Competition brings out the best, so the saying goes. Competition breeds improvement. When two athletes compete for a position, not only does the best one win but both improve from the competition. When companies compete the buyer reaps the benefits as both companies sharpen their products, cut costs, and produce better products.
When naval ship designs compete … ah, actually … well, to tell the truth, the design that’s favored by Navy leadership gets funded and immediately stagnates and the other design gets SINKEX’ed or sold off to foreign countries. There’s no benefit for either of the competing designs. The winner doesn’t get better (it may not even be the best of the competing designs) and the loser gets disposed of. In fact, the winner, with no viable competition or alternative to worry about generally sees a massive increase in costs, delays, and failed technology (for an aviation example, anyone want to defend the JSF program?). Here’s some examples.
When the Tico/Aegis radar system was being developed it had a competitor. The Spruance DDGs could have undergone an upgrade to their radar system, the New Threat Upgrade (NTU). At that time, the NTU was probably superior to Aegis and would have been immensely cheaper to implement. However, the Navy was determined to proceed with Aegis so, to eliminate any possible alternative to Aegis, the entire Spruance class was SINKEX’ed.
As the LCS program was being proposed, many observers noted that simple upgrades to the Perry FFGs would have provided as much or more capability. Again, the Navy was determined to go with the LCS so the Perry class was early retired, sold off to foreign countries, or defanged by having their main weapon system, the Mk 13 missile launcher, removed. The Navy claimed that the Perrys couldn’t be upgraded to use the newer Standard missiles – a claim the Australian upgrades demonstrated was false.
Now, we’re looking at a competition between the Burke Flt III and the Ticonderogas. The Flt IIIs are being justified on the basis of their BMD/AMDR ability. Unfortunately for the Navy, the Tico/Aegis system has already demonstrated a ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability which would seem to eliminate the need for a Flt III. Further, the latest Aegis software iteration allows simultaneous BMD and AAW, a previous weakness which supposedly justified the Flt III. So, the Navy is dealing with this the same way they always have. The Ticos are being early retired and scrapped. Unfortunately for the Navy, Congress stepped in, restored funding, and directed the Navy to retain the Ticos that were slated for retirement. Not to be denied, the Navy has now come up with the ploy of “idling” the Tico force.
There you have it – competition Navy style!