Monday, February 23, 2015

Come Hell Or High Water

Consider ...

  • The Navy is looking seriously at early retirement of a carrier.

  • The Navy is attempting to lay up the Aegis cruisers.

  • The Navy left the Avenger class MCM vessels to rot pierside until it became painfully obvious that the LCS wouldn’t be ready for years to come.

  • The Navy early retired the entire Tarawa LHA amphibious class.

  • The Navy cancelled Tomahawk missile production with no successor in sight (though Congress restored some degree of production).

  • The Navy cancelled Fire Scout procurement (though, again, some degree of production has been restored, I think).

  • The Navy terminated the Seawolf SSN program after only three units.

  • The Navy did one of the most abrupt about-faces in naval history in terminating the Zumwalt DDG program after stating unequivocally the year before that it was the key to future naval combat. 

From the above historical listing it should be obvious that the Navy has no qualms about terminating, early retiring, or changing directions on major ship classes and programs.

Contrast that history of early retirements, terminations, and changes of direction with the LCS program.  The Navy is completely, totally, utterly committed to seeing the LCS program through to the full buy of 52 units.  Why?  Almost no one in or out of the Navy now believes that the LCS is, or will ever be, a successful platform.  Yet, in the face of severe budget constraints which have seen the Navy terminate and early retire many platforms, weapons, and systems, the LCS remains untouchable. 

Before you pound out a reply about the new LCS, no one considers the “new” LCS to be anything other than a public relations gimmick to continue building the same anemic LCS’s.

What makes the LCS untouchable when we’re perfectly willing to retire Aegis cruisers and carriers which are infinitely more valuable?  Is it just a case of institutional face saving?  I’m sure there’s a degree of that at work but the people who actually initiated the LCS program and might have the greatest stake in seeing it “succeed” are long gone.  Why would current Navy leadership care that much whether the LCS reaches the full 52 ship build?  ComNavOps has no answer.  The Navy’s position on this is truly baffling.

Setting aside the wisdom or doctrinal/tactical need for a small combatant, the logical path would be to terminate the LCS and initiate another small combatant program that incorporates the lessons learned rather than try to tweak an inherently flawed platform.  What’s the downside?  There isn’t one that I can see.  Worst case, we’d have a few less toothless, useless patrol boats for several years while the replacement vessel geared up.  Heck, if we wanted to build or buy one of the many excellent foreign design small combatants we wouldn’t even have to wait very long so the excuse of a gap in production isn’t even valid.

Shrink the fleet size so that we can continue building shiny new toys?  Yes, we’ll do that!

Drop a carrier so that we can continue building new Fords?  Yes, we’ll do that!

Early retire the most powerful cruisers in the world so that we can continue new construction?  Yes, we’ll do that!

Terminate or even reduce the procurement of a toothless, useless, short-legged, ship that has no valid mission?  Nope.  Come hell or high water, we’re going to build all 52 LCS.



  1. Its hard as a civilian to know what to do when you want to support the Navy, but the Admirals themselves seem to be making really poor decisions.

    It seems like we are building a navy for 'Presence' missions, anti-piracy, and for beating up on non-peers, ignoring the challenges we face in the Pacific.

    - ASW seems to be atrophied. No vikings. No Perry's. LCS is a question mark. What if the Chinese start building SSN's in a big way?

    - The future of MW is.... ?

    - The Marines seem to be gutting themselves to pay for the F-35B.

    - We spent a crap load on 3 destroyers that, while impressive, have ~80 VLS cells on a hull that costs 8bn and displaces ~14,000 tons.

    - We dont' have, IMHO, a true follow on to the Tico's. In an era where cruise missile threats are increasing, we are going to hulls that carry fewer Standards.

    - The Virginia's are nice boats, but did we really gain anything from them vs. going into full production with the Seawolves?

    - We're shrinking the air wings; which cuts striking power.

    - We have no committed tankers on the CVN's; which cuts striking power even further.

    - We're likely going to by the F-35C, which seems to increase range, but which is so bloody expensive to buy and maintain it will likely shrink the airwings even further...

    - We aren't buying more SuperHornets. And from what I've read the Hornets on deck are really stretching their flight hours.

    - We have LRASM, which will help, but nothing that is supersonic. But at least it looks like they are trying to do *something* to get us a big stick.

    - I'm not entirely sure that the LCS will last as long as they say. If its vibrating so badly that the gun can't be used while underway, is the hull strong enough to last 20 years?

    It almost seems wasteful to me to field a Navy that has such huge gaps. If we aren't gong to do it right just so we can get ships out there, it seems foolish and dangerous.

    I know this sounds like heresy, but I'd almost rather have less ships, curtail our foreign policy accordingly, but have a fleet that is fully outfitted:

    * Full airwings.With dedicated refueling.
    * True, long range strike aircraft and fleet defense fighters.
    * Full ASW capability including dedicated ASW frigates and aircraft
    * Cruisers with lots of capacity and
    * Super and subsonic missiles that can be air/ship launched, deployed as widely as possible.
    * real MW capability.
    Sure, maybe you can't have your guys everywhere all the time, but at least when you deploy your enemies have a crapload to worry about.

    1. You've summed up this entire blog!

    2. You yourself had some very informative conversations with Mr Work about the LCS where he laid out the Navy case.

      What is find is so baffling is basically that his case was, "We have been playing with the ideas of small combatants for years; small crew sizes, operaing in small flotillas instead of major fleets, mission packages. Let's build something and see if it works!"

      Which truthfully, I do not have a problem with any of that. We should experiment and play around. What is shocking is the experiment turned out to be a flop/still under testing but we are still building the ships. So when you say "The MCM package is still not working!" The response is, "It is not in full production with a fully trained crew. How can you say it is not working?" And production rolls along and the money continues to go out the door.

    3. Jim Whall, I'll say 'ditto' on ComNavOps' remark that you have summed up his entire blog.

      Concerning the LCS, in his monthly USNI Proceedings column, Norman Friedman says that there was some bit of shock at the news that the Small Surface Combatant (SSC) would be a somewhat-upgraded reprise of the LCS; and he went on to briefly describe how the current LCS designs had come to be what they are now.

      The Navy no longer does its own preliminary design work to evaluate the impacts of how a particular set of performance and operational requirements affect a warship's design, and ultimately, its costs.

      The Navy writes a set of performance and operational requirements and then throws those requirements over the fence into the hands of the contractors to figure out.

      The contractors must then decide not only the lowest level design details for the new platform, but also must determine the higher level design tradeoffs which balance the relative emphasis given to potentially competing objectives within the requirements baseline.

      For example, as Friedman relates it, specifying a top speed above above 45 knots for the LCS instantly forced the two contractors to choose hullforms geared for high speed operation at the expense of fuel economy, range, endurance, and payload carrying capacity.

      OK, in my own view -- an opinion which is shared by others who have watched what has been happening in DoD over the last two decades -- is that the single most important reason why the US Navy doesn't want to do its own in house preliminary design work is that making the design tradeoffs in-house means that senior Navy personnel, uniformed and civilian alike, must take direct responsibility for the choices they make, and must defend those choices in the face of often-contentious debates over what a platform ought to look like.

      The easiest way out in these uncomfortable circumstances is to do what the Navy's senior leadership did more than a decade ago, and that is to shed direct responsibility for making the tough design decisions and to place that responsibility into the hands of others who are paid to take the heat for making the hard and often controversial choices.

      That way, if a project goes sour, the finger of blame can be pointed at the contractors. ("Don't look at us! It wasn't out fault! It was them! They did it!")

      By eliminating their own in house preliminary design expertise, the Navy's leadership has guaranteed that it can never be a truly informed customer for the warships it is buying, and it can never gain any reasonable measure of influence and control over what its new warships will eventually cost.

    4. Lets get to the hub of the problem, the lack of money and the way the Navy and the civilian leadership has tried to responded to that lack of resources. These actions have produces many of the effects we seen it the navy's shipbuilding budget.

      For example, look at the DDG-1000 death spiral, When first proposed, there was to be a minimum of 32 ships, with an ultimate building rate of five ships per year. This was estimated to produce a cost of 3/4 that of the Burke II+ due to scale of production. That was until there was the typical cost growth due to outside demands, this case the hidden desire for BMD and multiply changes in the drive system, along with other typical cost growth push the unit cost up, while outside needs reduces available funds. So both the rate of production, and number of vessel produce were limited, resulting in increased unit price as scale of production fell, followed by in turn by more reductions in saving due to number produced, followed by more pressure to cut the shipbuilding budget, more problems due to mission growth, reduce number, etc, etc, etc, Resulting in the demise of a promising program that might have provide increase numbers to the Navy.

      Now the problems with the LCSs programs were quite different, and surprisingly did not result the typical death spiral like the DDG-1000. But the lack of funds, has resulted in several choices that will cripple the effectiveness the future LCS. Most of these choices have little to do things like high speed hull, and more to do with not dealing with the experimental nature of the program. Because of uncertainty the requirements a LCS, there should have been numerous sets of requirements created, allowing the production of several different types of "sea frames." But again lack of fund resulted it only two sea frames be developed to basically the same specification, resulting in two similar ships, neither of with can cover the number of possible changes an experimental program like the LCS was sure to generate.

    5. Scott, you're quite right about the Navy having given up their in-house engineering capability. You also highlight the unwillingness to internally commit to a particular set of design characteristics. I'm not sure about the extent to which that might be true but, regardless, that function was performed by the General Board, once upon a time (see, "General Board"). The Board promulgated sets of design characteristics and sent them to the fleet for opinion and feedback and, ultimately, produced a final set of requirements. The system worked quite well until a particular CNO, feeling threatened by the Board's power, abolished it. The Navy hasn't been the same since.

    6. GLof, so you're saying that the bulk of the LCS' problems are attributed to insufficient funding? Well, that's certainly a unique perspective!

      Regardless, and getting back to the point of the post, why do you think the LCS has enjoyed such protected status while any and every other Navy program is vulnerable to signficant cuts?

    7. Because the basic idea of the LCS is still something that is sexy even if unubtainable.

      The current MCM ships could not hunt submarines or pirates or have any hope of doing anything except clearing mines. So one platform could only accomplish one job.

      The same weakness applies to the Perry, patrol boats and everything else in the Navy inventory.

      The idea was to save money by having a 20+ LCS ships in theater and when I need to clear mines I have 15 mine sweepers and 5 USW ships. After that is over I need 15 SUW vessels to fight pirates in Somalia or to enforce the fishing laws off of American Somoa. Thus instead of having 70 platforms of which only 20 are useful at any given moment I instead have 52 platforms and they are all useful after a quick reconfiguration.

      However, all tests point towards the same problem we have seen over and over again. When you try to make one common platform perform many different missions it cannot do any of those misisons well.

    8. Yes CNO, if there was more money spent develop different models of sea frames, each based on DIFFERENT sets of requirements, would address several of the problem now effecting the LCS program.

      Consider the following, what if a third version of the LCS was developed with the following changes, The mission payload is double to 480tons maximum, helicopter pad and hanger to support a H-53, main gun increased to a 76mm, personnel spaces to 150, increased cruising speed back to 18 knots, while maximum speed requirement reduced to 35 knots. Such a vessel would simplify the designs of modules, use existing minesweeping hardware, and other changes. All the Navy would have to do is pay for design and development of the a third or fourth sea frame design.

    9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    10. USMC: It was a neat idea. I have no problem with them trying it. My problem is with them doubling down on it when its not even close to being proven as a real concept.

      MW ships are different from Frigates because they each have different roles. And like with the F-35 we're finding its *really* hard to do those roles well off of one ship. It may well, in fact seems likely to, fail utterly. Yet, by golly, we're gonna build 'em.

      So there is a very real chance we end up with 52 ships that don't do ASW well, don't do MW well, will get their stuff shot up by a Corvette, are largely unsuited to the Pacific, and can't do escort.

      That's a huge risk, and its made larger by shrinking ship building budgets. If the LCS is even a partial failure we end up with 1/3 of the fleet (or more, if our shipbuilding budget can't keep up with rising costs of other ships) being 'meh'.

      Wouldn't it make more sense to test the hell out of the concept and get it working before you build 52 of them?

    11. USMC: I read your earlier post. Sorry, I misunderstood what you were saying.

    12. USMC 0802 said,

      "However, all tests point towards the same problem we have seen over and over again. When you try to make one common platform perform many different missions it cannot do any of those misisons well."

      I don't think this is true at all. Look at the humble HMMWV. How many missions does it perform? It's not designed for any one.

      How about the F-16 or F-18? They may not be great at any one mission, but they perform most admirably.

      Quantity does have a quality of its own. Buying specialists for every mission means you have to guess up front how many of each type you need. Your guess probably won't be right.

      If you buy generalists, you can swing role them. F-16s can fly OCA one sortie, CAS the next, SEAD the third, strike the fourth. A squadron of F-16s can ALL fly OCA one day, and all fly CAS the next.

      There are certainly some areas where this doesn't work. Usually those areas require particular platform characteristics that a generalist can't afford to have. A HMMWV can't perform the MBTs mission, for example.

      Arguably, the biggest problem the LCS has had is the immaturity of the modules. However immaturity doesn't mean the concept of modularity is not viable. We may yet be able to build a viable MIW module. Back in the day, it took Microsoft three versions before any of their software was decent. Windows 1.0 - sucked. Windows 3.0 - eh not bad.

    13. I'm sorry Greg, but the ability to remain flexible in choosing design tradeoffs directly affects how well any notional platform design will work in actual practice, when and if it is actually constructed.

      It is often true that by greatly emphasizing one performance requirement over other competing performance requirements, one will greatly constrain one's ability to remain flexible in making the kinds of design tradeoffs which can implement effective compromises among a variety of performance criteria.

      The DDG-1000 is one example of this truism, the LCS is another.

      It was well known more than a decade ago that the DDG-1000's stealth characteristics could not and would not remain effective even through the service life of the very first hull of the class.

      This was so because predictable evolutionary advances in sensor technology and in networked information processing technology would inevitably render the Zumwalt's stealth characteristics ineffective, doing so in a timeframe less than twenty years beyond the launch of the very first hull.

      But the Navy's senior leadership in the 1998-2005 timeframe decided to build the DDG-1000 anyway, in direct defiance of serious ongoing concerns regarding how extensively the Zumwalt's stealthy hullform impacts the practical implementation of other competing and equally important performance criteria.

      A similar situation exists with the LCS. The speedboat requirement makes it nearly impossible for other highly desirable performance characteristics to be given their proper expression within a practical LCS design implementation, especially those characteristics which are useful for supporting the traditional frigate roles; for example, logistal seatrain escort and ASW.

      One of the main reasons the Navy's senior leadership eliminated the Navy's internal design bureaus was that they didn't want to hear the hard truths their own design experts were telling them.

      The Navy's own experts were sent out the door, and so what we ended up with in the DDG-1000 and in the LCS are schizophrenic amalgams of competing operational requirements which are not achieving of their performance objectives in any particularly effective way.

    14. Scot, while I agree with some of what you say, there are some things I must take issue with.

      The stealthy nature of the DDG-1000 design is not ineffective, it just being hit with the tech-counter tech battle that is the constant rule of naval warfare for the last centuries. The counter radar technology used on DDG-1000 will have to evolve to meet future threats, just as iron armor had to be replace with harden steel, AA guns replaced with missiles, and even the good old Mk-1 eyeball updated with telescopes. and in turn most of these were replaced with better tech.

      AS for the Navy's lack of engineering talents in ship design, that shortage has result in part, and part only of today problem. And there is the other side of the coin to remember. There is the problem of the Navy's engineers becoming there own little kindom, creating spec that a even more problematic because "they are the experts."

      what we need to do is give up one size fit all solutions like the F-35 and divide your problems into smaller, less technological difficult problem, that can still be adaptable via methods like modular mission modules.

    15. "There is the problem of the Navy's engineers becoming there own little kindom, creating spec that a even more problematic because "they are the experts."

      There is absolutely no historical evidence that that type of thing has ever occured. Historically, the General Board set the broad requirements and then BuShips implemented the design.

      Friedman's excellent design series of books as well as other, similar books clearly show the process of ship design and specification and there is nothing to support the claim of a problematic kingdom. If you have evidence that naval engineers ever became their own kingdom or created problematic specs because of it, please share the evidence.

  2. Remember:

    What gets rewarded - gets done
    What gets punished - doesn't
    Everything else is a crapshoot

    Let's talk about changing the system to realize the above.

  3. The USN seems to be motivated by a need to keep money flowing to some contractors, but not others. The obvious place to look for causes of that is the flow of money from the contractors to the politicians that supervise the Navy.

  4. Three words: Ohio Replacement Program. The budget for future ship/sub construction is utterly bankrupt...the only way to get something to (only) "show the flag" away from our shores is to keep building LCS.

    The problem with this is it only works in peacetime.

  5. When was the last time the USN faced any kind of real threat? Not suicide boats or a single drone. I mean something like a full scale Backfire style attack or a fighting a peer capable enemy?

    When was the last time the USN was committed to major battle? Not just using the carriers as off-shore airfields with the escorts job being keeping trawlers out of their way.

    We're talking the 1980's. Facing an enemy like the Soviet Navy and a battle like Operation Praying Mantis. Its been whole generations, not just a single one, of officers & crews that have only had to act like a colonial naval force with drive by cruise missile strikes. Officers don't learn tactics, they learn how to play the game of promotions. Fifty-two LCS's? That's fifty-two potential command slots. That's why the USN wants them. Who care's if the ship is a piece of junk? A checkoff on the road to admiral and future contractor cash is to be had!

    1. Command opportunities? That might be a small part of the reasoning but I don't think that's the driving force behind the LCS' untouchable status. If command opportunities were so important the Navy wouldn't be early retiring entire classes of ships and seeking to lay up half the Aegis cruiser force. They'd keep all those ships in commission to maximize the command slots.

  6. CNO,

    one potential benefit of "too few" ships is that the it is easier and cheaper, to expand with the "correct ships" during crisis.

    Generally nations find that they have not trained, equipped, or organized their forces properly for war.

    Many of the cost and quality problems of the current Navy are directly attributable to the decline of the U.S. shipbuilding industry.

    Rather than bleed ourselves by trying to hang onto force structure, I would rather see our nation address the root failures in the domestic shipyards.

    Our insistence on being able to bomb anyone, everywhere 24/7 is driving us to maintain an unsustainable overseas presence, an unsustainable force structure, and an unsustainable operations tempo.

    The only caveat to this are submarines, which are so specialized that there is no civilian equivalent - we have to build subs, or we will not be able to build them.

    I would rather see us layup 2/3rds of our ships and ground 2/3rds of our aircraft if it meant massive capital investment in our maritime industries coupled with a massive increase in *training* for conventional war. I am talking 45-50 hours of flying per month per pilot level of training, and serious tactical task force or fleet on fleet training.

    I would emphasize capital investment in infrastructure for the industry, and for the military: weapons over platforms and *training* over everything.

    From 1789 to 1940 the nation never operated the military like we have done since 1945. And little to show for it.


    1. GAB, what you and many others are saying is that the United States should step decisively back from the role it has been playing for the last seventy years of being World Hegemon; i.e., the ultimate guarantor of world peace and stability.

      Acting in the role of World Hegemon is a thankless job, and an extraordinarily expensive one to boot. It is the most influential factor in why US defense spending is as high as it is in comparison with other nations, the other reason being that US defense spending keeps the American industrial base busy doing the kinds of industrial work that would not be done on our shores at all if there wasn't defense spending to support it.

      GAB, you say there is little to show for our seventy-year commitment to being World Hegemon. On the other hand, America's GNP grew substantially in those seventy years, and foreign trade was a very large contributor to that growth. Moreover, defense spending keeps industrial jobs here on shore which wouldn't be here at all if that money wasn't being spent.

      However, one has to guess that in your view, the pax-Americana that we enforced after 1945 had little impact in promoting the steady growth of the world economy that has occurred over the last seventy years, and that the benefits which accrued to us from enforcing our pax-Americana over those seventy years were not worth the money spent on it. Is that a correct summary of your viewpoint?

    2. Scott

      The benefits which accrued to us from enforcing our pax-Americana over those seventy years were not worth the money spent on it.

      In fact, the rise of the USA as a great power was promoted by largely by avoiding the destructive wars that consumed Europe.

      Since adopting the mantle of "global policeman" we have witnessed massive decline of a number of key heavy industries. Things would be a lot worse if the dollar were not the world's reserve currency and we were forced to fund our public debt (now ~$18 Trillion).

      This did not mean that our great great grandfathers did not intervene, but the financial costs and political implications were negligible, and Americans historically never would have tolerated 50-60,000 troops in Europe with no end in sight.


    3. GAB, is it your contention that America's global engagement led to the loss of internal heavy industries to overseas alternatives - made possible by the very globalization we elected to safeguard? If so, that's an absolutely fascinating perspective that I had not previously considered. I'm going to have to ruminate on that! Thanks!

    4. CNO,

      A key component of the post WWII naval policy has been freedom of navigation - but where are the American commercial hulls to take advantage of this trade?

      In 1945 we were the greatest ship building nation on the planet; now we build barges and platforms - we could not build a modern super tanker without years of work.

      I grew up being told what a "one dimensional super power" the Soviet union was - in many ways the USA now resembles the USSR!


    5. "one potential benefit of "too few" ships is that the it is easier and cheaper, to expand with the "correct ships" during crisis."

      GAB, while that is a conceptually correct statement, the practicalities of modern shipbuilding (and aircraft, for that matter) preclude the development and construction of new designs in any likely timeframe of interest. Given that it's taken us a decade to field the LCS (still not functioning in a useful manner!), two decades and counting on the F-35, several years on the Zumwalt with another year or two to go before commissioning, around seven years for a carrier, and so on, such an approach will only benefit us if a war lasts for at least five years. While that's certainly possible, I don't see an all out, high intensity war lasting that long. Both sides will have exhausted the supplies of ships, planes, and munitions!

      We could take a WWII aircraft design from drawing board to production in a year or so but the modern design/production cycle is on the order of decades rather than months. Of course, a valid question is why the cycle should be so long but, for the moment, it is what it is.

      I couldn't agree more with your thoughts on training!

    6. "A key component of the post WWII naval policy has been freedom of navigation - but where are the American commercial hulls to take advantage of this trade?"

      As you know, US flagged merchant ships are rare and US built merchant ships are even rarer. However, our commercial hulls are there - they just aren't US built or flagged. Our international merchant commerce sails under other flags but it is there. We take full advantage of the freedom of navigation, just not in our own hulls. I'm not saying this is a good or desirable situation but we do reap benefits from freedom of the seas.

      Our comments are slightly out of sync. I find your thought on the possibility that our global engagement has, overall, hurt us to be fascinating. We've benefitted from global engagement, certainly, but, on balance, have we hurt ourselves more? Hmmm........

      Another one of your "stop and make me think" perspectives!

    7. Maybe I am off base, but I sincerely hope to provoke some serious thought.

      back to my point: I would argue that the reality is that not only do we no longer build, or operate the ships used to move our trade, most of the finished goods carried in those ships are foreign made. Ergo, the question being: whose responsibility is it to secure those ships?

      I have not taken a close look at the trade figures for a while, but I believe that the only substantial overseas market for US manufactured goods is Latin America: peoples in Central and South America were spending ~$0.51 out of every $1.00 on U.S. goods and services. By that measure they are our "best" trading partners and the Europeans our worst. Asia being somewhere in between. There is more to it than that, but it makes the whole stationing of US troops in Europe all the more troubling.

      As to global commitment: one look at the daily cost of the ISIS/ISIL bombing campaign should prove the point. How much of our GDP went to fund Vietnam? Iraq? The economic opportunity cost are rarely considered. For example could we have have used the military O&M savings to lower our corporate tax rates in the manufacturing sector, funded more hard science research in universities (or DARPA), what about student loans for vocational training, road/rail infrastructure combined with cargo handling improvements in our ports? What about NASA funding?

      Again, I am not anti-defense, or even anti-intervention, but compare the cost of COIN missions in El Salvador, versus Vietnam and Iraq. I think we are completely unfocused in how we view and prioritize threats, and do an even worse job of allocating and managing those threats.


    8. GAB, if you'd like to provoke thought on such a weighty subject, perhaps you'd consider guest authoring a post?

      "... most of the finished goods carried in those ships are foreign made. Ergo, the question being: whose responsibility is it to secure those ships? "

      The answer is "ours" if the benefits accrued to us from those goods are sufficient to justify their protected passage. If not, then the answer is "theirs".

      There is no easy answer to that. Certainly we accrue benefits from the import of foreign goods. However, to your previous point, would we gain more by not having those goods available and being forced to manufacture our own? In the short term (in both time and perspective), we probably would. However, longer term, would the reduced market for foreign goods cripple those foreign economies leading to destabilized governments, unfriendly governments, and future sources of terrorism or simply conflict? I have no idea how to weigh those kinds of possibilities and choices.

      Thought provoking, to say the least!

    9. "There is more to it than that, but it makes the whole stationing of US troops in Europe all the more troubling."

      On a strictly short term cost effectiveness basis we should completely pull out of Europe. However, we've seen what can happen if Europe is left on its own. Russia or religious movements can slowly take over or unduly influence countries which can lead, far down the road, to an unstable and unfriendly Europe. On the one hand, we can say that it's their own fault and leave them to their fate. On the other hand, if we believe that an unstable and unfriendly Europe (picture a Russian Fortress Europe, to take that one possibility to its extreme but logical conclusion) is not in our own strategtic best interest then we have no choice but to act to support and defend Europe. Of course, this doesn't mean than we can't lean hard (much harder than we have) on European countries to shoulder more of the defense burden!

      Do we want to allow or accept an Islamic extremist Europe, to again take a trend to its ultimate conclusion? If that would result in having to eventually fight a fortified terrorist continent wouldn't it be better to fight it now when the extremists are somewhat isolated and contained? Lest anyone think this is a totally far-fetched scenario, consider that France and a few other countries (with England not that far behind) are on the relative verge of "flipping" from Christian to Muslim.

    10. "flipping"? There are around 2 million Muslim French citizens. That's only 3.4%. How is that close to "flipping"?

    11. "The economic opportunity cost are rarely considered."

      An excellent point! On the other hand, there is also a security opportunity cost, in a sense, that argues against disengagement. If we withdraw from our global engagement responsibilities, we risk paying a larger cost down the road when we inevitably will have to fight unfriendly countries or religious terrorists who will take advantage of our disengagement to fill the vacuum and expand. It will be more difficult and costly (in every sense of the word) to fight the battles after allowing the future enemy to secure their bases and countries than to confront them now when they are not as well established.

      Of course, the half-measures that we've engaged in for the last couple decades are probably the worst option.

    12. ""flipping"? There are around 2 million Muslim French citizens. That's only 3.4%. How is that close to "flipping"?"

      The Muslim influence in those countries is all out of proportion to their numbers. To look at France as an example, their government is being unduly influenced by the minority numbers. Towns are, apparently, running outside the normal French police and government control, government policies are tilted disproportionately away from France's historical best interests, political correctness is run amok to the point that legitimate conversations and policies are forbidden, sharia law is in effect in areas, political speech is stifled (or practicioners are threatened or killed), and the trend is for more of the same. France is on the relative verge (I don't mean tomorrow) of losing its historical identity. It is at risk of being flipped.

      Note: This is getting well into the political aspects that this blog does not cover. As a general policy, politics are addressed only to the extent that they impact military matters. I probably won't go any further with this discussion!

    13. Relative global peace and stability (vs a multi-hegemon planet), driven by our view of how things should function, is in our interest. However the benefits are hard to quantify.

    14. CNO said, "Towns are, apparently, running outside the normal French police and government control, government policies are tilted disproportionately away from France's historical best interests, political correctness is run amok to the point that legitimate conversations and policies are forbidden, sharia law is in effect in areas, political speech is stifled (or practicioners are threatened or killed), and the trend is for more of the same. France is on the relative verge (I don't mean tomorrow) of losing its historical identity. It is at risk of being flipped."

      From what I've read, certain media organizations are grossly overstating this.

    15. "From what I've read, certain media organizations are grossly overstating this."

      That's possible. If you have a more definitive source, I'm open to it. On the other hand, these reports are coming from multiple media organizations and cover the entire range of actions that I cited. So, if you're correct, it's a broad conspiracy by multiple organizations across a range of events. Again, possible but lacking any evidence to the contrary I'll go with it.

      Further, the UK is experiencing the same phenomena with isolated Muslim areas attempting to implement their own law and disproportionately influencing government policies. It's also happening to a limited extent here in America.

      The pattern of cultural and demographic flipping is clear.

      You can opt to simply disbelieve the evidence but, if so, that's an argument I can't counter, isn't it?


    17. A politician is upset over news reporting? And this proves what? Our own president is waging a personal campaign against FOX. Does that prove the reporting is wrong? It's far more likely that it proves the reporting is correct!

      There are still people who believe the moon landing was faked.

      Feel free to take the last word. This is moving outside the scope of this blog and I'm dropping this avenue of discussion.

    18. The article goes into far more detail than just one politician being upset about one news report.

  7. GAB,

    are you saying we should subsidize our ship building industry? IIRC in the 90's Newport News decided they were going to get into the commercial shipbuilding industry, and couldn't get past the Europeans and the South Koreans. Not saying its bad or good, just trying to clarify.

    One thing I'm not so certain of... I don't think any future wars are going to be multi year affairs like WWII. And I really don't think that modern ships lend themselves to being mass produced like the WWII era ships. Heck, reactivating ships isn't easy. Storing them properly isn't easy or cheap. I think if we laid up a large chunk of our Navy we would have neither the ships, nor the infrastructure, to fight when we needed it in the future.

    1. Jim,

      I am an old school liberal: free markets, private property rights, free flow of capitol, and individual freedom.

      That said, government at all levels does have a serious impact on everything from vocational schools, to the electric grid that are key to having a healthy industry. There are a number of reforms (many statutory) that could could make heavy industries industry far more competitive.

      I take your point about going to war with the military you have, on the other hand, the USA is not facing invasion by anyone.

      I would far rather have the US industry of 1914 and a weak military, than a massively strong military of 1990 with a heavy industry on the brink of collapse. We are at the point of watching the military and our heavy industry collapse.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I'm a guy who grew up around (not in) Detroit, and whose family is very closely tied to the auto industry, so I've been very interested in this topic for a long time. :-)

      I very much see your point about our foreign involvements costing us in terms of blood and treasure, and how that's very much set us back in terms of debt... but I don't know that it necessarily is the cause of the diminution of heavy industry.

      First off, heavy industry in the US is often considered to be just nothing. While it truly is a much smaller component of the US GDP than it used to be, we still are #2 behind China. (#3 if you include the EU as a single entity). It isn't gone. We just don't do a lot of visible things. (We make heavy pumps for tractors, not smart phones, that sort of thing).
      We have seen hits, certainly. But how much of that is due to our trade policies compared to other nations trade policies? I think we have three big situations:

      One is that we have a corporate mindset here that looks for short term profits and gains. This puts us at a disadvantage when dealing with nations like China, Germany, and (formerly) Japan who tend to think of long term. They are willing to take a loss in the short term, and often have government subsidies to help them, in order to conquer a market. It also makes us quick to do things other nations don’t as easily do, like outsource industry. That widget plant in Kokomo that’s paying guys $18/hour plus benefits is, to the finance majors I’ve met, an ugly eyesore on the balance sheet. Move that baby to China and watch the margin grow.

      Another is that we see declines because the postwar industrial dominance of the US was untenable. IIRC at one point after WWII we had close to 50% of global industrial production. Europe and Japan were rebuilding. Russia wasn’t exporting stuff not colored green. As soon as other nations started coming on line in a realistic fashion. We were going to lose some capacity to normal competition. To make matters worse, Europe and Japan hit a ‘reset’ button in terms of labor relations and overhead. We were building widgets with a factory designed in 1925. They had one built in 1955.

      Finally, I think that the US is very, very price conscious. I always chuckle at the elders in my family who bemoan the loss of product X production in the US. Then, when they see a shirt at Sears made in the US that’s $12 they balk and go to Wal-Mart to buy one for $4. That’s put tremendous pressure on our suppliers to cut costs as much as possible. That means moving production outside the US. Our policies often encourage this.

      For the purpose of this blog, our shipbuilding has been utterly undermined. But I don't know that that's a result of us being the world policeman; other than our protection has allowed other nations to spend less on their military and more on infrastructure. But that’s not always true. South Korea is a huge ship builder now. But they also have historically spent a huge amount on defense. The secret of their success is that it was a national priority; and government and the chaebols helped to make it happen. We just don’t do that sort of thing, at least not nearly as well.
      Just my $ 0.02

    4. Jim,

      I grew up in the Cleveland metro area so I feel the pain.

      Lousy corporate management, bad unions, and complete disregard for infrastructure investment - all capped off by a string of incredibly ill conceived regulations and tax structure are responsible for 99.5% of the collapse of heavy industry in the USA.

      Unlike a business like banking, industrial manufacturing is massively dependent of infrastructure. water, electricity, transportation, and so forth is critical. Even the weight requirements for roads and bridges are completely different than what is required for normal civilian traffic.

      The last lead smelter in the USA closed its doors in 2013 due to EPA regulations. The USA will not even be able to make bullets without importing lead!

      BTW, the only two remaining sources of TNT explosives are Poland and China!

      My final point is that the Chinese chose to build up their industry first, before building up their military. That is a wise move from people who are focused on the long game.


    5. My uncle managed a Ford engine plant in Cleveland. :-)

      "My final point is that the Chinese chose to build up their industry first, before building up their military. That is a wise move from people who are focused on the long game. "

      Can't disagree with you there. To me, industry maintenance is a national security issue. But for whatever reason its kind of pooh poohed in the US today.

    6. Jim,

      Our nation made a conscious decision to remove vocational training from our primary and secondary schools in favor of generic “college prep” courses and then told everyone that the future is in white collar office jobs. This was blessed by legislative bodies at the national, state and local levels, which are composed of 99.9% lawyers with no real understanding of the damage they wrought.

      I cannot fault the addition of computer science classes, but this policy was largely pursued by eliminating wood shops, metal shops, automotive shop, and so forth. There are some holdouts, but largely these are gone, and the unions and business leaders were largely asleep. Contrast this with Germany where the trade unions are not simply concerned about salaries as maintaining professional standards amongst the worker force, and pushing those standards higher.

      Ironically, we are now at a point where robotic workers are becoming the norm. Sadly, the USA is two and in some cases three generations behind the Koreans, Japanese, Germans and Chinese in automation.

      But there are still clear benefits to building as many goods in the USA as possible. I have posted about this in the past: focus on the tools that build tools and convert raw materials into raw stock; then machine tools, industrial robots; next heavy commercial items (transformers, train engines, rail cars, ship engines, etc.), then automotive and consumer goods.


    7. GAB, I could not agree more! In my area, at least, industry is desperate to find machinists, welders, pipefitters, etc. In my personal life, myself and my neighbors are desperate to find good painters, carpenters, electricians, masons, and plumbers.

      We've brainwashed our kids to believe that anyone who does not go to college is a failure. The reality is that the good tradesmen are in unceasing demand and make an excellent living. We bemoan the lack of jobs but they're there to be had in the trades if we would just reinstitute our vocational ed programs and guide students with the appropriate aptitude in that direction without making them feel trades are somehow a failure.

      Great comment!

    8. GAB,

      My wife teaches chemistry at one of our town's HSs. She and I have had many conversations about how our State's new requirement that all kids get a 'college prep' education really hamstrings some kids.

      Lets face it, there are some kids who don't want or care to know about some college prep courses, but whose eyes light up when they get to go to a career tech center. We force them to take classes they will likely do poorly in, and deny them an opportunity to learn a career or skilled trade, only because there is this weird prejudice against those trades.

      Yes, its true, some skilled trades jobs aren't as plentiful as they were before due to automation. IIRC the F-150 used to take 4000 workers to build, including skilled trades and line workers. Now its like 1500. But there is a huge demand in other parts, and alot of the skilled trades guys out there now are just getting older.

      I'm a college grad. I had a parent who was a college professor. College isn't for everyone. Nor is it the end all be all.

      I like parts of Germany's model alot. I'm confused as to why we seem set, as a nation, of becoming a white collar service economy, and we think that's better somehow.

    9. "Contrast this with Germany where the trade unions are not simply concerned about salaries as maintaining professional standards amongst the worker force, and pushing those standards higher. "

      From what I've read (I have no direct experience) German trade unions remind me more of old style professional guilds than US trade unions. I'm not bashing US unions; but I think the management/union relationship here is far more adversarial and toxic than is healthy; and I think there is guilt on both sides.

      I've seen management make crushingly stupid decisions with regard to labor that was both stupid in the long term and needlessly antagonistic.. And from Labor's side I've seen too much protection of bad workers. I love the idea of a trade union that protects its workers, but also demands alot from them. 'Hey, Johnson, you showed up to work drunk last week. Do it again and you're out of the union forever. Smith, you're pipefitting needs some help, we're going to have you work with Jones until you're up to snuff'.

    10. Pipefitting has always been my weakness..

  8. Time of chicken and the egg.

    Which came first, the MCM being tied up and left to rot, or being tied up because they were rotten? The MCM had been deployed to the Persian Gulf Red Sea, and Arabic Sea, a place well know for destroying wooden hull ships since man when to sea. Could the Navy have simple realized these vessel were beyond hope and pushing to replace them as soon a possible?

    1. If it were true that the ships were beyond hope then why and how has the Navy now fixed them back up and redployed them? Clearly, they were not beyond hope and the Navy simply bet all-in on the LCS as the MCM vessel and left the Avengers to rot, quite literally.

  9. Some might argue we already subsidize the shipbuilding industry by awarding them with new work despite poor performance...

    1. Now there's some truth! Salute to you!

    2. Problem is, the industries can't survive, and certainly can't be efficient, without enough, stable work.

    3. Perhaps...but alternatively if they were able to work efficiently costs would be driven down, allowing the Navy to build more ships--thus driving up workloads.

    4. I should add that I mean that they can be incentivized to work more efficiently by rewarding them with work, and not awarding work (or disincentivizing) those that do not.

    5. "Problem is, the industries can't survive, and certainly can't be efficient, without enough, stable work."

      There is no relationship between efficiency and volume of work. You can be uber efficient even while going out of business due to lack of work. Of course, if you are uber efficient your odds of going out of business decrease markedly.

      Industry, as a whole, is (or should be) subject to free market pressures which is another way of saying Darwinism (survival of the fittest). Inefficient businesses should be allowed to die, not artificially propped up. Those who argue that certain shipbuilders or aircraft manufacturers are too vital to our defense needs to be allowed to fail, miss the fact that failure merely paves the way for another, better company to take their place - witness Microsoft emerging from nothing to completely displace IBM from the personal computer arena. Those who argue that if we let a defense company perish we'll lose the skilled workforce they had, fail to understand the basics of the economy. To paraphrase, jobs are neither created nor destroyed, they merely move. If a defense company dies, a new company will take its place and the skilled workforce will migrate to the new company.

      By artificially propping up deficient companies (most or all of the major defense contractors, currently) we ensure continued deficiency and absolutely ensure that no new and better companies will emerge. Shame on us for failing to understand the basics of the free market system. We deserve the LCS and JSF.

    6. To do that, you have to have a market large enough for viable, healthy competitors.

      If Newport News is our only large warship shipyard, and only nuke warship shipyard, you can disincentivize them all you want, but you still have to give them the work.

      The country as a whole would benefit if more ships were built here (both commercial and military). However to do so would likely entail a large federal program (both tax cuts and spending) over many years, even decades, to prime the pump.

      Only then will you have marketplace where incentives and disincentives work effectively.

    7. I am not advocating it, but there is a third option: nationalization.

      The government (navy) used to build many of its armaments in factories on bases.

      At the core of this is the idea that some functions are inherently governmental.

      It also raises the question if the government should be paying profits a sole source company that builds unique items like tanks or submarines for which the government is the only consumer.

      Again, I favor the free market, but there are some functions that are unique to government so maybe the past should be the future, we don't expect 3M to build our nukes...


    8. You are correct that we can't, in the space of 24 hours, hand over our carrier construction to a brand new company. The demise of the old and emergence of the new would take years, however, it will never happen if we continue to prop up substandard companies.

      Aker and NASSCO both produce very large product carriers. There is no reason why they couldn't slowly take on naval vessels. Heck, many of us have been saying that we should be utilizing commercial vessels in some roles!

      Bollinger built the Cyclones and (I think) Ambassadors. There is no reason why they couldn't begin building somewhat larger ships on a path to large naval vessels.

      And so on.

      Instead, you would have us continue to support NG-Avondale who brought us the LPD-17 construction fiasco or LM who can't build a functioning F-35 after nearly two decades of trying.

      Evolutionarily, change is good, if often painful. Without occasional change, people, systems, and companies stagnate. It's the circle of industrial life, Lion King!

    9. "I am not advocating it, but there is a third option: nationalization."

      I'm with you in concept, however, the reality is that there is not, nor has there ever been, a major government program that worked anywhere near its intended level. Whether we're considering Social Security, the Post Office, or whatever, I strongly suspect we'd wind up looking back on the LM F-35 fiasco with fond memories after seeing what a government run shipyard would look like. Still, conceptually, I agree with you.

    10. ... I strongly suspect we'd wind up looking back on the LM F-35 fiasco with fond memories after seeing what a government run shipyard would look like...




    11. The market must have sufficient demand for suppliers to increase. Building one carrier every 5-7 isn't enough demand. Buying 1-2 Burkes per year isn't enough demand. You won't find suppliers lining up for scraps like those.

      Why would Aker or NASCCO want to devote a lot of time and money to jump into that tiny market?

    12. "Why would Aker or NASCCO want to devote a lot of time and money to jump into that tiny market?"

      A few reasons, off the top of my head ...

      Currently those companies are building $100M product carriers and a contract for six, or so (there was a recent contract along those lines to Aker although I can't recall the exact details), is a big deal. A single Burke, at $2B (I know, not all of that goes directly to the shipbuilder but it illustrates the concept), represents 20 of the product carriers they're currently building - a major, major deal for them. Now take two Burkes and a carrier (say $14B over seven years = $2B per year) and you get $6B per year which is equivalent to 60 of their current product. That's an incredible increase for them even allowing for my simplified illustration.

      I've previously outlined how the Navy could build fewer major ships and still increase the amount of shipyard work. Feel free to peruse the archives if you don't recall it. It had to do with the peace/war fleet concept.

      If the shipyards actually did a better job than what we see from today's shipbuilders, perhaps the Navy would have more money and buy a few more ships.

      So, why would they jump into that "tiny" market? Because it would be a major increase in their production and profits.

    13. General Dynamics owns both NASSCO and Bath. I seriously doubt they will want to steal work from one to give to the other. So any new work would have to be something that Bath couldn't win otherwise.

      In any case, there are two yards currently building Burkes. We build one or two ships per year. If we somehow convince a third player to bid on Burke work, then three yards will be fighting for those same one or two ships. Unless you build more ships, there won't be enough work to go around. Really just a simple math problem. It should be obvious.

      The LCS program opened up both Austal and Marinette as warship builders.

      I'm fine with the hi/lo concept, if it means more ships are built. More ships can be spread around to more yards.

      In fact, that's my entire point.

    14. "We build one or two ships per year. If we somehow convince a third player to bid on Burke work, then three yards will be fighting for those same one or two ships. Unless you build more ships, there won't be enough work to go around. Really just a simple math problem. It should be obvious."

      You're reading the comments, right? The point was that if current yards are not performing satisfactorily then we shift the work to new yards. I'm not suggesting that we take the two Burkes per year and divide them among several more yards. Good grief, of course that won't work!

      If we think Bath is not performing then we encourage another yard(s) to get into naval construction by starting them on smaller vessels (like dedicted MCM or small ASW vessels) to build experience and expertise with naval requirements (if there's enough of a difference between commercial and naval requirements to warrant a phased approach). When they're ready we give them the Burkes.

      I'm not at all convinced that an experienced commercial yard couldn't step into naval construction with a minimum of effort. The really complicated parts, like an Aegis array, are built by someone else. The yard "merely" puts the array in place. Yes, there may be tolerances and construction methods unique to mounting an array but it's techniques that can be quickly learned. A yard could, for example, construct cheap mockups to gain experience with the methods. Additionally, they can hire experienced workers away from Bath to speed the learning curve.


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