CAVASSHIPS Podcast [Jun 02, ’23] Ep: 97 Layoffs at BAE San Diego


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…while the US Navy and its commercial ship yards work together the service puts most of its repair jobs up for bid, and with competition comes risk. Now one of the largest ship repair yards on the West Coast is laying off nearly 300 employees due to a shortage of work. We’ll talk with Paul Smith, head of BAE Systems’ ship repair business, about his yards in San Diego, Norfolk and Jacksonville and the challenges of doing business with the U.S. Navy.

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This Week’s Naval Round Up:

The US Coast Guard cutter STRATTON arrived in Manila June 1 for a trilateral engagement with the Filipino and Japanese coast guards. Cooperation between the three coast guards is increasing in a move to counter persistent and increased Chinese incursions into the exclusive economic zones of western Pacific nations. The STRATTON and cutters from Japan and the Philippines will carry out Kaggapay, or Side-by-Side, Exercises that will run through June 7 in Filipino waters.

NATO’s annual BALTOPS naval exercise in northern Europe is set to run from June 4 through the 16th in the Baltic Region. The exercise begins in Tallinn, Estonia, and will involve 19 NATO member nations, partner nation Sweden, 50 ships and more than 6,000 personnel. A feature of this year’s exercise is the use of unmanned surface vehicles.

A US Navy single-seat F-5N Tiger II fighter crashed May 31 about 25 miles off Naval Air Station Key West FLA. The pilot ejected and was recovered from the water by a Navy MH-60S helicopter and taken to hospital. The F-5N was being operated in the adversary role by Fighter Squadron Composite 111, the Sun Downers, a Reserve adversary squadron.

In new ship news, a keel authentication ceremony for the future USS PITTSBURGH, LPD 31, was held June 2 at Huntington Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The ship, the fifth to bear the name of the Steel City, will be the Second Flight II variant of the San Antonio-class of amphibious transport docks.

The Chinese seagoing grab dredge CHUAN HONG 68 – a ship that has long thought to be engaged in the systematic destruction and looting of sunken World War II warships, was detained by Malaysian authorities in Johor on May 29 after unexploded artillery shells were discovered aboard the ship during a routine inspection. The CHUAN HONG 68 was earlier spotted over the wrecks of the British capital ships PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE, sunk by Japanese bombers in December 1941 with the loss of 842 sailors and considered official war graves by the British government. The Chinese ship is also thought to have plundered the wrecks of the Dutch cruisers DE RUYTER and JAVA, the Japanese destroyer SAGIRI, two large Japanese passenger ships and more.

Cavas Squawk:

As I record this the Independence-class littoral combat ship USS CHARLESTON is headed home to San Diego after more than two years deployed to the western Pacific. The ship cruised the South China Sea, operated in the Philippines and Indonesia, ranged into the mid-Indian Ocean. While there were surely problems from time to time – as with all long cruises – there have been no public indications of any serious issues other than a mishap with an unmanned aircraft during the very early stages of the deployment. Crews swapped out several times as they performed regular maintenance without requiring a major dockyard period. The cruise is a model for what routine littoral combat ship deployments should look like.

         The successful conclusion of this deployment should be a moment of congratulations for the ship’s crews and all the many people and organizations that support the LCS program.

         At least one might think.

         As I speak the Freedom-class LCS INDIANAPOLIS is operating with the US Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean area – the second such deployment for the more-maligned Freedom LCS variant, following on last year’s successful cruise by the SIOUX CITY to the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf. You might not know about this latest cruise, since the Navy did not make a public announcement in April when the INDIANAPOLIS left the US East Coast after many months or preparation. And the Navy still has not made any public acknowledgement of this latest cruise of an LCS to the European theater of operations.

         The Navy routinely makes announcements about ships on deployment. Not so much what they’re specifically doing, but certainly about dozens of port calls to foreign nations and multilateral exercises that take place. But when it comes to the littoral combat ships these days – it’s nearly crickets.

         Oh sure, once in a while. But as a general rule, the service has gone dark about trumpeting any kind of positive development related to the LCS. It’s sort of understandable – they’re actively decommissioning ships of both classes long before they’ve reached their projected 20-plus-year service lives, and Navy leaders appear to be avoiding having to explain to a skeptical Congress why they’re throwing away nearly-new ships that are bought and paid for while the production lines for both classes are still hot and ships are proving their worth. Both Independence and Freedom-class construction is coming to an end, for sure, but there are few more still coming to be placed in service with the Navy.

         There is no shortage of critics about the Littoral Combat Ship program, and there is no shortage of items stretching back 20 years to complain about. That things didn’t turn out as originally envisioned is widely known and documented. But there are thousands of men and women in uniform and civilian clothes who are working – and succeeding – to make the ships relevant and useful in today’s naval and maritime environment. I know this, I’ve heard it from rank and file and behind-the-scenes from senior leadership. But you’re not hearing it.

         That the Navy chooses to publicly ignore these accomplishments is a slap in the face to all the people working to make the LCS program work. Get off it, Big Navy. Start giving the LCS crews and their supporting establishment their due. They deserve it. They are making lemonade out of your lemons.

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