Richard R. Burgess, Seapower Magazine
23 February 2016
ARLINGTON, Va. — The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific and Indian Oceans praised the Navy’s Virginia-class attack submarines (SSNs) and stressed the value of them in surveillance and in countering Chinese and Russian naval forces.
Testifying Feb. 23 before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill, Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander, U.S. Pacific Command, said in response to a question from Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., the Virginia-class attack submarine “is the best thing we have” and that he “can’t get enough of them fast enough.”
The Virginia-class SSN, built by General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding, is the Navy’s newest attack submarine, of which 12 are in commission, four of them stationed in the Pacific.
Ayotte said Navy officials told her that only 62 percent of requests from combatant commanders for attack submarine missions were being met. Harris responded that the gap is “about 62 percent” but that the exact numbers were classified.
“We experience an attack submarine shortfall in the Pacific,” Harris said. “I would maintain that the Pacific is the principal space where submarines are the most important warfighting capability we have.”
Responding to Ayotte about the importance of presence, Harris said, “If you don’t have presence, you better have reach. That reach comes from submarines and aircraft and the like. We need the new SSBN [ballistic-missile submarine, the Ohio Replacement] in the 2020s and we need the new long-range bomber as well.”
Harris also said the United States “must invest in advanced [unmanned] underwater vehicles [UUVs] and go forward with it, not only in anti-submarine warfare and all the things that UUVs can provide us in that regard, but also in mine warfare.”
Addressing the build-up of modern submarine forces in the region, Harris said that he was concerned about the Russian and Chinese submarines as they increase in their capability.
“The Russian submarine force, in my opinion, did not take a hiatus when the Cold War ended,” he said. “So now we have the Dolgorukiy-class SSBN, now in their Far Eastern fleet. The Chinese are building the Jin-class SSBN, which has the capability — if mated with the right missile — to threaten the entire United States.
“I face a submarine shortage in the Pacific,” Harris said. “My requirements are not being met. That’s a function of numbers and global demand. I’m also worried about that shortfall between requirements and presence.”