by DAVID AXE
Make no mistake, U.S. Navy shipbuilding is a disaster, with rampant delays, cost over-runs and poor workmanship. But the T-AKE cargo ships, built by NASSCO in San Diego, are an exception. The Navy has rewarded NASSCO by adding two more of the $500-million vessels to the original plan for a dozen — and more are possible.
Navy undersecretary Bob Work, during his think-tank days, called on the Navy to adapt the T-AKE design to a wider range of missions, beyond the traditional job of hauling supplies to deployed warships. T-AKEs could become oilers, command ships and other auxiliaries. The key is a simple, robust design, with lots of “reconfigurable” empty space, like a Lego ship.
Don’t believe me? Off the coast of Somalia, the Navy is using T-AKE 1 Lewis and Clark as a makeshift prison. And the Pacific Fleet tapped T-AKE 4 Richard E. Byrd to carry doctors, engineers and other humanitarians on a good-will tour of Oceania, after the crew of the amphibious ship, originally tapped for the mission, came down with swine flu. Commodore Andrew Cully said the switch to Byrd meant he had to trim his mission staff from 400 to 200. But he was able to reconfigure the ship with:
* Extra cots in the berthing and staterooms
* Cargo spaces for engineering equipment
* A helicopter detachment
* A bandwidth boost from 128 kb/sec to 486 kb/sec
An amphib would be better, but in a pinch, the T-AKE will do — and might do for a range of other missions, too. And at $500 million a pop, you can’t beat the price.
(Photo: David Axe)