The Bunker: The Navy’s New Subpar Sub

The Bunker, delivered to our subscribers Wednesdays at 7 a.m., is a newsletter from the desk of National Security Analyst Mark Thompson. Sign up here to receive it first thing, or check back Wednesday afternoon for the online version.

This week in The Bunker: how the Navy is buying an undersea drone without knowing if the contractor can build it; “wokeism” in the U.S. military, and how such fear-mongering has festered at home and abroad; and more.


The Navy’s Orca program blows

Every once in a while, even The Bunker runs into a brick wall when perusing a document concerning our national defense. Take the Government Accountability Office report (PDF) issued September 28 on the Navy’s Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUV). They’re a fleet of $120 million drones designed to deploy Hammerhead mines. (The Navy, realizing that “Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles” doesn’t roll off the tongue, has dubbed the 80-ton, 85-foot-long vessels Orcas — like the killer whales.) Anyway, the program, like so much Navy shipbuilding, is costing too much (jumping from $379 million in 2016 to $621 million today, a 64% leap), and taking too long to build (three years late. So far). Curious taxpayers might wonder why. Here’s what the GAO said:

The contractor did not demonstrate its readiness to fabricate XLUUV because it was not required to do so.

Why not? Because the Navy employed a prototypical Pentagon dodge: greasing the Orca into production by simply labeling it a research program. “The Navy determined that XLUUV was critical to fulfilling an emergent need, which, under DOD policy, generally requires a capability be provided within 2 years,” the GAO said. “However, the Navy did not develop a sound business case, including cost and schedule estimates, to ensure that it could deliver the vehicles quickly to the fleet because XLUUV is a research and development effort.”

It’s pitch-perfect Pentagon: We need something so badly we don’t have time to figure out if it works before we build it. You know, like the F-35.

Boeing won a 2019 Navy contract to build a pod of five Orcas, based upon a prototype. But despite critical differences between the two models, Boeing “did not identify the full impact of these issues until after fabrication began.” It’s no wonder the company has asked the Navy for more than 1,500 “deviations” from the Orca’s original design.

And here’s one more deviation: back in March, the Navy awarded Boeing a $73 million contract (PDF) for an Orca “Test Asset System” — a prototype, in other words. “The Navy and Boeing plan to use this Test Asset System for a test/fix/test platform while the five vehicles continue production, which will reduce schedule and cost risk,” the Navy told Stars and Stripes (the first Orca was supposed to be delivered in 2020; now it’s slated for 2024). “This approach provides an important learning period for XLUUVs and will help ensure the success of the overall XLUUV acquisition strategy.” Of course, logic also suggests that the “learning period” should begin before the “building period.”

Turns out, the GAO report is already out of date. The same day it was published, the Navy awarded Boeing nearly $12 million more (PDF) for Orca “engineering support services.”


Calling it a tempest in a teapot is an insult to teapots

The U.S. military lost the Battle of Wake Island during World War II. Today, according to some critics, it’s losing the Battle of Woke Island. For those who haven’t been paying attention, institutions — colleges, corporations, the U.S. military — are deemed “woke” by some critics who hyperventilate that organizations risk failure because they’re consumed with matters of race, sex, gender identity, climate, and/or historical shortcomings.

This has become a recent bugaboo for some. “A woke military is a weak military,” former secretary of state Mike Pompeo warned September 29. A website he’s sponsoring says such concerns are “being woven into the fabric of America’s military institutions, into its officer corps, and into the backbone of non-commissioned officers.”

For the record: balderdash. The U.S. military remains one of the nation’s most conservative institutions. The U.S., and the U.S. military, work best when they ignore the extremists at both ends of the political spectrum. Progress, however defined, consists of movement toward a more perfect union. The U.S. military has played key roles in many of those efforts.

But the anti-wokers have delinked their tirades from reality. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson charges the Biden administration has launched “one calculated humiliation after another for the U.S. Armed Forces: vax mandates, anti-white ideology, sex changes, drag shows.” The White House’s goal is “to telegraph to the United States military you are worthless, you are defending a country that does not deserve to be defended, your traditions are disgusting, you’re terrible.”

Stop looking in the mirror, Tucker.


Something to keep in mind

The Bunker spent years covering “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the eventual integration of gay and bisexual men and women into the U.S. military. More than a decade ago, many predicted dire results if they were allowed to serve openly. The top Marine general said it had a “strong potential for disruption.” And some of The Bunker’s own reporting suggested they might not be wrong. Then September 20, 2011 — the day gay and bisexual people could openly serve their country — arrived. Crickets.

The Bunker is reminded of this because California’s Palm Center think tank shut its doors last week after 24 years of fighting for the right of gay Americans to serve in the military. Before turning out the lights, it highlighted a 2021 study (PDF) by the Joint Chiefs of Staff that concluded lifting the ban had “no impact” on the military. “This official military study makes clear the yawning gap between fearmongering and reality,” Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin said.

There’s a lesson here, and it applies to both perceived internal threats like “wokeism” as well as those beyond the sea. “For generations, we’ve thought of Russia as a global power,” David von Drehle wrote September 30 in the Washington Post. “Now we see that the cream of the Russian army can’t advance more than a few kilometers into a neighboring country without losing thousands of tanks, legions of soldiers and numerous generals.” Scary rhetoric about gay people, and Russia, has proven hollow. Keep that in mind when it comes to military “wokeism.” And while Russia’s fate shouldn’t dictate our views toward China; it should inform them.


Here’s what has caught The Bunker's eye recently

Civilian casualties (PDF)

The Pentagon reported September 27 that “there were approximately 12 civilians killed and approximately 5 civilians injured during 2021 as a result of U.S. military operations.” There was no definition of “approximately.”

Opaque arms deals

After nearly 60 years, the U.S. will no longer publish its annual World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers (WMEAT) report, denying its citizens information about who is getting what from U.S. suppliers, Responsible Statecraft reported September 28.

Four-star fat

The 40 four-star generals and admirals in the U.S. military highlight a top-heavy bureaucracy ill-suited to winning wars, Doulas Macgregor and Joshua Whitehouse wrote September 29 in The American Conservative.

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