SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The U.S. Navy attack submarine force inventory is at a low, and maintenance backlogs are making it harder to conduct important development work, the commander of the submarine force in U.S. Pacific Fleet said this week.

Rear Adm. Jeffrey Jablon said the SSN fleet sits at just 47 today — down from 50 attack subs in the fall, due in part to submarine decommissionings happening as planned while new deliveries from industry run behind schedule.

That 47 is further diminished by maintenance challenges, he said while speaking at a Feb. 16 panel at the WEST 2022 conference, cohosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA International.

In fiscal 2016, because of idle time for subs awaiting maintenance — on boats which have exceeded their operational limits and were no longer allowed to submerge under the water until they underwent maintenance — the Navy lost about 360 days of operations.

In FY21, the fleet lost nearly 1,500 days to idle time — the equivalent of taking four submarines out of the fleet.

Additionally, Jablon said in FY21 the fleet lost the equivalent of 3.5 submarines to repair periods that ran longer than planned.

“That’s about seven and a half SSNs that I cannot use last year because of awaiting maintenance or maintenance delay,” he said.

Even with that smaller fleet, he told Defense News, “we meet all our operational commitments. We’re able to ensure that our ships are combat ready when they deploy. We meet the requirements of our combatant commanders that are placed upon us.”

But “it results in less ability to do tactical development at sea,” Jablon added, noting it also cuts into commanding officers’ discretionary time at sea to bolster training in particular areas.

“We’re still able to prepare the ship to be combat ready when they deploy,” he said, but “it’s more difficult, it’s more deliberate, it takes more input from the [type commander] staff to do that.”

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs, and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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