Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

New Navy Shipbuilding "Vision"

An article in today's New York Times (annoying free registration probably required; this version of the story in the International Herald Tribune should be up for a while) discusses a new Navy plan to increase the size of the fleet from 281 to 313 ships over the next 15 years, at a cost of $13 billion per annum. Excerpt:

"While increasing the fleet size is popular with influential members of Congress, the plan faces various obstacles, including questions about whether it is affordable in light of ballooning shipbuilding costs and whether the mix of vessels is suitable to deal with emerging threats, like China's expanding navy.
"We are at a crisis in shipbuilding," a senior Navy official said. "If we don't start building this up next year and the next year and the next year, we won't have the force we need." The officials would not agree to be identified because the plan had not been made public or described to members of Congress.
"The Navy's fleet reached its cold war peak of 568 warships in 1987 and has been steadily shrinking since then. Admiral Mullen's proposal would reverse that, expanding the fleet to as many as 325 ships over the next decade, with new ships put into service before some older vessels are retired, and finally settling at 313 between 2015 and 2020."

While this seems like it might be good news, the article goes on to say that the plan would accept a reduction in the attack sub fleet from 50 to 48. This would still require an increase in the Virginia-class buy rate up to 2 per year essentially immediately, since the LAs built in the mid 80s are quickly running out of hull life. The total buy of the new DD(X) would be substantialy reduced, from the 23-30 currently envisioned to about 7 hulls.

So where will all the new ships come from? The article explains:

"The plan calls for building 55 small, fast vessels called littoral combat ships, which are being designed to allow the Navy to operate in shallow coastal areas where mines and terrorist bombings are a growing threat. Costing less than $300 million, the littoral combat ship is relatively inexpensive."

Sounds like Secretary Rumsfeld's "Transformation" philosophy is taking hold in the CNOs office. While I can intellectually agree that this could be a good idea, I still like the idea of having some big ships that could actually take a hit and keep fighting.

While the article says that Congress, in general, is supportive of shipbuilding, the 30% budget increase would have to come out of somewhere. The article suggests that the "Navy is planning to squeeze money from personnel and other accounts, and ask shipyards to hold down costs, even if it means removing certain capabilities."

From my experience, I don't see much good coming out of this plan for submarines. People have talked for years about increasing the Virginia buy rate up to 2 per year, but always manage to put it off "until the next budget cycle" when it actually comes up for a vote -- it's about the only way to get rid of $2B+ from the bottom line with one item. Unless the Sub Force manages to convince more people of the important work we're doing in the GWOT, I don't see any reason why this wouldn't continue.

Update 0640 06 Dec: WillyShake asks a relevant question...


Blogger Chap said...

Concur with your sub building comments--the big number's always in the outyears, isn't it?

I saw a similar post over at Captain's Quarters, and mentioned that Salamander and Skippy and I went round and round on this a while back...

12/05/2005 10:36 AM

Anonymous byron audler said...

One of the reasons why shipbuilding costs are so high, are the relatively low production rates forced on the industry by the lowered amount of truly skilled crafstmen. EB managed to due a terrific job on the Virginia, because they were able to hang onto their skilled people with the Seawolf class. If anyone cares to recall, the Navy didn't want the Conneticut or the Carter, but Congress allocated the funds anyway. This was done at EBs urging, since there was a long gap between Seawolf and Virginia, and they were unable to sustain the manpower during those dry years.

This situation is bad, and getting worse throughout the shipbuilding and ship repair business. The cause is simple: people aren't being brought into the trades anymore, and the faces you see pierside and in the shops are all grey-haired, and getting older every day. The average age is in the late forties. Because of the boom-bust-boom nature of the business, and rising cost of benefits/insurance, shipyards are forced to keep a very small cadre of skilled tradesmen, relying on the "road runners" to bolster the labor force as needed. These temps, however, aren't as highly skilled, and are both not as productive nor capable of producing spec work consistently. And this supplemental work force, is getting older as well.

There are no pretty answers, and by nature, the situation will get only worse, till there are only a handful of repair/conversion yards, and a couple of building yards. Anyone who doesn't believe me, can take a look at the LPD-17 San Antonio fiasco for proof. By the time it hits critical mass, I will be out of this business, thankfully, sitting in the sun, and nursing my past shipyard aches and pains.

12/05/2005 3:54 PM


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