Keep the Essex class as a strike carrier

SsgtC

Banned
I think that level of foresight and budget is not in keeping with retaining an Essex, it's more in line with buying a 2nd Nimitz sooner and keeping the FDR.

In my mind keeping an Essex is a last ditch decision that has to be done with stretching existing, crappy stuff out well beyond it's regular US service life, because all the better decisions have fallen over.
I think we're going to have to agree to disagree here. Because I don't think it requires any special foresight for the Navy to be told in the late 60s that they aren't going to get all the funding they want to build enough super carriers to meet their mandated carrier levels. And given the option of either extending the service lives of the Essex class with a FRAM/SLEP or building new, light carriers like the CVV, they'll go with the Essex every time in the hope that a new Congress will approve enough funding for more big decks.

But in the meantime, they'll have to plan on operating the Essex for another 15-20 years once they exit the dockyard. It doesn't take a genius to know that the Crusader doesn't have twenty years left and that the Tomcat has no hope of ever flying from those decks. That leaves the Phantom. You're telling me that the Navy would be too stupid to buy more Aircraft/convert more aircraft to equip those decks "for reasons?"

And the Phantom was far from "crappy" even in the late 80s. Hell, it didn't go out of production in the US until 1979. In the timeframe we're taking about, the late 60s thru the mid to late 80s, there were only two operational aircraft that I would say are definitively better than the Phantom: the Eagle and the Tomcat. Everything else the Phantom is at least on the same level as them.

The way I see things shaking out, the Navy will be forced to retain at least 4 Essex class in service as CVAs. With possibly a fifth with the understanding that at least one of the class will pretty much always be unavailable, so the 5th hull can be a "floater" covering for ships in refit. That's at least 4 attack wings. You're telling me that the Navy is just going to ignore eight fighter squadrons and say, "fuck em, they get what they get?"
 

SsgtC

Banned
I realized after I replied that we may be looking at this from two different angles. I think you're looking at it as the Navy making an almost snap decision to keep the Essex class in service. Whereas I'm looking at as the Navy making a logical and informed decision. For example, the Navy says they need X number of carriers to fulfill their missions. Congress says they'll authorize Y number of carriers, but will only provide enough funding to build Z number of carriers over however many years. So that means the Navy will have to keep older ships in service to meet Y until the new build ships come online. Obviously it's not ideal, but at that point, the Navy is going to make the best of it and try to make what they have as capable as possible. Or at least that's what they'll do once they realize Congress is serious about not funding their wish list
 
I realized after I replied that we may be looking at this from two different angles. I think you're looking at it as the Navy making an almost snap decision to keep the Essex class in service. Whereas I'm looking at as the Navy making a logical and informed decision. For example, the Navy says they need X number of carriers to fulfill their missions. Congress says they'll authorize Y number of carriers, but will only provide enough funding to build Z number of carriers over however many years. So that means the Navy will have to keep older ships in service to meet Y until the new build ships come online. Obviously it's not ideal, but at that point, the Navy is going to make the best of it and try to make what they have as capable as possible. Or at least that's what they'll do once they realize Congress is serious about not funding their wish list.
That's the easiest way to do it IMHO.

However, unless the USN is involved in a never ending series of high intensity regional wars like Korea and Vietnam the USN is going to want no more than 15 attack carriers and 15 air wings, which can be filled by the 12 super carriers completed to 1982 and the 3 Midways if Coral Sea and FDR are refitted to SCB.101 standard. However...

IOTL the last Essex attack carriers were Hancock and Oriskany. They decommissioned in 1976, the year after Nimitz was completed. ITTL both of them will have to remain in service until 1977 when Eisenhower recommissioned. Carl Vinson the 12th super carrier commissioned in 1982, but the requirement was now for 15 attack carriers plus one having a SLEP refit. Therefore, the USN will need to keep an Essex in service as an attack carrier from 1977 until the end of 1986 when Theodore Roosevelt commissions.

7 Essex class were brought up to SCB.27C/SCB.125 standard. Tinconderoga was struck from the register in 1973. Lexington remained in service as the training carrier until she was decommissioned on 8th November 1991 and was struck fro the register the same day. Hancock was struck in on 31st January 1976 the day after she decommissioned, but ITTL she would kept in service until 30th January 1978 (because Eisenhower commissioned in October 1977) and be struck the day after.

That left Bon Homme Richard, Intrepid, Shangri La and Oriskany (decommissioned in May 1976) in reserve until 1982 when Intrepid and Shangri La were struck and 1989 when Oriskany and Bon Homme Richard were struck.

ITTL Oriskany still decommissioned in May 1976. However, she was replaced by Bonne Homme Richard, Intrepid or Shangri La, which had been refitted 1974-76 to FRAM I standard. This ship remained in service until the end of 1986 when she was relieved by Theodore Roosevelt.
 
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I realized after I replied that we may be looking at this from two different angles. I think you're looking at it as the Navy making an almost snap decision to keep the Essex class in service. Whereas I'm looking at as the Navy making a logical and informed decision. For example, the Navy says they need X number of carriers to fulfill their missions. Congress says they'll authorize Y number of carriers, but will only provide enough funding to build Z number of carriers over however many years. So that means the Navy will have to keep older ships in service to meet Y until the new build ships come online. Obviously it's not ideal, but at that point, the Navy is going to make the best of it and try to make what they have as capable as possible. Or at least that's what they'll do once they realize Congress is serious about not funding their wish list.
I can also keep Essexes in service in the support carrier role into the 1980s, which meets part of the OP.

In the middle 1960s the USN had 25 active aircraft carriers, made up of 15 CVA, 9 CVS and the training ship. AIUI the plan was for this to reduce to 22 ships comprising 15 CVA, 6 CVS and one training carrier by 30th June 1975. The reduction in the number of support carriers was because the P-3 Orion had made them redundant in their current role, but the improving capabilities of Soviet submarines meant that a smaller number of ships was needed to protect the attack carriers.

Requirements were based on the "rule of three". That is three ships were needed to maintain one forward deployed ship at all times. They wanted 3 attack carriers in the Western Pacific and 2 in the Mediterranean, which meant that 15 were required to maintain 5 forward deployed ships. They also wanted one support carrier in the Western Pacific and another in the Mediterranean, which produced the requirement for 6 support carriers.

The plan was that the SCB.27A Essex class (of which there were eight) operating in the CVS role would be replaced by SCB.27C ships (of which there were seven) that were being replaced in the CVA role by the new super carriers. The SCB.27C ships would in turn be replaced by SCB.100, which was a purpose built CVS. In September 1963 the plan was to order the first SCB.100 in the Fiscal Year ending 30th June 1968. However, this had slipped to FY1971 by April 1964 and this version of the design could not operate Phantoms because the C-13 catapults in the SCB.101.68 design had been replaced by less powerful (and cheaper) C-11s. This version of the design wasn't built either and Intrepid the last Essex operating in the CVS role decommissioned on 30th March 1973.

AIUI the VSX which became the S-3A Viking was designed to operate from SCB.100 and Essex class ships refitted to SCB.101 standard. The 187 aircraft that were built were to provide a front-line of 120 aircraft in 12 squadrons of 10. That is 2 squadrons per CVS.

So another POD could be that Congress provides the cash to maintain the 22-carrier force and the money to have a force of 12 "supers" and 3 SCB.101 Midways by 1975, but the Essex class have to be given a SLEP refit because the money to build new support carriers won't be available until the 1970s.

IOTL 8 Essex class carriers were given a refit designated SCB.144, which was part of the FRAM II programme and were funded FY1962-66. Lake Champlain was to have been refitted to this standard in FY1966, but it was cancelled by Robert McNamara. All but one of the ships that had the refit had previously been modernised to SCB.27A standard, the exception was Intrepid, which was a SCB.27C ship.

Therefore, ITTL SCB.144 waa FRAM I refit and the refit planned for Lake Champlain was carried out.

AIUI FRAM I refits were intended to extend a ships life by 8-10 years and FRAM II refits were intended to extend a ships life by at least 5 years. (Source, Destroyers by Anthony Preston.) This version of SCB.144 would include fitting steam catapults powerful enough to launch the C-2 Greyhound, E-2 Hawkeye and S-3 Viking, plus the flight deck, lifts and arresting gear would be strengthened if that was required.

By the late 1970s they would be operating an air group of 45-50 aircraft, which would consist of:
  • 20 S-3A Vikings in 2 squadrons;
  • 16 SH-3D/H Sea Kings in one squadron for ASW and possibly 2 or 3 SH-3G Sea Kings for SAR and VERTREP;
  • 4 E-2C Hawkeyes
  • 1 C-2A Greyhound
  • 4 F-8 Crusaders to give the ships an anti-shadower capability.
This was the air group planned for SCB.101.68 except that 4 Phantoms would be embarked instead of 4 Crusaders.

The 9 ALT-SCB.144 ships weren't official CVAs, but they retained their attack carrier capability, which could be used if more CVA's were needed at short notice. The air wings would be provided by mobilising the 2 Naval Reserve Force air wings or embarking Marine squadrons. I don't see that happening if World events were the same as OTL, but the NRF air wings and Marine squadrons would be embarked on the ALT-SCB.144 from time to time as part of their regular training.
 
The problem post Vietnam wasn't hulls it was crews. With the All Volunteer Force manning costs skyrocketed. Also the military was so poorly thought of that recruiting was difficult and I don't believe ever met the 'needs of the fleet'. As I have mentioned earlier during this era ships went to sea undermanned sometimes with critical skills being transferred from ships that had just returned to ships leaving.

To have the fleet you are looking at there needs to be something to get Congress (and the American people) to vastly increase funding. Where are the extra S-3s coming from? they had trouble getting the 188 that were bought. 9 CVSs with 20 Vikings per air group uses 180 which doesn't leave any for any for training, attrition, development, rework, etc. And you only have that many at the end of the production run which I suspect was only 5 aircraft a month at the peak. I would love to see the S-3 get more use and become (like the S-2 before it) the beginning of a ling line of carrier support aircraft.
 
The problem post Vietnam wasn't hulls it was crews. With the All Volunteer Force manning costs skyrocketed. Also the military was so poorly thought of that recruiting was difficult and I don't believe ever met the 'needs of the fleet'. As I have mentioned earlier during this era ships went to sea undermanned sometimes with critical skills being transferred from ships that had just returned to ships leaving.

To have the fleet you are looking at there needs to be something to get Congress (and the American people) to vastly increase funding. Where are the extra S-3s coming from? they had trouble getting the 188 that were bought. 9 CVSs with 20 Vikings per air group uses 180 which doesn't leave any for any for training, attrition, development, rework, etc. And you only have that many at the end of the production run which I suspect was only 5 aircraft a month at the peak. I would love to see the S-3 get more use and become (like the S-2 before it) the beginning of a ling line of carrier support aircraft.
I take your point about the personnel. However, where did you get 9 CVS from? The USN wanted a force of 6 by the middle of the 1970s and the OTL "buy" of 187 aircraft was enough to support a front line of 120.
 
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I understand, please don't take offense. During the post Vietnam era the personnel issues and support numbers (spare parts, delay in receiving cold weather gear, etc) were a big issue. The leadership of all branches of the military finally decided that by keeping marginal equipment in order to keep numbers up was actually hurting their cause. Maybe that is why I feel so strongly about these threads about 'Keeping the {insert favorite ship or airplane here] for another X number years' They neglect the real world issues of balancing budgets and capabilities. Keep pushing to make people justify their views. I never mind it when someone questions my views. Sometimes I can actually change my mind. Your chart is good and does represent one important part of the story.
I didn't take offence. What I wrote and in the way that I wrote it was because I thought that I had offended you.

AIUI under the Reagan Era the qualitative improvements were as important as the quantitative improvements. Better maintenance improved the availability and reliability of the ships and their equipment. Better pay led to a rise in recruitment and retention rates, which translated into improved availability rates for the ships and improved their ability to fight.

A ship that looks good on the pages of a reference book or naval annual will only be effective in battle if it is well maintained and has a well trained crew.
 
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another POD could be portions of, if not the entire Australian Essex plan leaking in '65.

There would be serious questions asked......
 
AIUI the VSX which became the S-3A Viking was designed to operate from SCB.100 and Essex class ships refitted to SCB.101 standard. The 187 aircraft that were built were to provide a front-line of 120 aircraft in 12 squadrons of 10. That is 2 squadrons per CVS.
Soviets have better luck getting the Alfa Boats out of development and into production, with more commissioned in the early '70s rather than later '70s.
USN promptly shits bricks and decides that more ASW is needed, and Essex with Viking is a cheap gap filler
 
Soviets have better luck getting the Alfa Boats out of development and into production, with more commissioned in the early '70s rather than later '70s. USN promptly shits bricks and decides that more ASW is needed, and Essex with Viking is a cheap gap filler.
This isn't in support of your argument or against it. It's because I found it interesting and think everyone else will.

When I was doing my research for an earlier post a found a note in my copy of JFS 1969-70 in the section on the Essex class CVS. It said that one ship was to be modernised in FY1972 and another in FY1974. The modernisation was to permit operation of the S-3A (VSX).

At that point there were still 7 Essex CVS in commission. Therefore, does it mean that these were the first two ships in a plan to modernise all the surviving ships or does it mean that the rest could already operate the S-3A?

It might not mean that their aviation facilities need to be modernised. It could be that their electronics systems need to be upgraded to process the data provided by the Viking. I do know that some Essex class CVS were fitted with an antisubmarine contact analysis centre in the 1960s and another was fitted to an ASW command and control system which were ASW analogues of NTDS.
 

SsgtC

Banned
This isn't in support of your argument or against it. It's because I found it interesting and think everyone else will.

When I was doing my research for an earlier post a found a note in my copy of JFS 1969-70 in the section on the Essex class CVS. It said that one ship was to be modernised in FY1972 and another in FY1974. The modernisation was to permit operation of the S-3A (VSX).

At that point there were still 7 Essex CVS in commission. Therefore, does it mean that these were the first two ships in a plan to modernise all the surviving ships or does it mean that the rest could already operate the S-3A?

It might not mean that their aviation facilities need to be modernised. It could be that their electronics systems need to be upgraded to process the data provided by the Viking. I do know that some Essex class CVS were fitted with an antisubmarine contact analysis centre in the 1960s and another was fitted to an ASW command and control system which were ASW analogues of NTDS.
AIUI, it was too upgrade their ASW capabilities and maybe some minor changes to weapon handling facilities as well. All of the -27C ships could handle launching and recovering them.
 
I take your point about the personnel. However, where did you get 9 CVS from? The USN wanted a force of 6 by the middle of the 1970s and the OTL "buy" of 187 aircraft was enough to support a front line of 120.
My mistake I saw later it was 6 not 9. I thought initially you were suggesting 9 Essexes as CVS platforms going forward. But remember the 187 is after the complete production run. So it will take a while to get the 6 air groups up to full strength. And in response to the thought of me being offended - It takes a lot more than that. especially with the politeness shown here. I appreciate good research and well thought out scenarios. Keep it up.
 
WRT to the whole Phantom discussion, I've doing some research and come up with the following:
- Through 1983 the USN had four active duty and four reserve F-4 squadrons (after 1983 USS Coral Sea began transitioning to the F-18).
- Through 1984 the USN had two active duty and four reserve F-4 squadrons.
- Through 1985 the USN had two active duty and two reserve F-4 squadrons (after 1985 USS Midway began transitioning to the F-18)..
- Through 1986 the USN had two reserve F-4 squadrons.

Also, a F-4 training squadron or "RAG" was maintained at Oceana NAS, Virginia through 1984.

I will take a look at the Marines tomorrow but just a quick look indicates they continued to operate several F-4 squadrons into the second half of the 1980s.
 
My mistake I saw later it was 6 not 9. I thought initially you were suggesting 9 Essexes as CVS platforms going forward.
The confusion may have arisen because I proposed 9 FRAM I refits instead of the 8 FRAM II refits of OTL.

However, only 7 of the 9 would be in commission by the middle of 1975. That is Lexington in service as the training carrier with no aircraft embarked and 6 ships operating in the CVS role. The other 2 ships would be in reserve.
 
But remember the 187 is after the complete production run. So it will take a while to get the 6 air groups up to full strength.
I hadn't forgotten in the first place.:)

The first flight of the Viking was on 21st January 1972. According to Jordan in An Illustrated Guide to Modern Naval Aviation and Aircraft Carriers service delivery was in October 1973 and according to Polmar in World Combat Aircraft Directory squadron delivery was in February 1974. He also said that 187 aircraft were planned and 138 funded through Fiscal Year 1975. Polmar was writing in 1975. Jordan, writing in 1983, said that the initial USN production run of 184 aircraft was completed in the Fiscal Year ending 30th September 1977.

Polmar also said that an S-3 COD aircraft was planned, with a total of 24-36 envisaged and mentioned an ES-3 fitted with tactical airborne signal exploitation system (TASES) to replace the EA-3B Skywarrior.

Though that's 6 air groups with Vikings.

The USN had 20 fixed-wing ASW squadrons (VS) at the end of 1965 (18 operational and 2 training). This declined to 13 VS (12 operational and one training) by the end of 1973. Each of the operational squadrons had a nominal strength of 10 aircraft. That makes a total front-line of 180 aircraft in 18 squadrons in 1965 and 120 aircraft in 13 squadrons in 1973. The USN maintained a force of 12 operational and one training VS until the end of 1990.

Meanwhile the Naval Reserve Force formed 6 VS in 1965. IOTL they were disbanded in 1975, but ITTL they would be maintained until the end of the Cold War and a second batch of 90 Vikings might be purchased to replace their Trackers.

At 1st July 1965 the USN had 9 operational and 2 training support carrier air groups (CVSG). This declined to 3 operational and no training CVSG on 1st July 1973, but they were disbanded by 1st July 1974. Meanwhile, 2 CVSG were formed in the NRF in 1970. IOTL the wings (and some of their squadrons) were disbanded in 1976. ITTL both wings would be maintained until the end of the Cold War.

However, the reduction was not that drastic. I've already pointed out that the were 12 VS squadrons at the end of 1973. There were also 11 helicopter ASW squadrons (HS) at the end of 1965. This included 9 each with a nominal strength of 16 Seabat or Sea King helicopters which were assigned to the 9 operational CVSG. There were still 11 HS at the end of 1973 and 13 by the end of 1977. However, by the end of 1977 the nominal strength of a HS had been reduced from 16 to 6 helicopters.

I would argue that the required strength already existed at the time of the POD. In fact it still existed on 1st of July 1969 IOTL when there were 6 active and 2 training CVSG. Therefore, it's a question of maintaining a force of this size rather than building up to a force of this size.
 
Soviets have better luck getting the Alfa Boats out of development and into production, with more commissioned in the early '70s rather than later '70s. USN promptly shits bricks and decides that more ASW is needed, and Essex with Viking is a cheap gap filler.
Would more Orions be cheaper?

The USN had 30 patrol squadrons (VP) at the end of 1957 and that number was maintained until the end of 1967. This was reduced to 24 VP by the end of 1969 and remained at that number until the end of the Cold War.

Meanwhile, 12 VP were formed by the NRF in 1970. A 13th VP was formed in 1976, but this was because 3 squadrons equipped with 12 Neptunes were reorganised into 4 squadrons with 9 Orions, so the total number of front-line aircraft was still 117.

Do we also get more ASW helicopters on surface warships and auxiliaries? AIUI the number of helicopters available in the 1970s was less than could be accommodated.
 
And in response to the thought of me being offended - It takes a lot more than that. especially with the politeness shown here. I appreciate good research and well thought out scenarios. Keep it up.
Thank you. Your kind words are much appreciated.
 
Soviets have better luck getting the Alfa Boats out of development and into production, with more commissioned in the early '70s rather than later '70s. USN promptly shits bricks and decides that more ASW is needed, and Essex with Viking is a cheap gap filler.
But remember the 187 is after the complete production run. So it will take a while to get the 6 air groups up to full strength.
Another thing must also be borne in mind.

IOTL paying off the Essex class support carriers without replacement didn't reduce the ASW capability of the fleet. This was because their squadrons were transferred to the attack carriers, which became multi-mission carriers. The attack carriers in service or reserve on 30th June 1975 had their designation changed from CVA to CV to reflect this.

Therefore, it was the fleet's power projection capability that was reduced rather than its ASW capability.

I used to think that the super carriers operated 2 fighter and 3 attack squadrons with a nominal strength of 14 aircraft for most of the 1960s. Then at the end of the decade they were reorganised into 2 fighter and 4 attack squadrons, each with a nominal strength of 12 aircraft. Therefore, the total increased from 70 aircraft in 5 squadrons to 72 aircraft in 6 squadrons. The 4 attack squadrons consisted of one medium VA with 12 A-6 Intruders and 3 light VA with 36 A-7 Corsair IIs. The air wing was completed by 20 fixed wing support aircraft (photographic-reconnaissance, AEW, electronic warfare and tankers) and a flight of 3 helicopters for SAR and VERTREP. The grand total was 95 aircraft.

I also though that the introduction of 10 Vikings and 6 ASW Sea Kings forced the removal of one light attack squadron, the reduction of the medium VA from 12 to 10 aircraft, the number of KA-6D tankers from 6 to 4 and removal of the SAR helicopters.

However, now that I have more information it looks as if the super carriers only operated 2 light attack squadrons between the late 1960s reorganisation and their conversion to CVs. Nevertheless, maintaining a force of support carriers to to protect the attack carriers would have allowed the latter to carry more attack aircraft, which would increase the fleet's striking power.
 
The other issue in the ASW business that we are neglecting is that as subs became more capable aviation assets became less effective in countering them. Deeper diving and quieter subs moved out of the parameters that aircraft could effectively counter. Submarines became the primary antisub weapon for 'blue water' ops. Air assets still performed a mission but primarily in inshore. This reduced the need for Antisub carrier assets.
 
I realized after I replied that we may be looking at this from two different angles. I think you're looking at it as the Navy making an almost snap decision to keep the Essex class in service. Whereas I'm looking at as the Navy making a logical and informed decision. For example, the Navy says they need X number of carriers to fulfill their missions. Congress says they'll authorize Y number of carriers, but will only provide enough funding to build Z number of carriers over however many years. So that means the Navy will have to keep older ships in service to meet Y until the new build ships come online. Obviously it's not ideal, but at that point, the Navy is going to make the best of it and try to make what they have as capable as possible. Or at least that's what they'll do once they realize Congress is serious about not funding their wish list
I'd see retaining Essex' as strike carriers to be the failure end of a scenario arc, the success end being America and JFK being nukes, Midway's refit being cheaper and faster and the like, with the USN planning for somewhere in the middle which is about where we landed IOTL. Sure, retaining Essex' as strike carriers is better than nothing, but not nearly as good as having 3 CVNs in commission by 1968 and/or having all 3 Midways get the full USS Midway treatment.

As for the particular funding, while Congress Defense appropriations committees may not get too granular with destroyers, frigates and submarines they would know individual carriers and not see an Essex as interchangeable with the Enterprise.

And the Phantom was far from "crappy" even in the late 80s. Hell, it didn't go out of production in the US until 1979. In the timeframe we're taking about, the late 60s thru the mid to late 80s, there were only two operational aircraft that I would say are definitively better than the Phantom: the Eagle and the Tomcat. Everything else the Phantom is at least on the same level as them.
The Phantom was not crappy in the 70s and 80s, however in the face of the threat of Tu22M/AS4 it is a struggle compared to what the Tomcat can do, and the USN was right to buy it in large numbers. It's the CVW itself that would be crappy. Late Essex' had 2 F8 and 3 A7 sqns, but by the 70s the F8 was miles and miles behind the state of the art and we agree that it needs to be replaced with the F4. But what about the rest of the CVW? I'd suggest that F4s would reduce the A7 sqns from 3 to 2 and no A6 sqn could be embarked reducing the striking power considerably.

The 2 RF8 recon sqns were disbanded in 68 and 72 leaving only the 2 USMC RF4B sqns(consolidated into 1 in 1975) and 10 RA5C sqns (replaced by F14 TARPs from the late 70s). The RA5Cs were needed for the supercarriers, the RF4Bs were used on the 3 Midways and the recon for the Marines, does this mean the USN retains a handful of RF8s to provide the recon det for Essex'?

What about AEW, IIUC the E2 was designed to operate from an Essex, but IOTL did it? Will the USN have to retain a tiny fleet of E1s, with attendant hassle of AVGAS, in order to retain the Essex'?

What about in 1975 when the USN changes CVAs into CVs with the S3 and SH3 sqns? Does the USN retain some S2s for the Essex', or forego the fixed wing ASW and only have SH3s? What does this sqn come at the expense of, some F4s or A7s?

It's these details that doom the idea for me. They would have to expend so many resources to retain what amount to 2nd rate assets that it makes whatever political maneuverings were undertaken to ensure the USN replaced these ships to look more and more like sound military sense.
 
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