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Does the Navy Suffer From Budget Blindness?

March 2, 2010

USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19). Only 9 ships of the LPD-17 class are being built to replace 41 older types.

In the face of shrinking defense budgets and low tech foes abounding, it is almost as if 9/11 never happened, at least for the US Navy. Meanwhile, nearly every shipbuilding program is in trouble, including amphibious ships, according to this from Amy McCullough at Navy Times with “Amphib mission out of sync with needs“:

The 2010 review shows that the Corps won’t be getting the 38 to 40 amphibious ships it wants — a longstanding point of contention within the Navy Department.
The Navy has 31 amphibs, and the QDR says the department should have between 29 and 31. Commandant Gen. James Conway has said the Navy needs more if it intends to ensure proper maritime protection.

As the title of this article reveals, the Navy/Marines needs are conflicting with their wants. From Greg Grant at DoD Buzz, we discover that the “Navy Shipbuilding Gap Grows“:

The big question for the Navy in advance of the QDR and the 2011 budget release was would DOD reconcile the growing gap between the Navy’s shipbuilding and funding plans? The answer is no. They didn’t even try. The QDR pretty much defers on the subject of tying future shipbuilding to strategy. There is some vague talk in the document about the need for the Navy and the Air Force to jointly develop an air-​​sea battle concept to ensure power projection, but it provides no further details.
As for the Navy budget, the 2011 request increases funding for new ship construction from $12.4 billion in 2010 to $13.8 billion this year. But, as we noted yesterday, OMB recently pointed out the simple fact that a funding profile of between $13–15 billion a year will not get the Navy to its stated goal of a 313 ship fleet. OMB estimated that at least $21 billion per year was needed and that at $15 billion per year the fleet would fall to around 270 ships by 2025.

Except problems of seapower aren’t lessening, but getting worse. They are multiplying even as the Fleet shrinks:

The Navy plan came in for some criticism Tuesday morning on Capitol Hill, with Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi noting that the fleet is the smallest it has been since the 1980s, fact that .Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former chief of naval operations, sadly acknowledged. Mullen said the Navy still plans to build a 313-​​ship fleet but isn’t getting there any time soon. “The Navy is very pressed right now, operating at a very high tempo,” Mullen said. The service, “is sort of at the edge of being able to meet out global commitments.”


Resistance to change, and a single minded strategy of only constructing high end warships are crippling other economies, notably Great Britain. Still refusing to make tough choices, Brown has instead upped the ante, promising even greater funds which do not exist, according to Marcus Roberts:

The Government is now in danger of eschewing the warnings of its own senior budgetary and strategic advisors. Defence economist Malcolm Chalmers’ recent RUSI report has warned of the grave dangers that await front line troops in terms of cuts if the government refused to take tough choices on big ticket items like the aircraft carriers or the joint strike fighter project. Similarly, the new Chief of the General Staff, General Sir David Richards, has likewise urged the government to make long-term choices between major procurement projects and front line resourcing.

This post from January by James Pritchett at the Atlantic Sentinel, also calls the Royal Navy to task for wanting too few high end warships. This is concerning the Future Surface Combatant and Other Myths:

The plan for FSC is a series of vessels numbering perhaps up to seventeen. This is wildly optimistic, even by Navy standards, but there is method in their madness. By asking for seventeen vessels, they may get five…

It looks impressive too, or would do if BAE’s computer designers put a bit more effort in. Bare in mind that the last Strategic Review suggested about thirty destroyers and frigates to secure British global interests. The chances of the new class being able to take the strain for such a projection are laughable, even in league with the currently expected total number of T45s. C’est La Guerre. This is all that can really be expected from the Ministry of Defence given their recent history of short changing the Navy. It seems to be a pervading thought amongst politicians and Whitehall mandarins that better ships mean fleet size cuts. The fact that a T45 can, say, perform twice as well as its predecessor, or cost twice as much, does not mean that you only need half as many of them. A ship cannot be in two places at once.


Finally Russia, which glaringly revealed to the world the state of its dejected Navy by seeking to purchase amphibious ships from France, still hasn’t totally given up her dreams of a revived Red Fleet. Here is a translated version of Moscow’s latest supercarrier fantasies:

Technical design of Russia’s aircraft carrier will be developed by the end of 2010… In February 2009 the Head of the state defense order the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), Anatoly Helmets said that Russia’s new-generation aircraft carrier will be atomic. He also clarified that the ship will have a displacement of up to 60 thousand tons. According to Shlemova, [Russia has] plans to build three to six aircraft carriers.

Even the reporter alludes to the bleak chances of this program. It seems then the World’s major navies are frozen in time, preparing to contend with one another for control of the world’s sealanes as in their colonial past. So they spend increasingly sparse resources on fewer giant battleships, while their economies crumble and while their splendid high tech militaries from the Cold War die of old age.


Meanwhile, pirates, rogue states like Iran and Korea, even new powers like China have few restraints for building fleets or using the sea to their advantage. While we are focused on tackling these nations on land, they are launching small warships, backed by converted motherships to attack Western merchant assets or support radical terrorist groups who we or our allies are fighting. They perform power and presence on the world’s oceans, with fewer resources and with far less funds than we spend on our Coast Guard.

It is interesting to see the rise of these new powers, their frugality and capacity to perform traditional sea control using sparse resources, while we insist only fantastically capable nuclear supersubs, giant supercarriers with the population of a small city, or super-cruisers able to destroy a bullet entering the atmosphere, can perform the most basic missions on the oceans. Any wonder we are stretched and getting smaller?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. James Daly permalink
    March 3, 2010 5:21 am

    Des – theres a similar theme with UK Armed Forces at the moment, albeit with 3 forces instead of 4. Each of the armed forces have their own aviation, and the RN and RAF have their own infantry in the form of the Royal Marines and the RAF Regiment. Theres a lot of pressure on the RAF for wanting more and more Eurofighters and neglecting helicopters and close air support. Its more about historical rivalries and the services trying to outdo each other.

    The UK Armed Forces combined are smaller than the USMC yet have all kinds of headquarters, staff officers etc – theres a lot of duplication that might come under scrutiny in the near future.

  2. DesScorp permalink
    March 3, 2010 1:51 am

    The Marines are way too big… the USMC is larger than all the UK’s armed forces combined. They may be the proud, but they aren’t the few anymore. Make the Corps a Corps again, not a competing Army (and Air Force). We already have an Army. I’ll take fewer amphibs if it means fewer Marines. We’re spending ourselves into oblivion, and that includes Defense dollars (though that’s a small figure compared to the entitlement programs). Considering that that there are zero peer threats out there for the foreseeable future, everyone but the Army should be shrinking right now.

  3. Graham Strouse permalink
    March 2, 2010 10:32 pm

    I am in complete agreement, Mike. Radical as this sort of suggestion seems, the fact is that American in 2010 is not the same place it was in 1787. It’s bigger, more complicated & we have far more fingers trying to get into the same pie.

    Draining tax dollars & diffusing our ability to defend ourselves to make this or that individual political/economic constituancy marginally more wealthy or electorally viable is something we should ALL decry.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 2, 2010 7:49 pm

    Sure, I acknowledge Congress’ complicity in the ongoing shipbuilding woes. I can’t imagine they don’t feel some embarrassment in ships which come in poorly constructed, greatly delayed, and in many cases grossly above budget. i worry about democracy when politicians place their own personal popularity with voters (jobs equal votes), above reform and national security.

    I think the answer may be placing some type of disciplinary measures to limit Congressional spending. this is a drastic move since the Legislature is the very foundation of democracy. When you start pulling a King Charles on them, you are asking for trouble, but I recall the 17th Century Parliament was trying to limit the King’s overspending. Now the roles are reversed.

  5. Graham Strouse permalink
    March 2, 2010 7:18 pm

    Why is the Navy shrinking?

    That’s the can of worms that really needs to be addressed, Mike. I know I’ve brought this issue up a number of times, but I still say that Congressional parochialism is one of the most pressing issues facing ALL US military forces. Too much tit-for-tat, too many sweetheart deals, too much de-centralization of resources, physical & intellectual & too many pet projects aimed at boosting local economies (and poll numbers) for pols in a given region at the expense of the national defense.

    How many times in the last decade or so has the Pentagon asked to CUT exprensive programs it didn’t believe were essential or useful only to be overruled by Congress?

    I probably know more specifics about BAWs destroyer lobbying then most other programs (and this is not to single out Maine, BAW, Snowe & Collins–they’re a big part of the problem, but not THE problem). Why do we continue cranking out DDG-51s? They’re excellent ships but how many do we NEED, for crissakes.

    (And as I recall the Senators from BAW were not pleased by the truncated DDG-1000 project. Something that nearly everyone here can agree is a monstrosity.)

    The fact is that destroyer production is essential for BAW & Maine’s economy & Snowe & Collins re-election chances & they have and will fight tooth and nail for projects that will bolster their local economies and re-election chances even if said projects drain our coffers while providing us with limited or no real advantage.

    Again, this is one example. In my own state, the late Jack Murtha was a notoriously shady project grabber–he was just better at covering up the specifics, I think.

    Some months back I posted a joke on my facebook page featuring a pic of the Death Star & a caption that read something along the lines of “The future of the US military…”. A buddy of mine who works for General Dynamics wrote back, “How did you know what we were working on?”

    We waste time, treasure & erode our national security assets by catering to the whims of short-sighted, grabby pols who have only their personal gain (and the next election) in mind. This has to stop.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 2, 2010 1:55 pm

    Mark asked “Shrinking Defense budget?’

    Bringing up a good point. If the budget isn’t shrinking, why is the US navy smaller in 2010 than it was in 2000, under a reduced Clinton defense budget? Why are we expecting a fighter gap, and the submarine force is going to decline in the near future. Why also is the planned SSBN Ohio replacement being touted as the death of the Navy because it would gut the shipbuilding and R & D funds?

    If the defense budget is larger than ever, by all accounts surpassing Cold War levels, why can’t we replace essential weapons efficiently and quickly? The wars in the Middle East doesn’t seem an adequate excuse, because in all past wars the US Armed forces expanded, not shrank, and often utilized war built stocks for decades afterwards.

  7. Mark Richen permalink
    March 2, 2010 8:52 am

    Shrinking Defense budget? I don’t know where you are reading your info but the only part of the Defense Budget that is shrinking is the operating costs for the 2 wars; the base budget over the next 5 years is slated to increase by about 1-2% over inflation.

    My Question is a very simple one though for the navy. Why don’t they just ask for a little more money. Gene Taylor seems to be more than happy to entertain the idea of more funding for shipbuilding. They could start small, like asking for an increase of $3 billion, brining the Shipbuilding budget up to about 18 billion.

    Also if you listen to many of these congressional hearings, sometimes lawmakers are just itching to throw money at the navy to build ships but they won’t take it.

    Last, on the whole budget thing again. I hate how this false idea of “massive cuts are coming” keeps coming up. No one in the administration is talking about drastically slashing defense. Much of our budget problem is going to solve itself; as the economy gets better revenue will increase closing our budget defecit. Remember 25% of our revenue was lost due to this recessionl; that is huge.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 2, 2010 8:46 am

    James wrote-“’sea blindness’ has been a common theme in British defence policy for some time.”

    The comparisons weren’t lost to me when I was writing this post. I am of the opinion the admirals are contributing to their own decline by their priorities and their resistance to matching procurement practices to modern threats.

    Concerning the C2 design as a “sacrificial lamb”. I am of the opinion the LCS is penance for the US Navy continuing to neglect ship numbers, and only purchasing high end warship in an age where we are mostly engaged in low tech conflicts on land and sea. At first they were wholly against the concept of a small low cost warship. When forced kicking and screaming by Congress who were concerned about the decline of the fleet, plus low tech asymmetrical threats against our Big Ships as proved by the 2000 attack on USS Cole, they are wholeheartedly behind it. But only after they performed their traditional beefing up the hull size with unnecessary add-ons, making it resemble something they are more familiar with, i.e., an exquisite hull with only modest performance considering the price tag.

    Because they don’t understand low tech war at sea, and don’t care too, they continue their free spending ways, continue to shrink, overworking crews and prematurely wearing out hulls, undeterred by critics because Congress is grudgingly supporting the program. The political support is mainly because it is the only USN combatant that prices less than a billion dollars each, but only just.

  9. James Daly permalink
    March 2, 2010 7:16 am

    ‘seablindness’ has been a common theme in British defence policy for some time. The public and the politicians see the Army fighting hard in Afghanistan and wonder what exactly the other services do. The RN in particular hasn’t been great at promoting itself. It was a similar situation in 1982, when Britain’s major contribution to NATO was BAOR.

    William – I agree, it does seem that the FSC programme has been designed with a sacrificial element to it. In the last mini-review the RN took a hit on the number of escort hulls in order to get their carriers, so its not a new tactic.

  10. William permalink
    March 2, 2010 6:52 am

    From the Warships1 Blog:

    The suspicion that the RN has no intention of procuring “cheaper” C2 ships:

    The amount of work done on C2 so far is minimal. The model was an early concept C1 (the “mission bay” has been in the baseline design for quite some time now)

    Considering C2 is supposed to use the same hull as C1, perhaps there has not been a sense of urgency about opening a separate file for C2 as yet?

    I’ve long harboured a dark suspicion about the whole S2C2 plan that spawned the C1,2,3 that we are now back to calling FSC. I suspect those in the RN responsible for helping to formulate it knew all along that of all of the Cs, [b]C2 was sacrificial and that the brass secretly never had any intention of procuring C2[/b] (hence the apparent intention at the moment to procure C1 first, hot on the heels of Type 45, [b]even though logic suggests C2 should be next[/b] as I’ve pointed out at length in the opening post).

    [b]I wonder if C2 was always intended to be a treasury decoy[/b] to get support for a plan that included C1 at one end of the spectrum and a raft of new MCM vessels at the other: a decoy made even more effective by ensuring that C2 was as common in design and specification to C1 as possible so that, come the day when C1 production was due to end and C2 production begin, the RN could sagely point out to the governing party of the day that, well, look. They use the same hulls, same machinery and same other things. The only difference is the weapons and sensors! And if we keep buying C1 weapons and sensors, we retain the benefit of keeping those production lines open, further amortizing the costs and getting C1 ships for cheaper and cheaper prices, like we did with the Type 23s originally. Makes sense… you know it makes sense…

  11. William permalink
    March 2, 2010 6:38 am

    Probably the ONLY thing which will save the RN and the UK for that matter is the OIL around the Falklands. This will provide both the reason and the means (financial) for more escorts.


  1. Military And Intelligence News Briefs — March 2, 2010 « Read NEWS

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