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…does the US Navy have the right idea about how it uses and deploys its forces? One group of naval analysts thinks the whole fleet structure should be redefined. We’ll discuss. And how do the Chinese view US Navy surface action groups? How are they maintaining their rapidly-growing fleet? We’ll take a look.
In this Week’s Squawk Chris Cavas praises Navy leaders for the progress made on USS Gerald R. Ford.
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This Week’s Naval Round Up:
Elements of 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked on the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group are reportedly among the 3,000 troops being sent to Afghanistan to provide protection as the US relocates embassy personnel from Kabul to Hamid Karzai Airport. The Washington Post reported August 12 that the 1st Battalion 8th Marines from the 24th MEU was taking part along with the 2nd Battalion 1st Marines coming from a Marine crisis-response force in Saudi Arabia. From the Iowa Army National Guard, the 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery was also reportedly taking part.
The British attack submarine ARTFUL arrived at Busan, Republic of Korea on August 12 for a port call. The sub is one of at least two Astute-class subs that have operated with the Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group 2021 on its cruise to the western Pacific. QUEEN ELIZABETH herself was at Guam beginning on August 6, while the frigate RICHMOND arrived at Sasebo, Japan on August 8 as the task group fanned out across the region, and QUEEN ELIZABETH is expected to follow the submarine by visiting Busan.
The first P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft for Norway flew for the first time on August 9. Norway is buying five of the planes to replace a fleet of P-3 Orion and DA-20 Jet Falcon aircraft. Norway is the eighth country to buy the Boeing-built Poseidon, joining the US, Australia, India, the United Kingdom, South Korea, New Zealand and Germany.
The carrier GERALD R FORD completed its third and final full-scale shock trial Aug. 8 off the northeast Florida coast. Like the previous tests, the blast from the 40,000-pound underwater explosion registered a 3.9 magnitude seismic disturbance. The tests, which the Navy called “successful,” bring to a close a four-month period devoted to the shock trials. The FORD will return to the Newport News Shipbuilding shipyard where she was built for a six-month period to remove thousands of sensors installed for the shock trials, repair any damage from the tests, continue work to certify the last four of eleven advanced weapon elevators get the ship ready for workups in the spring to deploy later in 2022.
The Navy’s Large Scale Exercise 2021 continued in early August with dozens of ships, aircraft and units taking part on a global scale. The command-and-control effort includes many units taking part virtually from their home port or base, including major fleet units off the Atlantic and Pacific US coasts, in Europe and in the western Pacific.
The expeditionary sea base ship HERSHEL WOODY WILLIAMS, the only ship assigned full-time to US Africa Command, has been operating off the continent’s west coast. Her current cruise has featured operations with Morocco, Senegal, Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria. The WILLIAMS is homeported at Souda Bay on Crete in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Coast Guard on Aug. 4 ordered four more Fast Response Cutters from Bollinger Shipyards, completing the planned class total to 64 cutters. Forty-four of the 154-foot cutters, also known as the Sentinel class, are in commission. They have been replacing 110-foot Island Class around the United States and more recently in Guam and Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. The FRCs are the smallest of the three cutters developed in the early 2000s under the Coast Guard’s Deepwater Program – the other cutter classes are the large National Security Cutters and the newer Offshore Patrol Cutter, which has yet to enter service.
Carlos Del Toro was sworn in on August 9 as the US Navy’s 78th Secretary of the Navy. Del Toro, a 1983 Naval Academy graduate who was born in Cuba, was a surface line officer who rose to command the destroyer BULKELEY before leaving the service for a career in industry. He takes the helm of a Navy facing severe budget challenges as well as questions about the service’s overall direction.
SQUAWK BOX – Chris Cavas
One of the easiest things for a naval journalist to do is to criticize just about everything – and flaws certainly can be found in just about everything. Any kind of decision-making or execution, any kind of ship or system or aircraft, is subject to near-endless complaints of the why are they doing that or why don’t they do this variety. So it follows that one of the hardest things to do – indeed one of the riskiest – is to plant praise on a particular program or effort. So here goes.
I’d like to give a shoutout to the carrier Gerald R Ford program. There has been no end of well-justified criticism of this effort since its early days at the beginning of the century. Endless delays, endless problems with new technologies, and ever-growing costs have been a hallmark of the program which has produced the most expensive ship ever built by anyone, anywhere. And despite the ship’s official commissioning in July 2017 it has yet to make a single operational cruise.
Under relentless, constant criticism the Navy grew increasingly gun-shy and covered the program in ever-growing secrecy. In the FORD’s first 81 days at sea not a single reporter or media crew was on board – an unheard of situation for the US Navy, where a constant stream of visitors coming and going every day is a routine feature of every aircraft carrier. That it was not happening on the FORD was noticeable – and deliberate. But since the ship came out of the shipyard and returned to sea in October 2019 a new spirit infused the program. Officials routinely meet with media and discuss the ship’s progress. Dozens of reporters have been out to see the ship for themselves, with visits even continuing during the pandemic. As a result there have been more accounts – and better accounts — of the ship’s progress, including reports on things they seem to be doing right. Last week the ship completed shock trials and it is now headed back to the shipyard for further alterations.
No one is claiming victory. Much work remains, especially to certify the last four advanced weapons elevators. The ship is still a year away from deploying. But the defensive cloud that surrounded this program has begun to lift. It definitely feels better, it certainly seems better. And while we know serious challenges remain we hope it really is better. So for now, we’d like to say Bravo Zulu – well done – to Warship 78 and all those working to get her ready to join the fleet and help defend the country.