The Drift

Navigation Brief

WASHINGTON – Good Afternoon, Drifters

We do try to get this email out on Thursday, but the holiday party circuit is taking a real toll on your humble correspondent.

But in fairness there was reason to celebrate last night. As if by magic, the Pentagon Christmas Tree, once devoid of presents, was overflowing with a splendiferous abundance of gifts of all shapes and sizes. This one? Go ahead, shake it. You probably know what it is from the shape: It’s six extra F-35Bs! And that one: it’s REALLY big, and you weren’t expecting it! It says it’s from Uncle Richard Shelby. OMG it’s an expeditionary fast transport ship that nobody asked for but, hey, we’ll take it! (Jokes, just jokes.)

Yes, the Navy’s cup runneth over. Congress sent a spending bill to the President’s desk for 2020. And, like a Christmas sweater in January, Pentagon leaders can neatly fold up their talking points on the evils of continuing resolutions and tuck them away for next year.

So, what did the Navy get for the holidays this year?

Let’s find out in this week’s Drift.


All Good Things

So, let’s get down to business right away.

Things that fly

  • 9 P-8A Poseidon sub hunters
  • 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets
  • 20 carrier-launched F-35Cs and 16 F-35Bs (a plus-up of 6)
  • 6 E-2D Hawkeyes (Plus-up of 2)

Things that float

  • 2 Virginia Class submarines
  • 3 DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyers
  • 1 Future Frigate(!!!)
  • 1 LHA
  • 1 LPD-17
  • 1 Expeditionary Fast Transport (Bonus buy)
  • 2 T-AO Fleet oilers (Logistics!!!)
  • 2 T-ATS fleet tugs
  • CVN-81

Strings Attached

There are a number of interesting things to pull out of the language of the bill. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that the Navy was ordered to perform a six-month study of its maintenance program. You can read more about that here:

US Navy to dive deep into its maintenance woes

The appropriators also echoed the authorizers’ skepticism about the Navy’s newfound enthusiasm for buying large unmanned surface vessels. You can read about that here:

Congress slows the US Navy’s roll toward a robot-ship future

There is a key difference, however, because the appropriators gave the Navy both the LUSVs it was asking for, and we can be happy about that. According to smart people I’ve talked to, in an instance where the authorizers and appropriators disagree, the Navy will go with the last piece of legislation approved by Congress so it will buy two, even though it is technically only “authorized” to buy one.

This comes with a bunch of strings, though:

Excerpt: The agreement recommends $209,200,000 to fully fund two Large Unmanned Surface Vessels (LUSVs), as requested in the fiscal year 2020 budget. The Secretary of the Navy is directed to comply with the full funding policy for LUSVs in future budget submissions. Further, the agreement recommends $50,000,000 for the design of future LUSV s without a vertical launch system capability in fiscal year 2020.

Incremental upgrade capability for a vertical launch system may be addressed in future fiscal years. It is directed that no funds may be awarded for the conceptual design of future LUSVs until the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisition) briefs the congressional defense committees on the updated acquisition strategy for unmanned surface vessels.

FFG(X) Drama

Behind the scenes of the appropriations debate there was some drama around the FFG(X) that made some concerned that foreign bids for the FFG(X) were going to be shut out of the competition, effecting Navantia and Fincantieri most profoundly. But all my sources tell me that the final language that ended up in the bill is a compromise that will not hurt any of the bids. It was around “Buy American” provisions that would have, as originally conceived, forced the foreign bids especially to redesign their bids and perhaps even make their offerings cost-prohibitive for the Navy.

It seems there was a crisis averted. Here’s the language from Congress’s explainer:

Excerpt: There remain concerns with the dependence of the Department of the Navy to source surface ship components from foreign industry partners rather than promote a robust domestic industrial base.

The agreement amends a legislative provision included in H.R. 2740 to allow the Secretary of the Navy to procure certain components for the FFG(X) Frigate program from non-United States suppliers with the direction that United States manufactured propulsion engines and propulsion reduction gears must be incorporated into the program not later than with the eleventh ship of the Frigate class.

Furthermore, the Secretary of the Navy is directed to conduct a study on the impacts of incorporating United States manufactured propulsion engines and propulsion reduction gears into the FFG(X) Frigate program prior to the eleventh ship, and to submit the study to the congressional defense committees not later than 180 days after the contract award of the FFG(X) Frigate. The study shall include estimates of potential changes to the acquisition schedule and any associated costs with incorporating domestically produced propulsion equipment into the FFG(X) Frigate program with the fourth, sixth, eighth, tenth, and eleventh ship of the program. Additionally, the Secretary of the Navy is encouraged to support a robust domestic industrial base with more stringent contract requirements in future surface ship classes.

The Navy was also told that cost is considered a critical factor by congress when deciding on the awardee of the FFG(X).

LCS Chicanery

And, of course, my favorite bit of Congressional absurdity reared its head again this year: Congress hacked away at the funding for LCS mission modules because they are late. Sources have been telling me for years that this is actually causing delays of testing for the LCS modules, which are then used to justify more cuts the next year. “This is the classic self-licking ice cream cone, at this point,” a source told me this week.

You can read about that here:

Congress slashes funding for the Navy’s LCS sensors — again

And now you are caught up!

On to The Hotwash.

The Hotwash

ProPublica is back with more coverage of the 2017 accidents, this time focusing on the John S. McCain collision. Specifically, the installation of touch-screen consoles at the helm. You can read about that here:

The Navy installed touch-screen steering systems to save money. Ten sailors paid with their lives.

The piece raises a lot of good questions about how much training anyone got on the console. The chief charged with dereliction of duty for qualifying the sailors on watch that day had only ever received an hour of training himself, the article claims. That’s worth digging into.

More Reading

The Navy is Buying Equipment that Makes it Easier for Female Pilots to Pee

Navy’s next flattop launched!

Nearly 60 percent of women experience stalking in the ranks, study finds

Lol to RAND Trolling: This study suggests that troops may get paid too much

Russian spy ship lurking off US coast conducting ‘unsafe operation’

Next-Generation Anti-Ship Missile Achieves Operational Capability with Super Hornets