Thursday, August 23, 2007

Does it also do windows?

Information Dissemination is a great Milblog on things pertaining to naval affairs, a subject which is near and dear to me having grown up near Charleston, and with my life-long fascination of ships and the sea. If you have the same interests, I insist you check this site regularly.
A recent post on the troubled LDP-17 San Antonio class, was very informative as usual, but brought up some disturbing facts:

...the USS New Orleans (LPD 18) is
going to cost around 350 million over budget
, another black eye on the
program, despite these costs being a direct result of the original first in
class CAD screwup. How does someone balance 1.1 billion dollars in contractor
screw ups and 1.5 billion in Hurricane costs, in what is now a 15.5 billion
dollar program for 9 ships when the original plan called for 12 ships...
The San Antonio class is a 25,000-ton expeditionary warship
(making it approximately twice the size of the next largest LPD in the world)
designed to operate 25 miles off a defended shore, and in a nuclear environment.
The ship has a radar cross section equal to or smaller than a DDG-51/79 with
whipping hardening for its hull girders; shock hardening; blast hardened
bulkheads; fragmentation protection; and nuclear blast

The San Antonio class will be armed with two 21-round RAM
launchers, two 30mm guns counter-boat guns, and has the space and weight for 16
VLS cells, which could carry either 64 ESSMs or 32 ESSMs and eight land attack
missiles (which would represent more firepower than most of the worlds

First of all, the primary purpose of amphibious ships is to ferry troops from Point A to Point B, and to care for their needs while in theater. What we have here is a heavy cruiser that also carries Marines. This may explain the $350 million cost overrun.

As for the nuclear protection, wouldn't a more likely threat be cruise missiles and mines from Third World countries, which it will doubtless operate against? Kevlar armor strategically placed, plus watertight doors should suffice, and greatly cut down on the price, perhaps allowing more storage for extra troops and their equipment.

The post also mentions "more firepower than most of the worlds frigates". My thought is, isn't this the purpose of frigates and destroyers (of which we soon will have 60 Arleigh Burke Aegis ships) to protect weaker vessels like amphibs? This putting all our eggs in one basket is a dangerous precedent, and was where the Aircraft Carrier was headed toward the end of the Cold War, ie. more defensive than offensive. So much was spent on protecting the flattops from the new cruise missiles at sea, with F-14 Tomcat superfighters, billion dollar anti-missile cruisers, and equally pricey Los Angeles class submarines, there was very little offensive punch left, that is until the advent of precision weapons in the 1990's.

Summing up, the San Antonio class with so many add-ons distracts from the warship's original purpose to carry troops, and has ballooned the cost of the program. Further, this likely is the cause of so many faults discovered in the design, thus delaying its entry into full service. This is the multi-mission mindset of the Navy gone amok, and the US Fleet will continue to see its ship numbers spiral down further until there's no going back.

I'm sure it is desirable to have as much defensive weaponry and armor as possible to keep our sailors safe, but there is also a price to pay for being too-defense minded. Didn't we learn anything from the battleships lost at Pearl Harbor in 1941, that no ship is unsinkable, and that numbers do count in wartime?