Monday, December 12, 2016

Mismatch and Transformation

Many of the Navy’s current assets seem to make no sense for the threats we face.  They have insufficient range, limited firepower, no armor, are sub-optimal for their roles, etc.  How did these assets come to be and why are they so mismatched for their intended purpose?  It’s almost as if they were built to fight a different war than the one(s) we’re headed for.  Well, that observation is pretty much true.  Let’s dig into history and see how this all came to be.

The origin of today’s mismatched assets lies in the defense department’s transformation movement of the 1990’s and 2000’s.  As a reminder, here’s one definition of transformation.

“Defense transformation has been defined in several ways. For this report, it can be defined as large-scale, discontinuous, and possibly disruptive changes in military weapons, organization, and concepts of operations (i.e., approaches to warfighting), that are prompted by significant changes in technology or the emergence of new and different international security challenges. In contrast to incremental or evolutionary military change brought about by normal modernization efforts, defense transformation is more likely to feature discontinuous or disruptive forms of change.” (1)

This definition is worrisome in that it ignores thousands of years of technological development history – a history that assures us with almost absolute certainty that transformational leaps in technology never succeed.  Thus, the leaders of the time should have paused and reassessed their approach – but they didn’t.

Worse, the desire for transformation led to a filter on development that actively discouraged and eliminated any development that was not transformational.

“The Bush Administration has identified transformation as a major goal for the Department of Defense, and has stated that defense programs will be assessed in terms of their potential for contributing to defense transformation.” (1)

Thus, worthy developments were actively ignored and projects were assessed for their ability to contribute to the transformation movement rather than their ability to contribute to combat power.  In other words, transformation became its own goal – transformation for the sake of transformation.

For a time, the Navy’s guiding document was “SeaPower 21” which envisioned combat power built around the elements of Sea Strike, Sea Shield, and Sea Basing, all tied together through the overarching ForceNet network computer system.  We see, in this, the hints of the failure to come – the belief that we would have an inherently secure, unchallenged environment from which to launch leisurely strikes, conduct basing operations as we pleased, and operate a massive, almost magical network unhindered by any enemy electronic countermeasures or cyber warfare.

CRS summarizes the features of transformation in the following table (1).

This table makes clear all that we need to know to understand the origins of today’s mismatched assets.  Compare the two columns and note the underpinning assumptions of each.  In particular, the “transformed” column has a clear, base assumption.  Let’s look, briefy, at each transformation feature from the table and see what the underlying assumption is and see if we can identify a common theme.

Joint Ops in Littoral Waters, Regional Adversaries – This assumes that we will not a fight an enemy that can reach out and touch us at long range or deny us the freedom to operate near shore, as we wish.

Network-centric Ops – This assumes that we will not fight an enemy with any ability to conduct effective electromagnetic spectrum disruptuion or cyber battle – that we will have an unchallenged electromagnetic spectrum to work with.

Unmanned Vehicles – Unmanned vehicles are a significant step down on the lethality and survivability scales so this feature assumes that we will not fight an enemy with any ability to attack our unmanned vehicles.  That’s a really low level of conflict!

Smaller Crews – This assumes that we will not have to man battle stations, suffer attrition of crew in battle, conduct damage control, or man battle stations for an extended period.  In short, this assumes that we will not fight a battle at sea and that no enemy will be able to challenge us at sea.  In essence, this assumes that our ships will be non-combatants and will merely be deliverers of ordnance – a key point.

Multiple Targets Per Sortie – This assumes that we will have the freedom to conduct leisurely recon and target location, unhindered by any enemy interference.  This also assumes that our aircraft will be able to loiter in enemy airspace and make multiple attack runs or casually move from one target location to another.  In short, this assumes the total absence of enemy aerial resistance or even ground based AAW.

Expeditionary Operations – This assumes that we will be able to move supplies via air without hindrance.

Stealth – Nothing wrong with this!

New Naval Formations – This assumes that we no longer need concentrated combat power and that we can disaggregate our ships.  This assumes the complete absence of any effective naval engagement by the enemy.

Ship Deployment Cycles – This is the beginning of the self-destructive fantasy of minimal manning, deferred maintenance, and systemic neglect.

Business Practices – This assumes the absence of a peer or near-peer enemy with the corresponding assumption that we can run the Navy like a business instead of a like a combat organization.

Do you see the common theme – the underlying assumption?  Of course you do.  It’s painfully obvious.  The people who came up with “transformation” assumed that we would not have to fight an enemy capable of fighting back.

Consider that assumption carefully.  It meant that we would now design a military that was not intended to fight – only to deliver ordnance in an uncontested environment.

Consider the policies, ships, aircraft, and tactics that arose from transformation.  At their heart, each reflects the design assumption that they will not have to fight – only deliver ordnance in a leisurely manner in an uncontested environment.

The F-18 doesn’t need range because we can get as close to the target as we want before we launch aircraft.

The F-18 doesn’t need to be a great fighter because there won’t be anyone to fight.

The Burke doesn’t need armor because no one will shoot at it.

We don’t need mine countermeasure ships because no one will contest our mastery of the sea.

We don’t need a long range, supersonic, anti-ship missile because there is no enemy with ships capable of defending themselves.

We don’t need a 90+ aircraft air wing because there is no enemy that can challenge even our smaller 60+ air wings.

The F-35 doesn’t need range for the same reason the F-18 didn’t need range.

The LCS doesn’t need AAW capability because no one can challenge our mastery of the air.

The giant electric motors of the EMALS catapult don’t need to be electromagnetically shielded because no one will come looking for it.

And so on.

We’re left with a force that was never designed for combat and now, faced with peer or near-peer combat, we’re realizing that our ships, aircraft, weapons, and tactics are mismatched for what we need them to do.  It’s not their fault.  They were never intended for combat.

Ultimately, it wasn’t the attempt at transformation itself that produced today’s failures – it was the strategic mindset that went along with transformation that led to today’s mismatched assets.  The belief that we would fight ill-equipped, weak, third world militaries rather than peers or near-peers led to the creation of assets that were not optimized, not powerful, not long ranged, etc.  Indeed, why would they need to be if you believe that no enemy can challenge your mastery of the sea and air?  Unchallenged, you can get that short ranged aircraft as close to the enemy as needed.  Unchallenged, you can get that sea base up to the enemy’s shore.  Now, however, that misguided thinking has come home to roost.

Let’s take one final look at the mindset of the people who birthed transformation.  From their perspective, at that time, there were no peer/near-peer competitors so they acted in a completely understandable and logical manner and formulated a completely understandable and logical transformational strategy, didn’t they?  That circumstances changed is hardly their fault. is it?  They could not have foreseen the rebirth of an aggressive and militantly/militarily expansionist Russia and China coupled with a nuclear armed North Korea and terrorist-supporting Iran, could they?  At that time, no one could have anticipated any of that, right?


While I might forgive the lack of specific prescient predictions, history guarantees with 100% certainty that a new and hostile peer will always arise.  The failure to heed history’s lesson is what is truly unforgivable. 


(1)Congressional Research Service, “Naval Transformation: Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O’Rourke, 2-Jun-2003, RS-20851


  1. Is there a solution to these problems?

    Also are any in the Navy leadership who are war fighters and lead from that presumption that conflict will occur with a peer enemy

    1. Apart from learning the hard way, the political system needs reform, as does senior military leadership.

      The military system seems designed for one thing: fighting Islamic fundamentalists like ISIS, Al Queda, etc.

  2. Hoping to talk to you for a story. I'm at My website is

    1. What type of story and what do you need from me?

  3. Rummy never figured out that: If it ain't broken, don't fix it.

    Instead of seeing if people are following the process, they were not. Note the lack of a CONOPS before writing a contract as only ONE datapoint,

    Instead he just decided that he must have a better way and brought in Transformation and threw out the baby with the bath water. Now we have lost 2 decades of development time for new ships.

    Worse we now have 2 decades of people being promoted who have no clue how to do ANYTHING correctly except politically acceptable actions.

    The system before Rummy was fine if people would only follow it. It is large, but that is because we build stuff to do things and in environments that no one but NASA deals with. It is not iron clad and lockstep, EVERY specification I read had a provision for tailoring it, all you had to do was have the ability to evaluate the risk and make a decision to tailor it. As a Captain and Major I tailored many specification for my contract and NEVER had trouble justifying them.

    Problem with the old system was that 80% of the people spent 80% of their time fighting the process rather than spending %80 of their time reading and understanding it and 80% of their time applying it intelligently.

    Now 80% of the people spend 80% of their time doing politically directed actions and no one wonders why nothing can get done correctly so that the system work.

    Talk about embarrassing, I used to call myself an Acquisition Professional - NOT ANYMORE!

  4. Perhaps we should do a new point by point to their “transformation”.
    Except this is reformation of the now hamstrung forces we have.

    Transformation-Littoral waters, regional enemy
    Reformation-Blue water navy, super power enemy: Navy capable of engaging in OTH operations against well equipped foe and foes lesser equipped but numerically superior

    Transformation-Network centric
    Reformation-Deniable centric: All coordinated units and independent operations able to operate under extreme communication/sensor degradation, while still navigating, coordinating, and successfully engaging the enemy

    Transformation: unmanned vehicles
    Reformation: Manned platforms for primary theaters of war. Cheap unmanned drones only for secondary theaters and single use reconnaissance

    Transformation: smaller crews
    Reformation: sufficient crews to reduce fatiguing work loads and provide response to battle damage.

    Tranformation: multiple sorties
    Reformation: Overwhelming combined arms with rapid aircraft turn-around time which requires low maintenance and high dependebilit. Combined with strikes by long range missiles and artillery to continue bombardment before aircraft strikes and during aircraft turn around.

    Transformation: sea basing
    Reformation: Escort groups capable of provide ASW, Minesweeping, and AA protection for supplies regardless of type of basing.

    Transformation: stealth
    Reformation: stealth when possible but not at the expense of firepower or reduction in force size.

    Transformation:expeditionary groups
    Reformation: Carrier strike groups supplemented by Amphibious Assault groups for seizing enemy territory, Escort groups for protecting shipping, and new shore bombardment batteries of arsenal ships/heavy gun batteries to protect amphibious landings.

    Transformation: new deployment cycles
    Reformation: traditional cycles with sufficient personnel to perform tasks in combat.

    Transformation: New business
    Reformation: Reformed process with abandonment of concurrency, no single source ship procurement, competitive bidding, fully tested and combat ready vessels.

  5. Tangential to this, but related by virtue of people just doing whatever they want for Political Objectives. Why hasn't SecNav Mabus been fired for insubordination?

  6. I get it... and I agree. But I still don't understand some things:

    If we are going to assume that we aren't going to be facing a peer opponent... why spend the $$ on the Superhornet anyway? And why in God's name build the Ford?

    You could have just as easily made an A4/A7 follow on *alot* cheaper that could have plinked HiLux's and shepherds with AK's just as well as a $60-80 million SuperHornet. Fly them off of the Nimitz classes till the cores need refueling, then, saying you're going with smaller airwings anyway, go with a Midway sized carrier. Build it right and you can still get good sortie rates. Because the A4/A7 follow on is simpler than a Superhornet you'll get better availability. And the smaller size CV allows even less manning than a Ford, which was a cost driver for that class.

    Cheaper all around, by alot, and still capable of performing the same mission against the non peers the Navy obviously planned on dealing with.

    What makes me teeth grindingly angry is that we have spent peer competition level money for uber tech/uber expensive platforms that are only fit to deal with non peer adversaries.

    1. "But I still don't understand some things:"

      You're still trying to apply logic and maintain a goal of combat capability. Your lack of understanding is because you aren't viewing it the way they did. With no enemy, running the Navy became a business venture. What does any business try to do? Increase their "profit", of course. "Profit" for the Navy means budget slice. So, the Navy's goal became increasing budget. Transformation was the marketing tool that would "sell" the need for more budget. You can't increase budget by asking Congress for for A-4's. You get increased budget by asking for new aircraft, the F-18, that would be transformational.

      Thus, you want new stuff that's transformational. That's how you get more budget.

      Do you understand the thinking, now?

    2. Yes, though that seems borderline treasonous.

  7. It's treasonous if they deliberately were trying to weaken the military on behalf of other nations.
    This is more greed, ambition, and ideological assumptions of "peace".
    Similar problems have arisen after nearly every major war. Some faction of society says we will not have another major war--the reasons vary a bit. We are tired of war and bloodshed and so start to believe that wonderful lie.And the politicians want money to spend on things other than defense as a “peace dividend” with some military contracts just to be producing something for their constituents...sound familiar? And yes the most blantant examples are between the world wars.
    After WW1 our standing army was smaller than Romania’s. Politicians ignored warnings--the Japanese attacked American gunboats in China in 1938--3 years before Pearl Harbor-- and we only did embargos to retaliate.

    Appropriate we are discussing “transformation” flaws just after the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. We were caught unprepared at Pearl and paid the price in human lives. Our battleships weren’t ready for torpedo planes and our air defenses were woefully inadequate. In a present day Russian assault on the Med/black sea area or a Chinese attack in the Pacific, how long would an LCS last? Would they even bother targeting them? Is an over the horizon salvo of ASuM from Chinese ships the equivalent of of torpedo planes off carriers in 1941? Or will a nuke boat from Russia/China slip past our dying ASW capability and torpedo a carrier or destroy our supply lines?
    If they continue with this foolishness and keep building fragile ships like the LCS AFTER we pay the price in blood for their shortsightedness, then yes it would be treason.

    1. John, I get that. I know that for a large chunk of our history our military reduced to basic cadres after it was needed. I also think that things have changed. We live in a world where the military we have is the one we will take to war; and its unlikely we'd be able to ramp up ship or tank production to an extent that we could easily 'build' an army from scratch like we did in WWI or WWII.

      This is different though. The Navy didn't reduce to cadre forces. The Navy didn't reduce costs and try to keep a minimal combat capability.

      The Navy kept its costs ridiculously high, at a time when our national debt is huge and its own national security issue, and in return gave us things that are capable of dealing with only low intensity conflicts.

      Lets think about this:

      A) The Navy hurt the nation by keeping expenditures high during a high debt period of the nation.
      B) That could be excused if the Navy returned real capability for that money; capability that could be deployed and combat effective in time of emergency.
      C) What we got instead was the high cost of acquisition, costs which crowded out even basic maintenance of legacy platforms, to purchase platforms like the Zumwalt (neutered), Ford (Will it even work? And when it does it works with a reduced airwing), SuperHornet (capable, but compromised, F-35C (forced on them, but still 3-4 years from real combat capability), and the LCS (a 3rd class treaty cruiser).

      The best that could be said is that they maintained a budget slice so the Navy can build in the future, but that's pretty thin to my eyes. If you're going to spend the money, get something for it.

      So, people sworn to defend the nation hurt the nation with high costs and limited return.

      No, they didn't sell out to a foreign power, so its only borderline. But you can make a strong argument that they sold out to a domestic industry.

    2. I know what you are saying Jim and agree. The post cold war draw-down I discussed was what they used to justify these programs. Remember the LCS was supposed to be be low cost, as was (hard to believe but true) the F-35. That was how these the admirals sold it; we can't afford to build a big navy with the soviets gone, so we'll have these LCS do everything via modules. We can't afford a huge carrier force with the Soviet Union gone, but these F-35's can do everything the F-22 can but will be cheaper than the F-22 so we won't need as many aircraft.
      Then once they had the contracts out the USN started retiring ships at an insane pace, again using the post cold war argument. No Soviet Navy, so who needs the Perry class? We have the Zumwalt, who needs the Ticonderoga class? But actually what they were doing basically extortion; Kill the LCS and we’ll have no ASW or MCM. Kill the Zumwalt and it’s million dollar ammo and you have no cruiser replacement.

      You're right Jim; the admirals and contractors are guilty of a crime, several in fact.
      Specifically fraud, and quite possibly bribery. How else can the baffling continued backing of failed systems?
      The B-2 had cost overruns but at least it worked. The F-22 had cost overruns but at least it worked. The F-18 is shorter ranged and less maneuverable than an F-14, but the McDonnell Douglas wasn't asked for a seagoing F-15, and at least the Super-hornet was actually under budget.
      Even the LCS can be forgiven for being under-armed because the USN didn't ask for it to be well-armed and theoretically the modules would have solved that problem. IF they had worked. IF the ships had been within budget. IF they weren’t unreliable and if they didn’t have the survivability of a rowboat made of balsa wood. But the modules don’t work, are inadequately armed, undependable, and quite possibly death-traps in real combat.
      So why still buy them? In the immortal words of the movie Rush Hour 2 : “behind every big crime there’s a rich white guy waiting for his cut” this case they have shiny stars on their shoulders.

  8. David Hackworth once said, "If you're in a fair fight, you didn't plan the mission properly."

  9. So, the general idea (not a full CONOPS) was that Navy participation in future wars would be bombing places with no air defence (or easily killed air defence) and killing speedboats armed with basic anti-ship missiles.

    "Transformation" was about focussing on that kind of operations, and maybe doing it cheaper. However, the procurement system and the guidance of politicians by defence contractors solved the problem of it being cheaper, even as the budgets were being reduced.

    The "promotional imperative" meant that a generation of officers can't back away from those ideas now, even if they've realised they aren't applicable to the present day and its threats.

    And from the look of it, everyone involved felt that the basic competence and flexibility of the Navy meant that it would remain formidable even if their projects and ideas turned out not to be quite right. Thus, they didn't need to think too deeply about them, and could simply go with the fashions set by the politicians. They don't seem to have realised that the competence and flexibility rely on ongoing training in the fundamentals of all the kinds of naval operations, and having the equipment to train and execute them.

    The US is becoming more and more reminiscent of the UK in the late nineteenth century, still the world's leading power, but visibly loosing its edge.

  10. Zumwalt might get its gun back. Navy looking into Excalibur to replace LRLAP:

    1. How imaginative on the Navy's part: using a proven projectile that has been around for years and costs a quarter million instead of a 3/4 of a million dollar new, and unproven projectile.
      Sarcasm aside, if the Navy must have a guided projectile for the Zumwalt, this isn't bad. But why the obsession with a guided projectile anyway? All of them use GPS and if the GPS is jammed they are really expensive shells. Why not something crazy like non-guided dual-purpose AP/HE shells that costs less than a thousand, or rocket assisted non-guided that still falls under 3 grand?
      WIth lower cost ammo this makes the naval 155 an attractive option for more than just the 3 ship Zumwalt class.
      If they don't fix the ammo problem, then they should just forgo the guns and carry more VLS cells in their place.

    2. So it is $1M to go 60 miles, $250K to go 30 miles, $5K to go 18 miles, and $440 to go 11 miles.
      HMMMM, which way on the scale do you think we are headed?  Oh BTW they all have the same payload of HE.

    3. You are spot on! If you can fire Excal, I don't see why you cannot shoot M795 HE with MOFA fuses. Those fuses cost more than the HE round (over $1000 per fuse) but range is 22k which is the same as current 5 inchers even though the 155 is more explosives on target.
      Excalibur has a 30-35k range depending on effects desired on target and only cost $70,000. Just hope we have 155mm guns instead of reverting to the 5inch guns

    4. The last line of the story is the kicker, "One defense official told USNI News it might take up to $250 million in engineering costs to modify the three ship class for Excalibur." And, when the estimate is up to $250 million, the actual costs will probably be twice that.


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