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The Silent ServiceVirginia Class
By Riker, H. Jay
Avon BooksISBN: 0060524383
Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Submarine Yard, Electric Boat Division
1553 hours EST
"You're aware, of course, Commander, that I am completely opposed to this ... this tax-dollar-guzzling hole in the water?"
Tom Garrett glanced at the man beside him, wondering if Blakeslee was deliberately trying to push his buttons, or if it simply was the man's acid attitude. How, he wondered, could such an unpleasant man be a successful politician? Damn this asinine babysitting duty, anyway. There were better uses of a boat captain's time.
The two of them were walking through the mammoth assembly building above the New Groton ways, Garrett in his blue uniform with its three bright gold stripes like rings at the ends of his jacket's cuffs, Congressman Blakeslee in a conservative gray suit. Both men, however, as per shipyard regulations, wore bright yellow construction helmets against the possibility of tools or other deadly objects dropping from overhead. Above them, like a huge tapered cigar, the pressure hull of the submarine yard's premier construction project hung suspended from overhead cranes.
"Oh, yes, Congressman," he replied with as easy a smile as he could muster. He had to speak loudly to be heard above the whine of machinery, the sharp clang and clatter of metal on metal. "I've been well briefed."
"I damn well imagine you have." John Blakeslee, the honorable representative of the twenty-third District of his state, placed his hands on his hips and stared up at the smooth and gently rounded cliff of metal hanging above them. The flare of an arc welder dazzled and sparked just above the shroud masking the eight-bladed screw at the cigar shape's aft tip. "The Cold War is over," he said after a moment more. "We don't need these monsters any longer. The tax dollars are better spent elsewhere."
It must be tough, Garrett thought with a suppressed smile, to be a member of both the House Armed Services and Appropriations Committee and the Congressional Military Appropriations Oversight Committee. Blakeslee's double-barreled quals made him an extraordinarily powerful figure within the government but must also leave him a bit scattered in his job focus at times.
"With respect, sir," Garrett said carefully, "that's not an opinion shared by everyone on your appropriations committee." And thank God for that, he added, keeping the thought well concealed.
"What are you talking about, Captain? The Cold War was over when the Berlin Wall came down."
"I didn't mean that, sir," Garrett replied. "I meant about not needing these beasts or the money being better used elsewhere. The Virginia is going to pull her own weight, believe me."
"Oh, really? And I say it's about time we found that peace dividend everyone's been talking about for the past sixteen years! Submarines are damned expensive toys, Captain, and they're toys we can now do without."
Garrett had heard the sentiment before, had argued against it more than once.
"Congressman, the peace dividend wasn't leftover money in the national budget. It was forty-some years of peace."
"Indeed?" Blakeslee snorted. "Our veterans of Vietnam, Korea, and the Gulf Wars would be most interested in that sentiment."
The man, Garrett decided, was definitely testing him, pushing him to get a reaction. No man could be that obtuse, even if he was a politician.
"Peace between us and the other superpowers, Congressman. Somehow we made it through the fifties, the sixties, the seventies, the eighties ... and not once did either side in the Cold War fire a nuclear missile. Not once was an American -- or Russian -- city incinerated. We fought wars, yes, sir -- Korea, Vietnam -- but we were never in a shooting war with the Russians or the Chinese. And part of the reason, a damned big part of the reason, I'll add, was the technology we put into military programs, including submarines. Technology is expensive, but the payoff was that we managed to balance things in such a way that we didn't turn our planet into a radioactive desert."
"Obviously we stand on different sides of the issue," Blakeslee said. "There are different ways of looking at history, you know. Different interpretations. But ... even granting that you're right, my point is that we don't need attack submarines like this one any longer. The Navy can and should make do with the Los Angelesclass subs, gradually phasing them out as they reach the end of their operational service. We should never have built even one Seawolf ... and certainly not the Virginia."
"Sir, did you ever hear the expression penny-wise, pound-foolish?"
The corners of Blakeslee's mouth twitched, and Garrett couldn't tell if it was a frown or a suppressed smile. "Don't overstep yourself, Commander. You do not want me as an enemy, believe me."
"The last time I checked, Congressman, you and I were on the same side. We both care for the peace and security of this country. And for the health of the armed forces."
"The command center module," Garrett said, following Blakeslee's gaze. Amid a flurry of activity on the scaffolding, something like a huge, squat tin can was being lowered into place within the pressure hull. "Most of Virginia's compartments are being assembled separately, each in one piece. Then we lower them in -- or 'snap them on,' as we say -- to cushioned mounting points on board. The system is called MIDS, for 'modular isolated deck structures.' With each compartment riding its own set of cushioned mounts, it helps make for a very quiet boat."Continues...
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