This issue marks the first Proceedings appearance by the 31st Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson. We asked USNI News Staff Writer Megan Eckstein and Editor Sam LaGrone to report on a briefing the admiral gave at the National Press Club in January, immediately preceding his address later in the week at the annual Surface Navy Association symposium. The CNO laid out his priorities in a new “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority.” The “four lines of effort” in the document are: “strengthen naval power at and from the sea; achieve high-velocity learning at every level; strengthen our Navy team for the future; and expand and strengthen our network of partners. . . . The character of the game has changed so much and is changing faster still day by day,” Admiral Richardson said. “If we don’t address that, we’re not going to be able to remain competitive, not be able to achieve our potential, or worse, even maintain superiority over our competitors.”
But ensuring that competiveness or superiority will be difficult in the years ahead, mainly due to fiscal constraints. The U.S. Navy’s latest 30-year shipbuilding plan calls for the purchase of 178 ships, including 4 aircraft carriers and 12 costly Ohio-class replacement subs. The plan reflects what the Navy realistically will need to maintain its capabilities and viability. But it also illustrates the disconnect between needs and the means of paying for them. “The tyranny of time, the stubbornness of high shipbuilding costs, and competing fiscal priorities will put pressure on the size and capability of the future fleet,” warns Eric J. Labs, Senior Analyst for Naval Forces and Weapons at the Congressional Budget Office. As Dr. Labs explains, something, quite simply, has got to give: Either the future fleet numbers need to be tweaked, or congressional budget-allotment percentages will have to be reshuffled, or, probably ultimately, both of the above. But the numbers don’t lie, and the clarion call is clear: “In short, over the next 30 years the Navy faces a slowly unfolding fiscal Pearl Harbor.”
One solution to this looming crisis is, of course, to “do more with less.” But that charge has become so ubiquitous that it’s in danger of becoming a cliché. Nevertheless, the Navy will have to encourage innovation in the search for opportunities to reduce costs without sacrificing quality. According to Commander Robert Brodie, this could be accomplished by observing commercial shipbuilding techniques reminiscent of customizable car options such as the sea-frame concept, as well as applying novel business approaches. “If U.S. Navy personnel had the freedom and ability to apply contemporary technology and organizational thought, the resulting culture of innovation would allow the service to rapidly outpace any competitor,” he argues. Using his 27 months on board the high-speed catamaran Swift, the author details the opportunities for low-cost innovation that he witnessed. But his suggestions often fell on deaf ears. “Feedback and applying lessons learned to the next iteration of the prototyping process is crucial to innovation. However, these opportunities are often overlooked.”
Shipbuilding isn’t the only area in which spiraling costs threaten to derail future projects. The problem can be found at several levels, from technology development to weapons procurement.
Adam Jay Harrison sounds the alarm to the Department of Defense that it needs to embrace innovation partnerships in technology with the denizens of Silicon Valley, even sharing in the high cost of research and development with those businesses. Some in the DOD already realize this, with recent overtures made by the former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Sandy Winnefeld, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and current Secretary Ashton Carter. But those innovative corporations still need to be convinced that the military as a partner would be a good thing. After all, writes Harrison, “through World War II, the United States relied on civilian industry to underwrite weapon system development.” But that’s not now the case. “By 2006, many of the largest defense contractors by revenue in World War II had exited the military market altogether.” And Harrison knows why.
Scott O’Neil, executive director for the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, makes the case that tactical weapon systems have become too complex and too expensive. The high price tags of current systems result in lower inventories, higher maintenance costs, and inadequate training—all of which are detrimental to the services. “We routinely overstate the requirements for a new weapon system, understate the readiness of the technology to be employed, and are overly optimistic regarding the cost and time to develop and deploy these new systems.” Simpler, cheaper systems that interoperate would improve efficiency and save money, he contends.
Paul Merzlak, Editor-in-Chief