Mailvox: Borrowed Time

A reader with knowledge of the US shipbuilding industry concurs with my assessment of the USN having lost its naval superiority:

Your analysis about US shipbuilding capacity was spot on. I have an uncle who is an engineer at Newport News shipbuilding (Ingalls). I remember, many years ago, we were having a discussion similar to this topic and it centered on submarines construction.

I didn’t know this but New London, Conn (Electric Boat) can only build sections of the subs. The bow section is built at Newport News. The reason being, Electic Boat lacks the machine necessary to bend the steel in the bulbus shape of the bow section. They sold it off years ago. Newport News is the only shipyard that has that machine. I was surprised because this is an obvious single point of failure.

But then he went to tell me that Newport News is the only shipyard that can install a nuclear reactor. I shook my head in disgust. Right then and there, I knew that we, as a country, were pretenders living on borrowed time.

No amount of glorious history and past success can prevent an outdated power from being surpassed by its successor. Sooner or later, the illusion of invincibility inevitably fades.

UPDATE: Apparently the reader’s take is the optimistic scenario, as someone with direct experience of naval repairs weighs in.

As someone who worked in ship repair on aircraft carriers and submarines at a naval shipyard for [more than 20] years, and on non-nuclear vessels for [additional] years as well, the description given to you of the industry is a vast understatement. The ability for the handful of nuclear capable yards to fix ships has been crippled by a combo of inability to train new workers well, and inability to maintain the skilled workers they do have. “Diversity” pushes women and racial minorities to the top in engineering positions. Some of those may have actually been able to do the jobs they were pushed into if they’d been given the time to build their skills in the way any man would have 10-20 years ago.

In the trades, even a modicum of skill is enough to find yourself fast tracked to a supervisor position before you even finish the apprenticeship program. Admirals appear to think that the lack of capacity to perform can be solved by creating more shipyards. This requires ignoring that the private shipyards can’t hire and maintain skilled labor either, both in nuclear and non-nuclear work. It’s not uncommon to leave a shipyard with many systems in worse shape after “maintenance” than they were in before arriving there. The ridiculous lead times for materials suggests other related industries are in just as bad of shape. As I write this, i’m staring at photos that just came out to my group of [important ship’s equipment destroyed by carelessness].