Monday, May 4, 2015

Congress vs. Navy

Breaking Defense website has an article about the Navy’s ongoing battle with Congress over the early retirement of Aegis cruisers (1).  You’ll recall that the Navy attempted to retire several cruisers a couple of years ago, well before their service life was reached.  Presumably, they wanted to free up funds and build a foundation of justification to build new Burke Flt IIIs.  You know, along the lines of, “We have to have more Flt IIIs because we don’t have enough Aegis AAW command cruisers.” – conveniently omitting the fact that the reason they don’t have enough is because they retired the most powerful ships on the planet well ahead of the end of their service life!

In any event, Congress balked at the attempt and directed the Navy to retain the cruisers.

The Navy, undaunted by Congressional mandate, came up with the thinly veiled stratagem of “idling” 11 cruisers (half the cruiser force) for a leisurely eleven year “modernization”.  No one, including Congress, believed that.  The cruisers, once idled, would never be seen again.  Congress responded to this end-around by mandating that only a few cruisers at a time could enter modernization and that the work had to be completed within a four year period of time.  This was the 2/4/6 plan whereby only two cruisers per year could enter modernization, the work had to be completed in four years, and only six cruisers could be in modernization at one time.

The latest development in this saga has Congress modifying the 2/4/6 plan to a 2/2/6 plan in which the modernization work must be completed in two years rather than four.  This seems perfectly reasonable.  Two years is plenty of time to modernize a ship if the Navy is actually serious about the effort and not just trying to use modernization as a back door retirement.

The problem, which has been discussed numerous times in this blog, is that the Navy has no credibility with Congress.  From the website’s article interviewing Randy Forbes, House Seapower Subcommittee Chairman,

“They really don’t want to do the modernization,” Forbes told me. “What the Navy really wants to do is what they did from day one: They want to take seven of these cruisers out of commission and destroy them.”

As evidence, Forbes points out that the Navy has not budgeted the money for modernization.  They're ready and eager to take the ships out of service but have yet to request modernization money.

“They have no credibility,” Forbes said. “They’ve got to show where they’ve put some money to do it.”

There are two points to get from this article.

1.    The Navy is not respecting Congress’ wishes.  Whether they agree with Congress or not, they are duty bound to obey their directives.  The Navy is displaying utter disrespect and contempt for Congress.

2.    Congress seems to have a much better grasp of naval force requirements than the Navy does.

We’ve previously covered the first point so let’s address that second one. 

Now, no one is claiming that Congress is a model of organizational wisdom and efficiency, quite the opposite, in fact.  However, of late, they are head and shoulders above the Navy and the military in general.

While the Navy is publicly bemoaning the shrinking fleet size (while simultaneously proclaiming that they are on path towards a 300+ ship fleet ?!), they are actually early retiring ships left and right.  The entire Tarawa class was early retired.  The Perrys were retired rather than upgraded.  They attempted to retire half the Aegis cruiser fleet, the most powerful surface combatants in the world.  A couple of auxiliaries, the lifeblood of the fleet, are being early retired with no replacement.  And so on.  Now, most of us would logically conclude that if the Navy deems a 300+ ship fleet important, that early retiring highly effective ships with plenty of lifetime left is foolish and illogical.  Thus, Congress is stepping in and providing some much needed logical oversight.  The same applies to the Air Force’s ill-considered attempt to retire the A-10 in order to fund F-35s.  Of course, we’ve already debunked that logic!

Congress was also the reason why the Navy was forced to stop the original LCS program and come up with a new frigate.  Of course, the Navy once again backdoored Congress with the slightly upgraded LCS that is now designated as a frigate – fooling no one.

What does it say about Navy leadership when Congress is exhibiting more wisdom than the Navy?!  It is rare that I can say this but, well done Congress.  Keep exercising your oversight responsibilities and hold the Navy to account.


  1. Well Congress approves the Nomination Lists. Maybe they should screen them better for ones that have read the Constitution and at least Mahan, if not Boyd also.

    You reap what you sow.

    1. How about Congress saying that if we don't need cruisers with their command capabilities then we don't need as many admirals to sail on them. So the navy scrapes a cruiser the Congress scraps some Admiral billets. Not retire, or mothball, but scraps, out the door without a pension.

      I bet that will get the admirals attention. Plus less admirals and their flunkies means savings which can be put toward upgrading the cruisers

    2. I can't argue with that idea!

  2. In my darker moments I see our surface fleet as remaining to be really expensive and yet become increasingly irrelevant; a force with lots of pretty toys that may or may not work ,but huge gaps. One where in a major conflict a carrier could have several torpedoes put into it by AIP boats we haven't prepared for; or swarms of AShM's we haven't properly prepared for launched by submarines and aircraft. And one where in that major conflict the LCS' just stay tied up to the pier, or worse, are deployed and sunk in droves.

    Good for Forbes. Bad for Navy leadership. Poor US Taxpayers.

  3. If one had to grade the three major communities in the Navy (surface, submarines and aviation) on the strength/success of their modernization programs, I content it would look something like this:

    Surface = D-. LCS is a complete failure, DD(X) is a qualified failure, amphibs and CLF numbers are going down. No one believes their cost estimates. The 30-year shipbuilding plan is a joke.

    Submarines = B+ We're pumping out Virgnia's at a pretty good clip. Costs are down. Virginia Payload Module (VPM) seems like a good idea. The submarine community has made a pretty good argument for why we need a new SSBN, but need to take a closer look at affordability

    Aviation = B Most programs have been fairly successful (P-8A, MH-60R/S, Growler, etc.). Naval aviation has taken a "wait and see" approach to JSF, despite Congress and DOD continually forcing it down their throats. The only strike is UCLASS... which seems like a solution looking for a problem.

    1. Anon, that's a reasonably fair assessment. You might, however, want to check the history of the Virginia before crediting the program with too much fiscal success. They badly overshot their initial budget and then somewhat reduced the magnitude of the overshoot (the much trumpeted cost savings which was actually only a reduction in the amount of overshoot). Still, on a relative basis, the Virginia is less bad than most other programs.

      Couldn't agree more about the UCLASS!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I think the Virginia class matured into a good submarine, and we can build them now with a good idea of cost; but you're right, it is a less bad program.

      I was in college when they decided to cancel the Seawolves with the logic that:

      A) We'd need a submarine that is smaller and can do the littorals and handle our 'Forward, from the Sea!' strategy, and
      B) We needed something cheaper than the Seawolves. So we'll build it with more COTS equipment and more modularity.

      It of course had the (normal, I'm sad to say) cost overruns; but at least they built a serviceable vessel and did have some good things.

      When you look at its specs though the $10,000 question is would we have been better served economically by just building a full run of Seawolves? I sometimes wonder if it was a game by the Admiralty to sell Congress on a 'cheaper future' when Congress was eyeing the 'peace dividend' and choking on the price of the SSN21. I sometimes wonder if the whole 'forward from the sea' thing that drove it was just an attempt by the Navy to find something to do.

      Comparatively, the Virginia program seems like a swiss watch compared to the LCS or the F-35.

      Honestly, the best procurement program I can think of in the last 20 years is the superhornet. The Superhornet isn't perfect, as all will acknowledge. But its been good enough or even very good during its service life. And IIRC it came in at or just under budget.

      A good organization needs things like the SH. Its like the Patriots. You need the stars (Tom Brady, CVN's) and then a bunch of good but not superlative guys to fill out the roster and get the job done without breaking the bank (Linemen, Perry's, SH)

      Unfortunately, the Navy more often has looked like the Lions: Spending lots of time and money on projects of dubious value that don't pan out.

  4. Congress may have problem with the Admirals, but are they shooting the right target? The Admiral don't have the funds they had in the past. OSD and the Budget offices have cut what money the Navy has available.

    Now two points that not total on topic.

    The life expectancy of a ship is a average of all vessel in class, not a minimum time. Some ships will last longer than others. Two of LHAs were in bad shape when that were decommissioned. And the original life expectance was thirty years, so, truth be told, they reach most of they designed life. Also remember this was the period when the Pentagon was on it's manpower, which lost the Navy 26 other vessels IIFC.

    Second was it was pressure from Congress that resulted in the LCS being place in product too early, So Congress should share the blame for some of the problems in the early production LCSs.

    1. "Two of LHAs were in bad shape when that were decommissioned."

      And why were they in bad shape?

    2. "Second was it was pressure from Congress that resulted in the LCS being place in product too early,"

      That's not even remotely correct. If you want me to accept that statement, you'll have to provide some documentation. The Navy very clearly pushed the LCS on Congress.

    3. First, the goal of any successful organization should be to beat estimates of both product life and capability. The Navy has been rather terrible at this as of late. Unless the real economic cost of a retrofit surpasses the real economic cost of a new build (which it basically never does without a real significant technological breakthrough), then it makes little sense to scrap a ship. Now this does mean that things like maintenance must be a priority. Sadly, in the Navy, maintenance seems to be at best an after though. Now there is one exception to the economic argument for non-replacement, and that is that of competitive capability pressure. But I would argue that largely there hasn't really been a competitive capability pressure in replacing the ships. What this means is that early retirement is abject failure on the part of the Navy and specifically the leadership in charge of the ships.

      Second, AFAIK, the Navy were the ones pushing the LCS. Done properly they would of put in an initial order for 2-4 prototypes. They would of tested those prototypes for a bit to work out the kinks, then gone to serial production. But that's not what they did, they ordered a ton right off the bat, with significantly increasing costs, to the point that the costs of the LCS simply weren't competitive with OTS designs built by our allies. That they then went ahead with the frigate LCS should basically be a rather big black mark on the whole entire leadership team. There are OTS and in service designs that we could of bought for cheaper or significantly more capable vessels we could of bought for the same cost.

    4. I don't know why Saipan and Belleau Wood where is such bad condition, only that ex-crew member all report on the internet that the ships were in bad shape when they decommissioning was announced. Lack on maintains is a obvious possibility, but Litton was having problems with the LHA programs, so some corners might have been cut during construction.

      An I sure you remember how in response to Congressmen complains about the high cost of the LCS prototype cost, all those crazy claim of the cost of production units, and threats that congress would cancel the program before testing was truly started, that the Admirals decide to stage that winner take all contest, to select the final sign, only to discover it was cheaper to build both designs. Which in turn resulted in construction of the production LCSs starting long before their design was tested.

    5. GLof, my point about the physical condition of the LHAs was that it was 100% the Navy's fault. The Navy intentionally shorted maintenance and then turned to Congress for new ships due to poor conditions which were self-inflicted. That is extremely poor stewardship of taxpayer money and assets and is totally irresponsible. Asking Congress to provide new ships when the Navy failed to maintain what they had is insane.

    6. CNO, maybe your right that lack of maintains is the cause of the poor condition of these vessels. But historically, many vessels have been right off because they weren't built correctly. Look at the number of ships built during WWII that where scrape after a few years because of poor material condition. Yes, these vessel were built under emergency requirements, but shoddy construction can happen any time.

      And think about this, How ling do you expect the USS Independence will last, even if they decided to rebuilder her.

  5. CNO, way off topic, but were you aware of this?

    It seems the Navy/Congress let China buy the computers behind AEGIS!
    Only NOW are they thinking about the repercussions.
    What's next, out TRIDENT IIs?

    - Ray D.

    1. Ray, I saw that. Stunning, isn't it?

    2. Honestly if that's a significant concern them the Navy needs to totally reboot its OTS server procurement. They really should be buying OTS server designs and then having them contract manufactured in the US.

      Going forward, they should latch onto the Open Compute organization and adopt their designs and pay the money to have them contract manufactured and supported in the US.

      AFAIK, IBM has done assembly and component work for their x86 server line in china/taiwan for years along with pretty much every other server manufacturer. Pretty much no one is doing volume production of sheet metal, FR4 boards, or chips in the US. The chips they are using in the servers are tested and packaged all over the world.

      But then again, that's what happens when you contract out designs to companies that have been very public about selling off the division you are contracting to for a decade.

  6. Much like the USAF, I have become convinced that the USN does not seem to understand what constitutes a "good" ship.

    There is also a deep underestimation about the importance of training, maintenance, and the less than glamorous other stuff.

    I've linked this article before, but I'll leave this quote:

    "Maybe the saddest part of all of this is that the Navy named the F-35B's tailor-made ship the USS America. Then again, considering how seemingly mismanaged our country has become, this may actually be a fairly accurate title."

    Read the article too, if you have the chance.

    1. As you suggest, the costs of the F-35 go far beyond simply the upfront construction cost of the plane, itself. Every ship it operates on will require extensive rework of the flight deck and supporting structures. Maintenance and parts inventories will have to be reworked. Only a single ship in the entire Navy can currently handle the transfer of an F-35 replacement engine. We'll have to extensively modify the transfer capabilities of all the carriers (except Ford) and auxilliaries. And so on.

    2. The sad thing is that this whole debacle is not even for a "good" aircraft. It would be one thing if the F-35 were a very high performing aircraft. It is not.

      The other question is the Tico retirement - it seems like they're trying to rationalize getting more ships, for the sake of getting more ships.

    3. Don't forget ALIS and its failures. Even with ALIS working they think the F-35's maintenance price is going to be huge. It gets bigger without it functioning. And It has a way to go'.

    4. @Jim Whall

      I don't think the maintenance to flight ratio on the F-35 is going to be very good.

      Remember, force sortie size per unit of money is:

      Sortie = (Fighters bought per cost) x (Sortie Rate)

      Then there's also losses I suppose during peacetime. I should note that the Harrier was very high in this regard so I am expecting peacetime losses to be high on the F-35 as well.

      It's not the single engine that is the issue - F-16 was pretty safe in that regards, it's the VTOL and the fact that the plane has been having engine issues.

    5. No. It looks like so far that the logistics for the F-35 are going to be a stop back.

      The poor performance, the still non functional equipment, and the logistics for this plane are going to be really tough on the Navy. Maybe it all eventually works out but the cost per unit and the cost of maintanance are going to be tough to swallow in a time of decreased budgets.


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