By Theodore Karasik
Earlier this month, the Traders showed no fear as President Trump’s grand plans for supersizing U.S. military ships, which were expected to cost between $400 billion and $500 billion, were taken apart piece by piece, giving the American public a greater opportunity to see what’s in store.
The president announced on Oct. 15 that he intends to increase military spending by $300 billion in fiscal year 2019, with an additional $110 billion to be allocated to pay for ships to replace the aging America class cruisers and destroyers, as well as a new aircraft carrier.
U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson was forthright about the procurement program during a lecture at the International Security Forum in Aspen. In addition to including additional destroyers, aircraft carriers and missile defense systems for the U.S. Navy, the plans are also to invest in a new build of the Littoral Combat Ship program.
The impact of this will have far-reaching consequences for the U.S. Navy. Specifically, the total number of vessels from the 21st century Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class could increase to up to 50 warships. While that’s a significant increase in numbers, the ships are starting to reach the end of their useful lives and it’s worth remembering that even nuclear submarines are more than 40 years old. The Littoral Combat Ship has been a troubled program from the beginning.
As if that weren’t enough, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is also poised to procure a class of two-class missile defense systems that are also set to be purchased under the Trump’s SPACEO Plans. Among the systems under consideration are the Aegis Ashore Ballistic Missile Defense, a major re-envisioning of the Patriot in order to deter and defend against ballistic missile threats as well as one or more surface-launched anti-ballistic missile defense systems.
While some of the projects brought up by the president do indeed have beneficial technical aspects, one of the main impediments to making this happen and particularly those projects that involve having either the USN or the Department of Homeland Security manage any type of military capability are cost. This is an extremely hard and expensive thing to do — taking away bases or even large equipment installations such as submarines.
The incentive to change the course of the SPACEO projects is likely because they are so expensive and yet new technologies are emerging on a daily basis and this is driving up the cost of new equipment. Meanwhile, there is a new threat emerging from an unexpected direction called Chinese ballistic missile sales.
Rather than build the ships and buy new systems, let’s first improve what we have and decrease the cost. That was Hillary Clinton’s plan during the debates. Hillary Clinton did all of her cost-savings on the defense budget as much as she could in order to “balance” the U.S. budget. Trump, on the other hand, is choosing to spend all the money on cutting-edge capabilities that the enemy is only beginning to develop.
I don’t know where Trump gets his information, but the fact is that it’s pretty expensive to keep money in the budget — better to look at this money as free cash on a big spending day.
More than we spend when it comes to diplomacy, summits or working with other countries. Less than we spend on things like research and development or building things. All that was spent on Trident modernization and the SM-3 missile for the Air and Missile Defense Command was $15 billion.
Just spend money on R&D, more prototypes to test, make adjustments, replace things and see what works. Nothing else.
I think we’re seeing this because the president has really no commitment to making money or spending on our base defense system. Sometimes when you spend money you see new results. The goal of SPACEO is to see what I call SPACEO 2.0 — something that will come with better conductivity, laser, digital, sensor technology and so on.
Trump wants to see it, his defense team wants to see it and the rest of the country is interested in seeing it. Until then, we’ll just have to wait.
Ted Karasik, an instructor at the Naval War College, previously was a naval officer from 1987 to 1998.