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Defunding the Navy to Save It

December 16, 2007

Updated with figures below.

It is a fact that when budget time comes around, America’s three armed services seek to defend a triad of main weapons. For example:

  • Air Force-Bombers, fighters, missiles
  • Army-Armored vehicles, helicopters, artillery
  • Navy-Aircraft Carriers, surface warships, submarines

Admittedly this “combined arms strategy” has given the individual services an unprecedented superiority, some might say overkill, in 21st Century warfare. Such military power controlled by one of the world’s great democracies is very desirable but hardly affordable if our nation also wishes to continue spending on much-too-generous social programs for its citizenry. Beyond that is the fact that in this age of smart bombs, cruise missiles, and unmanned vehicles, known as Precision Warfare, such highly expensive arms more often than not duplicate the others’ capabilities.

Concerning the naval aspect, this was the purpose of my call for “An All Submarine Navy“. With the fleet’s main purpose being to defeat an enemy battlefleet, modern undersea boats with their high speeds, unprecedented stealth and the long reach of modern cruise missiles, give this weapon of war no peer at sea. The subs can now be seen as the battleships of this new age and should be given the primary budget consideration over any overly-expensive, and perhaps outmoded ideas of combined arms.

To shake the Admirals out of their lethargy and away from their Cold War mindset, a reduction in shipbuilding funds might be in order. Such a drastic move could then force shipbuilding planners to utilize their precious resources more sparingly, directing them away from our current “luxury fleet” of every powerful warship imaginable, that can be bought only in greatly shrinking numbers. Moneys leftover should be given to the brown water navy, to buy patrol craft and smaller landing craft (such as the Austal high-speed ferries) to maintain our dominance of the shallow seas.

Update-Here are some figures I have worked on in the course of the day:

Navy shipbuilding is currently budgeted at $12.5 billion. In my own scheme, this figure could be reduced to around $10 or even $8 billion annually, with the bulk of procurement funds going to the construction of new submarines.

Two subs per year is the goal envisioned by naval planners for the near future, but my plan would produce 4 boats annually to match potential Blue Water aggressors such as China or Russia, and to takeover most of the missions of vulnerable and costly surface ships.

Northrop recently reduced the cost of new Virginia class subs to $2 billion, and with a doubling of purchases this can be further curtailed, perhaps to $1.5 billion each.

Even more desirable would be the acquisition of air-independent-propulsion submarines, copied for simplicities sake from European designs, built with little extra equipment which the Navy loves so well, and which too often raises the cost of warships. Such vessels currently are priced below $1 billion dollars and would be more relevant for cruising in shallow seas than the giant Virginia’s.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    December 17, 2007 5:09 pm

    Thanks for your comments. Now for the debunking.

    This is the same old argument we hear from the Navy to keep building giant warships that our enabling our rapidly shrinking surface fleet, and are irrelevant in 21st Century, cruise missile warfare. The same was once said of the battleships that “no other ship can do what the we can do”, but what if the power of precision weapons coupled with the stealth of the submarine forces the issue? We will have to find away.

    As for your argument that submarines can’t do power projection and show the flag, this is where littoral ships come in. It is the gunboat diplomacy of the new era, where the small boats support the army and Marines on land, while the attack submarines will be on standby for the next “Armageddon at sea”.

    I do appreciate the humanitarian efforts that our sailors are doing around the world, but you can’t seriously suggest that this justifies the $6 billion Ford class supercarriers, or the $3 billion Zumwalt.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    December 17, 2007 3:33 pm

    A couple of points:

    1. Submarines don’t project power. Your “all submarines all the time” proposal breaks so radically with classical notions of force and threats of force in geopolitics that it would have the effect of weakening U.S. influence abroad, even as you say you want to maintain or boost it. The presence of a destroyer, cruiser or, yes, an aircraft carrier off the coasts of an unfriendly nation will continue to make potential adversaries hesitate long into the 21st century, adding more increments on the scale between peace and war. I simply don’t buy this canard that super-cavitating torpedoes or low-flying anti-ship missiles make carriers irrelevant — carriers have been huge, obvious targets since they proved themselves in World War II, and that’s just the way it is. Their utility easily outweighs all this fretting about submarines and the Sizzler.
    2. On a tactical level, submarines represent a completely polar force option: They can either sink a ship or they can’t. Surface warships can fire warning shots, order enemies to heave to, or disable their opponents’ engines or communications systems, etc. A torpedo or an anti-ship cruise missile will almost always sink an enemy, which, unless you’re already in a total shooting war, is rarely desirable.
    3. You and other critics of today’s “Big Navy” establishment may mock the Navy’s new humanitarian-aid component of its mission set, but it’s here to stay, requiring carriers or big-deck amphibious ships, tin cans to escort them and support ships to carry the gas and groceries. Try delivering food and water to cyclone-ravaged Bangladesh without the “luxury fleet.”
    4. I don’t agree with your objection that a cutting-edge military is “hardly affordable” if the U.S. wants to continue spending on “much-too-generous social programs.” Our astronomic defense spending is just part of the cost of doing business for the U.S. to maintain its empire, and stocking the fleet with off-the-shelf Finnish patrol boats, say, or little Swedish AIP submarines would give the DoD a cheaper weapons portfolio, sure, but vastly reduced capability. There’s a reason China doesn’t care about Swedish warships docking in Hong Kong. And I’d be intrigued to learn about a time when American defense needs were seriously imperiled by these “overly generous social programs” — with the obvious exception of the Clinton years — President Bush has twice vetoed expanding the children’s health insurance program even as the U.S. is now fielding F-22 Raptors, the Missile Defense System, building the USS George H.W. Bush and USS Gerald Ford, finishing the Arleigh Burke destroyer class, and lawmakers are calling for a new generation of nuclear surface combatants for tomorrow’s navy. Sure it’s expensive, but you get what you pay for.

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