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Nearly 40% of U.S. Attack Submarines are Out of Commission

Nearly 40% of U.S. Attack Submarines are Out of Commission

This at a time when China is ramping up its Navy capabilities, and while the Biden Administration proposes cutting shipbuilding photo -

As if the military recruiting disaster or the Biden Administration’s embrace of woke and transgender policies for the military wasn’t bad enough, now we find out that almost 40% of U.S. attack submarines, or SSNs, the kind that shoot Tomahawk missiles at land targets and torpedoes at all types of vessels at sea, and conduct intelligence collection missions, i.e. the kind critical for the defense of Taiwan, are out-of-commission and stuck in naval shipyards.

From Bloomberg:

Delays at naval shipyards mean that nearly 40% of US attack submarines are out of commission for repairs, about double the rate the Navy would like, according to new data released by the service.

As of this year, 18 of the US Navy’s 49 attack submarines — 37% — were out of commission, according to previously undisclosed Navy data published by the Congressional Research Service. That leaves the US at a critical disadvantage against China’s numerically superior fleet.

The maintenance backlog has “substantially reduced” the number of nuclear submarines operational at any given moment, cutting the “force’s capacity for meeting day-to-day mission demands and potentially putting increased operational pressure” on submarines that are in service, CRS naval analyst Ronald O’Rourke said in a July 6 report.

Worst of all, the trendline is bad and getting worse, as the 37% out-of-commission rate is “up from 28% overall in 2017 and 33% in 2022, and below the industry best practice of 20%.” “The best year for attack sub availability was fiscal 2015 when 19% — or 10 of the then 53 subs — were in overhaul, according to figures contained in a June 13 Navy information paper.”

Like I said, the trendline is bad and getting worse.

The Navy, of course, deflected responsibility and tried the old “it’s not that bad” line:

The Naval Sea Systems Command blamed “planning, material availability, and shipyard execution,” according to a statement issued in response to the new statistics. The service has launched several initiatives to address these “primary maintenance delay” drivers, it said.

The command gave an updated maintenance backlog status, saying that 16 of 49 subs, or 32%, were out of commission as of late June.

This doesn’t cut it because “US defense officials and lawmakers consider the submarine force a key advantage over China’s bigger navy,” to which I say, no kidding.

It also contrasts with the Biden Administration sending submarines on show the flag missions around the globe, in hopes of deterring some of the crazies out there:

The previously undisclosed backlog woes stand in contrast to current Pentagon policy that’s called for increased visibility worldwide for the US sub force as a message to China, Russia and North Korea. The US has occasionally showcased its submarines in the past, but the pace picked up in the last year with publicized port visits in the Arabian Sea, at Diego Garcia, at Gibraltar and in the Atlantic.

The most recent was a June appearance by the guided-missile submarine USS Michigan in Busan, South Korea.

Well, that’s not going to work too well if it’s all show and you don’t have the actual submarines available to execute the missions.

Biden seems to be doing the opposite of Teddy Roosevelt, who advised “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

And it may seem like only 18 attack submarines being “out-of-commission” out of 49 is not that bad, but the number of attack submarines the military’s operational combatant commanders say they need, “76 SSNs in the [year] 2025,” is way higher than 49, and of the subs remaining in an operational status, many of them are getting relatively minor repairs in their own homeports, or going through the long and arduous process to get certified to deploy overseas. So not all of the available subs are really available to deploy for a contingency at any one time.

Also, as an aside, being in the shipyard is an absolute morale buster for a submarine crew. I remember being in the wardroom on USS Guardfish (SSN-612), in the shipyard, in 1984, sitting on a flat piece of sheet metal, surrounded by metal shavings, smelling the choking fumes from arc welding, and hearing the rattling sounds of multiple chain falls lifting heavy equipment out of the boat. And I’ll never forget our Navigator coming up to me and saying “I’ve always wondered what hell is like. Now I know.” Anyway, it’s not fun, and consider the case of USS Connecticut (SSN-22):

One current example of the extreme backlog is the USS Connecticut, one of three premier Seawolf-class submarines. It struck an underwater mountain in the South China Sea 20 months ago and won’t be back in service until early 2026 at the soonest.

And all this at a time, we find out, that the Biden Administration is also slashing its shipbuilding proposals in the new defense budget:

The Biden administration wants to enact sharp budget cuts to the U.S. Navy that would force it to prematurely retire almost a dozen ships and take offline critical missile systems that serve as a primary deterrent to Chinese aggression.

President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget proposal would deal a massive blow to the already strained American Navy—the White House wants to prematurely retire eight ships and two combat vessels. By taking these ships out of action, the Navy would lose more than 600 vertical launch missile systems—a missile capability that serves as the primary deterrent to Chinese military attacks in the Pacific.

Fortunately, some Republicans in Congress are not happy:

“The Biden Administration’s defense budget would hollow out our fleet and scrap Navy radars and missile systems we desperately need to deter China,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.), the Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking member, told the Free Beacon. “Prematurely retiring our ships sends exactly the wrong signal to China as they continue to build their own Navy at a historic pace.”


Biden’s budget also aims to reduce spending on naval reactors—which power nuclear-armed submarines—by 5.6 percent, or $1.96 billion, relative to last year’s budget, according to the budget information provided by Wicker.

That last piece is key, because the current operational attack submarine shortage cannot be made up, if Joe Biden has his way, with new commission attack submarines coming out of Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut.

And let’s not forget about Joe Biden’s admission earlier this week, that we reported on, that due to our largesse in providing weapons to Ukraine, we are running out ammo ourselves.

I had been curious about why we were sending cluster bombs to Ukraine. I hadn’t heard that there was a glaring need for this type of anti-personnel weapon, as the Ukraine war so far has been mainly an intensive anti-armor artillery action, and the move was sure to cause international angst, as many (I am not one) view cluster bombs as “bad.” Now we know why the cluster bombs — it’s all we have left.

The sad state of today’s military, and especially our submarine force, worries me greatly. Hopefully there is relief coming on the horizon somehow.


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The military leadership and political leadership of the US is out of commission mentally, so why not the equipment?

Thanks for the very informative update.

I’m a little unclear on the current delays preventing mission capable attack boats. Are they caused by a lack of funding in previous years, lack of capability at the yards, or some other factor?

Quick note on the cluster munitions Biden is risking WW-III with – DPICMs are, as the name implies, dual purpose. They contain various mixes of anti-personnel (frag) and anti-armor (shaped charge) submunitions.

    MosesZD in reply to Gosport. | July 13, 2023 at 9:25 am

    You clowns and your ‘it’ll be nuclear war this time’ crap.

    Both the Ukrainians and Russians have been using cluster munitions this whole war. They also used them in 2014 when the pussy Obama, who you obviously agree with, did nothing. And the Russians don’t play by your silly rules. By December of last year there have been hundreds of cluster munition attacks on Ukrainian civilians and they have suffered over 1,000 dead because of it.

    Stop being a fear-mongering bedwetter.

    BierceAmbrose in reply to Gosport. | July 14, 2023 at 12:18 am

    All three, lack of funding, lack of capability, and other, which happens because maintaining readiness isn’t sexy until something bad happens, and you need to be, you know, ready.

    The “other” factor is godawful force composition, program selection, and execution — that’s the big words version of pi__ing away money and time. How’s those Zumwalts doing? With the Littoral Combat ships that makes two “transformational” bigthink programs that targeted a non-need that couldn’t work anyway, but that’s OK because the delivered systems didn’t work anyway.

Considering Biden’s relationships with an ascendant China, this is not a surprise by any means.

“I’m a little unclear on the current delays preventing mission capable attack boats. Are they caused by a lack of funding in previous years, lack of capability at the yards, or some other factor?”

Having been an ENG during a major SSN overhaul back in 2014 and a Deputy Project Superintendent on my follow-on tour, it is a combination of factors.

The paperwork (virtual and real) to plan and execute work items is almost unbelievable.

The planning for jobs almost always underestimates the actual durations, but the engineering durations (driving the underestimates) are nearly always used because… that is how long the engineers say the jobs should take.

Overall project estimates are still based on antiquated earned value systems using linear estimates which in no way reflect the actual execution dynamics, which are based on a sigmoidal model (specifically a logistic function, or S curve). This means that any future estimation tends to underestimate what will actually happen in terms of both resource requirements and schedule duration.

The post cold War stand down resulted in the departure of nearly an entire generation of shipyard workers. We are on the middle of the experience gap caused by the old greybeards retiring.

There is not sufficient ship repair capacity (from a worker perspective) in the US to cover resource gaps in the public shipyards.

There is significant lead time for many items needed in repairs.

Environmental regulations can cause delays (my personal annoyance was finding sea life in drydocks when draining them. Nothing like having to reflood and try to chase fish out…), or make certain evolutions very difficult and resource intensive (hull cleanings while waterborne…).

Significant work getting added to the package when systems are initially inspected and found to be in worse condition than thought… we drive those poor boats hard.

Most public shipyards are considered historical, making it very difficult to modernize them and improve work flow efficiency. SIOP is trying to help with this. It also makes renovations very, very expensive.


    Gosport in reply to Jubedgy. | July 12, 2023 at 8:25 pm

    Great reply jubedgy.

    Environmental regulations can cause delays (my personal annoyance was finding sea life in drydocks when draining them. Nothing like having to reflood and try to chase fish out…

    Easy fix, they need to recruit from contestants in the Flora-Bama Lounge’s annual Mullet-Toss competition.

    DaveGinOly in reply to Jubedgy. | July 12, 2023 at 11:03 pm

    And it would take one labor dispute somewhere to really gum up the works (as they occasionally did to sub construction during the 1980s).

    Tel in reply to Jubedgy. | July 12, 2023 at 11:45 pm


    Weren’t certain closures an issue as well? Charleston and Mare Island for example.

    Tel in reply to Jubedgy. | July 12, 2023 at 11:51 pm

    Dang it – No edit.


    Also, I’ve heard that some of this issue is about how the building takes place and how different parts and construction have to take place in different places in the country because Congress needs to bring work programs home to the constituents. It creates confusion and takes up more time than necessary.

    This process goes through NAVSEA, which is a lot of civilians – some government with contractors working the process, which has its own issues.

Frankly the Navy should be better funded than the Army outside periods of land based conflict. We are a continental sized Nation with the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, among other bodies of water, separating the USA from our enemies. (Mexico is nearly a failed State turned narco State not quite an enemy…yet but getting closer) That our leadership continually refuses to maximize the natural geographic advantages we possess by fully funding our Navy to maintain those advantages is foolish. Subs are way more useful than a carrier in the missile age.

    DaveGinOly in reply to CommoChief. | July 12, 2023 at 11:08 pm

    “Subs are way more useful than a carrier in the missile age.”

    Our military, when prepared, has the unfortunate tendency to be prepared for the last war, rather than the next.

      CommoChief in reply to DaveGinOly. | July 13, 2023 at 11:48 am

      Don’t I know it! I spent 26+ years in the Army.

      Mostly it comes down to parochial interests among various philosophical views/schools within the military as to what should be the ‘grand strategy’, the doctrine to achieve it and what tools (weapon systems) are needed to employ that doctrine.

      Often the powerful interests surrounding and promoting a particular weapons system drive the decision making. When the defense contractor tells ‘their’ Congressman we need X more units at Y price then they usually get their way. Now we have a tool which may or may not fit within the evolving doctrine much less the grand strategy. So the doctrine and the strategy must be adapted to the tools at hand. ‘We go to war with the Army we have’.

It takes years to build large Navy vessels. Other than Trump (the wild card), the presidents of the last 2 decades have been degrading the military (we can go back to Clinton, actually) while engaging in multiple war theaters, many the average American doesn’t know much about.

To get to this level of “bad” takes a number of years of bad policy and cuts.

    BierceAmbrose in reply to Tel. | July 14, 2023 at 12:24 am

    Oh, some of us called it when Clinton was crowing about how they’d spend that peace dividend.

    It’s easy to point at strategic weapons and proxy wars, n say “See, we won’t need those any more.” It’s harder to note the cap the exestential bi-polar struggle kept on all sorts of other shenanigans. The $2 word is “destabilization.” Non-state actors, revolutions, territory grabs, resource wars, secessions and border disputes, piracy, mercantilism backed by gunboat diplomacy… There’s more, not less, as we’ve seen.

Subotai Bahadur | July 12, 2023 at 8:34 pm

Does anyone not believe that the degradation of everything that defends or helps America that the government touches is not deliberate policy of the Left?

Subotai Bahadur

Back when I was in the Air Force things got difficult for the commander when the comm equipment dropped below 95% mission capable. We would have a new commander when it dropped below 90%.

Hard to train Sub engineers when they are in dance and makeup classes all day

And I’m not talking about the women here

Never fear! Our enemies will see our transgender troops and surrender out of abject fear!

If I didn’t know better I’d say harming Chinese deterrence is Biden’s actual goal.

    WTPuck in reply to randian. | July 13, 2023 at 11:04 am

    And I’m sure you know better.

    And it’s not just Biden. It’s his entire administration (i.e., handlers).

broomhandle | July 13, 2023 at 8:11 am

How many 688i subs can each new Virginia class boat replace? Is there a rough equivalency factor? And is the development of the SSNX class going to be affected by Biden’s defense budget?

    BierceAmbrose in reply to broomhandle. | July 14, 2023 at 12:29 am

    Seen from a distance, there is a rough equivalency among the attack subs across classes. In particular roles, missions, or circumstances there’s big differences.

    From public sources only, the Sea Systems Command has been doing a good job of tech n systems transfer among the programs. I suppose that’s one driver of the backlog, and a good idea, actually.

E Howard Hunt | July 13, 2023 at 9:04 am

The answer is to get young, edgy women and POCs to design and build a new fleet of carbon fiber submarines.

Steven Brizel | July 13, 2023 at 9:27 am

This is more proof as to the fact that our arned services are in worse shape than priior to Pearl Harbor.

Fat_Freddys_Cat | July 13, 2023 at 11:01 am

Attack subs are also an important ASW asset. If we lock horns with PRC we had best be prepared to deal with their submarines.

    Worse than that, if we have any kind of shooting conflict with China (or on-the-edge-of-shooting), the Chinese subs will be in local waters under friendly air cover. They’re mostly diesel, so quiet as heck, and in shallow water which is where they work the best and ours work least-best. If you tried your best to design a warfare arena worse than the Taiwan Straits… um, you’d wind up with Korea, I suppose, where everything is right up against the coast and a bazillion tiny islands. Surface vessels and air power are going to be the most prominent forces in any conflict, and don’t expect the Chinese to play fair there either.

It seems to me that the number of USA subs should not be publicized.

Why should are enemies know what we have?

BierceAmbrose | July 14, 2023 at 12:33 am

“It also contrasts with the Biden Administration sending submarines on show the flag missions around the globe, in hopes of deterring some of the crazies out there:”

Jeebus H Rickover Rolling in The Deep, you deter people by them not knowing where the subs are. Subs are the original stealth platform. You let them see you launch. Then you disappear.

Not clear on the concept.

BierceAmbrose | July 14, 2023 at 12:43 am

“The Navy, of course, deflected responsibility and tried the old “it’s not that bad” line:

The Naval Sea Systems Command blamed “planning, material availability, and shipyard execution,””

Not clear on the concept, cubed. Your frakking job is planning, ensuring material availability, and managing execution. Your job is not propsing some rosey scenario scheme to applause. Your job is getting it done when the scenario is far from rosey.

What they described — planning, availability, execution — isn’t even close to bad circumstances — entirely under their influence and observation.

Not clear on the concept. At least they’re consistent.