Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Altar of New Construction

Navy leadership worships at the Altar of New Construction.  Everything the Navy does is driven by the desire to fund new ships.  New construction is pursued with an almost religious zeal.  The entire LCS class was a frenzied effort to get new hulls into the water as quickly as possible without even a design, concept of operations, or proof of any of the technology that was supposed to go into them – just a push to get new hulls into the water and figure out what to do with them later.  Consider the litany of programs and policies, mostly failures, that have been instituted in the name of funding new construction.

- Optimal manning
- Early retirements (Spruances, Ticonderogas, MHCs, LHAs, etc.)
- Reduced maintenance
- Forced separation of sailors
- Reduced training
- Cross decking of equipment
- Longer deployments

Spruance - Sacrificed at the Altar?

The Navy has even gone as far as retiring and sinking ships to eliminate the possibility that anyone might suggest upgrades instead of new construction.  The entire Spruance class, the best ASW ship ever built, was retired and sunk so that they would not threaten the Aegis program.

Clearly, the Navy’s number one, overriding priority is funding new construction.  However, the Navy’s actual priority, their reason for being, is warfighting using all available tools including new construction, maintenance of existing ships, superior training, upgrades of existing ships, packaging existing technology in new and more useful ways, and so on. 

A highly competent and lethal Navy isn’t simply the result of new construction.  New construction is just one of the tools and is hardly even the best one.  I’d rather have a Perry FFG, impeccably maintained, upgraded as appropriate, and superbly trained than a new LCS.  I’d rather have an old Spruance DD with an NTU (New Threat Upgrade) that works flawlessly and is operated by highly competent techs than a new Burke DDG with an Aegis system that is poorly “tuned”, prone to malfunctions, and can’t be maintained or repaired onboard ship.  I’d rather have an old LPD, well maintained and highly trained than a new LPD-17 which is deemed unsuitable for its purpose by the Navy and has trouble even leaving the dock.

Everything the Navy does revolves around the drive to fund new construction but where is that drive taking us?  We’ve become a hollow, undermanned, poorly maintained, INSURV-failing Navy whose surface fleet is dwindling in numbers.  In fact, it’s gotten so bad that the Navy is going to begin counting hospital ships, PCs, and other non-combatants as battle force ships in order to avoid having to explain why the fleet is shrinking despite the Navy’s own calls for an increasing fleet.  INSURV reports have been classified to avoid having to answer questions about repeated inspection failures.

Now don’t get me wrong, new construction is necessary and proper but it has to be one part of the Navy’s toolbelt not the Navy’s whole reason for existence.  A ten year moratorium on new construction wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen to the Navy.  It would provide a chance to get back to maintenance, training, and upgrades while offering a chance to absorb the lessons learned from the recent construction program debacles and take some time to develop carefully thought out designs for the next round of construction.

The only part of this that puzzles me is where the fanatical drive for new construction is coming from.  It’s clear that Navy leadership is consumed by the quest for new construction but I can’t see any logical reason for it.  It’s not as if they’re building up the fleet’s numbers – in fact, the fleet is shrinking under this new construction crusade.  It’s not as if the new ships are markedly superior in capabilities – in most cases (LCS and LPD, notably) they’re not.  So why is leadership consumed with the push for new ships?  I honestly can’t see the reason.  The behavior is clear but the rationale is not.


  1. To your question regarding "...where the fanatical drive for new construction is coming from", the answer is simple: Congress.

  2. Maybe, but if I understand your comment correctly, I don't think so. Congress is generally a passive recipient of the Navy's budget requests. They approve funding but they rarely dictate that ships be built. They simply say yes or no to Navy requests. The Navy is the source of the new construction desire and the Navy has been willing to sacrifice manning, maintenance, existing ships, etc. to get it. I don't understand that intense desire to get new ships at the expense of perfectly good existing ones.

    Did I misunderstand your comment?

  3. The passivity of Congress in failing to ask 'deep' questions or asking question 2-3 years after issues have arisen in a USN ship building program like LCS is an issue in and of itself.

    Congress better 'understands' new construction = jobs vs 'SLEPs' = jobs, too.

    BTW - I concur with your observation regarding the capabilities of the Spruance class.

  4. Sir: I believe that both the Navy "leadership" and the Congress are more interested in spending money on sexy looking new ships because a) it puts money in the right people's pockets, b) it's good for jobs and c) it's simply more fun to build a new class than maintain an older one that works (worked) really well like the Spruance or do those pesky, non-sexy mine sweeping duties. I don't want to believe this but I do.


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