Two-term Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold is desperate to get his old seat back in Wisconsin, and to that end he unveiled a policy plan that he calls “Fiscal Fitness.” According to his campaign, the plan is designed to show that Feingold is serious about cutting wasteful spending in Washington. But there’s a problem with the plan.
A big problem.
In his haste to contrive “savings” for taxpayers, Feingold calls for a reduction in the U.S. Navy’s submarine force. Specifically, Feingold wants the Navy to not replace some Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines as they retire from service. The powerful submarines represent a key part of the United State’s nuclear deterrence capability, a capability that has helped prevent a nuclear conflict.
According to the U.S. Navy, there are currently 14 Ohio-class submarines in service. They are the largest submarines in the fleet and they are getting old. Very old. In fact, by the time all Ohio-class boats retire, they will have been in service longer than any other submarines in U.S. history. Concerns about safety as well as aging technology have led the Navy to plan on replacing the 14 submarines with a fleet of 12 new subs.
In his “Fiscal Fitness” plan, Feingold mocks the Navy’s plan to build 12 new submarines, insisting there is no need to build that many replacement ships. “At present, 12 submarines are slated to be produced by 2042, but the United States could reconfigure the number of missiles deployed per submarine and produce 8 submarines instead,” the plan declares.
That’s not true, according to top Navy admirals. Last year, Rear Admiral Joseph Tofalo was asked by a reporter about a plan by some Senate Democrats to reduce the number of submarines used to replace the old Ohio-class boats. The concept is identical to what Feingold is proposing in his “Fiscal Fitness” plan.
“We have to cover two oceans at once and all of the targets that go with each of these oceans,” Tofalo said before explaining that the absolute minimum number of nuclear missile subs needed is 10 – not the 8 that Feingold claims would do the job. ” The combatant commander says that number is ten, ten operational SSBNs,” the admiral said. “Eight just wouldn’t do it.”
Also last year, Vice Admiral Terry Benedict, who leads the Navy’s strategic systems programs, emphasized that the service needs all 12 replacement submarines. “Anything below the current authorized number of boats for the Ohio replacement will prevent us from meeting our national commitment requirements. We simply can’t do it,” he told a gathering of professionals.
This isn’t the first time that Feingold has blundered on defense policy. In the same plan he calls for the military to acquire more F/A-18 Super Hornets even though he repeatedly waged war on that very airplane when the military was trying to buy them in the late 1990s. On multiple occasions Feingold introduced legislation or floor amendments in the Senate that specifically called for the Super Hornet program to be cancelled.
Judging from what experts say about key defense issues, Feingold’s “Fiscal Fitness” plan appears to be election year posturing that’s just bad policy.