In this thread we’ve been discussing many things, including the operations and other details of the US Navy’s nuclear powered cruisers (USS Long Beach CGN9, USS Bainbridge CGN25, USS Truxton CGN35, USS California CGN36, USS South Carolina CGN37, USS Virginia CGN38, USS Texas CGN39, USS Mississippi CGN40, and USS Arkansas CGN41.) and their fates. Rather than continuing to clutter up that thread, I’m moving some of that discussion over here.
Anyways, the post I’m beginning with is going to be a response to this post:
Well, I’m going to discuss this in somewhat reverse order. Forgive me if I sound a little disjointed, but I’d written out one post already and accidentally deleted it trying to set up this new thread. And I can’t even blame the hamsters. :smack:
Anyways, keeping the subs was a no-brainer. Until the Centurion program was begun in the early 90’s the only types of propulsion being considered for combatant submarines were nuc or diesel/electric. And d/e still needs to come to the surface on a regular basis. The modern d/e boats were head, shoulders and beer gut above the fleet boats of WWII, but that doesn’t change that they still had to come to at least snorkel depth on a regular basis. And submarines are at their most vulnerable at that depth. Anything that frees a submarine from the need to surface or snorkel on a regular basis makes it a safer and more effective ship.
For carriers it’s a little different. All modern carriers are built around a steam catapult system for launching modern jet aircraft. Thus even if the carrier were to switch to a different propulsion system than a steam plant, it would still need some means of producing large amounts of steam at high pressure. So replacing the steam propulsion plant isn’t really going to remove the other problems with a steam plant for maintenance or operational costs.
Additionally, as I said earlier in the other thread: going to a nuclear plant greatly reduces the need for fuel storage for a ship’s propulsion. Every tonne of fuel that a carrier doesn’t have to carry for itself is a tonne of fuel it can carry for the planes that it supports. And that’s important too.
Now, I’m not going to say that these reasons aren’t sufficient. However - I do believe that the Navy brass and the President in office at the time the decisions were made were both affected by other considerations. It might be unfair to say that carriers and subs are the sexy part of the navy these days, but it’s not untrue.
Now, back in 1992, when the Soviet Union fell people began talking about the ‘Peace Dividend’ and making all sorts of ahem optimistic statements about how with the end of the Cold War there’d be no need for the Navy, or any of the armed forces. Certainly the rash of base closings, and decommissionings beginning the next year showed how far the build down was intended.
The reasons, and remember as a sailor immediately affected by the plan changes we were informed of the official reasoning, that we got were based mostly on economic factors. Ignoring the difference in maintenance costs between a nuclear plant and a gas turbine fired ship the personnel costs are vastly different, too. A GT ship has a crew of about 400 men. A nuclear cruiser has a crew of about 600. Right there, that’s an increase in personnel costs of at least 150%. Personally, I believe that a more accurate figure would have been closer to 200%, perhaps even 300%. Remember, normal surface vessels have an NCO to unrated seaman ratio of about one NCO for every 3 to 5 seamen. On a nuclear ship, that’s a very large portion of the ship’s crew that starts at E-4, and it seriously skews everything aboard.
There’s a bit of lore I’ve heard while I was in: The average age on a carrier is 18. I don’t know that this is true, and I don’t have a cite for it, but I am inclined to believe it. That’s a 6000 person crew, with officers at least 22 years old, and more than would be in a crew that size, since the pilots are all officers without really any men directly under them. And a captain who’s at least 50 and more likely 60 years old. And there are still enough fresh young people in the crew to drop the average back to 18, maybe 19.
I once got kinda bored on Virginia, and using some guesses for ages aboard ship, I did a similar calculation for the average on our ship. Remember, as the All-Hands radcon breifer I’d met each and every person aboard ship. Anyways, using that information I got an average age aboard ship approaching 23. Mostly because the nucs take anywhere from 1 and a half to two years to be trained before they can even be sent to a ship.
All this adds up to some signifigant increases in crew pay.
Then there are the real additional costs in terms of both time and money for steam plant maintenance vs. gas turbine maintenance. It all adds up.
However, I don’t believe that military effectiveness is quite so easy to measure on a cost benefit scale.
Just how much would you pay to have had a ship that could show the flag in the Persian Gulf in 2000 without having to enter Aden harbor for refueling?
How much would it be worth to know that several ships are heading to the Indian Ocean tsunami victims at 30 plus knots, because they don’t have to worry about keeping in close company with the refueling ships?
Do you think that having ships that are able to operate completely independant from all external support for 6 weeks, or more, might be useful in some military or political situation?
I think that capability to go without a logistical tail was a priceless asset, and it was thrown away without proper consideration given to what was being given up. And, frankly, I’d felt that way even before the USS Cole was sent to a port that was “the best of several bad choices.” After that I’ve been convinced.
A military can be run on the cheap, and in fact there are times that it has to be that way. The new Virginia class subs for littoral zone combat are a case in point. But the best militaries usually keep some units with unique abilities that are capable of performing missions no other unit could do: like the Seawolf boats.
Or the nuc cruisers.