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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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US Navy’s submarine fleet flooded with repairs

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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If the United States and Chinese navies ever square off, submarines will be a deciding factor. In a recent war game simulating a conflict between China and the U.S., outcomes showed attack submarines would wreak havoc on the People’s Liberation Army navy. In order to contribute to the fight, however, the submarines need to be in the fight.

A recent report from the Congressional Research Service found of the 49 attack subs the U.S. Navy operates, 18 were out of commission in June. That accounts for 37% of the U.S. Navy’s attack submarine fleet. It’s a number that’s grown over the last few years.

Regular maintenance is expected on any machines of this size, but sometimes repairs need to be made because of operator error.

In October of 2021, while transiting the South China Sea, the USS Connecticut hit an undersea mountain. The Seawolf-class submarine suffered damage to its bow and lower rudder. Repairs to the USS Connecticut will total around $80 million. The USS Connecticut’s command leadership was fired, and the boat is still awaiting repairs at a shipyard in Washington state. The USS Connecticut, one of the most capable and highly revered submarines ever constructed, is not expected to be back sailing with the fleet until at least 2026.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said from 2008 until 2018, the U.S. Navy lost 10,363 operational days because of delays getting into and out of shipyards. The inability to repair ships quickly is having a negative impact of the Navy’s readiness, according to the GAO.

The Naval Sea Systems Command blamed the backlog on breakdowns in planning, material availability and shipyard execution. The U.S. is five years into a 20-year plan to overhaul the nation’s shipyards. The Navy said it’s also working to address other procurement and pipeline issues.

U.S. attack submarines come in three different classes: Los Angeles, Seawolf and Virginia. Like all subs in the U.S. Navy, attack submarines are nuclear powered, but they don’t carry nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles like Ohio-class subs. Nuclear propulsion on submarines means the boats can stay submerged for months at a time.

Attack subs can attack land or sea targets. As one might expect, the boats are armed with torpedoes, but they can also launch Tomahawk cruise missiles from below the surface of the water. Attack submarines are also used in information gathering missions and to insert/extract special forces operators.

As a result of their stealth and ability to stay submerged for extended periods of time, the U.S. Navy’s submarine fleet was called the “silent service” during the Cold War. That’s changing.

The U.S. now uses submarines to publicly project power around the globe to deter adversaries. Submarines are so vital to peace in the Pacific, under the AUKUS Agreement, Australia will buy three Virginia-class attack submarines from the U.S. early next decade. In addition to those initial submarine purchases, the U.S., U.K., and Australia will partner together to build more submarines in the decades ahead.

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IF THE U.S. AND CHINESE NAVIES EVER SQUARE OFF, SUBMARINES WILL BE A DECIDING FACTOR.

IN A RECENT WAR-GAME SIMULATING A CONFLICT BETWEEN CHINA AND THE U.S., OUTCOMES SHOWED ATTACK SUBMARINES WOULD WREAK HAVOC ON THE CHINESE NAVY. BUT IN ORDER TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE FIGHT, THEY NEED TO BE IN THE FIGHT.

A RECENT REPORT FROM THE CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE FOUND OF THE 49 ATTACK SUBS THE NAVY OPERATES, A WHOPPING 18 WERE OUT OF COMMISSION IN JUNE. IT’S A NUMBER THAT’S GROWN OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS. REGULAR MAINTENANCE IS EXPECTED ON ANY MACHINES OF THIS SIZE, BUT SOMETIMES REPAIRS NEED TO BE MADE BECAUSE OF OPERATOR ERROR. THE USS CONNECTICUT HIT AN UNDERSEA MOUNTAIN IN OCTOBER OF 2021. IT’S NOT EXPECTED TO BE BACK FROM REPAIRS UNTIL AT LEAST 2026.

THE NAVAL SEA SYSTEMS COMMAND BLAMES THE BACKLOG ON BREAKDOWNS IN PLANNING, MATERIAL AVAILABILITY AND SHIPYARD EXECUTION.

THE U.S. IS FIVE YEARS INTO A 20 YEAR PLAN TO OVERHAUL THE NATION’S SHIPYARDS AND IS TRYING TO ADDRESS OTHER PROCUREMENT AND PIPELINE ISSUES.

U.S. ATTACK SUBMARINES COME IN THREE DIFFERENT CLASSES: LOS ANGELES, SEA WOLF AND VIRGINIA. LIKE ALL SUBS IN THE U.S. NAVY, ATTACK SUBMARINES ARE NUCLEAR POWERED, BUT THEY DON’T CARRY NUCLEAR-TIPPED BALLISTIC MISSILES LIKE OHIO-CLASS SUBS.

ATTACK SUBS CAN ATTACK LAND OR SEA TARGETS. AS ONE MIGHT EXPECT, THE BOATS ARE ARMED WITH TORPEDOES, BUT THEY CAN ALSO LAUNCH TOMAHAWK CRUISE MISSILES FROM BELOW THE SURFACE OF THE WATER.

BECAUSE OF THEIR STEALTH AND ABILITY TO STAY SUBMERGED FOR MONTHS AT A TIME, THE U.S. NAVY’S SUBMARINE FLEET WAS CALLED THE ‘SILENT SERVICE’ DURING THE COLD WAR. THAT’S CHANGING.

THE U.S. NOW USES SUBMARINES TO PUBLICLY PROJECT POWER AROUND THE GLOBE TO DETER ADVERSARIES. NOT TO PUT TOO FINE A POINT ON JUST HOW IMPORTANT SUBMARINES ARE TO PEACE IN THE PACIFIC, UNDER THE AUKUS AGREEMENT, AUSTRALIA WILL BUY THREE VIRGINIA-CLASS ATTACK SUBMARINES FROM THE U.S. EARLY NEXT DECADE. AND THE U.S., UK AND AUSTRALIA WILL PARTNER TOGETHER TO BUILD MORE SUBMARINES IN THE DECADES AHEAD. WHO KNOWS, MAYBE BY THEN THE CURRENT SUBMARINE REPAIR BACKLOG WILL BE SORTED OUT.

FOR MORE UNBIASED, STRAIGHT FACT REPORTING ON THE U.S. NAVY, HEAD OVER TO STRAIGHTARROWNEWS.COM