Enough Nuclear: All of the Reasons the U.S. Navy Needs Diesel Submarines

James Holmes

For the past five years or so these pixels have been arguing—nay, clamoring—for the U.S. Navy to build or buy a contingent of diesel attack submarines (SSKs) to fill out its undersea inventory. If anything the logic for going conventional is more compelling now than ever. It offers a way to add new hulls with dispatch, at manageable cost, and without imposing extra burdens on the few shipbuilders that specialize in naval nuclear propulsion. Best of all, a diesel contingent is an ideal implement for executing U.S. strategy in what the Pentagon terms its “priority theater,” bar none: the Indo-Pacific.

According to the Naval Sea Systems Command’s Report to Congress on the Long-Range Plan for Maintenance and Modernization of Naval Vessels for Fiscal Year 2020, the “Navy the Nation Needs” would number 355 vessels in all, up from 290 today. That tally includes a fleet of 66 nuclear-powered attack boats (SSNs). Today, according to the Naval Vessel Register, the figure stands at 50. The NVR lists 68 subs, but 18 of those are Ohio-class ballistic-missile or cruise-missile boats, not SSNs built for undersea knife fights.

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