The importance of practice

Some things you just can’t make up. Like forgetting how to make nuclear weapons.

PLANS TO refurbish Trident nuclear weapons had to be put on hold because US scientists forgot how to manufacture a component of the warhead, a US congressional investigation has revealed.

The US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) “lost knowledge” of how to make a mysterious but very hazardous material codenamed Fogbank. As a result, the warhead refurbishment programme was put back by at least a year, and racked up an extra $69 million.

As amazing as this story is, I can somewhat understand it. After all, if you don’t use it, you lose it, right?

Here’s the rub.

The shipbuilding industry. There are many reports regarding the need to keep buying ships simply to keep the industry alive. It takes a certain level of skill, with a certain level of knowledge, to manufacture a ship (commercial or military, but I’d argue that building a military ship is a completely new level of shipbuilding).

But if you don’t buy ships, shipyards have to cut workers to maintain viability. Those workers still have families to feed, so they find jobs applying their skills somewhere else. Suddenly, when the money comes back (or someone recognizes that you can’t maintain maritime supremacy with a bunch of littoral ships) the shipyards have work to do, but no one to do it.

If we can forget how to build nuclear weapons due to knowledge atrophy I’m positive the same can happen in shipbuilding. Especially in the exquisite areas, such as submarine design, where there just aren’t many people who know HOW to do that.

I’m not championing shipbuilding as part of an economic stimulus. Buying ships probably won’t even help create jobs because money allotted for a ship today isn’t paid until a few years later. But I do think we need to keep building. Not only to keep the fleet at an acceptable size conducive to conducting operations at a pace that doesn’t destroy the inventory through sheer optempo (Army track vehicles anyone?) but to keep the skilled workers and designers around who are essential to cost-effective construction.

After all, welding on a 2.5 billion dollar submarine is not the time for on the job training.

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One Response to The importance of practice

  1. sobersubmrnr says:

    Exactly right. This is why the Brits had so many problems with the Upholder class SSKs and had to hire EB to help get construction of the Astute class on track. Use your industrial capabilities or lose them.

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