As we discuss the merits of various ships, especially foreign ones, ComNavOps frequently hears the refrain, ‘for … but not with’. For those who might be unfamiliar with the phrase, it refers to the designed-in ability of a ship to take on a capability but doesn’t actually have the capability when the ship is built and delivered. The concept is that at some future date the ship can be given the missing capability. Many naval analysts seem to equate ‘for … but not with’ with actual capability – as if having the theoretical possibility somehow equates to having the actual capability.
Of course, the reality is that the promised future capability almost never happens.
Foreign navies seem to use this approach quite frequently, presumably as a cost savings measure while still being able to claim the missing capability on a presentation. I’m not going to bother listing all the examples of foreign ship classes that have been built ‘for … but not with’. If you’re interested, you can readily find examples on the Internet.
The US Navy seems not to use this approach or, at least, not by that name. The only legitimate example I can think of off the top of my head is the Spruance class which was built for the 8” gun but not with it – 5” guns were installed, instead. On a side note, it is fascinating to ponder the Spruance class, still serving and fully equipped with 8” guns and the best ASW in the world instead of resting on the ocean floor providing homes for crustaceans.
|Imagine This Mk71 8" Gun on the Spruance Class|
The US Navy’s equivalent to ‘for … but not with’ is to build PowerPoint presentations which list grandiose future equipment and capabilities, most of it non-existent, like lasers and rail guns. Again, none of these future upgrades ever happen.
In a closely related practice, the US Navy has begun building ships ‘for … but not with’ actual finished construction. Ships are being routinely delivered in a partially complete state and then partially finished at a later date using funds that are not counted as part of the ship’s construction cost. This is a brilliantly fraudulent ploy by the Navy to skirt Congressional cost caps and oversight. The Navy even refers to this now standard practice as ‘phased delivery’. The Zumwalt, for example, was delivered to the Navy without its combat system. The LCSes were (still are?) delivered with substantial incomplete construction and unfinished compartments. The LPD-17 was delivered with millions of man-hours of incomplete construction. The Ford was delivered with … well … almost nothing complete.
So what is the point of this post?
Of minor interest is the need to carefully evaluate foreign ship designs with an eye out for the ‘for … but not with’ trap. A ship is only as good as what it actually has. Future, theoretical capabilities are non-existent and almost never happen.
Of larger concern is the US Navy’s increasing tendency to design ships whose value – and, therefore, cost justification - is predicated on non-existent, non-installed future growth like lasers. Anticipated future developments rarely happen and ships never get upgraded even if something were to become available. The Navy ALWAYS goes to Congress and claims that the promised upgrades are no longer cost effective because the ship is, by that time, obsolete, and that it makes more sense (in the Navy’s warped mind) to build a new ship.
So, if that’s the case, why do we build ships with future growth? It never happens and just increases the cost of the ship. Why do we build ships with 40-50 year theoretical life spans when we consistently retire them early?
‘For … but not with’ is just another way of saying, ‘never gonna happen’.