In Press: NextNavy with the National Defense Industrial Association

by Craig Hooper on September 21, 2010

I joined the President of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, C. Michael Petters and Dave Heebner, the executive vice-president of General Dynamics Marine Systems, in a NDIA post on recent shipbuilding developments (i.e. the T-AO(X) acceleration). Here’s what Sandra Erwin, the Editor of their flagship National Defense Magazine, included of my interview:

Lumping the T-AO(X) acceleration with efforts to keep Avondale “on life support” is a politically expedient move, said Craig Hooper, a defense consultant and national security strategist. “This is a good thing. … But I do not believe this will be an enormous help for Louisiana,” he said, because the likely winner of the T-AO(X) contract is General Dynamics’ NASSCO shipyard.

New–and/or additional oilers are a strategic necessity. Rather then expend political capital to get this project going, the Navy let Avondale’s plight do all the heavy lifting. We continue:

“The oiler is supposed to be built on the same hull as the logistics ships T-AKE, which NASSCO already is producing. “NASSCO could build twice the current Navy plan without breaking a sweat,” Hooper said. “The idea of Avondale beating NASSCO in a bidding war over a T-AKE hull isn’t realistic,” Hooper said. “But one can dream, I guess. The Louisiana congressional delegation sure is.””

Well, we suspect the new oiler will have substantial commonality with the T-AKE program. Maybe not. I think we need to look a little harder at the threat picture of 2020 and really wonder if our evolutionary trend towards civilian-spec logistical craft will survive in the complex seas of tomorrow. But, that said, we need more oilers now. So I prefer to just get simple hulls in the water rather than spend a lot of time redesigning. Read on:

Avondale’s chances of winning T-AO(X) are slim to none, Hooper contended, in large measure because it has had performance problems for many years. “Avondale has been a troubled yard for a long time … since it was created,” Hooper said.

Enough said. More:

“From the Navy’s perspective, he said, it does makes sense to move up the T-AO(X) so it won’t have to compete for funding with the new ballistic-missile submarine, the SSBN(X), which is estimated to cost $7 billion a piece and could threaten every other ship program in the Navy. “By getting this program under way, the T-AO(X) gets out from under the funding shadow of the SSBN(X),” he said.

Regardless of the Avondale situation, the Navy sorely needs new tankers, said Hooper. “The aging 15-ship oiler fleet we have today is maxed out.”

Quick! What’s the operational tempo of the Kaiser Class?! I ain’t telling you guys yet, but, rest assured, they’re busy. And finally, something I’ve been hollering about–America must realize that a failure to recapitalize the oiler fleet will make the U.S. Navy strategically vulnerable:

“Current oilers also are creating embarrassing PR problems for the Navy because all but three ships are single-hulled, which violates international environmental standards, Hooper said. Single-hulled vessels have been grandfathered until 2015 but some European ports already are planning to ban them later this year. “By 2020, pretty much everybody else will be safely operating double-hull craft, and well, regardless of the Navy’s opinions about environmental stewardship, it just won’t be a good place for the U.S. to be strategically,” Hooper said. “It’s just not wise. No un-threatened ally thinks highly of a hard-run 30-40-year old single hulled oiler loitering about their shores.”

The U.S. Navy is now aggressively promoting its “green” initiatives and efforts to build a “great green fleet,” Hooper noted. “You can’t have a green fleet served by environmentally unfriendly tankers.”

Now, I want to stress that the in-service oilers are not creating PR problems–yet. That said, in the future, they do risk creating big PR problems–and from that, well, they’d end up being strategic and operational liabilities if the Fleet failed to have double-hulled alternatives readily available. The single-hull ships are technically not illegal, either–naval auxiliaries are exempt from regulation. However, signatories are obligated to work towards compliance. And if America ended up being the only major Navy to rely on single-hulled tankers, well, that’s not a good thing. For a lot of reasons I won’t go into here. Yet.

But the decision to build out the oiler fleet is strategically sound. Let’s get to work.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig Hooper September 23, 2010 at 9:55 am

We’re facing that ugly “large inventory” problem…While smaller, growing navies are either building their first oilers or have only a handful to replace, America has 15+. Replacing such a large fleet takes time–but in the meantime, the world will move on to a more modern standard.


Navigator1732 September 22, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Fully in agreement with you that the current oilers are, to use other famous words paraphrasing your points, “a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

Should one of these single hulls have an accident close to the coast of another country, especially a major, “environmentally sensitive” one (think, e.g., European allies, Japan, some of our Asian allies), it would be an environmental disaster which the Navy and US would have a tough time getting past financially and “reputationally” along with seriously affecting our strategic deployment capabilities, already limited by our undersized oiler fleet.


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