The Navy has struggled to force itself to even ask for funding for logistics ships out of fear that it will take funds away from big, shiny, Burkes and carriers. In the past, the Navy briefly explored a common hull for a family of logistics ships but quickly abandoned it when they got cost estimates from industry.
Program Executive Officer for Ships Rear Adm. Bill Galinis acknowledged earlier this month that previous designs from industry-led to cost estimates upwards of $1 billion per hull, for the program that seeks two variants: one to cover sealift, and one to focus on tasks such as sub-tending and command and control. [emphasis added] …
Galinis said the original idea – a single hull design to cover five mission sets – is inherently not optimized for any of the missions, which drove some cost into the original plan. (1)
ComNavOps has consistently decried the idea of commonality and modularity (a common hull is a variation of the modular concept) due to the lack of optimization. This demonstrates, yet again, the inherent inefficiency of commonality. The problem is, by the time you take an unoptimized vessel and add in the required degree of optimization to perform, say, hospital work versus bulk cargo transport, you overwhelm and lose any cost savings that the common hull might have provided. Commonality only works between closely related functions (and even that’s questionable) or functions that can accept a large degree of inefficiency (rarely the case). Look at the F-35 example of commonality – a dismal failure because the degree of optimization for each variant turned out to be too great and the required optimization efforts cost far more than any commonality cost savings.
Side note: Please don’t confuse this with commonality of component parts like the same pump for the same pumping task across many different ships. That’s a single piece of equipment performing the same task, just in many different ships. If you have an identical task, of course you’d use the identical piece of equipment. What you wouldn’t do is try to use the same pump to pump oil that you would use to pump potable water.
Now, the Navy is resurrecting the common hull concept (CHAMP - Common Hull Auxiliary Multi-mission Platform) based on a commercial design.
… the Navy asked its industry partners to go back and start with a commercial hull design, adding in the military-unique requirements only where needed. (1)
That seems reasonable, at first glance, doesn’t it? The problem is that even this approach costs a LOT of money and there is a much cheaper, common sense alternative: buy used ships for pennies on the dollar! Even the Navy recognizes the absurdity of what they’re trying to do.
Former Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, though, cast doubt on the Navy’s ability to support the CHAMP ships – even at a much lower price tag than the $1 billion estimate – in remarks in May 2019, when he said it was hard to ask Congress for money for these new ships when he could ask for far less money to buy used sealift ships.
“Putting my business hat on for the business case, I can’t afford a lot of $600-million ships. I can’t really afford a lot of $400-million ships, when I can go out and buy used [roll-on/roll-off ships] for $35 to $40 million. (1)
Let’s repeat the relevant portion of that passage:
I can’t afford a lot of $600-million ships. I can’t really afford a lot of $400-million ships, when I can go out and buy used [roll-on/roll-off ships] for $35 to $40 million. [emphasis added] (1)
So, we see the Navy way which is to buy new ships, of whatever type, versus the common sense approach of buying used ships for pennies on the dollar. Want to guess which approach the Navy will pursue? There’s the Navy way and then there’s the common sense way.
Hey, new ships are great when the requirement is for a ship so unique and so optimized that there is no commercially available equivalent and when optimization would cost more than building new. Aircraft carriers and destroyers and submarines are good examples. For logistics support ships, however, a $40M used RO/RO buys you a LOT of ship for the money and leaves a lot of dollars for whatever optimization you need to apply.
The Navy way versus common sense.
(1)USNI News website, “Navy Trying Again On CHAMP Auxiliary Design, After White House Pushback”, Megan Eckstein, 30-Jan-2020,https://news.usni.org/2020/01/30/navy-trying-again-on-champ-auxiliary-design-after-white-house-pushback