The aging U.S. Navy submarine fleet, which will be further slashed in the coming decade, could force the Pentagon to reconsider plans to make the Asia-Pacific region a top long-term priority, according to Stars and Stripes.
The number of active U.S. attack submarines will shrink from 55 to 41, according to current military plans that are the result of major budget cuts.
The U.S. Navy also needs to replace its 14 nuclear ballistic missile submarines at a cost of $95 billion, and "at this point, no one in Congress or the Pentagon is sure where" that money will come from.
The realities of the U.S. submarine fleet could force the Pentagon to drastically change its future plans, especially in the Asia-Pacific region which is home to the increasingly "aggressive" Chinese force.
From Stars and Stripes:
It’s difficult to quantify the effect of an attack submarine deficit on the Navy’s daily mission, because the "silent service" doesn’t talk about its operations. However, the Navy’s deployments in recent years included regular visits to the South China Sea, where $1.2 trillion in annual U.S. trade transits. The sea is also the center of tensions and repeated low-level skirmishes over territory between China and multiple U.S. allies.
The looming reality of fewer submarines could fuel skepticism over whether the United States can afford to make the Asia-Pacific region its top long-term priority, as Pentagon leaders have said they would.
"The U.S. is already doing so much in the region, but no matter how many times the U.S. says it’s committed to the region, still there are doubts," said Ian Storey, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
Those doubts arise largely from the country’s budget woes — Congress still hasn’t found a solution to sequestration, a set of automatic budget cuts that has resulted in Defense Department civilian furloughs and reduced operations. Even without sequestration, there are no plans for big defense spending increases.