Voyage of the Damned

At its current rate, the Navy might reach 200 ships more quickly than it could ever get to the big 3-0-0.

In this latest chapter of Follies Afloat, the USS New Orleans (LPD 18) (probably cursed from the moment she was named for the City that God Forgot), recently fell well short of Navy inspectors’ standards.

Just shy of unseaworthy, the second of the Northrop Grumman-built San Antonio class of amphibious vessels reportedly has a “degraded ability to conduct sustained combat operations.” (This is probably bad.) Inspectors found the ship “could not support embarked troops cargo or landing craft.” (Again, bad news for a combat vessel made to carry hundreds of combat-ready Marines.) This amphibious transport dock is a part of the first class designed to carry “the Marines’ new tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft; a new amphibious assault vehicle, the AAAV; and the landing craft air cushion, or LCAC.” (At this rate, it might not be schlepping any time soon.)

But hey, it’s all in the family, and the Big Easy’s big sister, the San Antonio (Remember the Alamo!) (LPD-17), also has been plagued by — misfortune? (Gasp!) Mismanagement? Last week the crew waived bye-bye as the rest of Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group and 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked from Norfolk, Va., for the Middle East. The problem: a broken stern gate. The ship reportedly has been in Navy hands since 2005, so it seems reasonable to chalk this up, at least in part, to captain and crew. But nothing is ever that simple, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth over a gate belies deeper issues. We’ve come to know the well-worn tale: a ship, millions over budget and years behind schedule. The current culprit: Northrop Grumman.

Some have opined the Navy took possession of the ships too soon, though it might have been a necessary move since the vessels were so far behind schedule. But was the schedule blown out of the water possibly because of (dare we say) the Navy’s insatiable appetite for CHANGES to every seafaring vessel to come within striking distance of PEO Ships

What is the outlook for a 300-ship Navy, a number so close, yes, and yet so far? Repeated blasts through the budget-sphere, a series of self-inflicted (50-cal) gunshot wounds, an ongoing struggle to manage programs, and the challenge to remain relevant highlight the difficulty, though the Magic Eight Ball says the Bruised and Gold will get there: “Signs point to yes.”

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