Better late than never, but hey; welcome to the party NYT - on page 1 nonetheless!
Moments before the launching on Sept. 23, 2006, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, told the festive crowd of shipbuilders, politicians and Navy brass assembled at the Marinette Marine shipyard, “Just a little more than three years ago, she was just an idea; now Freedom stands before us.”Regular readers know the rest of the story, but let's pull out the juicy bits.
Not quite. The ship — the first of a new class of versatile, high-speed combat vessels designed to operate in coastal waters — was indeed bobbing in the river, just four months after the promised launching date. But it was far from finished. In fact, the ship floats there still, work continuing day and night.
The bill for the ship, being built by Lockheed Martin, has soared to $531 million, more than double the original, and by some calculations could be $100 million more.
In a narrow sense, the troubled birth of the coastal ships was rooted in the Navy’s misbegotten faith in a feat of maritime alchemy: building a hardened warship by adapting the design of a high-speed commercial ferry.Actually, if you accept compromise - it can be done. The WWII Flower Class of Corvettes are a case in point.
Behind the numbers in the Accountability Office study, experts say, is a dynamic of mutually re-enforcing deficiencies: ever-changing Pentagon design requirements; unrealistic cost estimates and production schedules abetted by companies eager to win contracts, and a fondness for commercial technologies that often, as with the ferry concept, prove unsuitable for specialized military projects.That isn't a new knowledge. Arrogance and ignorance of history and design best practices is what is going on here. At the beginning, those who asked the hard questions were told to sit down and shut up by those who now point the finger at others.
At the same time, a policy of letting contractors take the lead in managing weapons programs has coincided with an acute shortage of government engineers trained to oversee these increasingly complex enterprises.
In their haste to get the ships into the water, the Navy and contractors redesigned and built them at the same time — akin to building an office tower while reworking the blueprints. To meet its deadline, Lockheed abandoned the normal sequence of shipbuilding steps: instead of largely finishing sections and then assembling the ship, much of the work was left to be done after the ship was welded together. That slowed construction and vastly drove up costs.
“It’s not good to be building as you’re designing,” said Vice Adm. Paul E. Sullivan, commander of the Navy branch that supervises shipbuilding.
Despite the problems, the Navy secretary, Donald C. Winter, and other top Navy officials say they remain committed to building 55 of the ships, once a steady, fixed-price production run can be assured. Even at about $500 million apiece, Navy officials add, the coastal ships would be a bargain compared with most Navy combat vessels.With what mission modules?
“The littoral combat ship is an imaginative answer to emerging military requirements, but it has the most fouled-up acquisition strategy I have ever seen in a major military program,” said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a policy research center.What emerging military requirements? SHOCK! A ship looking for a mission?!?
“We needed to figure out how to asymmetric the asymmetric guys,” recalled Adm. Vern Clark, who championed the ships as chief of naval operations from 2000 to 2005.So, there we have it. That is what is so laughable to almost be - no, is - a farce. You cannot be "asymmetrical" with the uber-symmetrical concept of,
To Navy planners, a ship designed for coastal combat could neutralize hostile submarines, surface warships, mines and terrorist speedboats, clearing the way for other combat ships to operate in offshore waters and support combat ashore.That is a set of missions the USN has been working on for well over a century - take out speedboats (nee Motor Torpedo Boats) and submarines and you can go back centuries. Pathetic.
The Navy also wanted ships that could travel fast, better than 40 knots. And they needed to be easily outfitted with different weapons and surveillance systems. A removable package of mine-sweeping equipment, for instance, could be replaced with a package of special-operations gear used by a Seal (sic) team.Changing out Mission Modules and "hybrid sailors" is and will never be "easy." Also, the enemy will not wait for your non multi-mission platform to change out its mission modules. Taffy-3 can tell you that you only have minutes to go from ASW to ASUW - as can the British force off the Falklands can tell you that a ship in the Littorals needs to go from NSFS, to ASW, to AAW in a few minutes as well - if not at the same time....but we have covered that insanity in the whole LCS concept before - let's keep plowing through the NYT piece.
Each ship would carry an uncommonly small crew, about 40 sailors.INSURV bait.
But as Lockheed and the Navy were completing contract negotiations in 2004, the rules changed drastically. Commercial ferry standards, the Navy determined, would not do.Again, this is news? Who is the "we" and have "they" been fired?
The underlying principle behind the decision, Admiral Sullivan said, was that the new ships had to be able to “hang tough in a storm and take some battle damage and still survive long enough” for the crew to be rescued.
Adm. Gary Roughead, the current chief of naval operations, said: “We had thought that the commercial variant would not be that far away from what we needed. I’ll tell you, that was underestimated.”Here is a nice place to ask, "Where is the SWO VADM Tom Connolly when you need him?"
Rear Adm. Charles S. Hamilton II, one of the Navy officers with lead responsibility for the project, said he had given Navy officials several opportunities to slow down the project.Who were they RADM Hamilton? Names please. Oh, right - that might impact your new gig. Cue my 5-year moratorium for retiring Flag Officers please ....
“The clear signal from all quarters was, ‘Hamilton, I want that ship in the water, and I want it out there now,’ ” he recalled in an interview.
Admiral Hamilton left the Navy last year. He now works at Booz Allen Hamilton, the consulting firm.
Yet if the project was troubled, the Navy’s oversight at Marinette was less than robust. Because of staffing reductions, the Navy office responsible for supervising shipbuilding initially dispatched no one full time to Wisconsin. Even after a team arrived, it failed to appreciate the severity of problems.And who decided to send such a junior team to such a major problem? I would love to bounce the seniority of this team off the senior paygrades in the Diversity Directorate and the CNOs gender and diversity advisors. Priorities and all ...
“We had very junior people on site,” Admiral Sullivan said.
There is some slack to cut - but maybe not as this wasn't mentioned in all the Happy Talk that started this fiasco.
“It will be great, the next time around,” said Mr. North, the program manager. “Lead ships are truly hard.”True, but this is also true.
Mr. Winter, the Navy secretary, complained that the Navy bureaucracy had failed to alert him to rising costs. The Pentagon, he said, was bedazzled by the idea of saving money and time with commercial technologies.Names. Again, if you want accountability - you need names. We can't tar & feather - but we can name names.
“It got oversold,” he said. “The concept was just abused.”
He lamented the Pentagon’s eroding expertise in systems engineering — managing complex new projects to ensure that goals are achievable and affordable — and faulted the notion that industry could best manage ambitious development projects.
“Quite frankly, industry is not good at doing this,” he said.
“If we do not figure out how to establish credibility in our shipbuilding programs and plans, and restore confidence in our ability to deliver on our commitments, we cannot expect Congress or the nation to provide us with the resources we so urgently need.”Yep, but we knew that going in. No one had the moral courage though to get out in front of this problem. Good people who brought up the fact that if you get in close, any Gomer with a 12.7mm and symmetrically take care of your paradigm were told to sit down and shut up.
Some people, yet to be held to account, decided that it was best inside their short PCS cycle to let their relief take care of it - someone else will clean it up, right? We have jobs as consultants to get quickly, right? Well, that time is now.
LCS - the gift that keeps on giving. We haven't even gotten to the mission module issues. LCS-I or Visby and then lets move on....shall we?