In Forbes: Fix The Darn Hospital Ships, Already.

by Craig Hooper on December 22, 2022

Everybody knows that America’s two big hospital ships are largely useless unless lashed to a pier.

They’re so big that, if we had to fully staff them, we’d have trouble operating some stateside medical facilities–they are THAT big a drain on the medical community.

They’re also too big to work in most ports, and, if the port is imperfect, it’s really hard to get folks on and off the ships from a tricky anchorage.

I’ve been hammering on about these problems for more than two decades now (go look at my publications list!). But, every few years, some bright bulb in DoD someplace forgets how operationally feeble our hospital ships are. Somebody ALWAYS tries to push the limit, treating these old former oil tankers as if they were fully kitted-out amphibious vessels. And then we get into situations where some yahoo (no thanks to the spilt command structure on Hospital ships where the civilian master and the driven Navy mission leader end up squabbling and, where, ultimately, everybody in the command cadre has plausible deniability for any mishap) decides that lugging a personnel-packed small boat 40 feet up to the boat deck at night is a good thing.

Of course, the rigging came undone and we came really, really close to losing a whole lot of people.

Anybody going to get their feet put onto the coals over this latest screwup? Probably not.

This is no way to run a Navy. I know nobody wants to fund it, but we’ve known the hospital ships were flawed from day one. It’s time to sigh and pony up the cash. Let’s get some smaller, more useful hospital/medical ships, staff them (!!) with volunteers on a medical school debt forgiveness program (!!!) and then actually put them to real use as part of a coordinated regional strategy (!!!!).

It can be done. I mean…look, if MercyShips can field two hospital ships–albeit pier-bound ones–for the annual DoD equivalent of chump change ($130 million), the Navy can do something similar. We’ve been debating about hospital ships for decades, and, because they aren’t a neat whiz-bang fit with the ‘ole warrior ethos, nobody funds them. They’re the Light Amphibious Warships of the maritime medical set. I mean, it’s not all bad. Getting a few EPF hospital “ambulances” into service is nice, but, again, nobody’s lashed these craft to an actual strategy. And with nobody really sure as to how they’ll actually be used, they’re just, well…I fear they’ll just sorta sit.

Meanwhile, over in China, somebody’s gone and developed a comprehensive strategy for medical support and is building a fleet to match. And, before long, those boats (two large, two medium and a bunch of tiny ones) are going to be all over Africa, the Caribbean and the Indo-Pacific, while we sit, either dithering or freaking out, frozen over a fatal hospital ship catastrophe–a catastrophe that is going to happen aboard the old hospital ships if we keep pushing those old oil tankers into amphibious support roles.

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Some Fun Coast Guard Reads In Forbes:

by Craig Hooper on December 14, 2022

Over in Forbes, I’ve put up a few Coast Guard pieces–a summary of the USCG funding proposal in the NDAA, and a suggestion that the USCG toss the troubled C-27J MPA for a mix of C-130s and the V-280 Valor, the Army’s choice for a replacement of the epic Black Hawk helo.

The first, looking at the Army’s decision to move forward with a second-gen tiltrotor, really crystalizes some concerns about the Coast Guard–and other utility-oriented players. For decades, the Coast Guard has been content to be a “second mover,” taking mature products and adopting them to USCG needs. That’s great when USCG and military requirements match.

But military requirements are changing. The “warfighters” are pushing more towards artisanal assault assets, and de-emphasizing raw utility. We’ve seen this in the USMC evolution towards the MV-22. Years ago, during California fire season, the skies were full of CH-46s doing bucket work at the latest/greatest wildfire. You don’t see that anymore. MV-22s don’t seem to do well hauling water, and they cost more to operate.

It’s pretty obvious that the V-280 Valor will be hard-pressed to meet the USCG’s SAR standards. But I think there is a niche role for the platform in the Pacific and Caribbean. In time, they might be very good for the DC air interdiction effort, or for tracking things in the Gulf. But we don’t know yet. My sense is that the USCG should get into the game, test the platform in a less demanding mid-range MPA like role with VTOL benefits, working to marinize the tiltrotor for island work. If anything, the Army will be grateful, and, heck, they might even be willing to pick up some of the cost.

I am also a little concerned at the Coast Guard’s stance on future rotary wing assets. For years, the line was that the Coast Guard was going to neck down the the UH-60, and then follow along wherever the Army’s Future Vertical Lift took us. That’s great, but…it was pretty obvious, pretty early that the FVL decision had a strong likelihood of failing to get the Coast Guard a good solution. Was anybody from the Coast Guard in the room for FVL? Was this something USCG should have had more input/vision on? I don’t know.

I’m really proud of the USCG NDAA. A lot of things that I pushed for made it into the NDAA.

One of the big “wins” is the $630 million slated for the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore. Remember, back when I had to chide Senator Wicker for leaving the Coast Guard Yard out of the SHIPYARD Act? I’m glad to see that Maryland’s Congressional delegation pushed for Coast Guard Yard funding, and that Wicker supported it, but…it would have been nice to see the two parties pull together more overtly. But with that small irritation aside, I’m really amused to see the Coast Guard Yard go from zero to something of a SIOP hero. It’s a testament to the forward planning done at the yard over the past several years.

Likewise, I’m pleased to see the Congress demand a list of shore improvements the USCG expects over the next seven years–as well as a study on what USCG might need in the Western Pacific. This is great. It forces the USCG to plan–just like it did with the Coast Guard Yard–and it lets Congress know what the service needs. So…it drives strategy and helps the friendly Coast Guard keep from getting bullied and its lunch money stolen by an aggressive CBP.

And, finally, I’m thrilled to see the Congress demand an aviation study. I have wanted more insight on this for awhile. Coast Guard availability rates for the aging Dolphin helo are, at best, a shell game. So is the UH-60 conversion rate. Congress will need to dig to make sure the Coast Guard isn’t blowing smoke, but, at least it is a start. (This isn’t meant to be a dig at Elizabeth City, but my sense is that they need to scale up pretty quick, and the only way to do that is to fund ’em.)

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Watch Those Little Cracks Around The Edges

December 2, 2022

In the aftermath of the holidays, a few ugly old Navy bugbears are popping up. In one week, we have a fire aboard a carrier, another leak–this time of some nasty firefighting foam–at Red Hill, a near-collision in San Diego harbor, and now news that four sailors at Norfolk’s MARMC died by suicide just this […]

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In Forbes: A Depressing Piece

November 9, 2021

It’s really frustrating to go back and read mishap reports from the last two decades. They’re all the same. They all indicate the same general problems–folks that take too many risks, don’t know their equipment, and fail to institute normal procedures. In essence, they’re basically picking and choosing what rules to follow. The Officer Corps […]

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In Forbes: It’s Time For The Navy To Start Talking About USS Connecticut’s Future

November 3, 2021

Not to be a downer, but the Navy has, in the space of a little less than a year, probably lost a second multi-billion dollar frontline asset. First the Bonhomme Richard, and now, possibly, the USS Connecticut. The last time a sub publicly suffered a controlled flight into terrain was in 2005, and the ONLY […]

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In Forbes: US-French Collaboration on Mid-Sized Carrier Design?

October 24, 2021

Over on Forbes, I’m banging away at the opportunity Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron have this week to deepen an ongoing Franco-US maritime relationship at the G-20 meetings. I have long extolled the strategic value of France’s strategically-useful maritime holdings, and, as we are already working together on maritime security and carrier integration, we should […]

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In Forbes: An Irked Senator Roger Wicker Goes “On Record” Over The Coast Guard

September 17, 2021

Mississippi’s Senior Senator, Roger Wicker, has been pushing for two things–a simple, full accounting of Coast Guard needs as well as full funding for the Coast Guard. And he’s gotten none of them. As you can tell from his comments, in the article here, the Senator is fed up. That’s good. Maybe some righteous indignation […]

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In Forbes: Mike Gallagher’s Great Lakes Push is a Breaker Too Far

September 13, 2021

If you want to know about defense journalism and the state of the Coast Guard in relation to the rest of the Uniformed Services, just look at the latest HASC markup. Defense media got the topline messages–that the HASC had grown Biden’s defense budget by $25 billion, and that the Navy got several ships. They […]

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In Forbes: Coast Guard Yard Funding–Staying Alive

September 8, 2021

Well, we’ve come a long way from where we started four months ago–back when I pointed out that the Coast Guard Yard was left entirely out of the Shipyard Act, a massive, $25 billion dollar effort to fund all the emergent needs at the Navy’s four public shipyards. Now, it looks like my pestering may […]

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In Forbes: Using Buoys As Maritime Autonomy Ground-Truth

August 31, 2021

I have a small piece in Forbes discussing what buoys–the original maritime autonomous systems–can offer our hype-driven race for autonomous maritime systems. The answer is, basically, ground truth. Buoys are so mundane, and have so much sea-time, that nobody bothers to shape their performance rates. And, after more than a couple centuries of design refinement, […]

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