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Flightline Friday Monday Edition: The Navy That Was January 25, 2016

Posted by Tantumblogo in disaster, Flightline Friday, foolishness, fun, history, non squitur, sadness, scandals, silliness, Society, technology.

I was stunned to read in the latest issue of Combat Aircraft that the United States Air Force is down to 54 fighter squadrons (and still dropping).  That includes the Air Force Reserve and National Guard.  In 1987, the USAF had 38 1/2 fighter wings numbering over 130 squadrons. So the Air Force is less than half the size of it’s Reagan-era peak.

Speaking of bygone glory days and steadily deteriorating capability, I got this excellent photo off Foxtrot Alpha showing a whole bunch of ships from the late 80’s which have been entirely retired:

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That’s BB-62 New Jersey followed by BB-63 Wisconsin with CGN-9 Long Beach and a Sprucan and a couple of maybe Knox-class frigates in the tail.  That’s a whole lot of firepower, and it’s all gone, gone gone.

Long Beach was the world’s first nuclear powered cruiser.  She was paid off in 1995.  All the Spruance class destroyers, built at great expense in the 70s and 80s, were retired in the 90s and early 00s – at least a decade or more early – even though they were still immensely capable. But Navy BLACK shoe surface warfare types decided it was more important to keep building billion dollar destroyers than to adequately maintain and recapitalize the Navy’s air fleet.  Now carriers go to sea with maybe 50 aircraft, instead of the 90+ they used to.  And, there are only 9 carriers, down from 15 in the 80s.

The Knox Class frigates were not particularly good ships, they were another questionable product of McNamara’s time as SECDEF, had limited capability and were not good handling ships with their single screws.  But, they were useful for convoy escort and could carry a helicopter, making them valuable for antisubmarine warfare work.  But no particular loss there.  The bigger loss is that once again, the Navy retired an entire class of ships (the later, much more capable Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7)) built in the late 70s and 80s during the 90s and 00s.  I guess a few struggled on into this decade.  They are to be replaced by nearly worthless ships called the “Littoral Combat Ship,” which was the product of a zany and possibly unstable man named Admiral Cebrowski who always wanted to build a vast fleet of small, not very capable boats (the same highly flawed mentality is resident in the Air Force in types like Pierre Sprey and Chuck Riccione, who forever argue for “cheaper” (re: less capable, apt to get more pilots killed) aircraft. Discount everything they have to say).

The problem is, the numbers never get built and even if they do, they aren’t much more than targets in their present configuration.  They have almost no anti-aircraft or anti-missile defense, and what they have defends nothing but themselves (they are not good for convoy work or defending other ships, like amphibious warfare craft).

The Navy has also developed the ~$10 billion dollar, 15,000 ton (that’s a WWII heavy cruiser, plus) “destroyers” of the Zumwalt Class.  Those are so expensive only one or two will be built, and their core design was horribly compromised 15 years ago by something called “tumblehome.” Tumblehome = sinking almost immediately if hit and being very unseaworthy.  Think of a boat built upside down with the wide part way down in the water, and the hull narrowing as it goes up.  So for every foot of water the ship takes on, it wants to sink faster, as there is less and less buoyant surface to keep it afloat.

Sorry for all the detail that probably goes over most people’s heads.  The long and short of it is that the Navy has been spending a very large procurement budget (larger than the other services) on exceedingly questionable priorities.  Surface ships have seen very, very little combat since Vietnam. But aircraft have been employed constantly in warfare going on over two decades straight now, and the Navy has given short-shrift to the aviation budget since the end of the Cold War.

I – and I am far from alone (but I’d like to hear what our resident Naval aviator has to say) – believe that is due to the Navy still being dominated by surface warfare admirals, who tend to favor funding for “their” sector of the Navy at  the expense of their black shoe aviation rivals (and it most certainly IS a rivalry).  This is a prime argument to me for keeping a separate Air Force, as you need at least one service whose core mission is air power and which cannot be placed on a lower priority as aviation sometimes suffers in the Navy and Army.

See how much I can read into one pretty pic?

BTW I am not an advocate of putting the battleships back in service, as Trump recently advocated.  They are manpower hogs and while almost unsinkable by modern weapons (OK, torpedoes remain a grave threat) they don’t really represent a capability that is lacking anymore.

What the Navy and Air Force do need is planes, newer and somewhat cheaper (than the F-35) planes.  We cannot afford an all stealth fleet.  They cost too much to build, too much to operate, and they are very costly and difficult to keep in operation.  I actually saw a proposal to put the F-22 back in production from a serious source within the Air Force.  That is almost as stunning as the admission at the top.  But that won’t happen as long as the fool who cancelled the greatest fighter aircraft ever built (except for the Crusader!) after 187 were built (and all development paid for, and flyaway price plummeting) leaves office.  Yes, I’m looking at you, fool:


One more:




1. Brian E. Breslin - January 25, 2016

Tantum, The Knox Class was a waste of valuable money and time, the Perry Class were hard workers but overburdened. The Zumwalt, though Bath built, is just ridiculous.

Tantumblogo - January 25, 2016

I may be being too kind, I don’t remember much about them. I know the single screw was not good and the power plant was prone to breaking down – a very bad combination. They didn’t have much armament.

So any thoughts on LCS, Freedom or Independence?

Brian E. Breslin - January 26, 2016

My time in, Tantum, was spent with the P-3 guys, for three years, which also fortuitiously allowed me to get to know, work, and play with some of the FFG Navy in Bath. And then on down to Kittery for two more years with the sub guys, both fast attacks and boomers. So I was used to being part of the Navy that had nothing to do with the big surface types. Therefore I find the Littorals quite interesting for today’s type of missions, reminding me of literature’s Hornblower’s early commands that could pull off fast in and out raids and expeditions. However, they do seem quite vulnerable to bad guys with even simple missile systems. I guess we shall see.

2. Joe - January 26, 2016

Tantam, I cant find a way to contact you but I was wondering if you could visit my blog and take a look at my recent post and then share?

3. Edison Frisbee - January 26, 2016

I thought Naval Aviators were the “brown shoe” crowd…..but I’m an Army guy so take it with a grain of salt. The Navy can’t stop buying uniforms (so many variations) while the Army can’t buy one good one!

Tantumblogo - January 26, 2016

Did I say it backwards? Brown shoe = aviator black shoe = surface type. Sorry if I screwed it up.

4. Mike - January 26, 2016

What does “paid off” mean?

I agree it’s scary. We’re like the Germzns in WW2. HD the pNther tanks …….very expensive snd complex. Only a relatively few were built. The Russians,on the other hand, built thousands of relatively simple but tremendously effective T34 tanks. The rest is history.

Tantumblogo - January 26, 2016

Paid off = retired, decommissioned. It’s a British term.

5. Kevin Shook (@DFWSHOOK) - January 26, 2016

Got to tour the New Jersey in the mid 80’s. Very impressive ship in person.

6. Tim - January 26, 2016
7. Blaine - January 26, 2016

Okay someone beat me to it, but can you please correct the brown shoe vs. black shoe thing – our friendship is on the line here. I’m kidding. Sort of.

I will analyze the post and respond soon, promise.

By the way, I flew down the Elizabeth River last Thursday at 500′, past the Wisconsin docked in downtown Norfolk (it’s a museum ship now), and remarked to my buddy how awesome it still sits. Majestic. And could be brought back into service.

Tantumblogo - January 27, 2016

Dang if I didn’t mess it up. That was not ignorance, that was just somehow getting my wires crossed.

8. Edison Frisbee - January 27, 2016

One more to go: “who tend to favor funding for “their” sector of the Navy at the expense of their black shoe aviation rivals (and it most certainly IS a rivalry).”

Don’t want you to lose your friend….Navy guys are so sensitive… ; )

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