Saturday, February 03, 2007

Scuttling our Fleet

It has been about a month or so since I have banged on the drum; time to do it again. Reader Byron sent along a great article from the San Diego Tribune that does a very good job putting it all together. Fleet numbers, per-unit costs, and the most important part of it - industrial infrastructure.
Seven new ships are budgeted for this year, .... Fifteen will be decommissioned, ... The result is a fleet of 276, the lowest total in nine decades.
And falling. It will continue to fall. We, the Navy, have only ourselves to blame.
Navy leaders and military analysts have warned that if Congress doesn't boost the Pentagon's shipbuilding budget – $11.6 billion this fiscal year – the Navy won't be able to meet its growing list of commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Latin America and the western Pacific.
Well, that is an interesting one sided take on it. We can also drive per unit costs. There are ways to do that.
The problem isn't easy to fix. The parties most heavily involved in shipbuilding – Congress, the Navy and shipbuilders – all have incentives to add expensive, high-tech gadgets that pump up the capabilities and prices of new vessels.

Pentagon officials and shipbuilders trade jabs at conferences such as West 2007. The Navy blames shipbuilders for busting budgets, while shipbuilders point a finger at the Navy for frequent design changes and a lack of steady work that forces them to boost costs.
That ain't it. There is plenty of blame to go around, but in the end the finger points at every CNO of the last 10 years, but mostly those of this decade, all SWOs, who allowed this to take place. This is what happens when people do not make hard decisions. The ship budget will not grow by the amount of the cost over-runs. Fact. The warships we are have on the board to come up post DDG-51 Class are not the answer.
The Navy's biggest cost headache is the still-unbuilt DDG-1000 destroyer. The ship was conceived a decade ago as a $750 million replacement for the Spruance and, eventually, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that now form the backbone of the surface fleet.

Technologically, the sleek DDG-1000 is loaded: It will boast advanced radar, vertical-launch cells for Tomahawk and Sea Sparrow missiles, 155-mm guns with long-range, precision-guided projectiles and a super-efficient electrical generation system – all packed into a stealthy hull inspired by the Air Force's B-2 bomber.

But with a cost that has swelled to $3.6 billion, the ship keeps accountants awake nights. The Navy has cut its planned purchase of the ship from 30 to seven. Some defense analysts predict the Pentagon ultimately will buy only two or three.
Yes, it is that bad, and it will get worse.
“Cramming that much capability onto one ship is ludicrous,” said Bob Work, a defense analyst for the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, D.C. “Everybody outside the Navy looked at it and said, 'You're crazy.' ”
Crazy because as sure as the sun will rise in the East, all those new untested systems latched together at once will have a series of problems that will take even more money to fix right. Money that you will not produce displacement pierside. Then there is our little friend. The Little Crappy Ship.
The no-frills design would allow the mass production of at least 55 littoral ships, at a cost of no more than $220 million apiece. It is the key to Mullen's 313-ship blueprint.

The first four littoral ships, all under construction, were bound for San Diego. Then last month, Navy auditors discovered that costs had nearly doubled on the third ship, which Lockheed Martin is building. The Navy ordered the contract suspended for 90 days while it investigates.
Yes, doubled. $500 million for a Corvette that has no mission systems - and designed for mission systems that have yet to be proven underway, tested. and integrated - and will cost well over a hundred, if not hundreds, of million dollars more. Are there answers? What are we missing? Just three examples I want you to look at. When is a DDG-51 class a bit too much for the job? What could we learn from the CODAG powered Spanish F-100? If that doesn't work out and you need a more Frigate sized (large Frigate for sure) ship better designed for the 21st Century Long War missions. What could we learn from the Danish New Patrol Ships? They are paying ~$800 million each for a run of three ships. What economy of scale savings would we get with a run of 20, 30, 40 ships? What are they getting for their money?
Length: 138 m (about 4.5 meters longer than a Knox Class)
Beam: 20 m (about 6 meters wider than a Knox)
Draught: 6 m (about 1.5 meters shallower than a Knox)

Displacement: 6,200 tons (about 2,000 tons greater)

Complement: Around 100 men (accomodation for 160)

1 - 127 mm Gun M/02
1-2 - 76 mm Gun M/85
1-2 - 35 mm Gun M/04 (CIWS)
x - 12,7 mm Heavy Machine Guns
24 - Evolved Sea Sparrow (ESSM) SAM's
1 - Mk 41 Multi missile launcher with 32 cells for long range SAM's etc.
2x2 - Stinger SAM Lv M/93
2x2 - Anti Submarine Torpedo Launchers (MU-90)

Speed: 28 knots

Range: 9,000 nautical miles at 15 knots
That is all proven technology. Little to no risk.

Want a more Corvette sized ship? Need a low risk option run of a few dozen that is cutting to almost bleeding edge - but proven technology. What about the German Navy's new K130 Braunschweig class large Corvette? Check out the specs. Oh, have a look at her close up and check out the beard on the Admiral here. Sigh. I miss beards, especially at sea in JAN. Oh, and if you want to know what my brother might look like, check out Korvettenkapitän Herbst.

I can't believe I am going to agree with this guy, but he is right. We don't need a Buzz Lightyear Navy.
“What you really want to do is mass-produce,” said Chris Hellman, a military analyst with the Washington D.C.-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “We're already operating the best Navy in the world. Our edge is so vast, we don't really need a huge technological upgrade.”
At the rate we are going, we will have a Navy about as useful as Buzz Lightyear. (any of you Mayport hands know the Skipper of the USS Hue City a few years back will appreciate the use of the cartoon character). Enough funny stuff; here is the most serious.
To help pay for shipbuilding, the Navy has cut thousands of sailor billets from its rolls since 2003. It also has trimmed orders for new ships and stretched them out over more years.

Meanwhile, the nation's six shipyards – including General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego – fear they'll have to lay off more workers if the Navy's pace of new projects doesn't speed up. The lack of steady work also prompts highly trained employees who design and construct warships to find other careers.

“That's a skill that, once it's lost, it'll be very, very difficult to get back,” said Fred Harris, president of General Dynamics NASSCO.
Very difficult? Almost impossible.

It used to be you scuttled a fleet this way - now we do it slowly through contracts, timid leadership, and low-key fraud, waste, and abuse.

We need to suck it up, swallow our pride, fire a dozen or so Flag Officers and SES, license build at least one class of warship while we unfrack our shipbuilding program. Either that, or by 2020 someone will call our bluff at sea. No question. Some solid-but-few Amphibs, 8-10 CVN, three dozen or so SSNs, couple dozen sub-optimal LCS, a half-dozen DDG-1000 and a gaggle of old Arleigh Burke DDG spread over three oceans at various stages of readiness is not going to do it. That is what we will have. "1,000 Ship Navy" with all due respect, is a mirage. When the shooting starts, they will be about as useful as the Italian and Vichy French Fleets were to the Germans in WWII - or NATO in the South and East of Afghanistan.
UPDATE: Eagle1 has a must read on the same issue - he offers some other alternatives. Even the mild-mannered Eagle1 seems to be losing his religion on this. Make sure and follow his links at the bottom of the post. I may comment on "The Lion in Winter" next week.

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