CAVASSHIPS Podcast [Mar 12, ’22] Episode 39…Ukraine, Taiwan & The Budget


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…Russia’s war on Ukraine continues with no letup and it is clear the world’s political and military landscape is changing. We’ll talk with two great guests, Bryan McGrath and Jerry Hendrix, about what it all could mean for naval warfare, and also take a look at the just-approved 2022 defense spending bill.

In this Week’s Squawk Chris Cavas thanks Congress for doing their job.

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This Week’s Naval Round Up: In war news, the Russian amphibious group that had appeared poised to land in or near the port of Odessa has not yet done so. The group of about eight ships – which are likely combat loaded with troops and vehicles – has been at sea for about three weeks, and the combat effectiveness of any troops on board is likely to be highly degraded after so much time in cramped conditions. … The Russian missile corvette VASILY BYKOV reportedly was hit by Ukrainian forces and set on fire March 7 off Odesa. On March 8 the Ukrainian patrol boat SLOVIANSK was reported sunk. The ship is the former US Coast Guard Island-class cutter CUSHING, transferred to Ukraine in 2018. … In the Mediterranean Sea, Russian naval forces are concentrated in the eastern Mediterranean off the Syrian coast, where Russia has a small naval base at Tartus. Russian naval ships have been barred from entering a number of ports in the region, and it does not appear that Russia has yet challenged Turkey’s ban on the passage of belligerent nation warships through the Turkish Straits that link the Mediterranean with the Black Sea. Turkey invoked the 1936 Montreux Convention specifically to bar passage to belligerents – in this case Russia and Ukraine – notably NOT barring passage to NATO warships. Turkey of course is a NATO member.

The British aircraft carrier HMS PRINCE OF WALES left the Portsmouth naval base March 7 to act as a flagship in the large NATO exercise Cold Response running off Norway. More than 35,000 military personnel from 28 nations are taking part in the large-scale exercise. PRINCE OF WALES will lead the NATO Maritime High Readiness Force, and the maneuvers mark the first time one of the two Queen Elizabeth-class carriers has operated in the Arctic. The US carrier HARRY S TRUMAN was to have taken part in Cold Response but that ship continues to operate in the Mediterranean Sea with France’s CHARLES DE GAULLE.

Congress on March 10 agreed to an omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2022 that includes $728 and a half billion for defense spending, up nearly five percent from 2021. Among the highlights for the Navy are funding for two attack submarines, two destroyers, a frigate, an expeditionary sea base ship and two expeditionary fast transports, an ocean surveillance ship and two salvage and towing ships. The bill also includes significant funding for the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program and incremental funding for two aircraft carriers, although funding was reduced for efforts to develop the new DDG(X) destroyer. Congress also added twelve F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighters that the Navy did not request. The bill took away money the Navy was going to use to decommission three littoral combat ships – which will now remain in service – allowing the decommissioning of only one LCS, the Coronado. There seem to be no restrictions to the Navy’s request to decommission seven cruisers and place them in reserve. President Biden was expected to quickly sign the bill into law. The funding comes nearly six months into the current fiscal year, which began October 1.

The U.S. Navy’s biennial Arctic ICE EXERCISE, or ICEX, kicked off March 4 in the Beaufort Sea. US submarines ILLINOIS and PASADENA are taking part along with personnel and aircraft from Canada and the United Kingdom. The three-week exercise is a key element for the US to demonstrate arctic capabilities, including a very public display of submarines operating north of the Arctic Circle.  

 Japan on March 9 commissioned the submarine TAIGEI, first of the new 29SS class designed from the outset with lithium-ion batteries and to accommodate woman crewmembers. The subs, built at the rate of one per year, are considered among the world’s most advanced non-nuclear-powered submarines.

Cavas Squawk:

Ok, I’ll get it over with quick – sometimes, Congress is wise.

Okay, okay, don’t get too excited just yet. But deep inside the huge omnibus spending bill just passed by both houses of Congress is a provision denying the Navy permission to decommission three of the four littoral combat ships the service wants to throw away. They can get rid of one, the Coronado, but the other three have to remain in service, Congress said. That’s a sentiment that bodes ill for strongly-rumored Pentagon plans to ask for many more LCSs to throw away in the next budget request, expected to be submitted in a few weeks. It might seem, at the moment, that any move to get rid of more LCSs will meet with widespread Congressional opposition – House and Senate, Appropriators and Authorizers, Democrats and Republicans – and be dead on arrival – especially as Russia’s war on Ukraine is prompting much more concern on defense issues.

On the flip side of Navy plans to divest itself of older systems is its plan to decommission seven cruisers between now and the end of September. There have been strong calls from some corners in Congress to keep the ships, but the truth is they’re all in increasingly bad shape and have reached the end of their service lives – actually, most of them are already beyond it. Yes they could be repaired, but like an older car that keeps breaking down it’s likely not worth it. There are also five cruisers that have been out of service for some years all now in the process of being brought back. The net result will be the Navy will be down seven ships, up five with a net loss of two, not seven. Congress has not stipulated the seven cruisers must be kept and the funding bill has no money to run them, essentially clearing the way for the Navy to decommission them.

The LCSs, while certainly flawed, are all relatively new ships with thousands of miles ahead of them, and – I know the many LCS critics don’t want to hear this – the fleet is more and more effective at finding good uses for them. The cruisers are old, have been around for decades, and it’s time to move on.

So, once again, good for Congress! Just don’t get that used to hearing it.

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