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.”