Thursday, July 17, 2008

The 'Submarine Mafia' and HMS Götland

If you never suspected Germany and the U.S. were linked at the hip, unravelling an arcane bit of submarine history should supply indisputable evidence. Thanks to Norman Polmar, we not only have another clue as to why the Australia Submarine Corporation came to build the problematic Collins class, but we know better how Germany's Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft probably got to build Israel's Dolphin class, and a portion of South Korea's nine diesel-electric Chang Bogo-class subs while several American shipyards closed during the 1970s and 1980s.


I know that the Navy has been adamant in their opposition to a diesel submarine program of their own, but their going to this length [halting foreign construction in U.S. yards] absolutely confounds me. There is no possibility of the transfer of technology, so what on earth is their objection? The opportunity to create additional jobs for American workers and keep these shipbuilding companies viable ought to outweigh any suspicion the Navy might have that this represents the nose of the camel under the tent in forcing diesel submarines on them. - Rep. G. William Whitehurst ; letter to Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, 20 September 1984.

What was Whitehurst's issue? The U.S. nuclear submarine community had immediately opposed the following proposal, citing nuclear submarine technology loss to other countries if diesel submarines were built at any U.S. shipyards [Back to the Future; Proceedings Norman Polmar April 18, 2006 - 'The 'Submarine Mafia'] :

In the 1980s the Israeli Navy approached the U.S. government for funds and support for the construction of three modern diesel submarines to replace a trio of older boats. Almost simul- taneously, U.S. shipyards were being approached by South Korean representatives who wished to build perhaps two submarines in the United States, to be followed by additional construction in Korea. Several U.S. yards that were not engaged in nuclear submarine construction expressed interest, and a tentative agreement was reached with the Todd Pacific Shipyards whereby Israel and South Korea would construct submarines of the same design, which had been developed by an Israeli team that included the German firm IKL and the Dutch firm RDM. The Australian Navy also expressed some interest in buying into the arrangement. Bath Iron Works and Lockheed Shipbuilding also expressed interest in the program.

Such a construction program, it was estimated, could lead to a production run of two or three submarines per year while providing Employment for up to 7,000 shipyard workers and supporting-industry workers in the United States. This was a critical factor in view of the numerous American shipyard closings during the 1970s and 1980s. - [Norman Polmar is an expert on naval matters and author of over 40 books in addition to numerous columns for the U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings and Naval History magazines]; [color emphasis added].

Polmar tells us the Navy's leadership decided to halt diesel-electric submarine construction in 1956 (at that time, only one nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus, was yet at sea). Britain's Royal Navy made the same decision in the early 1990s. More recently we recall how the Navy managed to block an AIP submarine program for the U.S. by leasing HMS Götland.

The probable cost of an advanced non-nuclear/AIP submarine today is about one-fifth the cost of a modern U.S. nuclear attack submarine. Thus, coupled with lower manning costs, and potential availability of added overseas bases for non-nuclear submarines, AIPs are a no-brainer supplement to the U.S. nuclear submarine force. Unless, an overriding strategy prohibits.

Since 2006, realignment of the Navy has effectively neutered the submarine mafia (senior nuclear submarine admirals in top positions of Navy leadership after Rickover's day), we are left to ponder what that ongoing strategy might be.
Submarines are always silent and strange.



At 18 July, 2008 10:36, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Conventionally powered submarines built for foreign countries is a sure money maker for the US. We don't have a problem relaesing other technology to allied countries, such as our highly sophisticated submarine combat systems, so why can't we do a diesel boat?



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