The Future of Amphibious Lift Pt 1
First of all, this ^ isn’t it
Thanks to a timely media blitz, the Navy’s newly commissioned amphibious supership the USS New York is getting much favorable attention, probably ensuring purchases of this class will continue for some time. First off, we love ships and can think of no better way to honor the fallen of 9/11 than to build a floating memorial to the courageous of New York. Wikipedia capably details her story:
7.5 short tons (6.8 t) of the steel used in the ship’s construction came from the rubble of the World Trade Center. The steel was melted down at Amite Foundry and Machine in Amite, Louisiana, to cast the ship’s bow section. It was poured into the molds on 9 September 2003, with 7 short tons (6.4 t) cast to form the ship’s “stem bar” — part of the ship’s bow. The shipyard workers reportedly treated it with “reverence usually accorded to religious relics”, gently touching it as they walked by. One worker delayed his retirement after 40 years’ work to be part of the project.
How cool is that? It is appropriate the ship is seen as a monument, since the design should go directly into a museum. Sadly, the entire LPD-17 family is more fitted for another era when missile threats were fewer and Third World adversaries were not swarming the high seas, many armed with First World weapons. However impressive the ship may look in port, fighting at sea is a different animal altogether, and the San Antonio class is an obsolete legacy of a fleet which hasn’t fought a shooting war in 70 years (except for sinking some Iranian and Iraqi “PT boats”), or conducted a major amphibious landing since 1950.
The Shrinking Fleet
The New York and her kin are a part of a $15.5 billion ship program when the Navy shipbuilding budget only runs about $13 billion annually. Originally intended as a class of 12, we will now get only 9, which further takes away from our already shrinking fleet in an age where the Navy is more important than ever. Wiki also notes:
The (9) planned San Antonio’s will replace a total of 41 ships.
So while the Navy purposely shrinks itself building technological marvels that end up fighting against low tech enemies, China has expanded her Navy with many less costly but very capable additions. Previously the Office of Management and Budget warned the communists would exceed us in number of vessels by 2015. In the last decade alone she has surpassed us in the number of submarines, while the US Navy seems more concerned with impressing the media. Here is a recent article titled “The Chinese Navy is going blue water“:
To build a blue water navy, no expense has been spared. Earlier this year, Chinese defense minister Liang Guanglie confirmed Beijing’s plan to build a new generation of large destroyers and aircraft carrier. From the Yellow Sea to the South China Sea, Chinese shipyards are running flat out. According to the U.S. Congressional Research Service, “By 2010 China’s submarine force will be almost double the size of the U.S., and the entire Chinese naval fleet is projected to surpass the size of the U.S. fleet by 2015.”
A Troubled Past
The entire class is also riddled with faults, each with its own reason but pointing to a larger problem that building smaller number of ever-more complicated warships has wrecked havoc on our shipbuilding capability. For instance:
- USS San Antonio-After suffering through Hurricane Katrina and shoddy construction measures, this lead vessel of the class took twice as long to build as planned, and cost twice as much as expected. Naval expert and author Norman Polmar said ” the San Antonio probably goes down in Navy history as having taken the longest time on record from being placed in commission to first deploymeant.” On its maiden voyage, the $1.8 billion ship broke down in Bahrain with oil leaks.
- USS New Orleans-was delivered to the Navy incomplete and riddled with construction faults, its armament inoperable. A contract shipwright at the Mississippi shipyards would say of her “those ships will never do what they were designed to do.”
This is just touching the surface of the greatly troubled LPD-17 program. It appears when it comes to shipbuilding, the Navy expects too much on too few hulls. Admittedly, they seem to have gotten a handle on the situation, but with so many years lost, so many billions wasted, and too few ships getting built, here is a Navy on a death spiral. In wartime, we have no such luxuries to fix major construction woes in a class as has occurred with the San Antonio’s. CDR Salamander puts the LPD-17 class in perspective:
In the end, this will be a fine ship, but we are not doing things smarter, quicker, faster, better. We owe Congress and the taxpayers better. As a professional group; shame on us.
Finally, the USS New York is a beautiful, magnificent reminder of a proud Navy which has lost its way in a new era of warfare. Tomorrow, looking past all the glitz and glamor, we intend to show her the path back.