The U.S. Navy spent a decade in the early 2000s building warships that either don’t work, cost too much to build in large numbers or whose designs are fundamentally flawed on a conceptual level. Or all three.
These floating lemons include the speedy, inshore Littoral Combat Ship and the huge, under-equipped DDG-1000 “stealth” destroyers.
Historians might spend decades debating exactly what drove Navy leaders to pour billions of dollars into these ships for precious little return on their investment.
But at least one historian already has a pretty good idea what went wrong. “DDG-1000 and LCS came out of the moment of change and transformation, almost as if, absent a real strategic threat, that change would be our strategy,” said Jerry Hendrix, author of the new book To Provide and Maintain a Navy.
In other words, the Navy got away with building bad ships because it didn’t seem to matter all that much whether a particular vessel design actually worked in the real world. Whether anyone would admit it, the stakes felt that low.
The problem is, the stakes weren’t actually low in the 2000s. While the U.S. Navy treaded water on its fleet design and force structure, the Russian and Chinese navies designed sound, affordable ships—and began building them in large numbers. The Americans’ lost decade allowed the Russians and Chinese to catch up to U.S. sea power.