A new team featuring research executives from the McNamara era at the Pentagon has been commissioned to advise the Navy on what to do about the rising costs of submarines.
The Trident missile submarine, for example, is now running in excess of $1 billion for the first boat and critics fear it will be priced out of existence like the Air Force B1 bomber.
The 688-class attack submarine, designed to destory other subs, also is faulted by come undersea warface specialists as too large to hide easily, too shallow-diving and too expensive: $257.6 million a copy.
Former Pentagon research chief John S. Foster Jr., who lost to Adm. H.G. Rickover in fighting against the 683-class "high speed" submarine in the 1960s, is a member of the new advisory team and thus in position for a rematch.
Daniel Fink, formerly Foster's deputy who specialized in strategic warface developments including the MIRV multiple warhead, also is on the submarine panel established by Navy Secretary W. Graham Claytor to take a fresh look at alternatives to Trident and the 688.
Other team members who served as Pentagon research executives at various times during the tenure of Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara from 1961-68 include Fred Payne and Eugene Fubini.
Payne directed a broad look at strategic weapons options, including missile submarines, under a project called "Strat X" and will now work full time at the Pentagon as director of the submarine study.
While at the Pentagon, Fubini worked on a variety of hush-hush projects, including using innocent-looking merchant ships as electronic eavesdroppers. The capture of the U.S. spy ship Pueblo on Jan. 23, 1968, halted that program.
All of those former Pentagon executives have since become either aerospace executives or consultants. They were selected, in part, to give the Navy analyses independent of those provided by the submarine service.
David E. Mann. assistant secretary of the Navy for research, told The Washington Post that those Pentagon research executives from the 1960s were chosen "because they're very smart and very tough and if there are any flaws" in the reappraisal effort on submarines, "they'll find them."
Other advisory panelists include retired Admiral Levering Smith, who led much of the development effort on the Polaris and poseidon submarines, and Lawrence O'Neill, head of the Riverside Research Institute who has served as a science adviser to the Army and the Navy.
Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt, chief of naval operations at the time of the Trident go-ahead, has said that Smith was concerned about allowing the Rickover design for the nuclear power plant, rather than missiles, dictate the size of the Trident submarine.
The Trident displaces 18,700 tons and is 560 feet long, five feet longer than the Washington Monument is high. The first nuclear-powered missile submarine. The George Washington of the Polaris class, was one-third that tonnage. 6019, and 178 feet shorter than the Trident.
The Navy's attack submarines have become heavier and longer, too, since the first one, the Nautilus, was launched in 1954. The Nautilus displaces 3,764 tons and is 319 feet long, compared to the 6,000 tons and 360-foot length of the 688-class attack subs.
In a 1976 paper that apparently received scant attention at the time, Robert M. Chapman, then an undersea warfare specialist in the Pentagon's research office, warned that the size of attack submarines was getting out of hand.
His paper, entitled "Attack Submarine Research and Development: Recent Trends and Projected Needs," called for more compact nuclear power plants and an end to building one submarine to do many missions.
Without such changes, he wrote, there will not be enough money to build the number of submarines needed to combat the Soviet threat.
"Certainly," he argued, "there must be a significant number of missions that could be covered adequately by a somewhat smaller" attack submarine than the 688-class boat championed by Rickover.
Whether smaller missile and attack submarines than the Trident and 688 are feasible is the big question the panel will address between now and August, the target date for finishing the study.
One of the more radical ideas bouncing around among undersea warface specialists is to modify the 688-class attack submarines to carry Trident missiles and then scrap the billion-dollar Trident submarine program after about six boats are finished.
"This would kill two dogs with one stone," said one critic who faults the 688 for not being able to dive deep enough to provide proper protection against detection and attack and who considers Trident too expensive and too big a target for the Soviets.
Navy leaders overseeing the study said the panel may end up endorsing the Trident and 688 as the best investment in sight. They said the panel has been advised to review existing analyses and available technology, not far-out concepts that would take a long time to turn into a fighting submarine.
No matter what the panel ends up recommending, its review marks the most significant and most independent assessment yet of the submarine course set by the 78-year-old Rickover.