From LCS to Missing Pay - the Wrong Midset Remains
there is a common thread - but few desire to pull it
You can see it in individuals as well as institutions. There is a way of conducting your daily life that is defined by attitude, habit, and expectations. What and entity does is directed by a set of incentives and disincentives - and often just baseline personality - that got it to where it is today. To simplify things, a “mindset.”
My father was a salesman his entire life. As such he had a very good understanding of people - a finger tip feel that, like his ability to never forget a name, I sadly did not inherit. I did listen to him, and I try to remember those things he taught me that he knew intuitively.
Near the top was the simple but powerful observation, “If you want to know how a man runs his business, look at how he runs his personal life - and likewise.”
He also warned to be careful of people who are very public of their virtue, “Be careful doing business with anyone that has an ichthys on their business card.”
I also learned something that I try to reming the the guy in the mirror about, “People with bad habits don’t stop on their own, they need to be forced to. The longer time one has the bad habit, the more likely it will be to come back.”
Almost to a fault though - even with his very clear view of the nature of man (he was a Calvinist at heart) - he was always trying to help people and could suddenly trust someone you would not think he should trust. On occasion, this led to disastrous results.
I suffer from that same habit … though I am a bit more critical of myself when I fall for those people than my dad was of himself. Dad was much more competitive than I am and I think he saw public self-criticism as weakness. As for me, Mrs. Salamander will on occasion see me brooding, ask whatsup, and when I start to say, “I made the mistake of…” she’ll finish with, “…trusting someone?” … and then will just let me stew it out. Though a modest man, dad kept his self-criticism private.
So, there’s a little oversharing, but it kept coming to mind as I went through the following draft of today’s post.
One recurring challenge we’ve returned to here since 2004 is why our Navy continues to fall in to the same destructive habits. I know Papa Salamander would probably just say, “It’s their mindset.”
I think that’s correct.
We’ve often asked here and on Midrats, “Are we really a learning institution?” Yes and no. I used to think we simply had an institutional block of taking onboard hard lessons - and we do - but this is perhaps a byproduct of a much deeper problem; an immature mindset flavored by an obsession with spreadsheets (efficiency cult), shiny ideas (transformationalism), and for some - the seduction of personal gain (the human condition).
It requires a lot of effort to avoid the seductive rush of the benefit-to-me-now in order to avoid the cost-to-my-relief. Often the benefit now seduces the weak who are incentivized to throw the concept of stewardship.
What works well that is being tossed to the side over and over? It is boring, unsexy, and isn’t very likely to raise your profile, but it is the approach with the greatest record of success - and has a centuries long record of true risk reduction. Not unlike climbing a rockface; always keep a firm hold on what you have right now with one hand while you ensure that your next hold is a good one.
Sure, it takes longer to make the climb, but it makes odds of falling much less. It would be more exciting and make flashier videos to make leap-of-faith to leap-of-faith jumps and swings, but it also has some rather existential risks should that ledge you think will hold your weight turns out to be a loosely attached cluster of stones.
How does that have anything to do with the military? Let’s use the most simple example, the infantry rifle, and how it is done right. Gloriously inefficient, but highly effective.
The M-1 Garand was, to quote General Patton,
“the greatest battle implement ever devised”
… but it wasn’t as omnipresent in the hands of American soldiers in WWII that many have been led to believe - mostly due to the post-WW2 movies that almost exclusively showed the M-1 Garand or M-1 Carbine etc.
Even late in the war, that wasn’t true.
Most know that the M-1 “replaced” the Springfield Model 1903. I put the ““ there for a reason. In our universe, after a few years of development that included having to bounce between the desired new .276 Pedersen (7x51mm) cartridge to the General MacArthur dictated return to 30-06, it was in its final form by 1928. Initial trials started in the early-1930s and then first production rifle in 1937. Due to the usual - and this is the important part - expected and planned for challenges with a new platform, it wasn’t really produced in significant numbers until the war broke out in Europe and didn’t get into the fight until the USA was already well in to the war.
What did the US Army do about production of the “old” Model 1903 bolt action rifle? Did they stop producing it in the mid-30s? Perhaps once full production was running in the late 30s? I’m sure the Garand briefed real well.
The Model 1903 was still in production until years after WWII was over, 1949. Throughout the war, many American units would have the 1903 as their primary weapon - not just the sniper version who those with a Saving Private Ryan thick understanding of WWII might think. The only direct mention many today may be familiar with of the Model 1903 in popular culture was The Pacific. Guadalcanal was not the point that the Garand took over. It truth, it never fully did.
Well, that would take a book, so I’ll keep it simple. It was not so much a hedge as a mature understanding of production and development - something known by learned practitioners of the acquisition art for centuries.
What have we seen the last quarter century? Why, we have “divest to invest.”
Got rid of the poorly maintained Spruance DD’s and still young OHP FFG as The Smartest People in the Room™ had a new theory about what kind of ships would be more efficient in the Tomorrowland of war that was to come, and the LCS coming online will be awesome. Trust us.
We can go ahead and plan on shutting down the Arleigh Burke production line because that awesomely transformational DDG-1000 (even more exciting looking than the Independence Class LCS dontchaknow). We’ll never have to restart it. Trust us.
Don’t worry about our Ticonderoga Cruisers limping by on their Spruance hulls. CG(X) will be awesome. Trust us.
See the trend? It is a mindset based on a variety of things, but mostly it is an immature arrogance that the power of positive thinking combined with an unbending confidence that you are so much better than the generations that came before you give you a special power no one ever had. Even better, those who don’t praise your special powers are the problem, not you. You have solutions, they are only interested in harshing your vibe.
Concerns and hedging were “old think.”
Imagine what things would have been like if Model 1903 production was ended in 1936 - or if they did then what we have done this century. What if in 1928 - they destroyed the Model 1903 tooling, sold the factories, and retrained the craftsmen to work in public affairs.
We could do this for hours, but I think I’ve already lost a lot of readers, so I’ll cut to the chase - what does this have to do with today?
Mindset. DDG-1000, LCS, CG(X), DTS and others all come from the same mindset.
The environment that created these monstrosities has not changed. Now it is infecting something as simple as keeping your military fed; keeping them paid.
If you know anyone in the Navy in active service the last few years, they can tell you their own version of what Geoff Ziezulewicz at Navy Times wrote about last Thursday;
In 2018, the three-star admiral in charge of Navy personnel promised the fleet would soon reap the benefits of a massive effort to modernize how the Navy handles pay, entitlements and retirements.
Collectively known as “HR Transformation” and formerly named “Sailor 2025,” the program would allow sailors to handle their pay and records needs from their phones, as easily as they bank, among other benefits.
As part of that process, the Navy would modernize and unify dozens of antiquated information technology systems that process pay and other sailor needs.
“By the end of 2019, Sailors will do most of their personnel business by smartphone ashore or desktop applications afloat,” then-Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke wrote in “Proceedings” magazine. “By 2023, they will have forgotten about today’s personnel system and many of its frequent frustrations.”
But here in 2023, those grand promises have not materialized. In some ways, frustrations have only increased.
You can almost smell it.
Some sailors have not been paid, while others have lost access to their healthcare or have not received the rent money or other entitlements that they are owed.
Most pressingly, those leaving active duty have seen their DD-214 and post-service paperwork and benefits severely delayed.
Eventually, the Navy has made these sailors whole, and Navy brass insist that the worst of these problems are in the service’s wake.
But they have yet to explain why the critical work of HR Transformation, slated to cost at least $1.6 billion, inflicted such pain on so many sailors.
Does anyone from the deckplates to Congress have any reason to believe all is well? Sure, like we did with LPD-17, if you throw enough money and Sailor sweat on a dumpster fire, you can put it out … but does that help you understand how the dumpster fire started so you can take steps to prevent others?
Do we do nothing because we assume that in the future that there will always be a reserve of money and Sailor sweat to pull from - as that is easier than solving the core issue, mindset?
This isn’t some nameless bureaucrat who is selling this to an unbelieving public, but senior uniformed leadership.
This mindset of constant happy-talk like we are not the customer but a paid employee of industry is a mindset problem. There are institutional incentives and disincentives in place that continue to produce not only sub-standard “improvements” - but at a cost of institutional capital where - again - we see senior leaders over-promising and under-delivering in a manner they would not accept with their subordinates, and their subordinates know it.
A mindset of partial truth, shared delusion, confidence in self-interest over institutional stewardship.
I am not sure why we should expect change in such a rolling track record of underperformance. Have we changed how we promote our leaders? Have we changed how we reward this leadership style or that?
No. As such, why should we expect a different result?
Pay is one thing, but what about the lessons from the summer of 2017 where after the senseless deaths of 17 Sailors who were drowned in berthing we made all these promises that we would change?
Wyatt Olson at Stars & Stripes has been digging through the latest GAO report … and it should produce rage;
The sea service’s readiness suffers to a greater degree than the other service branches, the report concluded.
The GAO assigned a “readiness rating” for the domains of air, sea, ground and space based on data from fiscal years 2017 through 2021. Only the sea rating decreased for both resource readiness and mission capability readiness during that period, according to the report,
The Navy was plagued by worsening ship maintenance backlogs over that five-year period for 10 classes of ships reviewed by the GAO.
“The 10 ship classes we reviewed face a litany of maintenance and supply challenges related to the age of the ship, shortages of trained maintenance personnel, and diminished manufacturing sources for parts, among others,” the report states.
“According to program officials, these challenges affect operational availability and the costs required to sustain those ships.”
The most troubled areas were increasing lengths of depot maintenance delays, more frequent “cannibalizations” of working parts for use elsewhere due to shortages, and reports of ships too impaired to conduct their primary missions.
“The average days of depot maintenance delay per ship among the 10 ship classes we examined increased about 5 days to about 19 days per ship in fiscal years 2011 through 2021,” the report states.
Officials from program offices for nine of the 10 ship classes told the GAO that they had a hard time getting needed spare parts, which resulted in an increase in ship maintainers reusing parts.
“With the exception of fiscal year 2017, the average number of cannibalizations per ship increased every year from 2015 to 2021,” the report states.
What more is there to say? The Navy is the worst of the services, and not just in football. That should shame you. That should upset you. We paid attention to our officers drowning Sailors for one year, and … just look at it.
I’ve heard some good things about improved training improving - but there was a lot of upside potential. There were more significant issues than training though.
Accountability for all this? Where is it?
The fault isn’t just with the Navy who cannot maintain a focus on changing itself for the better, but on Congress who has not forced it to, and a whole series of Executive Branch administrations from both parties who either believed what they were being briefed, or never made the fundamentals a top priority or promoted people who thought they were.
Have a better explanation? I’d love to hear it.