Court Clears Navy to Build Undersea Training Range

A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday cleared the way for the Navy to build a $100 million undersea training range off Georgia and Florida.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents about a dozen conservation groups, had challenged the Navy's plans, saying war games in that area would pose a risk to right whales, which migrate each winter to the coasts of Georgia and Florida to give birth to their calves. Experts say only about 400 of the whales remain, and each death brings the species a significant step closer to extinction.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday issued an opinion upholding a lower court ruling that said the Navy had appropriately studied whether the location of the range posed a risk to whales. The three-judge panel also agreed that further studies to determine whether certain activities on the range might be harmful to endangered animals could be completed later.

"We're disappointed that the court endorsed construction of a $127 million training range without full consideration of its impacts on the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale and its only known calving grounds," Catherine Wannamaker, senior attorney at the law center, said of the 11th Circuit's ruling.

The conservationists sued in 2010, hoping to halt the Navy's plans to install a web of cables on the ocean floor about 50 miles (80 kilometers) offshore to allow sailors from nearby bases in both Georgia and Florida to train with a mix of submarines, surface ships and aircraft. The undersea infrastructure would include about 300 sensors covering an area of about 500 square miles (1,300 sq. kilometers).

The Navy has said it wants to begin installation of the undersea range next year and has agreed to suspend construction during the calving season from November to April. However, the military refused a request to halt training at the site during the same months, saying it would undermine readiness. The lower court judge had ruled the Navy considered and "rationally rejected" the precautions requested by conservationists.

After the lower court ruling in September 2012, the Navy said evaluations conducted since the lawsuit was filed only reinforced its conclusion that right whales would be at minimal risk.

Defining Military Novelist of the Cold War Tom Clancy, Author of ‘Hunt for Red October’ and Other Bestsellers, Dies in Baltimore at 66

Tom Clancy, a former Maryland insurance agent who became the most popular military novelist of his era, entertaining millions of readers and stunning Pentagon officials with his uncannily authentic accounts of submarine warfare and covert operations, died Oct. 1 in Baltimore. He was 66.

His publisher, G.P. Putnam's Sons, confirmed his death but did not disclose the cause. Mr. Clancy bolted from obscurity to international attention in the 1980s as the defining military writer of the Cold War. Through his pop fiction, he later became a key chronicler of the counterterrorism age.

His brick-size books sold tens of millions of copies and spawned the tactical-shooter genre of video games that in recent years has come to dominate the billion-dollar industry. Several volumes, including his debut novel "The Hunt for Red October" (1984), "Patriot Games" (1987) and "Clear and Present Danger" (1989), inspired movies featuring Hollywood stars such as Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford.

Critics dismissed Mr. Clancy's works as fare to be bought at the supermarket and consumed in airport terminals and on beaches. They faulted him for what they regarded as his failure to present human beings with as much nuance as he depicted submarines and tanks.

Beyond the pulpy covers of his paperbacks lay staggeringly accurate descriptions of military weaponry and strategy. John F. Lehman Jr., who served as secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, read "The Hunt for Red October" shortly after its publication and later spoke to the author.

"The first thing he asked me about the book," Mr. Clancy told the New York Times, "was 'Who the hell cleared it?'"

Mr. Clancy joined the ROTC during college but was precluded from service in the Vietnam War because of his pronounced nearsightedness, an impairment betrayed by his recognizable dark-tinted Coke-bottle glasses. He settled on a career in insurance sales but never abandoned his interest in the military - or his childhood hope of becoming a writer.

By the early 1980s, he had finished in his spare time the manuscript for "The Hunt for Red October," an account of the defection of a Soviet submarine captain and the ensuing confrontation with the United States in the North Atlantic. The Naval Institute Press in Annapolis took a risk on the manuscript - and on Mr. Clancy, its first author of original fiction - and bought it for $5,000.

At first, the book was circulated among government leaders in Washington, who the publishing house hoped would enjoy its combination of accuracy and intrigue. The volume made its way to President Ronald Reagan, who was quoted as saying that he could not put the book down. That endorsement helped propel "Red October" to the top of the sales charts.

For nearly three decades that followed, Mr. Clancy fired off one thriller after another. His second volume, "Red Storm Rising" (1986), a hyper-technical account of an oil crisis that precipitates a third world war in Europe, became required reading at the Naval War College.

Reviewing Mr. Clancy's book in The Washington Post, military historian John Keegan wondered "whether the Pentagon wouldn't be spending some of its millions better at employing him inside Cheyenne Mountain" - the military bunker in Colorado - "than letting his talents go to waste in mere best-selling authorship."

Mr. Clancy said that his information came from military journals and technical manuals - as well as from less traditional sources, such as "Harpoon," the game based on modern naval combat. His research allowed him to write acronym-laden paragraphs that were either impenetrable or entrancing, depending on the reader's interest in military arcana.

Some detractors said that the technology he described was more effective in Mr. Clancy's fictional universe than in the real one. But at times, the author felt vindicated.

"During Desert Storm, I had a half-million reporters call me to say, 'Gee, you were right all along, this stuff really works,'" he told The Post. "What do you think, I lied? I've used all this stuff. Of course it works."

Readers opening his books and expecting a layered discussion about American military action may have been disappointed. To fans within and outside the military, Mr. Clancy captured not only the technical nature of weaponry but also the patriotism that inspired its use.

He filled his volumes with the exploits of characters such as John Kelly, a.k.a. Mr. Clark, a decorated former Navy SEAL doing work for the CIA.

His best-known hero, Jack Ryan, is a Wall Street stockbroker turned CIA operative. In "Patriot Games," Ryan battles a fictional left-wing faction of the Irish Republican Army in a series of showdowns ending with a shootout at Ryan's home. If the terrorists were lacking in texture, Mr. Clancy intended them to be that way.

"These guys are out committing murder, and you should treat them like murderers," Mr. Clancy once told an interviewer. "Don't say they're soldiers; don't say they're politically motivated activists. Because they're not. They're street hoods. They're scum."

In "Debt of Honor" (1994), Ryan is serving as national security adviser during a series of emergencies including the crashing of a Japanese airliner into the U.S. Capitol building, a plot point that seemed eerily prescient after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Earlier in Mr. Clancy's career, Keegan, the military historian, had compared him to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and other creators of "military futurology in Western literature."

Mr. Clancy compared himself, in some respects, to William Shakespeare. "Shakespeare wrote for the masses, and he wrote to make money," Mr. Clancy told The Post. "He didn't know he was turning himself into the greatest man in the English language. All he did was, he was trying to tell good stories that ordinary people could understand and give himself a decent living out of it. Well, I'm in the same tradition. I don't put myself alongside the Bard for a lot of reasons - like I'm not that good, for one - but it's an honorable tradition."

Thomas Leo Clancy Jr., a Baltimore native like Jack Ryan, was born April 12, 1947. His father was a letter carrier and his mother was a department-store employee. Mr. Clancy grew up playing with ships, tanks and airplanes, activities that presaged the tales of war at sea, on land and in the air that he would tell as an adult.

He attended local Catholic schools before he received a bachelor's degree in English in 1969 from what is now Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore. He had early ambitions of becoming a writer but encountered a setback when a science-fiction magazine rejected his first story.

He described himself as comfortable but bored in his job at the insurance company where he worked for his wife's grandfather. (He and his wife, the former Wanda Thomas, later bought the firm.). In his free time, Mr. Clancy read military journals published by the Naval Institute, among others.

"I didn't have anybody to blame but myself," he told an interviewer. "I'd made my own trap, I had kids to support, mortgage payments and a business to pay off."

Some of his insurance clients were Navy officers, and Mr. Clancy relied on them to confirm the accuracy of some of his writing. When he was working on "Red October," he realized that he had a problem. He said he did not know who would board a submarine - that is, "what kind of person goes to sea in a ship that's supposed to sink."

A naval officer enlightened him. "I found out that they're pretty much the same as fighter pilots," Mr. Clancy told an interviewer, "insofar as they have the same indecent sense of personal invincibility, the same kind of confidence, the 'scarf and goggles' effect. I never realized that. When I found it out I said, 'Well, gee, I know test pilots. I've met an astronaut. If they're just like that, I can write the story.'?"

His novels included "The Cardinal of the Kremlin" (1988), "The Sum of All Fears" (1991), "Executive Orders" (1996), "Rainbow Six" (1998) and, more recently, "Against All Enemies" (with Peter Telep in 2011) and "Threat Vector" (with Mark Greaney in 2012). His book "Command Authority" is slated for publication in December.

In addition to his works of fiction, he wrote several works of military nonfiction. Mr. Clancy's first marriage ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 14 years, Alexandra Llewellyn, and five children. His home in Calvert County was reported to have been distinctly similar to the fictional estate belonging to Jack Ryan. Mr. Clancy was a part owner of the Baltimore Orioles.

When critics charged that his American heroes were too swashbuckling or that their adversaries were made of cardboard, Mr. Clancy stood by his characters.

"The guys in uniform are like cops and firemen. They're basic, solid people, and they're in the business of risking their lives for people they don't know," he told Publishers Weekly. "People who fight wars are the smartest people I know. ... They're also the happiest people I know."

Why Fielding Fewer Than Twelve Ballistic Missile Subs Could Be Disastrous For America

On October 1, the Capitol Hill weekly Roll Call ran a ridiculous commentary by an anti-nuclear activist arguing that the Navy was seeking a budgetary "bailout" at the expense of its sister services to buy more ballistic-missile submarines than it needs. The boats would replace the current Ohio class of subs, which provide the most survivable part of the nation's nuclear deterrent.

The commentary was full of misleading statements, like the assertion that "the contract to buy the Navy's subs has raced ahead" when in fact construction of the lead vessel was recently delayed by two years. The fundamental flaw in the piece, though, is that the author clearly doesn't understand how nuclear deterrence works. I taught that subject at Georgetown University for some years, so I'd like to briefly explain why it dictates a future ballistic-missile submarine force of at least 12 boats.

The main goal of U.S. nuclear strategy is to prevent war. Nuclear weapons are so destructive that if even a handful of attacking warheads managed to penetrate U.S. defenses, it would be the greatest catastrophe in the republic's history. Millions of people might die in the first hour of war. Because scientists have never devised a reliable way of intercepting all - or even most - of the warheads that might be launched in a major nuclear exchange, policymakers have been forced to rely on a strategy of deterrence. Simply stated, deterrence threatens horrible retaliation in response to nuclear attack. The assumption is that no sane leader would launch a suicidal attack, so America must have a retaliatory force that can ride out a first strike and then respond in a devastating but proportional manner.

Ballistic-missile submarines are central to this strategy because, unlike manned bombers and land-based missiles in silos, enemies can't find them when they are at sea. Obviously, the biggest goal of any aggressor in a nuclear attack would be to destroy the U.S. retaliatory capability, so if that isn't feasible then the attack is very unlikely to occur in the first place. That is why the current fleet of Ohio-class subs are optimized for accomplishing just one mission: staying hidden until they are called upon to punish an aggressor. The submarines are extremely stealthy, and their successors will be even more secure to guard against any breakthrough enemies might achieve in undersea detection.

The commentary in Roll Call contends that "the Pentagon needs to resize the sub program with the understanding that the U.S. can meet today's security challenges with fewer nuclear weapons at less cost." That statement is misleading on two counts. First, the Navy already has reduced the number of ballistic-missile subs in the fleet from 18 to 14 in response to the end of the Cold War, and it plans to further reduce the force when the Ohio replacement becomes operational to a mere dozen boats. Second, the next-generation subs for which the Navy is rightly seeking extra money will not be designed for dealing with today's security challenges, but tomorrow's.

Nobody can say what kind of threats the nation's nuclear force will need to deter 20 years from now. What we can say with near certainty is that preventing a nuclear exchange will remain the top priority of U.S. strategy. So what the nation needs in the sea-based component of its future deterrent force is a retaliatory capability that no enemy could conceivably destroy in a surprise attack. The author says eight boats would be enough, because they could carry "more than 1,000 warheads." That is fallacious reasoning. The nation would obtain a much more credible deterrent by dispersing the same number of warheads across a dozen or two dozen subs, because what matters in nuclear strategy isn't how many warheads you have before an attack, but how many you have after. It's the warheads that survive the attack that deter it from occurring in the first place.

The Navy arrived at the number of a dozen submarines after extensive analysis based on the character of potential threats in the 2030s and beyond, the operational features of future subs, the requirements of national strategy, and the logistical demands of sustaining the fleet at sea. One very important factor in its thinking was the kind of innovations that might enable enemies to find the subs more easily. It was concluded that a force of 12 subs, perhaps eight or nine of which might be at sea on any given day, was the optimum tradeoff of capability and affordability. Any less would simplify an aggressor's targeting challenge in a surprise attack - potentially depriving the U.S. of its most potent deterrent or forcing it to retaliate in a disorganized fashion.

Does that make the Ohio replacement program expensive? Yes it does - but nowhere near as expensive as the cost of even one nuclear warhead falling on an American city. Buying the right number of ballistic-missile submarines for future deterrence is much more important than getting the Army another tank or filling out the Air Force's fighter squadrons. Nuclear deterrence is about national survival. Trying to save money by purchasing a less capable deterrent would be really, really dangerous.

Wi-Fi Coming To U.S. Ships, Subs

U.S. Navy leaders, based on feedback from the fleet, plan major upgrades to shipboard communication and maintenance to make sailors' and officers' jobs easier on warships and submarines.

One great leap envisioned under the Reducing Administration Distractions (RAD) campaign is the introduction of Wi-Fi aboard ship, which will be one feature of the fleet's next-generation computer network.

This system places Wi-Fi hotspots around the vessel, where sailors can access the ship's local area network. That vastly expands the number of computers that can be online, to include laptops and tablet computers.

"The Wi-Fi capability will predominantly be for official duties only," Steve Davis, a spokesman for Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), wrote in an email.

If you're a glass half full person, Davis is saying there will at least be some time that Wi-Fi is used for unofficial purposes.

However, he adds, "It's not anticipated at this point that [bring-your-own-device] will be applicable to connect with the network. The primary quality of life benefit will be increased bandwidth."

Computers are in short supply aboard ship, where there is a limited number of local area network drops. Using laptops at Wi-Fi hotspots in offices and work shops will dramatically reduce wait times for computers, which every sailor needs to use for required training and administrative work. And when the work is done, it also boosts their chances to surf the web or send emails home.

Officials are still working through many of the rules for Wi-Fi, a system that could be susceptible to interception at close range. But this feature will soon be commonly available. It is working on the destroyer McCampbell, the first ship to use the network, and is being installed aboard seven destroyers, two aircraft carriers and one big-deck amphibious assault ship as part of the new computer system, Consolidated Afloat Network and Enterprise Services (CANES).

More than 190 ships, submarines and operations centers will have CANES by 2021, SPAWAR said.

Many Applications

Wi-Fi has many advantages. Sailors could use it to communicate at any point during the day. Leaders such as the chief engineer or the commanding officer could use it to check the status of the ship's plant. And sailors armed with tablets could immediately report completion of a training session or maintenance check into a central log, which supervisors and chiefs could track real-time. Before a training lecture is missed, they would get a red flag.

Crew members could also use them off-duty as e-readers and download digital books and magazines wirelessly from the ship's e-library, a concept tested aboard four ships and a sub this year.

As every sailor knows, when you really can't find the answer, go ask your chief. But what if there were a central repository of information that you could check first, a forum where sailors and chiefs from around the fleet could share gouge and experiences?

That's the idea behind the SailorWiki.

Officials see this Wikipedia-like site full of sailor-created pages packed with helpful information. An unclassified version could become a central storehouse for facts about personnel policies, instructions and lessons learned. The classified one could be a forum for sailors to discuss tactics, intelligence collection and other secrets.

Rear Adm. Herm Shelanski, the director of the Navy's Assessment Division who is overseeing the Navy's RAD campaign, views this as "a way ahead" but said he doesn't know how quickly it could come to fruition.

Tablets And How-To Videos

The brass launched a Navy-wide innovation experiment in July, asking sailors and civilians to report the biggest time-wasters and then collaborate on ways to fix them. Again and again, they heard complaints about 3M (maintenance and material management). This scheme of checks, paperwork and spot-checks consumes millions of sailor hours every year across ships, squadrons, shops and subs. Not to mention millions of pages and countless amounts of printer toner.

Shelanski sees overhauling this headache-inducing scheme as his task force's primary mission. Fixing it will require cooperation between bureaucracies and new technologies, all now within reach because of devices such as iPads, which could also improve training and communications across the fleet.

"I think it's a process that has kind of stagnated over the years, and it's just ripe for modernization, digitization," Shelanski said in a September interview.

The RAD campaign's vision: issuing an unspecified type of tablet computer to every work center and division. In other words, tens of thousands of sailors in the fleet.

The tablets could streamline all general military training. New lectures and updates could instantly be sent to even the fleet's most far-flung corners.

The screens could be used to share a presentation or just to show notes for the speaker.

Similarly, all of a workshop's equipment checks will be uploaded to the tablet computer and issued to the techs every time they head out for maintenance.

"Every time he opens it, he knows he has the latest card," Shelanski explained. "All the changes have been incorporated, and it's been pushed to him. He doesn't have to do anything. No more lining out, no more seeing what's the latest card. He doesn't have to look it up because it's there on his tablet. It's been pushed from the source that owns the card."

So, say you're assigned a check that you've never done before or one that's complicated, and you're not sure how to go about a step. The tablet computer offers a quick solution: how-to videos, much like YouTube offers help about everything from fixing a flat tire to mixing a mimosa. Shelanski envisions the Navy's videos will feature instructors going step-by-step through a maintenance check. Sailors could watch this as prep or refer to it mid-process.

Shelanski offered an example: A sailor wants to know how to perform maintenance on an electrical generator. The video will "have the expert, walking through that and showing him step-by-step," Shelanski said. "He can pause, replay if he needs to, or do the first step, then play the second step. We think that will add to the quality of the maintenance."

Those tablets will come in handy once the check is done, too. The sailor could add any notes as needed and then hit a "submit" button on the tablet, much like any smart phone app. That's relayed immediately to the supervisor via Wi-Fi.

When the Navy issues tablets, it's likely they will require the same security and IT rules as laptops and computers that connect to the command's local area network. Many tablet computers, like iPads, have built-in cameras and microphones, so it's likely that they'll be excluded from classified areas aboard ship.

Women to be Assigned to Fast-Attack Submarines by January 2015

The USS Virginia and the USS Minnesota will be the first two gender-integrated fast-attack submarines, the Navy announced Tuesday.

Six women - four nuclear-trained officers and two supply corps officers - will report to the subs by January 2015, after completing the nuclear submarine training pipeline, according to the Navy.

Women are already serving aboard the ballistic missile subs the USS Wyoming, USS Louisiana and USS Maine, and the guided missile subs USS Florida, USS Georgia and USS Ohio.

The Navy in 2010 officially changed the policy that had previously prohibited women from serving aboard submarines. Since then, 43 women have been integrated into the sub force.

"Female officers serving aboard Virginia-class submarines is the next natural step to more fully integrate women into the submarine force," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a written statement. "There are many extremely talented and capable women with a desire to succeed in this field and the submarine force will be stronger because of their efforts."

In an all-hands call last week, Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert told sailors that the Navy will lay out a plan by May 2015 for integrating enlisted women into the submarine force. It is important to add female officers first, he said, so that younger sailors will have role models at sea.

"But the fact of the matter is, we're going to do this," he said.

Vice Adm. Michael Conner, commander of Navy submarine forces, said he plans to integrate two more fast-attack submarines in fiscal 2016. Virginia and Minnesota are both home-ported in Groton, Conn., so he said he plans to choose two Pacific Fleet submarines home-ported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in early 2014.

In May 2012, some of the first women to serve aboard U.S. submarines said the transition was going smoothly.

"At first, the guys were a little more timid just because they hadn't worked with females on a day-to-day basis, but after a week they warmed up and were just like brothers and sisters fighting for the bathroom, to get in in the morning," Lt. Britta Christianson said then. "We're all sailors, if I'm on a surface ship or a submarine."

How The U.S. Can Maintain The Undersea Advantage by Admiral Jonathan Greenert

Unrest around the world and budget constraints at home have many Americans concerned about the ability of our military to influence events abroad. It is clearly getting harder to remain preeminent in all "domains" - air, land, maritime, undersea and in the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace - as technology and geography combine to challenge our ability to counter threats in key regions around the world. One domain in which our superiority is assumed, however, is under the sea.

Yet even this long-standing advantage is not guaranteed. Military and commercial activity under the ocean is rapidly increasing, which could detect or conflict with our forces' operations or create new threats to our interests. Other nations are fielding increasingly capable and longer-range submarines while companies and scientists are sending unmanned vehicles and sensors throughout the ocean to find everything from fish stocks to oil deposits.

This increased undersea activity can benefit the world economy and environment - but it can also create new dangers. Imagine a scenario in the future where we find ourselves without electronic communication with Europe, Africa and Asia because an adversary cut the fiber optic cables that carry more than $4 trillion a year in international financial transactions. An undersea attack on a tanker or cargo ship coming into Long Beach, California, could shut down operations at our nation's busiest port and cost our economy an estimated billion dollars a day. Overseas, our warships could come under unprovoked attack from midget submarines or mines while transiting straits or geographically constrained areas. Imagine another scenario like the sinking of the South Korean ship Cheonan by a North Korean submarine in 2010. While events such as these are unlikely, their consequences should give us pause.

For the last half century, submarines have been the centerpiece of our undersea capability. Today our Virginia class attack submarines are the best in the world and among the most economical. The last several Virginia submarines were completed early - the USS Minnesota, commissioned this month, was completed almost a full year early - and on or under budget. Every day, these ships and our guided missile submarines gather intelligence, deploy special operators and stand by to launch cruise missiles, as USS Florida did in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn, in Libya. Our submarines are a tremendous advantage for us because they can do these operations undetected anywhere in the world. Anywhere.

Other countries have seen the advantage submarines provide the United States and are following suit. There are about 150 diesel and air-independent propulsion submarines on order around the world - none of them American - and about a dozen new nuclear submarines under construction outside the United States. Many of these submarines will carry land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles, advanced torpedoes and mines. Some will carry nuclear weapons.

Maintaining our undersea advantage with a growing number of other military, commercial and scientific players in the mix will require more than submarines. As capable as our Virginia-class subs are, a single submarine can only be in one place at a time. To keep our edge, we will instead have to employ a comprehensive approach to undersea warfare using aircraft, surface ships, submarines, satellites, electromagnetic and cyber capabilities, unmanned vehicles in the air and water, and fixed and portable underwater sensors.

We are fielding this broad portfolio of undersea warfare systems today and will endeavor to keep up the effort despite a tough budget environment. The P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, based on the Boeing 737 design, will deploy to the Western Pacific at the end of this year. In international exercises such as "Rim of the Pacific" last summer, the P-8A exceeded all our expectations in its ability to find and track submarines. The P-8A is so good, in fact, that it will be our workhorse for anti-submarine warfare, using its speed and endurance to find and defeat more enemy submarines than any other platform.

As superb as the Poseidon is, a jet aircraft is not the best way to escort ships far from shore on long transits, or to provide close-in defense to carriers and amphibious assault ships. Surface ships remain well-suited for these missions. Our Arleigh Burke destroyers and their embarked MH-60R helicopters carry highly capable towed and dipping sonars and processors that have demonstrated their effectiveness empirically through the last several years of real-world operations. The same proven technology forms the core of the anti-submarine "Mission Module" of the littoral combat ship, or LCS. Our first LCS, the USS Freedome, is currently on deployment in the South China Sea and the first of these anti-submarine mission modules will begin testing next year.

The challenge to exploit our undersea advantage and find threats globally in the coming years is too big a job for only manned submarines, ships and aircraft. There is a finite number of these manned platforms and the number of places where we will have to rely on undersea capabilities is growing as more nations invest in advanced radars, electronic sensors and missiles to threaten anything on or above the water. Also, the growing number and sophistication of other nations' submarines demands that our anti-submarine warfare systems be able to maintain a continuous and widespread effort to find and defeat undersea threats - including along our own coastlines.

To get that broad, enduring coverage we will complement our manned ships and aircraft with fixed and portable sonar arrays such as the Persistent Littoral Undersea Surveillance, or PLUS. The PLUS successfully completed its first deployment last year - sitting on the ocean floor, listening to undersea contacts and sending its results back home (in real-time) via an unmanned vehicle and satellite link. We are also fielding a whole family of unmanned underwater vehicles including a 20-foot long, 5-foot diameter vessel which can autonomously travel hundreds of miles and operate for weeks to months. Unlike the remote-control vehicles used for ocean exploration or aerial surveillance, this large unmanned vehicle is programmed with its mission before launching from a ship or pier. It is then smart enough to conduct its mission and avoid obstacles (including other ships) along the way. The only time an operator has to intervene is to change the mission or to respond to a fault in the vehicle.

Together, fixed and portable sonars, unmanned vehicles and mobile sensors will form a network to detect threats, especially around critical undersea infrastructure or ships, and direct manned platforms to investigate or respond. A key challenge in this will be to collect all the relevant data from these systems in real time and coordinate their operations with manned platforms. Today we are prototyping systems to communicate with underwater sensors and vehicles using sound or lasers and are fielding a new undersea warfare decision support system to manage the undersea network.

Unimpeded undersea access is a key contributor to our ability to gather intelligence and project power; unmanned vehicles will be part of these missions as well. Our large unmanned vehicles will be able to conduct surveillance or, if armed, conduct attacks far from our shores without being detected and without risking our Sailors. Smaller vehicles also can do these missions, launched from ships or submarines. We will expand the capacity of our next block of Virginia submarines to deploy unmanned vehicles with the Virginia Payload Module, which adds a section of hull with four large (7-ft diameter) payload tubes to the current submarine design. These large payload tubes will also carry missiles and will replace the current missile capacity that will be lost when our current guided missile submarines retire in the next decade.

Unmatched capability in the undersea domain is among our most important military advantages. However, what was once an open territory is becoming the domain of choice for industry, academia and potential adversaries. To retain and exploit our superiority we must sustain our investments in emerging technology and the training that keeps our Sailors proficient. This will remain a priority of our Navy as we address our budget challenges so we can assure access and maintain freedom of the seas.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert is the chief of naval operations and a career submariner.

Those Standing Watch Atop Subs Must Wear Life Vests

Sailors standing watch topside aboard Navy submarines are now required to wear life vests at all times following a drowning this summer at Norfolk Naval Station.

The change was adopted after a command investigation into the July 6 death of Seaman Rolando Acosta, who fell into the water at Pier 3 while standing watch atop the fast-attack submarine Boise.

The investigative report, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, also recommended that the naval station add trained divers to its emergency response team to speed future rescue and recovery efforts.

The new life-jacket requirement comes despite the fact that Acosta apparently broke existing safety guidelines when he stepped off the nonslip surface of the submarine without first donning a flotation device, according to the report.

The 21-year-old sailor passed a Breathalyzer test and reviewed safety rules before assuming duty on a topside roving patrol that Saturday. Armed with an M16 rifle and a pistol, Acosta was walking along the rear of the sub when another sailor saw him step outside the safety ropes and off the boat's nonslip surface. A moment later, he fell from the stern.

Another sailor witnessed the fall and quickly announced "man overboard" on the boat's intercom, initiating a rescue effort. Someone else called 911. Witnesses reported seeing Acosta's cap floating near the submarine, but no signs of him struggling in the water.

A diver assigned to the Boise was topside doing maintenance at the time and entered the water within minutes. He was soon joined by a diver from a nearby submarine. Emergency responders from the naval station arrived at the pier, but they are not equipped to help in underwater rescue efforts.

The divers recovered Acosta's rifle about an hour after he fell into the water. After another hour, a team of ship maintenance and repair divers from Norfolk Ship Support Activity arrived. With little hope for a rescue by then, they began searching for a body.

Acosta's remains were found below the pier, about 40 feet underwater, two and a half hours after his fall. An autopsy revealed no external or internal injuries and listed drowning as the cause of death.

The investigation was conducted by Submarine Group 2 in Groton, Conn.

The report noted that the Boise did not have complete safety lines installed at the time of the incident because of "a material deficiency." A command survey found that all crew members had been properly trained but that not all sailors always followed the topside safety guidelines.

Additionally, the investigator noted that having rescue divers assigned to the naval station's civilian emergency response team "would have been invaluable."

"Given the number of personnel working near water on base, an emergency dive team should be standard," the investigator wrote.

Norfolk Naval Station officials were copied on the September report. Base leadership is continuing to review the findings, spokeswoman Terri Davis said.

Navy Installations Command, which oversees all of the service's bases, was unable to say whether emergency response teams at other bases are staffed with rescue divers.

No disciplinary actions were recommended as a result of the accident.

Three-Star: Enlisted Women To Join Silent Service In 2016

The silent service aims to begin a final phase of its historic integration effort in 2016, when enlisted women could begin serving aboard submarines.

The sub force's top officer announced that goal Wednesday to continue the steady integration of women across the Navy, a top priority of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

"It's our every intent to meet the guidance of the secretary of the Navy to do that if practical in 2016," said Vice Adm. Mike Connor, responding to a question about integration at the Naval Submarine League conference in Falls Church, Va.

Officials are studying the steps forward, as the integration of enlisted ranks will be more complicated than that for officers, who share staterooms in small numbers and can come aboard in smaller groups.

Connor said Rear Adm. Ken Perry, the head of Submarine Group 2, is leading a study of which subs should get enlisted women and the modifications that will be required.

"It gets a little more complicated to do the berthing arrangements, and that affects some choices we'll have to make, but [we'll] keep marching down that in a very deliberate manner," Connor told the audience of admirals, retired submariners, contractors, officers and sailors.

The question was asked by retired Vice Adm. John Donnelly who, as head of SUBFOR, oversaw the selection, training and integration of the first female submariners three years ago.

The 2016 goal is the first mention of a timeline for female blue shirts in the sub force, but it has long been a priority for Navy leadership. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert said volunteers would be needed, adding the most likely place to get more experienced female sailors was from the ranks of already nuclear-trained operators who run reactors on aircraft carriers.

This builds on the integration of the attack sub fleet, the last all-male portion of the undersea force, which is now set for 2014 and 2015, when female officers report for duty aboard four Virginia-class attack subs.

While officials did not say where female enlisted would first serve, it is most likely to be the boomer and guided missile fleet, which are larger than Los Angeles-class attack boats and already have 43 female officers to serve as mentors; the force first integrated in late 2011.

Submarine Admiral: 'This Is a Uniquely Pressured Time'

Admirals of the Navy's submarine force said the current budget climate is putting unprecedented pressures on the force and particularly threatening the sustainment of the nation's premier deterrent force, the ballistic-missile submarine (SSBN).

The Navy's 14 Ohio-class SSBNs, armed with Trident D5 nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, will be retired at a rate of one per year beginning in 2027. The Navy plans to replace the 14 Ohios with 12 Ohio Replacement (OR) SSBNs, the first of which must be on patrol in October 2030 to sustain the level of nuclear warheads on deterrent patrols required by the national command authority.

The Ohio-class SSBNs have had their lives extended to 42 years of service from the originally envisioned 30 years.

Adm. John Richardson, director of Naval Reactors, speaking Oct. 23 at the Naval Submarine League's annual symposium in Falls Church, Va., said, "This is a uniquely pressured time."

The OR is the Navy's top procurement priority, a position stated numerous times by Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations. The SSBN has a national mission and is one of the three legs of the nation's nuclear deterrent triad, the other legs being Air Force land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and bomber aircraft.

"This is the most important mission in the Navy," said Vice Adm. Mike Connor, commander, Submarine Forces. "It is the most important mission of the Department of Defense."

"Are we taking too much risk with only 12 SSBNs?" Richardson asked, noting that some critics are calling for a smaller force of 10 SSBNs."

"[We] can't achieve the same level of deterrence with a smaller force," he said.

The Ohio-class SSBNs have had their live extended to 42 years of service from the originally envisioned 30 years.

"We've already tightened our belts to an absurd level," said Rear Adm. Richard Breckinridge, director of submarine warfare in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

Breckinridge said an operational force of 10 SSBNs is an "absolute minimum," noting that it takes a force level of 12 boats to sustain 10 as operational, with two in overhaul. He said the Navy needs $4 billion in extra shipbuilding funds per year for 15 years to build the OR.

"We've got to do everything in our power to keep the Ohio class humming," he said.

Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director of the Strategic Systems Program Office, the unit in charge of sustaining the Trident D5 missile, said the climate of sequestration and continuing resolutions will delay introduction of the OR unless action is taken. He said that a stable and funded Trident sustainment plan and a Strategic Weapon system baseline must be in place by 2020. He stressed that the SSBN and the Trident refresh cycles must be synchronized by then to execute five-year refresh cycles.

Rear Adm. Dave Johnson, program executive officer for submarines, said construction of the OR will begin in 2021 and that its design had to be 80 percent complete by then. He said the Navy's target cost per boat is $4.9 billion. The fixed fee in the OR contracts will be smaller than the norm. The Navy will push for as high degree of commonality as possible with the Virginia class attack submarine to achieve some economies of scale.

The Navy also is saving funds in that the OR will share the same design of a missile section, called the Common Missile Compartment, with the new British Royal Navy SSBN, which in May 2028 will be the first submarine to deploy with the new Strategic Weapon System.

Johnson gave a bleak picture of funding with the 2013 sequestration and a potential 2014 sequestration, plus continuing resolutions in both years, as leaving the OR development program funded at $516 million, half of what is needed to keep the program on track.

"Our mettle is going to be tested," he said.

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