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Harold Hutchison / Sep. 29, 2020

This Sub's Long Layoff Underscores a Problem

Military readiness requires money — and a continuous commitment to maintenance.

Just how badly degraded have some of our critical military capabilities become during the Global War on Terror? Here’s an example: One of our best attack submarines may have an eight-year hiatus between deployments.

The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Boise (SSN 764) is a very potent weapon of war. She carries four 21-inch torpedo tubes that can fire the Mk 48 torpedo and launch Harpoon anti-ship missiles or Tomahawk cruise missiles. She also carries an Mk 45 vertical-launch system with a dozen extra Tomahawks. When she’s at sea, the Russian and Chinese navies would be facing a stealthy and deadly adversary that can operate at speeds of more than 30 knots.

These days, though, she’s getting rusty. According to Defense News, the $900 million Boise hasn’t been to sea since 2015 — and she isn’t scheduled to shove off again until 2023. How did this happen?

For starters, it happened for many of the same reasons the Navy found itself short of submarines and other hulls in the water: We went from fighting the Global War on Terror to suffering under eight years of budget games by the Obama administration.

Poor ship maintenance also played a role. Just as your car needs various maintenance procedures, so too do the highly capable and highly costly ships, planes, submarines, and tanks of our military. When maintenance budgets slide, it’s just a matter of time before vehicles and weapons start falling into disrepair. And when that happens, it’s bad news.

If your car breaks down, you can simply call for roadside assistance and then shell out some money for repairs. But when our weapons break down, so does our defense posture. The Boise’s embarrassing eight years of idleness, for example, isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a sub. What if it fails while on a deployment, 600 feet or more under the ocean?

This isn’t just a matter of money, either. It’s also a matter of training and maintaining the readiness of competent repair personnel — because when there’s no work, some other activity will fill the void. In some cases, we even end up scrapping a ship we need because it needs repairs — like the Bon Homme Richard.

Russia, China, and even Iran pose serious threats. As such, they demand that we have the best systems and weapons and that they’re combat ready at all times. That takes money. And if Joe Biden becomes our next commander-in-chief, the money might not be there when we need it most.

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