Hard times

Posted by lex, on August 26, 2006


Just four years after we nearly lost the boat, and barely a year after we spent $50 million reconditioning her, the Navy plans to decomm our last surviving diesel submarine, the USS Dolphin:

Axing the Dolphin will save the cash-strapped Navy about $18 million annually, said Capt. John Schwering, director of the Navy Range Office in Washington. The Navy’s budget this year is $125 billion.

Some military analysts say the Dolphin’s unique missions will get pushed over to ships that are far more expensive to operate, thus costing the Navy more in the long run.

“It’s just ridiculous. This submarine is very valuable,” said Norman Polmar, an independent naval expert who rode the Dolphin during its return-to-sea trials in the fall. “It’s money, money, money.

I don’t have deeply held opinions on the value of diesel boats to a blue water Navy, but most professional submariners I know get gas pains when, every few years, some well-intentioned set of pols or pundits say that they think we ought to buy more of them. But the larger story behind this decision is the elephant in the room for the Navy these days –

A supporting role in the expensive Iraq and Afghanistan wars frequently has put the Navy behind the Army and Marines in the queue for funds at the Pentagon.

“There’s a concern within the Navy that they are not as central to the global war on terror as the Army and Marine Corps,” said Ron O’Rourke, a military budget analyst for the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. “There’s a perception that they are at risk for becoming the bill payer for the other services.”

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s office is considering a transfer of $23 billion from the Navy and Air Force to the Army in 2008, with more shifts likely before 2013, the newsletter Inside the Pentagon reported this month. The White House also stuck the Navy with most of the nearly $2 billion tab for President Bush’s border-security effort, according to the journal Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

At the same time, the Navy is struggling to replace an aging fleet with modern warships whose development costs are spiraling. The new vessels include the CVN 21 aircraft carrier, the Zumwalt-class destroyers, the Littoral Combat Ship and the Virginia-class submarines.

So here we are, looking under the cushions for spare millions every other day or so. Strangely enough, our operating tempo isn’t much higher than it’s ever been for most of the force – SPECWAR, Prowlers and P-3’s excepted – but considering the acquisition bow wave built up over the Clinton “peace dividend” years, it couldn’t come at a more uncomfortable time.

We’ve gotten so used to chasing down budget bogies of late that it takes a big number to make us blanche and go all thoughtful, comparing the fleet we’ll leave to those behind us to the one that we inherited. It’s often said ironically that “Well, just remember – these are somebody’s future good old days.”

Hard times.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Navy, Neptunus Lex

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