Saturday, May 1, 2021

Requirements Drift

In theory, an acquisition program, be it aircraft, ship, software, or whatever, lays out a set of requirements, locks them in, designs the product to those requirements, and then produces the product.  In reality, the Navy constantly alters the requirements all the way through the design and construction phases which leads, inexorably, to massive cost overruns and schedule delays.  However, for the sake of this discussion, we’ll ignore that reality and consider the ideal acquisition process.


Having produced a product that meets the requirements, that product then enters service and, if the requirements were well designed, the product winds up being reasonably useful and productive because it meets requirements that are relevant to the fleet’s needs – a win all the way around.


Let’s consider requirements.  Even in the best case, where the requirements were reasonably and logically established and meet actual needs, the needs – and hence, requirements – begin changing the day after they’re established.  Why?  This isn’t a trick question.  The answer is obvious.  Threats change, circumstances change, technology changes, geopolitical strategies change, and, therefore, the needs of the fleet change on a daily basis.  The longer the time span from the locking in of the requirements to the time of entering service, the greater the deviation will be between the design requirements and the current requirements.  Thus, the longer the time span from the locking in of the requirements to the time of entering service, the more pronounced the loss of applicability and usefulness of the product will be relative to the current requirements. 


The blindingly obvious conclusion from the preceding is that we must do everything possible to minimize the time between locking in of acquisition requirements and entry into service.  The shorter the time span, the greater the usefulness of the product.


To illustrate what happens when we fail to minimize that time span, consider the example of the F-35.  Conceptual design and, hence, the process of establishing requirements, began as far back as 1993 with the establishment of the Joint Advanced Strike Technology program and prototype construction contracts were awarded in 1996.  Thus, requirements were being locked in as early as the early to mid 1990’s.  It is now thirty years later and the F-35 is just now entering service and has yet to achieve full combat status as provided by Block 4 software and a functional ALIS support program.  Without a doubt, requirements have changed drastically over the intervening thirty years.  What might have been an applicable, useful, and capable aircraft if it had been fielded twenty years ago has become a marginally applicable, barely useful aircraft that is ill-suited for the Pacific/Chinese challenge we face today.  The time span between establishment of requirements and entry into service was too long for the aircraft to retain applicability and usefulness.


Now consider the example of the WWII F6F Hellcat.  The contract for the prototype XF6F-1 Hellcat was issued in 1941 and the Hellcat entered fleet service two years later in 1943.  The Hellcat was relevant and useful because the time frame between requirements and service was short.


Well, sure, the Hellcat could be quickly fielded because the technology was so primitive.  Okay, how about a more modern example? 


The Grumman F-14 Tomcat contract was issued to Grumman in 1969.  First flight occurred in 1970 and Initial Operating Capability was declared in 1973.  First deployment occurred in 1974.  The Tomcat went from design (requirements locked) to deployment in 5 years.  The Tomcat was relevant and useful because the requirements were still applicable thanks to the short time frame.  The Tomcat was every bit as advanced for its time as the F-35.  We’ve just forgotten how to produce aircraft (or anything else!) in short, relevant time frames.  Can we still produce aircraft quickly?  Of course we can!  See, “How To Build A Better Aircraft”.


Lest anyone think that the lag between requirements and service is only an aircraft issue, the same concerns apply to ships. 


The LCS, for example, was conceptualized in the 1990’s and requirements were locked in in the 2003-4 time frame.  Now, 12-17 years or so later, as the vessels are entering service and the Navy looks to actually employ the ship, the requirements have changed so much that the LCS is nearly useless - of course, a total absence of useful modules doesn’t help!  The 12-17 year lag between requirements and entry into service proved too long and the ship had no role by the time it was completed.  The littoral combat role it was intended for had vanished to be replaced by a Pacific/China focus that the LCS was entirely unsuited for.


Another example is the Zumwalt whose conceptual origins date back to the SC-21 program in 1994 and, subsequently, the DD-21 program whose requirements were being locked in via a 1997 Operational Requirements Document and an Advanced Development Memorandum.   Many of these requirements eventually carried over to what became the Zumwalt program.  Final requirements were set by 2005 when the detailed design phase began.  Now, 16 years later, the Zumwalt, the lead ship of the class, has just completed the final combat systems installation and is undergoing final testing.  There’s no rush, of course, because the ship no longer has a purpose and the Navy is relegating the ship to experimental unmanned squadron testing – of course, the utter failure of the Advanced Gun System didn’t help!  The 16-27 year lag between requirements and entry into service proved too long and the ship had no role by the time it was completed.  The littoral combat/bombardment role that the Zumwalt was intended for had vanished to be replaced by an open ocean, naval warfare need directed towards China and for which the Zumwalt was unsuited.





What we learn from this is that the time between requirements and entry into service is, arguably, the most important factor in determining whether a ship or aircraft will prove useful.  An asset, no matter how well conceptualized and designed, will lose relevance with every day that passes after the requirements are set.  It is imperative that the lag between establishment of requirements and entry into service be minimized.  We need to recall the example of the F-14 development time frame and relearn how to quickly produce new ships and planes.


Contemplating the various programs that have come and gone over the last few decades, a very good argument can be made that any lag period that exceeds 5 years from requirements to service will result in an asset that is highly likely to have lost the majority of its usefulness.  Recognition of this constraint mandates that we abandon our fascination with attempting to build in non-existent, fantasy level technology and, instead, stick to existing technologies – a theme ComNavOps has repeatedly preached. 


  1. With the JSF (what led to the F-35), I think the saying, "Best is the enemy of good enough," applies. The F-35 could've simply used the F-22's engine, which is optimized for high speed, high altitude flight, at the cost of fuel efficiency; but the services demanded one optimized for low altitude and high fuel efficiency, forcing delays as a new engine was designed and debugged. The F-35 could've used the same gun as the F-22, but the services demanded a new one, forcing delays as a new gun was designed and debugged. The F-35 could've...

    The F-35 would've entered service faster, if it was actually "future-proofed" to accept new technology at a later date, and was able to use legacy systems at the time it entered service. Instead, the USAF, USN, and USMC demanded all-new, all-different systems, forcing delays upon the program.

    1. Also decouple the B version from the other two. Doing that will give you a plane without all the tradeoffs. You might even get a better B version too.

    2. On top of technical failure, F-35 has a fatal problem - strategic blunder.

      While F-35 was developed, they are developed to fight regional powers as there was no pal to US air power then. These regional powers don't have strong air force nor advanced radar. Their fighter jets are also quite limited. F-35 can conduct sneak attacks. Although F-35's internal weapon bays can only carry two AIM-120, it is enough for sneak attack on nations with weak air powers.

      China, China, China ... its rise is too fast for US to adjust.

      While F-35 is good for sneak attack, in defensive fight (for instance, US base in Japan), there is not much advantages. Its low fire power becomes a problem. Yes, F-35 can hang missiles under wings but its stealthy would be gone. Worse, unlike F-15 designed to hanging weapons under wings, F-35 was designed fly with "clean" shape. This means its aerodynamic would be much worse after hanging weapons under wings.

      Let's use an example - special force like Army Delta and Navy Seal are very useful in anti-terrorism fights but facing another strong army, you need tanks and artilleries.

      F-35's strategic blunder is like LCS and DDG-1000, all designed to fight regional power than another US pal.

    3. "F-35 has a fatal problem - strategic blunder."

      No. The F-35 was NOT a strategic blunder since the Chinese threat didn't exist at the time the F-35's design was conceived. One can legitimately argue that the F-35's design was appropriate, AT THAT TIME. The flaw in the F-35 program was the extreme amount of time that has passed between the requirements definition and entry into service, WHICH WAS THE POINT OF THE POST. There was no strategic design blunder; there was a speed of entry into service blunder. You need to re-read and understand the post.

    4. Arguably part of the problem is that the F-35 hews more closely to Air Force wants than the Navy, because the Air Force is the majority client.

      As an F-16 replacement, the F-35 appears an attractive proposition from the kinematics, range and systems perspective. If reports are to be believed, it can perform sustained turns as good as an F-16, has superior instantaneous turn and twice the Angle of Attack, more internal fuel than an F-16 with drop tanks and conformal fuel tanks, and has ECM and targeting systems built in, vs the F-16 that needs to carry LANTRIN pods and ECM pods. F-35s carrying internal bombs have been dogfighting with air force aggressors, and reportedly have given a good accounting of themselves, with the aggressors sending clean F-16s to dogfight F-35s.

      Note the operative phrase: "as an F-16 replacement."

    5. "as an F-16 replacement."

      I won't debate your assessment of the F-35 combat performance versus the F-16 because I have no actual data. Anecdotal stories abound and place the performance all over the map. I would offer two thoughts to build on your 'F-16 replacement' concept.

      1. If your replacement concept is valid - meaning, if that's really what the AF wanted out of the F-35 - then we paid a butt-ton of money to get an aircraft that, under the right circumstances, is as good as an F-16 or, maybe, somewhat better. Is that really a good value for that amount of money?

      2. Arguably, the key characteristic of the F-16 was price. It was a cheap, 'filler' aircraft intended to flesh out the ranks and provide the quantity end of the quantity-quality equation. That being the case, the F-35 is a miserable failure as it is the farthest thing from cheap and, therefore, cannot be the readily available 'filler' aircraft.

      I don't know what the AF's true intent was at the beginning of the F-35 program but if it was as a F-16 replacement, I would have to say it's a failure. If, as I've often heard it expressed, it was as a lower cost complement to the F-22, as opposed to a direct F-16 replacement, then it's a partial success in that it's a dumbed down complement to the F-22 but at a huge cost.

      I think some/much of the 'F-16 replacement' concept and similar ideas of the role and intent of the F-35 are after-the-fact rationalizing rather than the actual, original intent. Of course, other than assessing how closely the F-35 hewed to its original intent, it doesn't really matter and is largely an academic matter. What matters is what it can do, now. Unfortunately, if what it can do is match or somewhat surpass an F-16, that's poor value for the dollar.

    6. As far as I recall, the Air Force has always publicly stated its intent for the F-35 to replace the F-16 and the A-10. According to Flight International's World Air Forces 2019, the USAF had 790 F-16s and 287 A-10s in service; the USAF's planned F-35 orders would result in a 1:1 replacement of A-10s and a 2:1 replacement of F-16s, increasing the tactical aviation fleet. (This assumes that the USAF continues its history of prioritising airframe procurement over spares, such as with the F-15 and F-16 procurement in the 80s, which was a contributing factor to low readiness prior to Desert Storm, so argued by "Revolt of the Iron Majors.")

      While the F-16's low price was definitely an attractive factor in its worldwide procurement sucess, that came because the F-16 was a "no-frills" fighter. The problem is that the F-16C Block 50 today isn't the same beast as the F-16A Block 5 in 1985, what with all the additional systems carried: it's moved away from the low scale of the mix to somewhere in the middle. With the present state of the battlefield, that's the cost of doing business: the cheap no-frills F-16A dropping iron bombs isn't survivable or a viable weapon on the battlefield anymore. And when we look at F-16 upgrade variant programs... well, there's not that much growth margin left on the aircraft, and you don't really save that much money vs the F-35.

      It's got sensor fusion, more fuel, more range, more weapons load, better sensors, onboard self defense ECM, onboard targeting pod, all hardpoints can be purposed to weapons carriage, stealth... all I'm saying is that to the Air Force, it ticks their boxes. They want a better F-16, they got a better stealth F-16. It's not the first time this has happened; the F-22 essentially boils down to "a better stealth F-15."

      My argument is really that what the Air Force wants is not the same as what the Navy wants, and requirements-wise, the F-35 is more of what the Air Force wanted. To the USMC, the F-35B is such an improvement over the Harrier that they'll take it.

      Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if the timing had been different - as I understand things, the USAF and USMC were exploring a joint light fighter at the same time the Navy was exploring a new strike fighter, and Clinton's SecDef directed that the programs be merged.

    7. Speaking of the whole "better F-16" concept, I'm reminded of an old salt F-16 pilot's remarks on it from the 80s: "I've been flying the F-16 for the last 30 years, they just hadn't invented it yet!" In the sense that the F-16 was a better F-4/F-86/F-100/F-105/F-106 etc.

    8. With regards to F-35 and strategic blunder, some analysts such as Australia's Carlo Kopp were actively writing about China's military aspirations in the 1990s. I thought they were paranoid, but it turns out they just had foresight.

      Note that by mid 2000s the Chinese were clearly aspiring to something more than mere defence of the homeland. By this stage they had also met with Russia's Putin and openly declared that the world needs to be split into regions of influence/control instead of US designed and led world order.

      But this was ignored by US administrations right up to election of Donald Trump. A new more Pacific orientated fighter could have been approved at any stage. Instead they continued with the F-35 and stuck their head in the sand.

      And arguably the USAF still hasn't acknowledged that the power balance in the Western Pacific has changed massively.

      Ironically a long range "Pacific" fighter would have also been useful for the USAF whose ancient tankers are increasingly vulnerable (and given issues with KC-46 the USAF itself describes as a lemon) and given proliferation of long range missiles that threaten many European bases.

  2. Fail fast is the best part of agile and I don't have a lot of good things to say about agile. I am all for putting non breakthrough items together in more useful combinations inside 4 year cycles. Moonshots need to take longer, but don't tie the whole show to them until they are ready to star.

  3. " the time between requirements and entry into service is, arguably, the most important factor in determining whether a ship or aircraft will prove useful."

    Exactly. Even on commercial products, this applies as long development time ends to see competitors' products entering market with better performance thus ...

    Sadly, China's J-20 has demonstrated a fast development - from Jan. 11, 2011 maiden flight to entered service in March 2017.

    Last year, China gave the design team a tech award for its achievement of very high lift coefficient (above 2.0), which exceeds all US fighter jets. While exploit its benefits, they overcame canard frame's shortfalls. US rarely uses canard aerodynamic structure because of having powerful engines.

    1. Canards induce aerodynamical instability, making the resulting aircraft highly maneuverable, but also challenging for fly-by-wire systems; these challenges delayed the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafael, and Chengdu J-10's entry to service. The USAF and USN apparently feels the benefits aren't worth tackling the challenges- the requirements drift ComNavOps mentioned, have caused enough delays.

    2. Had nothing to do with aerodynamics but LO, canards aren't very good for stealth....I never heard that the canards had any reason for delays for Typhoon or Rafale being late or troubled, both had demonstrators ACX and EAP that did fine.

  4. "The Grumman F-14 Tomcat contract was issued to Grumman in 1969."

    To be fair, a lot to design work was done before Grumman won the contract to build the F-14 in January 1969. And, as Wiki notes, "the Navy skipped the prototype phase and jumped directly to full-scale development" which shortened the time between the contract award to first flight in December 1970. This is an acceptable approach providing your requirements are well thought out and your technology risks are low.

    1. "To be fair"

      To be fair, nothing! That's how the process is suppose to work and how it's always worked in the past. Before we went to producing a single aircraft every 30 years, we produced lots of aircraft on a regular basis and it was in the manufacturer's best interest to continually develop new designs, test in house, develop technologies, and even build prototypes because they knew they had a good chance to get a production contract. It's only since we've gone to one aircraft every 30 years that it's become unproductive and non-profitable for the manufacturers to do extensive in-house work prior to a contract.

      'Fair' has nothing to do with it. That was the standard practice. You/we've grown up with a system so badly broken that we now think it's normal and that processes from back in the 70's were somehow atypical or unusual. Today is what's atypical and unusual !

      "This is an acceptable approach providing your requirements are well thought out and your technology risks are low."

      You say this as if it's risky. Good requirements that are locked in and the use of proven technology is ALWAYS the best approach, as I've harped on continuously and relentlessly and will continue to do. Again, the fact that you think this approach is risky or unusual is yet more evidence that you/we've grown up with a broken system and now think it's normal.

    2. Grumman had been working on the F-111B for several years so they were familiar with swing wing, the radar/fire control systems, and engines. Having all that was half the battle. They needed an airframe that was really carrier capable and didn't fly like a truck.

    3. "Having all that was half the battle."

      Having some development already done does not guarantee fast entry into service. For example, after having developed and produced the F-22, Lockheed already had experience with stealth design, sensors, maneuverability, internal weapons packaging, etc. and so the F-35 should have been a very quick development and entry into service and yet it's been decades and we're still waiting for fully combat capable F-35s.

      So, there's far more to rapid entry into service than just pre-existing knowledge, although that can't hurt.

    4. "So, there's far more to rapid entry into service than just pre-existing knowledge, although that can't hurt."

      The F-14 didn't have growing pains? Some 36 F-14As crashed or were lost in its first 5 years of service. And, the F-14 really didn’t come into its own until the late-80's with the improved engines and avionics on the D model.

    5. "The F-14 didn't have growing pains?"

      Did someone say it didn't or do you really not know? Does this have anything to do with the post topic?

    6. If your going to cite the F-14 as an example going from locking down requirements to deployment in 5 years, then you should tell the larger story of how Grumman got there. And, that larger story includes Grumman's previous work on the F-111, the reliance on existing TF-30 engines, moving directly to full scale development, and Grumman's long history of building naval aircraft.

  5. Agree with CNO on this one, just go back and look at some of the "revolutionary" designs that were being developed and produced in the 50s, 60s and I would say still in the 70s and how fast they did it. I posted before the USS Enterprise carrier timeline, it seems impossible to imagine that it went into service that fast!

    1. The Enterprise was the one-off developmental ship, followed on by the eminently successful Nimitz-class.

      Another one that comes to mind was the USS Wichita which was basically a test ship that was then followed by the 17 Baltimores and Oregon Cities.

      Then you look at the Ford, LCSs and Zumwalt...problems galore and full steam ahead on more hulls before the first ones are proven to work.

  6. I believe CDR Chip stated having multiple defense contractors, with competition forcing each one forced to do their best, allowed the US to get "more bang for its buck" during the Cold War.

    Maybe defense acquisitions reform should support multiple companies to foster such competition again. My proposal: The company responsible for the losing design, gets to manufacture the winning design under license. This prevents the loser from going out of business, but the reduced profit margins (due to the licensing fee) still forces it to do its best, sustaining a spirit of competition.

    It sadly won't help if the very concept behind a defense program, is hopelessly flawed (see the LCS); but it could've reduced some of the trouble the US military had with replacing the KC-135 Stratotanker, the T-38 Talon, the F-16 and F/A-18, etc.

  7. "The company responsible for the losing design, gets to manufacture the winning design under license."

    Of course, a savvy manufacturer might opt to submit a crap design with no real expenditure on their part knowing that they'll get a free contract award, under license, and still make money. The winner, having expended huge sums of money competing, might well end up making less money, in the end!

    Or, every company might decide to make a minimal effort and take the easy license route and then we'd have no good design!

    Just a couple possible scenarios to think about. In general, rewarding a company for failure is bad policy. I've described exactly how to re-invigorate our aircraft and shipbuilding industries without resorting to gimmicks and propping up losers.

    I would also point out that the LCS did what you're describing by allowing both companies to enter production and it turned out to be a disaster although, to be fair, there was a LOT wrong with the LCS program other than just the manufacturers.

    1. I believe after the disastrous A-12 Avenger II program, laws were passed to forbid defense contractors from investing their own money in R & D. And "loser" is relative- Boeing has the technical knowledge and industrial capacity to manufacture F-35s, but Titan Aircraft and other kit plane manufacturers do NOT, and shouldn't be allowed to submit proposals, anyways.

    2. "laws were passed to forbid defense contractors from investing their own money in R & D"

      That seems highly unlikely. Do you have a reference?

  8. I honestly prefer the experimenting style of submarine development in the 50s-60s. It made so much sense operationally and technologically, isolating the variables and making sure any issues arise isn't the technology itself. If we had follow this path, we would have realized the AGS doesn't work, the LCS proposed modules has to be scaled down drastically and finally, the F-35 should have been bought in singles until we got to block 4 and then we start the ACTUAL FRP. It may not have solved the theoretical requirements issue with the program but we get the choice to stop that program (and reap the benefits from it) then start a new one that reflects actual combat requirements. I don't know if the Army was aiming for this but they seems to go down this path.

  9. I see one problem that hasn't been mentioned here. Especially for ships but maybe for aircraft (at least recently) as well. Even if you put the ship in service within 5 years of requirements, if the ship has a service life measured in decades (even if only 2 rather than 3 or 4 decades), then after a decade or so the requirements will have shifted and the ship will be just as obsolete.

    1. An argument for my contention that ships should have a 15-20 year service life.

  10. For example, consider the LCS. Even if it had been in full production and with full function in 2008, it would still be unsuitable now.

    1. As it would have been in 2008.

    2. "As it would have been in 2008."

      Because the requirements were never valid. Or, rather, the requirements had nothing to do with combat. The LCS was conceived not as a response to warfighting needs but to the perceived threat to Navy budgets resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fear, by the Navy, that their budget would be cut since we lacked a naval threat. Thus, the Navy created the 'littoral' threat to justify new ships. This is also why the Navy committed to 55 LCS instantly. They were desperate to get a program 'on the books' and get funding started. In this respect, the LCS was a pretty good success, from the Navy's twisted point of view.

      As we discuss the LCS, it is important to keep in mind the real 'CONOPS' or reason for existence of the LCS. It wasn't combat; it was budget preservation and in that, it succeeded.

  11. Requirement drifts also happen in commercial world, frequently, also arise from R&D not fast enough. For instance, if you design a mobile phone, your competitor come out with new function, than, you face a problem to add it into your design or let competitor to have a better product.

  12. There are 3 problems with "Modern" acquisition.

    First is the people that are put into the process. They are not experienced and are just looking to make a mark for their Career. Even if they are sent to DAU, you cannot in 6 months learn the the intelligent application of the systems. Worse all they want to do is make "their" program the biggest, sexist, thing ever to hit the seas, BECAUSE that is what gets them promoted. There is no glory or promotion in keeping the project as your predecessor had it if it is good enough.

    Second is the consolidation of the defense companies as alluded to. By going to only defense work and reducing the number of big companies to about 3, there is no incentive to fund internal R&D. That is why it is start ups, or DARPA, that come up with the new ideas. Also because the companies are so big they are really just financial holding companies for the different sectors and the only thing a holding company cares about is the P&L statement, stock price, and bonuses.

    Third, no one seriously studies strategy and tactics and the effect practical technology has on them. All that is done is superficial studies that claim to show that revolutionary gains can be made if we have something that can reach X miles and go so fast that we right now can't figure out how to stop it. There are no groups that produce the set of features that each weapon or platform has to have to be most effective. We have talked about it here many times. Examples like, take a hit and be able to keep on fighting, have reliable components, be able to generate sorties, etc. Instead we want to be designing machine guns for the battle of Crecy when all that was needed AND POSSIBLE was figuring out how to use the existing longbows.

    So 1) get some leaders into acquisition instead of careerists, start measuring them on the experience they have (and that does not mean they never have a program get cancelled), 2) break up the big defense companies or force them to have a large commercial component so there will be some kind of incentive to produce ideas. 3) start studying what technology will do for strategy and tactics over the life of the platform (40 yrs). If something revolutionary is PROVEN out then you can start a program to field that technology. Stop being the cat chasing a laser pointer.

    1. "get some leaders into acquisition instead of careerists"

      The General Board.

      "break up the big defense companies or force them"

      Artificial, imposed solutions almost never work. A better approach is to incentivize competition by creating more work. I've described how to do this in posts and it's quite easy.

    2. Make it easier for small companies to do government work. They invariably have to sell out to the big guys to have the overhead to support the world's most demanding customer.

    3. "Make it easier for small companies to do government work."

      That's a part of it but only a part. If small companies had the incentive - meaning, more opportunities for regular ship construction and maintenance - they'd find their own way to work with government, just like the big boys once had to. Right now, there's too little opportunity to be worth the investment by the small companies to learn how to work with govt.

      All that said, we can certainly streamline and ease the burden on ALL shipbuilding companies to some extent and we'd be wise to do so.

      That said, the fault lies with society. We're more interested, as a society, in gender equality, diversity, and political correctness than we are in efficient ship building and so we impose laws and regulations to ensure any companies competing for ship building business meet those societal desires. It's our fault, not the government's.

  13. Lots to ponder here... But theres somthing that our recent failures have in common. The Zumwalt and LCS were designed/built for some narrow mission parameters. (You could argue the LCS wasnt since they were supposed to have various mission modules but even then its capabilities were very limited and narrow.) The Zumwalt was built for land attack. It was built around the gun system. You could argue that the Iowas, Clevelands, or Fletchers were built around their main weapons too, but the reality is that they were built to a ship designation, with an eye towards defeating their contemporaries. Back then, battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and eventually carriers had a mission to fight similar ships from other navies. As they evolved, smaller ships took on the ASW role, and larger ships became AAW platforms as the battle line faded away. But I think that, as naval warfare evolved, ships were able to be repurposed for other tasks, not because they were "multi-purpose" per se, but because they were simply bristling with weapons that could deal with multiple kinds of threats. Its almost as if we've tried to blur or eliminate the traditional lines of cruiser, destroyer etc and invent new ones based on small niche missions, which havent had the longevity to support building the ships, especially with the absurdly-long times to field them. To me a return to a cruiser being an AAW ship, and destroyers being escort and ASW ships (and single-purpose, following CNOs qualification for such, built using mature tech) seems the way to avoid future misguided efforts like Zumwalt/LCS. The FFG could have been a restart of common sense, but building another Aegis ship, and ignoring the non-sexy ASW mission showed the Navy as still not trying to build a credible and well thought out force. The transformationalism and trying to reinvent the wheel has done immeasurable damage to the fleet, its numbers, its capabilities, and the publics trust and belief in the Navy and its procurement system.

    1. To boil that long winded post down, Id say that surface ships have three main missions: AAW, ASW, and strike (no particular order of importance). You could include subgroups that include NGFS and general escort. (NGFS might be dead though since the Marines are sprinting away from proper amphib missions, and it might not ever be a viable option again anyway)
      Designing ships with one main purpose makes things simple, and AAW/strike can obviously both be present with suitably sized VLS. ASW ships would not blend into strike or AAW ships. This way, we have maximized platforms for general mission parameters, and we arent chasing niche missions that fade away before hulls hit the water.
      Its interesting how we've found ways to stumble over niche missions and multi-purpose ships at the same time...

    2. @Jjabatie. The way I see it, if we are serious (trying to keep a a straight face here) that China is our enemy then why don't we cut the crap and just focus on beating their ships? Top 3 requirements are priority and drop the rest. Nice and simple.

      Would be interesting to see what the requirements were and how they were written up for DDs, CCs and carriers in the 50s and 60s, how many pages and what not....

      Just as FYI, my friends in real estate say now that for a SIMPLE RE-FI, not a new mortgage mind you, they have seen some up to 140 pages....just insanity!!!!!

    3. You might be interested in any of the Norman Friedman ship design histories. They lay out in great detail how the General Board conducted the design process. It's a fascinating process especially when compared to our current, badly broken process.

    4. Along with the Friedman, the DK Brown series is excellent. You learn there is no such thing as free lunch in ship design, also the Brits are cheapskates.

      CNO, did the passing of the General Board signal the
      end of expertise and institutional memory in the USN?

    5. "did the passing of the General Board signal the
      end of expertise and institutional memory in the USN?"

      Along with the elimination of BuShips, yes. NavSea is supposed to have some technical expertise but design is not one of their tasks and even their supposed technical expertise is in question given the horrific job they've done overseeing construction program, ship trials, and inspections.

      I've posted on this. See, General Board and BuShips

    6. @CNO, How about the Ship Characteristics Board performance? They replace the General Board with similar authority but lost the independence outside of the chain of command. It seems like they did pretty well for what it's worth, often times carrying on the tradition of the old GenBoard.

    7. I've had a very difficult time determining exactly what the SCB did. It also appears that they lacked both the experience and informality necessary to wisely discuss ship design criteria. From the reference you cite,

      "Participants in SCB meetings recall cases in which the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery cast the decisive vote on weapons systems choices."

      That pretty much says it all.

      Further, the progression from WARships to cruise ships under their watch also testifies to their general ineffectiveness and ineptitude.

  14. " . . . the time between requirements and entry into service is, arguably, the most important factor in determining whether a ship or aircraft will prove useful."

    There are many examples of ships and aircraft becoming even more useful and capable through upgrades and modifications as opposed to fielding an entirely new system. For example, replacing the two Mk 26 GMLS with 2 61-cell VLS systems allowed the Ticonderoga cruisers to carry more weapons (88 versus 122 rounds). Plus, with the VLS, this allowed the Ticos to carry more Tomahawks for land attack and eventually the ESSM for short to medium range air defense.

    1. The Mk 26 was never replaced in any ship with a VLS system. The later Ticos were new built with the VLS already installed.

      Whether a ship/aircraft can be made even more useful by upgrades or modernizations later in life is not even remotely the topic.

      Please stop these attempts to nitpick. In addition to being incorrect, they're unproductive. You have knowledge and desire. Use them to add to the post and discussion.

    2. More of a case for a 20 year ship.

  15. Requirements Drift.
    With the new RN Type 31 'frigate' (in reality a very lightly armed OPV), remember comment that Babcock, the builder, when signing the FP contract for the five ships included a clause that RN could not change the agreed specifications after signature.

    Not sure if it puts the Navy in too much of a straight jacket but would be sure to make Navy think before signing contract.

  16. Many requirement drifts and even strategic blunders come from US' overlooked China's rising. After Soviet Union's collapse, politicians and generals thought that chance of facing another superpower was low. Success of the 1990-91 Gulf War also contributed heavily in shaping grand strategies. While F-22's design had Soviet Union in mind as it had started during the Cold War. Actually, F-22 didn't have many requirement drifts during development but had problems of solving technical challenges. F-35, DDG-1000, LCS, ... have requirement drifts as the reason mentioned above.

    Ultra long R&D times for new weapons reflect a serious problem - US' technical capability is dwindling, at least, not grows as fast as before. At the same time, China's tech capability rises fast. Use J-20 as an example - from its test fly in Jan. 11, 2011 to enter service in March, 2017, what a difference to F-22 and F-35. While many angrily accuse China "copy" F-22 and F-35 but its aerodynamic frame is vastly different to F-22 and F-35. J-20 use canard structure. While taking advantage of this frame, they solved disadvantages from the frame.

    1. "Use J-20 as an example - from its test fly in Jan. 11, 2011 to enter service in March, 2017, what a difference to F-22 and F-35."

      China has committed intellectual property theft, cyber hacking, and various other means of illegally and unethically obtaining information. This illicitly gained information greatly shortens development time.

      The US has accomplished what China is unable and/or unwilling to do on its own and that is to develop new technology.

      Another major caveat is that we have no idea whether any Chinese tech actually works. The US has developed a great deal of technology that has failed and been abandoned. There is no reason to believe that all of China's efforts have succeeded. There aircraft engine development, for example, has been slow and problem plagued.

      Of course, none of this changes the fact that China is able, through various means, to shorten development cycles but to attribute it to some inherent superiority in China's system is incorrect. Similarly, to attribute the longer US development times to inherent shortcomings is equally incorrect.

      "its aerodynamic frame is vastly different to F-22 and F-35."

      There are many aspects that go into a modern fighter other than air frame shape. Engines, stealth coatings, aerodynamics, communications, sensors, displays, weapons, etc. are all important and China has bought, bribed, or stolen all of that information to various, unknow, degrees. So, dissimilarity of shape is not a reason to discount Chinese copying. What is far more likely is that they've attempted to combine some US technology with some stolen technology of other countries thus creating a kind of hybrid aircraft - a sort of aerial Frankenstein of stolen components!

      While no one in the public domain can prove the extent of Chinese theft, the various cyber attacks, hacks, and theft that we do know about would appear to leave little doubt that it is quite extensive.

    2. Even if you are to believe HON that this was information that really wasn't classified and was pretty much out in the open already, we shouldn't just look at it as one isolated spy case. As an amateur OSINT (Im not very good at it), you don't just use 1 source of info, you gather info from all sources possible, you bet China is looking at all open and covert INT, hacking,spying,etc... and "fusing" all the data to get the BIG picture. This is likely to be a drop in the bucket BUT all those drops add up!!!

    3. From my reading, what US (also other nations) helps China most in weapon technologies is to provide them a technology roadmap (or pathway). At the same time, Chinese engineers have very strong and deep knowledge. You can see how Asian Americans treat science and math in the nation to see this culture.

      While US can hide technologies from China, it is impossible to hide roadmap and pathway. For instance, while Pentagon gave 4S targets for 5th generation fighter, China's interpretations are -- 4S is achievable goals although they don't yet have ideas on how to achieve them. One funny thing was released from an award Chinese government gave the J-20 design team on their stunning achievement of lift coefficient above 2.0. While China started J-20 development, they use spec. published by US as goals. Then spec. stated that F-22's lift coefficient was 2.0 (now, we know only 1.5). The J-20 team set that as their goal. Because of lacking powerful engines, they choose canard aerodynamic frame. You can google on the web to find out typical pro and con of canard frames. It is not so easy to make the lift coefficient above 2.0 but they thought that it was a "must". Eventually, they manipulated on wing structures to achieve that goal As I read, might be as high as 2.2.

      Can US then hide roadmap? Impossible under current system. Defense companies and Pentagons have to boast before start to gain supports. Pentagon cannot spend lots of money on something public support secretly for a long time.

      Now, it is interesting to see how China go forward without US provided roadmap. A poster example is 6th generation fighter jet. Right now, even US doesn't have firm ideas on how they will be. We hear many different ideas floating. To be next generation fighter, it cannot be an improvement of current one such as better stealthy which can only be categorized as generation 5+ than 6th. It must have some character(s) which 5th can never reach. As we know both US and China have entered R&D in 6th generation fighter R&D, let's see how they perform without US provided roadmap.

    4. Theft of technology is a legitimate tactic - why reinvent the wheel?

      The bigger issue is incorporating that technology into useful designs and even more importantly learning to improve on it. Look at the Soviet successes with reverse engineering the B-29 as the Tu-4 and then the expansion of that to newer and more capable designs (one of which is incidentally still production - the Tu-16 which has been extensively updated by the Chinese as the H-6 and its latest versions now lob 2000 km range ballistic missiles including allegedly anti shipping versions!

    5. "Theft of technology is a legitimate tactic"

      It is! The theft issue was brought up in response to a suggestion that the Chinese were somehow inherently superior at developing weapon systems.

      Theft is, of course, illegal and the US/West should be applying heavy penalties to China. There are any number of methods of making China pay a price for their systematic theft. That such penalties would have the side benefit of slowing China's military development makes it a win-win.


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