18 August 2016
Southeastern Connecticut's role as a major defense force was highlighted this week, but there are questions.
In a lively interview with the Connecticut Mirror, which appeared in Thursday's Bulletin, outgoing Navy Secretary Ray Mabus was open, honest and optimistic about the role of submarines in our national defense.
Mabus highlighted the importance of submarines and underwater warfare by all powerful nations. He also praised the superior technology and weaponry of the U.S., but warned that it's fragile.
"We still have a big edge there - in a lot of ways that's only undersea - but it's not something that you can take for granted," he said. "If you quit evolving, if you quit working on it, you quit building, it can go away real fast."
Mabus praised the growth of shipbuilding during his seven-year tenure, including the contract for 10 Virginia-class submarines - a boon to Electric Boat.
"But even building two subs a year, if you look out to the late 2020s and early 2030s, we're going to have a deficit of submarines.and it's because 30 years earlier, we did not build enough submarines," he said. "If you miss a year building a ship, you cannot make it up. they take so long and the skill set is so precise, and we just don't have that many shipyards. The capacity to build is limited."
That would appear to be a sign that submarine construction would be a booming business for years to come, even beyond the current contract, with the upcoming Columbia class. For the New London Sub Base and Electric Boat, it continues the good news that has flowed in recent months and years.
It's not that easy, of course. Obtaining the necessary amount of subs requires some financial wizardry as well as shipyard capacity. But having the ability to meet a good portion of the need is much better than there not being a need.
Later in the interview, Mabus said that base realignments and closures across the Defense Department, including the Navy are necessary. However, he says the Navy and Marine Corps "have less excess capacity than anybody else."
We all remember the close call in 2005 that almost closed the New London base, and the public/private alliance that formed after that. While our region is better suited to a possible BRAC battle, Mabus' words give hope that should there be an evaluation we may have a greater likelihood of being spared.
With a new administration, of course, comes new leadership and new goals for the military. Mabus has set the Navy on the right course. For the good of the country, and our region, we hope his successor continues that path.