To Build the Fleet We Need: Demand Humility & Challenge Arrogance
mindset and mindfulness matter
Why must we continue to remind everyone who will listen of the failures of the Age of Transformationalism™? Simple; we cannot afford another generation of programs lost to arrogance, ignorance, and toxic command climates that leave bad ideas and ahistorical program assumptions go unchallenged.
Futurism, offset promises, overmatch assumptions, risk devaluation, divest-to-invest – these are all attractive ideas that brief well. They seem to promise to solve so many hard problems. They offer more for less.
They seem to allow an easy path; a way to avoid hard work and compromise … and to accrue to their advocates accolades as the “it guy/gal” who has all the vision and provides all the comfortable answers.
This is an ongoing fight. The Transformationalists won the bureaucratic war two decades ago with disastrous consequences to our Navy. The second and third order effects continue to haunt us as we approach the middle of the third decade of the 21st Century and by many measures the US Navy is now the world’s 2nd largest navy as a result.
We did this to ourselves.
To fix this we need to take affirmative action to grow our fleet. How we find the money to do that is for Congress to figure out, but grow it we must. To do that we need to understand, acknowledge, and study how we got here.
Over at National Review, our friend Jerry Hendrix has a must-read article that puts where we are in context and reminds people something we will have to repeat over and over this decade – we did this to ourselves. It is perfectly titled, “The Navy’s Littoral Hubris.”
The apparent operational successes in Operation Desert Storm (1990–91) and later during the breakup of Yugoslavia (1995–2000) convinced Navy and Department of Defense leaders that future operations would occur largely in permissive environments and against low-end small-state or non-state actors. Based upon these assumptions, they set about to design a Navy optimized to operate in littoral environments. The resulting ships, the Ford-class aircraft carrier, the Zumwalt-class destroyer, and the Littoral Combat Ship, were the products of these assumptions.
Each of these ships came with an additional fault hidden in its initial design: a hubristic belief that the moment had arrived when the United States could execute a significant technological “leap ahead” in ship design on par with the development of the HMS Dreadnought in 1905, a battleship that, according to legend, rendered all other existing designs obsolete with its launching.
The Ford-class carrier, which was optimized for increased sortie generation based upon a concept in which it would conduct high-tempo flight operations near the shores where the targets of its aircraft were, was designed with five major revolutionary changes.
The USS Ford, which cost nearly $15 billion, was commissioned in 2017 but, because of problems with each of its new subsystems, has yet to deploy operationally overseas.
The Zumwalt-class “land-attack destroyer” was conceived with a unique mission and a set of technical challenges of its own.
Currently the plan is to remove the gun mounts and use the space to carry the Navy’s new Conventional Prompt Strike hypersonic missiles. When escalating costs and technological challenges, along with a changing security environment, rendered the ship’s “land -attack” mission moot, the decision was made to truncate the class, with only three of the originally planned 32 ships being built. This leads us to the final innovative component of the “21st century” ships (the cruiser version of the “family” was canceled before construction of the first ship began): the two Littoral Combat Ship designs.
The LCS class of ship was to be small, fast, highly maneuverable, and, most important, inexpensive when compared with the multibillion -dollar-per-hull destroyers and cruisers that made up the remainder of the Navy’s surface force.
Almost immediately, problems began to accumulate. ... The Navy’s leadership, which had conceived the LCS in an era when management theory dominated councils of power, made the decision to continue building the ships and send them to sea, charging young commanders and their crews to figure out how to make them work. Unfortunately, no amount of management, or leadership, for that matter, could overcome the flaws hidden within each design.
Congenital flaws began to emerge as each class became operational, resulting in their being referred to as “Little Crappy Ships” in navalist blogs and even professional literature. These inherent flaws immediately began to directly degrade the ships’ operational readiness.
These two ship classes, designed for 25-year service lives, are being recommended by the Navy’s uniformed leadership for retirement a bare ten years after their commissionings.
Here is where this horrid two decades of delusion bears its fruit;
The loss of these ships would drop the Navy’s battleforce from the 298 ships it has today down to somewhere in the 270-ship range for some time to come. ... Congress has passed a law requiring the Navy to achieve a battleforce size of 355 ships, a goal that seems more unreachable with each passing year.
Regulars on the Front Porch remember that we made this recommendation first in 2007 - 15 years ago;
In 2020 the Navy announced that it had selected the European multi-mission-frigate design, which is currently operated by four other nations, for modification and construction in the United States. Currently ten ships are planned, but there are clear indications that the number of Constellation-class frigates (as the category has been named) will grow considerably.
As a matter of fact, let's look back at how I started that October of 2007 post.
Let me beat that drum a little harder - license build a EuroFrigate NOW!!! Do it while we still have time - time to keep the Fleet numbers treading water and have enough shipyards open.
A revolutionary project on PPT is just that - on PPT. An evolutionary project (see pre-WWII Cruiser development and the history of Carrier development as an example) results in ships pier-side and ships underway. Good officers have bought the line over this decade that LCS with all its toys will let them cover 10x more water than the old Spru-cans did - and do it better? ADS was to be one of the keys in doing this.
We have put all our eggs in that gilded crap-basket of an LCS - thanks to Sid, we have the proof much of the oversold ASW capability increase portion has gone poof. With ADS gone we now have, well, an poorly configured, expensive, undermanned Corvette.
There it is. We were not alone ... but there is it.
Back to Jerry's NR article. He ends with about a perfect note.
While it would be good to find ways to extend the lives of and make operational the LCS platforms that have been built over the past two decades, the Navy’s new frigates, along with the advanced Virginia-class fast attack submarines, will represent the modern balanced fleet that will give national policy-makers the confidence to maintain American interests in both peace and war. The previously conceived “21st-century family of ships,” expected to include the Littoral Combat Ships, will soon be forgotten artifacts of a hubristic past.
If you find people who are new to the maritime side of the natsec community or are not up to speed with how we got there, get Jerry’s article in front of their eyes. It is a superb 1-stop summary.