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…the submarine CONNECTICUT hit something last week and a number of sailors were injured. We’ll take a look at what might be going on with the always-mysterious Seawolf-class sub.
And what happens when the Navy takes a ship out of service? Do they keep it? Scrap it? Sink it? We’ll take a dive into that happens to warships when they haul down the flag.
In this Week’s Squawk Chris Cavas discusses the value of small ships.
This Week’s Naval Round Up:
The top naval story of the week was the Navy’s revelation that the submarine CONNECTICUT – one of the world’s most powerful nuclear-powered attack submarines – hit an unspecified object while traveling submerged in the South China Sea. Eleven sailors were injured in the incident, the Navy said, although few details were forthcoming. Adding to the mystery was a five-day delay in publicly acknowledging the collision which, according to the Navy, happened on October 2, although the Navy didn’t reveal the incident until October 7, a day before the damaged submarine arrived at Guam. We’ll discuss this further in a few moments.
The US Navy’s expeditionary sea base ship MIGUEL KEITH was revealed to have arrived at Okinawa, Japan on October 6, a notable development because there was no public notice of the ship’s deployment from San Diego. The ship, commissioned in May at San Diego, is to be based at Saipan in the Marianas Islands. Similar ships are based at Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, and at the Greek island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea.
Dozens of Chinese military aircraft have been flying into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone over the past week, reflecting a huge rise in such incursions and multiple records being set and broken in terms of the overall numbers of planes involved. The flights by Chinese bombers and fighters – as many as 60 in a day – are seen as a direct provocation to the independent island nation.
Austal USA shipbuilders scored a major win October 5 when they were awarded construction contracts for the US Navy’s next two Towing, Salvage & Rescue ships, along with options for 3 more. Austal has been expanding and converting its shipyard in Mobile, Alabama to handle steel production, a move away from the all-aluminum littoral combat ships and expeditionary fast transports built there since the mid-2000s. Austal is also bidding on the all-steel US Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Cutter and US Navy Light Amphibious Warship programs.
US Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighters flew from the Japanese warship IZUMO on October 3, the first time fixed-wing aircraft have operated from a Japanese ship since World War II. The IZUMO, classed as a helicopter-carrying destroyer,” has been upgraded to operate the STOVL Short-Takeoff and Vertical Landing of the Joint Strike Fighter, and the operations by Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 242 were to prove out some of the initial modifications. Interestingly, VMFA-211 is deployed aboard the British carrier HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH, also currently operating in the western Pacific. Japan is converting both the IZUMO and sistership KAGA to operate the F-35B.
And the US Navy announced that it has awarded a scrap contract worth one cent to dispose of the aircraft carrier KITTY HAWK, along with a one-cent option to do the same for the carrier JOHN F KENNEDY. Both ships will be broken up by International Shipbreaking Limited in Brownsville, Texas, a port that has been the final destination for five other carriers similar to KITTY and JFK. The KITTY HAWK was decommissioned from active service in 2009 and has been stored at Bremerton, Washington State. KENNEDY decommissioned in 2007 but was retained for many years as a couple groups tried to establish viable museum operations but were ultimately unsuccessful. The ship has languished on the Philadelphia waterfront since 2008. We’ll talk further about ship scrapping in a few moments.
CAVAS SQUAWK ON THE VALUE OFF SMALL SHIPS
The British Royal Navy is sending forth its warships – to the Far East, to west Africa, to the Caribbean, to the far South Atlantic. No, I’m not talking about the aircraft carrier QUEEN ELIZABETH and her task force now cruising the western Pacific. The ships I’m talking about are not large billion-dollar-plus ships able to carry out multi-mission, multi-domain warfare. They’re relatively small, 2,000-ton offshore patrol vessels – not even a third the size of the US Navy’s new Constellation-class frigates and far less capable in a warfighting sense, but far more capable in their ability to be on the scene, represent Britain’s interests far from home and interact with other navies. They cost roughly around $158 million US.
Our neighbors to the North, Canada, are introducing a new class of Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships. Each of the 6,000-ton Harry DeWolf ships costs about $320 million, but they’re ability to operate in the far north far exceeds any ship in the US Navy – the HARRY DEWOLF herself just completed a Northwest Passage, voyaging from Nova Scotia on the Atlantic coast to Vancouver on the Pacific. The ships will greatly extend Canada’s ability to operate in waters that are increasingly open to navigation – and still off limits for US Navy surface ships in all but the most ideal conditions.
No worries, though, that the US Navy will invest in anything like these patrol vessels. The US Navy believes in big, highly-capable ships able to engage in high-end conflict, not small stuff. But the price for that outlook means US ships are far more expensive, take much longer to build and are built in numbers too small to cover all missions. The US Navy’s cheap ship is now the new Constellation-class frigate, which are more than likely to cost well over a billion apiece – certainly not what any other navy in the world would call affordable. And they’re most definitely not going to be built and placed in full service any time soon.
The US Navy’s predilection for gold-plated, highly-capable, somewhat survivable and always very expensive ships is one of the key obstacles to building up a navy than fulfill world-wide missions – not just in time of full warfare but also in the nether world of active deterrence and continuing presence that is the nature of “peacetime” in the 21st century. In this area, as well as others, the US Navy can be its own worst enemy.