GROTON, Conn. — The Navy is considering lengthening the standard deployment of attack submarines beyond six months as it faces rising demands with a fleet that has been shrinking since the end of the Cold War, the commander of American submarine forces told the Associated Press in an interview.
The submarines are already at times asked to stay out longer than six months — extensions that can be trying for sailors who serve in confined spaces with limited outside communication.
Vice Adm. John Richardson told the AP this week that keeping subs out longer is one of several options the Navy is considering as the number of attack subs is projected to continue dropping in the next decade and beyond.
"As you try and maintain the same presence with fewer hulls, there are all sorts of variables in that equation. One would be extending deployment lengths," he said.
A spokeswoman for the admiral, Navy Cmdr. Monica Rousselow, said it is impossible to say how long sub deployments might become because so many factors are involved.
The number of nuclear-powered attack submarines in the U.S. force has fallen from a peak of 98 in the late 1980s to 53 at the end of fiscal year 2010, a decline that roughly matches a drop in the size of the Navy since the end of the Cold War. Each Virginia-class attack submarine costs about $2.6 billion and carries a crew of about 135 officers and sailors.
Courtney, who is pushing for an increase in attack sub procurement, said they are unmatched in their ability to deliver firepower and do surveillance without being detected.