Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Whither the Super Carrier

With apologies to Jo Moore, with COVID-19 spinning out of control, last week was a good week to bury bad news.

Did you catch it? The anti-CVN forces saw their moment, and it looks like they are making their move.

Though ordered, CVN-82 is as of yet, unnamed.

Could she be the last of her kind?
The Navy is launching a deep dive into the future of its aircraft carrier fleet, Breaking Defense has learned, even as the Secretary of Defense, dissatisfied with current Navy plans, conducts his own assessment. The two studies clearly show the deepening concern over how China’s growing might and the Pentagon’s eroding budgets could affect the iconic, expensive supercarriers.

The Future Carrier 2030 Task Force, which the service plans to announce next week, will take six months to study how carriers stack up against new generations of stealthy submarines and long-range precision weapons being fielded by China and Russia.
While always willing to give great and worthy people the benefit of the doubt, "Blue Ribbon Panels" have a spotty history of objectivity. I willing to be sold - but I'm not at the moment.

Add to that nugget, a little under two weeks' earlier, the confirmed SECDEF sent a frowny-face emoji to the acting SECNAV;
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has put a stop to the the expected release of the Navy’s long-term force structure plan, telling the service on Monday to hold off and take another look, several sources confirm.

The plan, announced last year and slated to be wrapped up by Jan. 15, has run into serious headwinds. The Navy insists it can grow the fleet to 355 ships as early as 2030 despite its shipbuilding budget being cut in the recently released 2021 budget, and as officials concede there’s little hope of significant growth in the near-term. Now Esper, who has been reviewing the plan for the past two weeks, is unwilling to sign off on it.
There you go. Unless there is significant intervention at the Congressional level - things look set up.

Even without the above, we knew this was coming.

Almost exactly 10-years and one month ago, I wrote the opening post announcing the upcoming Terrible 20s. This is what I wrote in February 2010;
Let's look at 2020 again. What else is happening in the 20s? Well, for one, we will have to find money to re-capitalized the SSBN fleet. I offer to you that the 20 JAN HASC SEF Subcommittee meeting has an outstanding money discussion about that challenge. Deputy SECNAV Work has also discussed this challenge in other venues, and I think he has a very firm grasp of the problem, as do most in positions to know.

You have to look at it in the broader context of the budget as well. The hangover in the 20s from this decade's drunken frenzy of spending will couple with another cohort of Baby Boomers retiring and putting stress on the budget in ways we still do not have a firm grasp on.

In 2020 - that ship built in 1990 will be at 30 years. That LCS built in 2009 will only have 9 years or so of service life (LCS is expected to only last 20-25 years) - so by the end of the 2020s, LCS will be dropping like flies.

When you consider that we will be limited this decade to LCS and DDG-51 for our non-amphib surface ship program (don't throw JHSV at me, that is just a truck - full stop - all else is spin and hope) - you have about a perfect story for the 20s of limited shipbuilding funds and a stunted fleet.

Stunted? If you continue to assume that CG(X) is dead, then you might get funding for the much needed DDG(X) follow-on for the DDG-51 class - might. That will be requested in light of the SSBN money sponge - and I don't see how with all the other needs in the 20's, we will be able to afford both a DDG(X) and a CG(X) - and there is a good chance that we will simply have to live with DDG-51 Flight III as our "new" platform through the beginning of the mid-21st Century.

I know that looking into the future is a fuzzy hobby. Heck, if you outlined in 2000 where we were in 2010 people would have said you were a nutty pessimist - so we can only see 2020 in very large, fuzzy pixels. The beginning of the mid-century (2030) is just a silly exercise in many ways - but one that needs to be done. There are known-knowns (DDG-1000 will be a rump, expensive class of ships, Ticos history, DDG-51 backbone, LCS decomm'n like flies), known-unknowns (will LCS even meet some of its promised ability and numbers, will DDG(X) be moving forward), and unknown-unknowns (Black Swan events), but still - 2020 is closer than we think, and there are economic facts that need to be looked at.

Huge challenge, one whose source is the lost decade we just came out of. You know, that "transformational" decade. The one that was to build the Fleet of the future. Well, it sure did, didn't it?
It holds up well, I think.

What I didn't see was the POLMIL stew our Navy would find itself in.

At this critical juncture, The Pentagon is led by the Esper/Milley West Point-West Point team while the Navy's Flag Officers try to recover from damage the previous generation of leaders inflicted on our institution over a decade spending their professional capital, like, well, drunken Sailors - mostly in WESTPAC - from Malaysian fat men to exhausted and untrained bridge watches driving Japan based destroyers. 

To top things off, those who should have spent every penny left getting ready for this decade spent what little professional capital they were able to scrape together from under the couch cushions on Ottomanesque bureaucratic protect-my-legacy games.

Almost two decades of sub-optimal performance at the highest levels has us where we are; a nice, solid-but-last-man-standing CNO and an Acting SECNAV fighting hard but wrestling two weight classes up in 4A. The previous SECNAV demonstrated what some of his problem was when he was last seen endorsing a Presidential primary candidate from the other party just a few weeks before he dropped out due to a complete lack of support among, well, almost anyone.

Of course.

Of course we are where we are.

The smart money is on a better than average chance the CVN will be killed by next POM (though perhaps not for good) and what little money is captured will be spent prosealing cracks from an overstressed and underfunded maintenance and readiness hole while trying to find some magic beans to build a useful fleet not reliant on a Cold War era destroyer as we stumble to 2030.

How will we project power from the sea in 2030? You can't do that from a submarine - a platform with limited followthrough and has its own growing vulnerability issues. You can't do that from land based aircraft. I win that wargame every time. There are not enough VLS cells in Christendom to do what a CVN can do ... with a proper airwing (which we don't have).

No, if we have to go to war in 2030, the question will be, "Where are the carriers?" ... and we will send thousands of Sailors in harm's way with an underfunded legacy system bereft of upgrades, carrying an airwing saddled with three decades of bad, short term decisions made by people trying to survive the next POM, not create a Navy ready to fight and win the next peer war.

I'm really not interested in discussing CVN vulnerability ... something known in detail since WWII. All capital ships are vulnerable ... that is why RN BB sortied so little during WWII, etc ... etc ... etc ... we've discussed that in volume here through the years. New folks can look it up, won't rehash it wholesale.

No, what are you going to replace them with? Vaporware? PPT thick programs? Unmanned systems whose performance and utility assumptions are based on AI that does not exist, robust reachback that is peace-time only, and ROE that won't survive a public university law school second-year law student?

I've seen that movie. It is stale and derivative. 

No, you can't. All you can do is, like The Thing in the dog kennel, flail around for anything that can justify taking food from Mom's plate so you can feed Dad so you can tell the rest of your family that you are taking care of the parents just fine.

With apologies to Jeremiah,
1:1 How doth TACAIR sit solitary, that was full of people!
She is become as a widow, that was great among the the services!
She that was a princess among Hollywood is become tributary to grunts!
1:2 She weepeth sore in the Unfunded Priorities List, and her tears are on her EMALS;
Among all her WBB contractors she hath none to comfort her:
All her fellow Service Chiefs have dealt treacherously with her; they are become her enemies.
1:3 NAVAIR is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude;
She dwelleth among the Mine Warfare community, she findeth no rest:
All her budgetary enemies overtook her within the POM.
1:4 The ways of PEO Aircraft Carriers do mourn, because none come to the solemn assembly;
All her hangars are desolate, her Program Managers do sigh:
Her Flag Officers are afflicted, and she herself is in Executive TAP.
1:5 Her adversaries are become the head, her enemies prosper;
For SECDEF hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions:
Her JOs are gone into career transition before the selection boards.
1:6 And from the Office of the Acting SECNAV all her majesty is departed:
Her Admirals are become like harts that find no pasture,
And they are gone without strength before the CBO.
So sayeth the Book of Salamander.

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