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…we’re not going to talk about the threat from China or the US Navy budget or the promise of new technology, but rather focus in on maritime heritage, on efforts to preserve and present ships from the past to give you and yours a chance to see how it was done way back when. Joining us is the executive director of Historic Ships of Baltimore, Chris Rowsom.
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This Week’s Naval Round Up:
Turkey’s new amphibious assault ship ANADOLU was apparently delivered in January to the Turkish Navy although no public announcement was made of the event. The 28,000-ton ship, largest warship ever to serve in the Turkish Navy, us based on the Spanish Juan Carlos I design from Navantia and is similar to two ships in the Australian Navy. Intended to operate F-35B joint strike fighters, the ship now will become the world’s largest aircraft drone carrier following Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 program. Turkey’s drone manufacturer Bayar is working on several unmanned aircraft to operate from the ship, including unmanned fighter jets.
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro announced March he had renamed another ship due to its namesake having connections with the former Confederate States of America. The survey ship USNS MAURY T-AGS 66 is now USNS MARIE THARP, honoring the geologist and oceanographer who pioneered current understandings of plate tectonics and continental drift. Matthew Maury, while still revered in many circles for his work as a mid-19th century oceanographer and pioneer of the seas, also joined the Confederate Navy and worked as an envoy for the Confederacy. The survey was the fourth US Navy ship to honoring Maury.
Japan on March 7 commissioned the new frigate MIKUMA, the fourth in the Mogami-class of stealthy frigates. Japan plans to build a total of 22 of the ships.
The Navy is working on a new Next-Generation Air Dominance fighter to replace the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but the service is still buying F-35s. Work is also ongoing to succeed today’s Virginia-class submarines with a new SSNX design, and the Navy continues to buy new subs. The surface warfare community is studying the DDGX, the follow-on warship to current Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, even while ordering two new destroyers every year. None of those new programs have been finalized, and procurement of fighters, submarines and destroyers continues apace.
But when it comes to the San Antonio-class amphibious dock transport, it seems the Navy cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro is now talking about a “strategic pause” to study whether or not the Flight Two design of those ships is what they need for the future – this despite a major study only a few years ago that did just that and came up with the current design, already in production. The Navy and Marine Corps also just concluded a long-awaited Amphibious Force Requirements study and, after promising for months to release the results, Navy leaders decided in late December to classify the study, preventing anyone without a security clearance the opportunity to read, consider and discuss its results.
And now there’s apparently a need for even more study – and apparently one so involved that the service thinks it best if it simply stops ordering new ships until it can decide what it wants. In the meantime, the service will continue decommissioning older amphibious ships and will be unable to maintain the 31-ship amphibious force level it so very publicly agreed to just a year ago to keep pace with the Marine Corps requirements – a level that Marine Corps commandant General David Berger is calling an absolute floor – because the Marines really want 38 ships. “We can’t do with one less,” Berger told USNI News, referring to the 31-ship amphib force.
Not only that, but Congress included that 31-ship level in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. In other words, it’s the law.
The ships are being built at Huntington Ingalls Industries in Pascagoula, Mississippi – and before I go any further I need to acknowledge that HII is our primary sponsor. But that’s not why I’m talking about this. I’m talking about it because I’ve followed the LPD program for more than 20 years, have been on several of the ships, have been to sea on one, and I know that the San Antonios are far more capable than the old Whidbey Island-class landing ship docks they’re replacing. Exponentially more capable. They sure aren’t cheap – at about $2 billion each. But the Navy isn’t citing cost as the reason for this pause. They simply say they want to study the issue.
So now it appears that when the 2024 budget request comes out on March 13 it will show no new LPD amphibious ships being produced for at least the next five years.
Right now they’re built at the rate of one every other year. A five-year pause will seriously disrupt their supply chain, probably result in layoffs at Ingalls Shipbuilding, and will mean that if and when the program is restarted it will take longer to resume production and costs will inevitably be higher – probably significantly so.
We are in a race with China. China is outbuilding us at a rate the United States can never hope to match. The Chinese are watching, and they are continually gauging their fleet against ours. A pause is not a signal we should be sending to China who, by the way, just built eight ships like this and are building more.
There is no question that leaders of any serious organization should continually be evaluating and reevaluating what they do. There is also no question that in order to do such work there is no compelling reason to stop what you’re already doing simply to study something else. And especially when there are very recent studies that nominally should already have informed the situation.
So what is going on here? Is this some sort of Navy-Marine Corps squabble? There’s no question the two brother services do not always get along, even while their leaders declare they’re all on the same page.
But this “strategic pause” – strategic as if – seems like it might even be something else, perhaps coming from higher up in the Pentagon. And I suspect it’s coming from people who really don’t understand what they’re talking about.
I really don’t know what the story is. But I do know there is nothing strategic about it.