Captain Carl A. Lahti


The Commander of the Groton/New London submarine base, Captain Carl Lahti presented the roles, capabilities and functions of today’s submarine force.  He began his talk by stating that the overall mission of the Groton/New London base is to deploy submarines and train modern submariners.

Captain Lahti stressed that the biggest submarine advantage is stealth.  Nobody knows where they are at any particular time.  In addition to stealth, today’s submarines have the advantages of agility, endurance and payload.  All of these advantages were brought to their present standards with the introduction of nuclear submarines with the launching of the first nuclear sub, Nautilus in 1964.  Now submarines have the ability to have their power cores last for thirty years and submarines are now being built that will have a power core capability of forty years.  Among other benefits this means that a submarine can be on station for months at a time.  These submarines can pack a big wallop.  The Ohio class ballistic submarine can carry 100 Polaris missiles as well as 24 ballistic missiles and a full complement of the newest torpedoes and no-one knows where they are.  Besides these ballistic class subs, our sub arsenal includes attack subs, which are the underwater equivalent to fighter planes.  These also contain an impressive weapons assortment.

But untypical of most government programs these subs and their replacements are normally built on, or below budget.

Captain Lahti emphasized that despite the sophistication and capabilities of our modern submarines, they can’t accomplish much unless they are operated by the right kinds of personnel.  He pointed out that all submariners are volunteers who are academically and psychologically screened to provide a highly reliable group of elite sailors.  These personnel undergo continuous teaching and training and typically are called upon to pass 2-4 examinations a month.  This training involves the following: attacking surface vessels; anti-submarine warfare; strike warfare (putting a missile through a bathroom window from several hundred miles away); intelligence, surveillance, and recon; special warfare (dispatching Seals); mine warfare; and acting as a strategic deterrent.

Questions and Answers

Q.  How do you communicate when a sub is under ice?

A.  We either punch a hole in the ice to put up a communications pole or drag a very long antenna under the water.  The long antenna works, but it results in a much slower data download.

Q.  Are subs dispatched independently, or as part of a battle group?

A.  Both.  We don’t have enough subs to have one with every battle group, but many do have one with them.

Q.  What happened to the Thresher?

A.  It lost propulsion and the back-up system to insert air into its tanks to bring it to the surface failed from working properly because of ice formation in the air tubes.  Now we have a Sub-Safe program that corrects these failings.

Q. Are there other nations that approach our sub capability?

A.  The U.K. is probably the closest, but none really has our capability.

Q.  How do you detect submarines?

A.  There are a variety of ways, but the one most effective is to have a team approach with a number of ships, aircraft and sonar.

Q. What is the role of women on submarines?

A.  We introduced women into ballistic submarines a number of years ago.  It has worked out well and they are about to be introduced into attack subs so we will have full integration.

Q.  Will Connecticut lose its sub base to Georgia?

A.  We have been told not to talk about the politics of bases, but we are not expecting much movement.

Q.  Why did the navy never promote Rickover to Admiral?

A.  He was not the easiest person to get along with although he was a true visionary.  But he irritated so many in the navy that he had to have Congress promote him.

Q.  Do we know where enemy subs are located?

A.  I can’t give specifics, but we are really good at detecting submarines.

Q.  What is the Russian sub capability?

A. it is one area where they are investing money.  They have new ballistic subs and new missiles to go along with them.

Q.  Is it possible to have subs fighting other subs?

A.  Yes.  Taking out an enemy’s subs is a high priority and one of the very first things you would do.

Q.  Considering recent events has the security at the sub base been tightened?

A.  Our security is commensurate with the degree of threat.  It is constantly evaluated and appropriate steps taken.

Q.  How do you handle the event of a sub sinking?

A. There are rescue procedures that are practiced with specialized equipment that subs carry.  There is also an international sub-rescue consortium that can aid if requested.

Q.  How good are surface ships at detecting subs?

A.  They are getting better all the time, but they are most effective if they work as a team.

Q.  What was the contribution of Simon Lake?

A.  He was instrumental in developing submarine classes and some of the equipment we use today.

Q.  What kind of salaries do submariners get?

A.  We are well paid compared to the rest of the navy and receive some good bonuses as well.