In the 1970s, it was insufficient to offer state and local authorities a massive new military base. The Federal Government also needed to provide sweeteners like new schools to handle the influx of military personnel, government workers, and defense contractors. Those were the days when rainmakers truly reigned on Capitol Hill. No Congressional delegation had bigger rainmakers at that time than Washington State, represented in the Senate by Warren Magnuson, the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and Henry M. Jackson, a powerhouse on the Armed Services Committee. The biggest military construction project then under consideration was a submarine base for the new Trident program. The Chief of Naval Material recommended Charleston, South Carolina in an October, 1972 memorandum to the Chief of Naval Operations, Elmo Zumwalt. “Maggie” and “Scoop” thought otherwise, convinced that the best location for the Trident was on Puget Sound. In February, 1973, Zumwalt agreed, citing the need for Pacific basing. The new sub base was situated at Bangor in the Sixth Congressional District. From 1974 through 1977, I was the defense legislative assistant for the 6th District’s Congressman, Floyd Hicks.
Mr. Hicks was the sacrificial lamb chosen by party bigwigs to relinquish his judgeship to oppose a secure Republican incumbent. The year was 1964. When LBJ trounced Barry Goldwater, Judge Hicks unexpectedly found himself sitting on a different bench, using his prosecutorial skills during House Armed Services Committee hearings. He was the only member of the Committee who could work successfully with old southern bulls like F. Edward Hebert and L. Mendel Rivers and young upstarts like Les Aspin. Back then, merely offering a floor amendment against the Chairman’s mark-up could be punishable by being frozen out of Committee business. Passing an amendment against the Committee’s wishes just didn’t happen — until 1974 and 1975, when Mr. Hicks won floor amendments barring the U.S. Army from spending money on a new generation of “binary” nerve gas weapons. I like to think that these amendments were the closing arguments in a long trial that convinced an unenthusiastic Pentagon to get out of the chemical weapon business.
Again, I digress. Everything about the Trident was super-sized. The original price tag of constructing the base at Bangor was $548 million – over two billion dollars in today’s currency. The new sub had twice the displacement as the Poseidon it was to replace. Its forecasted building rate in 1972 was a crazed 1-3-3-3 per year. (The initial Navy plan called for ten subs, but everyone expected more.) By 1974, when the production rate was stretched out to two subs per year after the lead boat – only slightly less crazed — the Pentagon’s Director of Defense Research and Engineering, Dr. Malcolm Currie, reassured the Congress that “you should have no concern at this time of not meeting any of the performance, cost or schedule objectives of this prime program.”
Some critics raised concerns about putting too many eggs in too few baskets. Admiral Hyman Rickover countered that it would be better to have a larger number of smaller boats, but changing the Trident’s design from 24 to 16 tubes would raise the shipbuilding cost by 50 per cent. End of debate. Over 3,000 contractors in 49 states were involved in the Trident program.