The SSGN Cruise Missile Scandal

     The rumors have become reality; the Navy will waste billions of dollars to covert four Ohio class SSBN "Boomers" (below) to SSGNs to carry 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles each.  The Navy is attempting to fund the first two conversions as part of the emergency supplemental bill for the current anti-terrorism campaign to avoid scrutiny.  This is ludicrous because these sub conversions will take years and have nothing to do with anti-terrorism.  Moreover, the Navy already has ships with plenty of tubes to fire expensive Tomahawk missiles, which are now less important since the introduction of inexpensive JDAM bombs.  This SSGN program is a disgusting effort by Navy insiders to exploit the tragedy of 9-11 and steal money from the taxpayers.

      The Navy had just built 18 Ohio class boomers when the Cold War ended.  As the Soviet Navy began to rust away, the Pentagon decided it needed no more than 14 Ohios in 1993.  However, Navy submarine mobsters have delayed decommissioning of these surplus subs until 2003.  Unfortunately, sub racketeers have now sold Navy leadership on the idea of spending a over billion dollars for each of these four subs to convert them to Tomahawk cruise missile strike subs (SSGN)s.  (The official estimate by Admiral Frank Bowman in December 2001 was $4.8 billion)  This will likely cost more because major systems and engineering problems must be overcome, and the crews cost money too.  In addition, the subs would have to be refueled for several more years of service, so this will cost millions more.

       Tomahawk cruise missile cost $500,000 each, so they are only fired at high-valued targets.  Moreover,  US Navy cruisers and destroyers already have over 7000 Mk-41 vertical tubes which can launch cruise missiles.  An Aegis cruiser has 122 vertical tubes, an Aegis destroyers 90, and attack submarines 12.  Since a carrier battle group is escorted by a minimum of two cruisers, two destroyers and an attack submarine, it has at least 436 tubes from which to fire cruise missiles.

        During the latest war against Afghanistan, four carrier battle groups were in cruise missile range, which offered the potential to launch over 1700 Tomahawks.  However, their MK-41 launch tubes can also carry anti-air, anti-ship and anti-sub missiles, so no ship goes to sea filled only with Tomahawks,   However, even if only half the launchers are filled with Tomahawks, that still provided the option of launching over 800 Tomahawks.  At a cost of $500,000 each, history has shown that they are only fired at a few high-value targets.

Expensive Cruise Missiles are used Sparingly

Action Targets Time Frame Launch Attempts To Flight Hits
Desert Storm Iraq 1991 Jan 17- (43 days) over 73 percent  launched in the first three days 307? 288 actual launches 282  242 plus 31?
Single Attack Zafraniyah Facility just outside of Baghdad. January 17, 1993 46 Block II TLAM-C 42 34?
Single Attack Iraqi Intelligence Service complex in Baghdad. June 26 1993 25 Block II TLAM-C 23 16
Deliberate Force Bosnia Aug 29 - Sep 14, 1995 13 13 ?
Desert Strike Iraq air defense radar facilites Sept 3, 1996 two attacks ? 31 ?
Attack Suspected terrorist camps in Afghanistan and alleged chemical weapons facility in Sudan 1998 ? 79-125 ?
Desert Fox Iraq 1998 - December 16-19 ? 325-330   ?
Allied Force Kosovo, Serbia 1999 March 24 - June 10 (78 days) ? 218  ?
Enduring Freedom Afghanistan Oct 2001- ? 65 ?

     The value of Tomahawks has sharply declined with the introduction of JDAM satellite-guided tail assemblies (below) in 1998.  These are attached to regular "dumb" bombs to guide them to a precise hit up to 15 miles away.  They are dropped safely at high altitudes by any type of aircraft.  Mostover, the kit costs only $20,000 each, see FAS JDAM for more info.  These were used very successfully against Yugoslavia and in Afghanistan, so the question arises why the Navy wasted $32 million dollars to fire 65 Tomahawks in October 2001 when it could have dropped 65  1000lbs bombs for $1.3 million?  The Tomahawks only advantage is they do not risk pilots in high threat  environments.  However, there was no high altitude threat over Afghanistan and pilots can drop them up to 15 miles from the target.  The only explanation for their employment in Afghanistan is the corrupt logic of senior military officers that everyone gets a piece of the action and money doesn't matter.

       In addition, Tomahawks are less accurate and often less effective than JDAM since they fly in horizontally at several hundred miles an hour.  If they fail to explode at the exact microsecond, they will miss their target by hundreds of meters.  After an errant cruise missile killed four UN workers in Kabul, they were sidelined.  Another factor is that cruise missiles flying horizontally can't penetrate downward into bunkers like falling JDAM bombs.  JDAM can also be attached to larger 2000lbs bombs, 1000lbs bombs, or 500lbs bombs (which are better in crowded urban areas), while cruise missile warheads are always 1000lbs.  Finally, about 10% of Tomahawk cruise missiles fail at launch, and the rest can be shot down by ground fire, something the Iraqis often achieved.  In short, Tomahawk cruise missiles are less accurate, less effective, more vulnerable, less reliable, and 25 times more expensive than JDAM bombs.

      Obviously, the need for Tomahawks has fallen dramatically, and the Navy already has far more launch capability than it needs.  The submarine mobsters have attempted to spin their sales pitch by claiming SSGNs would free Navy ships to perform other missions.  What other missions?  There is no Navy on earth which can challenge US Navy carrier battle groups.  Since the end of the Cold war, Navy surface combatants have found few other missions, which is why they insist on getting a chance to fire some Tomahawks when JDAM bombs can do the job at a far lower cost.

     The mob has tried to sell the SSGN as a Special Operations platform which can carry 100 SEAL commandos.   However, any SSN attack submarine can insert over a dozen SEALs, and there has never been a mission which required more than a dozen.   If one arises, just use several of the Navy's 68 attack subs, they have little else to do.  Moreover,  SSNs are more than half the size of SSGNs, so they can operate closer to shore and are harder to detect.  The SSGN scam is not yet a scandal.  Hopefully, some honest men in the Pentagon will reject this proposal.  More information can be found at FAS SSGN and on page 89 of the September 2001 issue of Naval Proceedings.

                                                           Carlton Meyer



G2mil Too Harsh

     I find that I agree with much you write, BUT have a serious problem with your "stance". Using terms like "Submarine mobsters" to describe senior military officers can only lower your credibility with the very people you wish to influence. Your audience (the choir) delights in your use of these terms, but I fear the typical influential leader will put your material aside without getting your information BECAUSE you use these terms. You may have excellent reason for disagreeing with Senator McCain, but when you call him an idiot, you lose the ability to defeat him in debate and will be far less likely to substitute your ideas for his in the public's mind. 

      I spent 23 years in the military. Of course, a significant portion of this time I had no meaningful contact with decision makers, BUT eventually, I came into peripheral contact with the level of power you discuss in your articles. I saw something completely different than you report in your pages. Yes, from time to time I did see cynicism and self-serving behavior. On the other hand, from my own personal experience I can reliably report that most senior military leaders are men of honor and integrity. They have  put nation above personal needs. Under no circumstances are they "mobsters" as you characterize them. The worst accusation that can be made is that they sometimes demonstrate a parochial interest in their specific part of the service.

     What you are saying is IMPORTANT. The public needs to understand the less obvious motivations that drive our military and political leaders. You accomplish this in open, honest debate that captures the public imagination, NOT in sophomoric slinging of incendiary personal potshots at influential leaders. Attack the idea, not the person.

                                                          Robert G. Williscroft, PhD

Ed.  Most of my cynicism is focused on the post-Cold War US military which has become a different animal.  When the "war" ended, these organizations refused to adjust to peacetime and cut their budgets in half, but sought to involve the USA in every conflict possible.  Next year's military budget (approved before the 9-11 attacks) is larger than Rumsfeld had during his first tour back in the Cold war 1970's, even after adjusting for inflation.  The major military fighting in our current terrorist war is almost over, but our huge military, now backed by 50,000 reservists, plans for a huge budget increase beyond Cold war levels.   I fear that political momentum for a bigger war will build because our conventional military is "all dressed up with nowhere to go".

      There is tremendous waste and no one cares.  For example, those four Ohio class subs were marked for decommissioning back in 1993, but they are still in service.  Meanwhile, the Navy claims it lacks fund to pay full VHA, fix housing, or provide excellent medical care.  Who was responsible for that waste of one billion dollars?  Now those four unneeded subs must be retired because there is no way Congress would approve expensive refuelings, so they worked up a new scheme (and bypassed Congressional oversight by labeling it as "anti-terrorist" funding) to make them Tomahawk missile launchers, the last thing our Navy needs.  I suggest you do some investigative reporting and find out why those subs were not decommissioned back in 1993, and which highly-respected honorable officers are responsible for this waste.  I know that calling them "mobsters" will make them angry, but it should make them reflect upon why the operate like mobsters.

      You are right, Senator McCain is not an arrogant idiot.  I was angry at his public criticism of the President during a war and his foolish demand to send in ground troops immediately.  Through the miracle of the Internet, I changed that sentence to "arrogant grandstander".  McCain is no idiot.  When he came back from Vietnam, he found his faithful wife confined to a wheelchair because of a serious auto accident.  He quickly dumped her and married the daughter of a very wealthy beer distributor, who was 15 years younger, and used her money to run for Congress.

The Pentagon Knows Best

       There is always somebody who knows better than the military.  The most successful military service to a country in the history of the world and another "sandcrab" wants to tell them how to do it.

                                                                                        Steve Sisk

Ed. I thought this was a naive teenager, but Mr. Sisk insisted that he spent many years as a US Navy officer.


  1. Force Structure: Options for Enhancing the Navy's Attack Submarine Force.  GAO-02-97, November 14, 2001.