I added the classified Sixth Fleet sponsored exercise Noble Dina 12 exercise to my list of military exercises today. This year’s U.S.-Israel exercise runs from March 26-April 5.
The exercise, ongoing since at least 1999, focuses on submarine and anti-submarine warfare in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Greece has been a participant since last year, and the exercise, according to the Greek press, is based out of Souda Bay naval base on Crete.
Last year, Noble Dina 11 took place from April 3-14 and included reportedly included two Greek submarines and four Greek Air Force F-16 Block 52 fighters. According to the U.S. Military Sealift Command, during last year’s exercise fleet replenishment oiler USNS Kanawha conducted astern refueling with two Israeli ships, while Maritime Prepositioning Force ship USNS LCPL Roy M. Wheat served as a “high-value unit” for the surface action group operating in the Eastern Mediterranean, presumably a simulated target.
According to defencenet.gr and the Greek Reporter, the U.S., Greece, Israel exercise has all sorts of anti-Turkish political messaging involved. Defencenet.gr says that the scenario for Noble Dina this year from Crete to Haifa “bears great resemblance to the Turkish aeronautical forces in this particular military operation scenario.”
The Turkish press reports that the “first phase will take place near the island of Meis, a small island close to the southern Turkish district of Kaş, and south of Cyprus before proceeding to Israel’s Haifa port.” It says that Greece was invited to the war games this year by Israel.
On January 30, 2002, the Navy awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman to proceed with development of a Tomahawk cruise missile launcher to be fitted into four retired Ohio class submarines. The “SSGN” conversion program, approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld prior to 9/11, was to take retiring strategic nuclear submarines and transform them into cruise missile firing platforms. In additional to 154 cruise missiles each, firing from Northrop Grumman seven-pack launchers, each boat was also to be extensively renovated to support sustained operations with 66 Navy SEALs and their equipment, or carry up to 102 special operations personnel in one-time missions.
Want to know why we spend gazillions on defense and can’t seem to stop? The Congressional Research Service reported that the SSGN conversion cost – for four submarines – ended up being about $4.0 billion. The first of the four was declared operational on November 1, 2007. As far as I’m aware, not a single cruise missile has been fired from an SSGN in combat, nor has any daring SEAL mission, such as this month’s hostage rescue or the killing of Osama bin Laden, been launched from these submarines.
What happened then to a program initially funded as counter-terrorism in emergency supplemental bills? First, the patented Clinton administration cruise missile strike fell far out of favor as unmanned aerial drones (and cheaper and more capable precision bombs) proliferated. Second, nothing of much military value that needs to be done in the Middle East can be done with an independent stealthy force of 66 men; and as The Washington Post reported last week, the Navy now wants to develop a new floating base to serve as a special operations staging platform. That’s probably why, as GlobalSecurity.org reported, that three of the four converted SSGNs showed up in South Korea, the Philippines, and Diego Garcia in June 2010, tools for some sort of signaling of the bad guys in Asia.
They call it the silent service, and coupled with the even more secretive special operations community, we end up with military capability that I’m sure is awesome to many but is neither visible nor persuasive. The falsehood of current defense budget cuts is that programs like this get started in the first place to satisfy certain constituencies or appeal to questionable strategies and forms of combat. Oh I’m not saying that someday a bevy of SSGNs won’t fire their cumulative 600 missiles at some North Korea, but then what?