For More Ships, Navy Needs… More Money

USS John F. Kennedy,CVN 79, starts to take shape. Almost two years construction up to this point.

What’s the difference between an admiral and a drunken sailor? Answer’s at the end.

Ships are big. And, to steal a word from the President’s Twitter stream, building more ships is going to cost us… “bigly.”

$80 to $150 billion bigly. And that’s the Navy number, before it’s inflated with cost overruns to make sure there is No Retired Admiral Left Behind, and because some future SecNav may want to add to or remove the Transgender Head on the Poop Deck.

The Navy, at least, is talking about building actual Navy ships, not the science fiction experiment that was the DDG-1000 class, or the two mission-weak, firepower-absent and capability-poor “social justice cruisers,” the LCS or Literal Comedy Ship.

The exact size of the future fleet doesn’t matter right now, but rather the Navy just needs to start boosting its investment in shipbuilding quickly – which means buying many more Virginia-class attack submarines, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Ford-class aircraft carriers in the next few years, [Vice CNO ADM Bill Moran] said.

“I’m not here to argue that 355 or 350 is the right number. I’m here to argue that we need to get on that trajectory as fast as we can. And as time goes on you start to figure out whether that number is still valid – 10 years from now, 20 years from now 355 may not be the number,” Moran said today at the annual McAleese/Credit Suisse “Defense Programs” event.
“Our number, give or take, to get to 355, or just to get started in the first seven years, is $150 billion. That’s a lot of money.”

A larger, more capable fleet is a good idea. Building instead of mothballing carriers, destroyers and attack/all-purpose subs is a complete and welcome reversal from what we’ve seen for the last dozen-plus years.

But is anybody confident that the Navy and its cozy little cabal of shipbuilders can manage a big-ticket project?

Well, ADM Moran starts off with, “give us the money and we’ll start to figure it out.” That’s not very reassuring.

Moran told USNI News following his remarks that dollar figure wasn’t exact but was based on the Navy’s best guess for how much it would cost to immediately begin a fleet buildup. A Navy official told USNI News later that one internal Navy estimate put the cost at about $80 billion over the seven years, whereas a Congressional Research Service estimate was closer to $150 billion.

OK, so now we’ve seen three independent estimates: 80, 150, and 155. That means that, based on government procurement history, building the ships will probably cost, not the average, $128 billion, but the sum of $385 billion.

“When you look at the number that started our 355 trajectory, to jump-start it – in order to jump-start it we think we need to build an additional 29 or 30 ships in the first seven years,” he said.

If it’s thirty ships, that’s an obscene $13 billion per hull. But he’s already waffled it down to 29, so it’s $13.3. But wait! Once Congress gets hold of it and demands fewer ships built in more Congressional Districts, maybe we’re looking at 20 or 25 ships. The Navy will certainly still spend every dime, so we’ll be sending our sailors to sea in new 1970s designs that average $15 to $19 Billion per ship.

Someone’s making out, and it’s not the nation’s ability to project sea power.

“When you do all that math, it’s a lot of money that we don’t have. But we were asked to deliver on that, so we’ve passed along what we think it would take. And obviously, any number you give in this environment is going to be sticker shock. So that’s why I say don’t take me literally, all it is is a math equation right now.”

Those 30 ships would mostly come from three ship classes in serial production today.

The Virginia-class submarine Minnesota (SSN-783) is “pressure hull complete,” signifying that all of the submarine’s hull sections have been joined to form a single, watertight unit. Newport News Shipbuilding photo.

“We definitely wanted to go after SSNs, DDGs and carriers, to get carriers from a five-year center to a four-year center and even looked at a three-year option. So the numbers I will give to you are reflective of those three priorities, because those are the big impacters in any competition at sea,” he told USNI News.

This is actually sensible. How about a stop-work order on the born-obsolete Literal Comedy Ship, before one of them gets into a sea fight with an Iranian Boston Whaler and loses, uh, bigly?

“Amphibs come later, but I’m talking about initial, what are we building that we can stamp out that are good. We know how to build Virginia-class, we know how to build DDGs.”

via Moran: Navy Needs Additional $150B to ‘Jump-Start’ Path to 355 Ships.

You just don’t know how to build them reasonably, do you?

You see, the difference between an admiral and a drunken sailor, is that the drunken sailor spends his own money. The admiral spends yours. 

27 thoughts on “For More Ships, Navy Needs… More Money

  1. Jim Scrummy

    Forgetting CGs and FFGs is not to smart either. Granted the Burke Class does a lot of the CG type work, but a new FFG (Baby Burkes), would also help fill some gaps in ASW. All the Little Crappy Ships need to be turned into targets, because that is all they are, targets.

    1. Larry

      No, they can be sold for good money to south of the border drug smugglers. Then they can be used for target practice by far more capable Coast Guard cutters, and missile-armed helicopters. Maybe supplemented by Gulf Coast speedboat owners with Letters of Marque, M2 Brownings, and AT-4s.

  2. Haxo Angmark

    ground-pounders (Eisenhower, Hognose) typically don’t like the navy. Understandable. Imagine if all the $$$ wasted on the LCS had been spent on providing close air support.

    1. CJ

      Imagine if all the $$$ wasted on the F-35 had been spent on providing close air support.

  3. Steve

    To be fair, that number might encompass more than just ships. It might include expanded shipyards and supplier manufacturing facilities, more shipyard workers and training for them, more crews for the ships, more weapons for those ships, expanded basing and maintenance facilities to keep it running…

    I know there’s a lot of squandering of tax dollars going on, but scaling up the number of warships requires a hefty investment on the back end as well, and the CRS estimate might include all of that as well.

    1. Scipio Americanus

      Steve is correct here. The ship itself ends up costing only a proportion of the money involved.

      If we are going to go about arresting the impending rapid decline of the fleet (it’s current moderate rate of decline being just a prelude, thanks to slippage in the processes that lead to replacement of older ships) then this is the right way to do it; i.e. extending and accelerating the production runs on the Arleigh Burkes, Fords, and Virginias. For all that we rightly complain about disastrous jokes like the DDX and LCS, those three platforms are the heart of the fleet and by both historical and current-world standards all three programs have been remarkably successful.

      As Jim notes, we’re late getting a start on a new area air-defense cruiser. the Ticonderogas are getting long in the tooth, and their hulls in particular are starting to show their age (it’s important to remember that the Ticos are cruisers squeezed into a Spruance-class destroyer hull). I hear that a new-generation CG is being fast tracked and will mostly be designed around only moderate improvements to existing technology with maybe one significant leap involved. Again, that’s the right way to do things.

      It seems we will be taking the LCS in a more conventional frigate direction, though given how much of the design is shaped by the idiotic speed requirement we’ll see how well that works out. As I’ve said before, the Independence-class’ capacious helicopter facilities make it potentially a very good platform for modern ASW (which is 80%+ a matter of the helicopters) and MCM, but how it turns out will depend a great deal on what specific direction they chose to go with modifications/additions.

      It would be nice to get the SSBN replacement moving along a bit faster than it is, but I think there may be factors both technological and political that militate against that being possible.

    1. Larry

      For too much of what we have, repairing is likely too late. They’ve been ridden hard and put away wet. It’s so self-destructive, one almost has to wonder who the admirals are really working for (other than themselves, in too many cases).

  4. Brad

    Increasing the number of hulls in the US Navy is all well and good, but what about the aircraft?

    The numbers, quality, training, and armament of the aircraft of the US Navy is the better measure of its true combat power than the number of ships.

  5. Loren

    Ships, like airplanes are mostly missile platforms- well that and missile sponges. The LCS isn’t either. It could be something but with no defined mission it’s likely to be nothing but a jobs program for Alabama and Wisconsin. Mattis needs to do some serious house cleaning and put fighting admirals in charge.
    As to the F-35. I can’t think of another program that has done more harm to the country than that one. There’s a short SF story that’s required reading at the Naval academy of a highly educated weapon developer that caused his people to lose the war by building F-35 type weapons. I haven’t the time to look it up but probably not hard to find. Somebody should send a copy to Trump.
    The Virginia class is very capable but costs 5 times what a Japanese Soryu class does. Maybe buy a mix and forward base the Soryu?

    1. Scipio Americanus

      The story you’re thinking of is “Superiority” by Isaac Asimov, and it’s one that everyone involved with military acquisitions and R&D should read.

      Your statement about missile platform vs. missile sponge is the beginning of a good idea, but too simplistic to map correctly to the real world. The two basic roles you’re missing are “aircraft platform” and “sensor platform.” That’s considering only the tactical picture, of course, with no concern for logistics, etc.

      I feel filthy for any statement that smacks of defending as big of a procurement debacle as the F-35 is, but as ridiculously over-expensive and over-long as the program has been, the point at which we could have made a decision to de-fund it in favor of something more reasonable passed around 10 years ago. We’re stuck with the bastard now, for a number of reasons. Thankfully, it seems that it’s going to mature into a decent modern strike aircraft. By the way, that’s the right way to think of F-35: not as fighter but as a long-overdue replacement for the A-7, with just enough air-to-air capability to protect itself in the modern threat environment (in other words, a lot).

      Replacing SSNs with SSKs is just moving the money around, and putting it into things that die a lot faster and are a lot more subject to going *poof* due to the vagaries of international politics. A Virginia is worth a hell of a lot more than 5 times a Soryu in overall combat capability, especially if you take into account less tangible factors like support requirements and versatility.

      1. Loren

        I didn’t suggest replacing nukes but augmenting nukes with diesels. Dead wrong on a SSN vs 5 (or 2) SSK’s. Both boats have equal sensors and weapons. True that diesels have only 11k miles range and a max of 2 weeks submerged time but both are enough for any conceivable sea control battle or battles although perhaps not for running around in front of a carrier battle group year after year. A dozen extra diesel subs in the S. China sea or Sea of Japan or N. Atlantic or Arctic sea would be a real challenge for the opposition.
        Mostly, several deployed boats are better than one super unbuilt boat awaiting funding.
        I agree on the F-35 but still like to bitch about it.

        1. Scipio Americanus

          I wasn’t arguing that 1 SSN could beat 5 SSKs in a fight, but that 1 large multipurpose SSN like Virginia is more valuable in military value-added than 5 smallish AIP boats like Soryu.

          SSNs have a lot of more subtle advantages like their ability to leave a base in the US and move to a mission area anywhere in the world, vs. an SSK for which a prospective adversary can draw a range ring around its base and pre-station MPAs or other ASW assets in likely areas to catch it. SSNs just tend to fit the US’ needs better because of our status as a two-ocean power.

          Modern SSNs are also capable of moving at high speed underwater for unlimited distances, whereas submerged SSKs typically want to be creeping along to conserve battery or AIP power. This has immense tactical consequences, especially for dealing with enemy surface units.

          I wouldn’t be opposed to us doing some experiments with SSKs as a supplement to our large SSN fleet, but it would likely be disproportionately expensive to stand up such a force from scratch even if we buy abroad (you’re right that the Japanese boats come closest to our requirements; they’re smaller than an SSN but bigger than most SSKs out there). I think if we end up with an SSK force it’s more than likely to come about as a mobilization force in the runup to a major war, since you can build them faster.

          That said, we’re not “awaiting funding” on “super unbuilt boats.” The Virginia line is humming along pretty well and we have a very large SSN fleet compared with anyone else in the world. Heck, it’s pretty large compared to anyone’s sub fleet, nuclear and conventional. The vast majority of the SSKs in the hands of our potential adversaries are old boats or boats of old design that lack the tactical advantages of the more modern D-E or AIP boats, whose numbers are smaller but growing.

        2. Hognose Post author

          Problem for the squidly end of the E-Ring is that once the SSK nose is under the tent, getting Congress to fund SSNs is going to be as hard as making those subs fly. Especially when anti-military Dems are in the White House and Congress, as will happen again some day. (In DC, what goes around comes around). That’s why I think they fight a diesel or AIP sub, not because of all the problems new technology (for the USN) will cause, and all the teething, overruns, schedule slides that our procurement system will produce with that, but because, if it works, it’s a threat to the Navy’s most effective units. Plus, the same budget cutters who will argue that it’s a good deal to have 2 SSKs in lieu of 1 SSN will invariably cut the production to the rate the nukes were coming at — which guarantees unit costs through the roof. In the end, we’ll be paying as much for less capability.

          New and emerging ASW technologies that leverage computer arrays and satellite clouds are threatening to make the seas transparent to a peer competitor. That’s alarming to any sea power, and can anyone tell me what’s the USN’s anti-satellite / satellite-defense strategy? ‘Cause I think it’s either “huh?” or “not our problem.” It is our problem when irreplaceable subs (SSNs or SSKs) and crews can get taken off the board at H-1.

          1. Scipio Americanus

            You’re correct about the political problems associated with the USN building an SSK force.

            Unless you know something I don’t, which is entirely possible, satellites haven’t so far been very useful for subsurface ocean surveillance. We tried some projects to look for the water “hump” pushed up by a submarine but it turns out that problem may be even theoretically insoluble, regardless of the amount of processing power you throw at it. As far as I know thermal’s never been made to work for this application either, despite attempts.

            Acoustic ocean surveillance requires arrays, either permanent or deployable, or at least something like the T-AGOS ships (in reality T-AGOS towed arrays work as a supplement to the seafloor arrays). While modern computing makes the data processing cheaper and easier, you’ve still got to put a lot of very sensitive hydrophones in the water across quite an area to get localizations good enough to cue your other platforms (usually MPAs) such that they’ll be able to pin down the contact. I’m sure the Chinese and others are working on expanding their capability in this area because of the threat posed by our submarines, but they’ve likely got a long way to go before they’re able to match us, and our newer subs are still frequently able to evade our own passive sensors. There were some systems on the drawing boards in the 90s that might have been able to up the detection ante, but they largely got defunded as part of the peace-dividend. They probably bear thinking about now, both as expansions of our capability and as potential threats.

      2. Brad

        nerd alert!

        “The story you’re thinking of is “Superiority” by Isaac Asimov, and it’s one that everyone involved with military acquisitions and R&D should read.”

        Isaac Asimov! Bite your tongue. That story was written by Arthur C. Clarke, first published in 1951 and included in his 1953 anthology, Expedition to Earth.

        1. Hognose Post author

          That’s the sort of embarrassing “know it too well to need checking” made all the time by Your Humble Blogger (and the New York Times. The difference is, it keeps me humble.)

        2. Scipio Americanus

          Ah! Can’t believe I forgot that; it’s a favorite.

          I’ll blame the squalling 4-month old for my lapse of memory, mainly since she can’t fight back yet.

          1. Hognose Post author

            Obviously, the kid needs some remedial reading, stat.

            Thanks for reading and commenting in what has to be an exhausting time for you. Fortunately, as time passes, the only memories that last will be the joys.

  6. Aesop

    I have no problem with buying the Navy more proven actual combatant ships, but I would append a modest proposal:

    For every keel laid from now forward, one admiral gets canned. For each submarine, it’s a rear admiral; for a destroyer, a vice admiral; and for a carrier, a full admiral walks the plank.
    As to whom, we let everyone from O-4 down to E-2 (inclusive) rank them (and all CPOs get two votes apiece), tally the votes, and then the resulting bottom 10% of bottom-dwellers get voted off the island by choice of their own flag grade fellows.

    At some point on a graph, the lines of increasing ships and decreasing admirals will cross, and that’s probably the Navy we’re looking for, over the next generation or so.

    And doing both would double the effectiveness of the whole organization.

    1. Larry

      S***-can the drones on their staffs, and re-assign everyone else to a productive role, and we’ve got a winning strategy here.

  7. bobby b

    ” How about a stop-work order on the born-obsolete Literal Comedy Ship, before one of them gets into a sea fight with an Iranian Boston Whaler and loses, uh, bigly?”

    Probably not a danger. It’d be a tough sail getting one of those Boston Whalers over here into the LCS’s realistic range.

    1. Larry

      No problem at all. Airlift one to the LCS’s homeport, then drift within AT-4 range of the pier it’s welded to, then fire away while most of the crew’s out doing what sailors in port do.

    2. Aesop

      The Navy should be worried they might accidentally run over a Boston Whaler with an LCS, with or without any Iranians involved, lest the LCS founder.
      It would be embarrassing to have the Little Crappy Ship’s crew picked up by fat fisherman, and middle-aged chicks in bikinis.

      And if the Coasties showed up to help, they’d never hear the end of it in the Pentagon.

  8. Daniel

    “The ultimate cause of our failure was a simple one: despite all statements to the contrary, it was not due to lack of bravery on the part of our men, or to any fault of the Fleet’s. We were defeated by one thing only – by the inferior science of our enemies. I repeat – by the inferior science of our enemies.”
    —-Superiority – by Arthur C. Clarke, http://www.mayofamily.com/RLM/txt_Clarke_Superiority.html

    In addition to acquisition, the above seems to, also, apply to strategy.

Comments are closed.