Key point: The Navy can’t afford to waste money when it needs more reliable ships to be built ASAP.
For all the talk of being in great power competition, the OPNAV staff is not acting like it. The Pentagon is famous for slow rolling any senior officer who tries to disrupt the status quo, endangers pet programs, or pushes community-threatening systems. The lower echelons have a strong belief that their pet programs are exactly what the Navy needs to win a war, regardless of how over-schedule, over-budget, or incapable the systems are. They use arguments about great power competition and lethality to defend budget packages, but not to deliver capabilities rapidly. The capability of our fleet still largely looks like it did two decades ago.
Meanwhile, our adversaries are outpacing us in many areas. China will likely deploy unmanned systems in greater numbers than the United States, and far sooner than we can. China, in another example of intellectual theft, has stated that their stealth drone program, the CH-7, is on track for its first flight in 2019 and will reach Initial Operating Capability in 2021. By comparison, glacial acquisition processes and entrenched cultural resistance to change have reduced the U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 program from an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) to a humble refueling platform. MQ-25, whose X-47B predecessor conducted carrier flight operations in 2013, might reach the Fleet by 2024. The Chinese fleet of today is virtually unrecognizable from what it was two decades ago.