Thursday, May 8, 2014

Competition Brings Out The ... Best??

Competition brings out the best, so the saying goes.  Competition breeds improvement.  When two athletes compete for a position, not only does the best one win but both improve from the competition.  When companies compete the buyer reaps the benefits as both companies sharpen their products, cut costs, and produce better products. 

When naval ship designs compete …  ah, actually …  well, to tell the truth, the design that’s favored by Navy leadership gets funded and immediately stagnates and the other design gets SINKEX’ed or sold off to foreign countries.  There’s no benefit for either of the competing designs.  The winner doesn’t get better (it may not even be the best of the competing designs) and the loser gets disposed of.  In fact, the winner, with no viable competition or alternative to worry about generally sees a massive increase in costs, delays, and failed technology (for an aviation example, anyone want to defend the JSF program?).  Here’s some examples.

When the Tico/Aegis radar system was being developed it had a competitor.  The Spruance DDGs could have undergone an upgrade to their radar system, the New Threat Upgrade (NTU).  At that time, the NTU was probably superior to Aegis and would have been immensely cheaper to implement.  However, the Navy was determined to proceed with Aegis so, to eliminate any possible alternative to Aegis, the entire Spruance class was SINKEX’ed.

As the LCS program was being proposed, many observers noted that simple upgrades to the Perry FFGs would have provided as much or more capability.  Again, the Navy was determined to go with the LCS so the Perry class was early retired, sold off to foreign countries, or defanged by having their main weapon system, the Mk 13 missile launcher, removed.  The Navy claimed that the Perrys couldn’t be upgraded to use the newer Standard missiles – a claim the Australian upgrades demonstrated was false.

Now, we’re looking at a competition between the Burke Flt III and the Ticonderogas.  The Flt IIIs are being justified on the basis of their BMD/AMDR ability.  Unfortunately for the Navy, the Tico/Aegis system has already demonstrated a ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability which would seem to eliminate the need for a Flt III.  Further, the latest Aegis software iteration allows simultaneous BMD and AAW, a previous weakness which supposedly justified the Flt III.  So, the Navy is dealing with this the same way they always have.  The Ticos are being early retired and scrapped.  Unfortunately for the Navy, Congress stepped in, restored funding, and directed the Navy to retain the Ticos that were slated for retirement.  Not to be denied, the Navy has now come up with the ploy of “idling” the Tico force.  

There you have it – competition Navy style!


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    1. B.Smitty, I didn't say that the Navy made the wrong choice between Aegis and NTU. I suggested that the competition weakened the Navy instead of strengthening it. The competitor, the Spruance/NTU, was SINKEX'ed to eliminate the threat of competition. What could/should have happened is that the Spruance, the best ASW ship ever built, could have been kept with elements of the NTU program incorporated to make it an even better platform. Instead the Navy sank an entire class to remove the possibility of competition. At the time, NTU was superior in several ways to Aegis and it was far from certain that Aegis would pan out. Aegis has now fallen into disrepair and is the subject of a fleet wide program to bring it back up to full working condition - a program that may or may not succeed and given budget pressures, may well not. Even today, I would rather have a top notch rotating radar than a degraded Aegis that can't be maintained. The point is that rather than try to reap the benefits of competition, the Navy opted to sink the Spruances.

      The same applies to the Perrys. By the way, you state that the Perrys have no viable lifetime left and yet other countries will continue to operate them for many years to come. We could do the same if we chose to. There is no sudden, unavoidable end of life for a ship anymore than there is for a plane. We can re-wing or re-anything if we choose. We can upgrade and keep a ship going indefintely, if we choose. You suggest that Australia's experience with the Perry upgrade wasn't entirely positive (Australia may be the only country more messed up than us when it comes to naval construction!) but the alternative, the LCS, hasn't been entirely positive, either.

      Again, I didn't say that AMDR isn't a better choice than SPY-1. What I'm suggesting is that the Navy's response to the threat of competition from Aegis/SPY is that Navy is early retiring and/or "idling" perfectly good Aegis cruisers. Is a scaled down AMDR that can fit on a Flt III really superior to the Aegis/SPY-1? Nothing I've seen says that. As far as the benefits of AESA, you're undoubtedly familiar with the problems that the aviation community is having with AESA. Whether those same problems hold for a shipborne AESA system, I don't know. The point is that faced with the threat of competition from Aegis/SPY, the Navy is opting to "sink" the Tico class.

      The overall point, to repeat the post, is that the Navy's reaction to competition is to eliminate the disfavored competitor rather than attempt to reap the benefits of competition.

    2. My own view is that both prototype LCS versions were procured because each one was judged to be only a partial solution to the requirements, such that they are; and because it was believed that multiple yards needed to be sustained -- those issues concerning the need to maintain competition among contractors notwithstanding.

      Now, if one recognizes that traditional bluewater ASW and AAW missions and roles must be carried by some number of the Navy's smaller surface combatants -- those smaller than the Burkes -- then the two LCS versions don't even add up to one true-blue ASW/AAW frigate.

      As for the Spruances, they were quickly and decisively disposed of because they competed for funding with the LCS and with the DDG-1000; and by getting rid of them and also by ending Burke production early, there would be no other option but to buy the LCS and the DDG-1000.

      Those of us who were predicting in 2005 that production of Burkes would continue beyond their then-scheduled construction shut-down in the latter part of the decade also recognized that the constituency for the LCS and the DDG-1000 consisted mostly of the transformationalists in the senior civilian and uniformed ranks of DOD and the USN.

      The transformationalists would do whatever was necessary to protect the LCS and the DDG-1000, even if that meant retiring Spruances with many years of useful service left in them and carrying a suite of combat capabilities that was even then reemerging as being important in future conflicts with peer or near-peer adversaries.

      What has happened since 2005 is just what we predicted would happen as a result of the USN's technically and programmatically delusional shipbuilding plan. Burke production continues; and the Burke Class is assuming ever-greater responsibilities for a diverse set of mission requirements.

      We knew a decade ago that both the LCS and the DDG-1000 wouldn't cut the mustard; and that the USN's non-aviation combat power would become ever-more concentrated aboard the Burkes.

      What is happening now with the early retirement of the Ticos is simply another facet of that deeply-embedded long term trend -- Burkes, Burkes, ever more Burkes.

    3. Scott, the Spruances were decomm'ed starting in '98 and ending in '05. The decision to eliminate the class was made in the mid-90's, long before the DDG1000 and LCS programs got going. The LCS and DDG1000 both started around 2004-2005 though the SC/DD-21 paper studies took place earlier than that.

      The Aegis/Tico program saw ships commissioned from '83-'94 with the program starting in the early 80's. The Spruance/NTU was the direct competition threat to the Aegis/Tico program.

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    5. B.Smitty, an an example, here is a quote from the DOT&E 2013 annual report about Super Hornets and Growlers:

      "The Navy has not yet addressed long-standing deficiencies
      with the APG-79 AESA radar. As stated in the FY12 Annual
      Report, the AESA demonstrated marginal improvements
      during FOT&E from prior testing and provides improved
      performance relative to the legacy APG-73 radar. However,
      operational testing has yet to demonstrate a statistically
      significant difference in mission accomplishment between
      F/A-18E/F aircraft equipped with AESA and those equipped
      with the legacy radar."

      Search around among the various standard reports and you can find more examples.

      Again, you seem to think I've stated that the decision to go the Aegis route was wrong. I've not stated that (I might or might not think it but I haven't stated it). Could the Spruances be worse off? Possible, certainly, but unlikely if for no other reason than they're less complex as regards the their radar fit of rotating antennae.

      NTU development had already occured to some extent. Rather than take advantage of the work and upgrade the Spruances AND pursue Aegis/Tico - win, win - the Navy opted to sink the Spruances. The overall fleet was left with a mediocre ASW capability that persists to this day.

      Yes, we can keep ships going indefinitely, if we choose to. There's WWII LST's still in use around the world. If need be we can totally gut a ship and rebuild it with the most modern technology available. If need be we can replace the skin (Cole, for example) and frames. So, yes, we can keep ships going indefinitely if we choose. Whether that makes economic sense is the question and the answer depends on what assumptions you want to make. As a general statement, you can perform a LOT of upgrades and maintenance for the cost of a new build. Suppose we had opted to build only a single Zumwalt as a technology demonstrator. We would have had around $8B savings from the other two to spend on upgrades and maintenance. That's a LOT of upgrades and maintenance! The Aussie's Perry upgrade cost around $100M. We could have upgraded 80 Perrys! Pick any upgrade cost you want, the conclusion is the same - we can do lots of upgrades for the cost of new construction.

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    7. B.Smitty, well, as an example of LSTs still operting, according to Wiki, the Philippine Navy has seven still active. They haven't shared their operating assignments with me so I don't know what they're doing. There are LSTs around the world operating as ferries.

      OK, using the upper value of $350M, that would allow us to modernize 22 Perrys. As I said, a LOT of upgrades from two very marginally useful Zumwalts.

      You're missing the point about AESA or any radar or any technology. If you read the sales brochure about Aegis, it's phenomenal. The reality is that it's significantly degraded fleet-wide and is proving impossible to maintain anywhere near peak performance. The brochure about AESA is phenomenal. I don't know the reality other than the Hornets and Growlers are having problems with it. Will a shipboard AESA system perform and be maintainable? I don't know but rather than leap aboard the sales brochure express, I'll take a more measured approach and check historical reality. Unbridled enthusiasm is what got us the LCS. The Navy believed every (or invented!) every claim and virtually none have panned out. Rather than assume perfect performance, let's assume around 60% performance compared to claims and we'll probably be about right. Read the various DOT&E reports and you'll see the overall reality of performance versus claims.

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    9. B.Smitty, you understand that I'm talking about upgraded Perrys way back when there was a choice to be made between Perrys and the LCS. Upgrades then would have gained many years of useful life with the then state of the art SM-2, possibly the SP-9A/B (there's your Exocet detect), upgraded combat software suites, and any other upgrades that would have proven useful.

      I'm not talking about upgrading the Perrys now although I'd still rather do that than continue building the remainder of the 32 LCSs that have no functionality.

      Again, I'm not arguing against AESA. I'm suggesting a modicum of reality based on historical evidence as we evaluate potential systems. We're wanting to build a Flt III with an undersized AMDR that won't meet the Navy's own performance specs and may, or may not, encounter the AESA problems that some other radars have. Is this package worth pursuing? Maybe. I'm not sufficiently knowledgeable to say. However, to blindly accept the absolute max performance as outlined in the manufacturer's brochures is folly (again, that's what led us to the LCS).

      The main point in all of this is not to debate whether AMDR or SPY-1 is superior. The main point is that instead of allowing the two systems to compete, improving both where feasible, choosing one to implement as we move forward, and maintaining the other while the winner slowly comes on-line, the Navy seems bent on eliminating the Tico/Aegis/SPY-1 "threat" so that no one can even question the Navy's choice as we are doing now. The original 27 Ticos are already down to 11 with none having made it to their projected lifespan and none likely to. That's what the Navy does to a competing system - they ruthlessly eliminate it to avoid having to answer legitimate questions.

      In hindsight, should we have kept the Spruances? Most would say yes.

      In hindsight, should we have upgraded the Perrys and dropped the LCS? Most would say yes.

      Twenty years from now when someone asks whether, in hindsight, we should have kept the Ticos, will most say yes?

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    12. B.Smitty, huh?? Where did I say Spruances and Burkes were competitors?

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    14. B.Smitty, c'mon, read that quote again. Not only is the word "Burke" not in it but the phrase "Tico/Aegis radar system" is the key. I was comparing Aegis and NTU as competitors with Ticos and Spruances as the classes carrying the systems at the time of the competition/decision.

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    17. B.Smitty, you understand how this competition thing works, right? It doesn't start and stop on one day. It's a continual process.

      Consider the JSF. The Hornet is a competitor (on the Navy's side of things) to the JSF in that many argue that we should reduce or halt the JSF in favor of improved Hornets. And yet, we've been making production JSFs for some years now. The Hornets and JSF will co-exist for many years and the pressure to switch to the Hornet route will continue for many years to come. The competition will take place for years as the JSF continues to struggle. Eventually, if the JSF proves itself, the competition will die out.

      So, too, with the Spruance/NTU and Tico/Aegis. As we buit the initial Ticos for what was then hideously expensive prices, many questioned whether we shouldn't just upgrade the Spruance/NTU. This pressure/competition continued as the Ticos were being built. It didn't end the day funding for the first Tico was approved anymore than pressure/competition on the LCS or JSF has ended just because we've built some. As the first several Ticos were coming on line in the late '80s and early '90s, the pressure continued to mount to stop the Tico/Aegis and upgrade Spruance/NTU. At some point around the late '80s or early '90s the Navy made the decision to get rid of the Spruance/NTU so that there could be no further debate or threat to Aegis. The decomm/SINKEX process didn't occur all in the next 24 hours after the decision. It played out over many years just as the Perrys have been eliminated over many years. The Perrys were defanged and eliminated to avoid competition with the LCS and yet they've sailed on for many years. It doesn't all happen instantaneously.

      Does that make sense to you?

      You can disagree with me about my interpretation of events. That's fair. However, as you look at the history of naval acquisition you see a clear pattern of elimination of the losing competitor as I described in the post. You can, if you wish, take each one of those instances and explain it away but the overall, recurring pattern tells the story that I've described, I believe.

      If you still don't believe me, ask yourself why the Navy has eliminated 16 of the 27 Ticos, the most advanced and most capable AAW ship on the planet, with plenty of lifetime left, just as the Flt III (with its undersized AMDR and zero growth margin) is being debated and is meeting resistance? If it were just an exercise in costs, wouldn't it make more sense to eliminate the early Burkes or even the now discredited LCS?

      If none of this is enough to convince you, well, then, you're welcome to your opinion.

    18. The 11 Ticos would make a fine BMD group, if dedicated only to such as task, I don't see what all the fuzz is about not being able to operate these fine ships... And ofcourse these Tico can perform standard AAW, ASuW, and ASW just as capable as any other ships out there... Isn't that what the Navy wants? Multi-purpose ships doing everything at once... I just don't get it.

  2. It is far worse than that. Even when you have competition, the loser (if big enough) gets put on the winnning team. For example on DDG 1000 Lock Mart lost and immediately filed a protest (understandbale for the size of the program, I don't know if it had any technical merit).

    In order to get on with the ship, the Navy got NGC & Raytheon to add Lock Mart to the winning team and viola the protest was withdrawn. However, the share of work was agreed on based on the desire and proposed expertise of Lock Mart and not on the cost of that expertise. So the winning team now had to fit more expensive approaches into their winning bid, with increase in the bid.

    I can't think a worse way to have a competition and then claim victory for making a winning team even better. Many of the problems on DDG 1000 started with the Navy's screwball idea of how to make a protest go away.

  3. I get back about the LCS, but the reason for the quick demise of the Spruances had much more to do with the war than any completion against the DDG-1000. ODS determine that the navy needed to provide people to support the Army and Marines, so limit the growth of the ground forces. This was for budget reasons. If they had not cut the Spruances, they would have had to add people to the navy, to man the new Burkes, which meant that Arny, navy and marines would need more manpower at a time when OSD was promising to fight the war without increasing the budget.


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