Monday, December 14, 2020

The 2020s Cruiser Crisis

Over the last few years, I have come to the firm opinion that both structurally and culturally, the US Navy is incapable of fixing itself. We have run out of time and are actually past time. To continue to work inside the same infrastructure, policies, laws, and personalities and expect a different result is insanity. We need relief from Congress. Yes, that Congress.

We need a new law and mindset towards acquisition and program management in line with a Goldwater-Nichols replacement. The latest datapoint is the absolute state of our cruiser fleet.

Like so many of the problems we have with the quality, quantity, and utility of the fleet we have today, this was all unavoidable.

It was also very predictable. We are, in spades, enjoying the fruits of Transformationalism rounded up with a decorative acquisition system which seems to be intentionally designed to prevent the development of an effective fleet. We had a series of leaders who made wrong bet, and then doubled down or allowed themselves to be distracted by the political fashion of the moment instead – as it is always easier to seek the praise of those who sneer at you, than to work hard for those you lead.

The latest chapter of “The Terrible 20s” can be seen in an under-examined part of the latest 30-yr shipbuilding plan … the decommissionings;
 In 2022: 

Six Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers will be placed in reserve: San Jacinto (CG 56), Hue City (CG 66), Anzio (CG 68) Vella Gulf (CG 72) and Port Royal (CG 73).  
In 2023:  

Two Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers will be placed in reserve: Bunker Hill (CG 52) and Mobile Bay (CG 53). 
In 2024: 

Two Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers will be placed in reserve: Antietam (CG 54) and Shiloh (CG 67). 
In 2026: 

One Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser will be placed in reserve: Chancellorsville (CG 62).
While the budget will determine how much we will buy and how close we get to the goals of the 30-yr shipbuilding plan, the decommissioning schedule you can roughly count on. Time, wear and tear, and the issues of deferred maintenance will ensure that.

If we can’t build more than we scrap, we are a degrading force.

So, at a time when the Chinese Communists have a modern cruiser in serial production and even the Italians will cut steel on a slightly under-armed but still cruiser sized warship, why is the world’s premier Navy being left hoping the latest flight of DDG’s designed during the Cold War will carry the day?

Simply – we have an ossified, adhesion filled pile of accretions that is our acquisition system. To compound the problem, we do not seem to have the right mindset when it comes to ship design.

Just recall the disaster that was CG(X). If we were a properly functioning organization, we would already have Hull-1 ready for deployment, Hull-2 about to commission, and serial production for the next decade. We would also already have plans for the steel cut on the hull in 2025 of the first Flight II of the class, and already be briefing the follow-on CG class. 

Instead, in a period as long as two World Wars, we wait … while the Chinese Communist Navy moves from strength to strength, and allied navies with but a small fraction of our shipbuilding budget have modern ships with proven weapons in production.

It has been over a decade since I warned of The Terrible 20s. Here we are. 

The cruiser crisis of the 2020s is just a small part of a complex problem we are involved with that has economic, political, and demographic factors that would be here regardless of the decisions at OPNAV. Our self-generated failures just compound the challenges.

If anyone you associate with is a senior uniformed or civilian leader in our Navy or industry is panicked or surprised – note that. That just informs you that this person cannot see past the FY they are in. They are a danger to the people who work for them, the organizations they lead, and the nation and Navy they serve.

This is not a wake call, this is a reckoning. 

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