More on the Fleet

Gates: We Ignore Threats to Our Navy at Our Peril

Robert Gates is worried that our fleet is in danger, conveniently ignoring the fact that if things keep on keeping on, there won’t be much of a fleet left to threaten.

“We cannot allow more ships to go the way of the DDG-1000, where since its inception the projected buy has dwindled from 32 to three as costs per ship have more than doubled,” Gates said.

Stennis Group in ROK

Stennis Group in ROK

If he means no more outrageous plans for outrageous ships at outrageous prices, then, yes, we cannot allow more ships to go that way.

A commenter pointed out that USS Enterprise (CVN 65) costs about $500 million per year to operate. One popular number for the cost of the DD(X) ships is $3,300 million. So by not building one, the Big ‘E’ could operate for an extra six and half years, and that’s not counting operating costs of the destroyer. So call it seven years.

What will help the Navy more over a seven-year period? One carrier or one destroyer?

A different commenter pointed this out:

10 supercarriers still is infinite times the amount of supercarriers that other nations have.

That’s correct, but my worry about 10 carriers not being enough isn’t based on having to deal with enemy carriers. If we had a potential enemy with a few serious flat-tops, we’d need a 20-carrier fleet. My wish for a dozen carriers is based on no significant surface threats to the fleet.

He adds:

1 carr[ier] for every sea, plus 3 extra ones for where trouble is.

Here’s a mix of current and potential situations that should be keeping people awake at night:

  1. Afghanistan continues to require more attention and will for the next several years at least.
  2. North Korea seems pretty intent on continuing the jackassery of the past couple decades.
  3. So what if as our troops withdraw from Iraq, things start go go south? Or the Iraq region gets dicey due to Syria or Iran?
  4. Seeing the fact that we don’t have enough fleet for everything on the wish list, China decides to take advantage of things and decides to start a rumble.

Which “where the trouble is” gets the “3 extra” carriers?

Sure, that’s a nearly-worst-case scenario, but isn’t that what the military is for?

A lot of the justification for cutting back the carrier fleet seems to be the success of the JDAM. It’s tough to argue with this, as one plane with bombs that don’t miss can potentially do the work of a squadron. But this thinking assumes two things:

  1. Future strike needs will continue to be pin-prick one-bomb needs.
  2. No one will disrupt GPS.

Those are two pretty major assumptions.

F/A-18 Super Hornets on USS Dwight Eisenhower (CVN 69)

F/A-18 Super Hornets on USS Dwight Eisenhower (CVN 69)

Meanwhile: Push for fewer F/A-18s could widen fighter gap

The so-called “strike fighter gap” may grow under Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ new cost-cutting budget.

Gates proposed a cut in the number of F/A-18 jets the Navy will buy next year, a move that could add to the fighter shortage looming as many of the older Hornets begin to wear out.

Gates said April 6 that the Navy will buy 31 “F/A-18s” in fiscal 2010. A Navy official said that includes F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets as well as EA-18G Growlers, which use the same Boeing-made airframe but are outfitted for electronic warfare…

Last year, Navy officials estimated the fighter gap would reach 125 jets for the Navy and Marine Corps starting in 2016 and extend for several years.

More recent projections are looking at a 150-200 plane shortfall.

We’re probably looking at a “Why keep eleven carriers? We don’t even have enough planes for ten.” scenario.

A recent proposal to stretch Hornet A-D life to 8,600 hours from 8,000 will add about two years of life to each plane at a cost of $500,000.


  1. You have can get away with less wings than carriers, since an air wing doesn’t need to go into dry dock with the carrier.

    And since Navy ships do 6 month cruises, keeping “one for every sea, plus 3 for where the trouble is” available year round would seem to require 20 carriers. Although you can probably assume some risk with the Arctic, Antarctic, and Gulf of Mexico, and cut that down to 14.

  2. The Navy’s ship designs are lessons in progressive futility.

    Originally the ships main costs were in its armor and engines, crew costs were cheap. So in pre=power point land, the armor was scrapped as “unneeded” or “useless” and above all too expensive, in an age of atomic weapons. So we lost the manufacturing base to build armored ships, but ships would be cheaper!

    Then, the atom bombs did not fall – and somebody asked “how will our ships defend themselves without armor?” and so the dream of walls of air came into being. The rattle of power point presentations proclaimed the era of situational awareness, missiles and enhanced survivability through improved damage control and crew access would lead us to the promise land

    “We can defend our ships via improved situational awareness and active defenses! cried the theoretical admirals. But alas! The walls of air proved to be immensely expensive. (And only worked when you turned them on [See USS Stark] and did not often work as well as hoped. [See USS Schofield] The dirty little secret of the walls of air is that they could be overwhelmed with little effort, yet hope was always around the corner – (See Aegis weapon system, see beam forming radar….) So expensive were these walls of air, that we could no longer afford to have a 600 hundred ship navy. So we had fewer ships with cheap hulls, somewhat men, expensive engines and really expensive electronics. So we lost the manufacturing base to build ships, but our ships were theoretically much more capable!

    Yet still, the voices cried, “how can we defend our ships since the walls of air will not?”

    “We can defend our ships via stealth… and improved situational awareness and active defenses!” cried the theoretical admirals turn defense contractor lobbyists. And on came the DDX – while the ship costs as much as an aircraft carrier and less capable then ship it purported to replace, it would actually save money by reducing the crew size as everyone knows the real expense of ships is the crew! Now some would point out that Steal on a 700 foot ship with an X band radar wielding radar guided missiles is an oxymoron, the theoretical admirals would have none of it and pushed the DDX ever on.

    But disaster struck and the country ran out of money for the DDX. So the theoretical admirals turned the LCS. It would be cheaper; we could build lots of them. Alas, since we only had two ship builders, we would have to let them both build the LCS and to make things better each LCS would have completely different designs.

    And so the LCS was build for 500 million. [Two LCS would cost the same as an Aegis cruiser without those pesky defense radars or weapon systems.] Alas many compromises had to be made. There was not enough money for walls of air, so the electronic defenses had to be cut. There was no ability to armor the ship since those companies when out of business years ago. Men were too expensive, so the crew was cut to the bone – but “smart ship” technology could fill the void. The miracle weapons of the era could not be used since there ship had not the electronics to support the weapons. So there was only one thing to do – build really big engines so the LCS would run away!!

    Now the scourge of the sea has come back to haunt us, Pirates! What does our Navy say? We do not have the ability to suppress the pirate scourge. Not enough ships or men to do it.

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