Tag: littoral combat ship

After-Action Report on Cato’s Panel on the Future of the Navy Surface Fleet

Yesterday’s event on the U.S. Navy was a big success and generated a vigorous discussion. Ben Freeman from POGO spelled out his concerns about the littoral combat ship, specifically the Freedom (LCS-1) (documented here and here) and CBO’s Eric Labs raised a few additional ones pertaining to the program as whole. Under Secretary of the Navy Robert Work delivered an impassioned defense of the LCS within the context of the entire fleet design, drawing on examples from history to demonstrate how the Navy learns and adapts. Consistent with past practice, Work is confident that the fleet will put the LCS through the paces—two completely different ships—and figure out how to use them.

It was refreshing to engage in a serious discussion among people who are committed to a Navy that is second-to-none, and who care enough to raise questions designed to make it stronger. I focused my remarks on the LCS’s operating characteristics, but especially on the decision to buy two different LCS types. The original plan was for the Navy to select just one. The advantage of having two ships, Work stressed, was that the Navy would learn about each vessel’s unique capabilities. The disadvantage, as I see it, is the loss of economies of scale, including in parts, logistics and training.

I do think it is important to move past the specific technical problems identified in both LCS-1 and LCS-2. These are the first ships in the class, and such ships always have their share of problems (I was assigned to a first-in-class ship, USS Ticonderoga, from March 1990 to May 1993, and we were working through some problems nine years after the ship was launched). The blogger Galrahn (aka Raymond Pritchett) at Information Dissemination last week tweeted that the information in the POGO and Aviation Week reports was all old news, but that hadn’t stopped members of Congress from calling for another investigation. Under Secretary Work stressed that he believes the problems have been addressed, or will be, and he is committed to making this program successful.

But this discussion about fixing problems and learning as we go along reminds me of a conversation that I had a few months ago with a person who believes we should increase military spending. This individual is advising Gov. Romney, who has pledged to boost Pentagon spending quite substantially—perhaps as much as an extra $2.5 trillion over the next ten years, by my estimates—if he is elected president.

While talking, I raised the subject of the LCS, not the first time that the subject has come up between us. He was nonplussed and claimed that the problems with the ship could easily be fixed. More specifically, he said “It is nothing that money can’t fix.” That is pretty much a direct quote.

Nothing that money can’t fix.

There are two problems with that statement. First, Mitt Romney might not become the 45thpresident of the United States in January 2013—the polls say that it is basically a 50-50 proposition that he won’t—and I think it highly unlikely that the Navy’s shipbuilding budget will grow substantially if he isn’t elected.

Second, I seriously doubt that the Navy’s shipbuilding budget will grow very much even if Mitt Romney is elected president, and it certainly won’t grow enough to obviate any discussion of trade offs between different ships. Even if the Navy is handed billions or tens of billions of dollars more for shipbuilding, it is still the case that every ship that we build, or every new one proposed, is competing against one another. There are always opportunity costs, even when the topline budget grows. Navy warships compete against aircraft carriers. Navy surface ships compete with submarines. And the Navy competes with the Air Force. And the Air Force and Navy compete with the Army, etc.

For now, the Navy has chosen the LCS over possible alternatives. But there are alternatives. Eric Labs authored a good study a few years ago looking at the Coast Guard’s national security cutters (.pdf), but stated yesterday that the NSCs would be more costly than the LCSs. In the paper, “Budgetary Savings from Military Restraint,” Ben Friedman and I suggested retaining the Perry-class frigates for a few more years while we develop a different ship, perhaps a new class of frigates or corvettes that could do many of the same missions that the LCS is expected to perform, and, we believe, at less cost. At yesterday’s forum, Under Secretary Work stated that we could not purchase a new frigate for less than $750 million. While I respect the Under’s expertise, I plan to spend some time over the coming months scrutinizing that claim.

Cato to Host Navy Under Secretary to Discuss Surface Fleet

In its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act, the House Armed Services Committee proposed a number of changes to the Obama administration’s plans for the U.S. Navy. The NDAA rescinds the retirement of three cruisers and restricts retirement of ballistic missile submarines (so as not to fall below a minimum of 12). The bill also contains an amendment which authorizes a GAO review of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program. The amendments collectively reflect the Committee’s concern that the Navy won’t be able to fulfill its current missions with fewer and perhaps less capable ships. Unfortunately, no one is asking whether any of those missions could be modified, eliminated, or shifted to others.

I will address some of those issues at a Cato policy forum this Monday, May 21, at noon. I am particularly thrilled to be joined by Under Secretary of the Navy Robert O. Work, Ben Freeman of the Project on Government Oversight, and Eric J. Labs of the Congressional Budget Office. Those three make this an all-star cast to discuss the future of a U.S. surface fleet that is undergoing some major changes. With the retirement of the Navy’s cruisers and frigates, the development of bigger and more complex destroyers, and the introduction of the LCS tomorrow’s surface fleet will look quite different than today’s.

Congress is particularly concerned about the LCS because of reports of design and construction flaws and operational problems, including this letter issued by the Project on Government Oversight, and a subsequent article in Aviation Week. But some are also concerned that even though LCSs eventually will constitute about one-third of the Navy’s surface combatants, the LCS is not supposed to engage in combat. In addition, its mission modules, especially the anti-submarine warfare package, are years away from operability.

Our panel will address many of the questions swirling around the surface fleet today, including: How will the replacement of thirty frigates with the still-untested LCS affect the Navy’s overall capability? Will the ballistic missile defense requirement reduce the availability of destroyers for other missions? Could the Navy pursue a different strategy to advance U.S. national security that could be executed with fewer ships? Of course, the answers to all of those questions are framed within the context of declining procurement budgets. Given that reality, one could argue that the greatest threat to the U.S. Navy’s surface fleet is its undersea fleet: the looming SSBN(X) program could devour the shipbuilding budget for a decade.

So, with no shortage of difficult and far-reaching decisions ahead for the Navy, it is a privilege to have Under Secretary Work, Ben, and Eric to help us navigate the way. I hope you can join us on Monday.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

New Paper Argues for Immediate, Practical Cuts in Military Spending

A new report published today by the Project on Defense Alternatives  argues for $17-$20 billion in immediate savings to the Fiscal Year 2013 defense budget. I co-authored the report along with Benjamin Friedman of Cato, and PDA’s Carl Conetta, Charles Knight, and Ethan Rosenkranz. Those savings come from 18 line items—personnel, weapons systems, and programs—that could be implemented quickly. Adjustments to U.S. national security strategy are not a prerequisite for these options, which are relatively low-hanging fruit.

The 2013 defense authorization bill will move to the House floor this week. Many members are expected to offer amendments, some allowing savings in the defense budget. During the debates that are about to ensue„ it is important to keep in mind just how large the defense budget has become. As our paper notes, the national defense base budget constitutes 52 percent of discretionary spending, separate from the war account. Since 2000, it has risen by 90 percent in nominal terms and 42 percent in real terms. If Washington is serious about addressing the nation’s massive fiscal challenge, many programs will have to be cut or reformed. The Pentagon should not be expected to bear all of the costs; other departments and agencies will also have to contribute. But there has not yet been a significant decline in the Pentagon’s base budget, contrary to what some have claimed.

The Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 places an initial discretionary spending cap on National Defense for 2013 at $546 billion. Both President Obama’s request, and the House Republican’s budget exceed the BCA caps. In addition, the BCA requires $110 billion in spending cuts in January 2013 via sequestration, half of which need to come from DoD. Neither the White House nor Congress plans for that to occur; both sides hope to amend the law and achieve equal deficit reductions by other means. As it currently stands, though they disagree on how. Republicans want to cut other spending, Democrats to raise taxes. The options outlined in our paper could facilitate these negotiations, by revealing savings in the DoD budget that will not damage our national security.

The savings options in the report focus on reducing or curtailing:

  •  Assets and capabilities that mismatch or substantially exceed current and emerging military challenges;
  • Assets and capabilities for which more cost-effective alternatives exist;
  • Investments that are tied to the past, reflecting bureaucratic inertia or individual’s service interests, rather than current collective defense needs;
  • Acquisition programs that exhibit serious, persistent cost overruns, while failing to deliver  promised capability, and
  • Acquisition programs that are based on immature or unproven technologies.

Further savings are possible if we rethink our strategy, missions, and national security commitments. Ben Friedman and I have long argued this point. Until then, the options presented in “Defense Sense” are limited in scope in an effort to pave the way toward responsibly balancing national security ends, ways, and means.

Although I encourage everyone to look at the report, here are just five of the 18 cuts that policymakers should immediately consider:

  • Military personnel in Europe: Remove additional 10,000 military personnel by end of FY 2013; save $100 million in FY 2013 and $188 million per year once complete
  • Active-component military personnel: Reduce end-strength by an additional 10,000 personnel; save $400 million in FY 2013 and $860 million recurring annual savings once complete
  • Missile Defense: Focus on procurement and end-stage development on systems with proven, reliable, cost-effective capability (see report for details); save $2.5 billion in FY 2013
  • F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Cancel USMC variant; buy equivalent numbers F/A-18 E/F; save $1.8 billion in FY 2013
  • Littoral Combat Ship (LCS): End procurement at 10 and seek alternative; save $2 billion in FY 2013

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.