The U.S. Navy’s fleet of attack submarines, SSNs, is one of the most potent military platforms in the world. The problem for the submarine force is that the need for attack boats is rising precisely as the largest fraction of that fleet, the Los Angeles class boats, is being retired. Moreover, The Navy once believed that 48 SSNs as part of an overall force level of 308 ships would be enough into the middle of the century. The Navy’s new goal is to maintain a 355-ship fleet, of which 66 would be SSNs. Unfortunately, the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan does not build enough Virginia class boats even to meet the prior, lower goal for the SSN force. At currently proposed building rates, the SSN fleet will decline to a low of 41 boats in 2029, seven short of the Navy’s original force structure plan and 25 below the new, higher target, before rising to 51 boats at mid-century. Fortunately, there is a solution: build two Virginia class SSNs a year even when an SSBN is begun and build three in those years without a Columbia. By 2030 this would provide a submarine fleet of around 66 boats. I have written a commentary on this subject for RealClearDefense here.
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