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Did the Navy Choose Extinction?

September 24, 2009

I’ll be writing more on the 313 Ship Navy first of the week, but here is some breaking news discussed in a few other blogs on the U.S. Navy’s new five-year budget plan. Despite all the talk about the service being committed to building up fleet numbers to 313, the real plan involves substantial cuts over this time period. According to Tony Capaccio at Bloomberg we lose:

— Six of seven planned amphibious warfare ships. These include one of two that would be capable of carrying the Marine Corps’ new Lockheed F-35 vertical takeoff plane and V-22 Ospreys and all five “mobile landing platform” vessels that would carry pre-positioned equipment. Northrop Grumman Corp. is building the first ship; no construction contracts have been awarded for the other five vessels.

— Two new ships intended to replace aging command ships such as the USS Mount Whitney. The first vessel was planned for 2012. General Dynamics and Northrop have received contracts for design studies but not for construction.

— Two of 11 planned high-speed, shallow-draft troop and cargo vessels managed by the Navy to transport Army and Marine Corps units and helicopters. Austal USA is building the vessels in Mobile, Alabama.

— One of 10 planned Virginia-class submarines made jointly by Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics.

And not just new ships, but some of the hardest working vessels in the fleet, the Perry class frigates, without replacement any time soon:

In addition, the Navy would save as much as $825 million by retiring 20 ships one year ahead of schedule, including the USS Halyburton that in April helped free the American captain of a container ship hijacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

I am extremely impressed with their audacity in throwing away so much capability all for the Prestige Fleet built to refight the Cold War, now too precious to risk in wartime and too costly for the type of Third World patrolling most required of the Navy these days. Here is Raymond Pritchett on the same subject, sounding equally disgusted:

Budget cuts are hard, but observe the trends. Fewer Littoral Combat Ships, fewer JHSVs, cutting the Command Ships, and cutting the logistics fleet sea base ships means the Navy is cutting the bottom tier of shipbuilding to support the top tier…The shipbuilding budget only makes up 10% of the entire Navy budget at around $13 billion annually, but takes more than half the total cut? WTF? With priorities like that, it is legitimate to ask whether the Navy is a sea service, or a government jobs program. Congressman, next time any Admiral says 313 ships under oath, keep in mind the Admiral is knowingly being dishonest to your face.

It is sad, and the only comfort we can see in their self-induced death-spiral is either during wartime or when an aggressive budget cutter at the DoD, not distracted by Middle East land wars, can turn his attention to our first line of defense, and the massive amount of waste permeating there. After terrific budget and battlefield pressure, the USAF and the Army have been forced reluctantly to accept lighter, low cost weaponry, which despite the fact they seem less capable, are just right for the type of numerous small wars the military has contended with lately. Though all the services are right to consider future wars as well, lately this has come to the point of obsession, where we lose the wars we have in deference to some imaginary conflict yet to come.

Those defenders of the all-battleship Navy: giant aircraft carriers, giant missile escorts, giant amphibious ships, and super-submarines must be getting nervous as increasingly there is little left to cut, so they make their last stand. While sanity is finally returning to Army and Air Force procurement, it will certainly reach the once untouchable domain of the sea service as well, one way or the other. CDR Salamander offers good advice:

Do not get mad at the SECDEF. Big Navy p155ed away a decade thinking that war was new, shipbuilding history can be ignored, everything was transformational, it is better to low-ball costs, and generally rely on PPT, happy talk, and the PCS cycle to work through the future fleet.

Tomorrow is yesterday. FY10 is a week away there Shipmate. Learn and adjust – and do your best to rebuild our credibility. A Fleet isn’t built in a day – but it can be puttered away in a decade.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. leesea permalink
    September 26, 2009 12:28 am

    One should never expect to gain economies of scale or well built ships from Ingalls.

  2. Chuck Hill permalink
    September 24, 2009 11:22 pm

    Interesting since they were talking about economies they were achieving in building the follow-on ships. I do think that is less than the cost of the first ship.

    Still, the price of the LCS without modules? Does anyone believe $460M.

  3. Scott B. permalink
    September 24, 2009 7:42 pm

    Chuck Hill said : “their price should be coming down”

    Their price is actually going up, as noted in a February 6, 2009 article published in Defense Daily :

    “The unit cost estimates for the Coast Guard’s planned fleet of eight National Security Cutters (NSC) have increased between $60 million to $90 million per vessel due to the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina on the shipbuilding workforce, higher commodity prices and foreign exchange rates, the service’s acquisition chief said yesterday.

    The original unit cost for each of the 418-foot NSCs was $500 million [Ed Note…GAO numbers disagree here] new estimates put those costs at between $560 million to $590 million, Rear Adm. Gary Blore said during a media roundtable. The new estimates represent a range of 12 to 18 percent higher.”

  4. Chuck Hill permalink
    September 24, 2009 6:41 pm

    The OPC is the replacement for the medium endurance cutters. It’s WWII destroyer length, slower, but with better endurance and sea keeping.

    I also think the Navy could use some Sentinel class boats as part of the influence squadrons.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 24, 2009 6:33 pm

    Chuck-Thats a Big Boat. I predict the same price. I like their medium endurance cutters and the newer Sentinel fast response cutter.

  6. Anonymous permalink
    September 24, 2009 5:58 pm

    Note the crew figure 16/75. A naval version could easily carry a couple of extra 57mm’s.

    Using a “dry dock” is a better solution than davits I suppose.

  7. Chuck Hill permalink
    September 24, 2009 5:08 pm

    Last I heard the price was very close, the Legend class are as large as the Perrys, larger than the LCSs, and their price should be coming down.

    There is another USCG class that will be a bit smaller and more numerous.

    25 are planned.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 24, 2009 4:53 pm

    Yeah, the Legends are a bit pricier than the LCS!

  9. Anonymous permalink
    September 24, 2009 4:14 pm

    I was going to joke about the Legend Class cutters as Perry replacements; then I read this had been considered.

    I am so out of touch!

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