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.