HH: Captain Jerry Hendrix, retired from the United States Navy, is my guest. He is one of the go to guys for me and for Washington, D.C. on ship strength, on the fleet, on how to repurpose it and rebuild it, and to get to the number that Donald Trump has laid out there. He is the senior fellow and program director of defense strategies and assessment programs at the Center for a New American Security. He’s previously served as the director of Naval history, by the way, and a military assistant to the director of the office of net assessment. Captain Hendrix, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show. Great article in the National Interest. I have tweeted it out to everyone on how to get to 350 ships and a 12 carrier group Navy. Would you give the audience listening some sense of how long it will take and what it will cost?
JH: Good morning, Hugh, and thank you very much. It’ll take somewhere between ten to twelve years to be able to get to 350 ships. Now you can do that quicker depending on what the force mix, you know, the types of ships. You need to look at the lines of ships that we’re building right now and keep them hot and try to expand them, expand that workforce, which is a blue-collar, high-paying job workforce. So things like a littoral combat ship, which is in consideration for transitioning to becoming a frigate, looking at the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, looking at your aircraft carrier fleet, looking at your Virginia-class fast-attack submarines, look at those lines and look at expanding them, how much additional capacity could we put into that? So if you look at that and you try to look at max capacity, you could get there in as little as about ten years. But realistically, to try to get to 350 ships, you would have to look at 12 years. One of the opportunities you have, actually, for some of the low end, specifically like with the frigates, is expanding and actually looking at some yards that had previously shut down, but have the capacity to build this type of a vessel, and seeing about retooling them to be able to bring them back on to make surface combatants. So that’s about what you’re looking at, and it really is critically important. The 350 number is not something that has just come up, and it’s not an aggressive number. It’s actually a number that the Naval community has been focused around for about the last five to seven years. There are 18 specific maritime regions in the world that the U.S. Navy, or the United States itself has critically national interest, and right now with a fleet of 272 ships, we’re simply not able to cover down.
HH: Now Captain Hendrix, you said, when budgets were restricted and the Obama era sequester was in place, you argued we had to look again at carriers and whether or not we could afford to have them, and their vulnerabilities. But given budget constraints being lifted and new resources, you are a full-throated proponent for a 12 carrier group?
JH: Absolutely. The last time we had 350 ships, we actually had 12 aircraft carriers, and you could legitimately support them. You could surround them with the type of defensive capabilities, which means cruisers to provide air defense, destroyers to provide surface and sub-surface, as well as submarines. The fact is, as we tipped over and we went through 300 ships to 270 ships, 272 today, we simply did not have the extended surface force to be able to protect the 10 carrier fleet that we have now. With the commitment by the Trump administration to go back to 350, we actually have the ability to build out and actually take the pressure off the carrier force, which is overtasked right now, and build out to a more natural number of 12 to be able to maintain forward carrier presence around the world. So with Donald Trump’s commitment, and with the Republican Congress, we can get behind a 350 number that allows us to have that effective and efficient force.
HH: Now Captain Hendrix, you and a couple of other people are my go to guys on this sort of stuff, and I have learned over the years that we are very thin on industrial capacity. Here, I’m just talking about the ability, you mentioned just now shipyards that are latent, but just the ability to do rotors and motors for, and ship, whatever those things are that drive the engine things, I’ve been on tours. I’ve seen them, but we just don’t have that many factories. How long does it start to get going to refurbish our industrial base?
JH: It’ll take a couple years, actually, to refurbish the industrial base. There’s not been a demand signal, so a lot of the factories have shut down. A lot of the workforce has retired or moved on to other types of professions, and so you’re going to have to begin sending the demand signal. And then you’re going to have to make a consistent demand signal. This is something that Congress has to get behind with multi-year bloc buys of ships to be able to give confidence back into the defense sector.
JH: …for them to make the hires and expand capacity. But this is really critical, and let’s face it, it brings great paying jobs back specifically to the industrial rust belt, which is where a lot of these jobs have disappeared from to allow us to get back up on step with our international competitors.
HH: Last question, Captain Hendrix. I want people to go and read it. I’ve tweeted it out. When you rebuild a fleet like this, you can put jobs where you want them if you use earmarks. And I know earmarks are a dirty word, but if you want to do an industrial policy, can’t you say we’re going to Cleveland, we’re going to the Great Lakes, we’re going there, and you’re going to build not only in New Hampshire and Mississippi and the places where we build, and of course, Virginia, but we’re going to build some ships in the Great Lakes region? Can you do that?
JH: You can, and not just because of earmarks and politics, but quite frankly, there’s a lot of industrial capacity in the Great Lakes, in the Midwest, along the Mississippi Valley, the Ohio Valley as well as on the coast that quite frankly, I mean, right now, we’re building littoral combat ships up in Wisconsin and then taking them out through the lakes and through the locks. There’s a lot of capacity there that we’ve begun to tap, and quite frankly, we have to expand that as well as continue to make our investments in Virginia as well as down in Mississippi and Alabama.
HH: Captain Hendrix, great to speak with you, a terrific article in the National Interest. I have tweeted it out, America, go and read it.
End of interview.