DoD Buzz

The vibrations from the gray elephant


All of a sudden, out of nowhere, there was an explosion of discussion online about the Navy's new Zumwalt- class destroyers. The meteor seems to have made its impact on the blog of shipbuilding expert Tim Colton, who turned in one of his classic paragraphs that deserves to be excerpted in full:


Bud Zumwalt, a great man, must be spinning in his grave. Senator Collins (R-GD) thinks the second and third ships are OK, but are they? Will SECNAV ever explain to the U.S. taxpayers just exactly why it has cost so much - DD-21, DD(X) and now DDG 1000 - to achieve so little? Doesn't anyone in the Navy ever give a moment's thought to cost justification? Of course, we've got a SECNAV whose shipbuilding experience is based on being on the Board of Directors of Friede Goldman Halter, one of the most incompetently managed shipbuilding companies in history. (Curiously, this is not included in his bio.) And we have an ASN (RD&A) whose greatest achievement is to have been the Navy's Program Manager for the LPD 17 program, another horrendous waste of the taxpayers' money. So what can we expect? Maybe the new SECDEF, who seems to be having a hard time finding ways to cut the budget, should look at this DDG 1000 program. How many times does it have to be said? Kill DDG 1000, build more DDG 51s

From there, the ripples spread to the blogs of CDR Salamander and Galrahn, each of whose takes is worth reading in turn. Our phriend Phib lays it out like this: Look, he says, you might as well just forget the billions of dollars the Navy has spent on this ship over its development arc. Those are sunk costs. The Navy did not learn its own lessons about iterative upgrades (or "spiral development," as the term used to be) and so, here we are:
This is all very sad. There are some very promising technology items in DDG-1000 - but bundling them together like we have just flies in the face of everything we know about compound technology risk. The better path would have been to follow the successful outline and best practices of cruiser development in the '20-30s and the missile development of the '50-'70s. Not "transformational" enough, I guess. Sure worked.
Galrahn's take goes into detail about the Navy's ... shall we say ... prevarications? ... in its dealings with Congress and the public about DDG 1000. Quick version: It isn't clear why the Navy wants the ship or what its capabilities are -- and nobody in power cares that the story keeps shifting. Galrahn brings the hammer down:
It is impossible to believe that the House, Senate, or GAO would ever say anything negative about an admiral or general even when their decisions cost tens of billions of dollars -- after all, the F-22 didn't fly for over 4 months and none of our elected or appointed officials appeared to care. Oversight of military flag and general officers today doesn't exist, because oversight of military leadership is only exercised for the most parochial of politically correct reasons anymore. If an O-6 grounds a ship, his career is ruined. If an O-8 oversees a strategic level dumpster fire with a major portion of a military service, more often than not that guy will get promoted again.
And there it is. Not too long ago, we asked rhetorically whether defense spending could "save the economy," and it probably can't -- but again, that doesn't mean it isn't important. It's difficult to find a better example than DD21/DD(X)/DDG 1000, which has effectively become a long-term employment program for New England shipbuilders, computer programmers and electrical engineers, not to mention all the other workers on the Gulf Coast and across the country. With no urgency for the Zumwalt to enter service, the Navy, General Dynamics, Raytheon and other vendors can relax and take as long as they need, squeezing out the economic juice from this project for years and years.

Unless, that is, Congress or the Pentagon decides to cut off the supply. Should they? Or are the advanced technologies promised by these ships worth the continued spending?

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