The inevitable result of penny-pinching, wrong priorities, and poor planning

I’m pleased to see the new Secretary of the Navy do some plain speaking.

The 10 deaths aboard the USS McCain last month and the seven aboard the USS Fitzgerald in June have many causes, which Spencer addressed in a Senate hearing yesterday. But the fundamental problem is a collision between a shrinking fleet, growing operational demands, and erratic funding for training and maintenance.

“When I said yesterday that the Navy has a problem and we’re going to fix it, (that means) we’re going to have to come to … some sort of balance between supply and demand,” said Spencer. “The COCOMs (Combatant Commanders) are going to have to understand it, and the Hill is going to have to understand it.”

The Navy has been operating according to a “false math… that we couldn’t afford,” the secretary said. “We have been punching way above our weight and possibly robbing Peter to pay Paul to get our missions done, and now the bills are coming home.”

Longstanding Navy culture will have to change, Spencer said, to make it acceptable to say “no, we can’t” when an already overtasked or undertrained unit is given a new mission. “You truly have an organization, as you all well know, that is biased to action and the word ‘no’ is just not in the lexicon,” Spencer said. “We have to find a balance … because the pure blind answer, yes, without assessing the risk is non sustainable.”

The accidents only make the problem worse by taking two ships out of circulation. The Fitzgerald will be in repairs for over a year. The McCain’s assessment is still ongoing but the damage looks to be less extensive. Repairing the two destroyers will cost an estimated $600 million, money which Spencer noted is not in the Navy budget. The service will have to ask Congress for supplemental funds, and “it’s going to have to be sooner rather than later,” Spencer said, almost certainly before the 2019 budget request in the spring.

In the medium term, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has prioritized plus-ups to readiness funding for all four services – in many cases deferring modernization. The goal is to catch up on the years of cancelled training and deferred maintenance that resulted from the 2011 Budget Control Act capping defense spending even as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq dragged on and new threats arose from China and Russia.

The long-term solution is a larger Navy. The fleet has shrunk from its 1987 high of 594 ships to 278 today, even while the number of ships deployed outside US home waters at any given time has stayed roughly constant at about 100. That means ships and sailors must deploy more often and for longer, putting more strain on humans and machines alike with less time for recovery and repair … Unless the demand for ships drops – which is unlikely – then the supply of ships must rise.

There’s more at the link.

I lay the blame equally at the doors of the politicians and the Navy’s senior leadership.  Politicians wanted to have more money available for entitlement programs and other vote-getting projects, so they short-changed our armed services.  The armed services, on the other hand, wanted the latest in flashy, gee-whiz hardware and weapons (e.g. the bloated, long-delayed, unbelievably expensive F-35 program), so they short-changed other elements of their responsibilities such as maintenance, training, etc.  The result is damaged ships and dead sailors in 2017.

I worry about that in the light of the current crisis over North Korea.  Are our armed forces really ready for action there?  I guess there’s only one way to find out . . . and I hope and pray that doesn’t become necessary.




    Nothing has changed since 2008. Nothing at all. The problem cannot be fixed at the deckplates, on the bridge, at the squadron, at the Group or even at the 3 star force commander. It was created and is maintained by the Chief of Naval Operations and his OPNAV admirals who stole the money and manpower to build truly worthless ships. It was a crime when they started and remains one.

  2. The armed forces need to be cut 50% effective immediately. Little of what they do has to do with anything resembling a defensive position. The federal government is a far scarier threat than anything overseas I can imagine. Besides, the CIA creates those problems for someone to make money from anyway. How much better off would the world be if Saddam and Gaddafi had been left in power?

    We don't a dozen aircraft carrier fleets or several hundred worldwide military bases.

  3. Hey Peter;

    I saw the same kind of thing in the 70's we called it the "hollow Army" for the Army anyway. Spare parts and training took a back seat to mission requirements and PC nonsense. THe Navy would crossdeck ships coming in for parts to send the next ship on deployment. The Airforce had hanger queens that were regularly cannibalized for parts to keep planes flying. The Military would not say "NO" even to the detriment of the service. You can ask OLD NFO about that time from the squid perspective. I see a lot of the same kind of thing going on now.

  4. I disagree that it has much to do with funding. I'm sure the Navy and DOD want you to believe that, because a bigger budget is a good thing for them. However, basic seamanship has nothing to do with budget. As the Captain of a warship, I don't need a bigger budget to know that I can't sail my ship in front of another and get hit by it.

    I see the problem as being one that belongs squarely with the Commander in Chief that allowed the Navy to get in this condition- President Obama. He got rid of Admirals with whom he had political disagreements and replaced them with politically reliable pencil pushers who were more concerned with turning the military into a politically correct social program to allow transgenders to receive free sex change surgery and try to train female Navy SEALS than they were with assembling an effective fighting force. So now we have a Navy that is capable of being inclusive and tolerant of the social issue du juor, but incapable of steering a ship without getting rammed by another.

    This is why we are having so many problems with Russia, the NORKS, and China. These other countries KNOW that our military is largely a paper tiger, and they are no longer afraid of it. Si vis pacem, para bellum.

    It is time that we have the military focus on being an effective fighting force, instead of being a safe room for various social outcasts.

  5. Divermedic said:

    "However, basic seamanship has nothing to do with budget. As the Captain of a warship, I don't need a bigger budget to know that I can't sail my ship in front of another and get hit by it."

    Wrong. Oh, so very, very wrong…

    The problem isn't that the captain doesn't know he "…can't sail my (his) ship in front of another…", it is that the crew he's been given to prevent this from happening is too inexperienced and inept to prevent it–And, that goes back to the basics of training, which are a lot more perishable than many realize.

    You want to see the effects of cutting training and operations budgets, you're not going to notice them until the time comes that you actually need your military units to go out and do things. A peacetime Army or Navy can go a long, long way coasting on the effort and effect of earlier eras when training was conducted more often, and the money was available to do it often and intensively. Once you stop, though? The whole thing starts grinding to a halt, as key skills get forgotten, and critical operational techniques and issues are forgotten. Hell, wait long enough, and let the old timers retire? You may never recover any of the old proficiencies, and have to reinvent the wheel, entirely.

    You want to know what matters in military effort? It's not the sexy stuff–It's the prosaic, day-to-day things like operating a ship, and knowing what to pack, and how to pack a 20-foot container to deploy to the other side of the world. It's the little things, like having the guys in the unit who are actually qualified to load trains for the ports of embarkation, and having the NCOs around who know all the pitfalls of running port operations at either end. Lose those skills, and you start to run into a lot of problems, like having your ships hit commercial vessels.

    The problem with all this stuff is that it's essentially invisible to the military's political masters. They can understand and quantify building new ships, planes, or tanks–But, training? That's an intangible that they can't quantify or grasp. To a Congressman, a screwed-up incompetent unit looks much the same as a good one does, and they can't grasp how to get from one state to the other.

    We spent the 1980s essentially rebuilding the Army from the sorry state that we allowed it to get into during the 1970s, and it showed. However, as soon as Bill Clinton hit office, the corners started getting cut, and my opinion is that if 9/11 had taken place about five-ten years later than it did, the state of the Army would have been such that it would have been a massive, massive embarrassment to the nation. As it was, there were still enough folks hanging around, waiting for retirement, that we still had a semblance of institutional memory to build on. Without that? I shudder to think what the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan would have looked like.

    The Navy has suffered because there's been little or no real naval action the last twenty years. Everything has been land-based operations, with only the carriers getting exercised, and not a hell of a lot of effort happening elsewhere in the fleet. As such, the money has not gone into things like keeping the bridge crews trained and proficient, so… Things happen. I was shocked to learn that the average surface warfare officer in the Navy gets about 10% of the time that a merchant marine officer gets in ship handling, with similar levels of experience going down the line through the crews. Too many distractors, too little steaming time out at sea.

    And, I'm afraid that a lot of that comes down to budget, budget, budget–Just like time out in the field training, for the Army. Cut the operations and maintenance budget, from which most of your training funding comes, and guess what?

    The results are clearly visible. And, the result of deliberate decision by the politicians and civilian leadership…

  6. It's the same for all the services. Our stupid government (and the Chiefs of Staff who go along) has been making too deep cuts for too long.

    And you don't need multi-billion, multi-service aircraft (the F-35, as you mention) when all you need to do is upgrade what you have, where possible.

    I was glad to hear they are once again bringing the A-10 Wart Hog out of retirement. It is a great close support/ fighter aircraft and I expect the improvements they are going to make will only make it even better.

    I am not smart enough to go on, but I am sure all the services – given all the training accidents when they can train, that all the services are having, proves they all need reinforcing.

  7. I know, having sat in COCOM meetings up until 2016, that they DO know the cost/impact… Both in OPTEMPO and PERSTEMPO, but the administrations pushed to fulfill 'all' of the military commitments, including those bilat/trilats that are governed by various treaties. The bottom line is there is not enough money to fix the ships, airplanes, and helicopters, nor is there money to conduct the underway training required to meet BASIC requirements, much less intermediate or advanced requirements. Without getting into specifics, I can say the CRUDES are roughly 2 weeks short of underway days a quarter, at the minimum… And flight training/crew training is roughly 50% of what it was when I was on active duty, and we WERE proficient at our jobs!

  8. As a Navy brat, being around a bunch of old salts whose service covers WW II to Grenada, one or the biggest deals was making chale for various watch-standing gigs, Bridge, CIC, engine rooms, reactors, all specialised gigs requiring different skills. We lost fewer ships to battle damage in WW II than the Brits, fix we learned, and trained the shit out of damage control crews, until IT became a specialty.
    Between cost of ships and special equipment, the Navy fails faster than ground forces, other than a aviation or from heavy armor units.
    Bottom line, it takes money to fix….

  9. I tend to agree with Dive Medic. Yes training and PM are huge issues for Big Blue but you need to know what side of the street you drive on. And as captain of the vessel you need to know who can handle a ship in heavy maritime traffic and who can't. If your not sure then you need to stand the watch till you do.

    Yes I know easier said than done.


  10. Again, my point is that the service gets plenty of money, but are spending it all on non-mission stuff like gender reassignment surgery, trying to turn women into SEALs, and other things that have ZERO to do with the reason why we have a military.

    We already spend more on our military than every other nation of the world COMBINED. Instead of spending more, let's make sure that the money we are spending is being spent wisely.

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