Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Expand the Shipbuilding Base Overseas

The American navy has shipbuilding problems that interfere with expanding the fleet and staying ahead of Chinese technology in the years ahead. Hello Europe.

In the post-Cold War world when nobody could challenge the Navy at sea, it didn't matter that our shipbuilding industry was harming our ability to put quality ships at sea:

Continued production of Burkes and extension of their service life to 45 (or more) years was a matter of cost and bad politics. Reviving Burke production is only a stopgap because the latest Chinese DDG design is basically a Burke and the Chinese are already making some interesting upgrades. In one or two decades China will also have to decide what the next generation of DDGs should be and that will be when China has a chance to replace United States as the leader in warship design and production. China can develop new designs more quickly and build them for less than the United States. The Burke situation is about more than replacing worn out warships. ...

Many senior navy officers are aware that the way warships are procured has changed in the last century, and apparently not for the better. Many other nations do not have the procurement problems the U.S. Navy is suffering from. But attempts to fix the procurement mess constantly run into political opposition. Now the United States is faced with the embarrassing example of China building similar ships more quickly, at much less cost and apparently up to world class quality standards. There are lessons to be learned here.

In the post-post-Cold War world that is apparently beginning, signaled by the 2018 National Defense Strategy that revives great power concerns as the military's biggest problem, this procurement problem is a threat.

Which brings me to Europe. I've long noted that Europe represents a tremendous--if shrinking--concentration of military, industrial, scientific, and demographic assets.

America has an interest in making sure this concentration doesn't fall into the hands of enemies. So we'd have an interest in fighting for Europe even if Europeans don't want to.

Or we'd want at least, to be honest, to destroy the assets that an enemy controls in Europe that could hurt us if mobilized against us.

Given our ship construction problems, perhaps America should partner with European warship builders (excluding the Germans, for now) to build the frigates we need to expand our fleet affordably and with some speed. Why not? Europe can build them. They just don't build many. Use their capacity, eh?

If the Europeans built the hull and installed the basics, the ships could be sent to a partner shipyard in the United States to install the more sensitive equipment.

Wouldn't that help us rebuild the capacity to expand the fleet and replace losses in war?

Wouldn't that be some competition for domestic shipbuilders to motivate them to do better?

Wouldn't that use the asset of Europe? Heck, could South Korea or Japan participate?

Although I freely admit I'm just tossing this idea out there. I don't know how practical this would be.