Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Right All Along

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 Naval Sea Systems Command, said NAVSEA’s engineering directorate (SEA 05) had dropped to a fifth of its size from 1990 to 2005.”

“…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,


  1. Didn't the Navy at one point build ships in its own yards?

    I'll admit, I struggle with the acquisition/building side of things. I'm fully in favor of a new BuShips and General Board. But I also wonder at the lack of competition; and I don't know how to fix it. Even if we split up major competitors to create more firms; there's only one yard that I know of that can build a supercarrier, and only 2 that can build an SSN.

    Its hard to find a free market solution to this; as the free market is going to say 'Don't get into that market because the barriers to entry are ridiculous'.

    I think that while we can improve things with a general board, etc... we still face a significant problem in the lack of manufacturers we face. And I don't see a solution.

    1. The solution starts with having enough engineering expertise to not ask industry to build a flawed design. It then moves to having enough engineering expertise to recognize poor quality during construction and insist that it be corrected. After that, we need the intestingal fortitude to not accept incomplete ships.

      Yes, shipyards are an issue and that can be addressed by slowly building up the smaller yards and making them major competitors.

  2. This approach did indeed produce monopolistic structures, reflexes and thus self-serving budgets.

    Without hard reality-checks, 'feeding-at-the-national-debt-boosting-trough' reflexes will set in and become 'normal'. And therein lies one major cause for the mad increase in the cost of naval ships.

    Another major flaw has been that as you point out, recent ship-design & acquisition programs have demonstrated USN submissiveness to fashionable engineer's preferences for 'cool' but under-proven, inefficient, and life-time costly concepts.

    Case in point:
    - The super-sized water-jet-drives in the LCS, even though they are inherently inefficient at less than 75+% throttle. Waterjet-drives considered were 'cool' for a while including in some day-boat pleasure-craft. But they have always had distinct limitations as a plausible propulsion-technology, especially in terms of range, corrosion, erosion, etc. That has always been known. But no 'Adults' in the room to stop the giddy pursuit of inappropriate reflexes by narrow-focused 'advanced-propulsion' techno-folks ?

    - Claims about the need for shallow draft are a particularly weird under-developed idea since anything the size of what LCS came to grow to should be nowhere near 'the Littorals' if it wants to live.

    - A FFG-7 PERRY-Class going from a single big propeller to a familiar geometry of twin-shaft smaller diameter propeller per same turbine-setup would have produced the same shallower draft - and still should not loiter in the Littorals of anyone above Iron-Age war-fighting ambitions. At least it would have (predictably !) had much better cruising-range to actually be able to go somewhere without a hose to a parallel-running oiler.

    - The choice of a totally new (and inferior) twin-class of ships to replace FFG-7 jets is indeed that stupid ! Technically and tactically an embarrassment. Prime example for other navies to avoid.

    - As the French of the early 1930s proved with their 45kts prop-driven 6-ship destroyer-class "Le Fantasque" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Fantasque-class_destroyer) a ship of LCS's scale was doing real measured 45 knots 80 years ago, while carrying a solid offensive and defensive weapons-suite.

    Another case in point the LX-R,
    - offering a 58% (explicitly) designed-in LOSS in well-deck capacity
    - while adding 8000-tons of steel over the class it is supposed to replace,
    - at the cost of doubling+ what a modern-day LSD-41 would cost slightly updated,
    - all while actually reducing USMC's chance of hitting any beach in plausibly-big-enough numbers to not be immediately ground to a pulp by a modest backwards defense force picking them off one by one as the GCE-assets are dribbling ashore one slow connector at a time...

    Just these two cases make any concerns over the dangers of (lefty) pentagon-budget-slashers choir-boy stuff. The fleet-structural, and thus strategic and tactical, along with the (under-paid-for ?) fiscal damage goes much deeper and extends multi-generationally than any ideological dissent ever could hope to sabotage the Navy from within HASC or SASC.

    No doubt, the BuSHIP/NAVSEA positions were cut under (yet another fashionable) but properly-unexamined conviction that government is always less efficient than the private sector...

    This level of deficient analytics, metrics and thus concepts would see an Undergraduate fail that glass early and often. These two cases alone are just dumb. Embarrassing. Painfully obvious before, during and forever-more after these decisions. Head-scratchers before history...

    1. Lets be clear why we have an LCS. The Navy realized in the late 90's that the number of traditional war fighting Gray bottoms required for non-blue water missions was greater than any budget they could construct. Adm. Zimbrowski came up with the Street Fighter ship concept which is an absolutely moronic concept unless you are looking to meet ship numbers and not fighting capability. So LCS was the perfect way to keep from paying for all those Trash Haulers and at the same time tell Congress they are aggressively working to meet the ship numbers required.

  3. In a conversation recently with an original-LCS-engineer of the most impeccable credentials, it became clear that he and his brethren were of the conviction that their performance-pursuits were unprecedented and therefore so challenging.

    He was incredulous of the fact that their 3100-3300 tons twin types had been preceded in the early 1930 by that French 3400-tons stream-fired prop-driven destroyer.

    If you were to discuss design-related challenges with the 'mission-module managers' of LCS they'd likely lay out in broad details all the unprecedented if not dramatic efforts by the best to pull together each of these three mission-suites. To recollect, only one would be carried at a time !

    Here the "Le Fantasque" permanently built-in war-fighting capabilties of 1935 (plus later upgrades):

    - 5 × 138 mm (5.4 in) guns (5×1; 2 forward, 3 aft)
    - 4 × 37 mm (1.5 in) AA guns (4×1) (original)
    - 4 × 13 mm (0.51 in) AA machine guns (original)
    - 8 × 40 mm Bofors AA guns (after refit)
    - 10 × 20 mm Oerlikon guns (after refit)
    - 9 × 550 mm (21.7 in) torpedo tubes (3×3)
    - 40 × mines (some sources state 50)

    If the six ships, two were lost in WW-2.
    The last one was scrapped in 1964, some 31 years after her launch.

    1. Some conclusions should be:
      - 1. Reasserting USN-centric ship-design and at least -construction-budgeting wherewithal, as C.N.O reports as the Navy is beginning to.

      - 2. Let's not have Ship-Builders 'pre-structure' any design- and then acquisition-discussions to match their corporate fiscal preferences and organizational conveniences.

      They sure should not DICTATE CAPABILTIES LOSSES !

      - 3. Let's approach any hint of engineers-driven techno-giddiness with serious multi-layered caution under the premise that some stuff is really cool, really doable and really necessary, while much is just not - beyond tickling the techno-nerves of a few Mandarins self-styled cutting-edge 'innovators'...who may not be. If they can't integrate their techno-preferences into the tactical-, strategic- and fiscal context, they should be sidelined.

      - 4. Let's no more unquestioningly submit to their 'best sharp-pencil' budget-numbers, when other, at times quite complex specialty ship-building efforts are actually quite transparent and critiquable under market-economic principles.

      Nobody can print money forever.

      And serious adversaries don't down-grade THEIR wherewithal.

  4. ComNav I've only been reading your stuff for a couple years and I've got to confirm you have been correctomundo. Real execution for ship building deliverables has to come from those engineers and naval architects that know the business and really understand what we need... I hope this initiative is chosen and actually carried out...

    IMO, and I'm not an expert on ship building is that our basic USN CONOPs re roles and missions leading to USN ship buys has been consistently wrong on all occasions since the demise of the USSR and the Cold War. We have simply gotten along....

    In the early 90's the Navy got smaller and people questioned the need for carriers and battle groups. The USMC pressed Vern Clark and the rest into "From the Sea" a call to the brownwater-greenwater missions calling for more amphibs and hulls like the ill-suited LCS, etc. The USSR and communism were defeated, right? As a result we concurrently we retired carriers and Spruance as too expensive to maintain (OMN), took a business approach to the carrier all-Hornet 65 aircraft air wing we operate with today, cut the SSN fleet down by 2/3 since 1995 and talk, then build a class of hi-priced "stealth" (cmon...) ships....

    Then we take a necessary decade "timeout" for focusing on fighting the bearded AK-47 Islamic terrorist from the sea to remain relevant. What can I say?

    Then suddenly somebody says "pivot" and we find we have a lot less to pivot on..... What was suddenly asymmetric becomes symmetric again....A different world order or something predictable?

    All I can recommend is, based on the obvious to me, is to get back to the "wall of wood basics" for a powerful blue-water, take it to them Navy built around carrier CSGs, SSNs, cruiser/DDGs and an unnamed frigate. In that order. Anything else means we have real peer adversaries to face... We must have no delays or excursions to accommodate the USMC needs again, they have gotten us off course before. Build up the core business. First things first.


  5. A good idea but beware the execution. A few years back the Navy said they were going to grow their labor force some.

    Unfortunately their approach was to be hire newbies out of school. The problem with that is you have the few survivors who can't get anything right teaching the next crop to not get anything right.

    Somehow the execution of this good idea has to draw old experienced talent or new people that have got a brain in their head.

    Gonna be tough.

    1. You are absolutely correct and I noted in the post that the new hires would have no experience. You astutely point out that not only will they have no experience but they will be taught by people who have produced nothing but failure for a couple of decades.

      Excellent comment.

    2. LOL.

      In a radical reversal of rolls your suggesting that old experienced engineers nearing the end of their careers for U.S. major defence firms are offered cushy high paid jobs in the military, advising ?

      You could do a one in one out policy.

      Yes Admiral Bibberty-Bob you can join the board of Lockheed Martin and advise them on how to fleece the military for the next big budget catastrophe, but only if we get LM’s top engineering staff in return to kick you in the nuts when you try to do it !

      I like it !

      ( Its simple its practical. It benefits the elderly. It will never go through. )

    3. "Admiral Bibberty-Bob"???? Did he serve under Vice Admiral Nelson?

      I love the UK's colorful phrases!

    4. People that really build things do not do it for the money. They want to be fairly compensated, but not gazillionaires. Not like the present crop of spineless Admirals.

      The people that the SySComs need are motivated by the ability and environment that lets them build good products that work and make the customer happy, and keeps them alive!

    5. As an Engineer myself, I can somewhat agree with your appraisal, somewhat.

      In this respect I would have thought it would be simple to recruit senior engineers to advise on the design, and then monitor the progress of a project to conclusion. From the side of the military.

      Personally it would be a dream job.

      However the high level engineers you need are experts in their field, and very happy I’m sure in their current roles building these vessels and systems.

      You’re not going to entice them away easily, particularly with the promise of effectively an advisory \ consultancy role.

      Engineers like to build.

      I’m sure you will find a myriad of competent engineering project managers, but some of the details of recent failures come down to the physical detail and sometimes quite complex issues.

    6. "some of the details of recent failures come down to the physical detail and sometimes quite complex issues."

      And some of the failures are as simple and basic as you can get: failing to add cathodic protection to the LCS hull (they knew all about this in the days of sail!) or failing to add bridge wings to the LCS (every ship every built has had bridge wings in some form!) or failing to check whether the LCS MCM helo could actually safely tow its intended load or failing to design a workable tailhook for the F-35C (we've been designing tailhooks since pre-WWII) or ... well, you get the idea.

      Hiring new engineers isn't going to turn the Navy's problems around overnight. New engineers come out of college with a theoretical background and absolutely no practical experience. It takes years to bring them up to level where they can contribute and that's if they have experienced mentors to learn from. The Navy lacks that core of experience and competence. They'll have to learn through trial and error and it will take a long time. Still, it's a start.

    7. Errrr ..... Yer, OK, Im not going to argue those particular points, they are admittedly pretty dam dire !

    8. The bridge wings is particularly moronic coming from a company that mostly build planes, LOL

  6. Another spot on post. I'll provide some hopefully useful history:

    President Kennedy dismantled the Army technical services in 1962, and the same fate befell the Navy bureau system in 1966.

    The issue with bringing back the bureau/technical services is that they conflict with the program oriented budgets for DoD acquisitions.

    After the first program budget enacted by Title IV in 1949, the services had different interpretations.

    The Navy essentially defined programs around existing bureaus, such that the program budget was functional to the same degree the organizations were. The problem was that you could not find the real cost of a program anywhere, often dispersed across organizations, and it allowed for continuing duplication across bureaus (e.g., missiles in BuOrd and BuShips).

    The Air Force, without an extensive technical service system, defined organization around program. This is were we got the SPOs. And because a SPO made organization unifunctional with respect to program budgets, it aligned administrative and financial authority. However, it relied on the single prime contractor model and little in-house capabilities (outside of staff planning and SPO adminsitration).

    The Army defined programs like the Air Force, but the result obscured funding for the technical services which received dollars for nearly every program appropriation. It took away the independent budgets of the technical services and put program planning in the hands of the general staff, which had to translate org/object budgets from the technical services to programs for submissions to Congress, and then convert them back upon receipt for administration.

    Obviously, the rigid minds of PPBS required dismantling the independence of the arsenals/bureaus in favor of top-down planning. This is how we get the program office system today.

    An administrative budget, as opposed to a program budget, would help to really put people and organizations first (instead of subordinating them to projects and programs).

    To summarize, I whole heartedly agree that we need to bring back in-house capabilities, the benefits of which are extensive and I haven't seen discussed much (because of false analogies to competition and markets). In order for that to be a reality, existing budget system and other management control systems probably need to be reformed.

    1. Sorry, missiles in BuOrd and ByAer

    2. A nice history summary for us. Thanks!

    3. Eric is the best commenter on this site. His contributions are appreciated. I read all the RAND reports he mentioned in his last post and they're very worthwhile for many fields of endeavor, not just weapons R&D.

      The answers to our problems are out there, and have been there for decades. The will to do the simple but difficult tasks necessary is wholly absent.

      Thank you Eric

      - Neither Eric nor Eric's Mom.

  7. This is interesting:

    I want to believe.... but it could be good news. *if* the wargames are realistic and *if* the Navy is willing to take the lessons learned seriously, and not viewed through a lense of internal politics (transoformational!), it could give us real data as to what we need to perform missions in the future.

    1. I think you know what the "results" of the wargaming will show? It will show that Navy needs distributed lethality, networking, unmanned vehicles, and more ships, right? The same things the Navy has been saying for a while now. The Navy's wargames are not designed to experiment - they're designed to artificially validate pre-determined outcomes.

      I'll hope for the best with you but I'm not going to bet on any useful results coming out of it!

    2. *sigh*. Yes. I know. Its hoping against hope. It may well turn into: 'And the LCS *SWOOPS* in at 40 kts for 1200 miles and uses its NSM's to vanquish the foe! Yay us! We were right!'

  8. A few suggestion to try and rebuild BuShips:

    • Greybeards: bring back retirees who've been there and done that. Many would no doubt volunteer to help “herd cats” to get their navy back in shape. Not only at a renewed BuShip but at Annapolis where they can help the next gen of officers.
    • Steal DARPA engineers. They often come up with great uses of established equipment….which are usually ignored or passed on to contractors who muck it up….but nonetheless they are a good resource that is relatively young.
    • Not a BuShip, but BuShips---having the government laboratories like Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, Oak ridge, etc. compete with each other in the past made them better at it. Granted that is no longer the case but having new “Ship Labs” under a BuShip coordinator who answers directly to the SecNav.
    • Steal some DOT&E personnel…the ones who were honest enough to call out the USN on their boondoggles. Put them in charge, as they know the bureaucratic landscape as well as who the worst offenders are.
    • As mentioned above: BuShips should answer directly to SecNav or during it's creation have it answer directly to the National Security Council. Thus bypassing the existing bureaucracy which is the source of our current dillema.

  9. As most readers here know, I actually think that the US should go a step further and not just design ships, but have a builder of ships, aircraft, and land systems that is owned by the US government.

    It may at times compete with the private sector, but having that in house gives a lot of expertise.

    It's one reason why outsourcing has been so damaging for key government services - loss of institutional memory and often it costs more.

  10. I think VADM Moore misstates the value of SEA05. They are a headquarters operation and if the engineers are fully embedded in the WNY we will have a "DOD 5000" set of engineers who have little appreciation for real ship building acquisition. Most of the current SEA 05 personnel are currently employed by one of the field activities. The Warfare Center field activities are where the plus up of engineers should occur where deck plate engineering occurs. When these engineers mature, then they can migrate to HQs.


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