So, with only a few hours left in the Bush Presidency, what went well, Navy-wise? I think many of us can agree on a number of things that went, ah, badly, but…what Bush-era naval projects do you want to see continued in the Obama Administration?

Personally, one of the things that went right for the Bush Administration was the Trident SSBN conversion to SSGN. That conversion, shifting a Trident-missile carrying SLBM sub into a combined SEAL-Taxi and Cruise Missile carrier, was relatively cheap (given the alternative of shedding a high-value hull with a lot of life left in it), offers the Navy some new insights on operating an arsenal ship, and gives DOD a nice test-bed for new tech. It isn’t a perfect platform, by any means, but having 16,000 tones of sub around to play with will be darned useful.

What fascinates me is that the converted Tridents are being shopped about as one of the few positive examples of SECDEF Rumsfeld’s “transformation.” Tom Donnelly on the pages of AFJ:

“And some of his signal successes, such as the conversion of Trident submarines into stealthy, cruise-missile-laden “arsenal ships,” were relatively modest expenditures.”

Or Robert Kaplan, in the Atlantic:

“Against Navy resistance, he led the effort to refit ballistic-missile submarines with SEAL delivery vehicles in place of Trident nuclear warheads, to make it easier to land special operators on beachheads.”

Good lord. That’s not transformation…it is just the evolution of a proven platform. We’ve used old Boomers as SEAL-taxis ever since SALT I forced the retirement of Ethan Allen Class Polaris boats!

In 1984 and 1986, the John Marshall and Sam Houston were converted and served until 1992. The Lafayette Class SSBN conversions, the Kamehameha and James K. Polk served in the SEAL-carrying role from 1992-3 until 2002 and 1999 respectively. Heck, the Kamfish was useful enough to keep in service for 37 years–a service record that should, by itself, be enough evidence that the SEAL conversions/SSN transports were, ah, liked. And now, with the converted Tridents, we’ve more than doubled the displacement and kept the SEAL/SOF contingent at 65 (give or take). That’s a lot of extra space–and a lot of power–for all kinds of nifty goodies.

As far as transformation goes, these platforms will be as transformational as our leadership–and the stuff we put in them–permits. With that, my friends, these platforms will lead to the kind of change we can believe in.

So what else went well? What Bush-era naval projects/initiatives should be kept on in the Obama era?


Posted by Defense Springboard in Navy, Policy

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  • How about the reduction in the price of the new Virginia class subs from over $2 billion each to about 1.5 billion each? One of the few shipbuilding programs coming in on time and with few faults. Also the belated forming of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command and riverine squadrons.

    Plus the use of high speed vessels in littoral operations such as Swift, Spearhead, and Westpac Express.

    I think the USN was mostly hard on itself, refusing to stop building Cold War legacy programs after 9/11 even as potential enemies devised ways of getting around our conventional naval superiority. A few canceled programs such as the needless DD-21, new carriers (and enough with the DDG-51s already!) early on would have saved billions and gotten true littoral ships, possibly off-the-shelf, in service sooner rather than as the war in the Gulf seems to be winding down. Small and affordable warships is the only way of beefing up ship numbers, but the leadership seems oblivious to this proven fact.

  • Spade

    Gonna vote for the Virginia class too.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Feb’s PROCEEDINGS has an excellent article from Captain Bruce Lindsay, USN, regarding recapitalization of US Navy warships. His subtitle says it all. “Writing off perfectly good ships and aircraft before the end of their life cycle is a shortcoming of the transformation era.”

    This is the unfortunate legacy of the Clinton AND the Bush years. The maddening waste from the loss of the Virginia CGNs, the Spruance DDs, the non-VLS Ticonderogas, and now the Austin-class LPDs with but a few VERY expensive, albeit more technologically advanced replacements, has been the impetus for several spirited discussions here regarding conversions and SLEP/FRAM programs, to try and redeem further value from these modern and capable ships being sent to their fates.

    The loss of capability, surface combatants, NGF platforms, and amphibious lift, is not being replaced in kind, let alone enhanced, by the new programs, even when we can manage to build new units. Captain Lindsey’s well-written article asks the most important of questions: What level of technology is required in today’s environment? Or, as VADM Blackham is quoted as asking; “Do we want all of our ships to be cutting-edge technology when not all our mission require that level of sophistication?”

  • Rubber Ducky

    Unclear that the SSGN is a bargain. Neither capability – Tomahawk from a submerged platform nor swimmer delivery – are SSGN-unique.

    Arsenal ship would be/could be much less costly means to put a lot of birds in the air at once. So can several SSNs & surface warships. Might even be target limited for a full SSGN laydown.

    Test for swimmer delivery is frequency-of-use. If often, dedicated platforms make sense. If not very often, any SSN from the existing fleet would do.

    Opportunity cost of having 4 SSGNs is 4 submarine need slots already filled and less pressure to build new boats. Preservation of the industrial base and of the submarine training tradition may most important aspect of submarine programs for this period. It’s not like we had anything in blue water to use them for.

    To Burleson’s excellent point about the Navy’s continuation of Cold War legacy programs being a major hindrance to the Navy now: blame three actors for this, Rumsfeld (he chickened out), the naval contractors (boundless greed), and individual Congressmen and Senators (‘what’s good for my District is good for the nation’). It takes time to shape a navy and steer it to new missions, threats, opportunities, and taskings. We’ve lost 8 years.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    DD-21 and CG-21 (which the Bush admin cancelled) was approved in the late 1990s, long before Rumsfeld arrived on the scene. To blame everything on the outgoing administration connotes that everything will change with the new one. But these issues go back to the post-Gulf War drawdown, and far more entrenched than a single administration. The “Transformation RMA” discussion began in the mid-1990s, and has been a buzzword that has replaced common sense in at least two administrations, and possibly a third.

  • I would suggest the Navy has improved in virtually every aspect that doesn’t depend on Washington DC, SSGNs being an exception. After building only one SSN per year for 8 years, I give Bush no credit for the Virginia class.

    The list should include AEGIS BMD, Soft Power strategic focus, Fleet Response Plan, Carrier and Expeditionary Strike Group organization, training, etc…

    But like I said, these things have nothing to do with Washington DC, so giving credit to any politician would be a mistake.

  • Moose

    I have to go ahead and parrot Galrahn’s thesis: Things which had nothing to do with Washington improved, anything that politics had a hand in either didn’t improve or got worse.

  • Rubber Ducky

    URR: valid comments, but thread topic was last 8 years … and opportunity to stop the programs was there.

  • Big D

    Face it, guys, floaty things got somewhat short shrift during a time of major land operations, when the enemy didn’t have much in the way of floaty things themselves. It’s not like floaty things got a lot of attention during the previous decade, either–name one shipbuilding discussion other than Arsenal Ship that made it into the public awareness in the last 20 years.

    That said, the Navy did not help itself much, either. In the absence of White House (or, to an extent, Congressional) attention towards floaty things, they had a fairly free hand with regards to both strategy and shipbuilding (within rough dollar and political limits) since the end of the Cold War. The result? Badly managed programs (endemic throughout the services), billion-dollar battleships with no thought to frigates (much less riverine units or other small boys), and a refusal to admit to *anything* so strong that they willingly perjure themselves before Congress to avoid admitting that their cost estimates are wrong.

    The Navy is adrift, and has been so since REFORGER ceased being their primary focus.

  • Bill

    None of the ‘floaty things’ with whihc I had any involvement seem to even qualify as ‘legacy’ programs…to me, the word legacy carries with it the impliction that more than a few were even paying attention or were evene aware of it.

    LSC/X-Craft/’Sea Fighter’: The baby borne from the CNR and Duncan Hunter in a ‘back room’, largely out of view..yet regarded by many as a successful small, fast and agile sea frame.

    Streetfighter: What it was originally envisioned to be..before it morphed and grew in to LCS..or was supplanted by it.

    MK V SOC (and larger) replacement: Missed opportunities abound..including the disgracefully ill use of the RNoN US deployment of KNM ‘Skjold’ and the wealth of technical documentation that came with her; an open opportunity to absorb a lot of information about a very capable fast combatant craft that turned, instead, in to a nice extended US vacation for her Norwegian crew. At least the CNO got to drive her once.

    Its been clear to me that a lot of the folks on the pointy end of the spear want and need the floaty things I and others like me were involved in over the last 8 years. But they are all relatively small, relatively cheap..and no CO is ever going to make Admiral on the basis of having the command of any of them in his jacket.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Understand, but blaming GW and Rummy for Clinton programs is like blaming a guy for not killing another guy’s terrible child. But seems to me your point about Congress and the contractors is the biggest. The true example of Ike’s Military-Industrial complex. Contractors wowing senior officers into spending gazillions on bells and whistles not needed for weapons systems of dubious usefulness. Having said that about contractors, the US Navy does itself no favors by demanding inclusion of highly experimental capabilities, and then expecting the shipbuilders and developers to assume all risk when (surprise!) the technology development isn’t as easy as was wished for. No other industry would tolerate that.

    So the three I would “blame”, would be those same contractors, NAVSEA (for their lack of vision, requirements discipline, and direction), and Congress. Which, by the way, has been shared more or less equally between parties since ’93.

    When you ask the end users (Sailors and Marines) who have to employ these systems in combat with their lives and the lives of others on the line, the terms you hear for requirements are “reliable”, “rugged”, “survivable”, “effective”. When you get to the senior folks, the Admirals and Generals, you get “technologically advanced”, “state of the art”, “network-capable”, and the like. Both speaking English, but hardly talking the same language.

    How to fix???


  • FOD Detector

    First, the USN has to define its mission. They’ve tried most unsuccessfully in recent years. and it’s been a dog’s breakfast.

    Second, it’s highly misleading to claim shipbuilders and designers have been asked to “assume all the risk.” The problem is and has been the fact shipbuilders/designers have been all too willing to sign up to price tags they know they cannot possibly meet. “Bid is different than execution” is a favorite mantra.

    Third, we need take a hard look at the industrial base issue. It’s abundantly clear we’re buying ships of dubious quality for bazillions of dollars. I think we ought to look at overseas yards for procurement of hulls and plants; mission systems could be added over here.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    “it’s highly misleading to claim shipbuilders and designers have been asked to “assume all the risk.” The problem is and has been the fact shipbuilders/designers have been all too willing to sign up to price tags they know they cannot possibly meet. “Bid is different than execution” is a favorite mantra.”

    Everyone knows you make your money with change orders….

    Don’t swallow your coffee spoon, but you are right. Not all the way right, but right. The point made by some in the industry was, however, that even if you played it fair, the Navy would prevent you from staying solvent, in that the builders indeed assume all risk. The “bid is different than execution” then becomes a matter of survival. It would seem that a fix is required from both sides.

  • Rubber Ducky

    “blaming GW and Rummy for Clinton programs”

    C’mon, folks: Clinton left office in January 2001. Everything since has been defined and determined by the gang that took over – it DID happen on their watch.

    Contractors: “over-promise and under-perform.” Some of these corporations build business plans around mission creep, requirements growth, and sunk-cost-logic. That’s not risk, that’s manipulation. Were I a shareholder, I’d cheer. As a taxpayer I’m allowed to view bleating about risk with skepticism.

  • Bill

    Fod Detector said: ” I think we ought to look at overseas yards for procurement of hulls and plants; mission systems could be added over here.

    Or they will come over here..Fincantieri will be building the next Lockheed LCS hull(s), having bought out Marinette. Austal (JHSV builder) is in Mobile building those. Umoe (Norwegian builder of Skjold and Oksoy class naval vessels) is looking to establish building capability in the US..and so on. But none of those are for the ‘big stuff’ admittedly.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “C’mon, folks: Clinton left office in January 2001. Everything since has been defined and determined by the gang that took over – it DID happen on their watch”

    You render your arguments dubious when you insist on the view through political lenses. The problems go a lot deeper than that and are not administration-specific, despite your insistence otherwise.

    And your comment about contractors over-promising and under-performing is not incompatible with the Navy’s insistence on experimental technology as a design requirement. In fact, they work together to make things worse. And become so inextricably entwined that they are infinitely more complkex to fix.

  • Rubber Ducky

    A. The politics do matter. Our defense posture and Navy would be vastly different had Gore taken office in 2001. Better or worse is an argument of unknowns, but different surely.

    B. Examples exist of sound programs at the leading edge of technology through decades. Special Projects/Director Strategic Systems Programs fielded Polaris, Poseidon, and Trident with profound reliance on contractors without anyone going broke or out of business.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    “Examples exist of sound programs at the leading edge of technology through decades. Special Projects/Director Strategic Systems Programs fielded Polaris, Poseidon, and Trident with profound reliance on contractors without anyone going broke or out of business”

    Maybe it’s time to revisit how we did that, and what the rules were then. Me, I would be VERY interested in a USNI article looking at those successful cases.

    I didn’t say politics didn’t matter. But they are not the only matter. Following your previous logic, the upcoming refueling situation with Enterprise is now Obama’s fault. Yet, CVA(N)-65 was authorized and designed during the Eisenhower administration. So, like the new guy or hate him, he does inherit the residue of the decisions of those before him.

  • Rubber Ducky

    “So, like the new guy or hate him, he does inherit the residue of the decisions of those before him.” And gets to change them in time to steer a new course.

    Re Trident etc. – Not past tense – the program continues successfully and has persisted through competence, leadership, and genuine government/private-sector partnership through all the rules and rule changes since 1956. In a nutshell, that’s what’s worked: competence, leadership, and genuine government/private-sector partnership.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    So, Trident is a successful legacy of the Bush administration?

  • Rubber Ducky

    Sure. So is indoor plumbing.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Can’t have it both ways, Duck. Can’t shell out the blame for the bad and withhold praise for the good. Unless those political glasses are even thicker than they appear.

  • Rubber Ducky

    The IOC for Trident II was in the ’80s.

    Concern with the last (O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’ He chortled in his joy) administration is its misuse/abuse of the military instrument. It’s been much used up and we are not in good shape right now to deal with any new threat. The hundreds of billions spent in the Iraq adventure could have had better use, for the military and for the nation in general. That’s not a very original – or political – observation.

    To praise of the last 8 years?

    Transformation was a good try at moving the military out of its rut. But retention of the Cold War legacy programs sent mixed signals and impeded the effort. Then Iraq swamped all initiative from OSD and transformation was lost to its critics.

    Art Cebrowski’s net-centric warfare and his StreetFighter/LCS were excellent initiatives and moved the needle, but the LCS has fallen on hard times and is but a shadow of its premise and promise.

    The F-35 is the replacement we need to stay in the tailhook aviation business. Now get it built.

    Our ships are wired to a degree never before. The VIRGINIA-class SSN is a technological wonder (and perhaps a capability searching for a mission).

    Our military men and women have stature and standing with the American people not seen since WWII. Unfortunately, veterans programs, care for the wounded, the state of Guard and Reserve, and (previous thread) placing the whole load on a tiny portion of the population cannot be counted as positive legacy items.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Anything you say, Duck. All bad and none good.

  • I’m time-limited and I’ll jump in with some of my own thoughts later, but I just wanted to compliment everybody. Good discussion.

  • Rogue

    I’m a little surprised that Mike Burleson’s comment on Navy Expeditionary Combat Command didn’t generate some discussion. Overall I think NECC is successful, and grouping the various capabilities within one command was a good thing, but I don’t think it was necessarily transformational. Transformation would have involved more utilization of the Navy’s existing expeditionary combat capability (read: the Marines).

  • Does anybody think that NECC will outlast the Iraq and Afghan things for more than a few years? I feel like NECC has “this is a temporary” thing written all over it.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    As one of my old COs used to say; “Success is no indicator of how well things work”. It will be too bad if NECC is looked at as a temporary expedient, because it seems to have potential to help focus the USN mission in the GWOT. But you are likely right that the concept will not continue much after OIF and OEF.


  • Well, when the land wars end and the “focus on the primary mission” guys get a spare moment, NECC will be awfully hard to hide! The only way I see NECC surviving is if there’s totally a sea change in the way evaluators do their business. At present, we’ve put waaaay to much emphasis upon the “primary job” and shedding those things that don’t fit. And (you can tell) I’ve got issues with that..

  • sid

    The only way I see NECC surviving is if there’s totally a sea change in the way evaluators do their business.

    One of those rare times we agree Spring 😉

    The intellectual capital necessary to chart the course forward in these post-Mahanian times is gestating in places like this.

    Thats if the invaluble collective experience isn’t left to die on the vine…

    I was a bit dismayed by what I read in LT Welle’s Jan ’09 Proceedings article. It appears the USN and the participants see the whole process as an imposition on what the USN -and thier carreers- are really about.


  • sid

    I would opine that until WWII, many (if not most) in the USN held a much more expansive view on “expeditionary” operations, and I would peg this to the wide exposure of duty in the longstanding fleet commitments in China.

    Indeed, sailors fighting ashore was a core mission that didn’t fade away completely until the 1970’s.

    Its been over a decade since the USN first breached the post Cold War reality with “Forward from the Sea”, but the USN still hasn’t come to grips with the fundamental change (hesitate to phrase it this way given all the current rage around “that” word these days) that Capt. Hughes describes in his Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat:

    Perhaps the navies of the world should no longer refer to “naval” tactics at all. It is more reasonable to think in terms of littoral tactics that include warships.

    Cultivating the experiences of “Sandy Sailors” will help this process along.

  • sid

    For some “Forward Looking History”, I would highly recommend delving into the life and times of J.H. Morrill.

    A self-described Annapolis grad “Regular”, Morrill spent a fairly routine (for then) career first as a Blackshoe, and then later in S boats.

    The beginning of WWII found him in command of the USS Quail (AM-15), where he was confronted with a desperate Littoral Warfare experience action packed enough to fill a best selling book.

    E1 and CDR Salamander have covered his exploits better than I can do, but I was struck by the sentiments he expressed in his second book, “The Cincinnati”. I would say he is a man for these times…

    After his escape from Corregidor, he was, “be-medalled and praised”, and sent to a debriefing with ADM Leahy…

    The Admiral met me at his door with a handshake and, to my surprise, opened our talk with this single request: “Tell me how the Japanese army went about capturing the Phillipine Islands.” Thereafter, we discussed nothing except land warfare, for a total of about three hours. We developed a rapport based on mutual interest with regard to joint operations, but it was not the usual concept of such operations. We believed that not just the top echelons, but all up and down- from top commanders to the lowest ranking soldiers and sailors- should be trained together and fight together! (The script of this book describes such operations.) It was a cataclysmic thought at the time. It was a vision of the future.

    Prescient words…


    From Washington, the Bureau sent me where they thought I ought to be- a tour of duty as Navigator on the cruiser Santa Fe. It was one step up the ladder of promotion for me, second only in importance to becoming the Executive Officer of such a ship. However, compared to where I had been, it was dull and humdrum duty. It was not enough! I asked for a transfer to the Navy’s newly created Amphibious Forces, where, rumor had it, there was combat action.

    Any “sandy sailors” coming home with this mindset?

  • Jay

    I think NECC will last as long as there are partnership missions (training, etc.) with other small Navies (Africom?) etc., where they have no blue-water capability, therefore, nothing for SWOs, etc. to do with/for them.

    Similar to some of the training the USCG conducts with countries West Africa countries right now, small boat ops, rescue, patrol, anti-smuggling, etc.

    As for the other missions the Navy (and USAF…) has volunteered for (to assist the Army, etc.) — convoy, anti-IED, etc…those are truly NOT Navy tasks (unless you are a Seabee or a Marine & you need to know that stuff). I suspect the Navy will draw down out of that stuff as we draw down out of Iraq.

  • Chap

    SSGN was a submarine force idea advocated by OP02/N77/N87 years before the 43 administration. Aspects of it, such as the Polaris SSNs, were in the water decades before. SSGN was opposed by CNO Clark until Congress forced it to be added to the budget.

    I say this from experience: Use of the SOF insertion function depends on fleet commander willingness to analyze risk/reward and conclude reward is worth it. Usually the fleet commander (or potential beneficiaries such as CTF-76) don’t even know the asset’s in place or nearby, and available for their use in a given situation. We did exercises to prove the concept since about forever, though.

  • Concur. Is the Fleet Commander still kept in the dark re: underwater assets? Yikes. I thought that square had been circled. Or is it just unwillingness/unfamiliarity of the individual fleet chief to not leverage the asset? Hmm. Interesting comment.

    Gotta wonder if Rumsfeld I, back in the Ford Admin, was for the transport modification of the SSBNs….I’ll bet he was…

  • The concept goes back to the Makin Island raid and Fluckey’s missile launch to the Japanese mainland in WWII. This ain’t new.

    The fleet commander knows what’s in his fleet, but sometimes the commander or supporting staff doesn’t know what the stuff can do or is not willing to take the perceived risk. They may know that ship ‘x’ is within 300 miles of the hot spot, but know that ship ‘x’ can do new and useful tasks. This is a big deal; getting the concept and risk/gain right for tanks and aircraft carriers in the interwar years changed the war.

    Some of the issue with using the asset is information stovepipe complicated by resource limitations–CTF 76 never worked up with Kam, for instance; wasn’t his fault, really, since nobody put two and two together in order to make it happen, and the nation lost out when the capability would have been useful. Some is dog-in-the-manger–if the guys who use the asset now give the asset to someone else, they lose out. Some is not doing the risk assessment at the COCOM level and thinking through when they’d use the asset.

    Submarine force is working on it and have made great strides since the 90s. To be more effective with the asset, others have to listen and take the appropriate risk.

    One day I went into the wardroom from a very hard watch period, sweat-soaked, utterly exhausted, wrung out from the effort of doing what we were doing where we were doing it. A SOF officer looked up at me, and said “You know, we were doing this on boat ‘x’ in 1983.” At some point proofs of concept have to prove something. That’s the original basis for my gripe.

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