Nuclear Submarines: The US Navy's Underwater Mess

It turns out that the Pentagon is no better at keeping its submarine fleet afloat, so to speak than it is at keeping its F-35s flying.

Nearly 40% of the Navy’s 49 attack submarines are not ready for war due to bottlenecks at naval shipyards. “The number of [attack submarines] on depot maintenance or inactive (i.e., awaiting depot maintenance) has increased from 11 ships (about 21% of the force in fiscal year 2012 to 18 ships (about 37% of the [attack submarine] force) in fiscal year 2023,” the Congressional Research Service has reported.

“The Navy asserts that industry best practice would require about 20% of the [attack submarine] force to be on depot maintenance (and none to be inactive) at any given time.”

The Navy’s nuclear-powered attack submarines prowl the world’s oceans, keeping watch for potential enemies. Equipped with torpedoes and cruise missiles, they are smaller and more numerous than boomer submarines that carry long-range nuclear missiles. Their lack of preparation is especially striking, given the key role the US Navy plays in curbing China’s ambitions in the western Pacific.

The delay is due to a shortage of staff and space at the four government-run naval shipyards. It’s another example of the Pentagon’s tendency to buy new weapons rather than keep the ones it already has ready for action.

Project On Government Oversight