maintaining the Navy's surface fleet and not on submarines, Simmons said.
Norfolk is home to twelve submarines (11 SSNs and 1 SSGN). While it isn't a "perfect" setup like Groton, with Electric Boat essentially next door, this statement from Simmons is ridiculous on its face. You cannot go visit a naval station that is already homeport to twelve subs and then make a statement implying that it is not submarine-appropriate. Come on.
"The submarine is lost" among aircraft carriers and destroyers, he said.
You've got to be kidding me.

Rob Simmons basically said that because the submarines are among larger surface vessels, they are somehow at a disadvantage. What is that supposed to mean? That they're ignored in favor of the other ships? Did Simmons speak to any of the submarine crews in Norfolk? Because I'm sure they'd reassure him that their boats are well taken care of, thank you very much.

Rob Simmons needs to present clear, concise, and compelling reasons why Groton must be kept open. Based on the statements he made after his trip to Norfolk, I fear he may not be up to that task.

The clock is ticking, Congressman. Please get it together.

Update: Pigboatsailor rebuts several of my points in excellent fashion in the comments section below.

Alas, I am coming at this from a complete outsider's POV, and as PBS demonstrates, I am probably emphasising some things too much, and missing the point in some other areas where I should be giving more credit. I am genuinely thankful for the critique, because in the end, I want Rob Simmons to be one of the victors here, and guidance such as that found in the comment can only assist me in making more cogent arguments in support of the save the base efforts

Groton is, in a word, irreplaceable. There are too many intangibles surrounding it that give it such enormous value.

More over at my place, where I have additional updates to the original post and another comment thread going.


At 8:20 AM, Blogger PigBoatSailor said...


I agree, Rep. Simmons is, to put it mildly, being a bit too alarmist concerning some of his points. However, don't let his moronic points overshadow the few good points he had. You are concentrating on him looking stupid a bit too much:

-Yes the "fabulous" line is indeed a "a meaningless platitude." However, in getting riled up about that, you are missing the point he is making: massive infrastructure changes would be needed in already overcrowded Norfolk to accomodate even a portion of Groton's subs.

-"I would expect it to be busy and congested." Ok, fair enough. But have you tried to get through the dang tunnel between 7-9 or 1500-1800? I have lived all up and down the east coast while on active duty, and I can say with a sense of certainty that Norfolk's congestion makes DC look like Peoria, IL. Norfolk -defines- overcrowded. Housing is a mess. Roads are insane. Frankly, cramming 5 CVBGs worth of ships into that area has given the locals good cause to hate the Navy. So, not only would the base have to expand to fit Groton boats, the already overburdened community would have to expand to fit the sailors. Frankly, in an area where guys have to live hours away to find affordable housing, I think using the "congested" arguement is legit.

-I am going to combine two points, as they play into each other: "You cannot go visit a naval station that is already homeport to twelve subs and then make a statement implying that it is not submarine-appropriate"
"because the submarines are among larger surface vessels, they are somehow at a disadvantage?"
As for Norfolk not being focused on subs, well, again, he is making a good point, even if it is not being made well. Yes, Norfolk has a contigent of subs there. 10 at the moment, actually, as the Jax is in Portsmouth for overhaul for a few years, and the Florida is in conversion there only, and will be transferred back to King's Bay in all likelihood once that is done. If we split up Groton's sub force between Norfolk and KB, it would still almost double the sub contingent in Norfolk. Is this a good thing? Well, yes, she currently does handle boats, but she is not a true sub base like New London, and there is real value in having that available. And no, I am not just referring to EB being next door. That is nice, and in a lot of ways cheap, but workable if the fleet moves. Why a dedicated sub base is needed is because subs have their own set of issues and support needs that are significantly more complex than the surface boys. With a sub base, a true sub base, you have an entire infrastructure dedicated to getting those boats to sea. The Sub Squadron Support Unit, The Naval Submarine Support Facility (one of these has been renamed, can't remember which one), SUBMEPP, the SUBSAFE/QA office, the development offices, all with one primary goal - support the subs. And no, nothing along the same scope exists in Norfolk, as far as I know. Yes, there are maintenance facilities there, but not on this scale. Sure, they could relocate some of this, but once again, space becomes an issue. Also, the issue becomes that the base is not just focused on getting the subs to sea, but the whole fleet - expertise would get sapped away from sub activities to support the larger fleet. It is a matter of who is setting priorities, and on a surface base like Norfolk, surface ships will take precedence. Subs will (and do) suffer in Norfolk.

-" "The submarine is lost" among aircraft carriers and destroyers, he said. You've got to be kidding me. "
"because the submarines are among larger surface vessels, they are somehow at a disadvantage. What is that supposed to mean?"
The Navy is not one big happy family. It should be, but it isn't. Submariners (myself included) generally regard surface "targets" with distaste, certain that we got the cream of the crop for seagoing sailors, and they are populated with the dregs. Surrface warriors hold us in contempt for being insular, secretive, and arrogant (ok, fair enough). Do you really think this does not bleed over into management decisions in higher levels? Yes, subs are the unwanted step-child in Norfolk. Have you seen their piers? most haven't - they are stuck in the far corner of the base, because surface boys don't want us around, and we would rather be as separated as possible. Did Simmons talk to sailors there? I don't know. What I do know is, that while every sailor will complain about his current situation gladly and at length (a sailor's right), while they might complain about the weather in Groton, or the isolation of Hawaii, they tend to, in my experience, complain about the surface 'cans and fleet issues in Norfolk. Those seem like valid complaints to me...

Now, I will say that there are some positive points to Norfolk (gasp). For example, general fleet resources are more available, like MARMC (Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center - used to be FTSCLANT for those who know) is right there. Yes, there is a MARMC detachment in NLON, but consolidating the offices would put a wealth of knowledge in one place. However, the negatives (infrastructure, support, housing, etc...) in my mind outweigh the positives.

In the end, though, it comes down to, or should come down to, one major measure, which Rep. Simmons does hit on: Military Value.
"The strategy is the same in that we are looking to present the best case of military value." Right on. Talk military value, and you are speaking the language of BRAC. However, no one is emphasizing this nearly enough, I think. I think that is what you were driving towards too, Alex. Unfortunately, it seems that we will hear nothing new until after the July 6th BRAC hearing in Boston. Hopefully CT will pull it together by then.


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