Christopher Cavas at Defense News sings the praises of the giant Zumwalt DDG-1000 destroyer. Meanwhile the Russian Bear awakens, China is expanding, and our Navy is shrinking. One need only read the following to understand why, and worry:
Nearly every discussion of the new DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer revolves around the U.S. Navy’s decision last summer to “truncate” the planned buy from seven ships to three, or on cost projections that foresee figures wildly in excess of the stated $3.3 billion goal, or on whether the land-attack capability of the ships is still needed in the new national strategy now taking shape under the Quadrennial Defense Review.
Often overlooked in all the chatter is that, methodically, steadily – and even quietly – major components of the first ship are taking shape all across the country. When ready, the parts will be shipped largely by barge and rail to the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard at Bath, Maine, where, since February, shipbuilders have been welding together the steel that makes up the ship’s 600-foot-long hull.
The ship will be packed with new technology, from its weaponry to the engines to the radars and more. Capt. James Syring, the DDG 1000 program manager, recently ticked off progress on 13 major engineering development models, all but three of which have virtually wrapped up development and entered into production.
A wonderful capability, and a marvelous achievement to our technical know-how. Yet such vessels are so heavenly capable they are of little earthly good. Can it fight pirates? Will it increase ship numbers? Can it do soft power, defend against small boats or submarines, add a capability to the fleet we don’t already have? Sadly no. Just another niche warship with no real purpose other than to maintain the industrial base and prepare the fleet to fight the wars they want, not the ones they have.
The problem is not just that it is too big, too expensive, or its missions can be duplicated by the current DDG-51 class. It is a mindset in the fleet that only battle-force capable blue water warships, which we might call battleships, are needed for most major navy functions. A top heavy force virtually ensuring us of a shrinking fleet for sometime to come.
No matter how capable your individual warships are, with a smaller fleet you get numerous deployments, vessels wearing out before their time, assets stretched dangerously thin. Like the British around the turn of the last century, in their own arms race with giant new high end warships, we will soon start giving up missions and responsibilities, hence the talk of a “1000 ship Navy”, without the USN supplying any low end ships.
Then there is the strain upon hulls and sailors, both which wear out prematurely. Marriages crumble, expertise is lost, as well as still useful ships forced into early retirement as with the Flight 1 Ticonderoga class and modernized Spruance class destroyers. The Navy is the least occupied service in this War on Terror, but likely the most overworked. It makes no sense. So building only giant warships, or even mostly battleships isn’t just bad strategy, but an immoral one.
The answer to packing all our capabilities into a few giant warships, is to spread the capabilities of the new technology, especially cruise missiles but hopefully soon the UAVs around the fleet in numerous smaller vessels, as we often argue. With off the shelf warships, auxiliary warships, small corvettes you get numbers and capabilities, which take advantage of new technology without breaking your budget, and sinking your fleet. Otherwise, as with the Zumwalt’s, you get fewer single capable vessels which are physically imposing but of little worth in fighting war at sea. Much like this was:
Thanks to Katya Golubkova at the USNI blog for the title!