June 27, 2007:
An aggressive defense manufacturer
is using massive political contributions to get Congress to force the U.S. Navy
to adopt a new type of warship. L-3 Communications Corporation, the
manufacturer of the experimental Sea Fighter wants to reverse a navy decision
to not put the L-3 ship, "Sea Fighter," into service.
It was two years ago that the U.S. Navy officially
took possession of the first of an experimental ship called "Sea Fighter"
(FSF-1). This ship was built as an experimental ship, to test out a number of
new technologies. The sea trials were successful, and the manufacturer
pressured the navy to put it into
production. L-3 had a case. Sea Fighter took only twenty months to
build, and cost only $50 million. Sea Fighter
was designed to operate as part of the "brown water (coastal)" force the
navy is developing. A larger brown water force would get the navy more involved
with the war on terror. The navy has largely been left out of that conflict,
because of their earlier emphasis on carriers and nuclear subs. Despite the
usefulness of carrier aviation in Afghanistan, the navy hasn't had a lot to do
since September 11, 2001. The army is getting most of the work, and a growing
proportion of the defense budget. With the cost of traditional warships
skyrocketing, the LCS (3,000 ton, $250 million Littoral Combat Ship) and the
"Sea Fighter" look a lot more attractive. New destroyers will cost $2.5 billion
each. That gets you ten LCSs, or fifty "Sea Fighters."
But the navy considers the "Sea Fighter" too small
(it's 262 feet long and displaces 950 tons) to be useful. The navy has already
built and used small patrol boats, and found UAVs and maritime patrol air
aircraft more effective and cheaper for what Sea Fighter would do. What's
happening here is a blatant example of a contractor lobbying Congress to get a
new system adopted, even when the military doesn't want it. This is nothing
new. The defense budget has long been a victim of such scams, and this sort of
thing has been going on for thousands of years. Don't expect it to disappear
any time soon.