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!