'Well-built machines of war' — Esper touts the US submarine fleet as a critical edge over Russia and China

Military Tech
The Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS California is photographed during sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean, June 30, 2011. (U.S. Navy/Chris Oxley)

GROTON, Conn. -- Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a month into the job, toured Electric Boat on Tuesday, including a walkthrough of the Navy's newest attack submarine, USS South Dakota, which is undergoing a major upgrade to make the already stealthy submarine even quieter in response to continued advancement by China and Russia in their undersea fleets.

Esper's focus of late has been on China, which is increasingly staking a claim in the Indo-Pacific region, and which recently tested multiple anti-ship ballistic missiles. He told a crowd at the Naval War College in Newport earlier in the day that the Pentagon is looking at ways to increase its presence in the region.


Addressing a group of EB workers and crew members of the South Dakota, Esper said the U.S. is back in an era of great power competition.

"The Russians and Chinese have been at it for a while and we've kind of missed the ball, but we're back on our game right now," he said.

Where the U.S. has a distinct advantage, he said, is in its submarine fleet — "well-built machines of war, if you will."

"We have to maintain that overmatch, and that means we have to continue to grow the fleet and build capabilities into each version," Esper said.

Officials have spoken generally about the improvements being made to the South Dakota, such as quieter machinery, a hull coating that will better absorb sound, and new sonar capabilities to improve threat detection. South Dakota is considered the test ship for the improvements, and any insights gained will drive future technological advancements.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who invited Esper to tour EB, said Esper emphasized to him at the end of the visit "the need to prioritize undersea warfare and the submarines made here because it's an area where we are clearly ahead of our adversaries and where that superiority makes all the difference."

U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Gov. Ned Lamont also attended Tuesday's tour.

Blumenthal said he thought Esper's visit would lead to further investment in the U.S. submarine fleet. Nine attack submarines are currently under construction between EB's facilities in Groton and Quonset Point, R.I., company President Jeffery Geiger said Tuesday.

At one point during the tour, Esper asked Geiger, after Geiger had explained EB's construction process, whether the Russians "build subs this way. ... Because they build good subs." Russia builds its submarines in a similar fashion, Geiger said, and while its submarines are advanced, it does not have a lot of them.

China, for its part, is expected to have a fleet of 70 submarines — both diesel and nuclear — by 2020 and "that number is going to continue to grow as they're getting more proficient in submarine construction," said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who also attended Tuesday's tour.

Esper is "picking up" where former Defense Secretary James Mattis left off "in terms of highlighting the challenge that exists in the Indo-Pacific region with China's posture out there," Courtney said.

Submarines, given their stealth, are able to operate in that environment unimpeded, he said. That's what's driving the work at EB, he said, "this new strategic reality that the submarine fleet is uniquely positioned to lead the way."

———

©2019 The Day (New London, Conn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

A Marine wanted for killing his mother's boyfriend reportedly escaped police by hiding inside an RV they'd spent hours searching before towing it to a parking lot, where he escaped under the cover of darkness.

It wasn't until more than two weeks later authorities finally caught up to Michael Brown at his mom's home, which was the scene of the crime.

Brown stuffed himself into a tight spot in his camper during an hours-long search of the vehicle on Nov. 10, according to NBC affiliate WSLS in Virginia. A day earlier, cops said Brown fatally shot his mother's boyfriend, Rodney Brown. The AWOL Marine remained on the lam until Nov. 27, where he was finally apprehended without incident.

Read More Show Less

No motive is yet known for last week's Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard shooting tragedy, which appears to have been a random act of violence in which the sailor who fatally shot two civilian workers and himself did not know them and did not plan his actions ahead of time, shipyard commander Capt. Greg Burton said in an "All Hands" message sent out Friday.

Machinist's Mate Auxiliary Fireman Gabriel Antonio Romero of San Antonio, an armed watch-stander on the attack submarine USS Columbia, shot three civilian workers Dec. 4 and then turned a gun on himself while the sub rested in dry dock 2 for a major overhaul, the Navy said.

"The investigation continues, but there is currently no known motive and no information to indicate the sailor knew any of the victims," Burton said.

Read More Show Less
A projectile is fired during North Korea's missile tests in this undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) on November 28, 2019. (KCNA via Reuters)

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said it had successfully conducted another test at a satellite launch site, the latest in a string of developments aimed at "restraining and overpowering the nuclear threat of the U.S.", state news agency KCNA reported on Saturday.

The test was conducted on Friday at the Sohae satellite launch site, KCNA said, citing a spokesman for North Korea's Academy of Defence Science, without specifying what sort of testing occurred.

Read More Show Less

Since the Washington Post first published the "Afghanistan papers," I have been reminded of a scene from "Apocalypse Now Redux" in which Army Col. Walter Kurtz reads to the soldier assigned to kill him two Time magazine articles showing how the American people had been lied to about Vietnam by both the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations.

In one of the articles, a British counterinsurgency expert tells Nixon that "things felt much better and smelled much better" during his visit to Vietnam.

"How do they smell to you, soldier?" Kurtz asks.

Read More Show Less
Erik Prince arrives for the New York Young Republican Club Gala at The Yale Club of New York City in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., November 7, 2019. (REUTERS/Jeenah Moon)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Erik Prince, the controversial private security executive and prominent supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, made a secret visit to Venezuela last month and met Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, one of socialist leader Nicolas Maduro's closest and most outspoken allies, according to five sources familiar with the matter.

Read More Show Less