The $1.2 billion U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard, burned to a crisp in San Diego Bay in 2020, would cost the US Navy $3 billion to replace if they ever do.
Due to severe problems with the nuclear propulsion system and munitions elevators, construction costs exceeded $13 billion on the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford, making it the most expensive warship ever built.
But this is nothing compared to the estimated price for the future USS Columbia (SSBN-826), the lead ship in the new class of 12 ballistic-missile submarines, which is now projected to cost over $15 billion, compared to “just” $14.39 billion estimates in FY 2021.
U.S. Navy education is not much better. At the U.S. Naval War College (NWC), located in Newport, RI, a $112 million yearly budget educates just 383 MA students from all the military services (not counting foreign students, who often pay their own way), at a per-head cost of almost $300,000, over double the most expensive private school in the world.
What to do? Just as the US Navy is thinking of out-sourcing shipbuilding, perhaps to South Korea, turning to civilian institutions is the obvious answer to wildly escalating USN education costs.
At the Bush School at Texas A&M, for example, their FY21 budget was just $22 million to educate a comparable number of MA students. This is one-fifth of the NWC price. But it gets worse. College Station is 20% cheaper than Newport, RI, plus housing costs are far less, perhaps half. When one civilian PhD Professor moved from the NWC to A&M he effectively doubled his salary. Taking all these factors into account, therefore, the Bush School has almost a ten-to-one cost advantage over the NWC.
In other words, the US Navy would pay just a dime per dollar for its education if it went civilian.
The US Navy is Synonymous with Waste. Its ship-burning/building record proves this time and time again. But if the US Navy does not begin to spend its education budget more wisely, then it is inevitable that the other military services will balk, and eventually turn more and more to civilian MA programs like at the Bush School—as the Space Force has already done with Johns Hopkins University—to provide their Professional Military Education.
Bruce Elleman is William V. Pratt Professor of International History at the US Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. The opinions expressed in this article are strictly his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US government, the U.S. Navy, or the U.S. Naval War College.