Seattle Times: Editorial: Navy smart to invest in Everett for new class of ships

To read the Seattle Times editorial, click here. To read Larsen's 2019 report, "Naval Station Everett: 'The Sailor's Choice' Poised for the Future," click here.

Included in the flurry of spending bills Congress passed this month was a needed dollop of $19 million for military housing within the Navy Support Complex at Smokey Point in Snohomish County. The Navy, at the urging of several members of Washington’s congressional delegation, will use it to construct 88 new units for military members and their families.

This smart investment guarantees new residences for sailors who will serve on ships based at Everett’s naval station. But, most important, it also further solidifies the Navy’s new, long-term commitment to that city’s waterfront. Starting in 2028, Everett will begin hosting a new fleet of guided-missile frigates called the Constellation class.

“ … We must ensure we have the housing to accommodate this influx of sailors and their families,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, who noted Everett has a shortfall of about 150 units of military housing.

The Navy originally built the 30-year-old Everett station to host an aircraft carrier. But the last flat-top left there in 2015, when the USS Nimitz departed for Bremerton. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, helped identify a new future of smaller vessels for the installation.

Larsen argued the Navy should find new missions for the Pacific Northwest deep water port with proximity to an increasingly important Indo-Pacific region. The new frigate and future crews face a world of increasing tensions and threats to the freedom of navigation and commerce. Those include everything from China’s pugnacity toward Taiwan to an actual shooting war between the Navy and Houthi rebels firing missiles from Yemen at shipping traffic in the Red Sea.

Ultimately, the Navy will swap out seven destroyers and a cruiser currently homeported in Everett today for 12 new frigates, to be delivered as they’re built through 2037. The number of sailors based in Everett will actually fall slightly, from 3,100 to 2,900.

But the smaller, more nimble ships will help the Navy spread its fleet across the Pacific and beyond with reduced crew sizes, at a time when the U.S. military overall has struggled to meet recruiting targets. At about $1.1 billion each, frigates will likely cost half as much to produce as a destroyer, its larger counterpart, yet can still provide around two-thirds of its firepower, according to Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

The Navy will need to add more facilities to the Everett station to support the new class of ships, including for training and administration. Fincantieri, an Italian company whose Wisconsin shipyard is building at least the first four vessels of the class, is leasing space at the Port of Everett, The Herald of Everett reported this week.

With the coming Constellation class, the Northwest’s contingent of Navy vessels and sailors, including ballistic missile submarines on Hood Canal and an aircraft carrier in Bremerton, will play an important role in the nation’s defense given shifting geopolitics around the world and actual conflicts.

Local members of Washington’s congressional delegation must keep fighting for adequate housing, facilities and quality-of-life amenities for installations here, like those in Everett.