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Port Canaveral, Florida - Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on Disembarking From the U.S.S. "Los Angeles."

May 27, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. Hi, everybody. I think the best thing to say when I come off this 9-hour trip on one of our latest, I think the latest, nuclear submarine is that it strengthens my own confidence in the superb quality of the people who man our very crucial defense mechanisms. It also strengthens my confidence in those who design them and keep them operating in such a superb way.

Admiral Rickover's involvement in this program has ensured literally thousands of years of cumulative operation of nuclear power plants under the most stringent conditions and in the earliest phases of research and development, with never a mishap. And I believe this is a credit to him and to our own country's technical capabilities and to the men and women who serve in the Navy.

It's very important for me as President to understand as clearly as I can the capabilities of our own forces to defend our country and to ensure that our policies overseas are carried out, that our obligations to our allies are met.

I've had a chance to see the submarine operate in both surface and submerged conditions, at top speed and under all kinds of emergency situations, carefully done, but simulating actual experiences that might be facing our submarine force under times of war.

I'm very proud of what I've seen. This is the first time I've been on board a submarine at sea since the early 1950's. And it was a very exhilarating and gratifying experience for me.

Admiral Rickover and Captain and Admiral Williams, who commands our submarine forces in the Atlantic, all gave me a thorough explanation over a 5- or 6-hour period of the capabilities of our submarine forces.

This happens to be an attack submarine, the U.S.S. Los Angeles, commissioned just this past November. It's designed to destroy others ships and to act as an escort in protecting our own surface ships and on independent patrol. The other basic kind of submarine that we have, of course, is a nuclear strategic ship, which can fire long-range missiles in a war that we hope to avoid because of the strength of our Armed Forces, as demonstrated through their own operations and through the knowledge that potential enemies might have of us.

But I believe that with absolute certainty I can say that there is no finer ship in the world than this one. It's the latest developed by the greatest country on Earth.

I'd be glad to answer just a couple of questions or let Admiral Rickover answer the questions. Would you like to say a word?

Q. We noted that they didn't pipe you aboard. Was that at your request or what? THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think Admiral Rickover had arranged ahead of time for there not to be the pomp and ceremony when I was on board. The crew acted as though I was not there. They didn't stand at attention when I went into compartments. Rosalynn and I both ate with the ship's crew for lunch and just had a chance to share with the enlisted men and officers what they knew about their own stations, which was superb. But I didn't go aboard to be treated as a high official, but just to learn and let them know that we share a common partnership in the protection of our country.

Q. Mr. President, in view of the fact that this is the kind of ship that could carry cruise missiles, was your presence here today in any way connected with the SALT talks that are now going on?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I had a very good briefing and a partial demonstration about how this ship could utilize cruise missiles in carrying out its basic purposes. And I was highly impressed with what I saw.

The cruise missiles, in my opinion, will be an integral part of the future of our defense forces. And this will be true whether they are armed with nuclear warheads or conventional warheads. I think that this trip today on a ship that can, as you say, use the Tomahawk cruise missile is a very good learning experience for me.

The basic questions on the cruise missile will be evolved in our interrelationship with the Soviet Union and SALT talks in the months ahead. The limits that can be placed on the cruise missiles still have to be worked out.

We recognize that this is a missile with great potential. And whether it might be launched from the sea, surface or submerged, whether it might be launched from land or from air, my own hope, as I expressed in my Inaugural Address, is that eventually we might find some opportunity to completely eliminate atomic weapons from all arsenals in the world. But until that time, we'll have to be cautious and careful, well-equipped, and well-trained.

I have no doubt that this submarine has demonstrated that to me today.

Q. Do you foresee long-range cruise missiles for this kind of a ship or shorter range?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it depends on what you mean by the definition of "long" and "short" range. Certainly, this ship could very well handle cruise missiles now that would have a range far beyond the horizon.

The exact range limitations or definitions will have to wait for future deliberation. But I think it's accurate to say now that the basic thinking would be that you would need longer range cruise missiles on the airplanes, the strategic airplanes; short of range, but still adequately long, on the surface and submerged ships.

Q. Admiral, how did he handle the ship, please, and do you have a sense of pride in how far one of your junior officers has come?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. Well, it shows that any sailor or officer in the Navy can become President. There was a living demonstration of that. It was an encouragement, and I am afraid we have have introduced competitors to President Carter at the next election because a lot of the people are getting the idea that they've got a chance, too.

But he did a superb job. He actually piloted the ship at the stern plane, at the bow and stern planes while the ship was making high speed. He actually operated the throttle of the plant when it was making top speed. That speed was more than 20 knots. [Laughter] That is a figure which, when Mr. Truman was President, he authorized us to use for the highest speed. And President Carter, being a Democrat and an admirer of President Truman, has emulated his example. Is that correct, sir? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. That's correct.

Q. Does the President still have his sea legs, Admiral?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. Sea legs? It shows you're not familiar with submarines, because no sea legs are required for a submarine. It's very quiet. You don't even know you are underway. I excuse you because of your ignorance. [Laughter]

Q. Did you convince the President that we should build more nuclear subs?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. I don't think the President is a man who can be convinced except by his own convictions.

Q. Well, did you convince him?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. I don't believe the President is a man who can be convinced except by his own convictions, and I hope, in view of the fact that there are other members of the press, that you don't repeat that question because I will be compelled to answer in the same way. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Let me make one comment, Admiral. Let me point out to the press a very interesting statistic, since we are at Cape Canaveral where the first manned space flight was made. The amount of the United States money that was spent to put the first manned space flight into space exceeds the total amount that has been spent under Admiral Rickover in the research, development, production of all nuclear-propelled ships that the Nation now owns.

ADMIRAL RICKOVER. It is about 10 miles long.

THE PRESIDENT. He just pointed out that it would be about 10 miles long if you lined them up end-co-end and approaching between 1,500 and 2,000 cumulative years of operation.

I might point out, too, that the amount of radioactive material that has been discharged from these ships in the last 25 years, the total amount that's ever been discharged from one of these ships into the surrounding sea, that anyone could drink that much water and still it would be equivalent to about seven or eight Xray examinations per year.

Q. Could you share with us any of the things you may have learned on this trip that you didn't know before?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we spent a great deal of time going through the entire ship, seeing how it was designed, letting, in each instance, a junior officer or a chief petty officer or an enlisted man explain to me their own function.

The ship, compared to the ones that I was on, has complete quantum leap in the comprehension and understanding by all its crew members of what a particular line is or the access to valves; the safety is superb. Each part of this 'ship, as directed by Admiral Rickover many years ago, is divided up into tiny sections. Blueprints are provided and they are little, tiny signs that say, "This area is the responsibility of Jones." So, if there's any dust or if it's not completely manicured and well-painted, you know exactly which particular part is whose responsibility. We also were able to see the tremendous safety factors built in as far as operation is concerned--the duplicated systems, the superb separation of radioactivity possibilities from the surrounding areas, and the standby capabilities in every aspect of propulsion, generation of power, navigation, and the submarine's capabilities as a war machine.

Another thing that was very impressive to me is when this ship first went to sea last November, only 30 percent of the crew had ever been to sea before. And now, it's a smooth-running, very functional mechanism.

Admiral Rickover, in the last 25 years, has interviewed more than 12,000 officers who have gone into the submarine fleet. Every officer who goes to take a position in a submarine is interviewed personally by Admiral Rickover.

The training standards are absolutely superb, and the standards for design and manufacture, installations are absolutely superb. There's no way to find criticism with the way the ship is either designed, laid out, or manufactured, and the way the records are kept. This is a demonstration of leadership in its purest and most excellent form. And I believe that this kind of dedication to the defense of our country extends down to the newest and most junior crewmember who serves on the U.S.S. Los Angeles and its other equivalent sister ships.

We had a chance--I did--to operate the ship at maximum speed to go from full speed to flank speed with me at the controls, and the ship was maneuvered very violently but very smoothly.

The automatic mechanisms maintain it in the time of emergency if something should happen to personnel. There were simulated casualties so that more and more junior people took over when an officer was ostensibly incapacitated. They all performed superbly without any prior knowledge. The nuclear reactor was scrammed, that is, shut down without any prior notice, and the crew reacted very well.

So, I think that the impression that I got was of a crew and a war machine, this submarine, very carefully designed and operating at its optimum capability.

I was, as you can tell, very much impressed. I'm very proud of the captain and the crew of this ship.

Thank you very much.

Q. Could we read this possibly as a message to any other country that this Nation is not negotiating from the point of weakness of the seas? Is that the message?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'll answer this question, and then we'll have to go.

Our country is one that desires peace. And our country is one that desires disarmament. Our country is one that's capable of meeting our own defense needs and of carrying out our obligation to our allies and friends.

There is no doubt that we have a long way to go in alleviating tension in the world. I think it's accurate to say that the evolution of the nuclear submarine, which was Admiral Rickover's great accomplishment, has helped to preserve that peace in the last quarter century. We have had long conversations today about safety and about the hope that nuclear weapons can be eliminated.

Admiral Rickover agrees with me that if we could ever get other nations to agree to that proposal, that it would be in the best interest of ourselves and of the world.

So, I think it is very crucial that our friends 'and potential adversaries understand that our country is equipped to defend ourselves, to maintain peace without belligerence or threat, but with a quiet confidence in the skill of our engineers and the skill of our military people.

I think that we have a confidence in ourselves and a determination to carry out our Nation's purposes that will stand us in good stead. There's no weakness. There's no lack of will. There's no lack of confidence. There's no lack of common purpose. So, our will to do what's right, our ability to do what's right in defending our country and carrying out our foreign policy, in my opinion, is well understood by all other countries in the world.

Note: The President spoke at 6:03 p.m. on the dock at Port Canaveral. In his remarks, he referred to Vice Adm. Joe Williams, Jr., Commander, Submarine Forces, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, and Capt. J. C. Christianson, Commander, U.S.S. Los Angeles.

Following his remarks, the President returned to St. Simons Island, Ga.

Jimmy Carter, Port Canaveral, Florida - Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on Disembarking From the U.S.S. "Los Angeles." Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243318

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