I’ve long been annoyed and frustrated at the US Navy’s visible incompetence and waste of taxpayers’ time and money in designing, building and commissioning new generations of warships. The “Little Crappy Ship” imbroglio, the Zumwalt train wreck and the USS Gerald R. Ford’s litany of failures are only the first three programs to come to mind – there are many more. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised to see the Defense Secretary’s decision about funding a new generation of nuclear missile submarines.
After years of warnings from U.S. Navy leaders that replacing the aging Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine will eat the service’s shipbuilding account alive, the year the first Columbia-class submarine is to be funded has arrived with the fiscal year 2021 budget request. But according to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the Navy shouldn’t expect any extra money to pay for it.
In an exclusive interview with Defense News Friday, Esper said the Columbia class is a Navy bill, just like Air Force nuclear deterrent recapitalization will be an Air Force bill, and the services will just have to find efficiencies in house to pay for it.
“Clearly, the Columbia is a big bill, but it’s a big bill we have to pay,” Esper said. “That’s the Navy’s bill. The Air Force has a bill called bombers and ground-based strategic deterrent, so that’s a bill they have to pay.
“We all recognize that. Acting Secretary [Thomas] Modly and I have spoken about this. He believes, and I think he’s absolutely correct, that there are more and more efficiencies to be found within the department, the Navy and the Marine Corps, that they can free up money to invest into ships — into platforms.”
The word from Esper that Columbia would be considered a shipbuilding bill seemed to put the final stake in the heart of years of efforts by Navy leaders and lawmakers to avoid crushing the Navy’s shipbuilding budget and negatively impacting other programs such as surface ship construction, ships that provide both a vital peacetime deterrence function and are popular with lawmakers with shipbuilders in their states.
There’s more at the link.
The Navy will doubtless scream in protest: but it doesn’t have a leg to stand on. It’s wasted enough money on the aforementioned LCS, Zumwalt and Ford programs to more than pay for the entire Columbia class of missile submarines. With the sole exception of the Ford class (if, and only if, it can be made to work as designed – that’s not yet guaranteed), that money is a write-off. Billions upon billions of dollars have been thrown away on programs that will be of little or no operational benefit to the Navy, in peace or in time of war. As far as I’m concerned, any service that thinks it’s OK to pour so much taxpayer money down the drain doesn’t deserve more of the same.
The same applies to the Air Force and the Army – to the entire Defense Department, in fact. It failed its first-ever financial audit a couple of years ago, and has racked up $35 trillion (yes, that’s “trillion” with a T!) in accounting changes in the space of just one year. Any commercial business running itself that way would have been driven into bankruptcy long ago! Certainly, the oversight authorities would have long since taken action against it. Why should the Defense Department be exempt from such investigations, and such oversight?
Other services are being forced to make major sacrifices in existing equipment and inventory in order to fund their new programs. The Army’s cutting back its purchases of the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and cancelling other important programs. The Air Force is retiring hundreds of “legacy” aircraft to afford modern replacements (even though the F-35 program, which will replace them, is a poster child for waste, fraud and boondoggles; it’s become “the most expensive weapons program in history“). Why should the Navy not be required to do likewise?
The USA simply can’t afford its “military-industrial complex” any longer. The budget will only stretch so far. We’re already facing trillion-dollar-plus deficits every year for the foreseeable future, to fund the entitlement programs to which the American people seem to have become addicted. More than half the US population receives money or other assistance from one or more government programs. Given that reality, there simply isn’t enough money left over to pay for flashy new toys as well – particularly when the armed forces have such a dismal record of waste, profligate expenditure and inability to police their own bureaucracy in managing their responsibilities.
Knowledgeable experts point to the expansion of our rivals’ armed forces, and warn that we have to match them or risk being overmatched. They’re right. However, if we can’t afford that, we can’t do it. It’s as simple as that. The Navy has no-one to blame but itself for its current financial crisis. It’s wasted tens of billions of dollars on programs that don’t work, and contribute little or nothing to its mission. Unless and until it gets its financial house in order, its crisis of capability and affordability will continue. There won’t be any bailout in the form of more money coming from Congress. The money isn’t there. The same applies to the other US armed forces. They’ll have to shape up, or do without.
(A good place to start would be with the bloated ranks of generals and admirals. I reckon we could cut a third to a half of their slots, and retire their incumbents, without affecting the readiness of our armed forces in any way. For example, at the time of writing the US Navy has 250 ships active in commission. It has 246 admirals, from grades O-7 to O-10 [one to four stars]. I simply can’t believe that the latter figure is justifiable in the light of the former number. How about cutting them back to 150, a reduction of about 40%? That would be a good start – and might even pay for a nuclear missile submarine or two, over time, just from the savings in salary and benefits! Impose the same proportional reductions on the upper ranks of the Army and Air Force, and you might be talking some serious money.)