(The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Wyoming (SSBN 742) departs Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga. for routine operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James Kimber/Released)
It’s an exciting week for our Ballistic Missile Submarine Fleet. On Friday, 20 July, I’ll be traveling down to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay to present the Meritorious Unit Commendation Award to the Atlantic SSBN force. RDML Bob Hennegan, Commander, Submarine Group NINE, will conduct the ceremony at Naval Base Kitsap for the Pacific SSBN Force. I’ve provided the citation for the award at the bottom of this post.
This award highlights the Submarine Force’s most important mission to our nation – Strategic Deterrence. This is completely fitting. 20 July marks the anniversary of the first shot of a Polaris missile from USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (SSBN 598) while submerged. It’s been 52 years since the Commanding Officer transmitted his message to President Dwight Eisenhower, “POLARIS - FROM OUT OF THE DEEP TO TARGET. PERFECT.” In many ways, “perfect” is exactly the right word to describe what we expect of our Strategic Deterrent today, and every day since 1960.
|(USS Woodrow Wilson Submarine with the Golden Gate Bridge in background – 3 January 1964)|
The performance of the people and systems in our SSBN force has delivered what we asked of them: stability and peace. If this were any other system, the nation would be routinely singing their praises – success like this is what America strives for! But our SSBNs face two unique challenges in the public relations department. First, their mission is to deter violence. As Admiral Mies discussed in his article in the July edition of Undersea Warfare Magazine, they have done a spectacular job of this. But, the absence of something is a difficult thing to deliberately measure, and almost impossible to notice day-to-day. Do you wake up each morning saying to yourself “thank goodness today will be another day free from war between major powers?” You should! And then please remember the dauntless Sailors on patrol every moment of that day, like every other day for the last 52 years, since they first took to sea.
(Machinist's Mate 3rd Class(SS) Charles Swanson, USS Tennessee (SSBN 734) (Gold) weapons department, stands the look-out watch. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class(SW) James Kimber)
The second challenge the SSBN Force faces is that their success hinges on being invisible – out of sight. Again, it’s hard to take notice of something that’s not there – undetectable by design! We Submariners are proud of our stealth, and eschew the spotlight by nature. Stealth is in our DNA. So, it’s appropriate to take some time to overcome these challenges and highlight the tremendous work being done by our sea-based strategic deterrent force and the existential value they provide to our nation.
The nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine is a textbook example of how new technology and new ideas can fuel one another to become a decisive reality. As always, the best innovation arises from a crystal-clear definition of the military problem we must solve. Our “problem” arose when the Soviet Union detonated a thermonuclear weapon in 1953, signaling the end of the United States’ monopoly over nuclear weapons. It was by no means a fait accompli that the nation could or would take a decisive number of nuclear weapons, submerge them beneath the waves, and hide them securely away underwater, always ready to respond. There was significant opposition to the SSBN idea and a number of alternatives were proposed to respond to the Soviet nuclear threat. For instance, one alternative was to simply build and fortify more ICBMs and strategic bombers than the Soviets – a pure arms race. It was only through the vision and heroic efforts of leaders like Admiral Arleigh Burke, the CNO, and Rear Admiral William Raborn, the first Director of the Special Programs Office (SPO) (the forerunner of today’s Strategic Systems Programs (SSP)). As a testament to the significance of this achievement, naval historian David Rosenberg wrote in his biography of Admiral Burke, "Burke's most significant initiative during his first term was his sponsorship, in the face of considerable opposition, of a high-priority program to develop a naval intermediate-range ballistic missile."
It was this effort, among others, that ushered in a new era of peace through deterrence. What emerged was a coordinated land, sea, and air-based deterrent system – the Strategic Triad – that depended on our SSBN force to be the most survivable element, the guaranteed “second strike.” In this way, since the beginning of the SSBN program, the combination of dedicated submariners and cutting edge technology has ensured the “problem” of 1953 has remained “solved.” As the original “problem” has changed and grown more challenging, our Strategic Triad has continued to keep pace, such that our nation’s strategic deterrent submarine program remains central to the defense of our nation - today, and as far as we can see into the future.
In the more than 50 years of deterrent patrols, with nearly 4000 patrols conducted, our SSBN sailors have consistently embodied the most essential elements of the Design for Undersea Warfare, most notably the Operations and Warfighting Line of Effort. At this very moment, they remain submerged and undetected – ready for the call that they hope will never come. In fact it’s that very readiness, the stealth of our submarines in combination with the skill and vigilance of our Submariners, that has allowed us to sustain our secure and survivable posture – able to respond rapidly to national tasking at anytime. It is this posture of deterrence, of perseverance, that minimizes the possibility that anybody will threaten the American homeland.
We are again at an important decision point for the nation. It’s time to design and build the next generation SSBN to replace the TRIDENT. It’s been said that if you want a new idea, read an old book, and we can learn much from the giants who came before us. Historian Harvey Sapolsky concluded that the programmatic success of the Polaris program was due to "a convergence with technological opportunity and a widely accepted policy need. Next there must be committed to the project people who are extraordinarily skillful in the art of bureaucratic politics." All of this and more will be required as we sustain this cornerstone of our national defense. It must be done, so that as the motto of the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (SSBN 598) said 52 years ago, our SSBN Force will remain “Primus in Pace” – First in Peace
VADM John M. Richardson
Commander, Submarine Force
In putting this blog together, I used the article “The POLARIS, A Revolutionary Missile System and Complex,” by Norman Polmar. It is Seminar Number Nine of the Colloquium on Contemporary History hosted by the Naval History and Heritage Command, http://www.history.navy.mil/colloquia/cch9d.html.
For meritorious service from 16 July 2007 to 28 January 2011. Commander, Task Force 134 and Commander, Task Force 144 (CTF134/144) excelled in support of United States Strategic Command’s flawless execution of its global mission of strategic deterrence. The Task Forces provided an essential leg to our nation’s strategic triad and were a key element of our deterrent mission. The deterrence mission executed by Task Force 134 and 144 during this period underpinned Department of Defense strategy and provided the backbone and foundation for our political leadership in execution of national security policy. Providing credibility to the deterrent force, Commander Task Force 134 and 144 demonstrated high standards in day-to-day operations, in exercises, in training, and every time they went to sea. By their truly distinctive achievements, unrelenting perseverance, and unfailing devotion to duty, the officers, enlisted personnel, and civilian employees of Commander Task Force 134 and Commander, Task Force 144 reflected credit upon themselves and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
|(Jan. 09, 2009) USS Wyoming Approaches Pulling Into Kings Bay, Ga|