Subs can go faster to Southeast Asia from Groton than San Diego?

One of bigger head scratchers I've heard this political debate season popped up in New London last week, when U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy raised the topic of submarines.

Not many people know this, Murphy said, but it actually takes less time for a submarine to get to the South Asian theater from Groton than from San Diego.

In a flash, the Democratic Senate debate rolled onto Afghanistan, taxes and a host of other topics, and I wondered if others were also puzzled by what Murphy said about submarine travel?

Turns out, in some circles anyway, Murphy is right.

I found a reference in some of The Day's coverage of the threat to close the submarine base here back in 2005, when then reporter Robert Hamilton touched on the topic of Groton versus San Diego Pacific deployments.

"The Navy sources said there are key arguments to be made for Groton's 'strategic location' as well. Groton is significantly closer to the North Atlantic and Europe than any other submarine base," Hamilton wrote. "And by going over the North Pole, submarines homeported in Groton can actually reach East Asia quicker than those based in San Diego."

This is a claim that also has its doubters.

I found a blog for a proponent of the San Diego base, for instance, who said in 2005 that it is flat wrong that the trip to South Asia for submarines is faster from Groton.

Given the narrow gap between the ice and the sea floor, the San Diego blogger wrote, the sub would have to go slowly over the pole and it's doubtful a Groton boat could beat one from San Diego to the South Asian theater.

There is also a "choke point" at the Bering Straits a Groton sub would have to contend with, the blogger wrote.

Still, I am impressed that candidate Murphy has such a good grasp of submarine logistics.

It could serve him well as a senator in the coming years, should the Groton base fall once again under the base closure axe.

In fact, just last month the private think tank A Center for Strategic and International Studies concluded, in a recommendation made to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, that the United States should send more Marines, submarines, missile systems and other firepower to the Pacific region.

The report suggests the Obama administration continue a "pivot" toward the Asian theater.

"The top priority of U.S. strategy in Asia is not to prepare for a conflict with China, rather it is to shape the environment so that such a conflict is never necessary and perhaps someday inconceivable," the report said.

So you can see how a Connecticut Sen. Murphy might some day find himself talking a lot more about sending submarines from Groton over the North Pole. It's good he's practicing.

This is defense spending politics post Cold War.

Of course Murphy's likely opponent, Republican Linda McMahon, has not exhibited any submarine savvy.

Indeed, back before her handlers had so firmly affixed her no-talk-to-the-press muzzle, McMahon exhibited remarkable ignorance about the base closure process, eventually suggesting she wouldn't vote for a base closure commission to be seated if Groton were on the list.

I can promise that Murphy knows full well that senators don't know what bases are going to be on the list before they vote to begin the process.

Murphy, we now know, can even discuss whether a Groton sub can beat a San Diego sub to Southeast Asia.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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