Building the Modern Fleet
Updated: Oct 19, 2021
Join me as I embark on building a fleet of 1/700 scale ships of the U.S. Navy! This post will serve as a series launching point and discuss my motivations for model ship building. I will start with a personal anecdote of my first encounters with the Navy, then go on to explain its fascinating mission, and discuss why a small number of named ships is a golden recipe for modeler interest. I will conclude with a list of model kits representing the main naval combatant force that I intend to build.
Launching of a Lifelong Interest
Since I can remember, my favorite time of year in New York City is the week in May surrounding Memorial Day: Fleet Week, and a day out with my grandfather, a WW2 U.S. Navy Veteran! Fleet Week is an annual tradition in NYC whereby ships and sailors make port for a week. In exchange for sailors drinking all of the city's beer (see: NATO Trident Juncture 2018, Reykjavik), we civilians get to tour their ships, climb in and out of their vehicles, and watch them take their toys out for a spin in amphibious landing demonstrations.
As a kid, I was too busy gawking at the weapon systems to fully understand that Fleet Week is really about cultural exchange. I mean, can you blame an 8-year old's ignorance of the civilian-military divide? While I found myself on the receiving end of a domestic cultural exchange (one that has helped spawn a lifelong interest in naval affairs), the world's great navies have been tasked with international cultural exchange for millennia.
I will let this idea of cultural exchange sink in (no pun intended - promise!).
And now I will ask: How and why exactly does cultural exchange reconcile with naval affairs? Just what is the mission of the U.S. Navy anyways and why should I be interested in it?
The Mission Statement
The world's navies have a spectrum of missions. Here is the mission statement from the U.S. Navy, the premier naval force in the modern world:
The U.S. Navy will be ready to conduct prompt and sustained combat incident to operations at sea. Our Navy will protect America from attack and preserve America's strategic influence in key regions of the world. U.S. naval forces and operations - from the floor to space, from deep water to the littorals, and the information domain - will deter aggression and enable peaceful resolution of crises on terms acceptable to the United States and our allies and partners. If deterrence fails, the Navy will conduct decisive combat operations to defeat any enemy.
Phew, that's a lot to unpack. Let me simplify it for you.
Due to the global interests of the U.S., this mission statement nearly guarantees that U.S. Naval forces will be involved in, or in close proximity to, the events shaping the modern world. Going a step further, we can think of the Navy as embodying the eagle on the Great Seal of the United States: holding an olive branch in one talon and a clutch of arrows in the other.
I will therefore argue, that if you have a stake in our rapidly globalizing world, it makes a great deal of sense to have an awareness of the role that naval forces play, and what assets are at their disposal.
The Olive Branch
The soft parts of the Navy mission statement: "preserve America's strategic influence in key regions of the world", and "will deter aggression and enable peaceful resolution of crisis", can best be explained by way of examples.
First up: Hong Kong. Home to one of the world's great ports and metropolitan areas, Hong Kong is a highly welcomed destination for any sailor. However, as relations between the U.S. and China deteriorate amid great-power struggle, Hong Kong (by mainland China directive) is no longer open as a port for the U.S. Navy. In fact, in 2020 no U.S. naval vessel made port in Hong Kong. It should come as no surprise then, that in March 2020, for only the second time in 40 years that a U.S. Navy carrier, USS Theodore Roosevelt, made port in Vietnam (the first being the USS Carl Vinson in 2018). This visit symbolizes a growing diplomatic partnership between the U.S. and Vietnam and their mutual interest to maintain an open South China Sea where both Vietnam and China have competing maritime claims.
Second, the U.S. Navy is in the envious position of owning two floating hospital ships, USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy, that are frequently the most capable hospital wherever they are berthed. Despite having a primary mission for combat-related casualty treatment, they have most often been deployed in support of natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and even recently to NYC in April 2020 as part of the city's COVID-19 response. I can say firsthand, that watching one of these ships arrive generates goodwill and hope immeasurable. Fleet Week 2020 may have been cancelled, but the Navy still visited in a way I will never forget. And while we are at it, my hat is tipped to the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds for their inspirational flyover in May 2020 to salute frontline workers.
The Clutch of Arrows
The mission statement wastes no time in declaring "The U.S. Navy will be ready to conduct prompt and sustained combat incident to operations at sea" and "If deterrence fails...", remember the olive branch, "...the Navy will conduct decisive combat operations to defeat any enemy". These are bold words and the Navy has serious firepower to back it up. Some of the arrows in the clutch range from land attack cruise missiles ("Tomahawks"), anti-ship missiles ("Harpoon"), submarine launched nuclear ballistic missiles ("Trident"), strike aircraft, helicopters, sailors, and Marines (the Marines are part of the Department of the Navy).
The few platforms I mention above is far from exhaustive and in practical terms, the diversity of missions requires a diverse set of weapons. It also follows that a diverse set of ships are required to employ those weapons and include, submarines, destroyers, cruisers, amphibious assault ships, aircraft carriers, and ships of all shapes and sizes in between.
As a modeler, I have always believed that a greater understanding of a subject can be obtained from building it. Given the variety of naval missions, weapons, and vessels, simply building one ship will not yield the understanding I am looking for. Instead, it will take a fleet.
Finite Quantity and Naming Importance
Tasked with numerous missions and global commitments, the U.S. Navy must have hundreds of ships, right? Well, at present the Navy has approximately 290 ships as part of its combat force. When you consider the vast amount of national treasure used to build and operate these vessels (the lead ship of the Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carriers, will cost an estimated $13B), it becomes clear that they can only exist as a finite quantity.
In fact, the number of ships is so finite that they are given names. Now take these named vessels and place them in significant moments in history and you have a golden recipe for a modeler. After all, most of us are aware of the events forever tied to BB-39, BB-63, and more recently DDG-67. Strike that! What I mean to say is: "...USS Arizona, USS Missouri, and more recently USS Cole".
By now it should be clear that this is going to be an extensive project. At present, I have acquired 8 kits. In fact, finding them all is worthy of a separate post of its own. For purposes of sanity, I will not be building all the ships in a row. I am the type of builder that needs to rotate between a few projects on the bench that are of varying genres. Also, I should mention upfront that I have never built a 1/700 scale ship. Therefore, this is going to be a learning experience about both naval ships and model building, and I'm confident this project will be filled with lessons (calamity?) and laughs that I hope to share with you!
The Shipyard Backlog
Freedom Class - USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) - Dragon Models
Independence Class - USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) - Dragon Models
Oliver Hazard Perry Class - USS Ingraham (FFG-61) - Dragon Models
Arleigh Burke Class - USS Forrest Sherman (DDG-98) - Hobby Boss
Ticonderoga Class - USS Lake Erie (CG-70) - Dragon Models
Zumwalt Class - USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) - Dragon Models
San Antonio Class - USS New York (LPD-21) - Hobby Boss
Wasp Class - USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7) - Hobby Boss
Los Angeles Class
Harpers Ferry Class
Thanks for reading,
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