Saturday, April 19, 2014

Moratorium

I’ve said this before but it’s becoming ever more true with each passing day:  a ten year moratorium on new construction of ships and aircraft wouldn’t be a bad thing.  In fact, at this point, it would be highly beneficial.

Wait, you say, we can’t do that!  We’d fall behind our enemies!  The shipbuilding and aircraft industries would fail and we’d lose our industrial base!  Our technical expertise would vanish!  Crops would wither and die!  The world would end!  ComNavOps has really lost it this time!

Well, the last part might be true but the rest is completely false.

Consider where we’re at right now.  We’re procuring our little hearts out which is exactly what your initial reaction says we should be doing and what do we have to show for it? 

  • We have a JSF that is going to deliver a limited capability aircraft (relative to the current threats and needed missions) that is going to be borderline obsolete by the time it reaches squadron service.

  • We have a fleet that is steadily shrinking.

  • We have a Burke Flt III coming that even the Navy says can only meet a portion of the required AMDR performance spec and will have no growth margin.

  • We have a looming SSBN construction program that will cripple Navy shipbuilding budgets for a decade.

  • We have a fleet that is hollow and getting worse every day due to systematic deferred maintenance so that funding can go to new construction.

  • We have an LCS that has no combat capability but will make up a third of the combat fleet.

  • We have an LCS replacement that will likely be just an upgunned LCS with all the same inherent structural flaws.

  • We have a fleet that has lost any semblance of tactical training.

And so on …

Is this really what we want to keep going?  It’s not even debatable that the fleet is becoming smaller and less capable relative to the current and future threats.  Alright, so the current system isn’t perfect but what are the benefits to stopping new construction and what about the problems associated with stopping?

Let’s look at the benefits, first. 

The most obvious benefit is that stopping new construction would free up enormous sums of money, $15B per year from the shipbuilding budget alone.  This money then becomes available for the deferred maintenance that is crippling and hollowing the fleet.  We simply can’t build new ships as fast as the existing ones are being allowed to fall into disrepair and subsequent early retirement.  We absolutely must reverse this decline in the physical state of our ships and aircraft.

Existing ships can be upgraded.  While upgrades are not cheap they are still far cheaper than new construction.  A good example is the Australian’s upgrade of the Perrys.  If you think the US is poor at program management, we look positively efficient next to the Australians – no offense, down there.  Even so, the upgrade cost $100M or so and they obtained a modernized, capable frigate.  Compare that to the $1B or so cost for a new frigate.  We could upgrade ten frigates for the cost of a single new one.

Existing aircraft can also be upgraded, rewinged, refuselaged, or whatever is necessary to maintain a competent aviation component during the moratorium.  Even without new construction aircraft, we can apply many of the Advanced Super Hornet features (conformal fuel tanks, stealth weapon pods, advanced avionics, etc.) to existing Hornets via upgrades.

A break in new construction would allow us to go back to the drawing board and work on carefully thought out designs for our next ships and aircraft.  We wouldn’t be under the gun to rush something out.  Does anyone think the Navy is carefully evaluating LCS alternatives right now?  Of course not.  They’re going to recommend the quickest option that can make it into production regardless of whether it’s a useful design or not.  That’s why it’s a near certainty that the LCS replacement will be an LCS!

We’re talking about a Pacific Pivot to deal with the coming Chinese threat although the Navy won’t speak the name out loud.  A break would allow us to pivot on paper first.  Let’s take the time to game out what strategies we would use and what capabilities we would need to implement those strategies.  Then, and only then, should we proceed to the design and procurement phases.  A moratorium would give us the unpressured time to do our homework and lay the proper foundation for the next ship and aircraft designs.

A moratorium would allow us to focus on training so that we can maximize the potential of the weapons and systems we have instead of constantly moving on to the next system coming down the line before we’ve mastered the current one.  We have Burkes that rarely practice ASW, a Marine Corps that’s re-inventing the amphibious assault wheel, an Aegis system that is seriously degraded fleetwide due to the lack of highly trained technicians (and parts!), and so on.  Our command element is woefully untrained in battle tactics – that’s the Navy’s opinion, not mine, though I agree fully.  We could come out of the moratorium fully trained up and battle ready, unlike our current state.

A moratorium would allow us to complete some of the advanced technologies that we’re currently attempting to include in new construction despite the fact that they don’t exist in a functional form.  We can develop unmanned vehicles of all types to a more mature level, complete a Harpoon replacement, develop a Tomahawk replacement, and dozens of other programs that desperately need to mature before being rushed into the fleet in an incomplete and only marginally functional state.

We see, then, that the benefits of a moratorium are many and profound.  What about the potential drawbacks, though?

The most commonly cited argument against a reduced construction pace (or moratorium, in this case) is the impact on the industrial base.  The logic of this argument insists that the need to maintain the base outweighs any other concern.  It’s why proponents say we must accept sub-standard products like the JSF, LCS, and LPD.  Well, you just read the proposed benefits.  They would include massive upgrades and maintenance of all ships and aircraft.  The industrial base would be kept fully occupied, fully funded, and fully employed filling this need.  Aircraft carriers would still need nuclear refueling and overhauls.  Designers would be fully occupied developing the next round of new designs but at a pace that would allow them to actually do it right.  Thus, industry would not lose any funding, capacity, or expertise.  In fact, they might well have to expand to meet the demand!

Naysayers would argue that we would fall behind our enemies.  The reality is that that’s happening now.  Our enemies have intermediate range ballistic missiles, highly advanced supersonic anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles, fleets of brand new ships packed with modern missiles, huge inventories of mines, etc. while we’re building ships and aircraft that are being outpaced even before they’re completed.  The fact is that a moratorium would not cause us to drop any further behind than we are and it would allow us to come out of it with brand new, well thought out designs based on actual proven technology.

By the way, this moratorium would include a moratorium on new Admirals until such time as we reduce the number from the current 350 or so to around 50.

Of course, the entire premise of a moratorium depends on doing the things I’ve outlined and doing them correctly.  Could the Navy institute a moratorium and totally bungle the execution?  Of course, they could.  They’re the same Navy and same leadership we have now.  However, one of the major aspects of a moratorium is that it would relieve current leadership from the pressure of having to produce new ships and planes no matter how badly flawed and no matter what the negative impact on other programs.  It would be a chance for naval leadership to catch their breath, relax, and start over, so to speak, without that pressure to provide instant short term results to the detriment of long term gains.  Hey, what we’re doing now isn’t working.  Isn’t it worth trying something else?


14 comments:

  1. "...one of the major aspects of a moratorium is that it would relieve current leadership from the pressure of having to produce new ships and planes no matter how badly flawed and no matter what the negative impact on other programs. It would be a chance for naval leadership to catch their breath, relax, and start over, so to speak, without that pressure to provide instant short term results to the detriment of long term gains. "

    Since there has not been any naval-centric major conflagration in how many generations (?), how is today's semi-peacetime work-load upon USN-leadership any different from that across many comparable decades past ?

    The challenge seems to be two-fold:
    - 1. What do USN in-house and outside technologists offer conceptually,
    - and of course what they DO NOT OFFER by personal/academic/institutional constraints that simply may not predestine many folks to generate the necessary innovation-&-coherence of concepts that address actual needs, budgets, technology-constraints, etc.
    Those folks either support the flag-officers in their deliberations, planning, budgeting - or they fail to. So, I'd not blame flag-officers per se but rather critically query the 'technologists' that may be less 'innovative' than they may claim income for.

    Where flag-officers come in is whether they encourage 'unorthodox' thinking by uniformed and civilian 'technologists' and accept the various risks of getting ideas and even modeling and related war-gaming thoroughly wrong, without terminally punishing such would-be innovators. Or whether in this area of intellectual pursuits they'd stubbornly aim at 'zero-defect' fictions of certainty.

    - 2. Beyond unprofessional practices of 'putting away the horse wet', for which the responsible parties should be publicly sanctioned personally, we'd very quickly run into the matters of budgets and raising the funds that support them.
    If, for instance, pure political-bias-driven Mantras (and other philosophical esoterica) deform any rational discussions about budgets and thus taxes, then this forces USN and USMC decision-makers into often de facto quite 'irrational' decision-patterns against their own best judgment in the context of the institution and their historic standing.
    And that is where both right-wing and left-wing orthodoxies do serious damage that do not necessarily cancel each other out but may actually add up, if not at times even multiply the resulting damage. When what either side wants costs, then you'd better find a way to cover that - and come together to look for a decent compromise.

    Freezing the dysfunction would not help either inside or outside of USN/USMC.

    If after such a 'Moratorium' folks still show up tens years later
    - with the same orthodoxies,
    - including biases against conceptual and then actual innovation
    we'd have just lost time,
    with our 'slashing'/'rebalancing' budgeteers having gotten used to the Moratorium's explicit fall-out that the navy really does not need any/many new ships - if you can go ten years without any.

    Encouraging innovation - versus bias trench-warfare - can be done for very modest money, is not going on in enough quarters - including in blogs - and is thus fairly readily fixable.

    This is a topic as old as the Navy likely...
    And as timely.

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    1. TT, I'm not sure I completely grasp your message so feel free to correct me if it looks by my reply that I've failed to understand your points.

      Regarding innovation, you seem to be suggesting a severe lack of innovation is a major root problem. I would suggest, however, that one could make a good argument that innovation is alive and well and, if anything, is too rampant. Consider the LCS as originally conceived. The list of innovative technologies (unmanned everything, magical networks of sensors, brilliant munitions that would discuss target allocation among themselves, etc.) was extensive, bordering on pure fantasy. We're pursuing lasers and rail guns. We've come up with MLP's and AFSB's. We're attempting to perfect a JSF that provides 360 degree magic awareness. And so on... If anything, our innovation is outpacing our common sense and practicality!

      I'm really unsure what you mean in your second point. Maybe try again?

      As far as your point about the peacetime pressure on Navy leadership, yes, common sense would suggest that this is as relaxed an atmosphere as one could hope for. However, what I see is a frantic atmosphere caused by the desperate pursuit of budget slices. The Navy seems to feel that if they don't continually produce new ships and planes then Congress (or their fellow services!) will begin to question why they need the shipbuilding budget they have and whether they could make do with less. Also, I believe there is tremendous political pressure on Navy leadership to grow (or at least maintain) the fleet size. The current administration is sensitive to perceived criticisms that it is soft on defense and does not want to be seen as presiding over a reduction in the fleet (although that's exactly what is happening!). This pressure manifests itself as a drive to put hulls in the water regardless of their usefulness (or even physical completeness!). We've also seen the recent changes to the way the Navy counts ships so that we're now counting hospital ships, salvage ships, PCs, etc. as battle force ships to make it appear that the fleet is not shrinking. This is the pressure that a moratorium would relieve.

      Whether my interpretation of this is correct is something I leave to you to decide.

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    2. CNO, no mentioning of 'severe lack of innovation'.
      But suggestion to focus on conceptual coherence - including those based on unorthodox approaches. And there are some good examples of the latter destined to serve well for a long time to come.

      But then there is those 'Technologists' reflexes to pile 'high-tech' stuff in or on top of under-focused concepts - which may not be the approach towards 'innovation' that is effective and affordable.

      A couple of examples:
      1. We've had USMC's $3 Billion EFV juiced up something fierce to barrel towards shore at medium planing speeds across some 20-30nm at best,
      - but then had little combat-range to actually go to work after this '
      ride',
      - was still too thin-skinned for Fallujah,
      - had little margin left for weight-gain,
      - and worst of all would have locked in for decades to come the ARG at that distance to shore, a location already now and even ten years ago thoroughly unviable in light of advancing and proliferating shore-defense systems of even third-rate shore-owners. And no fast heavy-lift Connectors offered ever that would have matched the steel constraints of our well-deck infrastructure.

      2. There is LCS, much lauded but
      - always thin skinned,
      - too fat a target for the littorals,
      - too lightly armed,
      - go-fast to go where and how far(?)
      - with mission-suites only installable/swappable in a dedicated CONUS facility multiple ranges away from the currently-project typical theater of operation.
      - plus whatever you and so many other have written about...

      3. DDG-1000
      - good as (very pricey) technology-carriers with a mid-term agenda to develop further cutting-edge systems for future ship-classes,
      - but likely of limited utility as a land-attack destroyer having to stay so far offshore to much reduce even its most potent gun-system by sheer necessary self-protective distance,
      - and in 3 copies never likely to be where one could be used.

      4. Mega-pricey LPD-17 with a 189-foot short well-deck pretty much the opposite of what Marines would need in sheer Connector-capacity to support Expeditionary Force 21,

      etc.

      You'll have your own 'Top-10' list, ComNavOps.

      The point is 'wild festivals of innovation' - but to what actual strategic and tactical end ?

      End of Part 1 of 2.

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    3. Part 2 of 2.

      Piling on the 'Tech-Options' does not equal 'innovation' if
      - it actually does not work well at all,
      - is fragile
      - or is always the first target on any adversaries 'hit'-list,
      - or worse - may not be able to matter at all,
      - never mind putting other assets at explicit risks,
      - while still depleting the tax-coffers,
      - and worst of all amounting to a dedicated act of voluntary peace-time self-attrition of vital capabilities by 58% in the case of LPD-17's Connector-carrying capability.

      Close to my heart, particularly items 1. and 4. are achingly incoherent because their project-focus after a zillion design-hours was not any comprehensive 'solution' but a long list of 'innovation-tech' features the whole of which did not actually come to address the vital needs remotely well enough to warrant such a program and such expense. One we stopped in time, the other we'll have to compensate for for the next many decades.

      In light of the long-known increase in shore-defense capabilities EFV should have been 'still-born' as a concept, since what was actually called for was a fast heavy-lift Connector to carry 3-4 such APCs on a fraction of the burned horse-power for much longer distances in a much stealthier mode ready for sharp-wedge self-defense. And LPD-17 will never be able to carry enough fast heavy-lift Connectors to support EF-21.

      Prime examples of high-style techno-philia with more actual net losses in utility for USN and USMC than you'd figure conceivable for the money. Lot's of 'innovation' - but to what end ?! And very costly.



      As to the second point, it's pure politics. You can't expect a 'strong defense' posture and not figure in a bi-partisan fashion an overall fiscal environment to support it. The perpetual 'Block(ing)-Party' in the House has yet to prove productive on any defense related issue at all. Arguing then with White House policies in response to this offers little future.
      But were are not doing 'politics' here...

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    4. TT, as I feared, I appear to have failed to grasp your point(s). I think we may have a partial language barrier problem as well? No matter.

      You seem to be saying that innovation is not always producing useful solutions. If so, I completely agree.

      That leads me back to the point of the post - a moratorium while we determine what are real requirements are and finish developing the required technology to meet those requirements. If I understand you correctly, you disagree with that idea but I've failed to grasp your reason(s) why. Try again?

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    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    6. How could I help you with the problem you raise ?
      These can be sensitive issues - but I'll give it try.
      Which paragraphs do need a re-work to match your expectation ?

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  2. no no no

    This is the same "common sense" approach that the pansies have used to destroy our military abilities post late 80's. They slow, start stop, change, demand bleeding edge, then cut production numbers which exponentially drive up price which demands more numbers cut which further drives up price which etc... and finally they go with your above "sense" to cancel (true goal all along) but don't worry wink wink we are going to now be able to develop the next next great thing. rinse repeat

    Sorry I have seen this story played over and over with weapons system after weapon system, it is a political ploy well played by our 5th column. Many of the lost programs if we had just grit and barred with, we would be in a whole different position right now as far as what we need to face todays threats. R&D and don't forget factory retooling/custom designed machines needed to produce todays weapons are very expensive, but they are one time cost that get better with VOLUME not cutting.

    The equipment we have now is almost all 20+years old tech. We can use and probably still win a major peer war with our current kit but, is good enough what we want to have. In WW2 if we learned anything it was that being good enough was expensive not in dollars but blood something the Soviets were happy to trade for dollars but the US would rather trade dollars and keep our blood. Our current kit will match China with maybe a slight advantage to US but that is not how we should fight. We have allot of cancelled and already spent R&D programs that we can build now.

    Look to history. The problem is not the tech it is the leadership and the budget. The navy and airforce is the wall that has kept the foreigners at bay until our army/marines were to a point of returning the war. I would propose dramatic cuts to the Army with the Marines taking it to a lesser extent to boost the Navy/Airforce budgets. Take a Afghanistan type approach let our allies know that we will hold the sea lanes, air space, and bring some FAC teams + but they will be responsible for the ground game heavy lifting at least early on until we reconstitute our ground units if so required.

    Buy what we know and do it in quantity with locked production numbers, pay any updateR&D cost separate and up front.

    Navy- go either DDG1000 or HI LPDddg proposal, both have room to grow to upgrade later and can carry everything we have today, keep it price reasonable by not hanging everything off them on day one. LCS well with a VLS and air self protection radar I think it will be a capable ship, design bugs will be corrected over time. F-35, & UCAV or A-12 return.

    Airforce- Bomber the designs are there build it and build allot of them, it and the F-35B are the only weapon system that negates the Chicom BM air field saturation dream. F-35, return the F-22 (+sell to top tier allies) and F-22B.

    Bottom line build what we have sunk cost in to replace our old stressed equipment but only build what we can expand upgrade in the coming years.

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    1. C-Low, well, there you have it. You and I could not disagree more on this. That's fine.

      Your position is the ultimate in status quo. My only reply is that the status quo is what's shrinking our fleet and dropping us farther behind (or narrowing the gap, with falling behind rapidly coming) relative to China. China is growing and we're shrinking. It's as simple as that. Status quo will not take us to a good outcome.

      Looking ahead, are you really comfortable with status quo?

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    2. To answer your question no but at the same time we are were we are. I disagree with your premise that the my position is the status quo, I would say the status quo is your proposition of lets just cancel everything and design wink wink buy the next great thing. That is exactly what we have done post Reagan, every major weapon system has been cancelled or had numbers cut to the point of useless while upgrading our existing stuff to get to the next great. We are at the end of the line with our equipment sustainability, there is no more buy another decade of development stuff.

      The options we have are not the best but you cannot just keep working equipment that is decades old indefinable on hope of the next great. Our equipment is worn out we have wasted 30years cancelling cutting restarting programs. China & Russia have come to parity with our current kit and theirs is fresh without the stress weakening of 20+ years. That is a recipe for disaster and a risk I think is just to much.

      Even if we took your advise 10 no build with R&D. Ok then I assume at the end of the 10yr period we will jump out the gate building our new great. We have to retool the factories train workers set dies start work, industry is not going to mass produce so its like today a few a year production. 10yrs moratorium, at and another 10-20 years before we get enough numbers to say we have shifted the fleet off the legacy ships. You are not talking 10yrs of risk you are talking 30+years of risk at which point we will have equipment old enough to collect SS.

      I look at the tech and I don't see nothing platform revolutionary in the 10-20yr term to warrant the risk. I do see lots of subsystems and bolt ons that are worth some added cost today to make sure we have platforms that can leverage them, i.e. power, space to expand in.

      I also believe that in the next few decades will be the most dangerous period for possible conflict with China. After 2050 China will have leveled off and either been checked, broke out, or turned back into itself. Russia and the rest will remain as they are as far as challenges. We need platforms with life even if not the best to get US past that mid year hopefully deterring the conflict. To continue our existing kit that is well known and heavily worn is just way to much risk at this point in my opinion.

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    3. C-Low, well, we'll just to have part opinion ways on this one!

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  3. Thats cool

    Hope you had a good Easter day.

    Didn't mean no disrespect or to throw spittle in your house. I have just seen the cycle so many times mentioned above (development to cancel), it gets my antenna up regardless of intentions.

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    1. C-Low, no problem! Note, though, that I'm not just suggesting that we reduce/halt procurement and cut numbers. I'm suggesting several other fundamental changes. If those changes wouldn't/couldn't happen then it would be exactly the situation you describe and I'd be in total agreement with you.

      Wonderful Easter, thanks, and the same wish for you!

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  4. If we take a moratorium on anything, it should be the PPT-marketed, "leap-ahead" systems that promise to "redefine warfare as we know it".

    FCS
    LCS
    DDG-1000
    and so on.

    We can't continue bet the ENTIRE farm on vaporware with unproven CONOPS.

    We have to use a more critical eye when concepts come out. Do we REALLY need a 45+kt, 3000ton warship? Do we REALLY think we can build an affordable, stealth 13,000 ton, gun-armed land attack ship? Do we REALLY need a STOVL stealth fighter the size of an F-15?

    Buzzwords like "game changing", and "revolutionary" should set off alarms.

    We also need to look at existing systems and ask ourselves, given what we know now, do we REALLY need the capabilities provided by expensive systems (e.g. nuclear power in carriers, V-22, all stealth tacair).


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