Monday, May 03, 2010

SECDEF ain't bluff'n

For years here and more recently over at Midrats, we have been warning that we have only seen the first dint of a the rolling trainwreck that is shipbuilding - the predictable result of happy-talk, low-balling, and just plain p155-poor management.

This will reach its peak during the "Terrible '20s" if we don't get the right uniformed and civilian leadership now. The catylist will be the re-capitalization of the SSBN force ..... and SECDEF knows it.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is planning to take aim next week at the Navy’s new multibillion-dollar ballistic missile submarine, a move some view as an implicit threat: Cut the sub, or I’ll do it myself.

Gates’s warning will come in a speech at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Expo, and while he won’t announce any specific budget decisions, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says Gates will raise questions about changes in geopolitics, global naval resourcing, the global economy and how those changes may impact what programs the Navy builds in the future.

Any threat to cut the subs — which cost $7 billion apiece and would create plenty of jobs with defense contractors — is bound to stoke parochial tensions in Congress, especially with members who represent districts that build submarines. The new subs are planned to join the fleet starting in 2027, replacing existing Ohio-class missile subs.

Such strong words coming from Gates, who has cut Air Force fighter jets and helicopters, an Army combat system, missile defense programs and has fired two service secretaries and an Air Force chief of staff, are viewed in the defense community with great caution.
Who told you last month we would be lucky to get 10 SSBN's? Oh yea - that was me.


DavidB said...

I think 10 is still too optimistic.

virgil xenophon said...

Whether via mismanagement or by ideologically-driven policy decisions, it all boils down to the same thing: Unilateral disarmament.

AW1 Tim said...

I think we'll get 10, and maybe a Baker's dozen. My real concern is the idiotuic idea of replacing the nukes with conventional HiCap warheads. That is an incredibly destabilizing concept, and fraught with peril on any number of levels.

DG said...

Why not build more Ohio's? Or really, modernized Ohios. They still work very nicely and the ability of potential opponents to locate them really isn't there.

Anonymous said...

<span>Ohio's now would likely cost even more than a new design, in part due to compliance with environmental regs and other regs not in place during Ohio design & production.  also, based on what we have learned in the past 40 years of submarine design, production, maintenance, and modernization, we can probably improve the producibility and maintainability of SSBN(X) over Ohio.  Just a few guesses.</span>

Seawolf said...

What's supposedly going on here doesn't make any sense.  Gates is going to cut a program that doesn't exist yet, unless the Navy cuts it first?  This is after Gates already said we need a sea based deterrent to replace the Tridents.  There has been some preliminary design work and some studies that resulted in the estimated $7 billion cost per unit.  But that was based on what the DOD said they wanted as a replacement.  Nothing has been commited to.  The actual design work doesn't start until 2014 and the first hull procuement is in 2019, to meet an IOC of 2027.  If DOD doesn't want the full up replacement, Gates needs to say so and Navy will redesign.  There aren't really many parallels to the other programs that Gates cut.  Those were fully mature programs that had significant cost overruns.  Bottom line -- Let's discuss what we need in a sea based deterrent, let the Navy go off and design it.  Then decide if its affordable.  As I have said here before, EB and NN have brough the Va-Class cost and produciton time down.  No reason to think that can't be done with SSBN-X.  At least not until we know what it is we are building. 

CDR Salamander said...

Call it a shot across the bow.  Seeing what Big Navy has done with LPD-17, DDG-1000, and LCS --- if you were SECDEF wouldn't you be gunshy?  

Yes, yes - I know about the VA class and the 1120 shop is different.  But if I were SECDEF, I would want to make it abundantly clear where we stand. 

We cannot afford SSBN-X to be anything but underbudget.

Casey Tompkins said...

"... <span>Gates, who has cut Air Force fighter jets and helicopters, an Army combat system, missile defense programs..."</span>

Is there a defense system he does like? He's a Republican, all right. From the 1920s.

I still say killing the F-22 production line was bad idea. That line probably provided more stimulus than President Barry got from his political handouts. On the other hand, I doubt SEUI has many members at Lockheed. 

Seawolf said...

Your points are well taken.  If SECDEF is putting down a marker.  It would be useful if the marker came with a set of requirements.  "We need a seaborne deterrent" is not a requirements statement.  Tell the 1120 shop what you want the force to look like in 2030 and then see if they can come up with a design that makes sense, both strategically and fiscally.  BTW, the speech was supposed to be this afternoon.     I missed attending becuase of work.  Any news or transcript on what he said?

Anthony Mirvish said...

As long as we build enough to have one at sea all the time.  It is sometimes a false economy to buy fewer units because all the design and production costs still have to be covered.  This can be less of a problem if you're planning evolutionary follow-on classes with similar characteristics, but that may not be the case here.

LifeoftheMind said...

Prediction, we build 3 and the administration announces a savings for the 7 that were never even budgeted like it was real money, that they then spend elsewhere. Net result, no real savings, reduced secuity and more social welfare pork.

Now the administration is releasing classified data on the nuclear aresenal.

Cutting down on foreign espionage by giving the stuff away.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

<span>"Now the administration is releasing classified data on the nuclear aresenal. "</span>

Yep.  Commentary here on that.

Mr. Anon said...

We should be seriously looking into sharing R&D cost with the UK.  We've shared missile technology with them in the past, and there's no reason why the replacement for both the Ohio boats and the Vanguards shouldn't be a common (or largely common) design.  Both nations are looking to reduce the cost of the sea-based deterrent.

The final design will probably look more like a stretched Virginia class than a new Ohio, the trick being to design a missile we can fit into the smaller-diamter 774 hull.

Gates also acknowledges the need for submarines in the coming years.  Combined with the funding problems, this might mean AIP-equipped conventional SS/SSK boats in the future.

ewok40k said...

heard of ne START?
look @ my estimate of US posture:
US            vehicles    warheads
B-2             20        20
B-1             80        80
bombers            100        100 (bombers are counted as 1 warhead per bomber, dont ask me why)
Minuteman III         220        660
ICBMs            220        660
Trident II            96        768
SLBMs            96        768
total             498        1528

you will be lucky to get more than 4

Spade said...

I think the better part of Gates Navy League stuff wasn't the Trident things, but the whole "we don't need billion dollar warships to fight pirates with AKs! What we really need are $600 million LCS, which are the bestest thing ever. They go fast and can go into very dangerous places!"

Ad said...

Simple question from a simple man:   Do the Ohio's really need replacing anytime soon?

ewok40k said...

Yes, they are in the 20-30 years old age, and by 2020 they will be 30-40 - and submarines , especially nuclear ones - take material fatigue very seriously - even single breach of hull is usually death for entire crew.

Grandpa Bluewater said...

5 home ported in Georgia, 5 in Washington, means 1, maybe two on patrol Lant and Pac. Getting close to logistic tipping points for overhaul, training and support, industrial base specialty plants, to keep 4 on alert.

The submarine mafia needs to convene another meeting of the commissione centrale. Subject: long term strategy for the force, the plan to present to the next SECDEF.

Anonymous said...

This isn't "anytime soon"--they have to be designed within the next few years in order to get them built and in service two decades from now.  Part of that's bureaucracy, but a large chunk of it is also the relative level of complexity compared to the sub designs tweaked and revised during the 1930s.