The issues with the F-35B’s exhaust gasses, and the MV-22 Osprey’s as well, damaging the decks of America’s “L class” ships is nothing new. What is new is that America’s latest amphibious assault ship, the USS America, designed without a well deck to embark beach landing craft and their assorted tanks and vehicles, instead being focused on aviation operations, cannot handle the aircraft it was purpose-built to deploy.
Now think about that, the Navy decides that the MV-22 and the F-35B are so important to their “gator navy” that they build a much less versatile version of what traditionally are highly versatile ships known as Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs), that cannot even handle their primary function that compromised the class’s range abilities in the first place. Basically, the LHA-6 “America Class,” as it is designed today is an aircraft carrier. Sure it looks like the Wasp Class LHD that proceeded it, but once again it totally lacks the ability to deploy vessels from its stern. Instead it is built with Marine aviation almost totally in mind. Such a deviation from the proven Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) concept is controversial to begin with as the US Navy already has close to a dozen massive nuclear carriers that can handle more capable and longer ranged traditional fixed wing naval fighter aircraft. Yet the fact that the deck of this new “state of the art” ship, that cost upwards of six billion dollars to design and field, cannot even provide sustained flight operations of F-35Bs and MV-22s because of the heat involved with exposing the ship’s deck to their exhausts. This is so bad, so wasteful its disgusting.
Hearing these officials trying to spin such obtuse designs blunders over and over again is getting so damn old and tiring that it is hard to even read these articles anymore. So the Navy says the next two Amphibious Assault ships won’t have this problem, jus the six billion dollar one they already have purpose built to operate these aircraft. Yet this is not an issue because according to Captain Mercer (quoted in the article) these aircraft carriers were not designed for sustained air operations? How contradictory is all this? Maybe the captain should look back to 2003’s Operation Iraqi Freedom, where amphibs were used as “Harrier Carriers,” embarking two dozen Harriers for combat operations (see picture below), and that was an operation to oust an impotent dictator, not a protracted peer state conflict in the Pacific! Or what about the recent “Operation Odyssey Dawn” over Libya, where an LHD, and its Ospreys and Harriers, were used instead of a nuclear powered CVN for air operations? News flash, you sound like a bunch of incompetent idiots that have no stewardship of America’s treasure or strategic dominance. They should take that ship, remove its proud name, and let it sit in dry dock until the manufacturer can install a deck surface that can sustain constant sustained flight operations of anything in the inventory presently or planned. If both the Osprey and the F-35B are exceeding their engine exhaust temperatures that were stated in relation to America’s deck design, then the manufacturers of these aircraft should pay for its refitting. In other words, it’s time for serious accountability.
I am sure that some of you are reading this and the response is “jeez every new system has problems.” Guess what, you are part of the problem and I envy your ability to find employment where such small thinking and low standards are acceptable. This bait and switch defense procurement situation, one that has become eerily circular in nature, is a much larger threat to national security then uneducated men in mud huts with AK-47s. A foe which we have spent trillions targeting and killing for over the last decade with little to show for it. If we cannot put a deck on a ship strong enough to complete its central mission than we do not deserve to remain the world’s super power. It is as simple as that.
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane here to see what we are up against. While the very namesake ship of our country cannot even support the aircraft it was designed to handle, even though we spent billions researching and developing this new “class” of ship, look at what China did with a rusted hulk. Seriously, look at these before and after pictures of the one-time Russian aircraft carrier hull Varyag and you tell me who will rule the seas in the coming decades. We have lost our resourcefulness and ability to work a problem efficiently. We throw piles of cash at designs in the hope that the money will mend their wows, when in reality its bad engineering in and bad capability out. Maybe we should drop all this CAD design and go back to slide rules. The Nimitz Class, the SR-71, and the damn Saturn V were built without a fraction of the automation we have now and in much less time than it would take today, with greater results than we could ever muster in this sad day and age.
The services, as much as they complain about tight budgets and declining investments in new technologies, are spoiled beyond belief. They can burn through national treasure at breakneck speeds with little to show for it without any sort of repercussions. Oh and to the guy who says “this diatribe does not sound like supporting the troops,” you too are part of the problem. Just thinking the military-industrial complex can do no wrong because some of those associated with these blunders where a uniform or have been deployed in harm’s way is asinine and indicative of a limited view of the complexities of America’s defense procurement issues. Supporting the troops means giving them equipment that actually works, in large enough numbers that they can actually be effective, while not bankrupting the nation in the process. Yes the number one threat to national security is our monetary policy, not China or the boy ruler of North Korea, and definitely not those aforementioned lunatics flying black flags on their vehicles and sleeping on dirt floors with their arms wrapped around their rusted AK-47. We have to get a handle on our priorities here and stop letting trumped-up boogeymen, low information congressional delegates and the civilian side of the defense apparatus get the best of our nation’s strategic future.
Some may be yelling at their screen right now saying “good lord Tyler it is just the deck of a ship,” fine, factually you are right. I will argue that this faulty deck, on a ship named USS America ironically, is a perfect metaphor for the mismanagement of our nations defense capabilities. If we cannot even built a boat that has a deck robust enough to do what it was already controversially intended to almost singularly do, for six billion dollars, then kiss your supremacy of the air and sea goodbye. We might as well just start negotiating a one-sided treaty with China over who controls shipping in the Eastern Hemisphere.
The Littoral Combat Ship, the F-35 program, the DDG-1000 and the list goes on and on of big promises, failed concepts, and hollowed capabilities. If the Navy were not in bed with its contractors, and congressmen were not pork gobbling gluttons, this ship would be returned to the manufacturer and funds would be withheld until it can handle constant cyclic operations as it was designed to. Alternatively, if its Lockheed and Bell/Boeing’s fault, that they built aircraft too hot to deploy on their intended motherships, then stop orders of these over-complex and gold-plated machines until they fix their exhaust temperatures or provide the USS America with a deck it can actually use. Anything else is bordering on criminal and the US tax payer and the individual war fighter is once again the voiceless victim.