If Politicians Want Infrastructure Spending — Why Not Reboot Our Shipyards?

Written by Wes Walker on April 27, 2021

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Democrats are desperate to spend gazillions of dollars. But strangely, their areas of interest have little to do with the stated Constitutional role of the Federal Government.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The energy and activism in the Democrat party right now is on the political left. Even those who don’t share the views of the hard left are afraid of being primaried by someone more extreme than themselves.

AOC has explicitly threatened to make a list and do exactly that, and while she might be a little light on presenting coherent ideas, she’s well-versed in the gamesmanship of raw, bare-knuckled political power. Don’t forget, she studied under Ted Kennedy.

She made the following comment recently.

Justice is a municipality and a government that does not — because it trickles down right? — that does not value military and armaments more than it values health care, and education, and housing.

It was factually wrong, of course, (National Review debunked it here) but she didn’t let that stand in the way of using it to make her point. Perhaps she’d still defend it as ‘morally true’.

Since this year has had so much hoopla about defending our institutions and all that jazz, it might be helpful to remember what the Constitution says our federal government is FOR.

Right there in the preamble are two phrases she, and others, are steadfastly ignoring.

“…insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence…”

Considering how they have raged against the dangers of Russia and used the first impeachment process to make the case that Trump was endangering Ukraine and helping Russia by slightly delaying the money they would use to buy more anti-tank missiles.

By that straightforward logic, Dems must be in favor of a military strong enough to be a functional deterrent against our most dangerous adversaries.

It’s a strange position for the party that gave us Sequestration to hold, don’t you think? Especially when their latest military budget is unlikely to even keep pace with inflation (especially when it comes time to pay the piper for all of this profligate pork the Democrats have been throwing around).

Here’s a disturbing quote from last summer:

America’s shipyards lack the repair capacity the Navy needs in peacetime, let alone during war, a Navy admiral said Tuesday. –DefenseOne

What are we up against?

Here’s a headline (and opening paragraph) from 2017:

High-speed production: Chinese navy built 83 ships in just eight years

The Chinese navy (the People’s Liberation Army Navy or PLAN) has, over the past two decades, augmented its fleet with new capabilities and platforms to control the near seas and fulfil the country’s Blue Navy Dream. By 2050, China is likely to have the largest navy in the world, unless the US navy overcomes its resource crunch. The quality of ships, their armaments and performance is comparable with most modern countries. — ThePrint

More recently, Reuters in 2019.
China’s vast fleet is tipping the balance in the Pacific
The Chinese navy, which is growing faster than any other major fleet, now controls the seas off its coast. Once dominant, the United States and its allies sail warily in these waters. A former U.S. naval officer says China’s advances have caught America napping.

And from a Forbes piece at the end of 2019, featuring a photo of a Chinese shipyard cranking out new warships.

Behind them is the shipyard with its mass of construction halls and cranes. In the basin where the newest ships are docked after launch are another four destroyers. Again there are both Type-052D and Type-055 ships. Together with another Type-055 under construction on the left of the image, this brings the total number of large destroyers visible to 9. To put that into context, the Royal Navy’s entire destroyer fleet is just 6 ships. And this yard is just part of a much bigger construction program.

There are also some hovercraft which will be carried aboard the PLAN’s expanding fleet of amphibious warships. They will be used for transporting tanks and supplies from ship to shore. These are generally similar to the U.S. Navy’s Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC). —Forbes

The 2020 China Military Power Report to Congress describes their growth this way:

“Two decades later, the PLA’s objective is to become a “world class” military by the end of 2049 — a goal first announced by General Secretary Xi Jinping in 2017. Although the CCP has not defined what a “world class” military means, within the context of the PRC’s national strategy it is likely that Beijing will seek to develop a military by mid-century that is equal to — or in some cases superior to — the U.S. military or any other great power that the PRC views as a threat. As this year’s report details, the PRC has marshalled the resources, technology, and political will over the past two decades to strengthen and modernize the PLA in nearly every respect. Indeed, as this report shows, China is already ahead of the United States in certain areas, such as:

> Shipbuilding: The PRC has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines including over 130 major surface combatants. In comparison, the U.S. Navy’s battle force is approximately 293 ships as of early 2020.

> Land-based conventional ballistic and cruise missiles. The PRC has more than 1,250 ground-launched ballistic missiles (GLBMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The United States currently fields one type of conventional GLBM with a range of 70 to 300 kilometers and no GLCMs.

> Integrated air defense systems: The PRC has one of the world’s largest forces of advanced long-range surface-to-air systems — including Russian-built s-400s, S-300s, and domestically produced systems — that constitute part of its robust and redundant integrated air defense system architecture.

More striking than the PLA’s staggering amounts of new military hardware are the recent sweeping efforts taken by CCP leaders that include completely restructuring the PLA into a force better suited for joint operations, improving the PLA’s overall combat readiness, encouraging the PLA to embrace new operational concepts, and expanding the PRC’s overseas military footprint.

Not only are they ahead on shipbuilding, we are very limited in our ability to ramp up our capacities in a hurry even if someone declared war against us and we had the unified political will to do so.

This was the state of US shipyards in 2019, and a clue as to what was exacerbating the issue:

The U.S. Navy’s four public shipyards are overwhelmed. Budget documents show that their workload exceeds their capacity by 117 to 153 percent — that is, there’s too much to get done and too few dry docks to do it. And despite reams of studies detailing the Navy’s maintenance challenges, official Washington is overlooking the obvious solution: open a new national shipyard.

The stakes are high. Today, 71 nuclear-powered submarines and 11 aircraft carriers depend upon maintenance at old, creaky public shipyards in Maine, Virginia, Hawaii, and Washington State. These taxpayer-owned yards are essentially living historical sites, centuries-old facilities that struggle to accommodate cutting-edge naval platforms. Norfolk Naval Shipyard, founded by the British in 1767, will need a refit to maintain new Ford-class aircraft carriers. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard began operations in 1800, and it has been challenged to accommodate the ever-growing fleet of Virginia-class submarines, the future mainstay of America’s attack sub force. Add in the constant threat of sequestration and budget cuts, and these vital pieces of U.S. industrial history — the last remnants of a proud 12-national-shipyard empire — are stretched to the breaking point.

…There is an alternative: add a national shipyard. This will make the recapitalization of the existing public yards far easier and, ultimately, far less costly to the taxpayer.

The shipbuilding industry hates this idea. Over the decades, company executives and their lobbyists have been enormously successful in pushing Congress to eliminate their competition by defunding taxpayer-owned ship maintenance and repair facilities. — DefenseOne

It can’t still be as bad as all that, can it?

“We don’t have enough capacity for peacetime,” Ver Hage said during a Navy League webcast Tuesday. “We have so much to be proud of, but we’re not as effective or efficient [as we should be]. We can’t get ships delivered on time with the predictability that we need today.”

The admiral pointed to the lengthy times to repair the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyers were heavily damaged during separate collisions with commercial ships in 2017. It took nearly three years to repair the Fitzgerald and more than two years for the Navy to repair the McCain.

It will be a “massive effort” if the Navy chooses to repair the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship severely damaged in a fire last month, Ver Hage said.

If we don’t have the shipyard capacity to repair and maintain our ships in peacetime (neglecting repairs that will in turn cost us years of functional use of many ships in our fleet), how can we hope to keep up with our need of both repairs and production in the event that our peace should be broken?

How many times will we have to learn from the hard lessons of having to make do with antiquated equipment from a long-ago war when we are drawn into conflict before we realize what a heavy price we always pay for being unprepared?