Submariners can collect intelligence, protect surface ships and launch Navy SEAL teams in a region brimming with international tensions — all with minimal chance of detection.

However, the one thing that the U.S. fleet hasn’t been able to do is escape the realities of both age and cost.

The U.S. Navy’s attack submarine fleet is slated to drop steadily from 55 currently active to 41 by 2028, according to the service’s most recent shipbuilding plan.

Even at a projected rate where the Navy acquires 22 of its $2 billion Virginia-class subs by 2028, the numerous Los Angeles-class submarines built during the 1970s and 1980 are running out of time too quickly to keep pace.

We got into World War I in large part because of Germany’s use of unrestricted submarine warfare. The supreme historical irony is, just as soon as it became desirable and feasible for us to wage unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan, we did so with a ruthless efficiency the German must have marveled at. We shut Imperial Japan’s shipping down.

Today’s subs are of course even more efficient killers, and with a variety of missions unimaginable to WWII skippers. But each boat can stay on patrol for only so long, and each boat can delivery its deadly force within only a given “bubble” on the sea’s surface above it.

At some point during a RIF, too few hulls is simply too few hulls — and the Pacific is a very large ocean.