Pakistan will add a new ship to its growing fleet next year. Well, not exactly new: The 30-year-old frigate USS McInerney, put on the Navy’s inactivation list last month, will fly the flag of Pakistan after retirement from the U.S. Navy next year.
The transfer of old Navy ships to other countries is done through the Navy’s International Programs Office, which brokers deals through its foreign military sales department.
“I interact with global customers who want to buy Navy stuff,” said Rear Adm. Steve Voetsch, director of the IPO. “If you look at the world economy, you’d think all the money would be gone ... The demand for U.S. stuff seems to be growing internationally. They know we make good stuff and back our stuff.”
That demand, in many cases, is backed by U.S. dollars.
Poorer countries such as Pakistan can be granted U.S. ships no longer in commission. Any needed repairs or alterations are paid for with foreign military aid provided by the U.S. But there is a catch: Recipients of the aid money must “buy American.”
The Navy’s foreign military sales department brokers contracts with U.S. companies for any work done on the ship prior to transfer.
The program can be seen as a variation on checkbook diplomacy that puts money into the pockets of U.S. military contractors and bolsters the fleets of smaller allied countries willing to help with the U.S. global mission.
It’s a strategy that works toward realizing Adm. Mike Mullen’s “thousand-ship navy” between the U.S. and its allies, Voetsch said.
Mullen, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs, coined the phrase a few years ago when he was serving as chief of naval operations. The idea is that governments and international organizations could create an ad-hoc 1,000-ship global fleet, all dedicated to achieving mutual goals such as maintaining secure shipping lanes throughout the world.
Once transferred to Pakistan, the ship will join Combined Task Force 151, the multinational force aimed at fighting piracy in the troubled waters of the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, Voetsch says.
The cost for refurbishments onboard the McInerney, which includes anti-submarine missile defenses and other weapons systems, is set at $65 million, according to several national and international media reports.
This is no “cash for clunkers” program. The ships are in usable condition.
“We give it away while it’s still floating,” Voetsch said. “It’s what we call a ‘hot’ transfer.”
Hot transfers are more cost-efficient because they occur right after a ship decommissions. Cold transfers take place long after a ship has been docked at a storage facility for any length of time.
Ship transfers involve policy decisions made by the State Department, Congress, the Navy and the Department of Defense.
Not all old Navy assets are up for grabs. Submarines, for example, are not eligible for transfer to foreign navies.
Over the past 10 years, the Navy has transferred 23 ships, including minesweepers, patrol craft and tugboats to other countries, including Greece, Turkey and Egypt and India.