Tuesday, July 30, 2013

MV-22 - Lessons for Other Programs

The Navy has several controversial weapon programs currently under development or in acquisition.  They basically all boil down to proponents who believe the claims and have faith that the system will one day achieve all the promised capabilities and opponents who believe that the system will never achieve a sufficient number of capabilities regardless  of the time and money expended.  History, of course, offers a perspective on the issue and we’ve discussed that from time to time in previous posts.  I think it would be instructive to take a close look at a program that is relatively mature now but that once went through the exact process and controversies that are besetting so many current programs.  I’m talking about the V-22 Osprey.  At one time the V-22 Osprey was every bit as controversial as the LCS, JSF, LPD, or any other program.  Of late, though, there seems to be relatively little discussion.  The program has become accepted, for better or worse.  It’s a good time to take another look at the program and compare the promise to the reality and see what lessons can be learned.

As a reminder, the V-22 (MV-22 Marine version and CV-22 Air Force and Navy version) is claimed to be capable of carrying 24 fully equipped Marines with an external carry capacity of 10,000 lbs over 40 miles.  The MV-22 achieved initial operational capability (IOC) in 2007.  Recent purchases show the MV-22 costing around $65M each although a CRS report (8) cites a unit procurement cost of $84M each versus the initial cost estimate of $38M per unit.

I won’t bother detailing the crashes and myriad technical issues that plagued early development of the aircraft.  The history is well known and easily found on the Internet if anyone wishes to refresh their memory on the subject. 

According to GAO (9), DoD testing in 2000 concluded that the MV-22 was operationally effective but not operationally suited.  Despite this finding, the program continued.  In 2005, after numerous modifications and fixes, the aircraft was again evaluated and, this time, found to be operationally effective and suitable which lead to approval for full rate production.

Operational experience with the aircraft has been mixed.  Missions that emphasize speed and range, typically troop and medical transport, have seen the aircraft garner praise.  Other missions have shown the MV-22 to be no better than the legacy aircraft.  External load carriage, for example, offers no improvement over legacy helos due, in part, to the equipment being limited to transit speeds less than 150 kts.  Additionally, the 10000 lb carriage rating is valid only at lower altitudes and is reduced for higher altitudes (9).  Short range missions, where speed was not a major factor, demonstrated that the MV-22 was no better than the legacy helos. The MV-22’s low availability rates further reduce the operational effectiveness of the aircraft.  The troop transport capacity of 24 fully equipped Marines has been found to be unachievable.  Operational experience has shown a capacity of 20 fully equipped troops is the max (9).  This is further reduced by two when the Interim Defensive Weapon System (IDWS) is mounted.  Use of heavy weapons by the troops further reduces capacity.  Visibility limitations were found to hinder situational awareness by troops and crew during landing.  Engine service life was found to be less than 400 hours versus the estimated 500-600 hours.  Maneuvering limits have restricted the aircrafts ability to perform effective evasive maneuvers resulting in doctrinal changes to minimize exposure of the aircraft to higher threat environments as opposed to the unrestricted use that was originally envisioned.  Other flight limitations have been imposed during helo mode flight operations which limit maneuverability and prevent closely spaced formations such as are used by legacy helos for compact and rapid insertion of troops.  The MV-22 was originally designed to be NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) capable but persistent problems with cabin seals have led to dropping that capability.  The operating cost per flight has been found to be $11,000, more than double the original estimate and 140% greater than the CH-46E (9).

Shipboard deployment of the MV-22 presents several problems.  The large size prevents the aircraft from operating on a one-for-one replacement basis for the CH-46.  Instead, the MV-22 will deploy on a 10-for-12 basis.  Deck spots have been a challenge with two spots near the island being unusable though reports have indicated that procedural changes may now allow that.  The MV-22’s spare parts inventory requirements are significantly greater than the legacy helos and impacts maintenance.  The large size of the aircraft reduced the number that may be staged in the hangar which further reduces maintenance capacity and has made hangar movement difficult.  Prop downwash is significantly greater than standard helos and has necessitated numerous procedural, safety, and equipment changes.  Another issue is the extreme heat generated by the downward directed exhaust which has caused deformation problems for ship’s decks.

One of the drawbacks of the MV-22 is that it is unable to carry side mount machine guns as a typical helo could due to the tremendous size of the engines and wings.  To address this capability gap, the MV-22 has had an Interim Defensive Weapon System (IDWS) option added to provide covering fire during landing operations.  The weapon is a belly mounted, retractable, machine gun system based on the GAU-17 minigun.  DOT&E reports (6) that testing of the gun showed the system has limited firing arcs during landing/take-off and requires extensive co-ordination between the pilot and gunner at a moment when the pilot is completely occupied with landing.  The weapon was found to be effective when it could be successfully employed.  Installation of the IDWS, which weighs 800 lbs, reduces troop and cargo carrying capacity, costing two troop seats.  The IDWS costs about $1M per unit.  Defense Industry Daily website (7) reports that the weapon system has met with only limited success and acceptance among aircrew.  A rear ramp mounted 0.50 cal gun has also been tested and is effective but is limited to rear targets only.

Aircraft maintenance and resultant mission availability has been a persistent problem.  DOT&E reports MV-22 mission capable rates from June 2007 – May 2010 as 53% versus the required target of 82% (6).  This rate is well below that of the legacy helos that the MV-22 is supposed to replace.  The CRS report (8) states that the aircraft’s excessively large spare parts inventory requirements makes shipboard operation problematic.

Finally, since the beginning of the program there have been persistent allegations of misinformation and misconduct by Marine leadership as regards the safety and performance record of the MV-22.  The website g2mil.com has an extensive series of articles on the subject (2, 3, 4, 5) for those who are interested.  I don’t know the authority level of the source so I won’t comment further.  The USNI blog also has an article on the subject (1).

How has the MV-22 turned out compared to its original vision?  The GAO report (9) sums it up this way.

“After more than 20 years in development and 14 years since the last cost and operational effectiveness analysis was developed to reaffirm the decision to proceed with the V-22 program in 1994, the MV-22 experience in Iraq demonstrated that it can complete missions assigned in low-threat environments. Its speed and range were enhancements. However, operational tests and training exercises suggest that challenges may limit its ability to accomplish the full repertoire of missions of the legacy helicopters it is replacing. If so, those tasks will need to be fulfilled by some other alternative. Viewed more broadly, the MV-22 has yet to fully demonstrate that it can achieve the original required level of versatility.”

The aircraft was “sold” as being able to operate in a wide variety of missions across a wide variety of environments with certain standards of performance regarding speed, range, and payload.  However, as the MV-22 progressed through its development and early production it experienced a steady series of decreases in its capabilities compared with what was promised.  The operational reality appears to be that it is limited to lower threat scenarios, limited in maneuverability and performance, has less troop capacity than stated, is less capable or no better than the legacy helos in some missions, and suffers from chronic, severe maintenance and availability issues.  On the plus side, for those missions that it can do, the speed and range compared to legacy helos offers significant benefits.

In short, the MV-22 appears to be a niche aircraft which offers benefits under a certain, rather narrow, set of mission parameters. 

The MV-22 offers broader lessons.  The astute among you are probably thinking that this all sounds familiar.  If you re-read this post and substitute “LCS” (or “LPD” or “JSF”) for “MV-22” the story could apply to almost any weapon program.  The LCS, for example, is going to wind up being significantly less capable than intended, costs more to operate, suffers from maintenance issues, and is less useful than originally envisioned – same as the MV-22.  The lesson, here, is that weapon programs are always oversold and overhyped and will turn out to be less capable than claimed while costing more to procure and operate than estimated.  This needs to be recognized by all parties in the procurement process and factored into the assessments.  In particular, the Navy needs to stop making outlandish claims about programs in the “selling” stage and just be more honest and realistic about capabilities and costs.  Witness the Navy’s continuing aggressive defense of the LCS capabilities in the face of overwhelming evidence of severe limitations and performance shortfalls.  While the Navy has backed off many of the original performance claims for the LCS, it has done so only very grudgingly and in the process has attempted to demonize critics who turned out to be correct.  This has cost the Navy support and damaged their credibility and integrity.  It would have been much better for the Navy to have stated up front, “Here’s the capabilities we’re designing for but there will probably be performance compromises along the developmental path.”  That’s honest and realistic and does not detract from the “salability” of the program.

As we continue to debate the LCS, LPD, JSF, Zumwalt, etc., let’s take the lessons to heart and recognize that every program will only partially succeed but will still provide useful service under the right circumstances.  The question is whether the cost of the program is justified by the ultimate usefulness of the system.

(6) Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, FY2011 Annual Report

(8) Congressional Research Service, “V-22 Osprey Tilt-Rotor Aircraft: Background and Issues for Congress”, Jeremiah Gertler, March 10, 2011

(9) Government Accountability Office, “Defense Acquisitions - Assessments Needed to Address V-22 Aircraft Operational and Cost Concerns to Define Future Investments, May 2009, GAO-09-482

Thursday, July 25, 2013

GAO Damns the LCS

The GAO has released its long awaited LCS evaluation report, or performance audit as they term it, in response to a Congressional request and it's as bad as anyone suggested.  Following are some highlights.

Weight margins and stability continue to be problematic.  The report states,

“We requested updated copies of the contractually required weight reports that the shipyard is supposed to develop and provide to the Navy, but program officials told us these reports had been sent back to the shipyards to correct issues with the quality of the reported data that prevented these reports from being acceptable.”

Umm… So, the dog ate the homework, is essentially the answer? 

Production efficiency is reported to be improving.

“… both shipyards anticipate by the third ship of the class, they will achieve approximately a 50 percent reduction in the number of labor hours needed for ship completion.”

Quality may be improving but is not yet adequate.  The report had this to say about INSURV trial results.

“Part 1 deficiencies are intended to represent very significant deficiencies that are likely to cause the ship to be unseaworthy or substantially reduce the ability of the ship to carry out its assigned mission. Starred cards are a subset of Part 1 deficiencies that, in INSURV’s view, require correction or a waiver by the Chief of Naval Operations before the ship is delivered to the Navy. … As of March 2013, both LCS 1 and LCS 2 each have seven outstanding starred cards that had not yet been resolved.”

According to that, neither LCS 1 or LCS 2 should have been accepted by the Navy.  Why did the Navy accept deficient ships?

Given that production efficiency and quality are improving, if not yet good, we should be cautiously happy, right?  Unfortunately, no.  The Navy is still making significant design changes as each ship is built.  Worse, the Navy is contemplating some very significant changes that, if enacted, will impact delivery schedules and quality.  Just when the manufacturers appear to be getting a handle on production the Navy is looking to make major design changes.  This is why claimed benefits of serial production never materialize.  On the plus side, the changes may make the LCS more useful.  Some possible changes include adding additional weaponry, increased berthing and support, and reducing the speed requirement.

In a trend seen on all ship classes, the Navy persists in fielding untested and unproven ships and weapon systems.  In fact, the Navy is actively engaged in a pattern of intentional delays of testing.  For example,

“Most notably, LCS 2 has not completed its acceptance trials or developmental and combat system testing, even though the Navy accepted delivery of the ship in 2009.  In addition, neither variant has completed developmental testing or undergone shock and survivability testing.”

We all know that the LCS has very limited combat capabilities but the extent of the limitations is greater even than that.  The combat management system which is the software that ties sensors, weapons, and command and control together to make a fully functional combat system is having problems.

“… the combat management system software on LCS 2 was delivered incomplete. The combat management system contractor stated that the system was delivered with less functionality than planned due to developmental challenges and the Navy’s urgency to have the ship delivered. The combat system trials for LCS 4 will be the first time that the full capability of the system will be tested in a realistic environment, and the final combat management system software build and a hardware upgrade will not be available until LCS 6. When we visited LCS 2 in December 2012, the crew still had questions about the combat management system and radar because they had little operational experience with either, and because the weapon and sensor capabilities have not been integrated into the combat system.”

Mission module development continues to be plagued with problems.  The report had this to say about module development and testing.

“Developmental testing to date—especially for MCM mission package technologies—has shown continued performance problems which do not provide assurances that threshold requirements will be ultimately met in the final increment. These developmental challenges are notable given that the Navy believes many of these systems to already be mature, and some predate the LCS program. Further, these challenges are in developmental testing, not operational testing which is a more representative assessment of capability.”

Addressing the problems of the Mine Countermeasures (MCM) module, specifically, the report noted the following actions taken by the Navy.

“It has reduced key performance requirements thresholds for average mine clearance rates for early increments from the requirements defined in the capability development document.

It has modified operational tactics, such as requiring multiple searches to correlate results. The modified tactics address some performance problems, but add significantly more time to minehunting operations or cover less area.

It has decided to delay the retirement of the mine countermeasures
ships the LCS is to replace by 3 years due to expected delays in
mission module deployment.”

So, the Navy’s response to a failing MCM module is to lower the requirements, increase the time required to perform the task, and hang on to the current MCM vessels which they allowed to badly deteriorate in anticipation of being replaced by the LCS.

The Navy seems determined to forge ahead regardless of how bad the various systems are.  For example, the report has this to say about the Airborne Laser Mine Detection system.

“… Navy testers reported that the system did not demonstrate the expected level of maturity and failed to meet several requirements, presenting a high risk to operational testing. In spite of its poor performance, the Navy has accepted delivery of 7 units and plans to procure an additional 15 units …”

Full speed ahead.  Damn the performance!

“… the Navy plans to procure more than half of the SUW and MCM mission packages before it demonstrates they meet LCS’s minimum performance requirements for their respective missions.”

The surface warfare (ASuW) module garners its fair share of criticism in the report which points out that the module, already badly underarmed and lacking useful range, will not be getting even the anemic Griffon missile as scheduled.  Funding for development of the Griffon has been suspended due to budget cuts.

The anti-submarine (ASW) module is claimed by the Navy to be mature but is still several years away from being operationally fielded.  The module is quite limited in scope, consisting of only a towed array, variable depth sonar, and torpedo decoy.  Notable among missing components is any actual weapon to destroy a submarine if one is found.  An embarked helo will presumably be the only offensive weapon.  One has to hope that the helo will be available when the moment comes – not a high probability event as anyone who has worked with helos can attest.

Further, the report cites OPNAV officials who say that the towed array may not be able to operate in shallow waters given the depths that towed arrays require for streaming.  Wait a minute!  Isn’t the LCS supposed to be the shallow water combat vessel?  The value of a shallow water combat vessel that can’t conduct shallow water ASW seems questionable, wouldn’t you say?

The report makes it crystal clear that the Navy is doing everything it can to jam this program through and past Congress regardless of legal requirements.  The Navy is engaged in a willful program of evasion of oversight.  I won’t bore you with the details of Milestone evaluations, low rate initial production criteria, and so forth but suffice it to say that the Navy is violating every standard practice and legal requirement in an attempt to get these vessels under contract before Congress stops them.  Read the report if you want the details.  It’s obvious that the program cannot meet the various criteria and would be forced to stop.  The result of all this is that the Navy is putting sailors on untested, unproven, unfit ships and potentially sending them in harm’s way.  This is criminal behavior and Congress needs to reign in the Navy in the most forceful way possible.

Even more than the problems with the LCS itself, the report highlights the criminally irresponsible behavior of Navy leadership, the constant lies and deceptions presented to Congress and the public, and the blatant disregard for legal requirements and the safety of the sailors who will man the ships.  I could not be more ashamed of Navy leadership.

(1) Government Accountability Office – “Navy Shipbuilding - Significant Investments in the Littoral Combat Ship Continue Amid Substantial Unknowns about Capabilities, Use, and Cost”, July 2013, GAO-13-530

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Steel is Cheap and Air is Free

I see this claim being made repeatedly during discussions about ship design and construction.  It's a common belief among people commenting on design and construction but being common doesn’t make it true.  On a relative basis, it may have an element of truth to it.  A quantity of steel may be cheaper than an Aegis array, for example.  However, steel is not free and neither is air – not by a longshot.  If they were, we'd just build every ship to be the size of a battleship and give them all two feet of armor.  Steel has a significant cost and so does air.  The Navy and the shipbuilders recognize this even if the blogosphere does not.

Consider the cost of the LCS.  The LCS, because of the purchase contract, gives us a unique insight into the cost of the bare hull (the steel and air portion of the ship).  I’ve covered this repeatedly so you should know what’s coming.  The contracted cost of the LCS, currently around $500M per ship, is just for the bare hull.  All the electronics, sensors, radars, weapons, computers, various fittings, etc. are supplied from a separate government account line that is not included in the contracted amount.  While the government supplied equipment costs have never been released, a seemingly reasonable estimate would be $200M-$300M.  That pushes the cost of the LCS to $700M-$800M and that’s without a module.  A module will push the ship cost to up near $1B.  Thus, we see that the bare hull, mostly just cheap steel and free air, represents a half to two-thirds of the total cost – hardly cheap and free!

Remember that there are secondary costs associated with steel, as well.  Every pound of steel must be propelled through the water which means that every additional pound of steel requires additional horsepower which means bigger engines which, in turn, means more bunkerage.  More crew is needed to maintain the larger engines and more crew requires more berthing, mess, laundry, etc.

Before we wrap this up, let’s touch on the “air is free” part of the saying.  Now, I understand that it makes a catchy slogan but we need to remember that air is bounded by steel bulkheads, decks, and overheads which cost money.  Hence, air is not free.  Further, that “air” must be heated, cooled, lighted, cleaned, maintained, manned, powered, and propelled through the water (bigger engines for every cubic foot of “air”).  The air above deck may be free but the air below deck costs money!

I’ve seen proposals to enlarge the LCS, adding 20% - 50% length, to accommodate more weapons and make it a “warship”.  People brush off the resulting costs with the “steel is cheap and air is free” comment.  Well, 20% - 50% more hull would result in a 20% - 50% increase in the hull price of $500M which would give a hull cost of $600M - $750M.  That’s not cheap or free. 

Many use the “cheap and free” argument to justify frigates the size of Burkes;  in fact, many want to use the Burke hull as the basis for a frigate because the “steel is cheap and air is free”.  We’ve just demonstrated that steel is not cheap and air is not free.  A Burke size frigate would be unaffordable in the numbers required for an effective frigate class.

As we continue to discuss ships costs, let’s bear in mind that steel is far from cheap and air is nowhere near free.  Factor that in to your proposals.  Carry on!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

They Were Expendable ... But Not Any More

Expendability is a time honored characteristic which impacts tactics.  Commanders trade expendable units for mission accomplishments.  In WWII, the naval commander was willing to trade F6F Hellcats for enemy units (in a favorable ratio, of course!) because he knew that he could replace the lost aircraft.  The ability to spend units, wisely, imparts tactical freedom and flexibility.  Conversely, the few fleet carriers available early in the war had to be carefully conserved and committed to battle only when circumstances offered the possibility of significant gain or the necessity to prevent significant loss.

In modern times, we’ve seen that the B-1 and B-2 bombers have been used only very sparingly and only in low threat environments while the B-52 continues to be a workhorse.  It’s understandable because we can’t replace any lost B-1’s or B-2’s and they represent a huge investment.  We can’t replace B-52’s, either, but they don’t represent much of an investment.

Expendability boils down to two closely linked characteristics:  cost and producibility.  A unit is expendable because it can be easily and readily replaced.  A unit can be easily and readily replaced because it is cheap to build.  Unfortunately, the Navy has lost sight of the value of expendability.  Currently, the Navy has few, if any, units that could be considered expendable.  Even our aircraft, at $150M or so each for the JSF, are no longer expendable.

I’ve touched on this before:  excessive cost leads to excessive caution.  No one wants to risk a major fleet unit in a minefield, restricted passage, or near-shore engagement.  I’ve read multiple reports on Navy wargames and they are strikingly similar in one respect:  no commander will risk his major units.  This was one of the main driving forces for the original LCS concept.  Wargames demonstrated that an expendable vessel was required for the clearing operations and near-shore operations that the wargamers refused to allocate to more expensive units.  Hence, the birth of the LCS.  Unfortunately, along the way, the LCS became far too expensive to be expendable and its value, in that respect, was lost.

The Navy’s current unwillingness to conduct amphibious landings from a near-shore (inside 25-50 miles) position is a reflection of the risk-averse attitude derived from the excessive cost of the units involved.  By contrast, in WWII the Navy routinely operated destroyers a thousand or so yards offshore during amphibious landings.  They were willing to accept the risk of counterfire because the destroyer was expendable – we could always get more.

Consider the Navy’s primary surface ASW platform, the Burke DDG.  Does anyone really think the Navy will risk sending multi-billion dollar Aegis ships, the backbone of the fleet, to conduct incredibly risky ASW warfare against non-nuclear diesel subs?  It’s even unlikely that Burkes would be committed against nuclear subs other than in the course of escorting carrier or amphibious groups.  If that’s the case, one has to wonder about the usefulness of placing ASW capabilities on Burkes – but that’s a topic for another time.

When one considers the small size of the fleet relative to the requirements imposed by a major war (China) combined with the total inability to replace losses (reserve fleet of only seven ships and new construction times of several years) the Navy’s risk aversion not only is understandable, it’s inevitable.  The tactical boldness of WWII, fortified by the expendable nature of most of the ships of that time, will probably not be seen again in modern naval combat unless cost trends can be reversed.

The point is that not only is the fleet slowly pricing itself out of existence, as we’ve discussed previously, it’s also pricing itself out of usefulness.  What good is a fleet that the commanders are unwilling to commit to combat out of fear of losses?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lessons From The Long War

I just read one of the best short articles I have read in a long time.  The piece deals with lessons from the last decade of war and is noteworthy for its outside-the-box, thought provoking conceptual observations.  It offers no solutions but brilliantly points out issues that are utterly basic at heart but, seemingly, beyond the grasp of institutional military thinking.

The author is Capt. Chris Barber, USMC.  He makes no claims of rigorous statistical validity for his assertions, offering only his own anecdotal observations but they are priceless.  Please follow the link below and read the piece.  I’ll now attempt to highlight and amplify some of his observations.

The first lesson concerns the attempt to apply very costly, high tech solutions to simple and straight forward, though deadly, problems.  The specific example in the article is the attempt to solve the IED threat via technology rather than simple tactics and training.  This observation is right on the money.  The US military tends to approach every problem from a technology point of view rather than considering basic level alternate solutions such as training, tactics, judgment, ingenuity, or simple enhancements of existing technology.  We spend inordinate sums of money to produce minimal gains, if even that, via technology when simpler approaches could work just as well.  Did we have to build the several billion dollar Zumwalt in order to provide fire support for troops ashore or could we have placed the already developed Mk71 8” gun on a Burke and been done with it?

The second lesson concerns networks and data.  Today’s military has access to huge amounts of data.  Of course, much of it is of no value and is not applicable to the problem at hand and the data that is useful is often not obvious among the thousands of useless bits of data.  It all comes back to the ability of the user to decipher the meaning of the data and then apply it in a useful manner.  The bottleneck remains the individual user.  All the data in the world is useless unless the user can make sense of it.  For example, every time there is a terrorist incident, investigation invariably reveals that the various agencies had sufficient data to prevent the incident but did not recognize the data for what it was among the reams of useless data.  Despite this, the military continues to pursue networks and data as the Holy Grail of warfare.  It’s not the data that’s important, it’s the interpretation and use of the data that’s critical.

The third lesson, while specific to COIN operations, offers the observation that a decade of small unit actions, largely peacekeeping and policing, have resulted in a generation of soldiers – and future commanders – who have no experience with large scale war.  We see this in the Marines/Navy attempt to relearn amphibious warfare.  We see regimental, battalion, and brigade commanders who have never commanded their entire units as a cohesive force even in exercises.  There is not a Captain or Admiral who has ever commanded ships or fleets in battle nor even exercised for a high intensity, theater wide conflict.  Our military has become specialized in small unit conflict and forgotten how to wage total war.

Capt. Barber’s observations are insightful, on-target, and totally at odds with our official military philosophy.  I can’t help but wish he was running the military!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

X-47B Carrier Landings

The Navy recently loudly and proudly announced the first landing of an unmanned X-47B on a carrier.  For those of you keeping score at home, the X-47B has now attempted four landings and two have succeeded.  You may have missed the failed landing attempts as the Navy didn't announce them with quite the same degree of enthusiam and fervor!

No, this is not a criticism of the X-47B program.  The landings are part of a development program and failure is part of development.  The only conclusion I take away from this is that the program clearly isn't ready for prime time, yet, and that's just fine.  The Navy seems content to take the time needed to get this right, unlike the LCS.

This is just an informational post - nothing more!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sexual Assault

A Navy Times website article (1) discusses aspects of the sexual assault issue confronting the military.  Normally, ComNavOps would not find this type of media-hyped, politically frenzied “news” to be worthy of comment.  In this case, however, the article cites a glaring inconsistency. 

The article states that 3374 cases of sexual assault were reported in 2012 and goes on to state that the military believes the actual number of cases was 26,000.  There are several things wrong with this seemingly simple statement of “facts”.

First, the supposed 26,000 cases is based on extrapolation from surveys rather than actual data.  Extrapolation of data is perilous, at best, and hugely misleading at worst.  Let’s assume, though, for sake of discussion, that the extrapolation was done under the most rigorous conditions of statistical analysis and projection.  Simple arithmetic tells us, then, that 22,626 cases of sexual assault went unreported.  Why would 22,626 military personnel, trained and toughened by boot camp, many, presumably, combat veterans, exemplifying the pinnacle of honesty, integrity, and, most importantly, courage, fail to report a grievous case of criminal misconduct?  Only two reasons come to mind:  fear of retribution of some sort or the belief that the incident did not rise to the level of criminal misconduct.

The second of these reasons for not reporting an incident, the belief that the incident did not rise to the level of criminal misconduct, leads to the second problem with both the reported and unreported cases.  Having seen, and taken, many surveys about matters of this nature and related issues, ComNavOps has noted that the surveys are usually written to promote a desired outcome.  For instance, a sexual assault survey might ask if one has ever seen a pin-up type picture during the course of one’s duties.  If one answered yes, the survey might lump that response into a general category of unwanted sexual atmosphere and, hence, classify it as a sexual assault.  Most of us would agree that there is no comparison between racy pictures and physical assault.  So, the second point is that reporting statistics without defining the criteria for those statistics, is irresponsible at best and willfully misleading at worst.

Regardless, let’s say, again for sake of discussion, that every reported case of assault and every extrapolated case of assault is non-trivial, and of a serious criminal nature.  That leads us back to the question of why 22,626 service members did not report such a criminal incident.  Our other reason for non-reporting was fear of retribution of some sort.  It could be fear of reprisal from the assailant, fear of reprisal from the chain of command, or simple fear of the unpleasantness of the entire investigative and legal process.  While all would be valid fears, fear is not the determiner of one’s actions.  Everyone in combat is afraid and yet all are expected to execute their duties and responsibilities in spite of that fear. 

I have to pose the question, “If fear, in whatever form, is preventing 22,626 people from reporting a serious criminal incident, are these people suited for their chosen profession?”  Will a person who is too afraid to report a criminal incident be brave and steadfast on the battlefield?  Will a person who lacks the courage and fortitude to stand up for themself, stand up for their fellows on the battlefield?  Will a person who can be intimidated in daily life demonstrate the determination, courage, and integrity to function properly in combat?

I am not at all trivializing the trauma of a sexual assault or the difficulty associated with pursuing such an incident to its legal conclusion.  I am, however, pointing out that the harsh reality is that we either have 22,626 service personnel who do not have the courage and intestinal fortitude required for combat and should not be in the military or the military is generating false statistics based on extrapolations of suspect criteria in order to pursue a purely political agenda.  I don’t know which is the case but I don’t see a third alternative. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

GAO's LCS Report

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been working on a report on the LCS program and has now issued a draft version.  Aviation week has apparently obtained a copy and has revealed some details from the report in a recent article on their website (1).  It doesn’t sound like the report is going to be very complimentary about the program and, in fact, suggests that Congress “pause” funding of the program.

Here is an excerpt from the Aviation Week article which discusses how the Navy has changed their story and claims about the LCS over time as they’ve attempted to manipulate and adjust the program spin in response to the myriad problems that have cropped up.  The italicized passages are quoted from the article.

Particularly galling to some in Congress is the report’s Table 5 – “Evolution of Navy Statements About Littoral Combat Ship Capability,” which chronicles the changing narrative of the ship’s concepts and capabilities.

What the table shows, Congressional sources say, is how the Navy has changed its tune throughout the program – so much so, that it may be difficult to trust what service officials have to say now, especially in light of some of the unknowns highlighted in the other tables detailing potential factors that could affect LCS costs and operations.

Here’s the gist of the GAO report Table 5:

Concept: LCS’s capability against adversaries

Early (2004-2008): Primarily developed for use in major combat operations.  Will gain initial entry and provide assured access—or ability to enter contested spaces—and be employable and sustainable throughout the battlespace regardless of anti-access or area-denial environments.

Current (2011-2012): Current LCS weapon systems are under-performing and offer little chance of survival in a combat scenario.  Not to be employed outside a benign, low-threat environment unless escorted by a multi-mission combatant providing credible anti-air, anti-surface, and anti-submarine protection.

Concept: How LCS will deploy

Early (2004-2008): Will be a self-sufficient combatant.

Current (2011-2012): Lacks the ability to operate independently in combat. Will have to be well protected by multi-mission combatants. Multiple LCSs will likely have to operate in a coordinated strike attack group fashion for mutual support.

Concept: How mission packages swaps will be utilized

Early (2004-2008):  Mission packages will be quickly swapped out in an expeditionary theater in a matter of days.

Current (2011-2012): Though a mission package can be swapped within 72 hours if all the equipment and personnel are in theater, swapping out mission packages overseas presents manning and potentially expensive logistical challenges. An LCS executing a package swap could be unavailable for between 12-29 days, and it may take 30-60 days or more for equipment and personnel to arrive in theater.

The examples cited in the article barely scratch the surface of the Navy’s ever-changing story about the LCS.  The reason for the inconsistency in narrative is two-fold.  First, the Navy never had a defined concept of operations for the LCS.  It’s hard to maintain a story when there was never a story to begin with.  In the absence of a defined concept, every person connected with the program has had their own idea of what the LCS would be – hardly surprising, then, that the various stories wouldn’t agree!  Second, the almost continual succession of failures related to the program have led the Navy to continually change the narrative as a public relations exercise so as to maintain Congressional support for on-going funding.

The LCS story is written across a backdrop of the Navy’s lack of integrity and forthrightness.  If these hints at the tenor of the GAO report are representative, the LCS has not sailed clear of stormy weather and may, in fact, be headed deeper into the storm.  We’ll look closely at the full GAO report when it’s finalized and becomes publicly available.

(1) Aviation Week, NavWeek: Return of LCS Past, Michael Fabey, 14-Jun-2013

Thursday, July 11, 2013

If You Can't Fix It, ...

This one almost got by me.  You recall that the Navy’s response to the recent rash of INSURV failures was to classify the results.  If you can’t fix the problem, hide the results, I guess.  Well, apparently the Navy has gone even further and eliminated the pass/fail aspect of the inspection.  Now, every ship passes and the inspection is just an advisory assessment.  Here it is from an interview with Adm. Tom Copeman, commander of Naval Surface Forces (1).

Q. The new INSURV lacks a pass-fail grade. In cases where ships have real problems, aren’t you concerned that the new INSURV isn’t calling a spade a spade?

A. I’m not exactly sure of the exact origin of the pass-fail. INSURV’s function is to determine whether ships are fit for further service or not. We do keep metrics, we do compare ships. We tell them how they do against the class, and they understand how they do against other ships of their class in each of the mission areas. So we’re not hiding anything.

Not hiding anything!?!??  You’ve classified the results and eliminated the pass/fail.  I don’t think you can possibly hide the problem any more than that!  If you can’t fix the problem, classify it and remove the pass/fail.  You can’t have a problem if there’s no more failure!  Every time I think the Navy’s honesty and integrity have reached rock bottom, they dig a trench so that the bar can be set even lower.

As disappointed as I am by the Navy’s actions, I’m more disappointed by Adm. Copeman’s response and tacit approval of this sham.  I had high hopes for Copeman.  As a reminder, he’s the one who wrote the article criticizing the LCS and suggesting a host of good improvements for the surface force, in general.  To buy-in to this blatant PR and feel-good exercise is a poor reflection on him, personally.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Budget Highlights

Before we start, here’s a brain teaser.  Can you come up with a single sentence that includes all of the following buzzwords and phrases?

  • Transform
  • Platform-centered
  • Capability-centered
  • Distributed
  • Networked
  • Unique maritime influence
  • Maritime domain

I know, you’re thinking that a single sentence with every one of those buzzwords would just be meaningless jibberish.  Well, if you can’t come up with your own sentence, we’ll look at the Navy’s sentence that contained every one of those buzzwords a bit further into the post.

Now, on to the main subject …  From the Highlights of the Department of the Navy FY2014 Budget book (1) come these tidbits.

In FY 2014 six battle force ships will be delivered:

In FY 2014 sixteen battle force ships will be retired:
3 CG

I take it we can all see which way the Navy force level is going?  Moreover, note the disparity in combat power between what’s leaving the force and what’s entering the force.  In addition to numbers, we’re losing a lot of combat force that’s being replaced by non-combat JHSVs and MLPs.  We’re witnessing the hollowing of the Navy.

The book captures the trends in this table (adapted and modified for formatting on this blog).

Figure 19 – DON Battle Force Ships

FY 2012
FY 2013
FY 2014
Aircraft Carriers
Ballistic Missile Subs
Guided Missile (SSGN) Subs
Nuclear Attack Submarines
Surface Combatants
Expeditionary Warfare Ships (Amphibious)
Combat Logistics Ships
Mine Warfare Ships
Support Ships
Battle Force Ships

Note, in particular, the drop in surface combatants from 110 in 2012 to 92 in 2014.  That’s a reduction of 18 combat ships in just a couple years.

The above totals include all of the Reserve Battle Force Ships which accounts for 8 ships in FY12/13 and 7 in FY14.  Yeah, you read that right.  The Navy has a vast reserve fleet of SEVEN ships available to augment the fleet in the event of war.  Our enemies tremble at the might of our reserve forces just waiting to be called forth to battle!

The sharp-eyed among you may have noted that the only category of ship that is increasing in numbers is “Support Ships”, whatever they are.  I’m guessing that’s the JHSV, MLP, and the like but the book doesn’t define what’s included in each category.

How’s that affordable new carrier coming along?  According to the highlights, FY14 includes over half a billion dollars ($588M) for continuing cost overruns on the Ford, CVN-78.  This figure will continue to rise as construction progresses.  Yikes!!

And now, here’s the answer to the opening brain teaser.  The book contained this sentence regarding mine countermeasures (MCM),

“The Navy remains committed to fielding and delivering the future MCM force that will transform the Navy from the platform-centered legacy force to a capability-centered force that is distributed, networked, and able to provide unique maritime influence and access across the entire maritime domain.”

Whew!  That’s a load off my mind.  I was afraid the MCM program was going to be just a bunch of Powerpoint buzzwords but that statement makes it clear that the Navy is serious about MCM. 

That’s enough for now, I suppose.  I wonder if the Navy reads their own printed materials?  Hmmm …….