Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Surge Capacity

One of the cornerstones of naval readiness has been the capacity to surge non-deployed ships in a crisis.  A portion of the ships that were not currently deployed but were conducting maintenance and working up for deployments have always been capable of being surged.  In other words, their maintenance, readiness, and training was sufficient that they could be deployed in a crisis and still be functional and safe even if not fully ready.

Of late, though, CNO and other Navy leaders have described extensive reductions in maintenance, deferred maintenance, idled air wings, air wings operating at the bare minimum to even be qualified for flight, and so on.  Additionally, cross-decking appears to be at an all time high.  Even CNO has alluded to the practice as a means of ensuring that deploying ships have the equipment and personnel they need.  Of course, when equipment and personnel are cross-decked to outgoing ships, the ships and units they came from are left with sizable gaps meaning that they are no longer surge capable.  CNO has specifically stated that the current surge capacity is well below normal and that the situation will only get worse as sequestration continues.

As budget cuts, continuing resolutions, and sequestration continue to further impact the Navy, we are not only losing our forward deployed capabilities but also our surge capacity.  It’s the loss of surge capacity that is not readily apparent to many people but is just as serious as the potential loss of deployed assets.  Of course, a portion of the impact on maintenance, training, and surge capacities is due to voluntary decisions by Navy leadership which has prioritized new construction over all else.  Still, the various budget pressures are impacting surge capacity and all signs indicate that it will get worse before it gets better.

We can juggle deployment schedules, extend deployment times, reduce coverage, and play other games to scrape by during peacetime but if a true crisis erupts and we have no surge capacity we’ll be in serious trouble.


  1. Dumb question:

    Cross Decking means taking Sensor X and the sailors/technicians from USS ShipA just coming home to USS ShipB about to deploy?

    If that is the case, how much faster is that going to wear out that piece of equipment and those sailors? If I'm a 21 yr old who's on semi-constant deployment I can only guess what my answer is going to be when someone asks me to re-enlist...

    1. Your observation is correct. We're wearing out equipment and personnel at a rapid rate. The services are generally meeting their recruiting quotes, as far as I know, and overall manning levels are adequate (notwithstanding all my comments about minimal manning!) because we're drawing down. However, annectdotally, we're seeing mental fatigue from personnel due to extended deployments and the resulting lack of training. Mishaps seem to be increasing steadily.

      Equipment, however, is wearing out far more rapidly than anticipated. For example, the Hornets are burning through their service lives at a far greater rate than expected and the squadrons are short aircraft. Cross-decking is just accelerating the wear problem.

  2. The obvious solution to the shortfall in resources is to constrain the demand for USN maritime presence missions through a deliberate, planned prioritization of existing commitments wherein some number of commitments judged to be of lower value are either partially serviced or not serviced all.

    It is easy to predict the that obvious solution will not be implemented through any conscious policy or plan.

    Rather, the USN's force structure will be gradually reduced by attrition through a progressively increasing number of maintenance casualties, so that over time, the Navy's ability to support those lower value commitments will be partly or completely eliminated.

    One way or another, regardless of whether the change in our current policy towards maintaining a global maritime presence is consciously pre-planned, or whether it is the product of trends whose outcome must be accepted as the defacto reality -- the Navy's historical role of being the major player in guaranteeing maritime security in the global commons is gradually coming to an end.

    1. Scott, you hit that one out of the ballpark. The Navy will reduce its number of missions one way or the other, as you stated. The frustrating part is that this does not have to happen. It's only happening because of some epically bad decisions on the Navy's part. Even with a constant budget for the next decade (which is actually a decreasing budget when you factor in inflation) I could increase the Navy's quality and quantity of the fleet and meet more mission requests. Of course, it would require a fairly radical change in operational philosophy and the Navy's leadership seems incapable of changing. If I were in charge, though ...

      Scott, pardon me if I've asked you this before and forgotten ... Is your background/interest largely Air Force? You might have some perspectives that could be of use. Thanks! Ignore this if I'm prying too much!

    2. Projects which supported US Air Force operations either directly or indirectly were my bread and butter for more than a decade from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. While I am not a veteran myself, my family on both sides has a number of USAF, USN, and USMC veterans from World War II and the Cold War, and includes some who are currently serving in the USAF and the USMC.

      Of the time I spend here in the military blogosphere, I spend much of that time on USN blogs because: (1) primary responsibility for managing the future of US airpower is gradually migrating towards the USN; and (2) the USN blogosphere has a number of out-of-the-box thinkers in it who cover the interplay between technology, doctrine, national policy, and program management practices in ways that are not matched anywhere else.

      Anyway, I think what has happened over the last two decades in the US Navy in regard to poor acquisition decision making mirrors closely what has happened in the other services, and also mirrors what has happened in the larger world of large-scale civilian technology projects.

      Over the last two decades in the United States, the costs of all large-scale technology projects, military and civilian alike, have approximately doubled in real-dollar terms, and for a variety of reasons which are not easily dealt with simply by making significant changes to processes, procedures, and practices.

      If you buy a high-tech, specialized-use product in low volume quantities that must be produced using a variety of technologies acquired from a variety of industrial sources, you will pay roughly twice as much for that product or service in real-dollar terms as you did two decades ago.

      Over the last two decades, the USN's project managers have been no different than their USAF, USMC, and US Army counterparts -- and even their counterparts in major US civilian industries -- in refusing to recognize what kind of secure funding a project must have when it acquires and then integrates some large number of high-tech low-volume products and services.

      For those who think that the simple act of getting rid of DOD 5000 would go a long way towards solving DOD's acquisition problems, think again.

      A variety of factors affect what our weapons systems cost to acquire, to operate, and to maintain -- factors which are not easily amenable to wave-of-the-hand changes in acquisition processes.

      Project managers must recognize what that shiny new platform and/or shiny new system will actually cost and then make the hard decisions about whether or not that platform and/or that system and/or that major component and/or that major subsystem is actually needed.

      If having some number of new platforms and/or systems in hand is more important in today's budgetary landscape than having the people, the services, and the base infrastructure needed to support some number of expensive military commitments, then that priority should be stated openly and transparently.

      Not that it would actually happen this way in today's political landscape ....

  3. *sigh*. Reading military blogs nowadays gives me the same feeling that one had being tied to Chrysler in the late 70's.

    The acquisition/defense budget situation is still one that gets me. I understand we don't have enough money, and that this is killing us operationally, like the surge capacity mentioned in this post. I just don't understand why.

    I see some graphs like this:

    "US Defense spending doubled in last decade"

    Then I see some (Can't post it) that show Defense spending decreasing in terms of outlays.

    I guess what confuses me is what is different now than in the past? If we doubled defense spending in the decade prior to the Sequester, why can't we get the development done?

    "Project managers must recognize what that shiny new platform and/or shiny new system will actually cost and then make the hard decisions about whether or not that platform and/or that system and/or that major component and/or that major subsystem is actually needed."

    I totally agree with that. But the implicit assumption (seems, to me) to be that 'These new planes are ear bleedingly expensive". Weapons have always been pricey. But not break-the-bank expensive!

    Where I wonder if things are broken is in the simple development of the technology. Is the F-35 really that much more of a quantum leap than the Century series was over the Sabrejets and Shooting Stars? And they made a Century *SERIES*. They developed several jets over a space of like 15 years. Or are the contractors not really required to compete to get good work out quickly?

    According to Wiki, the RFP that ended up giving us the Tomcat started in '68, and the plane became operation on carrier decks in 1974 (!). In Contrast I have the F-35 first signing a contract in '96. And it first will be operational in what? 2016? A 20 year lag? And the price is astronomical!

    I'm not sure, but I'm guessing if I looked I'd see something similar with the LCS. Delays. Price increases. Problems that have to be fixed. Rinse & repeat.

    How did we get to the point where our development cycle times skyrocketed along with budgets so high they are gutting other areas of the military? Is the jump from F-18 E/F to F-35 really so great, is the jet really so much better? Is that technology leap really that much greater than what we faced in the late '40's and early '50's going from prop planes to supersonic fighter jets by the 60's?

    I guess I'm just ranting at this point, but it seems (to my admittedly uneducated heart) like our military leadership isn't asking the hard questions or driving the hard bargains. And the contractors are spending as much time on lobbying as they are on R&D.

    I mean goodness! We are talking about having a 230 ship fleet with little surge capacity! And the 230 ship fleet is assuming that the ships we are currently riding hard and putting away wet are still around in a few years! Yet the defense budget didn't come down so much that the United States is counting massive savings against the deficit!

  4. In a nutshell, what has happened with the F-35 to raise its costs so substantially above the seven legacy aircraft it is to replace is that too many diverse combat capabilities with too many diverse performance requirements which carry too many diverse technology implementation requirements have all been loaded into a single airplane.

    Those seven legacy aircraft include the A-6, the A-10, the older F-15s, the older F-16s, the older F-18s, the AV-8, and also I would argue, the F-22, since the F-35 must cover much of the F-22's air superiority mission responsibilities now that F-22 production has been terminated.

    The result here is that the overall technical and programmatic complexity of the JSF project; the total scope of work needed to produce a JSF airplane; and the sum total of the technological and programmatic risks associated with the F-35 nee JSF project have all gone exponential -- relative to what would have been experienced had all those diverse combat capabilities been distributed among multiple airframes carrying multiple designs which were appropriate for their current missions.

    The Navy's F-18 E/F was delivered on budget and on schedule because NAVAIR realized they had only so much money to replace the F-14, and so they made the tough decisions upfront as to what tradeoffs were necessary between raw combat performance and total lifecycle cost so that acquisition costs and technology risks could be properly controlled.

    For F-18 E/F, a realistic performance specification was adopted relative to the funding known to be available, a realistic project scope and schedule was adopted, realistic cost estimates were done, the project baseline's scope and schedule properly reflected the technology specifications, and technical issues were quickly identified as they emerged and were dealt with in a timely manner. Thus the Navy got the airplane they were asking for, getting it on time and on budget.

    1. Scott, contact me at carrunderscoremanoratyahoodotcom

      replace the underscore, at, dot with their actual characters


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