CAVASSHIPS Podcast [Jan 27, ’23] Episode 81…We Aren’t Ready


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…How ready should our maritime forces and industrial base be? Also, the Marine Corps wants to buy nearly three dozen Light Amphibious Warships. The US Navy isn’t so sure. Noted commentators Bryan McGrath and Sal Mercogliano join us for an evaluation of future shipbuilding plans and industrial base readiness.

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This Week’s Naval Round Up:

The US and Israel carried out bilateral Juniper Oak exercises in the eastern Mediterranean between January 23 and 26. Part of longstanding Juniper exercises between the two countries, Juniper Oak was a beefed-up version featuring a major display of US Navy, US Air Force and Israeli firepower, including the carrier USS GEORGE H W BUSH, more than 140 aircraft including B-52 bombers, 6,400 US military personnel and 1,500 Israeli troops. Although not officially designated as such, many observers saw the intent of the exercises to be to deter military or nuclear action by Iran.

Russian media has been highlighting the actions of the frigate ADMIRAL GORSHKOV, which entered the around January 15 in company with an oiler. Although reportedly headed for South Africa and exercises with the South African and Chinese navies, the GORSHKOV reportedly broke away from the oiler and headed towards Bermuda. The Russian Ministry of Defense on January 27 released a video of the ship carrying out a simulated Tsirkon missile launch off the US eastern seaboard, although the some crew members in the video were wearing shorts, indicating their location might be further south.

The US Navy has suspended work at four government-owned drydocks in the Pacific northwest due to seismic risks. The facilities are dry docks Numbers 4, 5 and 6 at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and the Delta dry dock at the Trident Submarine Refit Facility in nearby Bangor, Washington. The Navy told reporters there is quote no immediate risk and that the step is strictly preventative. It is not clear what precisely prompted the earthquake risk concerns on facilities, as seismic activity along fault lines has long been a feature of the region. Dry Docks 4 and 5 were each built in the early 1940s, while Dry Dock 6 – used for aircraft carrier overhauls – was completed in 1962. The Bangor facility was built in the 1980s.

In new ship news, the new destroyer CARL M LEVIN DDG 120 was delivered to the US Navy January 26 from General Dynamics Bath Iron Works. The ship will be commissioned in June in ceremonies at Baltimore, Maryland before heading west to join the US Pacific Fleet. It’s the first destroyer delivered from Bath since the USS DANIEL INOUYE in March 2021. And only the third Bath-built Arleigh Burke-class destroyer since June 2018.

And in the United Kingdom, fabrication began January 24 at Babcock, Rosyth, Scotland for the future HMS ACTIVE, the second Type 31 frigate for the British Royal Navy. The first, VENTURER, is scheduled for launch in late 2023. Three more general-purpose Type 31s have been ordered.

Cavas Squawk:

I’m a big believer in the power of images. I’m not alone – most of the world’s major navies work very hard to put out videos and pictures showing the power of their weapons. Big guns shooting. Smaller guns shooting. Missiles whooshing out of vertical launchers. Missiles ripple-firing from close-in weapon launchers. Really loud automatic weapons. Missiles blasting from the sea arcing through the sky in beautiful yet awesomely-sobering displays of power. So kewl – lots of fire and smoke and even better with videos – noise.

The undisputed leaders of these productions from a naval point of view are the US, Chinese and Russian navies. You got a missile, we got a missile, you got guns, we got guns – the videos seem to be saying. A year ago in particular, the Russians almost hourly put up firepower demonstrations on state-controlled media and on social media platforms – clearly an intent to intimidate Ukraine. Ironically, Ukraine is still standing, battered but defiant. But I digress.

After a while the videos and pictures all sort of look the same. But it’s not just the bang and blast of the US Navy’s images that have a certain sameness. It’s also their setting.

It’s always a beautiful, sunny day in the US Navy videos. No wind, no whitecaps on the ocean. Usually the ships are hardly moving – they sometimes even appear to be stopped at sea, or maintaining bare steerageway at three or four knots. Gunfire practice against inflated red targets – widely known as killer tomatoes – shows sailors aboard ships that are barely moving shooting at targets only a few hundred yards away that are simply floating on the water’s surface. Wow.

The warfighting prowess at being able to hit such targets – well, it eludes me.

I also can’t really imagine that combat engagements are going to wait for beautiful weather on perfect days with calm seas. If these images are really meant to intimidate, I’m still waiting for the shots of ships maneuvering at 27 knots pulling tight S-turns through three-foot waves in a driving rain trying to shoot down an incoming anti-ship cruise missile. That might give me some confidence. But we never see that.

Is it because, you know, they don’t show us the good stuff? Or does the Navy not push its warships to train in all weather conditions? I don’t know for sure, but anecdotally I often hear the reason we don’t see that sort of dirty-weather imagery is that there isn’t any, that that’s not the way sailors practice the art of warfighting.

Hearing that does not give me confidence. I really hope that’s not the case. But a first step toward giving me reassurance – and trying to deter those who would do us harm – would be to show us you can hit those targets from ships being driven hard on a really crappy day.

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