Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Drydocks Matter

We've spent a long time here and on Midrats discussing the almost criminal neglect of the "unsexy but important" parts of our maritime national security infrastructure by our uniformed and civilian leadership over the last three decades.

It goes beyond the wholesale destruction of our base, shipyard, and repair facilities. Over and above our under-resourced auxiliaries from ice breakers to command ships. We have a moribund merchant marine, almost non-existent war reserve, and our repair facilities are so incredibly delicate they cannot meet the well planned peace time repairs, much less any realistic wartime requirements.

And yet ... we continue to mindless drift in history's currents - making  no effort to look for shoals, obstructions, or even what direction we are going in - though we fully know we have a place to go and the path there is full of hazards. 

Over at Forbes, Craig Hooper has an incredibly important peace about the story the USS Connecticut (SSN-22) is about to lay out over the coming weeks.

We may not get many more clear warnings than what CONNECTICUT is giving us. We should listen.

Perhaps this will be a clear call to those who still refuse to hear all the warnings about the fragility of our support infrastructure.


 In 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, reflecting Department of Defense disinterest in basing ships in the Marianas Islands, ripped the heart out of the U.S. Navy’s shoreside establishment at Guam. Along with closure of Guam’s Ship Repair Facility, the Fleet and Industrial Supply Center and Naval Activities were shuttered in 1997—and in an ironic sense of timing, the repair yard the USS Connecticut desperately needs was closed 24 years ago, the very same month the powerful sub was launched. 

The Navy’s shore establishment on Guam has failed to keep pace with America’s focus on the Pacific. Naval ships are back. The Marinas Islands are now home to an Expeditionary Sea Base, two sub tenders, four nuclear submarines and a host of ten or so Military Sealift Command Vessels associated primarily with U.S. Marine Corps or Army prepositioning programs. 

Even as new ships arrived, the shore maintenance support has dwindled.

Once Guam’s Ship Repair Operations Facility was privatized, the Military Sealift Command—the yard’s primary customer back then—shifted a good amount of refit work to more cost-effective foreign yards. 

The green eye-shade cult of efficiency is, more than any other movement, damning our navy's ability to operate and setting the nation up for strategic failure.

From domestic supply chains, to selling finite STEM research positions to foreign nationals, to having a repair infrastructure needed to fight and win wars - the MBAs and CPAs - and the leaders who listen to them, are a greater threat than any foreign power.

Guam’s two aged dry docks are gone. The World War II-era floating dry dock Richland (YFD-64) was sold off in 2016 to a Philippine maritime service provider. The Machinist (AFDB-8), a large auxiliary floating dry dock known locally as the “Big Blue,” was a relatively young platform, delivered to the United States in 1980. Damaged after a 2011 hurricane, the dry dock was sent to China for modernization in 2016, and is, apparently, still there. 

Workers have drifted away, too. The original pool of 800 workers that supported the shipyard in the early 1990’s has shrunk down to a few hundred at most. 

In 2018, with naval activity at Guam at a post-Cold War high, the Navy inexplicably mothballed the repair facility, with no apparent plan to recapitalize it. 

Yes, let's pull that out again;

 ...the dry dock was sent to China for modernization in 2016, and is, apparently, still there. 

We can't fire everyone - but I understand the emotion to do so.

If the damage to the sub is severe, it will be a real struggle to patch up the USS Connecticut enough so it can make a safe transit to the Navy shipyards in either Hawaii or Puget Sound—over 6,500 miles away. 

It is almost criminal what has been done to what was at one time the world's greatest maritime power.

Read it all. Get angry. Ask hard questions. Demand action.

We can start by building some new floating dry docks. 

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