The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Tucson, foreground, passes the Virginia-class attack submarine USS Hawaii, in 2013. Under current US Navy shipbuilding plans, the American attack submarine fleet is slated to dip to 42 by 2029. (US Navy)
WASHINGTON — The admiral in charge of all US military forces in the Pacific says some of his needs for attack submarines are going unmet.
Under the Navy’s latest shipbuilding plans, as noted during a Tuesday hearing by Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., the American attack submarine fleet is slated to dip to 42 by 2029, down from today’s 55-submarine fleet.
Ayotte and other senators say they are concerned that as China increases its submarine force and overall Navy fleet, America is shrinking its attack sub fleet to dangerous levels.
“They’re not all being met,” Adm. Samuel Locklear told Ayotte when she asked if all of his attack-submarine requirements are being fulfilled.
Ayotte questioned how the Obama administration can “justify” going from 55 to 42 attack subs by 2029 while China is ramping up its fleet. She sees “a disconnect” between the requirements likely to face Locklear’s successors and current shipbuilding plans.
Locklear said that plan is “unfortunately” the best Navy leaders have “been able to do” given flattening US defense budgets and spending caps.
“It comes down to managing risk and where we can absorb risk,” Locklear said.
The matter is important to Ayotte, whose state hosts Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which provides New Hampshire about 4,700 jobs, according to a US Naval Sea Systems Command fact sheet.
The shipyard is capable of performing work on the US Navy’s Los Angeles, Ohio and Virginia submarine classes, according to the fact sheet.
While hawkish and parochial-minded senators warned about shipbuilding plans and China’s military build up, Locklear poured cold water on worries of a US-China war.
Locklear addressed the notion of the “inevitability” of an armed conflict between the United States and China, saying: “I don’t think it is.”
He also warned against rhetoric that might tilt the situation toward war.
On a related matter, the Pacific Command chief also doubts the onset of a China-Japan conflict over territory in that region.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pressed Locklear about the chance of conflict between Beijing and Tokyo, but the admiral replied he does not think such a war is likely.
The two Asian powers have been feuding over the Senkaku Islands, which Japan controls and China claims. ■