DoD Death Spiral – the US Navy version

The following article not only provides an excellent example of the Defense Death Spiral (see here for a description), but also illustrates other important points.

(1)  The mainstream media report these problems in the perky, amnesiac fashion of a fool — as if each time they discover the problem it is an original insight.  Since journals are, in general, not fools we see that the Defense apparatus is not the only American institution which has serious structural flaws.  (This article from Proceedings is a welcome contrast)

(2)  The mainstream media tend to report these stories in a stylized manner.  Problem.  Brief quote from iconoclastic outsider.  Hint at simplistic solution.  Even a brief look at the professional military literature would typically show a long history of articles about this problem, giving both analysis and proposed solutions.  The media accounts are therefore misleading, as the problem is not with diagnosis but the structural barriers preventing implementation of a cure.

(3)  Look at the series of links in my articles about these issues, such as the Defense Death Spiral (here) or the military’s difficulty recruiting and retaining good people (here).  Note the number of articles about these — usually of high quality — in the Army’s Parameter’s, the Navy’s Proceedings, or the Marine Corps Gazette.  Usually by current or former serving officers.  Whatever the cause of these problems, it is clearly not with the quality of the people we have in uniform.  They have proved competent both at recognition and analysis of their organizations’ ills, and recommending a range of solutions.  By elimination, that leave as root causes some combination of the overall structure of DoD, the wider Washington system of which it is a part, and our senior civilian and military leaders.

If you are interested in these matters, consider subscribing to one or more of the various professional publications of the US armed forces, such as Parameters, Proceedings of the US Naval Institute, and the Marine Corps Gazette.

Back to the story at hand about the US Navy’s Death Spiral.  Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Update:  Chet Richards has a brilliant post at DNI “Force planning – a beginner’s guide” about the purpose and configuration of the US Navy.

Is the 313-Ship Fleet Realistic?“, Otto Kreisher (Commander, U.S. Navy Reserve, Retired), Proceedings (January 2008)

The 30-year shipbuilding plan and the LCS concept were both bold initiatives for the Navy, which had appeared to be locked in a downward cycle of retiring older ships and cutting personnel to get money for new vessels, but then being unable to acquire enough because of low budgets, high price tags, and lengthy procurement timelines. That trend had cut the Fleet to 268 ships, the lowest level since just before World War I.

The LCS was to have broken that pattern. It was to be a relatively simple sea frame that could be produced cheaply and quickly and operated by a small crew. The ships would be adapted to perform missions to counter mines, submarines, or small, fast gunboats by taking on board portable packages of equipment and control systems and the technicians to operate them. A set of mission modules was to cost about $180 million.

But the ships were supposed to be capable of speeds up to 50 knots, highly automated to reduce crew size, and survivable in dangerous coastal waters. And to meet the exceptionally tight schedule for development and production, construction contracts were awarded before design details were completed. Then, as usually happens, the design requirements kept changing, even as the shipbuilders were cutting metal.

The result was the inevitable production delays and cost soaring to nearly twice the target price on the first ship by both contractors, which drew criticism from the Government Accountability Office and influential members of the congressional oversight and appropriations panels.

Winter, a former defense industry executive who has shown a determination to impose some financial discipline on the shipbuilding programs, tried to get Lockheed Martin, which was building LCS-1, to accept a fixed price on its second ship. But the negotiations failed, and Winter cancelled Lockheed Martin’s contract for LCS-3 in April.

Similar bargaining with General Dynamics also failed, and its LCS-4 contract was terminated on 1 November. In a 6 November Internet news letter, Thompson noted the Navy’s professed commitment to the LCS program, but said the failure of the negotiations with the two contractors showed that “there’s no way to reconcile the insistence of shipbuilders on limitation of risks with the Navy customer’s insistence on low cost.”

Although Winter was insisting on fixed-price contracts, Thompson said, “the Navy wasn’t willing to restrain itself from making changes to the ship design after the contracts were signed, so the companies couldn’t know for sure what their costs would be. End result: neither company was willing to accept the Navy’s terms.” That appears to have killed the LCS program and the drive for 313 ships, he concluded.

… Although O’Rourke { Ronald O’Rourke, the respected naval programs analyst at the Congressional Research Service} has questioned the Navy’s ability to fund its 30-year shipbuilding plan, he rejected Thompson’s grim view of the impact of Winter’s contract decisions. “I don’t understand how the cancellation of LCS-3 and -4, by itself, implies a Navy abandonment of, or a weakening of the Navy’s commitment to, the 313-ship plan,” he said.

But, he added, “the substantial increase in the estimated procurement cost of the LCS sea frame,” will add “hundreds of millions of dollars” a year to the amount the Navy will need to fund the shipbuilding plan, which “increases the funding challenge associated with implementing the plan.”

And, O’Rourke noted, the cancellation of LCS-3 and -4 and the cuts in funding for additional ships in the next two fiscal years has reduced the planned procurement by nine ships through FY09. Even if the Navy is able to get back to the previous goal of six ships annually the following year, it would delay completion of the 55-ship LCS program by two years, to FY18, he said.

That would run LCS funding into years when the Navy intends to buy several DDG-1000s, two Virginia-class submarines, another CVN-21-class aircraft carrier and other ships.

BTW:  not every Navy has our difficulty adapting to the future.  See Aussies building missile catamarans for China.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information about the US Navy

On this site:

  1. DoD Death Spiral – the US Navy version, 31 January 2008
  2. Update to the “Navy Death Spiral”, 22 April 2008
  3. A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief”, 8 July 2008
  4. A step towards building a Navy we can afford, 16 July 2008
  5. “Amphibious Ships are the Dreadnoughts of the modern maritime era”, 2 September 2008

To see all articles on the FM sites on this topic:  Naval warfare and strategy.

Other sources:

  1. For in-depth coverage of these issues, see Galrahn’s work at Information Dissemination.  His blogroll has many other sites of interest discussing these matters.
  2. Providing for the Common Defense: Four Percent for Freedom,” Jim Talent and Mackenzie Eaglen, Heritage Foundation, 13 December 2007 – An example of those calling for Defense spending at 4% of GDP.
  3. Upcoming FY2009 Debate For the Navy   (8 July 2008) 

7 thoughts on “DoD Death Spiral – the US Navy version

  1. A 313-ship navy? No way and absolutely not under the all-volunteer recruiting system. It is foolish to even suggest a 313-ship navy without the draft.

  2. All i know about war, i learned at the movies.

    Schindler: “I could try to read this, or I could eat my lunch while it’s still hot. We’re doing well?” Stern: “Yes.” Schindler: “Better this month than last?” Stern: “Yes. ” Schindler: “Any reason to think next month will be worse?” Stern: “The war could end.”

    Robocop — “I had a guaranteed military sale with ED209! Renovation program! Spare parts for 25 years! Who cares if it worked or not!”

  3. Agree Fabius, my point was that they are the wrong type of ships for this conflict in a day and age that we build 40+ knot car ferries. Another thought, how hard to hang 10 or armed speedboats off each ship, then drop and deploy as a screen, could do it for 10 grand a pop, plus a .50 calibre? Then again, knowing the DOD, by the time they finished, the speedboats would be 5 times larger, only do 10 kts, cost $20 million each, take 15 years to build and have a paint locker (a ref to Ben Rich’s book ‘Skunk Works’ and his dealings with the US Navy).

  4. There is an interesting challenge to moden navies, pirates. See,for example, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/27/somalia1

    I find it astonishing, with all the current hardware, that this problem cannot be dealt with quickly and effectively (if you read the article and the associated one) and deal with the illegal fishing issue as well. Note another ‘blowback’ situation. The despised Somali Council of Islamic Courts did stop this, but we backed them being overthrown. We must be running out of toes now, given the amount of times we shoot ourselves in the foot.

    Now dealing with this sort of stuff doesn’t require much in the way of heavy hardware, decent patrol boat sized (or even US Coastgurd) levels of equipment would do nicely, 30-40 plus a supply ship, set up some ‘honey traps’, small convoys, etc. Several big bonuses for the countries who would do this, great PR, great training for crews and officers, heck even a good recruitment sales point (who wouldn’t want to go out and take on pirates).

    Of course these points are rhetorical, I know the dynamics about why it wont be done in anything more than the current, under resourced, half hearted way, but I still get amazed that most navies now don’t understand their primary function … protection of the sea lanes and trade. You can you imagine what the 1800’s Royal Navy would have done. Nice opening for Russia/China to move in and score some PR brownie points at little cost? Hah, Iran has some nice sized boats for this job. Yes I am being ironic (shaking head sadly at the insanity of having a couple of carrier groups in the Gulf, ‘precision’ strikes by US carrier planes on Somalia, while civilian ships are being shot at).

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