How many times have I said it? Before you build a ship you spell out a concept of operations (CONOPS). Well, the Navy has violated that simple requirement yet again and now we’re seeing the Navy flounder yet again, trying to figure out how to use a ship. This time it’s the Afloat Forward Staging Base, USNS Lewis B. Puller, which is replacing the USS Ponce – yes, I know, the Navy is resorting to another of their gimmicks to try to make the size of the fleet appear larger by commissioning the Puller into the Navy instead of residing in the Military Sealift Command where all other similar ships and, in fact, its sister ship reside. That aside …
The floundering is highlighted in what was, no doubt, intended to be a celebratory article on the USNI News website (1) about the arrival of Puller to the 5th Fleet. Read the following snippets and you’ll get a sense that the Navy has a ship with no pre-defined role and is desperately searching for something it can do. The ship’s Captain appears to have been tasked with trying to “sell” the ship to the rest of the Navy/Marines and find something for it to do.
“… Femino [Capt. Joseph Femino, commanding officer of Puller’s gold crew] said the ship has been busy working with Marines, special operations forces (SOF) and even French amphibious forces to learn how Puller could best support other naval platforms.”
“… Marines put a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) platoon on the ship to start learning their way around the ESB.”
“The U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) force surgeon has visited the ship to look into possible medical applications.”
“In October, a SOF team came out to practice fast-rope drills from their helicopters onto the flight deck and to learn how to bring their small boats onto the Puller mission bay with the ship’s crane.”
“Work with the mine countermeasures community is moving a bit more slowly – even though the
then Puller were initially requested by 5th Fleet specifically to
support the MCM mission – but the crew have been aboard to assess the mission
planning spaces and other assets Puller could provide.” Ponce
“This ship is a blank canvas. Whoever wants to come assess what they want, develop what they want, we’ll work to try and get that,” Femino said …”
A “blank canvas”??? Seriously? It’s not supposed to be. You’re supposed to have a detailed CONOPS and be working on implementing it – not looking around for something to do.
“Femino said there has also been an element of just trying something and seeing if it works. “People bring their things and let’s see how they fit. And then if we need to modify then we’ll modify,” he said.”
There’s an element “of just trying something”???? This is a ship looking for something to do because it didn’t have a CONOPS.
“[Femino] made clear, “we are not an amphib. … The question is, how can we enable the amphibs to do things better?”
Question? There aren’t supposed to be any questions about the function of the ship. The CONOPS is supposed to have spelled that all out.
When asked what they needed to do to better utilize the ship, Capt. Femino responded
“… address the mine countermeasures mission in a more meaningful way; figure out how to work alongside an Amphibious Ready Group and embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit, rather than bringing smaller groups of Marines onboard Puller itself … “
|AFSB Puller - Does Anyone Need Me?|
Mine countermeasures (MCM) was supposedly the main function of the vessel and yet the Navy is trying to figure out what to do with the ship in that role???? This is what a CONOPS is for! You’re supposed to already know what you want to do and how you’re going to do it. Sure, you’ll still have to figure out which line to throw over which pulley but the basic concept is supposed to have been worked out years ago! Instead, MCM is “moving a bit more slowly” and the ship’s Captain is trying to address MCM “in a more meaningful way”. The Navy hasn’t got a clue what to do with this. There was, clearly, no CONOPS and no one was prepared to do anything with the vessel. Didn’t we learn a thing from the LCS debacle which lacked a CONOPS and now no one knows what to do with them? Apparently not!
“On the MCM mission, “we’ve done a little bit of work with mine warfare, but quite frankly we haven’t really [fleshed] out all of the mine warfare,” Femino said …”
Again, MCM was supposed to be the main function!
“The reason there was an RFF, the reason they created
was I believe for a request for forces (RFF) to support the mine
countermeasures process,” he said …” Ponce
The Captain of the ship isn’t completely sure what the purpose of the ship is although he “believes” it was to support MCM. If there was a CONOPS, he’d know what the ship’s purpose is.
“Also on the to-do list, though, is working with the Avenger-class MCM ships in 5th Fleet to see if Puller could help refuel them or support them in any other way.”
It’s on the to-do list to see if the ship can support MCM Avengers? Again, that should have been spelled out, one way or the other, in the CONOPS!
It gets even more unbelievable.
“The skipper said he’d also like to work with a carrier at some point, but that overall he has to balance working with a lot of different potential customers versus becoming proficient at working with some of them.”
So, the Captain wants to work with everyone even if that means not becoming proficient at any one thing? Wasn’t the ship, like every other ship, built to be extremely proficient at one main function? I guess not. That’s what happens when you don’t have a CONOPS.
Again, you get the distinct impression that the Captain was told to go find a mission.
The Navy is incapable of learning any lessons and this – to develop a CONOPS before designing and building a ship – is one of the most basic. We have absolute idiots leading the Navy.
(1)USNI News website, “USNI News Video: Sea Base USS Lewis B. Puller Finding Its Way in 5th Fleet”, Megan Eckstein,