Archive for the 'Shipbuilding' Tag


The Gaps in our Fleet

October 2015


Bae_systems_official_gcs_releaseIf you have not yet had the chance to catch up on what will be the Royal Navy’s next surface combatant, the Type 26 frigate, there is no finer place to go than to our friends at ThinkDefence.

They have the history of the program and its capabilities well covered. You owe it to yourself to spend some time reading the links.

In catching up, there were two things that came to mind about the ship and its program. Both point to two large gaps we have in our fleet that a program such as the Type 26 would have been a perfect fit.

First there is the obvious one. Our two major shipbuilding programs (DDG-1000 does not count – that is effectively a technology demonstrator program now) are the LCS/FF and the ubiquitous Arleigh Burke Class destroyers.

Let’s just review the most superficial aspects of those two ships. For LCS, let’s use the FREEDOM Class as the baseline:
– Length: 378′
– Displacement: 3,500t
– Speed: 47 kts at sea state 3
– Range: 3,500 nm at 18 kts
– Main gun: 57mm
– AAW: RIM-116 (range 4.8nm)
– Anti-Surface Missile: none yet; tbd. Possible bolt on Harpoon or other.
– Land attack missiles: none.

Now the DDG-51 Flight IIA:
– Length: 509′
– Displacement: 9,200t
– Speed: 30+ kts
– Range: 4,400 nm at 20 kts
– Main gun: 5″/54
– AAW: RIM 162 ESSM (27+ nm), RIM-66M (40-90 nm range), RIM-161 (ABM ~378 nm)
– Anti-Surface Missile: none.
– Land attack missiles: TLAM.

The Type 26:
– Length: 487′
– Displacement: 6,500t
– Speed: 28+ kts
– Range: 7,000 nm at 15 kts
– Main gun: 5″/45
– AAW: CAMM (13.5nm)
– Anti-Surface Missile: TBD to fit in MK-41 VLS.
– Land attack missiles: Possible TLAM.

Clearly, the Type 26 fits that “we don’t need a frigate” gap as a large frigate/small destroyer. As our British friends say, a nice bit of kit.

That brief outline above is the obvious gap filler, but not the most important one. The most important gap the Type 26 fills is in the programmatic mindset. How they got to the ship they did.

Where we were stuck in a narcissistic awe that was the transformationalist movement and begat LCS/FF and the Tomorrowland DDG-1000 (with the expected results warned of from the start), with time – and perhaps an eye to the slow rolling train wrecks across the pond, the Royal Navy took a different approach.

The most sensible part of the whole programme is its attitude to technology risk. Whether this is wholly intentional, or merely a happy by-product of Type 23 obsolescence and timing issues is for others to argue, but the fact remains, Type 26 has a relatively low level of technology risk.

Most of the major systems have been, or will be, de-risked on Type 23, with perhaps a few on CVF.

From an old Royal Navy publication (page 120);

To reduce programme risk, and in keeping with the principles of through-life capability management, there is a drive to maximise pull-through from the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, Type 45 destroyers and ongoing Type 23 capability sustainment/upgrades, in an effort to both reduce risk and capitalise on previous investment, and/or existing system inventory. So while the Type 45 is characterised by approximately 80 per cent new to service equipment and 20 per cent reuse, these percentages will be effectively reversed for Type 26

The air defence system, gas turbine, countermeasures, helicopter handling, combat management system, medium calibre gun, sonars and even the chip fryers will be in service on ships other than Type 26 GCS before they are in service on the Type 26 GCS.

Without a shadow of doubt, this is a good thing.

There is of course, design and engineering challenges, but at least, there are no major systems to develop in parallel.

There it is. That is the takeaway. That is the largest gap that the Type 26 fills in our fleet; an intellectual gap of humility.

It has been covered over and over through the years, and no reason to do it again, but going forward with every program we must not repeat the mistakes from the first decade of the 21st Century; we cannot ignore centuries of evolutionary success in shipbuilding to chase the revolutionary mirage. Technology risk is real, compounds, and surprises.

Good people with a lot of confidence will almost always over-promise and under-deliver their technology. That is why a culture of happy-talk, group-think, and best-case-only has problems.

You need a balance of styles and world-views. Bringing a program to a successful conclusion where it displaces water and makes shadows on the deck in a manner that is of use to the warfighter takes calm, humble, and firm programmatic leadership. Leadership, that while looking for promise, roots all in the firm soil of the tested, proven, affordable, and practical.

To do otherwise is to spend your money, time, and career building fleets of A-12s, SSN-21s, and DDG-1000s. For our fleet LTs and LCDRs of today that will lead the programs coming out of the coming Terrible 20s – remember the lessons of those programs and – if you don’t mind looking around a bit – look at what some of our friends did too.

You can learn just as much from clear-eyed close examination of failure as you can from success.

G40pLDm3iLhInbU7O4pFOjl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9Though a well worn phrase, we really can learn more from our failures than our successes. That only works if you are willing to accept your failures, identify what led to them, and strive to both understand not only the failure itself, but the steps that led you there.

By almost any measure, SC-21/DD-21/DD-X/DDG-1000 has been a failure. One of the best things we did was to halt the program at three ships. The better route might have been to just cancel it altogether, but I think good people can disagree on if there is value in keeping what we have as a technology demonstrator that will deploy now and then so we can harvest the good ideas for future programs. An expensive lesson, but a turnip that does have some blood.

The rump-DDG-1000 class is also a perfect icon of the Age of Transformationalism. As with all the programs of that era, we will continue throwing seabags full of money at the problem to try make the best it.

On the surface side of the house, there are the three Hulls of Transformationalism, LCS; LPD-17, and our bespotted DDG-1000. As was foretold, with enough money the Tiffany LPD-17 class would be made functional. That gilded line that leads to acceptable adequacy has yet to be made with LCS/FF, but as of now we are fully vested in making the best of that too – and eventually we will. All will be content as long as no one looks at the opportunity cost and what might have been done if we did not fully embrace the Cataclysm of the Age of Transformationalism.

In the Age of Transformationalism we turned “Build a Little, Test a Little, Learn a Lot” on its head in to “Build a Lot, Test Nothing, Pray a Lot.” That was the largest sin; we believed that we were so smart and our force of will so strong, that we could ignore decades of shipbuilding and program development lessons.

Technology risk? That was for people with negative energy. We piled layers of unproven – or even unbuilt – weapons, manning concepts, personnel policy, engineering plants, sensors with cross-dependencies, on top of each other. Playing long odds that there wouldn’t be cascading technology failures and tempting the programmatic gods, we just assumed that those in the PCS cycles that followed would find the money and “make it work.”

Budget risk? We assumed that, unlike all other programs, that these would stay on budget – and if they didn’t – that Congress would just find more money. Regardless, we assumed that the money unicorn would prance on by, and from the skiddles, a 300+ fleet would emerge. Of course, none of that happened – but it was predicted over a decade ago, but to deaf ears.

Manning? People are expensive, so we will find people who will tell us that they know how habitability and damage control can be made anew – that one person can do 36 hrs of work in 18 hrs. How? Because we told them we wanted it, and the PPT said so.

We decided that desire and personality would trump experience and engineering. Those who brought up problems were reassigned until the table was full of people who would make the approved vision flesh. Of course it would all work, no one told decision makers it wouldn’t.

Most know this story, but it bears repeating as there is still an afterglow in the decay of what is left of the Age of Transformationalism. Part of that is that we suffer from a cadre that does not understand the basics of economics. One point; we still do not understand the economic concept of sunk cost.

If we are, and we are, in a period of tighter budgets with growing demands of a finite slice of the pie – then we have to find inefficiencies and cull them without sentiment and mercy. When you find yourself in a cash squeeze, you don’t worry about what you spent in the past – there isn’t anything you can do about that – you have to focus on what you are spending now and in the future.

What about the GRAF SPEE sized DDG-1000? If the ship class itself has degenerated in to little more than a technology demonstrator that will be used a little in the fleet on occasion – why do we need three?

Here is one side of the argument;

Under intense budget pressure, a Pentagon cost-cutting team is pushing the Navy to cancel its third and last Zumwalt-class destroyer, the Lyndon Johnson (DDG-1002).

The DDG-1000 Zumwalts are expensive; three ships will cost almost $13 billion. About $9 billion of that was spent on research and development alone.

the Defense Department’s independent Cost Assessment & Program Evaluation office (CAPE) is considering cutting the third ship — which is in large part already built and paid for.

Counting the current fiscal year (which ends nine days from now), Congress will have appropriated $11.8 billion for the DDG-1000 program, out of a projected total of $12.8 billion. So the maximum possible amount left to save is $979 million, less than 8 percent of the total. (It might be more if the Pentagon somehow recouped funds spent in prior years, which is theoretically possible but awfully unlikely).

But that figure assumes you somehow manage to cancel the program immediately as of October 1st and you don’t spend another penny.

In brief, you’re forgoing a $3.5 billion ship — as third in the class, Johnson costs less than the first two — to save at most $1 billion and more likely less than half a billion (possibly zero). The marginal cost of just finishing the damn thing already is not high, in Pentagon terms.

There are of course years of operations and maintenance costs to consider, …

Let’s not go with the high number – but the low number. $500 million. Is that pocket change? Forget what has already been thrown down the hole – do we need that third ship that is full of immature technology, questionable “stealth,” and a highly debatable “optimal” manning concept that is already demonstrating its inadequacy on LCS?

What is the other side of the argument?

“If they wanted to kill the third ship , they’re about two years late,” said Loren Thompson, a defense industry analyst and consultant — and member of BD’s Board of Contributors — who’s criticized the Navy’s handling of the Zumwalt program. “You will lose an entire warship, but you will only reclaim a fraction of the cost. So, given the likely political fallout, why would you do it?”

But that figure assumes you somehow manage to cancel the program immediately as of October 1st and you don’t spend another penny. That is legally and administratively impossible. The more likely scenario is that the requested figure for 2016 is appropriated too — there’s strong support for that in Congress — and the cut only takes effect with the fiscal 2017 budget, which is the one the Pentagon is currently working on. That means another $520 million gets spent and potential savings drop to a maximum of $458 million. And you can’t save all of that, either.

First, some of that half-billion is to complete the first two ships. They are not being canceled. Second, you would need to pay program shutdown costs and contract termination penalties.

The Maine delegation has led the charge so far, since the Zumwalts are being built in their homestate’s Bath Iron Works (a General Dynamics subsidiary). But walking away from a mostly bought-and-built destroyer would also infuriate powerful chairmen like Senate Armed Services Committee’s John McCain, a retired Navy officer himself, and the House seapower subcommittee’s Randy Forbes.

“It’s unlikely that the third Zumwalt will be canceled because the amount of money saved isn’t commensurate with the political capital expended,” Thompson told me.

Read it all and let it soak in.

Why cancel it? Well, it is the right thing to do – but we are slaves to a system of our own design that “won’t” let us. We need the money, but not enough will to do what needs to be done. As a result we will force on the Navy an exquisite 3-ship fleet experiment.

Though I may hate to admit it, Thompson is partially right here – but only on the politics. It is a bit too late to act in a way to save a half-a-billion dollars and more in the out years. There isn’t the political support, and no one, it seems, is willing to make the logical step to do the right thing.

The article mentions Sen. McCain (R-AZ), but we don’t know exactly what his position would be. If I were advising him, I would have him keep this USS LBJ expenditure in his back pocket to use next time someone is in front of them looking for a few hundred million dollars for their pet project.

“Oh, that’s cute. You could have used the money you insist we spend for the DDG-1002 that seems welded to the pier. I think we need that for the SSBN replacement. Have a nice day.”

naval baseThere are very few readers of USNIBlog who believe that we have an adequately sized fleet – especially those readers coming back from an 8, 9, or 11-month deployment. Sure, we may debate what types of ships should count towards or make up that fleet, but the bottom line number? No, few think we are where we need to be, much less that we should have a smaller one.

That does not mean that in the general conversation about the right size and composition of the USA’s national security apparatus, there isn’t a body of thought that not only is our fleet size fine, it may even be too large.

Via CNN, here is how the conversation usually starts;

While many analysts think the Navy needs to grow, others think it’s large enough — given its global dominance — and that funding realities mean there’s a limit to how much it could expand in any case.

The U.S. naval force is currently made up of 273 ships, which is the smallest number since the fleet stood at 245 ships in 1916. While fleet size has fluctuated significantly throughout history, topping out at 6,768 during World War II, today’s Navy is only slightly smaller than it was in 2006 under President George W. Bush, when it employed 281 active ships.

Part of me thinks we are not making a strong enough argument, or that we are not making our argument in a way that can penetrate the general population in a way that makes sense.

We can have significant defense policy thinkers put forth the following;

Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, agreed with the Republican view that the Navy needs to have closer to 355 ships to maintain current deployment patterns and to carry out missions ranging from disaster relief to military deterrence.

He said that adding more ships to the fleet’s rotation would allow the Navy to shorten deployments, which would help personnel retention and avoid carrier gaps in the future.

(Peter) Singer said better questions about the future of the Navy would be, “What types of ships are they going to be and how are you going to pay for them?”

At the same time, mainstream organizations are still tapping in to those with a shallow understanding of maritime issues, such as Gregg Easterbrook, to be their “defense expert” in order to make their point. I’ll let you research his background and writing for yourself – but he is listened to and on the national stage and if calls-for-comment are a measure, is making an argument as well as Hendrix and Singer to the general public.

This discussion goes back to March from Easterbrook, and addressed by Hendrix on this blog shortly afterwards. In spite of the additional thrashing of Easterbrooks’ article by Bryan McGrath, James Holmes, and even little ‘ole me at my homeblog, Easterbrook and the do-less-with-less caucus still gets traction.


Gregg Easterbrook, a journalist who has tracked fiscal policy and military strategy for Reuters and The Atlantic, argued that the U.S. Navy’s technological superiority makes it plenty big enough to maintain the dominance it has enjoyed for the last half-century

“The U.S. Navy is 10 times stronger than all of the other world’s navies combined,” Easterbrook said. “To say that the Navy is weak because the numbers are going down is classic political nonsense.”

“No other country is even contemplating building something like the Ford-class carrier,” Easterbrook said. “We could cut the Navy in half in terms of ship numbers and still be far stronger than the rest of the world combined.”

Regardless of the reason, we need to rethink how we are telling our story. The fight for every fleet unit will get harder and harder as we work through the 2020s. As ISIS rages ashore, the problem of sea blindness will not get any better. As Dakota Woods stated in the CNN article, we need more depth to the discussion once we get people’s attention;

… today’s Navy is only slightly smaller than it was in 2006 under President George W. Bush, when it employed 281 active ships.

But former military officials say comparisons between the Navy of 1917 and today’s are an apples-to-oranges contrast. The modern Navy includes 10 aircraft carriers — more than the rest of the world combined — 90 surface warfare vessels and 72 submarines.

“It is a useful bumper sticker,” said Dakota Wood, a former U.S. Marine and senior research fellow for defense programs at the Heritage Foundation. “It resonates with people but doesn’t go into the details.”

Do we need the accountant’s details … or the story teller’s narrative?

687474703a2f2f32372e6d656469612e74756d626c722e636f6d2f74756d626c725f6c6f737837336e4a567531717a796468326f375f3235302e676966They will just keep coming. Make it happen.

Via Kris Osborne over at;

The U.S. Navy is preparing to accept delivery of four more of its shallow-water Littoral Combat Ships between now and February of next year, effectively doubling its current fleet size of the ships and paving the way for more deployments.

“By early next year, the Navy will be operating eight littoral combat ships and we’ll be accepting four more by the end of 2016,” Johnson told “The Navy will continue to accept ships at that rate for the next several years making the LCS class the second largest surface combatant class in the fleet and the key to our ability to operate in shallow, coastal waterways around the world.”

That is an even dozen. Let’s pause a bit and chew on that. LCS-1 was commissioned in 2008, ~seven years ago, and little under 1/3 of her expected service life. What have we done with her in that time that shows any utility at war? While it was nice to test the theory of Longbow Hellfire a few weeks ago – it is not even close to being a warfighting option anytime soon in SUW ourside limited line of sight engagements. The MIW module doesn’t work (yet), and we don’t know if the ASW module is operationally usable because it is still overweight. Remember, FY15 is almost over.

Thee ships coming in to the Fleet in number now are – let’s be blunt and speak to each other as adults – of almost no use to a Maritime Component Commander at war or aggressive peace. This is still an experiment. Pray for peace, because there is no time in the upcoming POM cycle this warship should be put in harms way.

When in history has our Navy intentionally diluted its Fleet with such a large number of sub-optimal platforms whose only FMC PMA are Prayer, Promises, Hope, and Spin (PPHS)?

The littoral combat ship was designed as a multi-mission shallow water platform able reach areas and port inaccessible to larger-draft ships.

The platform has been the focus of some criticism and controversy. Lawmakers, analysts and members of the Navy have said the ships are not survivable enough in a fast-evolving world of surface warfare threats. Proponents have maintained that the LCS class is designed to defeat threats in coastal waters, where increasingly capable submarines, mines, and swarming small craft operate.

The theory is what it always has been, but still in 2015, there is no there, there. Good people with more money and Sailors will make the best of it as can be made – but the half-life of PPHS is passed, and yet has been made flesh anew;

Nevertheless, the concerns have led the Pentagon and the Navy to develop a new LCS variant, now called a Frigate, designed to capitalize upon the benefits of the LCS platform while making it more lethal and survivable. The particular composition of technologies and weapons for these new ships is now in the process of taking shape.
So, what now? Very good question. How much money and time do we invest to get this to even a usable warfighting capable platform?

What is plan B? Sadly, plan B was the new FF – but the way it was set up, the only option was a USN variant of what was the LCS-(I). Compared to the other options out there? Well, we have what we have. There were other plans – but that was not in the cards for those who had their hands on the levers of power.

For now, we will have to just bring the ships on, pat the program on its head, and then when they walk away – talk among ourselves how we can use this without delusion as to its utility and wasting Sailors lives. March in place with that mindset until something better comes along. Same that the US Army did with its Lee and Grant tanks in WWII.

To get something of better use, we will have to wait until the 2030s. It will take new leaders, new vision, and an honest appraisal of the mistakes made in the early 2000s. Good news? Those leaders who in the 2020s will help set up that 2030s solutions are mostly the young men and women in their 30s and 40s today. Those who will sign off on that solution are probably mostly in their 50s today. They know the LCS tale of woe because they watched it the balance of their professional careers. If we are a learning institution, then it will show inside a decade, sometime in the middle of the expected squeeze of the Terrible 20s.

Think. Prepare. Plan younger-cohort Gen-X, and Gen-Y. By example, you have a good idea how not to run a program. When the window opens and you find yourself at the table to replace the LCS/FF class – do it right.

10857796_10203486171465635_3701561546245203348_n (1)It is always a good time to back up and review where we are with the LCS. Now that we have doubled down on both hulls with their transmogrification in to a FF, it is especially important to see if we are reinforcing success or reinforcing failure.

Before we do that, let’s look at what was done with the last class of sub-DD/DDG sized ships. Let us look back at what previous generations brought to the fleet prior to the computer systems and superior technology of today.

Let’s keep it focused on one area in particular; just the timeline, milestones, and performance. For our benchmark, let’s look at the FFG-7 class, the OLIVER HAZARD PERRY (OHP), a run of 51 ships, compared to where we are with LCS, a planned run of 52 ships (32 LCS and 20 FF).

OHP Hull-1 was commissioned in 1977.
LCS Hull-1 was commissioned in 2008.

Roll the clock forward roughly six years.
OHP by year six, through the end of 1983: 37 ships commissioned, 34 for the USN, 3 for the RAN.
LCS by year six, through the end of 2014: 4 ships commissioned.

We should note as well the operational history of the OHPs by 1983. FMC in all mission areas, full deployments with all Fleets. By the end of 2014, LCS is little more than creeping through further developmental testing … yet, we are committed to seeing the class through to whatever end it will have.

Why the optimism that this is the ship we want to send our Sailors to war in? Let’s jump to page 195 of the Pentagon’s Director, Operational Test & Evaluation 2014 Annual Report.

Further commentary on my part is not necessary. Some very cold, quiet, and self-reflective moments are needed by all to ponder why we are still here going there. For those responsible for this decision, perhaps ask yourself this; is there really anything wrong with others who measure your decisions and to still find them wanting?

What is there to gain by critics in to continuing to beat the undead?

Perhaps, if nothing else, to keep reminding future leaders that when it is their turn, that they can do better. Other generations have, so can theirs.

Below are just a few of the, ahem, highlights. There are many more.


The 2014 operational testing identified shortcomings in air defense, reliability, and endurance, and significant vulnerabilities in cybersecurity. When equipped with the Increment 2 SUW Mission Package, LCS 3 was able to defeat a small number of Fast Inshore Attack Craft under the particular conditions specified by the Navy’s reduced incremental requirement and after extensive crew training and tailoring of the tactics described in Navy doctrine; however, testing conducted to date has not been sufficient to demonstrate LCS capabilities in more stressing scenarios consistent with existing threats.

The core combat capabilities of the Independence class variant seaframe remain largely untested.

The MCM Mission Package has not yet demonstrated sufficient performance to achieve the Navy’s minimal Increment 1 requirements.

… end-to-end mine clearance operations have been limited by low operator proficiency, software immaturity, system integration problems, and poor Remote Minehunting System (RMS)/RMMV reliability.

… the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) did not meet the Navy’s requirement for mine neutralization success. Failures of the host MH-60 aircraft’s systems and its associated Airborne MCM kit severely limited AMNS availability.

LCS is not expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat because its design requirements accept the risk that the ship must be abandoned under circumstances that would not require such an action on other surface combatants.

While both seaframe variants are fast and highly maneuverable, they are lightly armed and possess no significant offensive capability without the planned SUW Increment 4 Mission Package or Increment 2 Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Mission Package.
… (LCS-3) Based on fuel consumption data collected during the test, the ship’s operating range at 14.4 knots is estimated to be approximately 1,961 nautical miles (Navy requirement: 3,500 nautical miles at 14 knots) and the operating range at 43.6 knots is approximately 855 nautical miles (Navy requirement: 1,000 nautical miles at 40 knots).

The ship’s Mk 110 57 mm gun system performed reliably during operational testing, and the ship was able to demonstrate the core capability for self-defense against a small boat in two valid trials. The Navy attempted to collect additional data from swarm presentations, but the data were invalid. The 57 mm gun failed to achieve a mission kill during one swarm presentation, and the target killed by the 57 mm gun during a second swarm presentation had previously been engaged by 30 mm guns.
…The LCS 3 anchoring system could not securely anchor the ship in an area with a bottom composed of sand and shells. Despite repeated efforts, the ship was unable to set the anchor. It appears that the anchor and chain are too light and there are too many friction points along the anchor chain’s internal path from the chain locker to the hawse pipe to allow the anchor and chain to pay out smoothly.

DOT&E still has no data to assess the core mission capabilities of the Independence class variant seaframe.

LCS reliability problems also forced the ship to remain in port for repairs instead of conducting at-sea RMS testing as planned. … the Navy had not yet demonstrated that it could sustain operations of more than one 14-hour RMMV sortie per week (i.e., 10 to 12 hours of RMS minehunting per week). Unless greater minehunting operating tempo is achieved, the Navy will not meet its interim area clearance rate requirements.

So much personal and professional capital has been invested in this ship – and in this timeframe, what utility does this have for the Fleet commander? Even more importantly, what are we putting our Sailors in and deploying forward?

Yes, it is always a good time to look at LCS/FF and ask, “What hath we wrought?”

Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy | 55 Comments
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M/V Maersk Missouri underway in the Mediterranean Sea (photo LT Alex Smith)

M/V Maersk Missouri underway in the Mediterranean Sea (photo LT Alex Smith)

Every 22nd of May, unbeknownst to nearly all Americans, the United States celebrates National Maritime Day. It is a day to celebrate our nation’s rich maritime lineage, cherish our goods delivered by sea-going ships, and remember the importance of our officers and sailors who sail in the far-flung corners of the world. In Washington, D.C., the Department of Transportation held a ceremony at their headquarters. Salutes were smartly rendered and rousing speeches delivered. At the end of the ceremony, eight bells were rung to signify the end of the watch and honor the Merchant Marine.

The next day, Maritime Administration (MARAD) officials went back to regulating one of the most poorly funded (under $500 million annually) and misguided (only one top official is a past merchant mariner) administrations in our nation’s capitol. Since the founding days of our nation to the recent conflicts in the Middle East, the need for a strong militarily-useful and privately-owned U.S. flag merchant marine to protect, strengthen, and enhance our nation’s economic and military security has been clear. In times of peace and war, our U.S. flagged vessels effectively answered our nation’s call and provided unprecedented sealift capability to support our economy.



According to Rose George in Ninety-Nine Percent of Everything, trade carried by sea has grown fourfold since 1970 and is still growing. Three years ago, 360 commercial ports of the United States received in international goods worth $1.73 trillion. There are more than one hundred thousand ships at sea carrying all of the material we need to live.

Despite the amount of wealth reaching our shores, there are fewer than one hundred oceangoing U.S. flagged ships. Only 1 percent of trade at U.S. ports travels on an American-flagged vessels, and our fleet has declined by 80% since 1951. Less than 2% of all seagoing mariners are women. In a world of progressive ideology, it would seem that the other world – on the sea – is adrift and heading in the wrong direction.

It is seemingly unimaginable that most Americans are ignorant to the world of shipping. Play a game the next time you go out to a restaurant or visit your local coffee shop and see how many items you can count that came from a sea-going vessel.

  • Plates: Made in China, containership
  • T-Shirt on young child: Made in India, containership
  • Chair and table set: Looks expensive, but likely IKEA: containership
  • Gap Jeans: Made in Bangladesh, containership
  • Cell Phone: Made in China, containership
  • Coffee: Beans from Latin America, containership
  • European car parked outside window: German, roll-on roll-off ship
  • Fuel presumed in said European car: Crude from Middle East, tanker
Underway in the Suez Canal (photo LT Alex Smith)

Underway in the Suez Canal (photo LT Alex Smith)

The list is extensive. Better game: what was not brought over by maritime shipping?

Proceedings focuses mostly on developments in the maritime security domain, but a deeper conversation should revolve around the status of our civilian mariners. After all, one of our primary missions as sailors of the U.S. Navy or U.S. Coast Guard is to uphold the umbrella convention as mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Even though the United States has not ratified the convention (we do not like its deep-sea mining stipulations), we uphold its core meaning. Over 300 articles aim to create “a legal order for the seas and oceans which will facilitate international communication, and will promote the peaceful uses of the seas and oceans, the equitable and efficient utilization of their resources, the conservation of their living resources, and the study, protection and preservation of the marine environment.”

Simply put, our maritime security organizations exist to support the global merchant marine and to promote free trade domestically and abroad. But when we lose American flagged vessels and shipyard workers lose their contracts, their income and their wealth of knowledge is lost. For our government – and in particular the Department of Transportation and Department of Defense – this means that an insufficient number of American mariners will no longer be there to support the industry. The next time we need to support a global war, we will have to rely on foreign shipping companies to move U.S. war material abroad.


  • Outside thinking. Fund and stand up an independent, outside think tank that can meet the maritime challenges of the 21st If we do not try and sort out the maritime industry, the stability necessary for U.S. flag companies to attract the investments they need and for maritime labor to recruit and retain the mariner our country needs will simply not be there. Create a long term
  • Bi-Partisan Support. MARAD should continue to lobby and build coalitions to ensure proper funding efforts to build a robust, seagoing merchant marine. If the United States is serious about the declining state of our maritime industry, we must modify existing programs and create new ones that would increase the number of vessels operating under the U.S. flag, the amount of cargo carried by U.S. flag vessels, and the shipboard employment opportunities for licensed and unlicensed merchant mariners.
  • Reward companies that flag their vessels under the United States. Under the auspices of the intricately elusive tool of “flag of convenience,” where ships can fly the flag of a state that has nothing to do with its owner, cargo, crew or route, many shipping companies have chose to dodge taxes and pay mariners less. Consequently, many civilian mariners can’t find work. We should create tax incentives for companies that fly under the American flag and hire more mariners, rather than allow ships that maintain a crew of twenty to reap in the benefits of maritime trade.
  • Subsidize shipbuilding in the United States. In order to compete with South Korea and other major shipbuilding nations that construct vessels on the cheap, we need to craft private-public contracts to allow our shipbuilding to flourish. Explore new ways to meet the capability and capacity to meet the most demanding wartime scenarios that might lie on the horizon.
  • Rethink maritime officer and crew placement. Even though ships are getting considerably larger, crew sizes are getting smaller. Nearly a thousand professional mariners graduate from the US Merchant Marine Academy and state maritime academies each year with no prospective deep-sea job opportunities. Most sea-going accidents occur due to fatigue and most mariners have reported working over 80 hours in a given week. We should expand Military Sealift Command employment so U.S. Naval Reserve / Merchant Marine Reserve can serve on ‘active duty’ in the merchant marine. If this model works, we can incentivize a program in the private sector where larger crews are rewarded with tax breaks for operating safely.

Trade has always traveled and the world will continue to trade in our globalized society. The United States relies on a few VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) to bring in two-thirds of our oil supply every day. Without the assured commercial sea power capability provided by the U.S. flag merchant marine and civilian manpower, we will find ourselves at the mercy of foreign vessels that are owned and operated by foreign interests.

The symbolic ringing of eight bells was superfluous this past National Maritime Day. Through bad policies over the last several decades, we have left the U.S. maritime industry at the whim of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand,’ then wondered, what happened to the Merchant Marine? Answer: it was turned over decades ago to the rest of the world.

You have been properly relieved America. Maersk has the watch.

LCS-CraigVADM Al Konetzni, USN (Ret.) – “Big Al, the Sailor’s Pal…” – everyone who has met or worked with him has their memory. Mine was a brief and accidental encounter a bit over a decade ago at an event outdoors at Pearl. Adult beverages, cigars, and a magnetic leader who was that rare combination of fresh air and seemingly out of another time. Had the effect on JOs that I really never say another Navy Flag Officer have. In a word; unique.

Last week I ran in to Dave Booda’s recollections of his run in with Big Al once in Annapolis;

I just thought he was another guy using the urinal next to me at Riordan’s, a local bar in Annapolis.

“So, what do you want to do when you graduate?”

“Uh, I’m deciding now between Surface Warfare and Submarines”

“Ah, I remember those days. I keep thinking I’ll retire but they always pull me back in. The key is to just take it one tour at a time.”

We were taught to avoid living in the present by procrastinating our happiness. If you constantly say “I’ll be happy when I graduate”, you’ll miss out on what it’s all really about … Take it from Al Konetzni. Stop waiting to live in the future,

Good advice, and like much good advice – difficult to put in to practice.

That evidently has been simmering in my nogg’n for a week, because it came to the fore yesterday when I read the latest apologia on LCS – this time from our own pal, Craig Hooper, now with Austal;

DARPA is working on a program to use Independence variants of LCS as “platforms for medium altitude, long-endurance, fixed-wing unmanned aircraft for strike and ISR missions,” Hooper said. “This is a sign of what is to come — energy weapons, rail guns, unmanned craft. Embrace this. The future is in flexible platforms that capable of quickly and cost-effectively integrating new payloads. That’s what my two ships can do.”

Stop. I’ve seen this movie before.

default_chinese_prop_post_exc_04_0706291114_id_61245We must sacrifice now to transform for tomorrow.” Of course, that has a great track record.

The homing torpedo will end the submarine threat. You don’t need carriers in the nuclear age. We will have an all nuclear surface fleet. The Royal Navy will never need guns again, everything will be missiles – and it won’t need those carriers either – the RAF can cover it. We must get rid of the A-6 so we can move forward with the A-12 …. errrr …. F-18. We must decom the SPRU-CANS early so we can invest and recapitalize with DDG-1000 (nee SC-21). We don’t need frigates. NLOS will handle the surface fires requirements.

Yes, it is always better to get rid of what you have that works now, because the promise of the future is perfect, clean, shiny and … well … new and perfect and clean and shiny … and transformational!

It is comfortable to live in the future, to assume that all plans, systems, and CONOPS play out in line with with you want – or need – it to be. Making the present work is hard – but going to war in the present when you have neglected the “now” for the fuzzy future is even harder.

Reality is tough to get right.

For each weapon, there is a counter. One tactic/weapon does not work in every situation. Money and technology is not universally accessible. A single point of failure is just failure. Technology risk is real and usually higher than industry and program managers think.

I think we have learned this lesson again in spades over the last decade from LCS to F-35. If nothing else, perhaps we should hedge and mitigate more; we should have a set of requirements and stick with them instead of chasing shadows that only add cost, weight, and lost treasure.

Are those lessons sinking in? I think so as things start to displace water and make shadows on the ramp (or not) – then yes, reality starts to overtake the PPT. That is what seems to be happening – goaded on by a gang of ruthless facts; a move away from the transformational mindset. Smart and inline with historical experience, if a bit late.

So, Craig has job to do, but so do others.

But any weapons changes on the horizon for LCS won’t happen until the Navy revises its requirements for its newest vessels, said Rear Admiral Thomas Rowden, director of Surface Warfare.

“I’m the keeper of the keys for requirements,” Rowden said. “And I am here to tell you that LCS meets the requirements.”

Well, that is subject to debate – but at least he is sticking. Enough chasing shadows with LCS. Make it the best as we can, and move on with what treasure we have left to move on with.

Get what you have now right, or dump it. In the future, focus on the evolutionary, not revolutionary so we avoid another lost decade. Build a little, test a little, learn a lot. Prototype, test, evaluate, deploy. Work for the future, but in the spirit of Big Al; you are living, building, and deploying now – make the best of it.

It is comfortable to say, “We are 5-10 yrs behind the Europeans when it comes to our budget challenges.” – I guess.

With the expansion of the budget deficit of the last few years and no move to make a serious effort to fix it, we are much closer to 5 years, if not inside that mark.

The now quaint Fleet number of 313 of just a few years ago was never taken seriously by anyone with a basic understanding of economics even before the latest budget issues, and the interesting accounting of the Fleet of 300 that we see today is also a non-starter.

Why make such a negative statement? Simple – budgetary gravity.

Back in 2008, European military budgets were sad in any event as a % of GDP. As demographics join with the inevitable default of the Western welfare state takes place in front of us, after a few years – we have this via our friends from DefenseNews.

Make no mistake – we have not even started to align our budget with reality, so what is the benchmark that we should plan for? Don’t turn away – defense is always the low hanging fruit.

Well – you can break these reduction in to three batches.
1. Doable at 5% or less: Norway, Sweden, or Germany.
1.a. Odds: minimal.
1.b. Reason for odds: We won’t be this lucky. Norway has averaged a budget surplus for over a dozen years; different planet. Sweden and Germany already made structural changes to their government systems – Sweden in the 1990s and Germany a little more than a decade ago. As a result – the budgetary stress on the defense budget is small to non-existent from the 2008 baseline. If we act soon to address larger budgetary issues though, odds of this taking place increase.

2. Painful but workable at 5% to 20%: yes, in order to protect the economic foundation that national survival requires – a 20% cut is workable. Netherlands, UK, Poland & France.
2.a. Odds: most likely.
2.b. Reason for odds: unlike Europe, we don’t have anyone we trust that we can point to and say, “Oh, they’ll take care of the international order.” These are serious nations with a serious dedication to military requirements – but they are doing what they feel them must – as shall we. Unlike those nations though, we still have a lot of inertia to maintain a global reach; close to 5% than 20% if we are lucky. More than 20% in the face of a climbing China is just hard to fathom for the USA unless ….

3. Budgetary POMageddon at 20% to 50%: if you wait too long to act on your structural budgetary challenges – the more difficult the fix. You will take on more national security risk in order to try to keep domestic tranquility. Italy, Spain, Greece, & Ireland.
3.a. Odds: small, but not minimal.
3.b. Reason for odds: Without a two-party consensus to make such a huge cut in defense, it is hard to see larger than 20% in the next half decade outside of a complete economic meltdown. With each year we delay having a budget (Senate over 1,130 days without a budget plan) and/or a view to a plan to fix present trends, the more the odds for this option grow.

So, what could POMageddon mean to the Navy? Well – let’s go to Group 3 above – Italy. Again from our friends at DefenseNews;

Italy is considering selling or donating up to one-third of its naval fleet in a bid to earn quick cash and slash maintenance costs.

The Italian Navy would be the first off the mark wit a plan to sell or donate up to 28 vessels over the next five or six years … (out of) 82 ships and six submarines. …

So, 28 out of 88 ~ 32%.

Let’s run with the fuzzy 300 ships. A 32% reduction would be a cut of 96 ships to a fleet of 204.

What was my worse case scenario a couple of years ago, 240? That would be a 20% reduction in five years. All of a sudden, doesn’t look all that out of control … if you consider what has happened to Europe.

Let’s be optimistic and cut that in half to a 10% reduction. 270 ships in 5-years. Let’s model and plan for that and consign 300 ships with 313 ships as they hang out with all those TQL books in the storage room.

We all know the phrase that nothing is more dangerous than a terminal-CDR. Ahem. Maybe ….

Well – all 4-stars are terminal, in a fashion – and when a 4-star is about to head out of the service at the pinnacle of their career, a cynic might look askew at last minute conversions – but I don’t think that is always fair. There can be something else going on when a Admiral or General goes off the reservation; “The Craddock Effect.”

In May 2009 as General Craddock was heading out the door at SHAPE, he gave a speech that said what everyone inside the lifelines knew about NATO and AFG and the story of half-truths we all sold. It was nice to hear in the open what was said behind closed doors – but one had to wonder what the impact might have had if he made the speech a year or so earlier in mid-tour – when he wasn’t a lame duck – when the full truth of his opinion could have informed the public debate … but … it was what it was.

There is a lot be be said for working within the system. Highly successful men and women get to where they are by having a track record of “making it happen” without burning those they work for and with. They often think that once they reach a certain level – then they can make things work. It usually doesn’t work that way.

When they they are running out of time or after soaking long enough that they reach a moment of clarity – often a refreshing wave of candor can come from a senior leader. It is a wave that isn’t quite at odds with what they have said in the open before – but sounds more like the missing chapters of a book half read.

In that light – over at his CFFC blog, Admiral Harvey has a post out that from my perspective is, in a word; remarkable. It is somewhere between a splash of cold water and sobering slap to the face to the professional drift our Navy has been under for a decade+.

This is Admiral Harvey from his blog;

When I look at some of the big issues we’ve encountered over the past three years with programs such as LPD-17, Aegis 7.1.2, VTUAV (Fire Scout), and the many software programs (e.g. R-Admin) installed on our ships, it is apparent to me that we were not doing our jobs with a focus on the end user, our Sailors. In these instances, the desire/need to deliver the program or system became paramount; we did not adhere to our acquisition standards and failed to deliver whole programs built on foundations of technical excellence. Then we accepted these flawed programs into the Fleet without regard to the impact on our Sailors.

Yes, yes – great Neptune’s trident – YES! Sailors are our greatest asset – not our most costly liability.

I would personally add two things – everyone and Admiral Harvey knows this problem is much older than his three years at CFFC – and to change this will take the right people in the right places in power. How do we get them there? Hard question.

His comments are so spot on. Just to drag out the usual suspect; designing manning plans for LCS that has Sailor burn-out considered a feature as opposed to a bug, and is baked in to the design that we will have to deal with for decades? How do you fix that? … but let’s not get in the Admiral’s way here;

… we have entered a period in which the resources we have now and can expect in the future will no longer support the behaviors of the past. The likelihood of decreasing budgets and increasing demand for Naval forces leave us with no margin for delivering poorly designed, poorly delivered or unnecessarily burdensome programs to the Fleet. We must keep the Fleet and our Sailors at the center of the programs, systems and platforms we deliver and ensure operational effectiveness is the bottom line of our efforts, not simply increased efficiencies.

Though my selfish side wishes he put this out years ago, the professional side of me has to give him a nod to a timing that he felt worked best given his responsibilities. More responsibilities do not always translate in to more freedom to speak.

I’ve been a fan of Admiral Harvey’s curious intellect, open mind, and tolerance of other views for a long time, and this is a very welcome addition to the conversation that must be brought to the front – larger, louder, and to more readers.

To fix these problems, the hour is already late, and more delay just means a more difficult fix later.

There is more at his post to to reflect on what is creating the dysfunction we have watched over the last decade in our Navy. Admiral Harvey states the catalyst for his post was the book by Bob Lutz, the Vice Chairman for Product Development at General Motors; Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business. When you think of GM from the last few decades, one car that should be in anyone’s “GM Bottom 5” would be the Pontiac Fiero. As a smart friend pointed out to me at the linked article;

The Pontiac Fiero an economy commuter car? That’s how GM marketed the sporty coupe, which was Pontiac’s first 2-seater since 1938. GM had originally intended the Fiero to be a sports car (hence, the Ferrari-sounding name), but budget constraints forced them to ditch the original suspension design and steal parts from other GM cars. The result was a sporty coupe that didn’t actually deliver racing performance with a meager 98-hp 2.5-liter I4 engine in a heavy body.

Sure, let’s go there again to what remains the poster child to what Admiral Harvey describes – to the gift that keeps on giving.

Isn’t speed and handling performance are most important for a sports car? Likewise, aren’t offensive and defensive firepower performance the most important for a warship? With the similar failure of basic core competencies – couldn’t one say “GM:Pontiac Fiero” as “USN:LCS?”

Another quote from Admiral Harvey’s post;

… upon his return to GM, Lutz found that the design teams had moved away from an organization focused on product excellence and the end user – the customer – and instead transformed into a company driven by complex business processes, executive boards and working groups focused on eliminating “waste,” “streamlining” operations, and achieving “efficiencies.” As a result, GM produced generations of automobiles that met all the technical and fiscal internal targets yet fell far short of the mark in sales – what really counted.

Does that sound like OPNAV/NAVSEA track record as of late? Designing warships that meet all the technical and fiscal internal targets (except maybe cost, stealth, IOC, etc), but fail to meet the fundamental test of warfighting capability?

Interesting thing about the Fiero – by 1988 they actually go the design right – but by then it was too late and most of the run was – ahem – sub-optimal. Is that where we are going with LCS? The first 43 sub-optimal …. but the last dozen, success!?

Bravo Zulu to Admiral Harvey for putting this out there. Maybe after a few years with the gold watch and reflection, down the road someone might go with a Shoomaker option – I don’t know. In the word of the American songwriter Kris Kristofferson; freedom’s just another word for nothing else to lose.

Admiral Harvey – enjoy your freedom.

With some of the budget reduction POM options coming to the front over the last couple of weeks, everyone’s Fleet-number waterfall graph just shifted to the left a few years. A quick note to those blandly blinking at the PPT; this is not a drill.

It is time to leave behind the sway-back, hidebound arguments and talking points of the Lost Decade; FRP, Optimal Manning, Transformation, exquisite systems, Network-Centric Unicorn Theory – that is in the past. The future, if you will, that never was.

They have either been measured and found wanting, abandoned, unaffordable, or perpetually shifted to the right waiting for quantum theory and pixie dust to make them operational. It is time to move forward.

One underlying fact that has finally reached the 51% tipping point in the minds of most decision makers in the last 18-months is this; in time of financial crisis the military budget will be hit harder than other parts of the budget if for no other reason than it is structurally easier for politicians to do so. With our new “Super Committee” process – even more so.

Relax; there is no need to panic. No need to wear sack cloth and ashes, bound with your full-leg metal cilices as you walk off the Blue Line, through Pentagon Station to your desk. No; it is time to straighten your gig-line, lean forward, walk with purpose to get your next cup of coffee, put a smile on your face, and get to work.

Look at what has been done by our predecessors in a time of stress; naval developments in the 1920s and 1930s in carrier and cruisers; even the 1970s, more or less, brought us the F-16, TLAM, Aegis and others.

This is a time to focus. We can come out of this period – be it 10 years or 20, in a good position if we start now to look; look not just at platforms, but what those platforms carry. Sensors, weapons, leaders, Sailors, and ideas. That is what is critical. Don’t get me wrong – numbers matter for a dual-ocean, maritime, mercantile republic with global responsibilities – but what is on those platforms is more important than just numbers.

To do this right though, we need vision and leadership grounded in fact, modesty, honesty, and respect for risk. Not just that, but in our age it needs to be public vision and public leadership. The time is now to look back for a firm grip on something firm, solid, and reliable – and then reach forward.

A great worry however, is that we won’t benchmark the successful responses to stress in the past clearly founded on solid programs and viable short-cycle evolutionary progresses, but instead will follow the intellectually moribund and disgraced habits of the other past as defined by a future-imperfect PPT deep and an efficiency plan as thoughtful as, “Everyone grab your spoon and take two scoops our of your rice bowl.”

Simple reductions of what we have without vision and an understanding of a strategy to support it is not a plan, it is a reaction. It is drift; drift in rapidly shoaling water.

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