Mabus Questions Exotic Ship-Buying
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
The new US Navy Secretary has his work cut out for him trying to maintain USN ship numbers, especially with a procurement budget of only $14 billion a year, while expecting it to grow from 280 ships today to 313 in few decades. So many billions might be welcome to smaller navies, but when the typical Navy warship runs several billion each (a new aircraft carrier costs $10 billion, while the first DDG-1000 destroyer is expected to run up to $7 billion), then the money runs out very quickly. Here is Sec. Mabus via the Montgomery Advertiser:
“We’ve to got make sure that we buy the things that we buy on schedule, on budget — that we don’t unilaterally disarm ourselves because we’re buying ever-more-exotic, ever-more-expensive but ever-fewer numbers of ships or aircraft.”
In the same article Peter Singer at the Brookings Institution warns of a procurement death-spiral, not so much because of the lack of funds, but ongoing Navy shipbuilding practices of designing ever more capable, but not very practical weapons:
“Almost every new Navy ship and aircraft being bought is immensely costly and typically over-budget,” Singer said. “This in turn means we can only buy fewer and fewer, undermining national security. If Mabus doesn’t break this trend, he will preside over a Navy that could very well end up near 200 ships.”
At the same time Mabus admits our smaller fleet can do many more things than the much larger Navy of 20 years ago, but also such wonder vessels can’t be everywhere at once:
“They can do way more things than 550 ships could 25 years ago,” he said. “But at some point the numbers begin to matter. No matter how good the capabilities of any one ship are, that one ship can (only) be at one place at a time.”
Recently the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations admitted the fleet was suffering a “presence deficit” in which there was plenty of ships available for high end, Blue Water missions, but far fewer for the all important littoral mission which has been a core function since the demise of the Soviet Union. The only warship platform geared specifically toward this mission is the 3000 ton littoral combat ship, itself suffering cost overruns three times the original estimate, and consistently delayed with technical faults.
So far it seems the Navy answers have been ” business as usual”. Clearly the practice of fitting new tactics for fighting Third World threats on older 20 century warship types is failing, with such vessels increasing in size and cost but shrinking in numbers. Typical of this preference for gold-plated warships has been the DDG-1000 program, which we thought we had heard the last of after Defense Secretary Gates truncated the program at 3 ships. The new Zumwalt class destroyer is a 14,000 ton vessel, sold as a littoral vessel, but which might now be at risk because of rumors of Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles, with the Zumwalt possessing very limited anti-air capability despites its great cost and immense size.
Sadly, with so many more urgent needs on the table, and the littoral mission still suffering from neglect, the Navy is devising ways to maintain the budget-draining Zumwalt program. The details of this plan can be read at the Information Dissemination Blog. We also point you to the comments for our opinion on this insane idea, which reveals an ongoing Navy bent toward self-destruction, their own worst enemies still fighting the wars of the past while becoming ever more irrelevant in the present.