Every professional should somewhere in their nogg'n have Rear Admiral Meyer’s philosophy on memory speed dial; and short little mental audio file of;
The Meyer school, like those that developed the cruisers and naval missiles before him, are from one school. That progressive, optimistic, but engineering minded caution which has a great track record.
The futurists live in a world of ideas; constantly flowing ideas. They bounce from the possible, to the improbable, to the impossible often in the same paragraph. They don't want to be bothered with the green eye-shade types and their "Cult of the No." They are aggravated by what they see as the obstructionists inertia of the establishmentarian "new-is-different-different-is-scary-scary-is-bad" trolls at the end of the conference table. Those types raise the futurists' blood pressure, elevate an octave of their voice, and most infuriatingly - slow down the inevitable dialectics of technological progress; as the futurists see it.
Futurists are needed, but with too much power and a lack of strong pragmatists to counter them, they soon start to wander from the probable, to the possible in a parallel universe, to the disaster of tomorrow's reality. There is a reason H.G. Wells and Robert A. Heinlein were never given a major decision making position in real institutions doing real things; outside perhaps of Heinlein's worker bee engineering work in WWII.
That is where Undersecretary of the Navy Work comes in to this post. If you were following DoDBuzz's twitter feed last week, there were a couple of interesting tweets about Work's comments at the Surface Navy Association's 24th National Symposium.
Work, in funny high voice, mocked hand-wringing over numbers of ships in fleet: "Is it 313? Is it 310?" Doesn't matter, he sez. Cont (1/2)I would feel better if he were, with a wave of the hand, dismissing concerns of shrinking numbers based upon gains in effeciencey through known, and demonstrated technology - not modeled, presumed, simulated, vignette'd, believed, felt, thought, or hoped.
(2/2) Work says look at capabilities of ships, new systems such as BAMS, NIFC-CA, global placement. That means ship numbers matter less
Known. BAMS, NIFC-CA, global placement, and LCS are all in the believed, felt, thought, or hoped category right now.
Meanwhile, even our shrinking global committments are taking a toll on our present Fleet in both personnel and material condition. Numbers matter - real numbers - when faced with real requirements.
Let's talk about Work's solutions:
1. Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS): That this the UAS companion to the P-8A. Thank goodness it is built on the Global Hawk platform, so the technology risk is minimum. How it will actually contribute is still only PPT thick. It will augment some of P-8A's lower-end mission areas, that we know. It is just an UAS - and evolutionary UAS at that - and will take all the knows quirks and requirements of UAS with it. That is all. As for ships - it will only help on the margins in some mission areas. Its manpower footprint is not small either. In any analysis, it is a wash given a shrinking fleet.
2. Navy Integrated Fire Control - Counter Air (NIFC-CA): Again, nice system but is just another technical evolution - one that is a bit more than PPT thick - but in the operations we are and will be doing will only impact shrinking numbers on the margins.
3. Global Placement: OK, I'll bite. Is this a new way of saying "Forward Deployed Naval Forces?" DDG to Rota for BMD or LCS to Singapore to .... go to Singapore? Stationing ships overseas. OK, that has been a practice of navies for a few thousand years, but sure - use it if you need to.
4. LCS: Ahhhh yes - LCS the gift that keeps on giving. A short legged, overpriced, undermanned, exquisite bit of Tiffany, heavy, uni-mission, incomplete corvette. Hey, you've all heard my assaults on LCS, let's let someone else speak about it for a moment.
Navy surface requirements boss RADM Rowden says Navy must, must, must get LCS right, as it's make-or-break for surface force.Thank you RADM Rowden. You are right. We have no idea if we have LCS right - even if Work and others continue to tell us of its wonderful ability to ride rainbows and skittles flow out of its exhaust ports. We are planning based on hope. What is our Branch Plan if our Planning Assumption (getting LCS right) is shown not to be valid? Ahem.
Too bad we don't know if we got it right - we are betting the farm on it. A ship based on a buzz-word, distorted from its original concept founded on an archaic concept, foisted upon a Navy by false vignettes three strategies ago. Even our friends and allies don't want it. It used to be that our "low end" ships were so well designed that in addition to buying USA made ones - our allies built their own versions (see KNOX and OHP). (BTW, we discussed the LCS silliness a bit on Midrats with Bob Killebrew on Sunday.)
Throwing acronyms at a problem is not solving it or addressing concerns it brings; neither does waiving away critics.
Remember at West2011 last year? I am glad that Work mentioned John Patch's article - even if he was dismissive and slightly insulting. No biggie there - I can be dismissive and slightly insulting myself - but it fits a pattern. That is also when we heard him yell that,
"We don't need more frigates, if we need more we can use our allies."From capabilities to caveats, I think our experience from HOA to the Gulf of Sidra should have reminded everyone, again, the utility of having your own multi-use frigates under your own command.
Again, numbers matter. Look at our deployment stats the last few years. Look at the BATAAN ARG if nothing else.
In the end though, Undersecretary Work is an exceptionally talented patriot and in the short time I have spent across the table from him last year, he seems like someone who would be fun to buy a few pints of Boddingtons with.
That being said, I think he is wrong in the way many futurists get lost without the leavening of a good the pragmatist by their side. He sees the problems in front of us, but as solutions to the problems only offers PPT programs, best case scenario outcomes with no backups, and solutions to even partially fix problems identified over a decade ago with what we have now. "Now is bad; and tomorrow will have to sacrifice and accept risk for the perfect next year."
Work admitted that he might be accused of “talking nirvana,” and he acknowledged to reporters afterward that part of Washington’s emphasis on Navy fleet numbers was because of the Navy itself. Two consecutive chiefs of naval operations spent years selling 313 as at least the minimum number of warships the Navy must have, but as we saw Wednesday from Senator Susan Collins, even the Navy’s own projections aren’t very optimistic about that.Ummmm .... many, including your humble host, have been saying "balderdash" to 313 since it came out - and we were right. Math is funny like that - you can't spin it away once you start paying welders. No one who is serious has accepted 313 as doable for years, much less in the last three years.
Work said he thought the Navy should begin trying to tell Congress a broader story about the Navy as “a total integrated battle force,” as opposed to just a simple number of ships, but he and other top Navy leaders this week did not concede the service should change its official requirements.
As for the Navy being "a total integrated battle force" - what is the news with that again? Is not water wet? Yes, I know he is going down the network-centric hobby horse way; but again that example is a self-parody. Water one day will be wetter they say; one day.
"Ignore Meyer, your sensors, your instruments, and their reactionary data. The answer to your problems is over the horizon - go faster, you'll get there - ignore the shoal water you are in and the fact we were warned about it two watches ago, and your ears that hear the scraping against the hull - go faster to the future, I can feel it's just over the horizon."