Undersea Forces Critical to Future Defense, Commander Says

GROTON, Conn., Nov. 21, 2011 — Under­sea forces will become increas­ing­ly impor­tant to the nation’s defense and in exert­ing mil­i­tary influ­ence in the future, the com­man­der of Sub­ma­rine Group 2 said here last week.

Navy Rear Adm. Rick Breck­en­ridge pro­vid­ed his insights after a Nov. 17 vis­it here from Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta, who called Gro­ton “the home of our sub­ma­rine force” and the “sub­ma­rine cap­i­tal of the world.”

“It’s the orig­i­nal home of the Nau­tilus, and it is, from my point of view, one of the very impor­tant ele­ments of our nation­al defense that you guys are doing,” Panet­ta said. Breck­en­ridge ulti­mate­ly has oper­a­tional author­i­ty of all attack sub­marines in the Atlantic region.

“There are three squadrons here in Gro­ton, Conn., and there’s one squadron in Nor­folk, Va.,” the admi­ral said. “There used to be two, but we just con­sol­i­dat­ed to one squadron of ships in Nor­folk, Va.”

Breck­en­ridge also over­sees the build­ing of addi­tions to the under­sea force and ensures the man­ning, train­ing and equip­ping of sub­marines for avail­abil­i­ty to U.S. com­bat­ant com­man­ders.

Sub­marines have been crit­i­cal to nation­al defense in the past and con­tin­ue to remain rel­e­vant in today’s fight, the admi­ral said.

“If you look at his­to­ri­an records, many will claim that it was the under­sea forces that won the war in the Pacif­ic, espe­cial­ly, at least, until we were able to get the sur­face forces back up and on their feet,” he said, refer­ring to events fol­low­ing the Japan­ese attack on Pearl Har­bor, which launched the Unit­ed States into World War II.

Sub­marines have been used in oper­a­tions as recent­ly as Oper­a­tion Odyssey Dawn, Breck­en­ridge not­ed. “With the Unit­ed Nations char­ter, our forces were sent in to soft­en up the air defens­es of Libya to allow the flow of oth­er forces,” he said.

“This gets back [to the] prin­ci­ple [that if] we don’t have supe­ri­or­i­ty in the air to have our way at the onset of a cri­sis, we’re going to need some­body who can pen­e­trate the defens­es and soft­en up the adver­sary so then we can flow those oth­er forces in to estab­lish air dom­i­nance,” he said. “So in the onset of that cam­paign, we, the under­sea forces, were called upon to attack land tar­gets in Libya.”

Breck­en­ridge laud­ed the per­for­mance of one of the Navy’s attack sub­marines dur­ing the NATO-led oper­a­tion.

“The USS Flori­da was called upon to be one of the shoot­ers in Oper­a­tion Odyssey Dawn against Libya,” he said. “They launched over 90 Tom­a­hawk cruise mis­siles with eye-water­ing, flaw­less per­for­mance. Nev­er before in the his­to­ry of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca has one ship con­duct­ed that much land attack strikes, con­ven­tion­al­ly, in one short time peri­od. And we did it from under­sea.”

In addi­tion to the USS Flori­da, the USS Prov­i­dence and USS Scran­ton, both Sub­ma­rine Group 2 boats, also par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Libyan strike, Vice Adm. William E. Gort­ney, direc­tor of the Joint Staff, said March 19.

Breck­en­ridge not­ed that under­sea forces have pro­vid­ed a pres­ence dur­ing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he spoke about future chal­lenges due to declin­ing force struc­ture.

“If we pull out of Afghanistan, does that mean I don’t need as many sub­marines in [U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand]?” he asked. “You might say, ‘Yes this is going to be good, even for the under­sea forces. … It’s time for us to pull back and send those sub­marines to oth­er areas they need to go.’

“The real­i­ty is, from my view­point … [that] as we remove our land forces from that region, the only thing that is going to pro­vide sta­bil­i­ty in the future from a poten­tial aggres­sor, like say an Iran, is going to be our mar­itime forces,” Breck­en­ridge added.

The admi­ral referred to this con­cept as “region­al mar­itime denial.”

“The need to have under­sea forces, not only remains, but per­haps, increas­es to pro­vide a coun­ter­bal­ance to make sure no aggres­sive action is tak­en in the­ater as we with­draw from Afghanistan,” he said. “So there’s going to be a greater bur­den placed on the Navy, at large, and again, from an under­sea, asym­met­ric val­ue per­spec­tive, I think there’s going to be a greater demand for under­sea forces to pro­vide a coun­ter­bal­ance there.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)