Don't Cry for the Navy's Cruiser Problem
Learn from it
On the list of things future historians will blow-torch early 21st Century US Navy leadership over will be the almost criminal mismanagement of their battle fleet - and it's cruiser fleet most of all.
Building off the least worst compromise of making a cruiser from a Spruance Class destroyer in the last quarter of the 20th Century, we coasted in the "peace dividend" 1990s by ignoring a century of shipbuilding experience by not having the replacement class of warship building as the last of the previous class was finishing up.
A bit more than a decade and a half later, the absolute Monty Python skit that was CG(X) blew up the second best option.
That leaves us in the 3rd decade of the 21 Century facing a young and building Chinese Navy with ... this as reported by the exceptional Megan Eckstein over at USNINews.
A plan to keep the Navy’s guided-missile cruiser fleet operating through the end of the 2030s is struggling as the ships show there’s a very real cost in time and money to keep old platforms around for the sake of having a larger fleet.
The Navy has for almost two decades struggled to figure out what kind of platforms should replace these CGs as the air defense command ship for the carrier strike group, and several efforts have been canceled or postponed along the way. To buy more time to find a replacement, the Navy modernized 10 cruisers beginning in the 2000s to extend their lives and give them the newest combat capabilities. A second cruiser modernization program that began in 2015 aimed to do the same to seven more.
At sea and in the air (the sub bubbas are actually doing OK), our procurement and acquisition people and process has failed the Navy and the nation is serves ... but despite decades of fail, what is being done to change or fix it? Besides an occasional innocent O6-7 thrown in the volcano, who is being held accountable?
In a budget environment where the military services are increasingly looking to “divest to invest,” or rid themselves of legacy gear to free up money for new equipment aimed at a high-end future fight, the cruiser fleet may not see much support in the upcoming budget cycle, two admirals told USNI News.
A new plan will be released in conjunction with the Biden administration’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget request, but Vice Adm. Jim Kilby, the deputy chief of naval operations for warfighting requirements and capabilities (OPNAV N9), suggested it would be hard to find support in the budget for an old ship that’s increasingly hard and expensive to maintain and operate.
“This job is more complex than I think the Navy anticipated for all the reasons Adm. Galinis laid out. So I would have to think hard about inducting more cruisers here because of what we’ve seen so far,” he said during the same interview on Friday.
“I do agree with Adm. Galinis that we’re going to get better, but I think it’s in this overall balance as I’m trying to produce the best Navy for the money that’s provided to us that we can, if that makes sense.”
We did this to ourselves. There is zero reason we should not have a new class of CG. None. Zero. The Cult of Transformationalism undercut good options because they did not have enough chrome or fins, and the lack of mature leadership refused to control their own team who was asked to deliver a tractor and instead rolled up in a BMW to plow the back 40.
Where to now? First, pray for peace as we are not ready for war. Second, we need to support Congressional leaders of both parties who are serious and, frankly, don't care who in industry or The Pentagon they piss off. Then, wait for someone in the Executive Branch to show up and appoint people who feel the same way.
What we have been doing for the last quarter century+ fails again and again.
Until we rip up the present system - start with Goldwater-Nichols and the Joint Procurement Program bastard child - root and branch, we will not see progress that we need. We will consistently deliver 60¢ for each $1 of taxpayer money.