The reports of increased Russian military submarine activity just off our coast should be a wake-up call. Our other peer competitor, China, is also rapidly growing its naval capability with more modern and sophisticated submarines, many of which could threaten critical trade passages throughout the Pacific. Shockingly, the U.S. Navy has admitted that it no longer considers sailing just off our East coast to be an “uncontested” area or a “safe haven” for U.S. naval ships and submarines to operate.
The growth of China’s fleet of nuclear-armed submarines has naval and national security officials worried. NORTHCOM Commander, General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, speaking of Chinese and Russian submarine aggression recently said: “We have had [in the past] the luxury of not having threats to the homeland that are literally right off our doorstep. That environment is rapidly changing and has changed, [and] we have not yet achieved the capability and capacity that we need to maintain that competitive advantage.”
In short, our naval advantage is rapidly shrinking and in some areas it has entirely evaporated. Reports of Russian and Chinese spy ships just off our coast should also raise us from our slumber. But the growing risks don’t stop there.
Additionally, our naval fleet is threatened around the world by lesser powers who have new quiet diesel submarines. The point isn’t that a nation like Iran could defeat our Navy in an all-out naval battle. They wouldn’t stand a chance. But because of the sub technology they’ve obtained, they can more adeptly move near American ships and endanger the lives of American sailors. And we do not have the ships to be everywhere at once to combat the risks.
The U.S. Navy is under a lot of pressure and needs to increase its fleet to meet the growing threats around the globe. But he fleet has been shrinking, not growing. The Navy is trying to turn this around but building ships, as important as it is to grow the fleet, is not the only need.
Budget constraints apparently have forced the Navy into abandoning the production of its P-8A Poseidon — the world’s premier anti-submarine platform – before it can reach its own warfighting requirement. Put into context, during the height of the Cold War when Russian sub-hunting was a necessity, there were 24 anti-submarine squadrons in the active duty, and 12 in the Navy Reserve. Today, there are only 12 active duty squadrons, and the budget eliminates the only two Reserve squadrons for the entire East and West Coast. With Russian and Chinese subs operating around the globe and around our coasts and with other lessor naval powers advancing their own underwater capabilities, we need sub-hunters like the P-8A Poseidon now more than ever! And given the fact the we already have a shortage of Poseidon anti-submarine jets, now is not the time to shut down production.
Members of Congress must resolve this problem. Previous budget cuts of $2.4 billion have put the Navy in an impossible position of trying to grow the fleet and increase its anti-submarine capabilities. But this is impossible math. Congress must step in and solve this funding crunch. We cannot afford to embolden either the Russians or the Chinese or for that matter the Iranians, North Koreans, or other regional naval powers.
Even though the Russian navy overall is in decline, their commitment to submarine technology is not. They are focusing their efforts on submarines because they can be tremendously disruptive and destructive. The Chinese submarine fleet is as large as 70 vessels, with the capacity to grow to 100 within the next 15 years. In years past, the Chinese Navy was focused on homeland defense in waters that were relatively close their country. But now, particularly with the introduction of cruise missiles into their fleet, the People’s Liberation Army Navy is venturing out into broader international waters to threaten the United States. They’ve made it clear that their plan is to cause disruption and demonstrate to the world that the United States is no longer the world’s greatest naval power.
We need the robust anti-submarine capabilities of aircraft such as the P-8A Poseidon to help reduce this risk. These anti-submarine jets can patrol and monitor sensitive areas around the globe where we may, or may not, want to devote other naval assets. The Poseidon is a great tool to stretch our capabilities and reach — and will help us buy time while we increase the size of our naval fleet. But shutting down production of the Poseidon places not only our Navy at greater risk, it also threatens our commerce, our economy, and our coastal waters.
The Poseidon is a bargain as its costs have been reduced by 30% over the past several years while its integrated systems and weapons have been improved and upgraded. Plus, while the Poseidon was designed as an anti-submarine platform, it is a highly flexible plane that can take on many other missions — intelligence gathering, ground surveillance, and even as a robust platform to launch offensive weapons. But right now, there aren’t enough aircraft in service even to perform its main mission — protect America from submarine threats.
Congress must do something about this shortfall because providing for the “common defense” is one of the federal government’s prime objectives under our constitutional federal system. It would be entirely irresponsible to squeeze the Navy so that it cannot meet the threats that exist around the globe — and even just off our coast in our own waters.