Sea-cret Service

Our boys in Navy Blue have been saying little about programs they once touted as revolutionary — or at least pretty gosh-darn important to the sea service’s future. They are mum about vessels that were supposed to help pave the way to that coveted 300-plus ship Navy that has been all the rage.

The Navy has enlisted the services of (accidental?) surrogates: Members of Congress.

In July, the Navy all but abandoned the Second Coming of the Surface Fleet, slashing the number of DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyers from seven to two, leaving a third kinda-sorta still in play in the 2009 budget. The move apparently was a shocker to longtime congressional backers, many whose districts stood to benefit from Zumwalt contracts. Navy officials claimed the Zumwalt was not the missile platform needed in light of new threats and looked instead to the proven Arleigh Burke class (DDG-51). Unimpressed and unsympathetic, lawmakers demanded a better explanation from the Navy (and probably could smell the indecision and fear from the Navy’s leadership). After the smoke cleared, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, where DDG-1000 is being built at the Bath Iron Works, announced the Navy’s “decision” to move forward with a third ship. We figure, because Collins is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, she and her colleagues made an offer the Navy couldn’t refuse, like a “threat to block funds for all surface warships.” (We cannot confirm rumors that Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Gary Roughead found a severed goat’s head in his bed.) But that third ship remains in troubled waters: The funding is programmed into the Senate version of the 2009 appropriations bill but apparently is not in the House version.

The decade-plus-old DDG-1000 class had been billed by the Navy as the next generation of destroyer. But multimission might not be a good thing: costs have pushed past $4 billion a ship, according to some estimates. Was concern heightened when the Zumwalt flipped in the tank during testing, as confirmed by the Navy following our queries? We’re no naval architects, but it seems reasonable that the Navy can only bolt so much onto that superstructure before the former CNO’s name sake sinks at the pier or goes belly-up.

In what new and exciting ways will the Navy continue to sabotage its own efforts to achieve the magic “313?” Alienating lawmakers is worthy of a Darwin Award.

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