The Commandeering of the USS Fitzgerald: A Tale of War Industry Greed

The USS Fitzgerald is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, a large ship designed to carry out many different types of missions. It is one of over 400 ships in the U.S. Navy’s arsenal.

The U.S. war industry, the corporations that manufacture and market weaponry to the U.S. Armed Forces and allied foreign nations, has sold many goods and services to the U.S. Navy for use on Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. These include, but are not limited to: Argon ST Inc. anti-torpedo systems, Boeing anti-ship missiles, Northrop Grumman navigation software and control systems, Lockheed Martin radar, Lockheed Martin vertical launch systems (VLS), General Electric engines, propulsion systems from Philadelphia Gear and Timken Gears & Services, and Honeywell and Northrop Grumman torpedoes (featuring L-3 electro-optical sensors). Raytheon missiles like the Standard Missile 2 (SM-2) and the Tomahawk also feature prominently on Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The USS Fitzgerald is stacked.

On 17 June 2017, the high-tech USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship southeast of Japan. What followed was a classic case of war industry greed and Pentagon complicity.

On 22 September 2017, Lockheed Martin struck first, charging $15.4 million for initial repairs on the USS Fitzgerald. Six days later, Huntington Ingalls was contracted at roughly $29.3 million just to prepare for Fitzgerald repairs. In mid-December the U.S. taxpayers handed over millions more to Huntington Ingalls for imminent repair work on the destroyer. The USS Fitzgerald was being transported back to the U.S. at this time. (Its departure from Japan to the States had been delayed because the ship was damaged when it was loaded onto the transport vessel.)

This pattern of spending continued in the new year. The USS Fitzgerald arrived in Mississippi, en route to a Huntington Ingalls shipyard, on 19 January 2018. On the same day, Huntington Ingalls took in roughly $125.1 million to repair the USS Fitzgerald. One week later, the war corporation reaped a further $30.1 million for even more repair work on the Fitzgerald.

War corporations continued lining up at the Fitzgerald ATM throughout the spring and summer. On 8 March 2018, U.S. taxpayers forked over roughly $77.5 million to Huntington Ingalls for repairs and additional “modernization” of the Fitzgerald. Less than a month later, on 3 April 2018, the same war corporation charged nearly $57 million for more repair, restoration, and maintenance. Nine days later, Lockheed Martin charged $68.5 million, in part to support restoration of the USS Fitzgerald. In July, it was Huntington Ingalls’ turn again to profit: Two days before Independence Day, Huntington Ingalls dipped into the Pentagon’s coffers for more money (roughly $27.4 million) to repair, restore, and modernize the USS Fitzgerald.

September marked the last month in the fiscal year. 27 September 2018, the penultimate day of fiscal year 2018, saw exorbitant spending levels. One of the purchases on 27 September went to Huntington Ingalls for—you guessed it—USS Fitzgerald repair and modernization. This cost roughly $48.5 million.

All told, ten contracts were issued involving USS Fitzgerald repair and modernization from June 2017 through September 2018. These ten contracts totaled over $541.7 million.

Compare this $541.7 million to the cost of a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer: between $850 million and $976 million in current U.S. dollars, based on recent figures. (Adjusted for inflation, that cost roughly equals $512-$588 million in 1994, the year the USS Fitzgerald was christened.) As you can see, to fix the USS Fitzgerald, the U.S. war industry has already charged more than half of what it cost to build the USS Fitzgerald in the first place.

 

WAR INDUSTRY TRENDS

With all of this money spent on the Fitzgerald, the U.S. taxpayer expects results. But is the USS Fitzgerald fixed yet? No. It has many months left—perhaps a year—before it is scheduled to return to the open ocean.

War corporations continue refurbishing the spaces flooded during the June 2017 accident, and are jumping the gun on a scheduled upgrade that was to take place later in fiscal year 2019. The U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command Office of Corporate Communications—a title unintentionally indicative of the corporate capture of the Pentagon—indicates that repair and new construction on the USS Fitzgerald are necessary “due to the extent and complexity of the restoration.”

General Dynamics, which builds Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, declined our request to comment on costs and pricing policies.

The confluence of three trends in modern war profiteering helps contextualize the more than $541 million thrown at the USS Fitzgerald since September 2017.

Corporatization / Privatization of War. War is entirely corporate. This is not just the deployment of armed mercenaries, often euphemized as “contractors,” to warzones around the world. Corporations now do most jobs that uniformed U.S. military personnel once performed. These jobs include: flying cargo planes and drones; administrative work and strategic planning; financial preparations and audits; managing health care bureaucracy; training soldiers, airmen, Marines, and sailors, including training the sailors who crashed the USS Fitzgerald; cutting the grass, plowing snow, and disposing of rubbish; scheduling sorties and military aviation activity; recruiting and retaining the troops; researching and developing weaponry; stocking, inspecting, and maintaining war reserve matériel at home and overseas; designing tools and technology to disarm unexploded ordnance and jam improvised explosive devices; maintaining military bombing ranges; remediating the pollution left behind by the U.S. war industry and its Pentagon partners; keeping aircraft up and running; designing, upgrading, and maintaining nuclear weaponry; caring for veterans wounded while fighting abroad in one of D.C.’s endless optional wars; crafting cyber policy and conducting all types of propaganda and public relations; running the Pentagon’s program executive offices (PEO) that govern the development and deployment of major weapon systems; and implementing all manner of intelligence operations, including military counterintelligence, military signals intelligence activities, and special access programs (SAP). There is no corner of the U.S. Armed Forces that has not been privatized partially or fully.

War Industry Rule. The war industry runs the Pentagon, not the other way around. Officials who once led war corporations occupy key posts throughout the Pentagon’s leadership, including but not limited to: the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (Ellen Lord of Textron), the Secretary of the Army (Mark Esper of Raytheon), the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (John Rood of Lockheed Martin), and the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Patrick Shanahan of Boeing). Concurrently, war corporations bribe your elected officials with campaign contributions and lobby Capitol Hill daily. Republicans and corporate Democrats do the industry’s bidding. The war industry is in charge. Total corporate capture of the Pentagon is nearly complete.

Unaccountability. War corporations face no reprimand or discipline. How could they? Beasts like Lockheed Martin are not just too big to fail. They’re too powerful and too entrenched to restrain, let alone castigate. The occasional monetary fine given to a war corporation is nothing more than a nominal slap on the wrist, regardless of the severity of the infraction. These war corporations operate with impunity in an environment rife with financial fraud.

 

TRENDS IN PRACTICE

Considering the aforementioned trends, we can now understand the bigger picture: U.S. war corporations do not see a ship when they look at the USS Fitzgerald. They see profit. They see all of the goods and services they could sell, install, and maintain. In the case of the USS Fitzgerald, they are eying all of the navigation devices, missiles, sonar, radar, anti-submarine warfare electronics, command and control technology, and guns they could sell the U.S. Navy.

The U.S. war industry has taken advantage of the opportunity to tack on all sorts of additional goods and services to the repair of the USS Fitzgerald. Expect them to seize the moment and upgrade the Fitzgerald’s AEGIS weapon system as well. AEGIS is a computer system that helps the Navy track and destroy perceived enemies. By upgrading the expensive Baseline 9 version of AEIGS, the war industry would get to sell and install expensive new software and equipment on the Fitzgerald.

War corporations are pitching this upgrade as an increase to the U.S. Navy’s computing power, reaction capabilities, and radar range. The U.S. war industry’s public relations specialists regale the Pentagon and Capitol Hill with talk of “modularization” and “open architecture.” More broadly, these PR teams couch corporate sales as helping the U.S. Navy conduct “global maritime security” in “defense of the nation.” They even go as far as claiming the Baseline 9 upgrade is affordable because some parts, mainly processors and display systems, are interchangeable and shared with a couple of other weapons platforms. Far from being affordable or inexpensive, AEGIS upgrades are costly, often involving the sale of hardware and software underpinning Ballistic Missile Defense, “integrated” fire control technology, Raytheon’s series of Standard Missiles, Lockheed Martin MH-60 helicopters, and many more related weapons of war.

 

A DIVE INTO THE SONAR SUITE

A brief examination of AN/SQQ-89 is instructional.

The AN/SQQ-89 Surface Ship Undersea Warfare System is a sonar suite manufactured by Lockheed Martin (Manassas, VA). It detects, classifies, and tracks undersea objects, like mines, submarines, and torpedoes. Many corporations profit from its development and sale. For example, Leidos (Gaithersburg, MD) designs and installs some of the hardware, and Sonatech (Santa Barbara, CA) manufactures the system’s transducers.

Like a good war corporation, Lockheed Martin spreads production of AN/SQQ-89 across congressional districts, including the municipalities and townships of Bath, Maine; Everett, Washington; Honolulu and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Lemont Furnace, Pennsylvania; Marion and Tewksbury, Massachusetts; Marion, South Carolina; Manassas and Norfolk, Virginia; Pascagoula, Mississippi; San Diego, California; Hauppauge, Liverpool, Owego, and Syracuse, New York; and Clearwater, Mayport, and Oldsmar, Florida. (Leidos’ work on AN/SQQ-89 overlaps with some of these locations, and takes place additionally in Chesapeake, Virginia.) Spreading out production of war industry goods across the country ensures the domestic playing field favors permanent war; congressional districts are primed long before a single war industry lobbyist steps onto Capitol Hill or a single campaign contribution from a war corporation arrives in your crooked congressperson’s campaign coffers. War corporations corrupt your democracy from multiple points of attack.

All of this hard work pays off. Since the summer of 2014, Lockheed Martin has sold goods and services related to AN/SQQ-89 at least eighteen times for use on multiple ships. The cost? The U.S. taxpayer has shelled out over $612.7 million for this one product, as of the end of fiscal year 2018. How does this happen? Part of Lockheed Martin’s business model—a practice of which other war corporations are equally guilty—involves making boatloads of money by selling upgrades and “technical insertions” to systems like AN/SQQ-89. These upgrades are regular, costly, and pushed as mandatory by the war corporations.

The profit doesn’t stop there. Lockheed Martin also profits by billing the U.S. Navy for added services like travel, unscheduled engineering, logistics, ongoing development, installation efforts, integration, “product supportability,” sustainment, and “other direct costs.” Lockheed Martin profits further by selling the sonar suite to foreign allies of the U.S. war industry like Australia, Japan, and South Korea.

This examination of the AN/SQQ-89 suite has shown us a few tricks of the corporate trade. We now zoom out to view the USS Fitzgerald. Naturally, the war industry is pushing upgrades to Lockheed Martin’s AN/SQQ-89 system as part of the Fitzgerald’s modernization and repair.

Are these costs worth it? How would you spend the $541.7 million dollars that has gone to repairing the USS Fitzgerald? How would you spend the $612.7 million that has gone to purchasing AN/SQQ-89 goods and services? How would you spend the $1.09 trillion that the U.S. government spends on “national security” every year?

The war industry seeks profit anywhere and seizes profit everywhere. Nothing will change until the people of the United States recognize the racket of endless war along with its corporate impetus. Sadly, the tale of the USS Fitzgerald is just an average day in profiteering.

 

Christian Sorensen is an author and an independent journalist. His work focuses on the U.S. war industry.

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