The Decommissioning of
USS Cavalla (SSN 684)
Remarks by ADM Bruce DeMars, USN (Retired)
Pearl Harbor 29 August 1997
I am most honored to be your speaker here today. When asked if I would come to this historic submarine base to commemorate this brave boat, it brought back a flood of memories, all good. I am most proud to speak for all the sailors, chiefs, officers and their families and loved ones that have served this gallant vessel for the past three decades.
All of you have served during a momentous period in the history of our country - the Cold War. A war we won. I have a message for you-each and every one of you made a difference in this long struggle. Because of the nature of submarining - everyone is involved; each of you can be proud of your contribution to this historic victory. If you remember nothing else that I say today, remember that-and I want you to tell your children and your grandchildren.
The submarine was the backbone of our enemy's navy and their strategic nuclear force. We countered that submarine force's every move. They were a formidable opponent and it -required intense, sustained effort on your part.
As they got quieter, we invented a towed array sonar and changed our tactics. When they went deeper and faster to compensate for lack of stealth, we modified our torpedoes to go deeper and faster - and let them know we did!
When they deployed to the Mediterranean in the '60s, we followed. When they went to The Indian Ocean in the '7Os, we followed. When they went under the Arctic ice pack to escape detection, we increased our Arctic deployments from one sub per year to three or four per year and conducted torpedo exercises under the ice!
The Soviets made the submarine force the centerpiece of their post-World War II naval expansion. But we hounded them unmercifully. They always came out second best. Reacting to the pressure of our Submarine Force, the Soviets had to commit vast resources in the pursuit of undersea superiority, or at least parity. Both goals eluded them. Finally their system went broke financially and politically. You significantly contributed to that victory. CAVALLA was in the forefront of one of the country's most successful Cold War competitive strategies. This is a hard-earned lesson that our island nation should not forget in these uncertain times.
Well, is today's ceremony symbolic of the passing of an era? Are our submarines now a Cold War relic? I think not! The nuclear powered submarine revolutionized naval warfare when it burst upon the scene over four decades ago. That revolution continues under the impetus or fundamental world change. A smaller navy and continued difficulty with foreign basing favors the lower cost mobility of nuclear submarine operations. The proliferation or relatively low cost space-based sensors and precision guided weapons increases the value of the inherently stealthy nuclear submarine. There is a shift away from historic norms for the acceptance of casualties and prisoners. These changes have fostered a new understanding of the economics of stealth warfare and precision weapons. All this favors submarine operations.
We are, whether we fully understand it or not, at one of the historic points in the continuum of submarine warfare evolution. Today is not unlike the post-World War II period some 50 years ago. Then we faced a large dormant Russian Navy. We had a large Submarine Force with no recognized missions and we were at the beginning of a realization of what a new technology-nuclear power-might offer. From those circumstances and with the enlightened support of the entire Navy, came preeminence in submarine warfare and strategic deterrence.
The submarine's long term future is secure because our submarines are virtually undetectable and are relatively inexpensive to operate, due, in large part, to the submarine's traditionally small crew.
Submariners have known for a long time the deadly mix of stealth audacity and perseverance in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. On 19 June 1944 tile first USS CAVALLA (SS 244) took on an aircraft carrier, two cruisers and three destroyers on her first war patrol. With boldness and great courage she pressed that attack home to 1200 yards and launched six heavyweight torpedoes. Four hit and sank the huge aircraft carrier SHOKAKU. CAVALLA was attacked with over 100 depth charges for three hours but remained secure in the ocean depths. The same ocean that protected the first CAVALIA has for three decades protected this CAVALLA during many perilous missions.
This submarine advantage will only increase with the inexorable march of technology, which favors the deep ocean submarine.
This is not to imply that surface forces are obsolete and will be unable to continue their va1uable contribution to the protection of the nation's interests worldwide. It is simply a recognition of the ever changing nature of naval warfare. New roles are opening and old roles reopening for the submarine - a warship whose offense to defense ratio remains unmatched. As all CAVALLA shipmates can attest, the submarine can lurk unthreatened, deep in hostile waters, in disciplined communications, reporting all that's happening and ready to respond with an array of precision weapons effective against land and sea targets. The submarine can remain secure even if the mission is unsuccessful. And the mission need not be carried out under the glare of world wide media coverage. The submarine margin will only widen in the future. I say to you young submariners here today-the future looks great!
CAVALLA has for three decades performed extraordinary service in the defense of our country-witness The Unit Commendation pennants that fly behind me. She has steamed over three-quarters of a million miles, 90 percent of it submerged. This is the equiva1ent of 30 times around the world. But CAVALLA is an inanimate object only achieving its reputation because of the people who have devoted a significant part of their lives to her operation. In addition to the crews, we must recognize the shipyard designers and constructors, the repair and logistics people, the training and oversight groups and the special operations riders to name a few.
A special recognition goes to the wives and families. You here today are surrogates for many others and I want you to listen carefully because this is heartfelt. Few other branches of our armed services saw such sustained, unrelenting operational service during the long Cold War. The submarine service placed demands upon young wives and families that have rarely been adequately expressed or fully appreciated.
The seagoing Navy has always presented family challenges that differ significantly from the rest of the armed services. But for the submarine wife the critical difference lies in the amount of sea duty, the nature of the extended deployments, and your husband's necessary preoccupation with his profession. You tolerated but never grew used to the long deployments. These were, and remain the most difficult of separations; totally cut off for months at a time - no messages, no phone calls and no letters. That is the nature of submarine operations. On return home he can never completely get away from the boat. The exigencies of deep submergence and nuclear propulsion incorporated into the attention. Submarine wives have understood how to balance these competing demands and mold families that are the envy of any group in this country. But I know it was never easy. And so, for CAVALLA wives, past and present, I salute you all. Thank you and God bless you.
Finally, the crews. The bedrock that sustained me during my long naval career was the submarine crews-Officers, Chiefs and Sailors. Those arrayed before you today are typical, remarkable young people - idealistic, industrious and intelligent. We can all be very proud of them.
The crew here today is the end of a long CAVALLA tradition. They are smart and they are tough and they have sacrificed much for their country. Being a submariner is not an easy business - cramped living, absolutely no privacy, hot bunking, everyone stands watch, no idlers, drills, studying qualification, no mail, bad movies, no fresh vegetables, to mention a few. So why do they do it? Because there is so much satisfaction in belonging to a small, elite group, dependent on one another and engaged in a demanding business that is of great importance to the country.
So it is my proud duty to remember all our CAVALLA shipmates-those here and those not here today. You are all members of a fraternity of only some 2OOO men who each, for a period of several years, devoted your very best to CAVALLA and gave her the preeminent reputation she enjoys today-young, hardworking idealistic men who performed nobly under difficult conditions. We can be proud. So, on behalf of a grateful nation, I salute each and everyone of you for your faithful service.
God bless you all.