Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Large Surface Combatant Act 1: What Happened to CG(X)

With the news out that we are restarting the process (again) to replace our effective but aged TICONDEROGA Class CG, it would be helpful to look back at the first attempt to deliver a concept, last decade's aborted CG(X) study.

A friend known to me IRL was involved in that process first hand, and he agreed to put together a guest post, anonymously, on what he saw as the most important things for the new team to consider.

Over to him.

It was encouraging to read that the Navy is pressing forward with a “large surface combatant requirements evaluation team” to address replacement of the Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruisers. Early in the last decade, I was involved in the $20 million CG(X) Study that burped out a $7 billion nuclear cruiser and was, understandably, discarded. We did things the usual way and we got the usual results—an unaffordable platform. In this case, unlike other notable shipbuilding programs, somebody had the courage to reject it out of hand.

Our CG(X) study was a multi-year effort which involved every organ of the defense industry: OPNAV, NAVSEA, Naval Reactor Navy Labs, FFRDC’s (Federally Funded Research and Development Centers), AEGIS-BMD and, importantly, industry.

The study was led by an intrepid young officer, who worked for a rotating pool of Captains, and a rotating pool of Admirals, all of whom were in DC to make their mark and go onto the next career milestone. It was from this blur of leadership that the requirements for the new cruiser emerged. At that time, it concerned the Chinese DF-21D missile.

Requirements for power also emerged. Even then we could see that the new direction was directed energy or other high energy systems (e.g., railgun). Sustainability (the ability to operate independently for sustained periods) was recognized as a priority.

During the processes of analyzing alternatives, we looked at several hull forms. One suggestion was the LPD-17 LPD. It was the “knee in the curve” cost- and capability-wise. But it wasn’t fast. And it wasn’t CRUDES. And it couldn’t operate without support.

Superimposed upon all this was a lingering imperative from then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld that if a platform didn’t have “transformational” technology (new stuff) it was subject to divestment. So, the result of the CG(X) study—now incomprehensible--is completely understandable if you understand the politics and the less austere budget at the time.

If I were to offer those undertaking this new study some advice, it would be this:

1. Requirements Evaluation Team. Require they produce a written letter (not a PowerPoint brief) at the end of their study and have each of them sign it. All the members. That way, years from now, we will know who to thank or blame. This is part of the problem.

2. Billet permanence in requirements generation. Imbed senior Program office people into OPNAV N96 (Surface Warfare). Let the people who actually have to execute this stuff at least be in the room when these requirements are generated. Make the tour lengths five years.

3. Surface warfare really needs to rethink its love affair with BMD. Once seen as a cash cow for building Aegis ships, what has actually happened is the Navy is paying for much of this mission out of hide. Specifically out of surface warfare readiness. BMD ships are tethered to a spot in the ocean to provide missile protection, are often denied opportunity for in port maintenance. The ships I saw in worse shape were those doing BMD.

4. Resurrect the “one technology innovation per platform” rule that guided us from post-WWII through the cold war.

We used to limit the introduction of new technologies to one per platform, so as not to risk the efficacy of a platform because of the failure of a single new system.

My sense in reading RADM Route’s comments is that this is the direction they are heading in (using an existing platform). But I wanted to say it just in case.

Photo credit sabotage181.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Mali and Africa's Past, Now, and Next

The forever war has many fronts - the one in Mali, once OPERATION SERVAL now BARKHANE has France in the lead.

Mali has a historic ties to France, its former colonial ruler. Mali experienced the usual socialist led dysfunction following independence in the later-middle part of the 20th Century, but in the last decade or so has tried, in fits and starts, to become a modern, more-free nation. Sadly, they are right on the bleeding edge of Dar al Islam and all that comes with that. Combined with nightmarish demographics unimaginable to the Western mind - this will not be an easy fix even if they were not facing an aggressive internal threat.

Stability is the key, but due to the above and more factors, instability will be the expected norm for Mali for awhile. All France and her allies can do is to try to mitigate the negative effects, and nurture the positive developments in the country. The more they succeed there, not just in the Long War, the better for everyone from Cape Town in the south, to Bear Island in the north.

As old as human history, as it is now;
His door and iron-sheet roof were missing; his granary was a mound of rubble on the floor. In his hands, the 59-year-old held out a pile of charred groundnuts he had cultivated, before crumbling them into dust.

“It is painful to look at,” he said.

Besides one stoic village chief who sat sharpening his knife on a rock under the baking sun, there is nobody left in Kara. Everybody else fled the ethnic Dogon village one morning in May when armed men from the neighbouring village – populated by Fulani herdsman – climbed over a sand dune shooting wildly in the air.

Everything of value was stolen; the rest was burnt.

Kara is just one among dozens of villages looted and torched in the past few months as a conflict between armed members of Mali’s Dogon and Fulani communities ripples through the heart of the country, claiming hundreds of lives and displacing thousands of people.

Analysts say the conflict has been triggered by the increasing presence of jihadists linked to al-Qaeda in central Mali. They have recruited heavily among Fulani herders, fuelling distrust with other ethnic groups, including the Dogon, some of whom have organised into abusive new self-defence militias.

“Both sides are killing each other,” said Fatou Thiam, head of the Mopti office of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA.

The conflict underscores Mali’s struggle to restore order three years after a peace deal was signed between the government and armed groups in the north, including separatist Tuareg rebels, who seized large parts of the country following a 2012 military coup in the capital, Bamako.

Islamist militants, who joined forces with the separatists before a French-led intervention pushed them back, have gradually expanded their sphere of influence from the desert north into Mali’s previously peaceful centre.

This year 5.2 million Malians are in need of humanitarian assistance, compared to 3.8 million in 2017. The number of internally displaced people has also doubled since January to 75,000, according to the UN’s emergency aid coordination office, OCHA, the majority in the central Mali.
I know, I know. I am the one who pushes back against getting involved in foreign adventures, but this is not quite like a full-on invasion of a nation with sketchy impact on USA or allied national security.

This is helping our oldest ally who is helping another nation fight our common enemy - radical Islam. Mali itself is a Muslim country, 90% Muslim - but Islam is not the enemy. Radical Islam is.

Africa will never join the rest of the world in a future of promise if its northern half is under the black flag of radical Islam.

Worse, the conflict and death that a Western defeat in Mali would bring would further drive the exodus of millions to Europe - further destabilizing European nations' hard-won democratic systems and social norms.

This is something we should help our French allies with. Not lead; not dominate - this is their backyard. There are things we can do to help.

One example; you know what the US Navy could do to help the French? They have a riverine challenge;
French desert troops recently took to boats to patrol the Niger River in Mali, the first time that the crafts have been used in the Barkhane counter-terrorism operation in the Sahel, the French armed forces said.

Anticipating the rainy season and river flooding, soldiers attached to the French army’s Desert Battle Group – Infantry (GTDI) deployed the boats which enable them to get to areas difficult to reach by land.
Just look at what they are trying to patrol the Niger with.


Remember my post from FEB 2005? France looks to be in a place we were at then.

We have units that would be perfect for this. Additionally, we should call our friends in Colombia who have exceptionally good kit and the best operational riverine experience in the West. Have them join us in an ongoing rotational deployment. This would be a good way to contribute to the good work France is doing in support of the Mali government.


Friday, September 14, 2018

Fullbore Friday

A return to a topic we've covered before on FbF, but I think we should be thinking about the Battle of Tsushima more, and not less - so we're bringing it back.

A couple of great videos to review while you keep a couple of things in mind; an established power with maintenance issues and long lines of communication to get to the fight; a rising power with well run and maintained ships fighting in their backyard.



If you want to see more of the MIKASA (and you know you do);



If you'd rather just see warships belching coal and belting out broadsides ...



Never underestimate your enemy. Never underestimate the Japanese. Always, fullbore.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Depot Dearth

Why do we seem to have such a problem keeping an eye on the unsexy but important? Isn't one of the cornerstones of a mature professional to know the importance of keeping a long view on the hard work needed in the background to keep the marquee shiny-sexy objects functioning?

Especially when money gets tight or the pressures of the now ratchet up, there is a temptation for the short-sighted to sacrifice long-term viability for today's green bubble on the PPT. We saw this in spades during the "Peace Dividend" era of the 1990s and again in a slower way once the Long War kicked off.

There is a lot of ruin in a navy, and deep decay can take root for a long time until it finally undermines the structural strength of its host. So it is, it seems, with depot level maintenance.

On the Surface side of the house, one of the big takeaways on the latent causes of the WESTPAC incidents of 2017 was that our ships were not getting the depot level support they needed. As a result, ship's company was doing depot level work - in addition to the work they already had to do. As humans only have 24-hrs a day, you can figure out the rest.

As we are reading more and more, we have a long-standing readiness problem on the aviation side of the house as well. Is it part of the same myopia?

The GAO is on the hunt. See if you can spot a pattern.


How bad is it?
This report is a public version of a sensitive report that we issued on April 25, 2018.7 The sensitive report included an objective related to the trends in aircraft availability. DOD deemed some of the information, such as aircraft availability, not mission capable status, number of aircraft in depots, and budgeted and executed flight hours, to be sensitive (i.e., For Official Use Only), which must be protected from public disclosure. This public report omits the information that DOD deemed to be sensitive. Although the information provided in this report is more limited, it addresses the same objectives and uses the same methodology as the sensitive report.

Why is depot level maintenance so important?
Depot-level maintenance occurs less frequently but requires greater skills. Specifically, depot maintenance is an action performed on materiel or software in the conduct of inspection, repair, overhaul, or modification or rebuild of end items, assemblies, subassemblies, and parts that, among other things, requires extensive industrial facilities, specialized tools and equipment, or uniquely experienced and trained personnel that are not available in other maintenance activities. Depot maintenance is independent of any location or funding source and may be performed in the public or private sectors.
Legacy systems are needed now and in the near future for when a war does or does not show up. Why are these problems so bad, and can more resources to depot level maintenance help?

Sadly, it appears no one knows.
Without clarity about whether the DOD instruction and the Navy guidance apply to legacy systems, program officials will not know whether they are required to have a sustainment strategy or are required to update the plan for their respective fixed-wing aircraft. Furthermore, the program offices, the services, and DOD may not have full visibility of necessary requirements to document program objectives, related risks, and the effectiveness of the program, ultimately jeopardizing the sustainability and affordability of each of the programs.
In absence of metrics, this is when you have to rely on experience and factual judgement.

While the bean counters work to get the right number, can a reasonable person assume that more support for depots now would result in better availability?

Yes.

So, let's do that and then adjust later if needed. History is losing patience with us.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Aviation degradation does not happen by accident

We need to be more open and transparent about our bad decision making processes, otherwise we will just do it again.

Come on over to USNIBlog to see the details.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Hospital Ships: Open Your Intellectual Aperture

One of the more frustrating parts of blogging occasionally on hospital ships is having the usual suspects chime in somewhere in the middle of the comments section telling us how "These are of little use in how we practice modern medicine. They take ..."

Bla, bla, bla, bla.

They are both correct and 100% wrong at the same time.

One of the many assumptions we make out there has to do with our ready access to cargo aircraft and efficient, open, and safe airways to use them. We also think in narrow little lines.

In war, there is more unknown than known. You can mitigate risk - and in a small way, hospital ships do that. That is only a secondary mission.

They have a primary mission (in Salamanderland at least) and others seem to see it more than we do;
As a statement of soft power, a floating hospital packs a punch with a helping hand to poorer nations in need.

So much so that in the Pacific region major powers are increasingly flexing their humanitarian muscles by sending hospital ships and similar aid missions to the region.

China's 10,000-ton medical ship, the Peace Ark, has cut a broad arc through the Pacific, stopping off in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Fiji and Tonga.

The raw numbers alone are impressive. According to Chinese state media, the ship has 300 beds, eight operating theatres, and can conduct 60 surgeries in a day.

The Peace Ark said it has so far provided free medical treatment to more than 4,000 people in PNG's capital Port Moresby, 4,500 people in Vanuatu, 6,000 in Fiji and more than 5,500 patients in Tonga.
Our hospital ships are larger and better, but MERCY and COMFORT are only two, and they are a bit aged.

We should have at least 4 - and they should be at the yards being built now. They are, alas, unsexy but important.

Shame this isn't getting more play, but here is an example;
The U.S. is sending a Navy hospital ship off the shores of Colombia this fall to provide urgent medical care for Venezuelan refugees.

An estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled their country in the wake of a devastating economic crisis that has caused shortages of food and medical supplies. Over one million of those refugees have crossed the border into Colombia, creating what Mattis called a "destabilizing impact" on the country.

"It is an absolutely a humanitarian mission, we’re not sending soldiers, we’re sending doctors," Mattis told reporters. "And it’s an effort to deal with the human cost of [Maduro and his increasingly isolated regimes."

Pentagon spokesperson Col. Rob Manning said on Monday that the ship will be the 894-foot long USNS Comfort, one of two U.S. Navy hospital ships and one of the largest trauma centers anywhere in the United States.

In a press release on Wednesday, U.S. Southern Command announced that the Comfort would deploy for the two-month-long humanitarian mission in late September with stops in Colombia and the region.