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New Warship Is Squandering Money

I would like to comment on your cover story, “Uncharted Waters,” and the column “Damn the Torpedoes” (Prism, December 2011).

In the 1970s and ’80s, the Navy developed a series of Fast Frigate guided missile destroyers (the Oliver Hazard Perry FFG7 class warships). These vessels were “built to cost” and relatively inexpensive to maintain. Powered by then-revolutionary gas turbine engines (a marine version of the DC-10 engine called the LM-2500 built by GE), they could be brought to operation very quickly in an emergency. Over 50 of these frigates were built, and many are still continuing in cost-effective service.

Those vessels were also criticized by those who thought they failed to do “this, that, or the other thing.” Those mounting the criticism were among what some of us called the Blue Water Battleship Mentality Crowd. These are apparently the same Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) folks who now bring us the DDG 1000s, at $4 billion a copy. In trying to build a warship that is all things to all people and meets every conceivable threat, we end up with a vessel that is so far up the exponential cost curve that we can only afford to build a few of them. The “university research industry” and the “military industrial complex” love this approach and the dollars that come with it.

The reality, though, is that NAVSEA is squandering precious public funds in building yet another gold-plated blue-water navy ship, when the far greater threats are littoral (inshore, “brown” water). These littoral threats demand a quite different approach than is traditional in the U.S. Navy.

The David Farragut admirals in charge love the idea of commanding a deep-water “unsinkable battleship,” standing on the prow of what we see reflected in the DDG 1000, sword in hand, defying the torpedoes. Mostly, they pay lip service to the idea of conserving precious taxpayer dollars, much less building a Navy to meet the changing threats that we really face – threats, it would seem, that could be better met by fewer carrier battle groups and a much larger number of way-less-expensive littoral combat vessels.

— Mark A. Cooper
Emeritus Professor of Engineering
California Polytechnic State University
Captain, U.S. Naval Reserve, Engineering Duty


Failure to Communicate

I enjoyed the column “Softening the Curriculum” by Henry Petroski (Refractions, Prism, November 2011). Petroski quite correctly stresses the importance of “projecting a sense of professionalism” and the need for technical people to communicate effectively. The column also affords the opportunity to raise questions seldom addressed when “softening the curriculum” is discussed. First, if the current curriculum fails to inculcate an ability to communicate, is there sufficient reason to assume that doing more of what isn’t now working will solve the perceived problem? Specifically, how will possession of an advanced degree change a person’s ability to communicate?

Second, in reading much of the discussion on this topic, it appears to me that the current structure of higher education differs markedly from that experienced by many current practitioners. At present, many students take the first two years of higher education at a community college, and transfer to a four-year institution. Online instruction with computer grading and limited “face time” (if any) with the instructor have become quite common. What is there to suggest that the same routine would not be used for graduate work and the master’s degree obtained online? Will the collection of a few more course credits in this manner facilitate improvement in communications and presentation?

Third, the medical and legal professions require extensive internships or clerkships that are intended to provide (or polish) the soft skills to which Petroski refers. Both these professions have accepted part of the responsibility for the development of new members entering their field. By contrast, in the technical arena, the current term used to describe new employee orientation appears to be “toilet training.” Is this an image of professional responsibility? If not, what specifically does the term communicate?

— Andrew C. Kellie,
Professor, Engineering Technology
Murray State University
Murray, Ky



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