1 February 1999. Thanks to Dan Dupont.

Inside the Navy, February 1, 1999

SSN-23 could replace Parche


By Roman Schweizer

The Navy has received almost $300 million from Congress for fiscal year 1999 to modify one of its newest nuclear attack submarines for "special operations," an alteration that could make it a one-of-a-kind successor to the service's secret spy submarine Parche.

The Navy confirmed last Friday (Jan. 29) that it plans to lengthen the hull of the third Seawolf-class attack submarine, Jimmy Carter, "to accommodate advanced technology for naval special warfare, tactical surveillance and mine warfare operations."

A Navy official also said the submarine would be outfitted to conduct "undersea warfare research, development, test and evaluation and postulated tactical surveillance, special warfare and mine warfare capabilities."

According to sources speaking on the condition of anonymity, the Navy received money for the super-secret program from Congress in last year's omnibus appropriations bill for FY-99, possibly out of the $1.9 billion Congress doled out for intelligence programs in the "emergency" supplemental spending measure.

According to multiple sources, the final cost of the project could range from $600 million to $800 million.

No detailed accounting of this money has been released by the Pentagon, but sources confirmed adding funds for the modification had been under consideration for some time. "There were discussions about it," a source confirmed.

Former House Speaker Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), the former ranking minority member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, were said to be two strong backers of the SSN-23 initiative. Dicks, no longer on the intelligence panel, reportedly threw his support behind the program because of the likelihood that the submarine would be based at the Bangor Naval Submarine Base, WA, according to one source. But another said no decision on basing the sub has been made and that Dicks was motivated by more than constituent interests.

The Navy last week wouldn't say which submarine the Jimmy Carter will replace, but the service is retiring two submarines tasked to U.S. Special Operations Command for covert operations. The converted SSBN James K. Polk is scheduled to be retired this year, and the SSBN Kamehameha will be taken out of service in the next couple of years.

But according to sources, Jimmy Carter will be much more capable than those two subs and may have a different role entirely.

According to one source, depending on the kind of modifications SSN-23 receives to its hull, the sub could be used to replace the secret spy submarine Parche, a modified Sturgeon class boat that was used extensively during the Cold War to spy on the Soviet Union. Parche was modified to perform "ocean-engineering" and other "special missions." The sub's classified exploits are chronicled in the recently published book Blind Man's Bluff. According to published reports, Parche is due to be retired in 2003, the same year Jimmy Carter is scheduled to enter the fleet with the new modifications.

Also, Parche is currently stationed at Bangor, a likely home port for Carter.

Sources refused to disclose the kind of missions the sub would perform, but when asked about Parche, one source hinted, "It will replace the capability and a mission done by an earlier submarine, but it will be new and improved. It will do something done by a submarine that is not being done now."

While the source said the sub will provide a "very, very important capability," finding out its true role will be nearly impossible. "The definition of what it is is not going to happen," the source said.

In a brief two-paragraph statement released last Friday, the Navy confirmed Inside the Navy's report two weeks ago that the $2.4 billion SSN-23 would receive a hull extension to carry Navy SEALs and conduct other highly sensitive surveillance operations.

The Navy said: "The details of this modification and the advanced technologies, while classified, will support the Defense Science Board recommendation for improved payload capabilities and flexible interface with the undersea environment. This will be accomplished without sacrificing current Seawolf-class multimission warfighting capability."

The submarine, which will be longer than its two predecessors, will be delivered in 2003, one year later than was expected. According to a Navy spokesman, the exact length of the submarine is classified. While the service didn't disclose a price tag for the alteration, the Office of the Secretary of Defense approved the Navy's shift in its long-term budget to partially pay for the change (ITN, Jan. 25, p1). The Navy will move money in its shipbuilding account in fiscal years 2002 ($48 million) and 2003 ($152 million) to pay for the SSN-23 "multimission project."

The Navy said contract negotiations with submarine-builder Electric Boat, Groton, CT, a unit of General Dynamics, were still ongoing and no final price has been determined.