The Navy has finally and officially acknowledged that ComNavOps was right all along. Of course, ComNavOps is right about everything, so what, specifically, is the Navy acknowledging that ComNavOps was right about? - The need for in-house naval engineering to design and oversee ship acquisition programs.
ComNavOps has long preached that the Navy abdicated its responsibilities by abolishing BuShips and turning over design and construction responsibility to the manufacturers. This began with the Spruance class, which actually turned out quite well, and has culminated the LCS, LPD-17, Ford, and Zumwalt fiascos.
Now, the Navy has recognized that the lack of in-house engineering expertise is at the root of these acquisition disasters (1). How bad had the engineering loss gotten?
“Vice Adm. Tom Moore, commander of
Command, said NAVSEA’s engineering directorate (SEA 05) had dropped to a fifth
of its size from 1990 to 2005.” Naval Sea
“…in SEA 05, where there had been 1,292 engineers in 1990 and only 251 in 2005 …”
The Navy is now looking to hire engineers with a goal of 750 by 2025. Of course, that’s still only around half of what they had in 1990 and none of those new hires will have naval warship design and construction experience so there won’t be any quick turnaround in design and construction expertise. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the Navy is only looking to go half way to solving the problem. The full solution requires reconstituting BuShips and the General Board. The Navy, however, is only going to add engineers without the BuShips organization that made the warship design process so effective and without the General Board that made warship conceptual designs so linked to operational needs.
Why did the Navy go down the ill fated path that they did?
““In one of our many eras of acquisition reform – and at that time, the vogue in acquisition reform back in the mid-90s was, hey, industry knows best, just throw it over the fence to them and let them build the ships and we’ll be fine …”
I know, it sounds idiotic, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the concept went even further off the rails when the Navy not only threw the responsibility over the fence to the manufacturer but they threw it to companies that had never built a warship before. Neither Lockheed Martin nor Austal had built a warship before they started building the LCS. What did the Navy think was going to happen?
I’ve never built a nuclear reactor before. What do you think will happen if you hire me to build one?
You know, there’s some failings that are obvious in hindsight but may not have been obvious at the time and then there’s ideas that are so blindingly stupid that hindsight is not required: non-warship companies building warships, minimal manning, deferred maintenance, and so on. It was obvious from the start that abdicating design responsibility would not turn out well.
While it’s good that the Navy is finally recognizing the error of their ways, that error has cost the Navy an entire generation of flawed ships. The LCS will never be useful. The LPD-17 was a quality control disaster whose effects are still being felt (and we’re using it as the basis for future ship classes!!!!). The Ford is an unaffordable budget disaster that is sounding the death knell of carriers. The Zumwalt is the poster child for “I don’t really know what I want” and cost the Navy an entire generation of cruisers.
Make no mistake. This decades long disaster lies squarely with Navy flag leadership. The extent of their incompetence is/was staggering and will continue to be felt for decades to come.
(1)USNI website, “Navy to Impose More Rigorous Oversight in New Ship Classes; Will Hire More Engineers”, Megan Eckstein,
February 20, 2017,