What requirements do you design a warship to? That’s seems like a simple question. You design a warship to its mission requirements, of course.
Mission requirements will set design parameters like speed, range, firepower,
armor, survivability, and so forth.
Unfortunately, the Navy has been designing warships to non-mission requirements like
- Likelihood of funding
- Ability to obtain Congressional approval
- Preservation of the industrial base
- Public perception
- Industrial support relative to future jobs after retirement
- Ability to bypass oversight and reviews
Actual mission requirements have been relegated almost to an afterthought.
Let’s consider the LCS. The ship was designed to a largely arbitrary set of requirements that were, by the Navy’s own admission, not linked to a concept of operations (CONOPS), since the Navy did not develop a valid CONOPS prior to committing to a full production run. Further, the LCS failed to achieve many of its key performance requirements such as speed, endurance, range, weight margins, stability margins, etc.
How can the failure to achieve performance requirements be avoided in the future?
Well, one could make sure that requirements are tightly linked to actual operational needs rather than being arbitrary and unachievable. One could also make sure that the technology inherent in the desired requirement actually exists. One could clearly state the requirements in the purchase contract and then absolutely insist that the requirements be met prior to acceptance. And so on …
Of course, there is one other way to meet requirements and that is to make the requirements not-requirements. One could write a contract in which the requirements aren’t really requirements so that when they aren’t met, it doesn’t matter. This seemingly worst possible approach is, naturally, the route the Navy has chosen for the “frigate” version of the LCS. From the 2015 DOT&E Annual Report comes this stunning paragraph. Please read it slowly and carefully and then reread it and think very carefully about the implications.
“In August and October 2015, the Navy delivered two drafts of the Capability Design Documents (CDD) that relegate all mission performance measures, other than the two measures for force protection against surface and air threats, to Key System Attributes rather than Key Performance Parameters (KPPs), which permits the combat capabilities desired in these follow-on ships to be traded away as needed to remain within the cost constraints. As a result, the new SSC could, in the extreme, be delivered with less mission capability than desired and with limited improvements to the survivability of the ship in a combat environment. In fact, the SSC could meet all its KPPs without having any mission capability.” [emphasis added]
Realizing that they’ve failed repeatedly to obtain the contracted performance requirements (LCS class, LPD-17 class, and Ford being notable recent examples), the Navy has opted to make the requirements tradable, if desired.
The “frigate” LCS will, apparently, have only two KPPs and could meet those “without having any mission capability”, whatsoever. Is that stunningly unbelievable?
From the above, we see that the Navy’s main design criteria are not-mission related but cost and public relations related. The Navy is willing to trade performance requirements for cost and resulting good PR! They’ll trade away combat effectiveness just to be able to say that the ship came in on time and at cost. Rather than run an efficient acquisition program, exercise competent oversight, and make the hard call to reject a ship that does not meet requirements, the Navy would rather trade away requirements.
Do you see why I have such a hard time finding things to praise the Navy about? Do you see why I’m so critical of Navy leadership?