Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Overspec'd, Overpriced, all Navy: Bob Work on Institutional Addictions

Last Wednesday I had a few observations on Jerry Hendrix's latest article over at National Review, The Navy’s Littoral Hubris.”

Yesterday in comments, a man familiar to readers here, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, weighed in with some counterpoints that I feel need to be brought above the fold for your consideration.

With his permission, I've copied his comments in full.

There are the bones of one hell of a book here in six short paragraphs.  

Bob, over to you;

As he always does, my good friend Jerry writes a compelling, well written post. However, I think he misses an important point. The problems the Navy has faced has less to do about technological hubris and more with incompetence in developing cost-informed requirements and executable support processes.

Let's start with the Ford CVN. Back in the day-- around the time of the 1993 Bottom Up Review, long before the word transformation had found its way into Pentagon thinking--the Navy and Air Force were competing for the "rapid halt" mission. The thinking went that the enemy could launch an invasion of allied territory at a time of their own choosing. The job of the Joint Force was to halt the invasion as quickly as possible through intense guided munitions bombardment. The Air Force argued the best way to do this was using bombers and regionally based aircraft, which enjoyed a big advantage in sortie rates from land bases. The Navy was intent on proving they could match sortie generation rates from forward deployed carriers. To do that, they needed a new electromagnetic catapult system; an electromagnetic arresting system; new high speed low drag elevators, etc etc etc. They called for these new capabilities with no clear understanding of the cost to get them, or a sensible land-based prototyping and testing approach to work out the bugs before shipboard integration. It is true that OSD demanded that all the new technologies be incorporated into the first ship of class of the new CVNX (later Ford), rather than inserting them over the first three hulls. That caused a technology integration overload. But the original sin was setting new requirements with no clue how much it might cost to get them.

Then came the DD-21, aka DD(X), aka DDG-1000. The surface community knew that the 31-ship Spruance class was going to start decommissioning starting in 2005 (that was the plan, anyway). The community needed a plan to replace them. The community was also tired of taking a back seat behind the carrier and sub forces, a circumstance they were force to tolerate throughout the long Cold War. And it wanted to get in on the rapid halt mission. The arsenal ship was a conceptual start point. But the surface community wanted something even more exotic. So they called for a stealthy surface ship with deep magazines--missiles, or guns, or both. OSD was not the one pushing the stealth design. That was all Navy. And, in the end, the Navy designed a 15,000-ton battle cruiser with a hull that was literally too expensive to produce. The ship suffered the same technological overload at the Ford class, but the over-spec-ing of the ship was all Navy, not OSD. Again, these were sins of the Navy.

The LCS is a more complicated story. OSD told the Navy that OSD would not support their DD(X) unless there was a smaller combatant in the Navy's battle force. The Navy decided to get out of the frigate business during the 1997 QDR--again, a Navy decision. This meant the smallest surface combatant in the 21st century fleet would have a full load displacement of nearly 9,000 tons (DDG-51 Flt I). OSD didn't think the Navy could afford to build and maintain such a fleet. They were, of course, spot on...see fleet of today. The ONLY requirement OSD levied on the LCS program was that the Navy needed to be able to build three of the ships for the same cost as a DDG-51. And guess what? The Navy hit that mark. We just forget about it--and how important a metric it was.

Cost aside, the crewing, training, maintenance and deployment process decisions were all the Navy's to make. But every choice ultimately proved to be beyond the ability of the surface community to execute them. This was a case of process, not technological, overload. It appears the surface community may be finally figuring things out on the ship. But no objective review of the LCS fleet transition plan would conclude anything other than it was abysmally bungled.

The reason I think we have to remember these vignettes is we need to ask ourselves if we are about ready to repeat the process. IT DOES NOT MATTER THAT THE NAVY CHOSE A PROVEN DESIGN FOR FFGX. The Navy is cramming as many requirements and capabilities into the FFGX hull as they can. Eric Lab at CBO is convinced the Navy has once again overspec'd the ship and underestimated the costs to build it. I hope he is wrong. But if we can't build a minimum of two FFGXs for the cost of a DDG FltIII, it is not clear it is worth the cost, or the smaller fleet it will inevitably lead to.

Robert O. Work spent 27 years on active duty as a Marine artillery and MAGTF officer. He is a former Undersecretary of the Navy and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security. He served as the Deputy Secretary of Defense alongside three Secretaries of Defense spanning both the Obama and Trump administrations.

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