US Forward Deploys More “Eyes” (Dec 2002)

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2002

US Navy ships are beginning to remind people of the famous line by Will Rogers about real estate: “Buy land. They ain’t making it any more.” The US’ fleet has declined by 35% in just the past 14 years, with submarines taking a big hit. The Seawolf-class (SSN-21) -- originally designed to counter the former Soviet Union’s vast submarine fleet -- has been stopped at three subs, and only two Virginia-class boats are under construction, with USS Virginia (SSN-774) not scheduled to be commissioned until 2006. A recent report from Forecast International predicts a continued dramatic decline in the number and total value of new submarine construction over the next decade, with China, India, Taiwan, and Brazil making-up the majority of any new construction, world-wide. With an end to the need for new ballistic missile submarines, new construction will involve nuclear powered ship killer missile subs – SSGNs – and new generation diesel-electric attack subs -- SSKs.

Feeling the need to better position its submarine assets, the US Navy is moving attack submarines to the Pacific island of Guam for the first time, a step emphasizing the growing importance of Asia to the United States. Such positioning takes advantage of the class’ ISR capabilities while simultaneously positioning them as a sign to China and others of the US’ determination to keep Pacific traffic free from interference by any nation.

USS City of Corpus Christi (SSN-705) arrived in Guam in October, a month ahead of schedule, and will be followed by two other Los Angeles class attack submarines, USS San Francisco (SSN 711) in December and a third sub in 2003 or 2004. While having been originally designed to sink Soviet warships with torpedoes, the 688-class has since been refitted with subsurface-to-air Tomahawk cruise missiles – just what the doctor ordered to pursue the littoral warfare looming as one of the biggest concerns in the early 21st century.

Its location also makes Guam prime real estate from which the US can conduct intensive ISR along the Pacific Rim.

With the loss of the Philippines as a major US base, and with anti-military sentiment a continuing problem in such allied countries as Australia and New Zealand, Guam has assumed ever-greater importance. The USAF – which already has a major presence on Guam -- is simultaneously beefing-up its asset base there for similar reasons. The former Strategic Air Command used Guam as a staging area for long-range bombers and ISR aircraft from the 1950s until the end of the Soviet Union. The island, located three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines, also served as a base for B-52 bombing missions during the Vietnam War. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that the Air Force has decided to deploy B-2 stealth bombers to Guam for the first time, as well as to Diego Garcia and to Fairford, UK, according to COL Doug Raaberg, commander of the B-2's 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, MO.

The attack submarines will be supported by the submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS-40), which is already based in Guam.

USS Corpus Christi is the first Los Angeles class sub to be forward deployed to Guam