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The · Psychohistorian


U.S. Government Procurement

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So I was surfing the web earlier, looking at what had happened to the nuclear navy since I left Washington in 1989. One of the things that I looked up was what had happened to the Seawolf class submarine, which was on the drawing boards when I moved to Boston.

The Seawolf was basically a submariner's dream. It was being designed when people who had been junior officers in early nuclear submarines were reaching four star rank. These guys were finally in a position to design the submarine they really would have liked to have, and that's what they did. It was fast, it was quiet, it had substantially better attack capabilities than the Los Angeles class it was designed to replace, and all the Admirals hoped it would put the U.S. solidly ahead of the Soviet Union in terms of attack submarine capabilities.

Unfortunately for that submarine design, the Soviet Union soon fell apart, and we no longer needed all of the Seawolf's capabilities.

Apparently even the Navy realized this, because after ordering only three of the Seawolf class, they proposed building a less capable submarine that would save them some money. It would be as quiet as the Seawolf, but it no longer needed to be as fast as the Soviets' nuclear submarines - it just needed to be faster than the diesel electric submarines that everyone else had. The cost would be kept down by the economies of scale from building them all at only one of the two nuclear shipbuilders in the United States - Electric Boat in Groton, CT - an arrangement that had also applied to the Seawolf class.

Evidently, Congress - in particular the delegation from Virginia, where the other U.S. nuclear shipbuilder is located - didn't like this plan. When providing early funding for the class, they insisted that the ships be built alternately between Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. That pushed the cost of the new "Virginia" class submarines higher than the Seawolf class, despite their being substantially less capable. So now the Navy actually gets less submarine, for more money.

It was a good reminder of why I left Washington.
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