The Three Wounds of our Amphibious Navy
OPNAV needs to enter a 12-step program
To see where we are and where we need to go, it is always helpful to remind ourselves how we got here.
First let's look where we are; the Navy telling Congress to bugger-off;
The Navy is proposing to drop its amphibious fleet below 31 ships, despite an agreement with the Marine Corps and a potential violation of last year’s defense policy law.
Sent to Congress on Monday, the Navy’s proposed $255.8 billion 2024 budget aims to retire eight warships before the end of their intended service life, including three Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships, or LSDs, that it proposed to scrap last year but which were saved by the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act
There are a lot of people out there so far this week doing great work reading the entrails of the latest budget, so I won't try to replicate their fine work here.
This did not happen by accident. This is not happening as a result only of a lack of funds. This did not happen because a black cat walked in front of the CNO.
No. This is the predictable result of three things Big Navy has control of, but by acts of commission and omission, consistently made the wrong decision.
Wound One: Material Condition:
(We) did a ship-by-ship review, to understand the material state of each of the ships. What we found on the LSDs is that they are challenged in terms of readiness.
As we have covered here for the better part of two decades, as have others, the Navy decided to take savings from maintenance, hide once UNCLAS INSURV behind a classified wall, and - like someone avoiding the dentist or a regular physical - more than willing make things easy by doing nothing now, knowing full well that it will only be worse later on. Unlike tooth pain or colon cancer though, the person making things easy now is not the same as the person who will take the pain later. Kind of like a programmatic/leadership "Narcissistic Personality Disorder with Sociopathic Tendencies."
Leadership let their fleet rot, and then pretends as if it was something that happened to the Navy, not allowed by the Navy.
Wound Two: The Tiffany Amphib:
“What we are making sure that we are doing as we move forward with our budget plans, is making sure that we have the right capabilities at the right price aligned to not only meeting military requirements, but working with industry,” Raven said. “And for LPD, we're taking a look at the acquisition strategy moving forward, again, to make sure that we would have the right capabilities at the right price and working with industry partners to put together that plan moving forward.”
From the start of the LPD-17 program, our ongoing criticism was that this was way to expensive on a per-hull basis for the mission of a LPD. From the titanium firemain on, the entire design had no respect for budget challenges to buy the numbers needed so in a future conflict, we were not one or two ships sunk from being mission ineffective, but here we are.
It took a lot of seabags full of money and Sailor sweat to fix the ship, but her cost remains a sea-anchor if you wanted more ships in 2024. If you need 10-ships, but price each unit such that you can only buy 7 ships - you own that 3 ship delta.
Would Three: Institutional Parochialism:
Berger on Monday reiterated the reasoning behind the 31-ship requirement for amphibs.
“Anything less incurs risk to national defense by limiting the options for our combatant commanders,” he said in a statement to Defense One. “Per strategic guidance, the Marine Corps must be able to provide the nation with crisis response capabilities and build partnerships with allies and partners in support of integrated deterrence—difficult to achieve without the requisite number of amphibious warships.”
Buying amphibious ships tends to be the last priority for the Navy after spending shipbuilding funds on aircraft carriers, submarines, and destroyers, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Bryan Clark said March 9 during Defense One’s State of the Navy event.
“Whatever gets left over is what can go towards the amphibious ships and the support ships. And when you do all the numbers for that, you always end up with you know maybe not quite enough for the amphibious ships, because if you're building one LHA every four or five years that you can incrementally fund, that's a chunk of money that's on the scale of you know, $500 million a year. And then you've got maybe $500 million or a billion dollars leftover for one more amphibious ship, which isn't quite an LPD,” Clark said.
From promotion rates to "prestige" - the Gator Navy has always been like that really good offensive lineman. They do their job and no one ever hears about them. Though they are paid less and don't get endorsements, without them no quarterback would be able to shine - no team achieve victory - and yet, the bias remains.
How exactly are we supposed to take and hold territory across the vast Pacific littoral? Who will do that, with what, and in how many places?
There are a lot of emoting going on about problems now that are directly the predicable results of decisions we've made.
As we review our budget, perhaps we also need to review our institutional system of incentives and disincentives that drive such decisions; the rewards and punishments that result in the selection of the leaders who make them.