This is a guest post by frequent MO commenter James.
The Navy’s ship designs are lessons in progressive futility
Originally, a ship’s main costs were in its armor and engines; crew costs were cheap. So in pre-Power Point land, the armor was scrapped as “unneeded” or “useless” and, above all, too expensive in an age of atomic weapons. So we lost the manufacturing base to build armored ships, but ships would be cheaper!
Then, the atom bombs did not fall. Somebody asked, “how will our ships defend themselves without armor?” And so the dream of walls of air came into being. The rattle of Power Point presentations proclaimed the era of situational awareness, missiles, and enhanced survivability through improved damage control and crew access would lead us to the promised land.
“We can defend our ships via improved situational awareness and active defenses!” cried the theoretical admirals. But alas! The walls of air proved to be immensely expensive. (And only worked when you turned them on [See USS Stark] and did not often work as well as hoped. [See HMS Sheffield] The dirty little secret of the walls of air is that they could be overwhelmed with little effort, yet hope was always around the corner – [See Aegis weapon system, see beam-forming radar….] So expensive were these walls of air that we could no longer afford to have a 600 hundred ship navy. So we had fewer ships with cheap hulls, somewhat fewer men, expensive engines and really expensive electronics. So we lost the manufacturing base to build ships, but our ships were theoretically much more capable!
Yet still, the voices cried, “how can we defend our ships since the walls of air will not?”
“We can defend our ships via stealth… and improved situational awareness and active defenses!” cried the theoretical admirals-turned-defense-contractor-lobbyists. And on came the DD(X) – while the ship costs as much as an aircraft carrier and less capable then ship it purported to replace, it would actually save money by reducing the crew size as everyone knows the real expense of ships is the crew! Now some would point out that stealth on a 700-foot ship with an X-band radar wielding radar guided missiles is an oxymoron, the theoretical admirals would have none of it and pushed the DD(X) ever on.
But disaster struck and the country ran out of money for the DD(X). So the theoretical admirals turned the LCS. It would be cheaper–we could build lots of them. Alas, since we only had two ship builders, we would have to let them both build the LCS and, to make things better, each LCS would have completely different designs.
And so the LCS was built for 500 million. [Two LCSs would cost the same as an Aegis cruiser without those pesky defense radars or weapon systems.] Alas many compromises had to be made. There was not enough money for walls of air, so the electronic defenses had to be cut. There was no ability to armor the ship since those companies when out of business years ago. Men were too expensive, so the crew was cut to the bone – but “smart ship” technology could fill the void. The miracle weapons of the era could not be used since there ship had not the electronics to support them. So there was only one thing to do – build really big engines so the LCS would run away!
Now the scourge of the sea has come back to haunt us–Pirates! What does our Navy say? We do not have the ability to suppress the pirate scourge. Not enough ships or men to do it.