Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Decline of Firepower

We’ve touched on this in posts and comments but it’s time to bring it together and hammer it home.  The Navy is headed down a path of smaller, weaker unmanned vessels as replacements for the retiring Ticonderogas and soon to be retiring Burkes.  The result is a loss of missiles, guns, and sensors – what we collectively call firepower and what is responsible for the actual destruction of the enemy.  Data and networks don’t destroy the enemy … firepower does.  Data and networks enable firepower;  they don’t replace it.  Unwisely, the Navy is actually replacing firepower with data and networks.  Let’s take a look at the magnitude of the problem.


Let’s start by looking at what we currently have in the way of surface ship firepower.  Note that the following analysis is somewhat affected by what one chooses to classify as existing versus replacement.  For example, is a Burke that is currently being built considered as existing or replacement?  I’ve made my best attempt to present a reasonable interpretation of what’s coming and what’s going but one can easily and validly debate the classification of a few ships.  However, the classification of a few ships won’t change the overall conclusion so view the analysis in that light:  an overall assessment rather than a rigid tally since we have no way of actually knowing what will happen beyond the next few years in terms of retirements or new builds.  We may find that the Navy early retires even more ships than anticipated (the Navy routinely does that!) or we may find that the Navy builds a few more Burkes than anticipated (the Navy loves them!).


With that in mind, here’s a table showing the current surface force ships and their firepower as measured by missiles and guns.






VLS / Ship

Total VLS

Guns / Ship

Total Guns




















a current, building, or on order




I have not included the LCS or Zumwalts because they have no useful, effective combat capability.


Now, let’s look at the replacements that are coming.  To be fair, we don’t have a lot of details on the unmanned vessel configurations, yet, so we’ll have to use our best guesstimates based on the little information we have and based on comparisons to similar size vessels.  Recall that the Navy has identified two classes of unmanned replacement surface vessels:  a small unmanned surface vessel (SUSV) which will be an unarmed sensor platform and a large unmanned surface vessel (LUSV) which will be a mini-VLS barge with few, if any sensors.  Note that the Navy nomenclature of “large” unmanned surface vessel is a joke since the LUSV is described as being 200-300 ft long and 1000-2000 tons which would make it significantly smaller than the 380 ft long, 3500 ton LCS.  So, here’s the anticipated replacements.





VLS / Ship

Total VLS

Guns / Ship

Total Guns





















a  guesstimate based on announced plans for the moderate future

b  estimate based on size of LUSV compared to frigate



There has been talk of a future new cruiser but given the trend towards unmanned vessels and the extreme uncertainty of budgets combined with the absolute certainty of ever-increasing ship construction costs, the likelihood of the proposed new cruiser making it to production is far from certain and, realistically, is probably unlikely.




Now, let’s combine the data and compare the current firepower to the replacement firepower.





Avg VLS / Ship

Total VLS

Total Guns














The problem, the decline in firepower, absolutely jumps off the page.  The total VLS cells are being hugely reduced.  We’re going to lose mammoth amounts of firepower.


In addition to the immense loss of VLS cells, we’re also going to lose almost all of our already meager naval gun firepower.  In fact, there are no plans to replace the 5” gun, at all.  The replacement Constellation class calls for the Mk110 57mm (2.2”) which is barely more than a machine gun and there has been no mention of a gun of any kind on the LUSV.


Now, we have to be fair and assume that additional ships will be built in the future to continue replacing the steady stream of retiring Burkes but all indications are that the Navy will switch to mostly or completely small (although they call them large!) unmanned vessels with fractional weapon capacities so the declining firepower trend identified here will continue or accelerate.  In fact, the Navy has stated publicly that some portion of the Burkes will be replaced by unmanned vessels.  As stated above, the possible appearance of a few more replacement Burkes doesn’t change the overall assessment.


It’s worse than just the loss of firepower and naval guns.  Other sources of firepower are declining, also.


Submarines.  The long known and anticipated shortfall in submarines has begun and will result in a decline from the current 68 subs to around 39.  Even the SSBN replacements will be reduced from the original 18 (later 14 + 4 SSGN) subs with 24 missile tubes to 12 subs with 16 tubes which is a 43% decrease in total missile tubes even compared to the current 14 SSBNs.


Helicopters.  To the extent that helos represent firepower, the 99 Ticonderoga and Burkes represent a helo force of 2x per ship for a total of 198 helicopters.  Compare this to the replacement helo capacity of 20 Constellation frigates with a single helo each for a total of 20 helos.  The LUSV, of course, has no helo capability.












Sensors.  Sensors enable firepower.  The contribution of sensors to the firepower assessment is difficult to quantify but hundreds of Aegis systems will be replaced by the handful of Constellation small SPY-6 Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) and unknown Small Unmanned Surface Vessel sensors.


Carrier Air.  We’ve already seen a steady decline in air wing size from the 80-90 of the Cold War era to the current 65 or so.  As F-35C squadrons are activated, the Navy has stated that squadron size will be decreased from 12 aircraft to 10.  We’ve also seen that the number of combat aircraft has been effectively decreased by 6-12 aircraft due to their use as tankers although the Navy hopes that the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned tanker will free up those aircraft for their intended use as combat aircraft.






To be fair, it’s much easier to see what’s going to be retiring from the fleet in the near to moderate future than to see what will be joining the fleet.  It is quite possible, likely even, that more ships will join the fleet than are noted in this post but the addition of a handful of extra ships does not significantly change the conclusion.


We seem to have forgotten that, ultimately, even after you’ve collected every bit of data there is about your enemy, you eventually have to destroy their assets to achieve victory.  That requires firepower and lots of it.  We’ve lost sight of that elementary fact.  We’re so focused on data and networks and AI-assisted command and control that we’ve forgotten about the firepower side of things.


Firepower?  Yeah, it’s declining and in a big way.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Navy COVID-19 Update

It’s time for an update on COVID-19 and the Navy.  ComNavOps previously examined the issue and stated that COVID was not a threat to the Navy and extreme isolation measures were not needed (see, “COVID-19 and the Navy”).(1)  This position was met with skepticism by readers, to put it mildly. 


The best way to deal with COVID is to read and understand actual data rather than the fear-mongering press reports and government and CDC recommendations that are not based on science and data.  In that vein, let’s get an update on COVID and the Navy/military.


As of 21-Apr-2021, the military, overall, has reported 185,259 cases of infection with 1,634 hospitalized (0.9% hospitalization rate) and 24 deaths.(2)  That’s out of approximately 1.4M active duty personnel.  The Navy accounts for 37,511 COVID cases of the 185,259 cases in the military.(2) 


The 24 deaths out of 185,259 cases makes the overall military death rate from COVID around 0.01% among those infected.  That’s as close to zero as you can get.


More sailors die from traffic accidents.


For comparison, the following table shows the number of deaths (all services combined) for a couple of selected non-COVID causes for the single year 2010.(4)



Cause of Death


Traffic accidents






Contrast those numbers for a one year period with the total of 24 deaths in the entire military over the year and a half that we’ve been dealing with COVID.


A sailor has a much higher chance of dying from some other disease than from COVID and yet we don’t take insane precautions for any of those illnesses.


On a related note, the Navy now has 145,939 people fully vaccinated and 69,711 partially vaccinated.


Do vaccinations work?  The CDC reports 5800 verified cases of a vaccinated person being infected out of 77,000,000 people vaccinated.(3)  That makes the vaccinated infection rate to be 0.0075% which is, for all practical purposes, zero.


At this point, some of you may be saying, okay ComNavOps, you were right way back at the start that COVID was not, and is not, a dire threat to service personnel but even one death is a tragedy and the military has an obligation to prevent all deaths.  Well … that’s completely wrong. 


Yes, every death is a tragedy for those it impacts but, no, the military does not have an obligation to prevent all deaths.  If they did, they’d confine everyone to quarters, in total isolation, wrapped in bubble wrap, never venturing outside, never driving, and they’d administer full physicals every day.  Of course, that’s ludicrous.  Service and, indeed, life, involves a degree of risk.  We take reasonable precautions where and when we can but we accept that risk and death are part of life. 


Even routine civilian life involves risks of death that we routinely accept.  For example, for the seven year period 2008-2015, there were 1,610 deaths due to animals, an average of 230/yr .  Compare that number to the 24 military deaths in a year and a half.  Interestingly, the majority of animal deaths, 57%, were from non-venomous animals.(4)  So, should we kill all animals to prevent human deaths?


We see then, that the Navy is engaged in extraordinary measures to control a disease that among service personnel has a hospitalization rate of 0.9% and a death rate of 0.01%.  The Navy loses far more personnel to other causes of death and yet takes only passing and reasonable precautions (I’m being generous – they take almost no precautions) against those.  It is only ignorance, politics, fear-mongering, and political correctness that has caused the Navy to react in such an extreme manner to COVID.  The science never supported such actions in the military’s service population.


My advice to the Navy – based on science and data – is drop the masks and get back to business as normal.


I'm going to moderate the comments for this post due the expected deluge of non-scientific, non-data based comments.  We'll resume normal commenting on the next post.




Masks, by the way, do nothing.  Report after report has demonstrated the ineffectiveness of masks.  Empirical proof also demonstrates the uselessness of masks.  If masks worked, COVID would have been gone long ago.


The only mask that offers any protection is the N95 and that offers only partial protection and then only if properly fitted, which almost never happens, and used by trained personnel, which is rare even in hospital settings.  Surgical masks offer no protection and homemade masks are pointless.













Friday, April 23, 2021

F-22 Cost Analysis

We now lament the termination of the F-22 program because the supposed low cost alternative, the F-35, has turned out not to be low cost and is many, many years behind schedule and is projected to cost trillions of dollars in sustainment.  Suddenly, that F-22 that was too expensive is looking a whole lot better especially in light of its vastly superior capabilities compared to the rather mundane combat capabilities of the F-35.


The F-22 program was prematurely terminated, in large part, because of its high costs.  Let’s review the F-22 program costs and see if we can get a better grasp of the cost issue.


To summarize the program, the F-22 was produced from 1996-2011with a total of 195 aircraft built (8 test plus 187 operational).  According to Wiki, the planned buy was 740 aircraft.(2)  The first production lot contract was awarded in Sep 2000. 


From Wikipedia, we see the original funding vision,


The USAF originally envisioned ordering 750 [F-22s] at a total program cost of $44.3 billion and procurement cost of $26.2 billion in fiscal year (FY) 1985 dollars. (2)


If realized, the procurement cost estimate of $26.2B for 750 aircraft would have put the procurement cost at $35M (FY85) per aircraft or $85M (FY2021) – the exact cost of the cheapest variant of the F-35, today!


Note, also, the envisioned relative proportion of development costs to production costs:


Development = $18.1B (41%)

Procurement = $26.2B  (59%)


One of the problems with modern aircraft (and ship!) procurement programs is that the development costs have a tendency (absolute certainty!) to balloon which takes an otherwise possibly acceptable program from reasonable to unreasonable.  We’ll circle back to this, momentarily.


Of course, the original funding vision failed to materialize.  Subsequent cost increases occurred and production quantities were reduced,


The 1990 Major Aircraft Review led by Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney reduced this to 648 aircraft beginning in 1996. By 1997, funding instability had further cut the total to 339, which was again reduced to 277 by 2003.  In 2004, the Department of Defense (DoD) further reduced this to 183 operational aircraft, despite the USAF's preference for 381.  A multi-year procurement plan was implemented in 2006 to save $15 billion, with total program cost projected to be $62 billion for 183 F-22s distributed to seven combat squadrons.  In 2008, Congress passed a defense spending bill that raised the total orders for production aircraft to 187. (2)




As production wound down in 2011, the total program cost is estimated to be about $67.3 billion, with $32.4 billion spent on Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) and $34.9 billion on procurement and military construction (MILCON) in then year dollars. The incremental cost for an additional F-22 was estimated at about $138 million in 2009.(2) [emphasis added]


Note the change in the relative costs of development to procurement from the original vision to the end of the program:


Development = $32.4B (48%)

Procurement = $34.9B (52%)


The development portion of the costs went from an anticipated 41% of the total program cost to nearly half.  Over the entire program, the production cost was $179M (FY2011) per aircraft ($209M per aircraft FY2021). 


More relevantly, the incremental cost in 2009 was $138M per aircraft.  This is more relevant because it captures the economy of scale that had been achieved near the end of the production run.  Compare this to the early F-35 production costs, at the same number of aircraft produced, which were running $150M - $200M+, depending on variant and whose report you choose to believe.  This tells us that at equivalent points in their production (around 150 aircraft produced), the F-22 and F-35 were in the same rough ballpark of production cost.  More importantly, this demonstrates that the F-22 would have continued to decrease in cost just as the F-35 has.  In other words, there was no reason to have terminated the F-22 program just based on production costs!


F-22 Production

F-35 production started at $170M+  per aircraft and has now dropped to $85M per aircraft, depending on variant.  Apply that same percentage drop to the F-22 price and you get a drop from $140M to $66M per aircraft.


Costs are interesting but, ultimately, unimportant, in a sense.  What matters is combat effectiveness.  In that regard, the F-22 is several times more combat-effective than the F-35 and, therefore, represents a much better value for the dollar.  It is this factor, combat value for the dollar that the decision makers failed to consider when they reduced and then terminated the F-22 program.  Even if the F-22 wound up costing twice the F-35, it delivers several times the combat capability and that makes it a bargain, in comparison.


Also, individual aircraft procurement cost, when amortized over the life of the aircraft, is insignificant.  For example, an F-22 costing $140M and having, say, a 30 year service life, is only $4.7M/yr. 


Let’s also bear in mind that the real cost of the F-35 is not the supposed $80M in the most recent production lot.  The real cost is the initial production cost plus the cost to retrofit capabilities that are missing from the aircraft and fixes for the various problems that the concurrency production scheme imposed.  So, that early aircraft that cost $150M, or even the latest $80M aircraft, will have additional costs imposed in order to bring them up to actual combat standards.  In fact, hundreds of F-35s have already been deemed either incapable of being brought up to standard or uneconomical to bring them up to standard.  The cost of the hundreds of concurrency orphans has to be added to the overall program cost to produce a lesser number of actual combat capable aircraft (actual usable number of aircraft = total aircraft produced – concurrency orphans).





The F-22 was expensive, without a doubt.  However, as we’ve seen, by looking only at the cost early in the production run, the costs were exaggerated and inappropriately skewed the termination decision.  In contrast, the same kind of excessive costs early in the F-35 program were accepted and the economy of scale price drops eventually resulted in a production cost half or less of the initial cost.  Had we let the F-22 production run continue, there is every reason to believe that we would have seen the same percentage decrease in cost.


The other overwhelming conclusion is that we terminated a program that was delivering superb combat value for the dollar and that’s always an unwise decision.  This is not to say that costs can be totally ignored but it clearly says that there is more to production decisions than just cost.  A better route for the F-22 program might have been to impose a production hiatus for a year or so and focus on the cost issues with the goal of resuming production with lower costs.


It is also worth bearing in mind that the F-22 was the first of its kind.  No, it wasn’t the first stealth aircraft but it was the first mass produced, front line stealth fighter and, as such, incorporated many new technologies and production techniques - advances that the F-35 design and production benefited from.  Again, had we taken a hiatus and worked out those firsts we could have resumed production with the production cost savings that the F-35 ultimately benefited from.


This points out the problem of running a military by business cases.  Business cases tend to focus on the short term cost and exclude consideration of long term costs and non-fiscal factors such as combat effectiveness.


Finally, had F-22 production continued, the proposed naval variant might have come to fruition and naval aviation would be immensely more capable today. 








(2)Wikipedia, “Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor”, retrieved 2-Apr-2021,

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

F-35 Readiness Failure Lessons

It’s no secret that the readiness of the F-35 (and most other US aircraft) is abysmal.  We’ve documented it multiple times including just recently (see, “The Real Aircraft Readiness Rates”).  Well, here are some additional data points provided by Ellen Lord, undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, that paint an even worse picture, if that’s possible.(1) 






Mission Capablea



Fully Mission Capableb




a able to perform one of the F-35’s assigned missions – lowest level of readiness


b able to perform any of the F-35’s assigned missions – highest level of readiness and the only one that is meaningful and useful and indicative of combat readiness



Aside from yet again demonstrating the fraudulent nature of Navy readiness reporting, the data demonstrates that the F-35 has consistently had atrocious readiness rates from the very start of the program until now.  Readiness has not generally or significantly improved and this is with an abundance of manufacturer’s assistance, clean bases, and ample parts (in most cases).  This does not bode well for war when all of those things will be in short supply.


What is causing the abysmal readiness rates?  According to Lord,


Lord attributed the low percentage of fully mission capable jets to ongoing issues with the F-35′s canopy and the F135 engine’s power module.


Although she did not elaborate, the program has grappled with a longstanding problem with “transparency delamination,” where outer layers of the canopy begin to peel away from the base. (1)


Other sources cite other problems affecting readiness.


The GAO noted that spare parts shortages had contributed to the F-35 not being able to meet readiness objectives.


“Specifically, the F-35 supply chain does not have enough spare parts available to keep aircraft flying enough of the time necessary to meet warfighter requirements,” the GAO stated. “Several factors contributed to these parts shortages, including F-35 parts breaking more often than expected, and DOD’s limited capability to repair parts when they break.” (1)


Okay, so the Navy is falsifying readiness reports and the F-35 is inherently difficult to maintain.  However, rather than beat up on the F-35 yet again, let’s focus on a few things that jump out from the data.



Targets – It’s bad enough to fail to achieve readiness targets but the larger issue is just how low the bar has been set on those targets.  A fully mission capable rate target of only 50% is absolutely pathetic and demonstrates just how far our definition of a good aircraft program has been dumbed down.  The same is true of the mission capable rate.


For any aircraft, the mission capable rate (the ability to perform just one of the assigned missions – which basically means the ability to take off) should be on the order of 95%+ while the fully mission capable rate (which is the only measure of a combat readiness) should be 80%.


This dumbing down, this lowering of expectations, is symptomatic of the mindset of the entire military.  Instead of demanding high performance and combat ready standards, we’ve lowered the bar in just about every area.  We’ve lowered the bar for boot camp and physical fitness requirements in order to accommodate women, we’ve instituted routine use of waivers to allow sailors with lapsed certifications to continue operating ships, NAVSEA has hugely reduced (essentially eliminated) the requirements for completion of a ship prior to delivery and acceptance, the Navy has attempted to bypass ship shock testing, and so on.  The list is nearly endless.


Quantity vs. Quality – While there is a well known axiom that quantity has a quality all its own, that pearl of wisdom only applies if the quantity is functional.  A thousand aircraft that can’t fly have no quality whatsoever.  We currently have something on the order of 400 F-35 concurrency orphans that are incapable of being cost effectively upgraded to actual current combat standards.  Yes, we’ve got quantities of the F-35 but we haven’t got functional quantities.


Our military leadership has emphasized numbers over readiness.  They would seem to prefer 100 aircraft with 40% readiness than 40 aircraft with 100% readiness.  Our military leadership would seem to prefer fifty useless LCS than much fewer ships that are actually functional and useful.  And so on.


K.I.S.S. – The failure to achieve even the minimal readiness targets points to an issue of over-complexity.  It stands to reason that the simpler the system, the easier it is to maintain.  The flip side of that coin is that complex systems are more capable …  in theory.  The reality is that overly complex systems fail to perform because they can’t be maintained.  We’ve often cited the fleet wide Aegis degradation as an example of this.  We have to readjust our thinking from trying for the most complex system we can to simpler systems that can actually operate at 100% of designed capability and can be maintained at that level.  We have to adopt the K.I.S.S. principle (see, “K.I.S.S.”)


Schedule-Induced Obsolescence – The failure to get the F-35 fielded in a timely manner guaranteed that the program would struggle with spare parts issues.  The parts that were readily available 20 years ago when the F-35 was being spec’ed are, of course, unavailable now, twenty years later.  This, alone, demands that we change our approach to design and acquisition.  We have to stop making weapon systems so complex that they require multiple decades to reach service.  All weapon systems struggle with maintenance after twenty years of service – it’s unavoidable.  Parts suppliers have gone out of business during the intervening decades or have moved on to different or upgraded parts that are not backward compatible.  We have simply got to field new systems in a much faster fashion.  I’ve laid out exactly how to do that (see, “How To Build A Better Aircraft”).



The F-35 fiasco offers many design and procurement lessons for us but we continue to steadfastly ignore them.





(1)Defense News website, “The Defense Department still isn’t meeting its F-35 readiness goals”, Valerie Insinna, 20-Jan-2021,

Friday, April 16, 2021

Ohio Versus Columbia Cost

Just for fun, let’s do a quick check of the Columbia SSBN program costs and see how they compare to the Ohio class.  The costs should be about the same after adjustment for inflation, right?  The Columbia is just a modern repeat of the Ohio - same function, same basic sub so the costs should be the same.  Well, let’s see …


As a quick review and in order to have a basis for comparison, here’s a brief table of specifications and cost for the Ohio and Columbia classes.






Length, ft



Beam, ft



Displacement, tons submerged



Missile Tubes



Inflation Adjusted Cost

$3.3B a (FY2021)

$9.15B b (FY2021)



a Ohio:  $2B (around 1997) for final sub of class (1) = $3.3B (FY2021)

b $109.8B total class procurement cost for 12 submarines = $9.15B average cost (FY2021) (2)


From this table, a couple things jump out:


Size.  We see that the Columbia is, essentially, a repeat of the Ohio class as regards basic dimensions so the costs ought to be comparable, allowing for inflation.  In fact, we see that the Columbia has 8 fewer missile tubes so the sub should be significantly smaller/shorter since the missile tube section is the largest section of the sub. 


Looking at the cutaway drawing of the Ohio class below, we see that 8 fewer missile tubes (4 on each side, so 4 tubes in the profile drawing) represents around 11 m (33 ft).  From that, one would expect that the new Columbia would be around 33 ft shorter than the Ohio and yet they’re the same size.  Since no new functions have been added that we’re aware of, what’s occupying the 33 ft of ‘empty’ space?


Ohio Class Cutaway Drawing


Similarly, nuclear reactors have gotten steadily smaller.  Here’s the best data I could find:


Ohio - The Ohio class uses 1x S8G pressurized water reactor.  The S8G reactor compartment for the Ohio submarines is 42 feet (13 m) in diameter, 55 feet (17 m) long and weighs 2,750 tons.(3)


Columbia - The Columbia class uses 1x S1B pressurized water reactor of unknown dimensions.  A concept drawing of the Columbia class suggests that the reactor compartment is around 30-35 ft long.  While this agrees with the reasoning that the reactor compartment should be smaller than the Ohio’s, a concept drawing is a highly suspect source of information and the information should be treated accordingly.


So, comparing reactor compartment lengths,






Reactor Compartment Length, ft





Since no new functions have been added that we’re aware of, what’s occupying the 20-25 ft of saved space from the smaller Columbia reactor?


Adding the 33 ft of saved length from the reduced number of missile tubes to the 20-25 ft of saved length from the smaller reactor, we see what should be a reduced overall length of 53-58 ft for the Columbia.  Inexplicably, it seems that the Columbia is actually slighter larger than the Ohio and has a significantly greater displacement!  How can a sub with 8 fewer of the massive missile tubes and a smaller reactor be larger and have a greater displacement?


Specifications.  As we’ve already mentioned, the Columbia has been down-spec’ed compared to the original Ohios:  33% reduction in missile tubes and a smaller reactor.  The missile reduction is puzzling given that the original threat that drove the Ohio design not only hasn’t decreased, it’s increased as China has significantly more military capacity and potential than the Soviet Union did.


Cost.  As we’ve just seen, the Columbia is, essentially a repeat of the Ohio class but with significantly fewer missile tubes and a smaller reactor.  Setting the internal contents aside, the two subs have nearly identical dimensions and one would reasonably expect them to cost the same after adjustment for inflation and yet this is not even remotely the case.  Why?  Why should a down-spec’ed modern Ohio be nearly three times the cost of the original?







Why has the cost nearly tripled for what ought to be a significantly smaller and cheaper submarine?  Well, we have no actual idea so here’s some speculation:


Numbers – The Navy has not only reduced the number of missile tubes per submarine but also the total number of subs with a reduction from 24 Ohios to just 12 Columbias.  It would be reasonable to assume that cutting the total build in half would increase production costs.  Of course, economy of scale is rarely seen in Navy ship programs so this is a highly debatable assumption.  Still, simply spreading a shipyard’s overhead costs over fewer ships is guaranteed to increase purchase costs (see, “Shipbuilding Costs – Impact of Low Volume”).


Berthing – Presumably, the Navy is planning to man the subs with mixed gender crews and the need to duplicate facilities undoubtedly increases costs.  Still, we’re trying to explain a nearly $6B cost increase so there must be more to it than gender related amenities and duplication.  The need to duplicate facilities may, however, explain some of the lost ‘empty’ space that we can’t account for.


Comfort – We’ve seen an across the board increase in creature comforts for crews as the Navy has moved to nearly year long deployments (see, ”Crew Comfort”).  Despite the idiocy of turning WARships into cruise ships, this may account for some of the missing ‘empty’ space and cost. 


Supra-Inflation – We’ve seen cost growth over and above the rate of inflation for almost every Navy shipbuilding program and the magnitude of the increases for some of them, such as the Ford class, have defied belief.  This may be more of that same unexplained supra-inflation.


Bid Inflation – The Navy has clearly demonstrated to industry that the Navy’s construction plans are etched in water and not to be relied on.  In fact, with Navy shipbuilding programs, it is almost a guarantee that the numbers will be cut before the program is over, thus negatively impacting industry profits.  Without a doubt, industry is aware of this and builds in some profit margin cushion to compensate for the expected decrease in numbers.  How the Navy could decrease the SSBN build below 12, which is already reduced from 24, is unknown and yet history suggests that it is a very real possibility.  For those who might think that a leg of the nuclear/strategic triad would be immune to reductions, one has only to consider the example of the Air Force B-2 nuclear/strategic bomber which was planned to build 132 and then was reduced to 21.


Gold Plating – I have zero evidence that the practice of unnecessary over-spec’ing, referred to as ‘gold plating’, is taking place in the Columbia program but, given the Navy’s constant tendency to do this, it would be surprising if this was not taking place to some, likely significant, degree.





We have no concrete conclusion that explains why the Columbia is 53-58 ft longer and nearly $6B more expensive than we can account for – only speculation.   Without a doubt, some or all of our speculation is correct although we cannot quantify the magnitude of any of it and none of it seems sufficient to explain the $6B increase.  Regardless of the actual reasons for the staggering cost increase, the Navy’s continually demonstrated inability to produce reasonably priced new ships is a monumental concern and is inexorably shrinking the fleet to a point of combat-ineffectiveness.  The latest evidence of this is the Navy’s turn to small, weak, unmanned ships to replace Aegis cruisers and Burke destroyers in an effort to keep ship counts up despite the resulting decrease in combat power.  The Navy simply must get control of its shipbuilding programs and learn to produce affordable, combat-effective ships or we will find ourselves without an effective Navy.







(2)Congressional Research Service, “Navy Columbia (SSBN-826) Class Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress”, May 2020,


(3)Wikipedia, “S8G reactor”,