Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Did NYT Op-Ed Force Pentagon's Hand?

Yesterday, I blogged about a NY Times Op-Ed calling for billions of dollars in defense cuts through eliminating wasteful military programs inappropriate for 21st century warfare.

Among those programs on the Times' hit list:

Halt production of the Virginia class sub. Ten of these unneeded attack submarines — modeled on the cold-war-era Seawolf, whose mission was to counter Soviet attack and nuclear launch submarines — have already been built. The program is little more than a public works project to keep the Newport News, Va., and Groton, Conn., naval shipyards in business.
Good call but it looks like it comes too late. Per today's Boston Globe Political Intelligence blog:

The US Navy this afternoon is expected to award a whopping $14 billion contract to General Dynamics to build eight new attack submarines, providing a stable workload for at least the next decade at the company's Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, Conn., and a key manufacturing facility on Narragansset Bay in Quonset Point, R.I., according to several knowledgeable sources.

The contract for Virginia class submarines "guarantees work on the New England waterfront at least through 2019," said a company official who asked not to be identified before the official announcement from the Department of Defense, which is expected at 5 pm.

General Dynamics employs about 10,500 people between its shipyard in Groton and hull-fabrication plant in Rhode Island.

The timing of this multi-billion dollar sub deal is curious. It comes on the first business day after "How to Pay for a 21st-Century Military" is published. The Navy leaks the announcement of this $14 billion dollar contract award to General Dynamic at a time, three days before Christmas, in which it is likely to receive little scrutiny. More importantly, the contract is announced a month before Obama's inauguration.

The Bush administration certainly wasn't going to say no to General Dynamics at this late juncture. President-elect Obama couldn't block it if he wanted to. Once sworn-in, President Obama will be powerfully disinclined to cut 10000+ jobs. (Especially as they are all centered in one region). Not with the state of the US economy. No way. No how.

Which begs this question: Did NYT's call to halt Virginia class subs construction instead have the unintended consequence of ensuring the program's continuation?


**12/26/08: Edited for clarity forming a separate post here.


Douche Bigelow said...

First, a clarification. I work very closely with the submarine force, and I have some insider knowledge. The VIRGINIA class was not built upon the SEAWOLF class platform. It's a completely new platform. You could have found this if you had done some research at Wikipedia. While I agree that the goal of the SEAWOLF was for sinking Russian subs in blue water, the VIRGINIA class is a more versatile platform and is designed more for littoral operations.

Secondly, while the SEAWOLF was an abject failure in terms of longevity and cost. VIRGINIA was built on the basis of cost and production cycle time. It has succeeded on both fronts and is now in the phase where the contractor is responsible for cost overruns. The first VIRGINIA estimated cost in 2005 dollars was 2.4 billion. The submarines covered by this contract will cost 1.75 billion approximately.

Necessary, all depends on your view of "necessary". The LOS ANGELES class is aging, only 3 of the SEAWOLF class were built (SEAWOLF, CONNECTICUT, and JIMMY CARTER). The operational life of the LA class is pretty much over. They are reaching the end of their effective fuel life, and refueling these submarines would not be cost effective. VIRGINIA is the next phase in the sea strategy promulgated by ADM Vern Clark. That strategy had it's birth during the Clinton administration.

I'm not a conservative or a Republican in any way shape or form, but submarines are close to my heart. They are a very effective deterrent in a still armed world. China is developing nuclear submarine technology. India is interested. Iran may or may not have attempted a prototype. It is my belief that submarines remain relevant, and thus necessary.

Anacher Forester said...

Thanks Douche for the clarification. Very interesting stuff. As for VIRGINIA class vs. SEAWOLF class platforms, those are the the NY Times' words not mine. Because it wasn't germane to my central point, I didn't dig further into the particulars of the various sub classes.

I've long had a soft spot for the Navy. My family participated in our country's first naval battle and has often served. I was sought out to serve on a Los Angeles class sub and respectfully declined.

That is a story for a different time.

Anacher Forester said...

PS As long as we owe them so much money, I don't think we have too much to worry about from China.

Douche Bigelow said...

Having served in the military, conventional logic and "military logic" really have nothing to do with one another. China is rapidly building a blue water Navy. In the past they were classified as "brown water", only really able to project power on their shorelines and immediate vicinity (namely Taiwan).

I'm not saying you need to keep up with the Joneses (sheer numbers in China preclude that), but you certainly need to keep pace with them. VIRGINIA, the SSGN/OHIO class retrofits, and the in-development successor to the OHIO class are at least the US submarine forces answer to that.