CAVASSHIPS Podcast [Dec 18, ’21] Episode 28…Should you Judge a Ship By Its Appearance?


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 general appearance of the US Navy’s ships has become – for better or worse — a routine topic discussed by a variety of commentators, reporters and observers. It is widely agreed that the Navy does not look as squared-away as it once did. Why is this happening? What are the real-world effects of rusty-looking ships? Does it even matter that much – is what’s inside those ships more important than what the outside looks like? We’ll talk it over. And, this week the White House nominated a key Senate staffer for the Navy’s No. 2 civilian office, the Undersecretary of the Navy. We’ll take a look at the importance of that particular job.

In this Week’s Squawk Chris Cavas discusses that darn paint issue.

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This Week’s Naval Round Up:

The USS Harry S Truman Carrier Strike Group passed eastbound through the Strait of Gibraltar on December 14 two weeks after leaving Norfolk for a deployment. Carrier Air Wing One is aboard the Truman, which is making her third deployment in three years. The strike group also includes the cruiser SAN JACINTO, possibly on her last cruise before being decommissioned, and the Norwegian frigate FRIDTJOF NANSEN.

 The US destroyer ARLEIGH BURKE left the Black Sea on December 15 after nearly three weeks of operations. The US has increased its military presence in the region, including deployment of aircraft as well as ships, in the face of fears of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. US and other warships from countries not on the inland sea are forbidden by the Montreux Convention from maintaining sustained operations in the Black Sea, where the French frigate AUVERGNE is now currently operating.

The damaged Seawolf-class attack submarine USS CONNECTICUT put in to San Diego on December 12 after a surface transit from Guam. The submarine suffered severe bow damage in a collision October 2 with an underwater sea mount in the South China Sea and was at Guam for nearly two months for temporary repairs. The CONNECTICUT’s leadership team was found at fault for the collision and the Navy on November 1 relieved the sub’s commanding and executive officers and the chief of the boat of their duties. It is not clear why the sub was in California, as she’s headed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington State for permanent repairs. With her damaged nose cone removed, the CONNECTICUT left San Diego December 15 to resume the trip to Puget Sound.

The Marine Corps will no longer allow its venerable Amphibious Assault Vehicles, or AAVs, to be used in the water, the service announced December 15. The decision came after a fatal accident in 2020 that killed eight Marines and sailor when an AAV sank while training in California. The Corps has concluded the vehicles are safe to operate on land but will no longer be used in the water, either for training or on regular deployments. The replacement for the AAV, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, or ACV, is suffering several development issues and in September the service suspended water operations pending fixes.

A laser weapon fitted on the amphibious transport ship USS Portland was successfully test-fired December 14 at a static surface target, the Navy reported. The Portland is currently deployed to the US Fifth Fleet in the Mideast and the test took place in the Gulf of Aden. The 150 kilowatt laser was installed on the Portland in late 2019 at San Diego and is part of the Office of Naval Research’s Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation program. The solid state laser can be used against sea or air targets and is different from dazzler laser systems fitted to several Pacific fleet destroyers.

In historic ship news, the World War II-era destroyer ORLECK was towed from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Port Arthur Texas, where she arrived December 16. The ship, commissioned in 1945, is a Gearing-class FRAM I destroyer that, after service in the Turkish Navy, was first displayed at Orange, Texas in 2000. The ship relocated to Lake Charles in 2011, but over the years the ORLECK suffered damage from Hurricanes Rita in 2005 and Laura in 2020. Then in August of this year the city council of Jacksonville, Florida unanimously approved a plan to display the ship in downtown Jacksonville. The move to Port Arthur is to drydock, repair and restore the ship prior to the move to her new home. Good luck to the Naval Museum!


I have to admit, it pains me every time I point out how bad a particular ship looks. As we said, there is quite a variety of reasons why ships look the way they do, and it’s not always fair to pin a poor appearance on a particular reason. Sure, lots of ships work hard, opportunities to keep up appearances simply might not be as available as they once were, and just because a ship comes home after a deployment looking like, well, crap doesn’t necessarily reflect ill on anyone other than the sea and the elements and the job at hand. But…

It’s the ships that go out looking poor that, in my humble opinion, should really be taken to task. If a ship comes out of a maintenance period with rust running down her sides and all over the bridge face, it’s a fair question as to why that is. If a ship goes out for a deployment – where a major peace time task is to show the flag and be seen – and that ship looks rode hard and put up wet to start with – that says something other than oh, our op tempo is too high.

It is all too easy to take cheap pot shots at ships that otherwise have put in the work to do the nation’s business on the high seas. I try pretty hard to avoid that. But sometimes the criticisms are all too warranted. We are – I truly hate to say it — the worst-looking Navy in the world. The ship’s own crews see it. Their families see it. Everyone who sees those ships sees it – and a great many of them shake their heads and wonder what is going on. Whatever the reasons, the US Navy needs to do a better job making its ships simply look better. The world is watching – and they’re taking our measure.

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