Public rationales for unanticipated shipbuilding costs


A euphemism is “the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant,” according to Merriam-Webster. An example might be couching a near-$1 billion increase in the cost of the most expensive ship ever in the most innocuous terms possible.

My colleague Chris Cavas has a fine explainer story in the print version of this week’s Defense News on the soaring cost of CVN 78, the Gerald R. Ford. Chris notes that the Navy’s recently unveiled fiscal year 2013 budget request asks Congress for another $811 million atop a total price tag of more than $15 billion — the most expensive ship ever built.

A 945-ton superlift is lowered into place near the stern of PCU Gerald R. Ford, or CVN-78, on May 21, 2011, at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va. The superlift erected contained a diesel generator room, a pump room, an oily water waste pump room, 16 complete tanks and 18 partial tanks that was welded to the rest of the ship. It is one of 162 total superlifts that comprise the ship. // Photo courtesy of Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries.

Chris made sure to include the euphemism the Navy unwrapped to describe the rationale for the cost bump. The Navy is attributing the need for more money to “fact-of-life cost increases.”

I understand that the Ford is the first in a new class of ship and that the Navy was ordered to put nearly all of the technology improvements originally slated to be spread across the first three carriers of the Ford class into the first one, yada yada. It’s all a matter of scale, I suppose. But that’s some “fact of life.” $811 million would go a long toward, say, remodeling aging barracks for single sailors’ pockets. Put another way, it’s enough to pay for about a third of a new Flight III Arleigh Burke destroyer.

But from a writing standpoint, I just love that phrase! What’s next? “Lessons-in-life cost increases”? “Cost-of-doing-business cost increases”? If you were trying to spin this increase for Congress, how would you term it?


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1 Comment

  1. This ship as got to take several years to make, by that time I would imagine the material cost increases would be that much. Stuff jumps on us sometimes 10-20% on a month to month basis. Plus, I wonder if this is one of those built by the lowest bidder type of things. Those type of things generally are bid way under cost and have those “fact-of-life cost increases.” I agree though, I would love to see that $811M go towards something more personal for our troops.

    On a side note: Can we not kick enough ass as is? Why are we needing something so big, massive and expensive?

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