For years, the Navy's top leadership has been bullish on its ambition to build a fleet of at least 313 ships -- and preferably many more. Many other people, however, don't give the sea service very good odds. Ships take too much money, time and work for the Navy to hit its goal in Austerity America, the thinking goes, and the Navy has had a lot of trouble with the quality of its warships over the past decade. All this means that Washington needs to be very careful in handling the shipyards that need the Navy to survive, and vice versa, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead told Bloomberg News on Thursday:
“The industrial base is really a strategic asset,” Admiral Gary Roughead told Bloomberg TV. The Pentagon is reviewing its future spending after President Barack Obama last week announced his plan to reduce the national debt. “That has to be part of our calculus as we make decisions,” he said. “The industrial base today, particularly as it applies to shipbuilding, is probably as fragile as it has ever been.”It's the same story as the Abrams tank situation we talked about yesterday: If America's defense giants don't get enough regular, predictable work, they argue, they need to lay off their skilled workers and risk going out of business. In the Navy's case, that means the already fraught, expensive business of shipbuilding could become even moreso -- and we haven't even talked about bloc obsolescence yet. Secretary Gates mentions it regularly now: A big chunk of the Navy's surface fleet, built in the 1980s, is going to hit the end of its service life by the 2020s. Somebody, sometime, is going to have to decide what to do about that.
This gets to something else you've read about before on Buzz: Does the U.S. need to make a strategic decision to begin supporting the services unequally? On the assumption that we'll stay well clear of any more big land wars, but will need to be ready for major sea and air threats, does it make sense to shrink American ground forces and direct the difference to the Navy and Air Force? This is the kind of big-think that could come out of President Obama's review -- or, in all likelihood, won't. No one wants to fight this battle until it can't be avoided, and not while American troops are still in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For now, observers are reacting strongly to Roughead's warning. The Web's most phamous Phibian, CDR Salamander, said CNO's comments about the "fragile" industrial base made him "set his teeth:"
Why is it fragile? Simple; too little work. Why too little work? Simple; too few ships. Why too few ships; because we decided to build a Tiffany Navy of LPD-17s, DDG-1000, LCS, etc. Why did we decide to do that? Simple; ask those responsible over the last decade + for our shipbuilding priorities ... We expect with the macro pressures of a budgetary nightmare and decreasing budgets that we will get a 21.4% increase in the shipbuilding budget? Really? Who's taking bets on that?What do you make of it all?