Monday, September 12, 2022

DDG(X) Becoming a CG(X) Flashback?

Navalists should be forgiven if they have, on occasion, the mindset and habits of an abused partner. 

Slightly flenching with memory, but always hoping that this time - this time - things will be different.

There is good reason for scepticism and concern. Firstly, we know the mindset and process that begat LCS and DDG-1000. We know that there wasn't really any accountability to "the system" for this. A system that has remained unchanged. 

The only thing that was considered satisfactory from that era was LPD-17 - a program that had enough money thrown at it so this Tiffany amphib could be a functional class of warships. FORD is, well, you know that drill.

So, we lost a generation of warships due to smart people in hard jobs who couldn't stop getting high off their own .... arrogance in thinking that they knew better than generations of successful warship development that came before them.

On the smaller warship side of the equation, when even its greatest advocates had to admit the comical failure of LCS, we decided to go down a path originally suggested here 14-years ago: stop building them and build an existing EuroFrigate until we can design one ourselves.

That's the patch for LCS. Like you, I have heard rumors of rumors of issues that we are messing with a successful design attempting to make it an unsuccessful design under a cloud of Good Idea Fairies, but hull-1 is under construction and we shall see. Putting a 57mm on a warship designed for 127mm or at a minimum 76mm was a bad enough tell of the corruption in our system (got to give LCS mod a chance for FFG(X) dontchaknow), but you have to work with the system you have.

Of course, on the larger surface ship part of the fleet, we just plain blew ourselves up. In spite of the clear lessons even early on about LCS and DDG-1000, our leadership sailed CG(X) in to unbuildablestan. That book is still unwritten, but when it is, it will reinforce your worst assumptions.

People, programs, and systems failed again with no accountability. 

See a pattern?

Without a cruiser program displacing water and ZUMWALT being a white elephant, what is a navy to do? Well, we ran our TICO until they coughed across the decommissioning line and decided to restart a Cold War era Arleigh Burke in to a Flight III because we had no choice.

We still don't have a replacement for the TICO CGs, but we do have a program to replace the Arleigh Burke DDGs (which the green eyeshade efficiency cult that created the mess we are in writ large want to be a replacement for DDG and the rapidly disappearing CG).

Yes, that should set off alarm bells. 

As a closet optimist, I was hoping that - and yes hope is not a plan but no one will let me fire people and Congress won't change the rules - the last two decades would humble our Navy in to not letting requirements get out of control, would keep the Good Idea Fairies from every underemployed office hovering around her, and blowtorch anyone who still has a transformationalist mindset. Alas, there are concerns.

It is very simple what the US Navy needs; hulls displacing water. As smarter generations did before with the SPRUANCE DD etc; you can design white space to grow in to as expected systems mature...but you let them mature. Don't believe the hype and the promises of happy-talking defense industry types - it is hard enough to build a new hull and engineering plant in itself - you must minimized overall risk by at least starting with know systems, weapons, and manning concepts that will ride in that hull.

We are already late and the lack of urgency is almost criminal. This isn't 1998-2002 anymore.

It is with that background that this report starts out sounding promising;

The first design contracts were awarded this summer to General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works in Maine and Huntington Ingalls Industries in Mississippi for a large surface warship that would eventually follow production of the ubiquitous Burke destroyers.

All of that warfighting gear won't come cheap. The average cost of each new vessel, dubbed DDG(X), is projected to be a third more expensive than Burkes, the latest of which cost of about $2.2 billion apiece, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The Navy has vowed that it won’t repeat recent shipbuilding debacles when it rushed production and crammed too much new tech into ships, leading to delays and added expense with littoral combat ships, stealthy Zumwalt-class destroyers, and the USS Gerald Ford aircraft carrier.

“Rather than tying the success of DDG(X) to developmental technology, we’re using known, mature technologies on a flexible platform that can be upgraded for decades to come, as the technology of tomorrow is matured and demonstrated,” said Jamie Koehler, a Navy spokesperson.

...but there is a shadow;

Matt Caris, an analyst with Avascent, said the Navy is going to great lengths to prevent spending from getting out of control, from its view on mature technology and overall acquisition process to timetable. The first in the class of ship wouldn’t be commissioned until the mid-2030s.

“The Navy is trying to thread the needle with some potentially revolutionary capabilities in as low risk and evolutionary process as possible,” he said.

Others worry that the cost will become a drain on the rest of the fleet.

It’s possible that the Navy could afford only one of the ships per year, compared to current destroyer build rates of two to three per year, shrinking the size of the fleet over time, Clark said.

“They want to pile every mission on the the DDG(X) to make it sort of death star. They’re putting all their eggs in one basket financially,” he said.

The new destroyer represents the high end of the Navy’s aspirations.

To be frank, if anyone is using the word "revolutionary" in 2022 about such a critical warship, they should be reassigned to, oh I don't know, Thule.

This is the big danger though. I'll repeat it in case it didn't jump out at you the first time;

“They want to pile every mission on the the DDG(X) to make it sort of death star. They’re putting all their eggs in one basket financially,” he said.

The "they" there are the Good Idea Fairies, the agenda pimps, the transformationalists - the arrogant.

There is a battle right now with those who are correct in not rushing "revolutionary" and those who are convinced of their own perfection.

The time to fight and win that battle is right now before it is too late. 

This is what happens when you lack accountability for LCS and DDG-1000.

If like me you lack access to a lever of power, pray or support those who do. If you are someone who has access to a lever of power, now is the time to act. I have sat over adult beverages with those who regret their role in CG(X) enough - in a few years I want to raise glasses in support of a great new class of warships ... not have a somber table of regret.

PS: we still need a cruiser. Maybe we can build what the Japanese are pondering.

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