Send in the Carriers! What Carriers?

By Peter Galuszka

The stunning slaying of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ultra-violent Islamic State terrorist leader, on Oct. 25 by U.S. Special Forces in northwestern Syria was the most spectacular such endeavor since  Osama bin-Linden was dispatched in Pakistan in 2011.

President Donald Trump, under attack for withdrawing most American forces from war-torn Syria, got a big, temporary bump from the raid in which no U.S. service people were lost.

But one might ask the question of why the raid got its start by helicopters based in Iraq? They had to roar in at very low altitude under dangerous conditions on a flight that lasted more than an hour. They risked being shot down by Russia, Turkey or Syria.

Wouldn’t it have been easier if they were launched from an aircraft carrier sailing much closer in the Mediterranean?

One answer seems to be that many aircraft carriers just weren’t available. Six of them were stuck at port in Virginia undergoing maintenance or their construction had been delayed by unexpected problems.

The very fact that so many essential warships are not available raises serious questions about how Trump and his chaotic, revolving chair approach to military leadership is hurting U.S. national security not to mention government overspending. You don’t hear much of it on this blog but American’s budget deficit has risen to nearly $1 trillion after years of decreases under President Obama. That’s an unwanted fact among the right-wing participants on this blog.

Let’s take a look at which super carriers are in port, according to media accounts:

  • The U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower is undergoing prolonged maintenance at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
  • The U.S.S. George Washington is halfway through a makeover at Newport News Shipbuilding.
  • The U.S.S. John C. Stennis has arrived in Norfolk and is expected to begin a mid-life refueling and other makeovers at Newport News in 2021.
  • The U.S. Harry C. Truman is still in port with electrical issues.
  • The U.S. George H.W. Bush is in port for 16 months of maintenance than may now take 18 months.
  • The U.S. Gerald R. Ford, the poster child fro shipyard screw-ups, was supposed to deploy in 2018 but that may be 2024.
  • The only carrier available near the war zones is the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln.

The Ford is the big enchilada of problems. During sea trials in 2018, its propulsion system failed and it had to limp home to Newport News. More recently, half of its 11 weapons elevators have failed. They use a new electrodynamic design pushed by the Navy that will get aircraft on the flight deck loaded with bombs and missiles faster, allowing up to 30 percent more sorties than before.

The massive screw-ups have caught the attention of freshman U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, a Democrat who knows something about Navy ships. She graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served aboard surface warships as a nuclear propulsion officer. She has locked swords with Trump administration officials in the Pentagon about the issue.

For Virginia, the problems are embarrassing. Hampton Roads’ great concentration of Navy bases and shipyards has been a huge asset compared to other states and the source of great employment. It is amazing that so much bad work and overspending is going on under the Republican administration of Trump.

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22 responses to “Send in the Carriers! What Carriers?”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    With the advent of relatively cheap UAVs and Cruise Missiles – aircraft carriers have become giant floating targets that on the ocean can fend off would-be attackers but near land they are now exceptionally vulnerable.

    Way back in 1988 (30 years ago) the Aegis Cruiser USS Vincennes shot down a civilian Iran Air Flight 655 because it was coming towards them, and they could not verify whether it was a weapon coming towards them or something else.

    Since that time, the problem has become even worse.

    Now, an adversary could launch dozens of land-based UAVs/missiles to overwhelm any target.

    Who knows how many it takes but the threat is real enough that the Navy is pretty circumspect about deploying large ships near land.

    So Aircraft carriers have become “standoff” far away from land and in the Ocean surrounded by other warships, where they can “see” other vessels headed towards them and get their planes in the air to figure out whether they are threats or not.

    This is primarily why it is so important for the US to have military bases based in other friendly countries. Hard to “sink” land bases!

  2. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    It is partisan insanity beyond belief to blame the Ford’s issues on Trump when its construction spanned all eight years of Obama, and the decisions on the troubled new systems predated even him. You caught me away from the laptop but when I get back….

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    It is good to see a Virginia member of Congress taking the military to task for construction delays.

    One aspect of these discussions always frustrates me. The headlines always blame the government agency (Navy, etc) for cost overruns, construction delays, design faults, etc. People seem to forget that it is always not the government agency actually building the item in question (in this case, the aircraft carrier). A private enterprise company does that. It is usually not clear where the fault lies–who was responsible for the cost overruns, who designed the weapons elevators that don’t work, etc. Do the weapons elevators not work because of poor design or because of shoddy construction? Yes, the government agency has the responsibility to oversee the work and there is likely a lot of fault there. But the private company is probably at fault, as well, but never seems to eat the additional costs; the taxpayer always picks up the tabs for the cost overruns. And the company gets more contracts down the road.

    The work at the Newport News Shipbuilding facility accounts for a lot of the federal money that flows to Virginia. Therefore, it does not portend well for the state when the Secretary of the Navy says, “Faith and confidence with (Huntington Ingalls) senior management when it comes to this project is very, very low.”

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Steve: I have no doubt that some of the blame stretches back to0 Obama and beyond. Still, Trump has been Commander in Chief for three years and his Navy secretary is blaming Congress:

    Dick, Yes, it is good that Congress is concerned. I don’t know enough yet about whose to blame there. Maybe in a later post. The situation is extraordinary.

    Larry, I will never forget the Vincennes. It happened in July 1988. I had to attend the U.S. Ambassador’s Fourth of July Party at the garden of SPaso House, his Moscow residence. It was a formal, dress up affair. The news was abuzz with the Navy shootdown of the Iranian airliner. My Soviet Foreign Ministry handler, Georghi, had it in mind when he greeted me with a very sarcastic “Happy Independence Day!”

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I left the company less than two years ago and sold my stock less than a year ago and if somebody wants to consider me somewhat biased after a dozen years, guilty as charged. The key rule at the yard is that you don’t criticize the customer, and it was ingrained. I also have to be careful to stick to information I know is public, not things I heard inside the company….I can make a few points about the troubled USS Ford:

    When I started with the company in 2006 what was then “CVN-21” for the “twenty-first century” carrier was well into major design decisions. The bottom line problem is that there were too many new systems, untested new systems, and everybody involved saw the risks. Not all were as worried as they should have been. Within the familiar hull design it is amazingly different from the ten Nimitz class carriers, from the reactor to the radars to the cat and trap system and yes, the now infamous elevators. Years ago it was the catapult and trap system that was getting all the attention, and I do recall being very embarrassed when it failed in front of state-level VIP guests one day.

    It is not just the Navy and the construction yard. Most of these systems are built by additional companies. The catapults for example are General Atomics products. Not sure about the elevators. The shipyard builds the hull and structural components, and “integrates” those other operational systems and the weapons systems built by others. If there is a more complicated manufacturing process, I’d hate to try to grasp it.

    Anybody seeking to blame the current Congress is also off base. I’m glad that freshman Luria is expressing concerns ex post facto but Senator John McCain was a fierce skeptic long, long ago. There were others, inside the Navy, on the hill and even inside the company. Trump, you might recall, visited the yard soon after inauguration and left complaining about the catapults. With all the problems, a year or two from now the ship may be in fine shape and ready to deploy on a steady basis. The last captain of the ship is probably in kindergarten if not unborn.

    The key question is – what has changed with the USS John Kennedy, CVN-79, now approaching launch. Have they fixed all the lessons learned on CVN-78?

    As to why so many of the operational carriers are not now deployed, that probably stems from delayed maintenance that kept the ships operational for various reasons until, as somebody probably predicted, things would just back up. These ships are true maintenance hogs, and there is also a reluctance to keep crews out forever. Even if they had all been out there, launching that Delta force raid from a carrier might not have been a better option than a land base in Iraq. Even if the flight time were comparable, what also matters is what territory you cross. Iraq to Syria is not a major hop.

    A while back there was a viral photo of carriers in port at Norfolk and a meme blaming the Obama administration for keeping them out of the fleet for nefarious reasons. It was crap then, and complaints about this now are crap. Two or three operational carriers is more naval firepower than anybody else has. The complaints about the system failures with the Ford are valid, and the finger pointing will continue, but basically it goes way back to a decision in the deep past to load all the new systems onto the first ship.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Thanks Steve. You obviously know more about this than I do.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      There is the right way, the wrong way, and the Navy way – and some people think that is the correct order. It is like so many things today – too complicated, too many people in charge, meaning no one clearly in charge, and way too tempting to make the easy decision and leave the mess to later….DoD didn’t invent this approach, and we’re seeing Boeing wrestle with the consequences, too.

      1. Lost our way, we have, it feels like?
        Where is Adm Rickover when we need him?

  7. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    A la captain queeg!

  8. It’s not like CVs are the only weapon system prone to massive overruns. There is likely something very wrong with the entire military procurement system.

  9. musingsfromjanus Avatar

    Given his last two posts in which most of his assertions are dead wrong, when it comes to Trump it’s a fair bet the truth is the opposite of what Galuszka writes.

    No President in history did more to damage our military than Obama and for him it was a deliberate part of his ideology to reduce America as a superpower. He fired an extraordinary number of generals and starved the military for parts and supplies to the point it was not combat ready anywhere. He did more to arm ISIS and Iran than he did for our military of which a cargo plane with pallets of cash was but a small part.

    Trump has done a herculean job of rebuilding despite implacable resistance from the Democrats.

    On this one, Peter, it’s on the Democrats 100%!!

    Here’s a link you can disprove it you will.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Naval shipbuilding had a bit of a renaissance under the Obama administration, with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus a strong ally. The long lead time on these programs means they usually span more than one president, even with two terms. The yard is now building something else I first heard about more than a decade ago, the new ballistic missile Columbia class submarines.

      Mentioning Rickover makes my main point – there was a guy who clearly was in charge, clearly willing to take responsibility and accountability, and was at the top of the program for a very long and consistent tenure. Comparing the design and construction process of the Enterprise (CVN 65) and Nimitz (CVN 68) with the Ford (CVN 78) will make a great business school case study some day.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        When asked “who was sexiest man she’d ever met,” Elizabeth Taylor without hesitation replied “Hyman Rickover.”

        “Why so,” she was asked.

        “Power”, she replied. “He could order his boss, the Secretary of the Navy, out of bed with her at mid-night in Georgetown to drive down to Navy Department, to give Rickover permission to marry a naval officer.” That permission was required then by U.S. Naval Regulations should two naval officers want to marry one another.

        1. Steve Haner Avatar
          Steve Haner

          Heard a bunch of stories about him from the former Navy “nukes” at the yard over the years. Most important admiral in U.S. history, not excluding Nimitz and King.

          1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            I heard that story directly from Liz herself over drinks after I’d played squash with her husband John Warner.

  10. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Musingsfrom Janus,
    I won’t address the personal insult here, but get to the facts, which are that a record number of military have either resigned with disgust from the Trump Administration or, joining with members of the intelligence and law enforcement communities, have published open protests about his policies regarding his lack of security discipline to his trampling of constitutional rights.

    Let’s kick off with National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who didn’t last long and had legal problems. You’ve run the gamut of H.R. McMaster, John Bolton, Ricky Waddell, Keith Kellogg, Gen. Jim Mattis, Heather Wilson, Sean Stackley – a bunch of FBI people – Rex Tillerson at State. Uniformed officers have strongly and publicly protested his policies such as abruptly withdrawing from Syria and playing strange illogical games with North Korea and Iran. He has alienated our allies at NATO and backed dictators in Turkey and Russia. He has completely alienated the CIA and FBI.

    These are the facts, Musings. So why do you have to make personal insults at me?

  11. musingsfromjanus Avatar

    Your piece on the maritime industry was excellent until you upchucked the last few sentences with your un-footnoted smears.

    I do not intend to insult you personally but you must understand that you regularly insult the President and those who support him, I would say very personally, and to your future embarrassment spewing democrat activist garbage.

    Apply the same standards you did to your Blankenship research and you will come to very different conclusions than the ones you have been publishing the last year or so.

    Your statement of let’s kick off with.. Flynn will end up your most embarrassing feint. Read Sidney Powell’s court filings and do a little research on why the CIA and FBI are seeking to destroy Flynn. That also might cast some light on those whom you say have been alienated by Trump. At some point, you will be very grateful for Trump and Bart’s efforts to rein in this group.

  12. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I do not know who you are since you hide behind a moniker, but I do not. First, in my opinion, Donald Trump is the most corrupt president in U.S. history. He’s incompetent, a liar, a serial rapist, a fraud and the list goes on. I first experienced the Donald in the 1980s and 1990s when I was an editor at a large business news weekly in New York. Trump had such a bad reputation for unethical business deals and self promotion that the only way a story could get printed about him was if the editor-in-chief approved. As far Blankenship, what does that have to do with Trump and aircraft carriers? I spent two years researching him and published a book about him. I also participated in a documentary film. I stand by everything I wrote about him. If you don’t approve, that’s your problem.

  13. musingsfromjanus Avatar

    I use the Musings log in because that’s a WordPress account I had. Seemingly, everyone with whom you disagree is nefarious. I do not hide. I am Steve Gillispie and glad to debate you in person at any time.

    I do not care about Trump’s past. Your list of Trump’s faults is laughably bigoted and belied by his actions over the past 3 years.

    I do not even care about Trump’s personality or speaking style.
    I care about what his administration is actually doing.

    In that regard you can not name a President since Roosevelt who has done more for the United States than Trump.
    NATO – long needed adjustments to payments and responsibilities
    Trade – long-needed corrections to 80 year old Marshall Plan anomalies and China theft and exploitation
    Justice Reform
    Law and Order and Police Relations
    Foreign Engagement
    State and CIA corruption and sclerosis

    You parrot the talking points of those who are defending years of mismanagement, bureaucratic accountability, politicizing and weaponizing the press and government institutions, and Clinton cult misdeeds.

    I don’t post for your approval or disapproval. I post because I think it is important for a counter voice to the bigoted and false screeds you and your activist press propagandists post.

  14. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    With all do respect but seriously, what avwhack job!

  15. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    This is the next election….:) What fun 2020 will be!

  16. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    President Jimmy Carter’s autobiography was titled “Why Not the Best” which detailed his studies as a young naval officer under Rickover.

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