Thursday, June 27, 2019

On LCS Manning, Even The Atlantic Goes Salamander

The worst conceit of the many in the LCS program was its manning construct. There is a decade and a half of LCS bashing on this blog, so I won't bore regular readers rehashing it - new folks can click the LCS-tag to review on their own.

The last half-decade you have seen some people try to mitigate the original sin of "Optimal Manning," but there is only so much you can do when something is baked in to the design.

Now and then we bring out LCS to gibbet it as an example to others, and at least here, it may start to have a little bit of a "doesn't everyone know by now" vibe, but we can't really stop. Every year, new leaders come online who may not fully understand the fail. They need to know what happened so when they find themselves working on a new program, they won't repeat the mistakes of the old.

When you read outside the traditional maritime natsec press, you realize that our failures are starting to leak out, and whole new sections of the population are only now discovering what we have known here since the first few years of this century.

The latest example is a very detailed and broad reaching article at The Atlantic by Jerry Useem. I have a few quibbles with some of his prose, but this is very deserving of your time - if you are an OG member of the Front Porch or someone wet behind the ears.

Give it a read. Here are a few pullquotes;
Can a few brilliant, quick-thinking generalists really replace a fleet of specialists? Is the value of true expertise in serious decline?
To ask the question is to answer it ... and I think at least for our Navy we're starting to see that we drifted too far. Expertise is starting to have a comeback.

Nice review of the hubris that was injected right in to the veins early on in the program.
“I think when the Navy started off, they had a really good plan,” Paul Francis, of the Government Accountability Office, told the Senate in 2016. “They were going to build two ships, experimental ships.” But in 2005, having assured itself that “optimal manning works,” the Navy decided to skip the experimentation and move straight to construction. From this point on, whenever the Navy tried to study the feasibility of minimal manning, its analysis was colored by the fact that—on these ships, at least—it had to work. Dozens of littoral combat ships were on their way. The Giffords was the 10th to deploy.
The cult of personality. Suppression and outright persecution of contrary opinion. The "make it happen" mentality begat the horrible record of LCS to date. No other warship class has commissioned so many ships for so many years that have done do little as the LCS.

Should a fire break out, Butler said, he would become a “boundaryman” and work to stop the spread of smoke to other compartments—a job that, on another ship, would be supervised by a full-time damage-control specialist. The LCS has only two of these—which is one reason it has a “survivability” rating of 1, the lowest score possible. If the ship is critically struck, crew members are expected to simply abandon ship and escape. Traditionalists hate the idea.
Expected? More like don't have a choice.

Nice comical vignette that really needs no more commentary from me;
Butler wasn’t the only character to reappear in different form. During an all-hands meeting—the smallness of the group exaggerated by the large size of the flight deck they stood on—someone pointed to the figure strolling in from stage right. It was one of the two boatswain’s mates who had been overseeing the line-handlers that morning. He had swapped his blue coveralls for head-to-toe green camo, and was walking back and forth, appearing to survey the upper deck of the ship. Such costume changes gave the whole ship the feel of a small theater troupe in which the actor playing the prince’s cousin also plays the apothecary, the friar, and Messenger No. 2.
Look at that scattering of uniforms in the headline pic of the article I copied above. Just silly.
Yet the limitations of curious, fluidly intelligent groups of generalists quickly become apparent in the real world. The devaluation of expertise opens up ample room for different sorts of mistakes—and sometimes creates a kind of helplessness.

Aboard littoral combat ships, the crew lacks the expertise to carry out some important tasks, and instead has to rely on civilian help. A malfunctioning crane on board one LCS, for example, meant that the crew had to summon an expert to solve the problem, and then had to wait four days for him to arrive.
A tired, burned out crew that with each passing week has less and less capability as things break they cannot fix. It barely works in peace. In war? Forget it.

This is what everyone was screaming 15 years ago;
the Navy’s initial, full-throttle approach to minimal manning—and are an object lesson on the dangers of embracing any radical concept without thinking hard enough about the downsides.
The fact new people are still pointing this out is nice validation, but a shame it even has to happen.

Better late than never ... maybe.

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