Sunday, September 21, 2014

Why Not Just Fix The Problem?

As ComNavOps has posted articles pointing out various problems associated with various platforms and systems, the resulting discussions invariably break down into disagreements between those who support a program based on its potential and those who oppose a program based on its demonstrated shortcomings.  The obvious question, then, is why does the Navy not simply fix the problems?  The Navy would be better served and most observers would be reasonably happy.  Seems obvious, right?

Well, you answer, they are fixing the problems.  It may take time and not every problem is solved quickly but it’s getting done, you say.  My reply to you is, kind of but not much.  If you’ve paid attention to the posts and perhaps dug a bit deeper on your own, you’ll notice a pattern.  The only problems being actively worked on are those associated with programs that are under construction and vying for funding from Congress.

Wait, what now?! 

That’s right.  The Navy puts a lot of effort into fixing problems on active (meaning still needing funding from Congress) programs but very little into fixing problems on existing platforms and systems.  All you have to do is read the DOT&E reports to see not only the myriad problems in existing platforms and systems but the glaring lack of effort being applied to them as demonstrated by the fact that the same problems appear in the reports year after year.  Whether it’s torpedoes that still don’t work right despite an urgent needs request, ESSM systems that continue to demonstrate the same problems year after year, the Ship Self-Defense System (SSDS) that still isn’t working after years in the fleet, realistic target drones that are still lacking, or any of hundreds of other persistent problems, large and small, it’s clear that priority for problem solving on existing platforms and systems is low.  Throw in the general problems like fleet-wide maintenance deficiencies, lack of training, parts shortages, sub-optimal manning, and whatnot, and the problem is even worse.  Contrast that with the sums of money being poured into the black holes of the JSF and LCS, both still under funding control of Congress.

Do you see the underlying pattern?  Programs which are still being funded receive the Navy’s attention so as to avoid negative attention which might adversely affect funding.  However, once the program is complete and funding is no longer needed, problem solving priorities vanish.

Consider the LPD-17.  The Navy worked furiously on solving the LPD’s problems until the last ship was fully funded.  After that, work abruptly halted.  The LPD class still suffers from numerous problems but those problems no longer concern Navy leadership.  They’re on to the next funding challenge.

Or, consider the state of the Navy’s mine countermeasures forces.  The Avenger class ships, the only functioning MCM vessels we have, have literally been allowed to rot while money has been poured into the LCS with nothing to show for it and nothing likely any time soon.

I could go on reciting endless lists of problems that have lingered for years in existing platforms and systems but you get the idea.  Read through the archived posts and you’ll see plenty of examples.

Now, I know someone is going to type out a comment pointing out some problem in a legacy platform that has been addressed.  Well, of course some problems are addressed.  When I say the Navy doesn’t address problems in existing platforms and systems, I’m speaking of general trends.  The fact remains that the funding and priority for problems in existing platforms and systems is a mere fraction of that for active acquisition programs.  Again, I point you to the DOT&E annual reports where the same problems appear year after year.

So, back to the premise of the post …  Why doesn’t the Navy just fix the problem?  Because they have no interest in doing so.  Navy leadership is only interested in the next acquisition program.  Once acquisition funding for a program is terminated, so too is the Navy’s interest in fixing the problems.  The Navy’s focus on new construction to the detriment of all else is well documented and we covered this in a previous post (see, “The Altar of New Construction”).

The pattern is clear.  The rationale is not.  Navy leadership has built a fleet of platforms and systems that never fully mature due to the obsessive desire to fund new construction over perfecting existing equipment.

The Navy must change its approach and begin maximizing the capabilities of existing platforms and systems rather than continually shifting priority to the next new program or we’ll continue to field half-capable systems as we do now.


  1. Be careful - if you proceed down this logical path of questioning it will lead you to seek a tall building, with an open window, and hard concrete below.

    The Senior Navy Officials are in it for themsleves and ONLY themselves - a SORRY State of Affairs.

    1. LOL. You're right. Its hard to read this blog sometimes. CNO must have a rather significant 'Happy Place' he goes to after writing this up. :-)

      Basically, from what I can tell, we already have a hollowed out fleet:

      CVBG's consisting of (good, but short ranged) SuperHornets and Hornets, and greatly diminished ASW capacity. Also, they lack a true fleet defence fighter.

      CG's and DDG's that have an Aegis system that has good missiles, from what I can tell, but whose core is deteriorating due to lack of maintanance. Who knows how well it would perform if called upon? Also, from earlier posts I gather the DDG's rarely practice ASW anymore, and if they aren't practicing it who knows what state the equipment is in?

      Also, our main AShM is OLD, short ranged, and unlikely to perform against modern air defences. Heck, the DDG's don't even carry them anymore.

      A significant (even at 32) part of our surface fleet is about to go out with non working mission modules and on offensive range under 10 miles. Unless you count the Helos. In which case we could buy Kid Rock's yacht and count it as an ASuW asset.

      Finally, we lack blue water ASW assets. The LCS likely won't be able to pull it off, and the FFG's are unmodified and being retired/sold.

      Information Dissemination had an article on how SSN's and SS's are able to sneak up on carriers. IIRC the CHinese had a HAN class penetrate one of our CVBG's.

      If we got into a real shooting war, or even a minor affair like Al Quaeda commandeering a Pakistani Frigate and popping off a few AShM's towards one of our billion dollar babies, we could well lose the ship, and God knows how many sailors lives.

      And we are going full steam ahead with the F-35C, dithering on an LCS replacement, and playing budget shell games with the CG's.

      If I'm correct in all of the above, then what infuriates me is when I get comments like Gates' or the President talking about how big our battlefleet is compared to the rest of the world. Or how we have this ships called carriers that planes can land on.

      None of that matters if the stuff doesn't work.


    Wonder if you saw this? Article on the UCLASS, LCS and SSC.

    As for your question: Pride.

    1. That article you reference is making ComNavOps' case here. The Navy is all adither about the active (2 new, one dying?) funding projects.

    2. USMC, good link. I hadn't caught that one. Thanks! Sounds like something I might have written.


      Here is another bonus for you. They even agree with you!

      [quote]In hindsight, Kendall said, the Navy's littoral combat ships might have been designed with better survivability had there been more awareness of potential threats. "That's the type of change I'm thinking of," he said.[/quote]

    4. What the Navy fails to see is that the problems that they recognize in hindsight were plainly evident even at the begining. It's not like the LCS suffered from unanticipated problems that no one saw coming and only in hindsight could they have been avoided. Many, many, many, many (is that enough to get the point across?) people identified the problems before the first ship was built and, sure enough, they've almost all come to pass. The problems were evident. The Navy simply refused to recognize them or, if they recognized them, they opted to ignore them in favor of other priorities like hulls in the water and continuing funding as more important than actual combat performance. Until the Navy changes its focus from hulls in the water, no matter how crappy (LCS, LPD-17, Zumwalt, Ford, Burke Flt III), to combat capabilities, nothing will fundamentally change. Poor designs will continue to be built and future leaders will continue to lament that if only they had had the benefit of hindsight everything would have been better. Bilgewater! You don't need hindsight to see the coming problems with our ship designs. I, and others, are pointing them out every day!

      We've described the problems with the Burke Flt III before it's been built. We've thoroughly discussed the problems with the Navy's next "frigate" even before they've selected a design! We've analyzed the Navy's force structure and discussed ways to improve it. And so on...

      "... the type of change..." he's thinking of could have been had before the LCS was ever built! By the way Mr. Kendall, stop thinking about it and start doing it. Total incompetance.

      Wow, you triggered a reaction, there. Sorry about that rant. I'm okay, now.

    5. Do you know what the number one priority is of the contracting system? It is fairness to the contractors. When you look through the contracting process through that lens it makes much more sense in what everyone does.

      Also the search for leap ahead technologies is a feature not a bug. You see, the military is not allowed to purchase new technology until it proves a business case that the old technology needs to be replaced. Then you have to show that the old item cannot be affordably upgraded.

      These upgrades are what I like to refer to as "video game stats." Video game stats are what makes the fanboys drool over a weapon. 5" inch gun, 90 VLS cells, 40 knot speed! What gets overlooked in this process is the focus on the hidden items that do not show up in a video game, like ease of maintenance, food storage, ease of underway replenishment and so on.

      So the Navy cannot just decide to scrap the LCS progam and by this ( from Singapore. It must determine what capabilities it lacks with the current fleet, determine that there are no anythings that can be upgraded to meet those capability gaps, push the requirements for those capabilities so far that nothing could possibly upgraded to that standard, have industry deliver some super awesome power point presentations, issue a capability development document, push back the timeline so that domestic ship builders can compete with whoever partners with ST Marine, award an engineering contract, test the prototypes, pick a winner, have the loser protest, wait for the GAO report, award the contract, throw a bone to the loser, build a ship that is now based on a 10 year old design, immediately upgrade the ship with new vice 10 year old electronics, and send the ship to sea and find out if everything actually works.

      In the system as currently designed it is literally impossible to buy a 1 for 1 replacement of something with like capabilites because someone will say to slap a SLEP on the current system.

      The last item is who foots the bill to develop new technologies? The dream is to make industry pay to develop their own stuff and if the government likes it the government will buy it. Ask Rockwell how well that worked for them with the F-20 Tighershark. Industry learned long ago not to develop anything based on promises of future government buys.

      Lastly the government likes to buy everything in fleets. So they buy 200 aircraft that are all identical and they want them over 4 year period. So a factory that is built and manned to produce 50 aircraft a year can find themselves doing nothing after 4 years with only a promise that in 10-20 years the government will want to upgrade the aircraft or buy a replacement. What is the manufacturer supposed to do in the meantime? Steadily lose money on that plant for a decade and then maybe get more work?

    6. Correction to above. Northrop not Rockwell developed the F-20.

    7. USMC, you make a very good point about the goal of the acquisition process being fairness (in the legal sense). The theoretical goal, of course, is to acquire weapon systems in a timely and affordable manner, however, the practical implementation of that process has certainly shifted the focus from timely and affordable to legally fair and legally defensible. Current law precludes any productive revision to that process. Only specialized legislation would have any hope of positively impacting the situation (for instance, a specialized exclusion applied to military acquisition which eliminates many of the "fairness" rules).

      I'm all for fairness but not when it overwhelms the true purpose of military acquisition. How to achieve a balance between fairness and timely/affordable acquisition is the challenge and I have no magic answer.

      Great point!