In Press: Making the case for Amphibs on NHPR

by Craig Hooper on March 25, 2011

One of the things that sometimes frustrates me about the quality of strategic debate in this country is that it sometimes becomes something of an discount viagra echo chamber–where the converted tend to spend an enormous time preaching to themselves. Public outreach and education sometimes gets a little shortchanged.

But given the challenges we face in the 2020s, the organization that fails to encourage public buy-in will…well…not get funded.

That’s why–at least for the Navy– public outreach is so important these days.

It’s tough. A chance to garner the attention of new audiences–who are unfamiliar with or don’t care about naval affairs–comes about only on occasion, so, it was a great pleasure to see New Hampshire Public Radio’s “Word of Mouth” program take a bit of a risk in exposing their audience to the somewhat wonky world of naval procurement.

It was great. They gave me about 15 minutes on March 21 to make the case for naval amphibs. Give it a listen, here. How do you think it went? And

what topics would you suggest for their show in the future?

(Also, I’d be remiss if I overlooked the San Francisco folks who made this possible–a big thank you to KQED (again) for allowing me the use of their excellent studios and for their production help, too.)

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Harris March 26, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Wow, I am impressed that the NHPR host was able to stay with you, and called for the interview in the first place! This is a hard topic for the layman to grasp. Your pick up truck analogy was effective, as well as the emphasis on humanitarian relief.

Gold-plating the fleet is a topic that deserves elaboration. So many aspects of naval operations demand only the most ordinary functions to be effective. For example, fighting piracy does not require an short legged and pricey LCS. A USCG cutter like vessel can perform the mission as well, and for way less money.

Good comment from Smitty, and your point about the JHSV.


Craig Hooper March 25, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Thanks for listening and for the comment–with which I totally agree. It’s just that we cannot seem to get around our penchant for gold-plating stuff to death. Maybe I’m being pessimistic, but the Navy just doesn’t seem to have an apatite for experimenting with the mundane anymore.

It’s one of the reasons why I was eager to see the JHSVs stay with the Army–in the hopes that having a uniformed crew and a non-traditional command structure would offer some interesting fringe benefits via operational experimentation.


B.Smitty March 25, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Good interview. I think the issue of “gold plating” can be observed not just in what is carried by the amphibious ships, but also in the ships themselves. Do we really need $2 billion amphibious “pick up trucks” (aka LPD-17)? What do our allies give up with their Rotterdam class, Bay class, and so on? Maybe if these ships were priced more like pickup trucks, it would be easier to argue for them.

Also, if we can accept the risk, maybe buying commercial-style vessels with similar flexibility might be more cost-effective (e.g. the Afloat Forward Staging Base concept, or building more flexibility into MSC vessels).

What about dedicating some MPF (or AFSB) ships to carry a mixture of trucks and engineering equipment, with an ability to carry their own ship-to-shore connectors? Modern trucks like the FMTV series are built to be up-armored, so they can go from disaster relief profile to low-intensity peacekeeping with a simple armor fit. Trucks are a lot cheaper and more politically acceptable than landing Strykers, Bradleys or M1s, and far more valuable in humanitarian operations. All you have to do is fly in personnel to man them.

As we’ve seen in Japan, Haiti and the Indian Ocean in 2004, the scale and scope of these disasters far out-strips the limited capacity of amphibious ships. While they provide very valuable service, IMHO, we need to think bigger (but not necessarily more expensive).


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