Politics, Budgets and Naval Procurement

2 January 2020. Moderator. Canada is no stranger to the politics of naval procurement. We have all wondered about a procurement decision. Naval projects usually involve huge sums of money so the stakes are high. And there are competing agendas. Politicians have to be cognisant of budgets, employment and national sources of defence materials, and some of them consider only the size of the navy, rather than its capability. Shipbuilders and industry representatives want the contracts for their products. And the navy wants to be able to do its job based on its assessments of the risks and with the best technology and platforms that can be afforded within the budget envelope, but it also needs to overcome inertia and the weight of traditions.
It’s interesting, therefore, to watch what’s happening in the United States. The political push and pull is evident in discussions involving the US Navy, the Department of Defense, Congress, budget administrators and the White House. A memo recently sent by the White House Office of Management and Budget to the Department of Defense is very interesting. It goes against the White House plan to increase the USN to 355 ships. The memo outlined cuts to shipbuilding programs – i.e., the USN’s Flight III Arleigh Burke destroyer program, cutting five out of the 12 proposed over the five-year Future Years Defense Program. As well, it pushed a Block V Virginia-class attack submarine out of the 2021 budget, dropping down to one from the planned two. And it slowed down the 20-ship FFG(X) program, ordering just one in 2021 and 2022, instead of the planned two each year.
To cut operations and maintenance costs, the US Navy has accelerated the decommissioning of four cruisers and will possibly cancel service-life extensions on some older cruisers. It is also planning to retire early the first four littoral combat ships, and three dock landing ships. More emphasis may be placed on unmanned vessels.
These discussions have, naturally, raised red flags for all sorts of interests. Members of Congress in districts with shipbuilding or naval technology enterprises are unhappy, industries are concerned about lost sales, shipbuilders want a steady stream of contracts, workers worry about jobs, strategists debate whether a navy with a few big ships is more effective in today’s world than a navy with many small ships, the navy worries about being able to operate and maintain ships within the budget, and the White House wants a 355-ship Navy. It’s a conundrum. Read an interesting article in Defense News by David B. Larter, “Proposal for sweeping cuts to US Navy shipbuilding, force structure could herald a new strategy, experts say,” 27 December 2019. https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2019/12/27/proposal-for-sweeping-cuts-to-us-navy-shipbuilding-force-structure-could-herald-a-new-strategy-experts-say/#.Xg3s1cMnIbU.email

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