Words of Advice:

"If Something Seems To Be Too Good To Be True, It's Best To Shoot It, Just In Case." -- Fiona Glenanne

"Flying the Airplane is More Important than Radioing Your Plight to a Person on the Ground
Who is Incapable of Understanding or Doing Anything About It." -- Unknown

“Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level
and then beat you with experience.” -- Mark Twain

"Stay Strapped or Get Clapped." -- probably not Mr. Rogers

"Eck!" -- George the Cat

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Future for the US Navy

First, you probably should at least read Galrahn's blog post and, if you have time, the CNA paper. The Proceedings article is good, as well, but for some reason, it is munged in Firefox (I used Chrome to read it).

I don't do a lot of military analysis and, to be honest, I've never thought much of the art. Many of the analyses I've read gloss over the issues of maintenance, training and sustainability, assuming that it'll all work out.

But permit me to make a few observations, though I am not going to address the options contained in the CNA paper or the blogs that I've cited above. (They did a decent job and I see no need to re-plow that terrain.)

The CNA paper noted the rate of warship procurement. The low point in the Bush Administration, FY 2008, authorized three ships. That was less than one-sixth the high point of the Reagan Administration (20 ships in FY 86). The CNA paper also noted that up to 40% of the fleet has been deployed at any one time in the last ten years.

The latter is, to my mind, not sustainable. It is not sustainable because that high of a level of tempo of operations (OPTEMPO) has negative results over the long run. Maybe 60% time in home port sounds good, but please keep in mind that includes the time required for major overhauls, in which a ship is drydocked and most of its equipment refurbished or replaced. If you take overhauls out of the mix, then when the ship is not in overhaul, it will spend the majority of time deployed. And even when the ship is back home, it is going out on various exercises.

The implications of that are these:

First, the fact that a ship spends most of its time deployed will stress the families of the crew. This raises dissatisfaction among the crews and easily results in more families rupturing. It will have an effect on retention, as many people who might have opted for a Navy career will chose to get out for family reasons.

Second, when the ship spends time back in home port (presumably a CONUS port), there will be precious little time to do anything other than get ready for the next deployment in a few months, including dealing with the regular inspections that the Navy requires, from InSurv* and PEBs to ORIs. An intermediate level maintenance availability probably is a jam-packed affair, with as much deferred as possible.

Third, the ships are going to wear out faster. The sea is an incredibly corrosive and hostile environment. Even if it wasn't, machinery wears out over time.

Fourth, being deployed is expensive. It just costs more to get stuff (food, supplies, repair parts, people) to a ship that is sailing off the coast of Bumfuckistan than a ship that is in Norfolk or San Diego, not to mention the fuel that is burned.

Fifth, a force that spends the majority of its time deployed will, over the long term, suffer quality problems when it comes to retaining people. You need only look at the Army, which got to the point during the Iraq War (and may still be there) that a detectable pulse was all that it took to be promoted to major or lieutenant colonel.**

The bottom line is that the current mode of operations for the Navy, the model that it has been following since the start of the Korean War, which is an ability to operate almost everywhere at the same time, is not sustainable.

So how do you fix this?

First, something has to give, and while this may be like wishing for unicorn poop to fertilize fields of golden clover***, the procurement system needs to be revised. Programs that are badly managed or out of control need to be cut. If Shipyard A bids $500 million for the delivery of a ship and the cost escalates to $800 million, then Shipyard A doesn't get to build any more of those ships. Whether its rifles, airplanes or warships, if it can't come in on time and on budget, then cut the program. One of the guiding principles of any negotiation is that you will be skull-fucked if you aren't willing to walk away from the deal. The Department of Defense, not just the Navy, needs to adopt that principle and it needs a president who is willing to veto any frakking bill that contains military procurement items outside of the budget.

Hell, it needs to be that any congressman who slips military pork into legislation, such as more C-17s, is denounced loudly as putting the needs of his contributors ahead of the military need of this country.

Second, the wedding of one crew to one ship may have to be rethought. SSBNs have been operating for decades with two crews. Two crews per warship may be too costly, but the use of more crews than ships should be explored, say, five crews for three ships. This would allow for more time at home port for crews while keeping a high OPTEMPO for the ships themselves. This would allow time for more school-based advanced training. The downside of that is that manning costs would be divorced from ship operating costs, which might result in some nasty budgetary games. Having some extra sailors may also increase poaching by the Army, which happened during the Iraq War when tens of thousands of sailors were sent to Iraq to do things like run prison camps.****

Third, the Navy may have to get back in the business of operating repair ships for surface ships. All of the destroyer tenders (ADs) have been stricken since the end of the Cold War.***** ADs permitted high-level maintenance and repairs to be done almost anywhere that a port or a protected anchorage was available. Such maintenance now would have to be done in foreign shipyards, which can raise a host of security issues. The ability of ADs to go places where sophisticated repair facilities don't exist could also result in less time off station for ships.

Fourth, the Navy may have to consider de-crewing and decommissioning ships undergoing overhaul. The Navy doesn't like doing this as this would remove the crew as a labor and security force during overhaul. It also may raise quality issues as there would be far fewer people looking at the work as the overhaul progresses. This would, however, reduce the number of ships that need to be crewed.

Fifth, and back to the point of the various articles and papers, the Navy cannot continue to operate as it has for the last sixty years. Something has to give and if the Navy doesn't address this and continues to try to carry on as it has, then the Navy will end up not doing anything well and may wind up being broken.

I'm betting on "not doing anything until the Navy breaks down". Whatever the Navy wants to do to address the "fewer ships than tasks" problem will require political support. Reforming the procurement system will take political support and will piss off the contractors who make large political contributions. Kicking the can down the road is a well-practiced sport by politicians and too many of them still regard the defense budget as a welfare program for their states and district. I don't see that changing anytime soon.

* InSurv reports have been so damning of the Navy's maintenance of its warships that the Navy responded by classifying the reports.
** The Arnheiter Affair is illustrative of that situation.
*** Given the fact that Congress treats the military budget as a pork barrel.
**** After about a month of training in "how to play sojer".
***** Two sub tenders are still in service, the Emory S. Land and the Frank Cable.


s4e4 said...

I remember being taught the service fleet was what really kept everything going. Yeah, they will run the ships down to nothing.

Comrade Misfit said...

I rarely ever see any analyses that address issues of maintenance and sustainability. Wrench-turning and welding are not sexy compared to big things that go "boom".

Ruckus said...

Look around at our society. Our cars don't require anywhere near as much service as they once did.
What household appliance do you get repaired when it breaks? When was the last time you saw a TV repair shop? I may be showing my age but this is one way things change and get better. They need less maintenance and they last longer, or at least seem like it. We don't maintain a lot of things in this country. Bridges and roads and in a lot of cases, even our own health. We generally look down upon people who work with their hands, the journeymen(persons?) who make and repair things, the plumbers, welders, machinists, carpenters, gardeners and on and on. We even give them bigger titles to make the job sound better, janitor becomes sanitation engineer.
It's a cultural thing, it's why we don't have much place for technical schools only college. And then it's not just college it's the better college. We are, for the most part, a nation of snobs. Measuring ourselves by how we stand above some other group. For a lot of people it becomes racial, even though it was not intended that way. Just someone else to get a leg up on.

chaoticsynapticactivity said...

The two crew concept, from my hearsay in the Black Shoe Navy wasn't that good, but I defer to those who have been there.

I can see the analog of the Sub force being a not so close match due to:

1) The "input level" is the best quality of those entering the Navy, as a rule. The rule for the Surface force is: The ones who didn't make the nuke cut, or the aviation cut...now do the math.

2) Subs go sinker on purpose. The crew is much more invested in maintenance at any level. Surface guys? Well, it's floating, isn't it?

What I heard was the forward deployed hulls (MCM and I think some of the DDG51s had this happen, too) were pretty much stripped, or...if a light bulb was out, and the next crew was coming, "let them handle it" attitude.

When it belongs to everyone, it belongs to no one.

Top that off to the human condition of getting a Zone Inspection, or Messing and Berthing and being hammered in those first few weeks aboard...kinda like someone in charge that's in the news almost daily: "It's not MY FAULT!" Even if you can keep it to yourself, there isn't the pride of owner ship subconscious emotional sabotage happening as you go about your work.

Now factor in the very practical: My Snipes, about 2/3rds of them were Pre-Commers, knew exactly when something was making a noise it shouldn't, or the temps weren't "normal," because they worked on, in or around it daily.

Big hurdles to climb. I think the Sub force can continue to pull it off, but that also grew from the massive influx of $$$ of the strategic force development, which grew a communities culture in a positive growth mode, not as the machinery and hulls are already worn out, and then you have to keep them alive for a lack of funds.

chaoticsynapticactivity said...


You have a point, but even in the Salad Days of the big, bad Soviets, we made plans to make things work, like FFG-7 to have smaller crews and do less maintenance, while a shore support SIMA structure was beefed up. Then the Wall came down, and part of the "Peace (vote buying) Dividend) was to cut the shore structure. As the SIMAs declined to be able to handle the maintenance for the "minimum manned" ships, the ships remained in the inventory and deploying...OOPS!

That's but one of many stories, where the leadership didn't fully appreciate or even comprehend what smart subordinates had put together to be very effective. The big boys got around the tables in DC and basically, randomly cut things off, by looking at the projected dollar costs.

I was put in charge of the group to merge the FTG/FTU and CSMTT organizations. A room full or smart, people gave me a great output. I told the O-6s this was all muscle, no fat, with the warning to not cut it from there, as we padded nothing, even knowing the big boys like to put their mark on things.

One thing they cut: NSSMS 1157s FCs. A while later, CV-60 pumped two birds through the bridge of the TCG MAUVENET (DM-57). When the big boys asked: "Who trained them?" We said: Didn't with system knowledge...you cut those billets....

Decisions in this venue, like in physics, have reactions...