Friday, September 3, 2010

What the GAO LCS Report Reveals

Hopefully folks have had time to read the GAO Littoral Combat Ship analysis by now. When I read the report the first time, I made a list of specific details I wanted to discuss... but that discussion will have to wait. As I was going through the report the second time I found myself thinking about the bigger issue the report reveals; a problem Navy leadership can no longer ignore.

The US Navy is in decline because leadership has allowed the standards of the US Navy to decline. This is reflected in the way the US Navy treats equipment, technology, or the quality people within the ranks of the US Navy. I am talking about the decline of standards as an accepted culture in the Navy first hinted in the Balisle Report but clearly prevalent everywhere. The Navy has taken "product" out of productivity and has accepted a culture of churn that is incapable of producing results. The Navy is not results oriented - it is productivity oriented, and it is why the results being produced by the Navy both in terms of equipment and manpower reflect work, effort, and intent... as those are the activities that are measured. I also strongly believe the career path for officers within this culture brutally kills innovation and creativity in the development of officers in becoming leaders.

Yes, the GAO LCS report reflects all of this - because it reveals systematic problems previously identified and evident in other areas of the Navy.

What are the primary problems revealed by the GAO report? The first problem is that every mission module program is incomplete, and each of the three mission modules is currently pending a review towards building a currently non-existent piece of technology to meet the original requirements. The original requirements were written when? By whom? Where are those people now? If any of the folks who were part of the original requirement development process were promoted, it was because they were able to check a box after they produced a set of requirements that was left for the next guy to execute. In other words, someone moved on because they produced a concept that has ultimately failed to be executed into a program.

All of the productivity exerted by folks towards producing a Littoral Combat Ship has yet to result in a product with value.

Shore Churn

The second problem is the Littoral Combat Ship will be fielded as a ship absent the capabilities to fully utilize the system constructed. The ship is an empty shell, a naval truck with no payload. This is not a problem exclusive to the Littoral Combat Ship though - the problem extends across the fleet. The US Navy doesn't have enough missiles for Ballistic Missile Defense, and yet the US Navy is building DDG-51s for Ballistic Missile Defense. The US Navy doesn't have enough missiles to fill the VLS cells on CGs, DDGs, SSNs, and SSGNs. The US Navy doesn't have enough aircraft to fill the decks of the existing or future aircraft carrier fleet. The inability to meet payload capacity on the Littoral Combat Ship isn't a problem exclusive to the Littoral Combat Ship, it is an accepted lower standard on all warship types across the entire fleet. US Navy leaders talk about needing 313 ships? How about buying enough weapons to fill the available weapon payload capacity on the 288 ships we have today first?

When was the Naval Operational Concept written and completed? I distinctly remember it being referred to as NOC 09, before it was released in 2010. Who worked on the NOC? When did they finish? Were the people who wrote the NOC around when the NOC was released, and where are those people today? Given the amount of time involved, my bet is everyone of them has moved on and there is a whole new staff in that N3/N5 now. Why does this matter?

Because a bunch of folks did their churn, checked their box for doing the churn, and the product likely sat in some flag officer Inbox for months. How important is a product that sits around in some flag officer Inbox for months? Accountability begins at the top, except it really doesn't, does it?

When I caught up with N3/N5 in Durham, NC nearly two years ago for the 'conversations with the country' regarding the release of the maritime strategy, it turned out most of the authors had moved on. Less than a year after the release of CS-21 everyone had moved on from N3/N5. No one in N3/N5 had a personal stake - ownership of the document, because those who were there at the time didn't write it. It wasn't their churn. Where the product went from there didn't matter to those in N3/N5 - it was their turn to focus on the next document. The new folks were tasked to produce their own personal churn towards a new document - the job necessary for them to check their box. What about the old document? It didn't matter. Foreign governments analyze every single sentence in our strategic documents, but have you noticed how after a strategic document is completed by the US Navy it often quickly disappears? When was the last time you heard about the NOC? These documents mean more to the CNO's speechwriter than they do the vast majority of sailors, or officers.

I have an email from a public email list from back in March how someone mentioned that Naval Doctrine Publication 1 has been updated, and is soon to be released. It's fucking September already, whose desk is that document sitting around on? It hasn't been updated since 1994, so a few months won't matter? It is a product, not productivity, and in the US Navy culture today that means NDP1 probably is not as important to the document producers because the churn today is now being dedicated to current processes like AirSea Battle - which matters more today because it means a check box, and the check boxes for something completed in March have probably already been passed out.

If product mattered to Navy leadership, Naval Doctrine Publication 1 wouldn't sit in some flag officers Inbox for 6 months. NDP1 only discusses trivial topics like Naval Warfare Doctrine for the US Navy. What is the message to the rest of the Navy when a Flag officer just sits on a final product for 6 months, even when the final product is Naval Doctrine Publication Number Fucking One?

That is to be expected though, because final products don't seem to matter in the US Navy; there is no follow through and attention to detail doesn't always come from Navy leadership. The result of the product doesn't really matter in the current Navy culture, only the churn contributed towards a product matters. That means the next group of folks who enter any department with the Navy begin their assignment with the absence of ownership of the product the last person produced, and if the productivity of the last person didn't go perfectly - often the new person would take the career hit for it unless they put out enough churn to fix the problems observed on their watch. It doesn't matter how bad something is, it only matters that the revelation of how bad something is doesn't take place on their watch, or doesn't reflect poorly on their churn.

The promotion culture is intended to develop well rounded officers who are "jack of all trades" types but master of none. If significant churn is provided during an assignment, you get a check box. If you stay on an additional tour to see productivity turn (churn) into final product - your career might actually suffer for that commitment towards completion of work. When a FITREP measures effort instead of result, there is no incentive for creativity or innovation - indeed those attributes are actively discouraged by such a system because they don't enhance the FITREP.

Where is the attention to detail at every level when it comes to final products? You can't tell me attention to detail regarding final products is a leadership priority when flag officers sit on the NOC for a year, or NDP1 for 6 months, or when the final product of a shipbuilding program as outlined by the GAO looks like the LCS. I'm the biggest fan of the LPD-17 you know, and that program is nothing short of a dumpster fire in trying to turn the churn committed to an entire class of ships into a finished product.

Have you noticed how fast everything must move ahead these days - the Littoral Combat Ship being the beacon of moving too fast to actually meet a schedule. The GAO report states the current US Navy plan intends to buy 17 ships and 13 mission modules by 2015, but by 2015 exactly 0 mission modules will exist across the final baseline. There are currently no plans to buy more anti-submarine modules, because the Navy hasn't decided what it will look like. The range of the best weapon system for the LCS ship itself in the current surface warfare module is 3.5nm with the 57mm gun - which isn't even a system that is specific to the surface warfare module. NLOS is gone, and no replacement has been named - the Navy is looking for a new alternative to that problem. Another study to produce a report for a new program that will be studied by the GAO regarding effectiveness as a replacement... - just churn baby, churn.

The mine countermeasures module is waiting on a UUV that current plans intend to field by 2015, and the Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System won't be fielded until 2017 - and that assumes neither program suffers from further delays. Who is willing to bet on a Navy time line on any program right now? Who is going to be running the Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System program in 2017 anyway? I think it is a safe bet that person will not be the same person who is running the program in 2011 or 2014.

Dear Congress, the Navy wants $10 billion for 15 vessels that come with limited endurance, a maximum combat range against other ships of around 20nm, and no completed payloads. K. Thx. Bye.

Between now and 2011 the CNO will be out doing his duty - his own churn and dance in public speeches and in front of Congress promoting the Littoral Combat Ship program. It is a program where productivity is evident by the consistency everyone appears to demonstrate working hard - but lets face it, the GAO report reveals just how little the final product actually matters to the Navy. $10 billion for 15 ships with uncertainty in the payloads for each mission requirement? I am estimating 15 ships at $550 million and $1.75 billion for module development = $10 billion.

Is there anyone in Congress going to call the Navy out on this bullshit? Hell, someone should call out the SecDef on this nonsense - it's his watch and he appears to be taking a nap while at the helm.

Read the GAO report again. Print the report and play with your yellow marker. Think about the problems discussed, and the underlining problems that brought us here - and are built into many of the potential solutions that still lay ahead. The way I read the report, the Littoral Combat Ship isn't the problem - it is a reflection of the big problem. Want to fix the Navy culture? It won't be easy, because the culture will fight the change. Figure out a better system to measure performance of both equipment purchased but also people, and put "product" back into the massive amounts of productivity that is evident - but evidently not producing final products all the way to completion (which extends beyond delivery). If the Navy can move the cultural goalposts just that much, it would be a running start towards a new, badly needed culture of becoming a results oriented organization.

I don't see any relief coming to any of the troubled Navy programs until the culture issue is addressed. The culture of churn that doesn't direct organizational priorities towards performance measurements and accountability for product or service delivery is issue #1 in the US Navy. The culture issue spills into everything else - if that doesn't get fixed then there is no reason to expect anything else getting fixed.

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