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The Real DDG-1000 Scandal

October 20, 2008

Galrahn at the Information Dissemination blog is all over the increasing scandal concerning the US Navy’s cancellation of an entire class of new stealth destroyers, the DDG-1000 Zumwalt program. Let me propose that the $5 billion Zumwalt scam is but a symptom of a larger and massively expensive con game perpetuated on the American taxpayer since post-World War 2.

In a recent article I questioned whether the USN had a dire need for  a very costly and specialized amphibious fleet (Does America Need a Gator Navy?). This astonishing question has been on my mind since the 1991 Gulf War, where you may recall the US Marines under orders lost an opportunity to put into action decades of training for a beach landing off the Iraqi coast. You may also recall during that brief but spectacular triumph of American arms, the Coalition and especially the USN fielded the most powerful amphibious force since World War 2 against Saddam’s nautical flank:

By mid-January (when Operation Desert Storm started), the amphibious force (2nd MEF) stood at some 31 amphibious ships carrying the assault echelons of both the 4th and 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigades and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Ops capable). The force also had five Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships and two Maritime Prepositioning Ships to carry the follow-on echelons. In total it had 17,095 personnel, 26 AV8B Harriers, 136 helicopters, 47 M60 main battle tanks, 112 amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs), 86 light armoured vehicles (LAVs), 44 155mm howitzers, 8 105mm howitzers, 100 mobile TOW antitank systems, 80 Stinger air defence systems and 2,271 wheeled vehicles.

Added to this awesome and expensive splendor of naval might were 2 of the world’s last battleships, USS Wisconsin and USS Missouri with a total of 18×16 inch guns for naval fire support. Yet when the time came for the Marines to show the world their mettle and justify the enormous resources poured in amphibious warfare training, specialized landing vessels, Harriers, hovercrafts, and giant assault carriers, THE MARINES WERE ORDERED TO STAND DOWN!

Iraq reacted by building large-scale coastal defence fortifications manned by as many as six infantry divisions … The hardening of the coastal defenses caused a shift in Coalition planning to emphasis the use of the afloat force (2nd MEF) as a deception measure to mislead the Iraqis into concentrating on the Kuwaiti coast and Kuwaiti-Saudi border…

Additional problems were revealed by Coalition exercises in that there were difficulties in coordinating the amphibious operations into the air campaign plan…Added to this, there were difficulties due to the fact that the United States lacked sufficient amphibious lift assets to load all the assault echelons of both MEBs (while the US had the necessary capability overall, some amphibious assets had to be kept in other parts of the world) and so some of 5th MEB’s assault equipment had to be loaded on a number of MSC ships which were not ideally suited to undertake amphibious operations…

Here was the opportunity of a generation for the USMC to prove that their tactics for seizing a defended shore was still viable in this new age of digital warfare. Though the final decision to cancel the invasion came from on high, there should have been resistance from the Corps all the way to the top. “This is what you pay us for! Give us a chance to show to the American people what we can do!” Yet, as far as I know nothing was ever said about the decision to cancel the largest American Invasion Force against an enemy shore since 1950 Korea.

Here is where my own questions for continued expenditure of an unused asset, the Gator Navy was born. If the leadership refuses to use them in wartime, what is the justification for continued expenditure of specialized landing ships? If such unique craft are only meant for Third World foes who lack navies or coastal defenses, then surely less costly alternatives such as a converted merchant vessel with a helicopter landing deck or even boarding parties from existing USN combatants would suffice.

The entire Navy amphibious strategy is the biggest scam of all, in which the cancellation of a new class of warship meant for Marine fire support is but another casualty. The other is the entire US fleet, stretched thin around the world, forced to share precious shipbuilding resources with weapons which we never use except in training exercises or on undefended beaches where their great cost and sophistications avail them very little.

Quotes from Antill, P. (26 February 2003), Gulf War – Coalition Amphibious Operations.

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