"…material readiness of its surface force… well below the levels necessary to support reliable, sustained operations at sea…"

Salamander has a post this morning that should surprise nobody and worry everybody.   It is the direct result of the foolish and short-sighted experiments with “optimal manning” and maintenance deferral.   The full quote, which Sal highlights from the GAO report is this:

In 2010, a Navy report found that the material readiness of its surface force had declined over the previous ten years and was well below the levels necessary to support reliable, sustained operations at sea and achieve expected ship service lives.

Every last major end-item has a relatively fixed set of maintenance requirements.  A number of man-hours for the system and its sub-components per hour or mile or cycle of operation.  Set service lives of secondary repairables for either replacement or overhaul.  It is true of tanks, and trucks, and airplanes, and howitzers, and yes, Navy ships.   When we try cheat, save money by reducing the maintainers, or by deferring scheduled maintenance and repairs, we push the increasing cost curve to the right, which invariably results in massive costs to rectify major and preventable problems.  Long-term unavailability or even loss of key assets is inevitable.    Total cost of ownership, something the Navy often talks about but doesn’t really seem to grasp, skyrockets.

We are not properly manning or maintaining our warships. Deferring scheduled maintenance is a poor choice. Making it a routine one is a path to high expense, low readiness, and shortened service life. Failing to have enough crews to perform routine maintenance exacerbates those things exponentially. It is as predictable and inviolable as the tides.  Serious as these things are, they are but symptoms of the disease.  The disease is the loss of focus on the Navy’s mission. Train your sailors for war, and in their jobs operating and maintaining the ships on which they sail.

Optimal manning was conceived, nominally, as a way to leverage technological advances in training and operation of ship’s systems, increase cross-training and resident skill-sets among our Sailors, and reduce the number of Sailors required to crew our warships.  Nominally.

The driving force behind the decade-long “optimal manning” initiative was largely, perhaps almost entirely, budgetary.   Even as the bold and optimistic predictions for computer-based training and distance-learning were being touted as major components of this new initiative, the limitations of those avenues of learning were well-known to professions in which personnel were required to master operation and maintenance of equipment.  The language being bandied about at the time (and still) provide insight into the mindset that drove the justification for optimal manning.   Phrases like “a new world”, and “revolution in training” speak to genuflecting at the altar of Transformationalism, which is a euphemism for an environment in which fundamentals are too often seemingly tossed out like yesterday’s newspaper.   What should be an embarrassing shame is that some 0-5 or 0-6 (or a few of them) are walking around with Legions of Merit for this whole sh*t sandwich because they showed a short-term operational cost savings on some Admiral’s watch, and that Admiral didn’t have the intelligence (or, perhaps, integrity) to see that his savings would cost his successor, and our Navy, dearly.

As I have asserted before, the temptation will be to try something similar again, a “cost-saving” measure that looks plausible when entered into presentation software and has enough group-think catch-phrases to give it legs.  But it is incumbent upon Navy leadership to remember the REAL bottom line for any policy is the readiness to fight and win our nation’s wars.  Violate that premise, and the true costs of such initiatives may be impossible to calculate.

I get the very real sense that the recently-retired CFFC Admiral J. C. Harvey did what he could as quietly as he could to minimize the damage and rectify the situation.   He tried not to let on how bad things were in the fleet, nor make mention of how idiotic his predecessors and bosses were to adopt something so destructively stupid.   For that, he gets kudos.  Or “mad props”, as you young people say.   But I fear that the leadership of the Navy, the Flags and 0-6s, are still very susceptible to PowerPoint jargon and flashy ideas that sound good in a brief and get little more intellectual rigor applied.   “Thinking outside the box” has come to be a catch-phrase for feeling free to ignore the immutable fundamentals of your craft, usually with painful results.  As one young Navy LT said in an exercise some years back.  “Outside the box is a big place”.    It is also, seemingly, where the hemorrhage of tax dollars to our Navy is ending up.  And we wonder why Congresscritters don’t trust what comes out of an Admiral’s mouth regarding his own service?

Of course, my favorite “futurist” tells us there is really very little new under the sun:

Our ships in every harbor
Be neither whole nor sound,
And, when we seek to mend a leak,
No oakum can be found;
Or, if it is, the caulkers,
And carpenters also,
For lack of pay have gone away,
And this the Dutchmen know!

12 thoughts on “"…material readiness of its surface force… well below the levels necessary to support reliable, sustained operations at sea…"”

  1. I really should read the blog more. I spent ten minutes getting ready to post this myself!

    As we used to say in the Army, “maintenance is training.” People that know their equipment well enough to fix it also tend to have a good grasp of how best to operate it. A deeper understanding of the equipments capabilities and limitations. As excellent as most technical and operational manuals are, there are always undocumented aspects to the optimal use of any piece of equipment.

    The Navy got 51 years out of the Enterprise. But make no mistake, the last ten years probably cost enough in maintenance to buy another carrier. (Well, not at CVN-78 prices, but at early Nimitz prices). The point being, using a ship past its useful life can be done, but is hideously expensive. Therefore, it makes sense to spend a little more early in the ship’s life to ensure you DO get the entire useful life out of it.

  2. Closing the SIMAs was a key blow. NAVSEA and BUPERs did not help.

    In a perfact world, those who made the decisions that led us here would not be promoted to flag rank.

  3. URR, that’s another direction I didn’t want to go.

    BT URR, I have a young student who is a year away from enlisting in the USMC. I’ve given him a lot of general info, the Commandant’s book list and a few other things I thought would help.

    Understanding that every Marine is a rifleman, which broad area (aviation / arty / etc.) would yield the most mind-broadening travel and / or the fastest advancement.
    Is it like Navy Rates “Chose your rate, choose your fate”? I want to steer him to a very good first encounter with his recruiter.

    1. If he is looking to do something that is the backbone of the Corps, he should look at a Ground Combat MOS. Infantry first, and then probably artillery and possibly tanks/tracks. They are the forward edge, and also he will get the best leadership experience there. He might be one of 28 Corporals in some ELMACO unit, but he will be a squad leader or gun team leader, or even a section chief, as a corporal. They are the real deal, those young ground combat Marines. IMHO.

  4. Brad, you and Salamander have invested a great deal of words and time into this issue. My question is this, how do we fix it? We’re just kidding ourselves if we think that this is not going to take a great deal of cash. Even if we take all of the entitlement programs and zero them out, we’ll still be short of money. You cannot run a 20 year war and not expect the results. If we gave the wealthy, the tax cuts that they want, how do we make sure that those tax credits will generate jobs? In my humble opinion, the only thing you will see is this, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. Unless the rich understand that the money is not their’s and that they are simply stewards of their wealth, then you have a chance of solving the problem. They need to understand that their wealth has a purpose beyond themselves. They need to see themselves in one of two ways, either the tax cut goes directly toward job creation or the Nation claws it back. But in all circumstances, it is not theirs. I am not pushing for tax cut this is where I see the greatest chance for growth in this great Nation.

    1. Well, from my perspective the number one priority needs to be more boots on deckplates. As an interim step we need to allow maintenance to be performed during field days and MCH. The ship can still go to sea if you can write your name on top of a light fixture. It won’t if the RPSW pump seizes. Get back to the standard of never applying paint to paint. Stop the scheduled dog-and-pony show spot checks and actually watch maintenance being performed, the WCS should have a good idea of what’s going to happen in the next 24 hours or so. Above all demonstrate to the sailors that their time is valuable.

      As for the rest, you really need to read an economics textbook or three. The economy doesn’t exist to provide jobs, it exists to create wealth. Jobs are just how most of us go about it. The Nation cannot claw back wealth because it never owned it in the first place. It was created ex nihilo. The rich are simply the most effective wealth creators. They aren’t stwerards of wealth they are owners, for the simple reason that without them the wealth wouldn’t exist.

      Don’t blame the wars for the problems with the defense budget. Blame the wasteful entitlement programs. If you wanted to fix the military overnight simply zero out SS, Medicare, and Medicaid. The purpose of government is to protect rights, not run ponzi schemes.

    2. Grumpy,

      If we ‘zeroed out’ the entitlement programs for a year, it would equate to three and a half years’ worth of defense spending.

      By the way, the wealth IS theirs. They are not stewards of it. You could take every billionaire in this country and forcibly expropriate every dime they all have, and it wouldn’t make much of a dent in a single Obama annual deficit.

      The problem was the Navy’s poor caretaking of their ships and their sailors. Yes, some cash will help solve the problem, but not without a ‘come to Jesus’ about how to train and maintain a Navy that is ready for war. First, and foremost. And you can start with getting rid of the “Global Force for Good” nonsense. They sound like a Kiwanis club with ships.

    3. While the rich may well continue to get richer, the poor will not get poorer. There’s no upper limit on the amount of wealth to be created, but there is a finite limit on how poor one can become. As a practical matter, the poor in the US have enjoyed a rapidly rising standard of living, such that today’s poor in America have greater income and wealth than most people worldwide.

      And your flawed sense of who owns wealth deeply disturbs me. As Jeff and others point out, the wealthy are NOT stewards of that wealth, but owners. It is not yours to take.

      But even were they merely stewards of the wealth, I’d still leave it in their hands, as I’m convinced they’d show better stewardship than any government.

    4. Grumpy, let’s just say the government handed me 20 million dollars and I decided to spend it buying a private jet. You can make arguments either way as to whether or not it was a good investment, but what you can’t argue about is that MANY thousands of people will benefit from that purchase.

      Sure, the broker gets a cut of it, but so does the guy that rolls the aluminum sheets in a foundry, so does the guy that pours the rubber for the tires. So does the guy that spins the copper into wires. So does the guy that makes rivets.

      Of course, there’s also the minor detail of the government taking something that you own … and if you don’t think that’s a problem, then you’re pretty much beyond hope.

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