The hyper-skilled tradesmen who build nuclear aircraft carriers possess a level of expertise that requires steady use to maintain. Just as professional athletes must constantly train to maintain their abilities, shipbuilders must steadily build to keep their own proficiency at the required peak level. If you run Newport News Shipbuilding and your guys are forced to sit on their butts for years between builds, they’re going to lose their skills (if not go into different lines of work just to keep food on the table). The ripples from that kind of splash would be very big and would last a very long time.
USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is under construction as you read this, but guess what the geniuses at Barack Obama’s Office of Management and Budget are planning to do to the gap between the construction of USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) and CVN-80?
Brilliant move, guys:
The navy has proposed an additional 2-year schedule slip to its newest carrier, CVN79, which would extend the funding profile from the original 8 yrs to 12 yrs.
This schedule change almost insures the cost of CVN-79 is going to be enormous due to loss of trade skill at the yard, which means CVN-80 is also going to be a whole lot more expensive. By 2020 aircraft carriers are going to have such an enormous cost that there is no way the nation will build CVNs after CVN-80.
I see only two ways this doesn’t happen. Either Obama loses in 2012 and the new President addresses this issue directly, immediately following election, or in some future 2016-2020 time frame the nation funds and builds 2 carriers of the Ford Class just like Reagan built 2 with the Nimitz class as a way of getting long term costs for the CVN as a strategic entity under control.
Otherwise, there will be 3 Ford class carriers, and by around 2025 the nation will have decided that based on cost alone a new way to project airpower from the sea will be necessary in the future. If you don’t believe this move will end the big deck aircraft carrier, then you are in denial how the industrial reality will be seen in a political context once the costs go up.
This is a bigger deal than the politics and economics and budgets will ever reflect in conversation. What is the true value of 50 years of projecting airpower from sea? A big deck nuclear powered aircraft carrier today is a strategic investment that the US really can’t afford get wrong. Making the wrong choice would be a strategic and political blunder of incalculable magnitude; one history would record as our nation casually tossing aside the aircraft carriers strategic advantages without a clear understanding of the consequences, but doing so knowing full well that once you lose the big deck production line – there is no going back.
That bold-faced emphasis is mine.
An argument can be made that big-deck carriers in this decade might be as relevant as battleships on December 7, 1941. I’m not sure I buy it, but it seems colossally foolish to abandon the big-deck carrier not because of a hard-nosed assessment of their value, but to lose them instead because a bunch of pencil-necked peacenik accountants in Washington don’t understand shipbuilding.
The Brits recently abandoned fixed-wing carrier aviation (see HMS Illustrious for details), and their failure to think ahead continues to bite them in the rear. To add insult to injury, it looks like Argentina once again intends to test the proposition that Britannia rules the waves.
But hey, who needs aircraft carriers when you’ve got universal healthcare, right? In the Age of Obamacare, the whole world loves us. Let’s just redirect those sweet, sweet taxpayer dollars away from that icky war stuff to something more in line with our newly socialist tastes. We’ll never be attacked.