CAVASSHIPS Podcast [Jul 24, 21] Episode 7…A Look Across the Pond at The Royal Navy’s Newest Carrier Class


Welcome to the CavasShips Podcast with Christopher P. Cavas and Chris Servello…a weekly podcast looking at naval and maritime events and issues of the day – in the US, across the seas and around the world.
This week…a discussion with Richard Scott, one of Britain’s leading naval correspondents about the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, the first of which is now leading an international task group on a historic deployment to the Indo-Pacific region.

In this Week’s Squawk Chris Cavas talks about the goods and bads of locking in ship designs.

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This Week’s Naval Round Up:

On July 19 the Russian frigate ADMIRAL GORSHKOV successfully test-fired the Zircon hypersonic missile at against a surface target in the Barents Sea. The missile travelled over 350 kilometers – about 220 miles – and reached a speed of Mach 7, nearly 5,400 miles per hour. Russia is leading in the development of hypersonic weapons and is testing Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles and the air-launched Kinzhal (or Dagger) missiles in addition to the Zircon. By contrast, the US Navy is planning to begin testing a hypersonic weapon at sea in 2025 aboard the destroyer ZUMWALT.

The Iranian Navy’s sea base ship MA-KRAN and light frigate SA-HAND entered the Baltic Sea July 22 headed for Saint Petersburg to take part in Russian Navy Day celebrations. It appears to be the first time Iranian naval ships have operated in the Baltic Sea. The two ships left Iran’s Bandar Abbas naval base in May purportedly headed for Venezuela, with the MAKRAN carrying at least seven high-speed fast attack craft for delivery, but the ships never crossed the Atlantic and instead have moved slowly up the African west coast to head for Russia.

British Defense Minister Ben Wallace announced on July 20 that the patrol ships SPEY and TAMAR will permanently deploy in August to the Indo-Pacific region but noted the ships would not have a permanent base. Wallace made the remarks while visiting Tokyo in anticipation of the carrier QUEEN ELIZABETH’s upcoming visit.

In the US, the carrier DWIGHT D EISENHOWER returned to her homeport of Norfolk July 18 after completing back-to-back deployments. On the west coast carrier THEODORE ROOSEVELT arrived in Bremerton, Washington July 22. The ships will enter the naval shipyards at Norfolk and Puget Sound to begin major, year-long overhauls.

The fleet oiler JOHN LEWIS was christened at General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego on July 17. The ship is the first of a new class of oiler for the US Navy that will be operated by the Military Sealift Command. The Navy hopes to buy 20 of the ships by the time the program is complete. The JOHN LEWIS is expected to enter service in 2022.

In Washington, the fiscal 2022 budget continues to work its way through Capitol Hill. The Senate Armed Services Committee, in its markup of the defense bill on July 22, added more than $25 billion to the Pentagon’s budget request. The adds include a second Flight III destroyer, another Expeditionary Fast Transport and five more F-35C carrier variants of the Joint Strike Fighter. The final appropriation and authorization bills, however, are still some ways off being decided.

SQUAWK BOX – Chris Cavas

Shipbuilding by its nature takes a very long time during which any number of design changes can be made or contemplated. Dealing with those changes is the bane of any ship construction program manager, and there are any number of new ship classes caught in the whirlpool of too many changes that, among other things, cause schedule delays and add cost. Possibly the worst recent example was the San Antonio LPD-17 class of amphibious ships of the early 2000s, where an ongoing torrent of changes coming down from Naval Sea Systems Command caused chaos in the Northrop Grumman Ingalls Shipbuilding yard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Even as NAVSEA continued to make changes requiring at times serious rework the Navy pressured the yard to make up the delays and get back on schedule. The result was a fiasco where the ship wound up being delivered incomplete and in relatively poor condition simply to get it away from the shipyard and put a cork on the endless changes. 

Worries about a redux in that situation still pressure the Navy, working now on building the new Constellation-class frigates. In an interview with the US Navy League earlier this week Chief of Naval Operations Mike Gilday declared, “When you lock in a design, you lock in a design. When we start building the frigate we are not looking at adding any new systems to that ship. The delivery of the frigate needs to be the Navy’s Space-X. It needs to come out right, on time, within its budget and with everything working right.”

Well you might want to rethink that statement CNO. It’s not a question of locking in a design – which is standard merchant ship practice dealing with relatively simpler ships. Warships are far more complex – the variety of radars and sonars and electronic gear and hardware and software that make up a modern ship’s combat system are subject to endless updating as technology evolves. Requirements for equipment can change, from weapons to damage control. Change is inevitable.

A fundamental key to warship construction, then, is not to lock in a design and deliver a ship three or four years later that is already outdated, it’s to build in the capacity and ability to handle those changes. That takes skill — and even a form or artistry. It’s not an exact science. But adaptability to deal with reasonable changes and upgrades is a key to building warships pretty much on time and within budget.

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