New Navy Ship Leaking Tax Dollars

Exclusive: The New Cold War with Russia provides a stronger budgetary lifeline for the Military-Industrial Complex than the War on Terror does while helping to quiet critics of wasteful spending, as Jonathan Marshall describes.

By Jonathan Marshall

The world’s mightiest navy is at risk of being sunk — not by a superior enemy, but by its own inability to acquire ships that work at a price that even the richest military on the planet can afford.

The U.S. Navy today has only 272 deployable warships — a decline of more than 50 percent in just the last three decades — of which fewer than a third put to sea at any given time. Although the U. S. Navy remains by far the strongest force of its kind, current fleet trends call into question its future ability to meet inflated global missions that include tracking Russian submarines in the Arctic, patrolling the Persian Gulf, and defeating China on its home seas.

Warships of the U.S. Navy. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

Warships of the U.S. Navy. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

Rather than rethink those missions, the Navy is clamoring for more appropriations to pay for budget-busting weapons systems. For example, the Navy wants a dozen new ballistic-missile-carrying nuclear submarines at an estimated cost of about $140 billion. A single new Ford Class nuclear aircraft carrier will cost taxpayers nearly $14 billion — and that doesn’t include the inordinately expensive aircraft it will carry or the support ships needed to help protect it.

Now soaring costs and operating snafus are crippling a class of vessels the Navy was counting on to bulk up the fleet at relatively low cost: the littoral combat ship (LCS). A senior Pentagon official just admitted to Congress that ill-managed attempts to fast-track the design and construction of the LCS have all but “broke the Navy.”

The LCS began entering the fleet in 2008 for various missions in coastal waters. With high performance engines and fast hull designs, the ships were meant to outrun speedy patrol boats. With a modular design, they could be reconfigured for different missions, including surface combat, mine-sweeping and hunting submarines. Smaller and less heavily armored than a frigate, they were supposed to be highly affordable.

Crippled Ships

But over the past 12 months, five of the eight LCS ships acquired so far have been crippled by construction defects, design errors, or crew mistakes. The USS Milwaukee broke down just 20 days after putting to sea and had to be towed back to Virginia. The USS Freedom limped back to port after seawater leaks rusted its engine during a 26-nation exercise in the Pacific. The USS Fort Worth crawled back to San Diego from Singapore after discovering a mechanical fault.

U.S. Navy's Littoral Combat Ships. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

In August, the Navy ordered all LCS ships to “stand down” for 30 days and focus on evaluating crew training and operating practices. Even so, the USS Coronado broke down that month en route to Singapore. In September, the USS Montgomery suffered engine problems just three days after it was commissioned, forcing it to head back to Florida for repairs.

That was the backdrop for more bad news delivered Dec. 1 to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Paul Francis, an expert for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), reported that the cost per ship has more than doubled, from $220 million to $478 million, since the early days of the program. Delivery is running about nine years behind schedule. The LCS fails to meet Navy objectives for speed and range and its mission capabilities “remain largely unproven.”

He explained that the Navy, rushing to acquire the ships, adopted a “buy before you fly” approach, committing to a large number of ships (originally 55, now 40) before the design was complete and the kinks had been worked out.

“The miracle of LCS didn’t happen,” Francis testified. “We are 26 ships into the contract and we still don’t know if it can do its job . . . Once the money wheel starts to turn, the business imperatives of budgets and contracts and ship construction take precedence over acquisition and oversight principles.”

At the same hearing, the director of the Pentagon’s weapons testing office delivered a devastating, 30-page assessment. The LCS, he said, “has not yet demonstrated effective war-fighting capability in any of its originally envisioned missions: surface warfare, mine countermeasures, and antisubmarine warfare . . . Furthermore, all of the ships have suffered from significant and repeated reliability problems. . . . Unless corrected, the critical problems . . . will continue to prevent the ship . . . from being operationally effective or operationally suitable in war.”

Near Zero Chance

Based on current performance, he added, the ships “have a near-zero chance of completing a 30-day mission (the Navy’s requirement) without a critical failure of one or more . . . subsystems essential for wartime operations.”

An array of U.S. naval and air power. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

An array of U.S. naval and air power. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

He also warned that the thinly armored aluminum ship is vulnerable to being knocked out of commission by a single enemy hit. Its one onboard gun defends poorly against aircraft or swarming patrol boats, and to date the LCS has “no capability to detect or defend against torpedoes.”

No problem; the Navy just “defined down” the ship’s mission. In 2012, the chief of naval operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, said he planned to keep the LCS out of a shooting war — using them instead for peacetime exercises, port visits, humanitarian assistance, and fighting pirates. By sending them to such relatively safe venues as Latin America and Africa, he explained, the Navy could free up more capable warships for riskier theaters.

The latest Navy plan is to buy 14 more of the ships, on top of the 26 already delivered or under contract, and to call a dozen of them frigates. The GAO’s expert asked the committee, “does a program that costs twice as much but delivers less capability than planned still warrant an additional investment of nearly $14 billion?”

You can be sure that Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and other military contractors with a stake in the program, will insist yes, of course.

So will the Navy, which hates losing battles of the budget as much as those at sea. Indeed, a joint statement to the committee by an assistant secretary of the Navy and the commander of naval surface forces insisted that the LCS “is of critical importance to our Navy,” provides “increased warfighting flexibility to our Fleet,” and offers “game changing [anti-submarine warfare] capability at an affordable cost.”

Although some members of Congress in both parties decry the program’s dismal record, most just want the pork to keep on coming. When the Pentagon last December proposed cutting the LCS program to 40 ships, hawks cried foul.

“Our Navy is at risk across the world and the weak and impotent Obama Administration seeks to further undermine our position with this ill-considered decision,” thundered Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “Make no mistake about it, from Mobile to Marinette, from San Diego and Jacksonville, the bell has rung, and those in the Pentagon need to hear that this will not stand.”

With the GOP soon to be in charge of both the White House and Congress, the Navy will likely get what it wants in the short term. Why “drain the swamp” when you can sail right through it? But if current budget trends continue, the math will inevitably defeat even the Navy’s greatest champions and force a fundamental reexamination of how it does business.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic . Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews include “Nazi Roots of Ukraine’s Conflict,” “Escalations in a New Cold War,” “European Union’s Imperial Overreach,” and “Kosovo Chaos Undercuts Clinton ‘Success.’”

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29 comments for “New Navy Ship Leaking Tax Dollars

  1. Vera
    December 7, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    Ah…but with a good PR one can intimidate the enemy with any “fake” story.

  2. Joe Hill
    December 7, 2016 at 8:56 am

    Rumor has it that the new celebrity-TV president is planning to hire Popeye the Sailor Man to run the Navy along with Rocky the Flying Squirrel to run the Air Force. Yosemite Sam will be Secretary of the Army. Boris and Natasha have been made honorary citizens and will be promoted to CIA Director and NSA Director.

    • Bill Jones
      December 7, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      So a serious upgrade from Barry the Kenyans bunch of f*ckwits, then

  3. Tatarewicz
    December 6, 2016 at 6:18 am

    MIC consists largely of research facilities, assembly plants, engineers and other highly trained professionals who could just as readily be developing high-speed rail components, wind turbines and other green energy structures or space exploration vehicles.

    However as long as Israel keeps antagonizing Arabs by stealing their lands US Congress has to keep funding a robust military to fight enemies of that illegal state or Jew duals in America will no longer be making sure Israel-supporting candidates get elected. This is the method in this madness.

  4. John P
    December 5, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    It’s the history of the past, leading nations take on too much to maintain their position and the costs sink e’m.

  5. Bill Bodden
    December 5, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    The world’s mightiest navy is at risk of being sunk — not by a superior enemy, but by its own inability to acquire ships that work at a price that even the richest military on the planet can afford.

    And as zman noted above, there is the F-35 – probably the biggest boondoggle ever if we exclude the wars on Vietnam and Iraq.

    Rather than rethink those missions, the Navy is clamoring for more appropriations to pay for budget-busting weapons systems. For example,

    In his book “Fall From Glory: The Men Who Sank The Navy” Gregory Vistica reported that Naval Intelligence advised Reagan’s pursuit of a 600-ship navy, if continued, would bankrupt the US. Fortunately, the Soviet Union collapsed first.

    No problem; the Navy just “defined down” the ship’s mission. In 2012, the chief of naval operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, said he planned to keep the LCS out of a shooting war — using them instead for peacetime exercises, port visits, humanitarian assistance, and fighting pirates. By sending them to such relatively safe venues as Latin America and Africa, he explained, the Navy could free up more capable warships for riskier theaters.

    A much better solution: Build a fleet of hospital ships and send them around the globe. They will do more good and cost much less. Can’t get enough medical staff for all those hospital ships? No problem. Give Cuba a call. Raul Castro will take care of that problem. There is another problem. Not enough money in it for the military-industrial complex.

    Jonathan Marshall has written an excellent and important article. Now we need a follow-up naming, at least, the admirals who have pushed and approved this monumental waste. Add to the list the members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees who rubber stamp these exercises in lunacy.

    • Joe Tedesky
      December 5, 2016 at 5:12 pm

      Deploying a fleet of hospital ships staffed with International medical aid workers, is without a doubt one of the best ideas I have ever heard.

      • Bill Bodden
        December 5, 2016 at 7:46 pm

        The USNS Mercy – http://www.med.navy.mil/sites/usnsmercy/Pages/default.aspx – cruised around the Philippines for about six months in the early 1980s delivering free healthcare to locals at several ports and, not surprisingly, created a very favorable impression of the US.

  6. CECarroll
    December 5, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    And so it goes. Packing pork into the Alice and Wonderland of the pentagon. It started in the McNamara era of the 60’s and continues to this day. Anyone remember the old McNamara single shaft “Destroyer Escorts” soon to be renamed “Fast Frigates” to scare the Russians. They couldn’t escort, too slow at 24 knots, and what ever a Frigate was supposed to be they were not. And the old WW2 tin cans sailed along till they went to the breakers after 25 years or more of arduous service.

  7. zman
    December 5, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Every time one of those talking heads have a laugh at the Russians problems with their aging heavy aircraft carrying cruiser, they need to be reminded of our over budget, under performing and constantly breaking cutting edge junk we call ships and airplanes. Having an arresting cable break being compared to god knows how many flaws and equipment breakage, not to mention piss poor design on these useless cash cows is laughable at best…except for the exorbitant cost of said junk, associated tow and repair bills and loss of respect. The only thing worse than these ships is the F-35…and if speculation that the Russians have a system that can see AND target so-called stealth aircraft and counteract our targeting systems, we can add the F-22 and Aegis ships to that list.

  8. Jim Mooney
    December 5, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    The home port for the LCS fleet will be Gilligan’s Island.

    • Bill Bodden
      December 5, 2016 at 4:33 pm

      Make that quote of the day. Thank you, Jim.

    • Brad Owen
      December 6, 2016 at 9:00 am

      two thumbs up.

  9. W. R. Knight
    December 5, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    We wouldn’t need half of that shit if we didn’t have a stupid foreign policy.

  10. Chris Chuba
    December 5, 2016 at 11:08 am

    So the LCS will only be deployed to safe zones? Wow, so much for the need for super, duper, stealth radar evading design.

  11. bfearn
    December 5, 2016 at 10:59 am

    “defeating China on its home seas.”

    Why would you want to do that?? Is “defeating” countries who have never threatened or attacked the US still an American objective? Did you learn nothing from the BS wars of choice like Vietnam, Iraq, etc, etc???

    • Brad Owen
      December 5, 2016 at 3:26 pm

      “They” learned that B.S. wars are just what the voodoo economic doctors ordered, because the grossly expensive weapons don’t have to work, and the holders of MIC investment portfolios still get to make big $. The days of a smallish, out-of-date U.S. Navy squaring off against an enormous, and deadly, Imperial Japanese Navy are long gone. Wars were rendered obsolete by WWII, the atom bomb, and the newly-created U.N. All the wars since have been unnecessary BS wars to recapture Empire, or keep former colonies down-and-out, or some BS move in a Geopolitical BS Chess Game. The Silk Road “win-win” policies of China are winning hearts and minds around the World; and THIS is what should have happened right after WWII, under U.N. auspices.

    • Joe Tedesky
      December 5, 2016 at 5:23 pm

      What the MIC learned from the Vietnam war, along with the many other conflicts the U.S. has gotten involved in, is how to become rich. Major General Smedley Butler talks about this in his book ‘War is a Racket’. Remember Smedley Butler in his book is using WWI financial figures, but the end result is still the same growing the arms industry business ten or more fold during wartime.

      https://www.ratical.org/ratville/CAH/warisaracket.html

      Eisenhower was confronted about the islands off the coast of China, and his response was, ‘and how close to Kansas is that’? Imagine Russia or China trying to dominate the Gulf of Mexico. This ‘exceptional indispensable nation’ stuff is way over the top, and will be the downfall of this country, if we don’t soon turn away from this DC group think nonsense.

      • kurt
        December 6, 2016 at 7:59 am

        Thanks SO much for the link to this book, Joe. I have been wanting to read it for a long time. MG Butler is a man of deep honor and integrity!

      • ZenitFan
        December 7, 2016 at 4:16 am

        The original text of Eisenhower’s farewell address used the phrase “military-industrial-Congressional complex.” An advisor persuaded him to remove “Congressional.” The world would be a much better place had Ike stuck to his guns.

  12. evelync
    December 5, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Thank you Josh Marshall!
    This is a helluva way to run a railroad…..

    This mindless incompetent war machine is making the country less safe not safer, IMO.
    Undermining the integrity of the currency.
    Making the whole world mad because of the mayhem and violence we create.

    If the government knew what they were doing they would bring our trained experts – soldiers, sailors, marines home to help manage the repair of infrastructure that is so badly needed.
    It would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.

    This is unsustainable.
    If U.S. debt is seen as not creditworthy, interest rates will shoot up.
    I think I read that China has not bought U.S. debt in about 2 years.
    Who could blame them?

    The crazy thing is that, as Andrew Bacevich points out, this is a quadri-polar world with the top power tier including U.S. China India and Europe (Russia is in the next tier down)
    http://www.bu.edu/pardeeschool/2016/04/20/bacevich-gives-talk-on-americas-war-for-the-greater-middle-east/

    We are spending ourselves into the ground. And undermining our financial strength.
    Armed to the teeth, making up enemies as we go to feed the MIC.
    Those bankers on Wall Street must have their head in the sand. As do the majority of fear mongering politicians.

    If I sound hysterical, sorry, but I think this country at the moment is digging a hole for itself that will eventually undermine the very narrative they use to distract people from the incompetence of their government.
    Pas bon.

  13. December 5, 2016 at 9:20 am

    Where is the money? The Federal (not) Reserve (none) operates as an ATM machine for the controlling powers. Their agendas are funded by newly created debt-currency.

    Vilification of McCarthy and Hitler need to be revisited in light of glaring discrepancies in the enforced official narratives.

  14. Peter Loeb
    December 5, 2016 at 7:40 am

    Many thanks to Jonathan Marshall for this contribution.

    Are there critical analyses (investigative journalism etc)
    on the military industrial complex of the last few years?
    I have some books of the 1990’s which are excellent for
    a start but I assume they must be somewhat aged nearly
    20 years later.

    (Of especial interest beyond the structure is of course
    updated analyses of their lobbying activity.)

    —-Peter Loeb, Bostron, MA, USA

  15. Realist
    December 5, 2016 at 6:05 am

    My advice, even if you believe this to be true, keep a lid on it, please. Otherwise the congress and the new president will want to sell the interstate highway system or abolish Medicare and Social Security to pay for the several trillions of dollars worth of ships they’ll say we need to limit China’s influence in its own moat called the South China Sea. So we can’t have an unlimited number of guns pointed at every conceivable foreign target across the globe and the high seas at every moment of every day. So what?

    • Peter Loeb
      December 5, 2016 at 7:49 am

      WHERE’S THE MONEY?

      I totally agree with with “Realist”. Except that I do NOT think
      “keeping a lid on it” is the appropriate response. Accurate
      and verifiable knowledge is.

      As realist states, in domestic programs the question (intended
      to be unanswerable!!!) is “But where’s the money going to
      come from?” No questions are ever posed about funds for defense.
      The answer is typically to reduce expenditure
      for domestic programs, to hand them off to the states, or
      to eliminate them entirely. (Eg. stories of the increasing
      “expense” of health care avoid the issue l. health care
      as a right, not a privilege 2. the effect of reductions on
      people’s lives. One is supposed to focus on the sufferings
      of health insurance giants, pharmaceutical companies
      and the like. Not the significance for life or death for
      millions of Americans. And this is just one example
      of many.)

      • Realist
        December 5, 2016 at 10:41 am

        Sigh… Trump already said he wants to build up the navy with many new ships (that the middle class tax base cannot afford). This story just gives him the pretext to do what he wants. Not always, but sometimes problems do go away if you just ignore them.

      • Blacksocialist
        December 5, 2016 at 5:07 pm

        The federal government is monetarily sovereign, the US dollar is an unpegged non convertible fiat currency. The US dollar ceased being a commodity currency in the 70s. What this means is, that the “money”, on the federal level, is only a computer click away. No federal program lacks funds, but Congress can decide not to appropriate the money needed to support a program. If left leaning people don’t understand modern money, nothing will change. Pathetic

      • Rodney Wickersham
        December 5, 2016 at 5:08 pm

        Every major weapons system in the arsenal is obsolete. The nature of warfare with an enemy on par with our own tech level has incurred a sea change. Those M1A2 Tank’s are obsolete, that F-35 will be obsolete before the initial order is filled. This conversation and the method we set our Military budget is also obsolete. It is a new day gentlemen, enjoy the new car small while it last and do pay attention to the recently successful laser and rail gun development. By the way Nukes are also obsolete now. As scary as they are we can do the same damage without the radiation effect with the ROD of GOD Kinetic Energy weapons system.

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