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Billions of Dollars of our Best ASW Warships Prematurely Retired and Destroyed

Spruance-Class destroyer USS KINCADE (DD 965)

The United States spends more on defense than the next 9 countries combined. Yet, the trend over the last 30 years has been one where each and every year sees U.S. taxpayers getting less and less bang for their defense dollar. There are number of reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest reason is the incestuous relationship between the military, defense contractors and Congress.

The prescient warning by Dwight D. Eisenhower, World War II Allied Supreme Commander and 34th President of the United States, in his 1961 farewell address regarding the Military Industrial Complex has sadly been realized in spades. Today’s military procurement is about providing the most revenue and profits at the least risk for defense contractors vs. providing the best mix of weapons / weapons systems to enable our men and women in uniform to protect our national interests. And certainly there is zero respect for hardworking taxpayers.

This was brought home to me 10 years ago when after hearing about, and reading about the shortage of navy ships I thought to research the possibility of reactivating and modernizing reserve/mothballed Navy ships. To my shock I found that our reserve fleet was practically non-existent, having been methodically destroyed over the last twenty years. In particular, it seemed as if ships that could actually be a threat to new ship construction were no longer being mothballed, but instead being destroyed in largely meaningless sinking exercises (SINKEX).

Particularly egregious was the premature retirement of our best ASW-focused ship, the Spruance Class Destroyer (DD-963). Not only were DD-963’s retired with decades of potential service remaining, but the retired ships were rapidly scrapped and or destroyed via SINKEX. For reference, Spru-Cans, as they were affectionately known, displaced roughly the same as the Flight I Arleigh Burke destroyer (DDG-51), but they had two 5” inch guns instead of one. And prior to the decision to destroy the class, 24 had been upgraded to carry 61 MK-41 Vertical Launch System cells. So, with unmatched ASW, more guns and a large missile load they were an extremely versatile and powerful warship. They also had a much greater service life allowance (SLA) than the Burkes. And having a more hydrodynamically efficient hull, they had quite a bit more range than Burke’s (6000 NM vs 4400 NM). It should also be noted that the Spruance's large SLA allowed the Ticonderoga Class Cruisers to be built on Spruance Class hulls. And the Ticos, even with a much greater displacement putting more wear and tear on the hull will still be serving for another 5 years at least.

Having 15 or 20 large, high endurance highest-end ASW ships with significant missile capability over the last 10 years would have been a huge plus for our Navy as the Navy struggled to meet commitments with too few ships by upping operational tempos and length of deployments. The Burkes and Ticonderogas in particular suffered due to being overdeployed and undermaintained, due at least in part to there not being enough ships.

It is also worth noting that the DD-963's first in line to be retired and destroyed, were the ships that been most recently upgraded with the MK-41 VLS systems. In other words, the most capable ships were retired first and then rapidly destroyed as they were the one’s posing the greatest threat to defense contractors.

If rather than intentionally undermaintaining, then retiring and destroying the Spruances, the Navy had properly maintained them and applied new threat upgrades they would even today be some of the most powerful Navy ships in the world. And with their cooperative engagement capability (CEC) they could easily networked with Aegis Class ships (Burkes and Ticos) thus making their healthy complement of missiles a valuable part of Aegis directed fleet defense or offense.

Their premature retirement damaged our Navy’s ability to perform its mission, but we can be comforted that their destruction helped ensure that money continued to flow to defense contractors to build great new ships like the LCS and the the Zumwalt (most expensive technology demonstration platform ever).

Key Features of Spruance Class Destroyer (DD-963) - affectionately known as "Spru-Can"

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