Appetite for Self-Destruction

cnosnaBack in January, The CNO made an interesting comment regarding upcoming budget cuts and their probable effect on the procurement process.

Recognizing the need for new ships, Roughead nevertheless stressed the importance of the Navy working with the shipbuilding industry to control costs. He stressed the need for restraint and appetite suppression, explaining that it will take the combined effort from both the Navy and the industry to realize efficiencies in shipbuilding.

I think he’s right. Appetite supression is certainly the key to survival. But, I think he’s looking in the wrong place. Perhaps referring to the CNO’s own comments can provide a directional aid…

“Three hundred thirteen is the numerical floor because it gives us global capabilities,” he said. “At some point, quantity becomes a capability. As the commander in the Pacific and the commander in the Atlantic, I can tell you that I never had enough ships, even before we developed the Maritime Strategy,” said Roughead.

Ahhh… there’s the rub. The apetite is not so much in the realm of what we put into the ships we buy, or how many of them we buy. No, the diet pills need to be fed to the COCOMs, who live on islands of the world and want every asset they can get their hands on to do the things they deem necessary.

VADM McCullough at the SNA in January:

“When we developed our fleet response plan, the goal was to meet our global commitments and have a surge-ready force,” McCullough said Jan. 14. “Based on requirements from the combatant commanders, we’re using that surge capacity.” The monetary draw against procurement from operations and maintenance accounts keeps rising, he said, pointing to what he called the “Triangle of Death:” personnel, procurement and readiness.

I remember the days when the Fleet Response Plan was released, and we all marvelled at the idea of “only deploying if we NEED to.” Sounded pretty sweet. Made lots of sense.

Obviously, it was doomed.

The COCOMs have a ton of responsibility. And I’m not faulting them at all. We’ve got a maritime strategy that tells them to do all things, in all places, at all times. Not the COCOM’s fault. They’ve been given a job to do and they get it done. That’s what they do.

But right now we’re riding a huge herd of horses that were built in the 80’s (Thanks Ron!!) but we’re wearing those horses out faster then we can replace them.

Looking at VADM McCullough’s “Triangle of Death”
So, where can we save money in Personnel, Procurement and Readiness?

Personnel – We’ve got to pay this bill. No two ways about it. Big Navy is done drawing down, and we have to keep paying people and taking care of them. No options (other then maybe not giving a raise based on inflation for a year).

Procurement – We need ships, subs and planes. Which is the right mix of equipment? F-18’s that are ready to build, or JSFs that are a few steps from “Cool Idea” land? DDG-1000’s or 51’s? Which is the correct platform aside, I think the main driving factor will be the availability of money.

Sure, the DDG-1000 can shoot a gun hundreds of miles inland. But if we can provide a similar type of support with TLAM’s and Aircraft (i.e. the Marines need things to go away. We can do that from the sea without a big effing cannon), do we need this capability at $X billion dollars a pop? Or can we settle with DDG-51s for now so we can keep hulls in the water at an adequate level to keep Seaman Smith from having to deploy every 8 months to keep coverage in theater? Sometimes good enough is exactly that. But the plight of Seaman Smith leads to the next item.

Readiness: Things break. It happens. I’ve often said that a submarine spends its time in port fixing stuff simply so it can go back to sea and break it again. It’s a never ending cycle, but when you’re fighting King Neptune and his trusty lads, in addition to the enemy, it’s bound to happen. The only way to save money on readiness is to not have to spend as much keeping ships working. The best way to do that (besides making replacement parts cheaper) is to make the repairs less frequently needed by not running the equipment into the ground.

Seeing a theme?

We have to slow the demand signal on forces forward deployed. It wears out the equipment and the people, increases costs to maintain both, and cuts into the available pool for buying newer, cooler stuff. I don’t mean “go to sea less.” You have to go to sea to maintain proficiency, and that is essential. But conducting local operations is much less strenuous and expensive then it is to complete the enormous amount of time underway devoted to certification for deployment and the subsequent 6-7 months forward deployed.


Get yer LEAN on!

Get yer LEAN on!

We have to supress the appetite for what we are willing to own up for in the world. I’m not calling for an isolationist attitude. Far from it. But I think we need to lower the demand we place on the COCOMs so that they, in turn, can lower the amount of forces they need to accomplish those tasks.

I think we still need to maintain a global presence because nature abhors a vacuum, and if we don’t, someone else will. Someone we may not like.

But then again, if WE can’t afford to go to sea as much do you honestly think the other guy can either (in this global financial crisis)? I don’t think so. Nature abhors a vacuum, but she may be able to tolerate a small one until our financial system recovers and we can continue investment in operations AND procurement.

Right now, we are at a crossroads where we can only reasonably afford one or the other.

Choose wisely.

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2 Responses to Appetite for Self-Destruction

  1. Kevin says:

    Well said. I recently came to a similar conclusion myself in a discussion with another flag. I’ll drop you an email.

  2. Elliot says:


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