The ship was coming out of an extended repair period which had begun in Sep 2008. Despite the five months or so undergoing repairs in the shipyard, the vessel left with significant equipment malfunctions still unfixed.
The Honolulu Advertiser obtained the Navy’s accident report and published the
following information related to damage and causes.
Causes contributing to the accident included the following.
- The Commanding Officer had had only 15 hours sleep in the previous three days and had not been at sea in the previous five years.
Damage was listed as the bow sonar dome, propellers, shafts, various tanks, and superstructure cracks. Repair costs were estimated at $40M. Repair work was largely completed by late 2009.
|Port Royal - A Tough Warship?|
Based on many of my previous posts, you probably think I’m now going to rant about the deficient level of training, leadership (CO) failings, failed CO selection criteria, or systemic maintenance shortcomings as a result of short-sighted Navy policies. Well, you’re wrong. Those things are readily self-evident.
Instead, I want to discuss the battleworthiness, or combat toughness, of the ships the Navy is building today. Consider this astounding fact – the Navy is going to prematurely retire the newest, most capable Aegis cruiser in the fleet because the damage sustained from this incident, despite repairs, is too severe to allow the ship to meet mission requirements. This is a warship. It’s built for combat. It’s meant to fight, take damage, and keep on fighting – at least, that’s the tradition of the Navy. And yet we see a ship that ran soft aground, barely moving, and the result is a mission kill. What does that say about the combat toughness of the ships the Navy is building today? We’re in trouble! This wasn’t a mission kill due to multiple anti-ship cruise missiles and massive explosions with resulting fires – this was a mission kill due to gently nudging the ship aground.
Can you imagine a WWII destroyer or cruiser being scrapped due to gently nosing aground?
Let’s look closer at the implications from this incident. The physical damage was repaired relatively quickly and at little cost ($40M) – heck, that’s barely the cost of a new ice-cream machine for the gedunk stand. Well, if there’s no lasting physical damage then what’s the problem?
The problem is the electronics. Modern electronics are so sensitive, so critically aligned, so delicate, that it takes next to nothing to render them inoperable. Further, it appears that the ability to repair this type of problem is non-existent since the Navy is willing to write off the newest, BMD capable Aegis cruiser in the fleet rather than fix the issues. That tells me that the damage can’t be repaired cost effectively – and that says a lot given the cost of new ships. Hundreds of millions of dollars could be easily justified to keep the newest, most capable ship in service and yet the Navy doesn’t believe it can be done.
Note, also, that the VLS cells were damaged by the gentle rocking. Again, that’s an alignment issue and doesn’t bode well for the combat toughness of the VLS system. It’s frightening to think that a single hit anywhere on the ship could render all the VLS modules inoperable due to shock and vibration.
What is going to happen to a warship when it takes an actual hit with shock waves whiplashing the length of the ship? We’re looking at one hit mission kills. For that matter, a near miss may well produce a mission kill. Sadly, the Navy has forgotten how to build tough warships. This goes back to our KISS discussion. A simpler, rugged design is better than a high tech design that is so fragile that it can’t fight.
Want to try a scary thought exercise? Ask yourself who would win a one-on-one naval battle between a Burke DDG and a WWII Atlanta class cruiser (or even a Fletcher class destroyer). Even allowing the Burke a few free shots from Harpoons, I think it’s quite likely that the WWII ships with the far superior armor and thicker, stronger steel construction could absorb the damage and continue to fight. At gun range the
’s 16x5” guns would decimate the Burke in short order. That the question would even be debatable speaks volumes about the Navy’s current warship design and construction practices. Atlanta
The Navy desperately needs to get back in the business of building tough, combat ready warships. If that means dumbing down the electronics so as to achieve a more robust combat system, that’s a trade-off that’s well worth it.