Monday, June 26, 2017

Sequestration Is NOT the Problem

We’ve seen a public relations blitz of late by the Navy and the military in general attempting to blame all its readiness and maintenance problems on sequestration and the resulting lack of money.  The reality is that the Navy’s problems are all self-inflicted and have nothing to do with sequestration.  The Navy has mismanaged itself into a hollow force and is using sequestration as a scapegoat.

Oh come on, now.  Sequestration has caused all kinds of problems, right?  We all know this to be true.  Ships have begun to fail INSURV inspections, manning has been reduced to sub-optimal levels, maintenance has suffered, ships have had to be retired early, we now have submarine and fighter aircraft shortages looming, we’re forced to use F-18’s as tankers, etc.  This more than proves the evils visited on the fleet by sequestration, right?  Well, yes, all those things have occurred and led to the current readiness and “hollowness” failures now plaguing the fleet.  The only problem with that narrative is that all those things occurred before sequestration – a fact seemingly lost on Navy leadership as they talk to reporters and testify before Congress. 

Don’t believe it?  Let’s review the chronology.  As you read through the chronology, note where sequestration begins.  Hint:  it began 1-Mar-2013 and is highlighted in red in the chronology listing.  Obviously, any actions prior to that point could not possibly have been due to sequestration.  Further, any actions in the subsequent year after sequestration began are likely unrelated to sequestration due to the simple fact that the effects hadn’t yet had time to manifest.  Read and learn.

1992 – 2009 – Training

“Significant changes in training affected the surface force from 1992-2009.  Some changes resulted in the misalignment of authority and accountability which negatively affected surface force readiness.” (2, p.4)

1995 – Readiness Squadrons eliminated

“Readiness Squadrons (READRONSs) were disestablished in 1995, eliminating a critical path for the professional development and training of the surface force.  The elimination of the READRONS removed a clear line of accountability for the material readiness of the ships.” (2, p.13)

1995 – Planning and Engineering for Repairs and Alterations (PERA) organization eliminated

“The Planning and Engineering for Repairs and Alterations (PERA) organization that was responsible for executing and maintaining the class maintenance plan (CMP), the plan to ensure each class of ship is maintained to meet or exceed its designed service life, was disestablished in 1995.” (2, p.15)

1996 – All remaining destroyer tenders decommissioned

1998 – Tactical Training Commands Atlantic and Pacific disestablished

“Tactical Training Commands Atlantic and Pacific were disestablished in 1998, closing yet another ship-to-shore professional development path.” (2, p.14)

1999 – Inspections eliminated

“Further exacerbating surface force readiness was the decision in 1999 to eliminate external command inspections and the implementation of self-assessment policies.” (2, p.13)

2001 - Optimal manning cut over 4,000 sailors from surface ships.

“The Optimum Manning (OM) initiative was introduced in 2001.  Shipboard manning requirements were assessed primarily against shipboard watch standing/operational requirement.  This approach did not consider other factors such as maintenance requirements.  As a result, shipboard manning requirements were reduced to levels well below the requirements identified in ship design and, particularly, below the levels required to support material readiness requirements. (2, p.4))

2001 – Preventive maintenance requirements reduced

“Reduced manning prevented ships from performing the minimum required level of preventive maintenance.  To compensate for this misalignment, the Material Maintenance and Management (3M) program was revamped in 2001 to reduce the Preventive Maintenance System (PMS) requirements on board ships to alleviate some of the workload and accommodate reduced crew sizes.” (2, p.15)

2001 – Optimal manning experiments conducted with George Washington battle group and USS Milius, DDG-69

2006 - Two Avenger class MCM unable to get underway for inspections

2006 – Navy POM-08 reduces Perry class manning from 215 to 187 (3)

2007 - A FFG, LPD, and MCM fail INSURV

2007 – Submarine and destroyer shortfalls recognized in testimony to Congress. 

“In particular, relative to the goals for various components of the 313-ship fleet, the Navy would experience shortfalls in attack submarines (40 in 2028 and 2029 versus a stated requirement of 48), … and guided missile destroyers (60 in 2037 versus a stated requirement of 69).” (4)

2008 – Six ships, including USS Stout and USS Chosin fail INSURV

2008 – Navy classifies INSURV reports

2009 – Vadm. Balisle was directed to convene a Fleet Review Panel on 1-Sep

2009 – Average periodicity between INSURV inspections increased from 44 months in 1992 to over 60 months in 2009

2009 – Last S-3 Viking retired forcing tanker duties onto F-18

2009 – Navy reduces Burke manning 23% from 2002 (3)

2009 – Funding for ship maintenance availabilities suspended for FY2009 (6)

“…on February 3, 2009, funding of the remainder of CNO availabilities (9 were scheduled in Hampton Roads) for FY09 was suspended.” (6)

2010 – Aegis cruiser and FFG fail INSURV

2010 - Balisle Report on Fleet Readiness

From the Feb-2010 Balisle Report:

“The panel concluded that Surface Force readiness has degraded over the last ten years.  This degradation has not been due to a single decision or policy change, but the result of many independent actions.  The panel produced a chronology that identified changes across the man, train, equip, and command and control domains since 1992, and identified the impacts of those changes on Surface Force readiness.” (2, p.4)

2011 - Budget Control Act passed

2011 – Aegis cruiser fails INSURV

2012 - USS McCain fails INSURV

“The John S. McCain is the first Aegis-equipped destroyer to flunk INSURV since 2008, when a spate of failures and degraded scores prompted an independent review that found the surface fleet on a downward slide.” (1)

2013 - Sequestration (automatic spending cuts) begins on 1-Mar-2013

2013 – USS Mobile Bay, an Aegis cruiser, fails INSURV in April 2013

This timeline clearly proves that the Navy’s readiness and maintenance issues all began long before sequestration took effect.  The Navy’s problems are entirely self-inflicted as a result of institutional stupidity on a scale that defies belief.  Virtually every major decision the Navy has made has been wrong and has exacerbated the problems. 

The Navy even recognized the readiness problem prior to sequestration as evidenced by the 2010 (three years prior to sequestration!!!) Balisle report, “Fleet Panel Review of Surface Force Readiness” [emphasis added].  The report was initiated as a result of multiple failings of INSURV inspections and other readiness indicators.  Three years prior to sequestration, the Navy knew they had a severe readiness problem and yet, now, they’re attempting to blame it all on sequestration.  Why?  Because if they didn’t they’d have to admit that they brought on, and were solely responsible for, the readiness problems.

That’s worth repeating.

Because if they didn’t they’d have to admit that they brought on, and were solely responsible for, the readiness problems.

It’s really worth repeating because it totally contradicts and disproves the Navy’s claims.

Because if they didn’t they’d have to admit that they brought on, and were solely responsible for, the readiness problems.

Here’s more evidence that the Navy recognized readiness and maintenance issues before sequestration kicked in.  Following is a list of some Navy Maritime Improvement Initiative recommendations from Nov 2012 as presented by OpNav N43 (5) several months before sequestration began.

  • Reverse Optimal Manning
  • Re-establishment of Surface Maintenance Engineering Planning Program (SURMEPP)
  • Reconstitute Surface Intermediate Maintenance
  • Expanded Material Condition Inspections

Well, sure, we can see the problems now but that’s unfair.  It’s all hindsight, right?  Wrong.  All of the decisions were blindingly, obviously, wrong when they were made.  This is not a case of unfair criticism due to 20/20 hindsight. 

  • Could the Navy really not anticipate that reduced manning on ships would lead to reduced maintenance and poorer material condition?  All the rest of us anticipated this incredibly obvious link between insufficient manpower and poor maintenance!

  • Could the Navy really not anticipate that retiring the A-6 and S-3 tankers would lead to using up the only remaining aircraft, the front line F-18 Hornet, doing mundane tanking?  Who/what did they think would wind up doing the tanking.  There was only one candidate, the F-18!

  • Could the Navy really not anticipate that failing to plan to build enough subs and destroyers would lead to critical shortfalls down the road?  Every 30 year shipbuilding plan documented the looming shortfall and the Navy wrote the 30 year plans.  They knew exactly what was coming and reported it!

  • Could the Navy really not anticipate the reducing readiness inspections would not lead to reduced readiness?

  • Could the Navy really not anticipate that eliminating training programs would not lead to reduced tactical proficiency?  Did the Navy really think that not training for tactics would somehow, magically, not adversely affect tactical proficiency?

The evidence is overwhelming that the Navy’s readiness and maintenance problems were entirely self-inflicted due to a steady stream of idiotic decisions and all the problems were already well established prior to sequestration.

Any hint or suggestion by the Navy that sequestration is somehow responsible for readiness or maintenance problems is a flat out lie.  Now you know…

Sequestration is not the problem.


(1)Military Times website, “Destroyer McCain Fails INSURV Inspection”, 20-Mar-2013,

(2)“Fleet Panel Review of Surface Force Readiness”, VAdm. Balisle (Ret.), 26-Feb-2010

(3)CNA, “Impact of Manning and Infrastructure Initiatives on the Surface Navy”, David M. Rodney, Michael D. Bowes, Christopher M. Duquette, Sara M. Russell, Nov 2009, CRM D0021247.A2/Final

(4) CBO TESTIMONY, “Statement of J. Michael Gilmore Assistant Director for National Security and Eric J. Labs Senior Analyst The Navy’s 2008 Shipbuilding Plan and Key Ship Programs before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Committee on Armed Services U.S. House of Representatives” July 24, 2007

(5)Depot Maintenance Requirements Determination slide presentation, Stu Paul OPNAV N43 13 November, 2012,

(6)Virginia Ship Repair Association, “White Paper Navy Ship Repair Shortfalls Virginia Impact”, 13-Feb-2009,


  1. Wow...Nice work. Right in plain view...with dots connected.. Almost a public service. ;-)

    "Do more with less" eventually eats itself and passing on the buck becomes the norm. An entire generation of naval leaders has been contaminated by this since the Cold War ended. Transformation into professional, institutional hypocrites have sustained itself for years except for a short 2 year flurry after 9-11. When short term resource reductions/reallocations are made based on promised future paybacks, consistently, and without remorse, we end up with problems like this. I've seen it in the 1970's post-Vietnam for a period of time but never something as ingrained and long lasting as the past 25 years. When officers are promoted for being "clever" in executing programs and processes that take from "Peter to pay Paul" (you all know who you are) and not on operational/technical/leadership achievements we end up like this....
    Hand in hand with this the government civilians also deserve blame for their institutional hypocrisy regarding readiness. They sustain the climate through administrations...

    Readiness for the services is treated by naval leadership the same way deficit spending is treated by politicians..

    IMO, it's too ingrained to change quickly- I am not sure there is anyone left to set things right.... Boomers and GENX'ers are on our own now without the WW2 generation to guide us and we have screwed it up- royally.

    If we went back to measuring combat readiness (despite ongoing combat operations) as we did 30 years ago the people, and maybe even the press would be shocked to learn that things are even worse than you report.

    We have devolved.


  2. CNO,

    This is a really great piece of analysis and research, and I would urge you to seek wider publication (Proceedings, USNI, etc.)

    You would do the Navy (and country) a service by it.

    Clearly, the USN would prefer that its [sordid] history with respect to training and maintenance would get stuffed down the memory hole. Don't let it happen.

    BTW, a point came to mind as I was reading this. The Navy claims to train/source generalists as surace officers, and develop broad competence in operations, driving, maintenance, and management.

    I don't see a lot of evidence that those outcomes are occurring. At this stage of implementation "Broad generalist" track seems to be producing "Functional Incompetence"

    USN needs to make some hard choices.

    1. First, thanks.

      "USN needs to make some hard choices."

      I would suggest that the Navy has made their hard choices and chosen all the wrong options! There have been many decision points over the last few decades where hard choices needed to be made and they were. That the choices were consistently wrong is a function of incompetent leadership but the choices were made and continue to be made (the recent decision to pull funding from IRST development and nuclear carrier refueling to pay for another LCS, for example). We may not like the choices and they may be stupid but they are being made!

      The Navy doesn't need to make hard choices, they need to make better choices!

  3. I might be over simplifying, but had the Navy just gone for simple, evolutionary, and more hi/lo, we might be in much better shape than we are now. We've had an entire ship development cycle get wasted on LCS, Ford, Zumwalt, and LPD-17. Ford and Zumwalt are critical failures; LCS is (to my mind) less so due to the fact that its cheaper, but still a failure, and LPD-17 has issues.

    What if there was a 3000 ton small surface combatant that had 2 quad harpoon launchers, silenced diesels, torpedoes, a decent gun, and a good sonar kit all built onto a steel hull?

    What if instead of the crazy hull, AGS, and minimal manning the Zumwalt is a conventional hull? Heck, keep the Mk-57's and the turbo-electric drive. Maybe you'd have money for the air defense radar and a ship that could work?

    What if the Ford didn't have the AAG and EMALS, but was more like a follow on Bush with slight improvements?

    What if the S3's aren't retired? What if the C2's are kept?

    Do all that, and figure out a way to add legs to the air wing and we look better than we do now, I think.

    1. Are we just failing to realize we are in an age of disposability wrt to warships.

      Think about it - aside from the LCS fiasco, all the rage is the modular nature of modern warships, their grown room and ease of upgrading.

      Carried to that logical conclusion, a civilian container ship, with missile containers and sensor containers is practically as lethal as a modern combatant.

      Do we simply need to rethink what constitutes naval power?

      Carriers - specialized.

      ASW - specialized, both surface escorts and subs

      What is left? All surface combatants do today is lob missiles. A truck lashed to a deck of any ship can fire a missile just as well for an extreme example. Transport troops? Ok, well berthing (cruise ships) and maybe landing craft (FloFlo and LoLo ships abound).

      I have agut feeling we are moving in a direction where specialized ships are increasingly going to need to be 'self escorting.' What is a CBG these days of 3-4 escorts vs a cold war one of 5-8?

      We regularly dis-aggreate MEU/ESGs.

      What would a fleet look like with Carriers that need no, or minimal escort? Amphibs that need no, minimal escort?

      Everybody else would seemingly be a submarine, ASW specialized surface escort or multirole transport/arsenal surface ship.

      Random thoughts.

  4. Another thing... IMHO money is a national security resource like oil and iron ore.

    It's stupid to keep throwing money at the Navy till the Navy can prove its good with what it has.

  5. Great article! Keep in mind that the budget was cut back in FY 2007 from record highs, and has increased every year higher than inflation. The "cuts" were just a refusal by Congress to approve every wish the Admirals sent them. You didn't touch on the procurement disasters, the F-35, Ford, LCS and the V-22 that costs six times more to maintain than helos and more than half are always down for repairs, and the Navy is getting these turds now for COD!

    I would add the mindless objective of having a quota of 25% female crews, who are twice more likely to miss deployments or be on light duty.

    1. There's no end of items I could have included! I'm limited to a typical blog length of several paragraphs so I've got to pick and choose what to present. I could write a book on this one!

    2. Please write "the book". Mahan wrote the book which inspired our country to build the greatest navy. We need a new book to inspire our once great navy to un-f#@! itself.

      Keep up the good work,

  6. Sequestration did not help things, but the problems are much deeper and harder to fix.

    The fall into two main area:

    1) A procurement system that is now more about protecting revenue and profits for Defense Contractors while providing lucrative jobs for senior retired military personnel than it is about providing the best possible mix of military equipment for our warfighters.

    2) A military that is more about social engineering than it is about making sure our warfighters have the best possible chance of executing their mission and returning safely. This includes the silliness of women in combat as well as ignoring the massive negative negative impact on discipline gender integration has had on our military. The double standards, the quotas, etc.

  7. You fail to realize the subconscious goal of the DoD, DoN and well any department of the government - protect, preserve and increase your budget.

    No benefits are had, medals awarded, promotions had, and most omportantly post career retirement jobs secured by conservatively and wisely spending the tax payers money.

    Save money, promote efficiency and fix the problem - well hell that means they will cut our budget allocation next FY.

  8. Lets not forget the cost of concurrence coupled with everything else.

    "Costs to operate and support Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 will balloon unless the deteriorating reliability of the Pentagon’s costliest program improves, according to an assessment from the Defense Department’s own testing office.

    The aircraft and its parts aren’t as reliable as expected, and it’s taking longer to repair them than planned, according to the presentation by the director of operational testing for defense officials and congressional aides. About 20 percent of the jets must await spares in depots because suppliers can’t keep up with expanding production while fixing returned parts. "

  9. While I agree with most of your post, I feel that the title "Sequestration Is NOT the Problem" was misleading, is it implied "Sequestration Is NOT the" part of the current "Problem." The ongoing lack of funding has been responsible for lack of corrective measures. Therefore I like the title should read:

    "Sequestration Is NOT primary Problem"

    1. "The ongoing lack of funding has been responsible for lack of corrective measures."

      No. That's flat out wrong. The Navy's continued idiotic decisions are why we don't have funding for corrective measures. Continuing to fund and build LCS, Zumwalts, Fords, LPDs, F-35s is simply poor allocation of resources and has nothing to do with sequestration. Better decisions about where to put the budget would solve all the readiness and maintenance issues.

      You're right about one thing, though. The title should be changed. It should read, "Sequestration Is Not Even A Tiny, Tiny, Tiny Part Of The Problem".

      Here's the Navy budget since 2013, the year sequestration started:

      2013 $132B
      2014 $137B
      2015 $136B
      2016 $144B (highest ever!!!!)

      If you still think sequestration is the problem, you're not looking at the data or reality. That's okay, that's why I do this blog, so that the uninformed may learn!

  10. Great article, so sick of hearing about sequestration, i.e. not enough money, being the problem. While this article focused on the Navy, the same type of things have been happening with the Air Force, Army and Marines. Though Navy and Air Force are the worst offenders.

    1. A good reminder/point about the other services.


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