The Zumwalt-class Destroyer

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Currently under construction at Bath Iron Works in Maine, the second Zumwalt-class destroyer being readied after sea trials. The first, the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) was commissioned 15 October 2016, and this one – the Michael Monsoor – is slated for commisisoning in January 2019 (Estimated).

[This photo was taken on a lighthouse-viewing cruise out of Boothbay harbor. Not pictured is the Security tug floating very prominently between us and the ship, making sure our boat didn’t get too close.]

A lot of information about this class of ships can be found at Wikipedia.

The military funding and procurement process is a byzantine labyrinth that few can understand, fraught with politics and pork-barrel legislation and contractors vying for a slot at the government trough. But the story behind this project beggars the imagination, given that the Navy originally wanted 32 of these destroyers, and ultimately settled for three, with $9.6 billion in R&D costs spread over all three ships for a total cost of $7.5 billion per ship.

As if that weren’t bad enough, this class of vessel was designed around an Advanced Gun System, but the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) that was the only projectile usable turned out to be so expensive after the scale-back of the destroyer program, between, $800,000 and $1 million per shell (per shell!) that the program was cancelled altogether.  Designing a new shell would involve retrofitting the AGS, also unfeasible, and the Navy was left struggling to figure out how to re-purpose an obsoleted multi-billion dollar ship.

For what it’s worth, the ship does have some intriguing qualities, including its ultra-low radar profile, but one is left to wonder how such massive fiscal cock-ups could be allowed to occur.

According to Ed Prince, a political pundit who worked on numerous campaigns, there are five basic reasons for cost overruns in defense contracts.

  1. Congress/military keeps changing the specs. Nothing increases the costs like having to make changes mid-way through production. It also delays the production which increases prices.
  2. Conflicting needs missions of the armament. In an attempt to keep costs down, weapon systems will have to do multiple duties to meet the different demands of the military so instead of a clean, straight-forward system, a much more complicated one gets authorized even if it more costly.
  3. In an effort to curry favor with Congress, weapons manufacturers scatter the development and manufacturing process to as many Congressional districts as possible which is hardly an efficient way to build things and invariably causes over-runs.
  4. The current system often relies on former military personnel who have retired and then gone to work for the defense industry where they can earn many multiples of their military salary. It does not make for efficient oversight.
  5. Reality. If a program is going over-budget, what can the military do? Cancel the project? Presumably, they still want it. That would delay it even longer and that’s assuming that there is another contractor capable of producing the system.

Clearly, there may be a whole host of other reasons, but these seem reasonable to the layman’s eye. And since I’m neither an economist nor a military strategist, I really have no solutions to offer – but as a taxpayer, I know that this kind of expenditure, along with failed projects that have nothing to show for the money spent, rub me the wrong way. (The F-22 Raptor, close to $80 billion spent on 187 aircraft, has seen some service, but remains fraught with operational and training problems.)

Lately, despite 45’s tax cuts (which have been definitively shown to favor the wealthy over the course of the next 10 years), I keep feeling that tax season is creeping more and more in this direction:

2018 Tax Form

Now I know taxes are necessary in any republic the size of the USA, but I wish taxpayers had the right and privilege of indicating where their taxes were going. I’d be tempted to give all my taxes to the arts and education, and let the Navy hold a bake sale for their next advanced technology program.

No, that’s not practical, and the Constitution provides for the Common Defense, so a certain amount to maintain our armed forces is necessary, but I wish our legislators had more fiscal responsibility toward their taxpayers than to the lobbyists and corporations that fill their re-election war chests. That’s why it’s important for concerned citizens who favor progressive government to get their fannies into the voting booths this November, and henceforth forevermore.

In that vein, I realized that just a couple of tweaks to a famous song recorded by Nancy Sinatra makes it very relevant to today’s political landscape (with apologies to Lee Hazelwood!)

You keep saying you got something for me
Something you call yuuuuge but confess
You’ve been a’messin’ where you shouldn’t ‘ve been a’messin’
And now someone else is getting all your best

These booths are made for voting
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these booths are gonna vote all over you.

You keep lyin’ when you oughta be truthin’
You keep losing when you oughta not bet
You keep samin’ when you oughta be a’changin’
Now what’s right is right but you ain’t been right yet

These booths are made for voting
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these booths are gonna vote all over you.

You keep playing where you shouldn’t be playing
And you keep thinking that you’ll never get burnt (HAH)
I just found me a brand new box of matches (YEAH)
And what he knows you ain’t had time to learn

These booths are made for voting
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these booths are gonna vote all over you.

Are you ready, booths? Start start votin’!

The Old Wolf has spoken.