Monday, February 15, 2021

Blue/Gold Manning Model Is Fundamentally Flawed

If you want to learn how to invest your money successfully, would you go to learn from someone who went bankrupt or someone who made a million dollars?  I think it’s safe to say that all of us would choose to learn from the millionaire.  It’s pretty simple, really.  Learn from those who have succeeded.  With that in mind, I was struck by the following statement from Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, Commander of Naval Surface Forces.


… the service is working hard to take lessons learned from years of struggles with the LCS and ensure the upcoming frigate program can hit the ground running. (1)


Referring back to the investing example, do we really want to take lessons from the most flawed ship program in modern history and use them to guide the frigate program?  Wouldn’t it make far more sense to apply lessons from a successful program … of course, we don’t actually have a successful program to learn from, do we?  So, that’s a problem.  Still …


“When we started building [the] frigate, we looked a lot at LCS and what we can learn – for example, the way we train on LCS, train to qualify, is a really good model and we’re going to leverage that for FFG-62.” (1)

Admiral, are you sure you want to apply the same training program that resulted in almost every LCS that put to sea being sidelined with major propulsion system problems, many of which were blamed on training deficiencies?  I would also remind the good Admiral that the entire LCS manning and training model was deemed a complete and total failure, was abandoned, and now a new model is being implemented with no discernible positive results, as yet.


Now, I understand that it is possible to glean negative lessons – how not to do something – from a failed program and there’s nothing wrong with that but the Navy is not using the LCS experience to do that.  They’re doing the opposite by pulling flawed results out of the LCS program, branding them as positive lessons, and using them to mold the frigate program.  Can anyone see any problem with that?


Moving on …


The following statement is the heart of this post:


“And then the manning, we just looked at what we’ve done on LCS, the blue/gold concept, and how we’re going to fit them out. And we think that is probably the way to get the most presence” out of the frigate hulls. (1)


Again, let us recall that the LCS program originally concocted a bizarre 3 crews for 2 ships (3:2) manning model in an attempt to keep the LCS actively deployed for longer periods with the three crews rotating and shuffling between two ships.  That, of course, failed miserably as the Navy quickly found that maintenance was being ignored and problems were simply being passed on to the next rotational crew.  There was no pride of ownership (or consequence of ownership) and it showed in degraded ships.  Of course, there was also the problem that the Navy couldn’t get an LCS to deploy long enough to rotate crews.


None of that mattered, in the end, since one of the various LCS study groups ultimately decided that the highly trained crews were actually not well trained and were responsible for multiple major system failures.  The entire manning model was abandoned and a Blue/Gold (2:1) model was adopted whereby two crews would rotate on a single ship - of course, that doubles the effective crew size and totally negates one of the major claimed benefits and justifications for the LCS which was minimal manning but, I digress ...


Let’s consider the implications of a Blue/Gold manning scheme.  Even if perfectly executed and the result is longer ship deployments by using rotating Blue/Gold crews, there’s a fundamental flaw with the concept and that is that the ships will be deployed longer!  The blindingly obvious result of longer deployments is less maintenance and shorter service lives.  We’ve already seen the detrimental effect of longer deployments demonstrated repeatedly across all ship classes that have tried extended deployments.


For example, the carriers have been routinely double deployed and extended deployed and when they finally get maintenance time they’ve been invariably found to require far more maintenance than anticipated.  Carriers have been nearly doubling their maintenance times and it’s resulted in carriers sitting pier side for months on end waiting for their turn at maintenance while other carriers are forced to do even more double deployments which further exacerbates the problem – a vicious cycle, if ever there was one.


The Navy is engaged in a fundamental contradiction.  They claim to want extended ship service lives (40+ years) and yet they want extended deployments which means less maintenance, shorter service lives, and premature retirement.


What we should want is the opposite of Blue/Gold manning with multiple crews and maximally deployed ships.  Instead, we should want single crews and ships that are minimally deployed and maximally maintained and trained.  In fact, ComNavOps has argued against any deployments (see, “Deployments or Missions?”).


Unless adequate maintenance time is built into the manning model, as with SSBNs, the Blue/Gold manning model is just a premature retirement and scrapping model.


The Navy is drawing lessons from a failed LCS program and now seeks to apply those failures to the frigate program.  Someday, we’ll look back and wonder how the frigate program got so screwed up.  Well, the answer is it started here and now and it was painfully obvious why it happened:  the Navy turned to a failed program for guidance.  Failure begets failure.  Don’t duplicate and propagate failure, abandon it!







(1)USNI News website, “SWO Boss: Study Pushing Further Changes to LCS, Informing Frigate Manning Plans”, Megan Eckstein, 10-Jan-2021,


  1. Presume driver for two crews is for very high operational availability for "presence" missions, remember an earlier post of yours which understood the effect mainly a waste of time and just wear out the ships.

    Guessing built into the Navy as the seven fleet commanders compete to boost their ego by the higher number of ships they 'must' have on station.

  2. " . . . the Blue/Gold manning model is just a premature retirement and scrapping model." Maybe that's their intention?

  3. I can see a Blue/Gold manning scheme work only if all the required elements are fully designed into ship from the start and the ships are operated accordingly. But, instead of Blue/Gold manning, shouldn't we buy more ships instead? More ships allow for more presence around the world.

    1. @Fighting Irish. Do we really need more presence? What are we getting with all the current presence? Don't get me wrong, im all for showing the flag but what's are ROI? The good guys are ok without us and the bad guys are still doing bad things so is more presence the answer?

      As for crews, what really is the problem? Is it really lack of numbers, lack of training or leadership chasing the latest PowerPoint fade?!?

    2. Presence does have a way of deterring aggression and a way to build relationships with others. But, presence has to be done with specific goals in mind and not simply "show the flag" type deployments.

      But, a lack of ships is certainly part of the problem. Training is important, but what good is training when there is a shortage of commands to provide experience? Commands not just to train ship captains, but navigators, engineers, sensor operators, the whole lot.

    3. "Presence does have a way of deterring aggression"

      I've discussed this at length and pretty well proven that presence does NOT deter aggression. The same conclusion has been reached in scientific studies. For example, a Stimson Center study analyzed over 100 events since the end of the Cold War to look for deterrent effects of forward deployed forces and concluded there was deterrent effect. See, Deterrent Effect

      "a lack of ships is certainly part of the problem"

      If presence does NOT lead to deterrence then, logically, the number of ships is irrelevant.

    4. "I've discussed this at length and pretty well proven that presence does NOT deter aggression."

      As the Naval History and Heritage Command put it, "Forward presence is a central element of U.S. naval strategy. Since the earliest days of the republic, American forces have operated forward in peacetime and wartime. Forward operating naval forces have not, however, always been combat credible."

      And, as Robert Rubel wrote in a March 2015 article in Proceedings, "From the start of the Cold War until today, the United States has pursued a consistent maritime strategy: ring Eurasia with sea power to deter, contain, and help defeat aggression, provide options for national leadership during crises, reassure allies and friends, and generally support the global system of commerce and security."

      During the Cold War, we stationed hundreds of thousands of troops in Europe, supported by hundreds of aircraft, with dozens of ships operating between the Mediterranean to North for the sole purpose of protecting Western Europe from the Soviet Union. Since the end of the Korean War, we've maintained a significant military presence in South Korea deter another invasion from North Korea.

      I can't say for certain that the our troops prevented a Soviet invasion of Western Europe or another invasion of South Korea because as you said in your deterrence piece, it's impossible to prove a negative. Personally, I believe that is the case in both situations.

      Forward presence obviously can't deter all forms of aggression. Our forces in Europe didn't prevent Russia from invading Georgia in 2008 or annexing Crimea six years later. Nor, has it deterred Iran or North Korea from testing missiles and rattling their sabers at their neighbors.

      But, forward presence has a purpose, but with fewer than 300 ships, it's difficult to maintain. Which is why some ships have deployed for 8, 9, or 10 months at a time. So, in that sense, numbers do matter.

      Right now, our focus is pretty much all on China. But, what would happen if we reduced our presence the South China Sea. Would Taiwan be safe from an invasion? Would Japan face more interference from China? Would the sea lanes of commerce be threatened? And, what kind of influence would China be able to exert in the region and elsewhere?

      We need to be engaged in the world and a forward deployed Navy is required. But, as I said earlier, presence has to have a purpose.

    5. "Forward presence is a central element of U.S. naval strategy."

      That's correct. However, that does not necessarily make it valid. As a minor example, minimal manning has been a central tenet of US Navy organization and thought and yet it's been pretty thoroughly demonstrated to be a misguided

      Deterrence is one of those ideas that sounds great, in theory, but fails in practice. One of the major reasons why deterrence is so appealing to us and yet so unsuccessful is because it is based on the reactions of rational beings. What rational person wouldn't think twice when facing a superior force? The flaw in the concept is that most (all?) evil forces that we would apply deterrence to are not rational. Hitler was undeterred by the combined military might of Europe because he wasn't a rational person. NKorea and Iran have been undeterred because they are not led by rational people. Saddam Hussein was not deterred the threats of the US because he wasn't rational. Syria's Assad was not deterred from using chemical weapons despite the forward presence and threats of the US because he isn't a rational person. China has not been deterred from annexing the entire South China Sea because it is not led by rational people. I can go on with examples but you get the point. Threats, meaning deterrence, mean something to you and I but mean nothing to irrational people.

      In addition to the logic I just presented, I urge you to read the Stimson Center study that I referenced. It's quite compelling and very difficult to dismiss over 100 examples.

      Consider the example of China. China is engaged in the systematic looting of the world's intellectual property, wholesale cyber attacks on the US, annexing the E/S China Seas, violating territorial waters of its neighbors, engaging in genocide within its boundaries, ignoring UNCLOS tribunal rulings that it is signatory to, has seized multiple US military aircraft and drones, has made exorbitant EEZ claims that are unsupported by world legal standing, is engaged in routine annexation of foreign ports via bribery and financial blackmail, and so on. Where's the deterrence? Cleary, they do not feel deterred, in the least.

      "We need to be engaged in the world and a forward deployed Navy is required."

      This is a two part statement, only one of which is correct. We do need to be engaged in the world but a forward deployed Navy is not required. I defy you to provide examples where our forward deployed Navy has accomplished anything.

    6. "Right now, our focus is pretty much all on China. But, what would happen if we reduced our presence the South China Sea. Would Taiwan be safe from an invasion? Would Japan face more interference from China?"

      Those are two different types of questions. The first one is a straightforward military strategy question of how do we protect an ally from direct military action.

      The second one is vague. What kind of "interference" are we discussing?

      Are talking about military incursions or other military "bullying"? And if we deploy planes to Japan to stop aerial incursions, are we prepared to shoot and possibly start a war?

      Are we talking about commercial fishing incursions into Japanese territorial waters? Do we respond by deploying cutters and are we prepared to fire on a civilian fishing vessel?

      Are we talking about "soft" pressure such as China applies against US internet firms by restricting access to Chinese markets if they portray Taiwan as an independent nation? How does forward basing a CVBG in Japan prevent this sort of "interference?" Will we launch air strikes against China if they follow this policy against Japan?

      My point is that forward deploying a CVBG is a specific deterrent due to the implied threat to conduct military strikes against the party we are deterring.

      But even then, the deterrent value may not work if that value is not understood in terms of military capability. Deploying the Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor was supposed to be a deterrent to Japan, sending a strong signal to Japan. However, since the fleet (and the entire nation) wasn't really mentally prepared to go to war, all this accomplished was making it easier for the Japanese to strike the fleet.

    7. "Deterrence is one of those ideas that sounds great, in theory, but fails in practice."

      I don't believe that is always the case and submit the examples of our forces stationed in Europe and South Korea as examples of where deterrence successfully worked. But, for deterrence to work, it has to present a creadible threat to a potential adversary and one must be willing to use it once a threshold has been reached.

      In your example of Syria, the deterrance was Obama's implicit threat of using military force should Assad use chemical weapons against civilians. And, after Syria used chemical weapons, Obama never followed up. Instead, Obama relied on Putin's 11th-hour offer to remove Syria's chemical weapons. And, I would have supported Obama 100% had he thumped Syria like he should have done. Given what happened previously, Assad used chemical weapons again. Except this time, Trump thumped him one. You can argue about the success of the strike, but Trump, to his credit, did what was right.

      Other countries may act in way that we might consider irrational, but you have to look at things from their perspective. Hitler wasn't deterred by the armies of Western Europe (or Russia for that matter) because he had a strategy (i.e., Blitzkrieg) to deal with his enemies. And, inside of 2 months, Germany conquored Western Europe, capturing tens of thousands of troops, and put England on their heels.

      I'll try to read the Stimson Center report soon. But, sometimes dealing with other countries is like dealing with your kids. They do something wrong and you punish accordingly and if they do the same thing again, you threaten that punishment will be harder the next time. But, if they cross the line again and there is no follow up, they know they can get away with bad behavior.

      "I defy you to provide examples where our forward deployed Navy has accomplished anything."

      I'd go back to the Cold War where a forward deployed Navy was important element in containing Russia. And, I think, a forward deployed Navy in the Western Pacific today demonstrates our commitment to our allies in that region.

    8. "examples of our forces stationed in Europe"

      There is zero evidence that the Soviet Union ever planned to initiate an invasion of Europe. Post-collapse, we've still found no evidence that was ever a Soviet plan. They had extensive plans about guarding against and retaliating against NATO but there has never been a shred of evidence that they had any unprompted invasion plans. That being the case, we could have had zero troops deployed in Europe and it wouldn't have mattered. You can't deter what isn't going to happen.

      This is the difficulty in trying to prove a negative. We could just as validly say that our troops have deterred Canada from invading.

      NKorea is in the same situation. We have no evidence that they want to invade the South. Nor do we have any evidence that they don't. They are deterred, to the extent, if any, that they are, by SKorean forces not US forces. We do not have enough deployed in Korea to constitute a meaningful deterrent force.

      "I'd go back to the Cold War where a forward deployed Navy was important element in containing Russia. And, I think, a forward deployed Navy in the Western Pacific today demonstrates our commitment to our allies in that region."

      This is purely speculative and wishful thinking on your part. There is zero evidence that the Navy's presence has prevented anything, anywhere. This is the problem. The Navy has based its entire forward deployment philosophy on a theory that has zero evidence of ever having worked. We're wearing out ships, degrading readiness, and foregoing training all for the sake of a theory that has no evidence to back it up and, in fact, the opposite may be true that forward presence provokes war - see the post I did on Forward Presence - Deterrent or Provocation and which I linked in another comment.

    9. The Soviet overall strategy after the consolidation of Central Europe was to subjugate and subvert the third world, and hopefully crash the world order through this type of action, rather than directly confront America and Europe in a confrontation it might not win and could suffer immensely from; if we left why wouldn't they just treat Western Europe like the Baltics and Central Europe?

      I agree at present though we could have a more lax and readiness focused stance.

  4. Instead of having a ship with full crew available for a reasonable time, they have a ship with half the crew it should have available for double the time.

  5. Hmm...

    The LCS failures, to the point they can't sail for more than a few days, could have two possible causes:

    1. One or more captains, who are now 3 or 4 stars, could have made an error in the design of the ship overall and in approving the propulsion systems.

    2. All E4s are evil, lazy, and ill trained for not doing 20 hours of maintence a day, plus their watches, plus sleeping and eating.

  6. Was just discussing this elsewhere... Having multiple crews, yet chasing minimal manning is idiocy. Having a ship with a fully adequate crew, that can stand watches and do all the maintenance, while NOT working 80-100 hour weeks is whats needed. In fiddling with crewing levels, the Navy has created a situation that not only overworks the sailors, but makes gundecking of maintenance the norm. Not only are the sailors suffering, but the material condition of the ships is as well. The COCOMS need to be reigned in, useless deployments need to stop, and ships need to be fully crewed, probaly about 110%+ of whats "normal" now...

    1. I strongly agree with this. Strategy is about defining your high level goals in light of your available resources. And you never have enough resources in war. COCOMS are insulated from resource limitations so there isn't really a level of command that is directing which resources go where.

      I sort of understand how we got to this point, in that the services tend to hoard resources for their pet plans (a la Operation Watchtower) and generally don't play great with each other (aka continual competing for budget resources).
      So we come up with a COCOM structure where the commander is supposed to be "service agnostic". But now the problem is just in a different area as the COCOMs compete for scarce resources in their geographic areas rather than by service type.

      And as long as the primary institutional goal is a bigger budget (both at a service but also DoD level), there is ultimately no pushback to force hard decisions about resource allocation. In the end, they can always go plead directly to Congress or the voters ("the hollow military").

      And that is what ultimately frustrates me with the Navy and other services; they don't see stuff like the LCS as a "failure" in that they don't really get penalized for it and can always use it to justify asking for more money.

      I was going to say that this will change when the shooting starts, but even outright military failure (Vietnam, Iraq) don't really have an impact on the military either as an institution ($$$ and number of command slots) or individually. The US military learned to avoid the Westmoreland scenario so no one has their name directly attached to the failure (Iraq, LCS, F-35, etc.)

    2. "I was going to say that this will change when the shooting starts, but even outright military failure (Vietnam, Iraq) don't really have an impact on the military either as an institution ($$$ and number of command slots) or individually. The US military learned to avoid the Westmoreland scenario so no one has their name directly attached to the failure (Iraq, LCS, F-35, etc.)"

      I would argue that these wars are not good wake up calls that we needed to revise an institution. A war with China, a war that bring in question of our own survival will have the civilian side filters out the BS and purge incompetents throughout the military. It has always happened with high-end wars and I have no reasons to believe it won't happen again. Now on other hand, I do believe that the initial fighting (which likely trigger this purge) will be extremely costly as our easily-damaged high-tech infrastructure broke down. It's just a shame that good people will have to die for this to happen...

    3. Not sure I would agree "it has always happened". For example, I would argue that in WW2, King, McNair, and MacArthur should have been relieved of command or at least shuffled out of their command position for incompetence/failure:

      -MacArthur for being surprised by the initial Japanese attack and his disastrous logistical and troop deployment.

      -King for his active neglect of the Battle of the Atlantic plus his constant squabbling with the other JCS.

      -McNair for his disastrous doctrinal and technical positions.

    4. "Not sure I would agree "it has always happened"."

      The author of the comment didn't mean that every single incompetent person was relieved in every war. He clearly meant that the phenomenon of having to replace peacetime leaders has always been a part of the opening shock and adjustment that accompanies any war. In WWII, for example, there was extensive replacement of peacetime leaders with more aggressive, capable war time leaders.

    5. A good point CNO. And while certain WW2 US commanders really get my dander up, that doesn't negate the larger and more general point lpnam9144 was correctly making.

    6. When (not if!) we go to war with China, there will be some pretty wholesale replacements of uniformed leadership given the degree of incompetence our current leadership exhibits on non-combat issues. The cycle repeats. This has all happened before and it will all happen again.

  7. Its simple, one ship with one crew. Anything else is a poorly thought out PR or buzzword selling point.

  8. I could see this with a really small ship / boat. Especially if its a force protection detail for an unmanned platform. Beyond that the machine and the crew are a team who need to know each other intimately.

  9. Navy has recognized LCS' failure by retiring them earlier than planned. Unfortunately, due to the military industry complex, navy cannot get rid of them in one go. Pentagon has also conned Saudi to buy them so to reduce loss of the military industry complex. Maintain a lemon ship frequently cost more than buy a new one. If a handgun maker can con you to spend $1,000 annually to make sure your gun can fire, what a great business. Thanks to your Congressmen, people you voted with your hearts to help the military industry complex by insisting LCS must remain in Navy and must be ready to XXXX at any time.

    All nations make mistakes. Key is how fast and deep which you can correct your mistake.

    LCS is a strategic blunder and designed to fight weak nations. Apparently, this kind of strategic thinking is a mistake.

  10. Its a practical plan to keep a ship fully manned. The Navy only reaches 90& manning because of continuous failures at personnel management. Then you have 10% of crew ashore for family emergency and legal holds or out-processing. For the female crew, most will be gone for the standard three year pregnancy exception (pregnant, one year leave after birth, another year for family time or pregnant again.) Then senior commands tap some people for "temporary" special duty off ship. So each of the two crews only have half deployable, and you combine them by abusing hardworking single men by keeping them deployed during their entire four year tour, yet you get double the career positions for officers (CO and XO).

    1. This is exactly the kind of well-thought, robust model that will be useful in war.

  11. To prevent future diester like LCS, Pentagon can learn from its chief rival - China. Use type 052 destroyer as an example. China first built only 2 type 052 destroyer, then 2 052B, then 6 type 052C, once they satisfy, they start mass building type 052D which is still in production today (type 055 is a different cluster).

    They didn't build 052B right after first 052 had completed but tested and used 052 for a while to find out issues.

    Rather than award a big contract, Pentagon should build 2, let Navy use them and send feedback, then, decide next step.

  12. The Blue/Gold concept has worked successfully for the SSBN's for decades. Why didn't it work with the LCS? Simple: The SSBN's it more than just two crews.

    The sub pulls into port, there are maintenance units waiting dockside to do the repairs of anything that cropped up in in the patrol and turn the boat around in a set period of time. Think of them as a car race pit crew.

    With the LCS's, you had the two crews who were also suppose to take care of the overhaul all by themselves. They are short manned to begin with and this just made it worse.

    1. Another difference is that the SSBNs have a mission and a CONOPS tat they are actually designed to do. At this point does anybody know what an LCS is actually designed to do?

    2. Another difference is that the SSBNs have a mission and a CONOPS tat they are actually designed to do. At this point does anybody know what an LCS is actually designed to do?

    3. Not sure if the overhaul part is correct, my understanding is the contractor is responsible for periodic maintenance and upgrades (which should covers overhaul). The two crews are seemingly responsible for nothing in the original concept, and now they are somewhat responsible for cleaning and quick repairs. There are problems with the LCS but I am not sure this is one of them.

  13. Sorry off topic, but just read this.
    From the outside it seems crazy. I would have though with an amphib as a mother ship these would be far more effective than an LCS (in its current state) at a lower cost. If you want presence off the coast of say Iran they would really keep them on their toes. Small, zooming around at 45 knots, popping up without warning. And if one was lost it is alot cheaper then and LCS or destroyer in both $ and sailors.
    just a thought. Anyway they might be going cheap so it would be a nice buy for us on the other side of the pond to get some of them.

    1. Plus, if they keep AH-1Z aboard and would give the ships similar ability for guided rockets and missiles they could provide a longer endurance presence. I think their downfall is having no multi-day accommodation like the Coast Guard Protectors.

  14. "LCS study groups ultimately decided that the highly trained crews were actually not well trained"

    This is a culture problem. Do we know that many high school graduates are not well trained? Yes, we do but it is politically incorrect to say the truth publicly. Navy has no difference. If training officers enforce standard in training, not only tons of complaints from crews, these actions will expose Navy's deep problems. So, Navy training officers just pretend "so far so good".

    This is also how we see many even college graduates don't have basic knowledge. Doesn't supposedly their colleges should fail them in schools?

    1. Lowered standards will do that do any institution.

      There is no will to say "No, you're not good enough" or "Not everyone deserves to win".

    2. "Not everyone deserves to win".

      Its not that hard. My daughters do competitive dance. They stopped getting participation trophies for the actual competitive teams at say 6 or so (except for the part time not team dancers - who only practice one routine and generally have no shot at winning). There is a fair amount grim faces after a competition. Does not seem to break them or anything to be told today you were just not the best or second best or third...

      Same for Kendo if my daughter is off and not focused the result is a set of bruises and probably running around the gym the whole time. If you are not focused on the lesson he will bring the hammer err sword down hard because you are wasting his time.

  15. But two crews allows so much more time for sensitivity training.

    We've got a whole Navy that knows how to sing Kumbaya. Driving ships and putting warheads on foreheads, not so many.

  16. I'm reminded of a story that a reservist friend who was recalled to active duty for Desert Storm told. He got to MidEastFor in time for planning of the operation. Among the planning guidance they got for Schwartzkopf was, "If you aren't sure about something, figure out what we would have done in Vietnam and do something else." If we use the LCS in that way, it might be useful.


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