Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Clear Public Commentary Why the Surface Force of the US Navy is Hollow

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Jan. 11, 2013) The guided-missile destroyers USS Laboon (DDG 58) and USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) transit alongside the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Lenthall (T-AO 189) during a replenishment-at-sea. Laboon and Forrest Sherman, homeported in Norfolk, are on deployment supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)
There is an unfortunate pattern Admirals in the US Navy seem to always follow. First, they will cite specific details that outline that there is clearly a serious problem, and then they will suggest that the problem is actually over the horizon. Vice Admiral Tom Copeman did exactly that today at the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium when he discussed surface fleet readiness.
“When a combatant commander says a ship’s supposed to leave on deployment and it doesn’t leave on time for whatever reason, then we know we’ve probably gotten there,” Copeman told an audience of hundreds of officers and industry leaders. “And there’s ships right now that aren’t doing it.”

In a speech that centered on the challenges of shrinking budgets, Copeman warned that the surface Navy may need to sacrifice ships in the coming budget battles to ensure the ones it keeps are fully manned and equipped.

“We’re not getting ships through the basic training phase as quickly and easily as we have,” the head of Naval Surface Forces said. “We’ve got amphibs that are getting out of the yards and deploying nine weeks later after extended yard periods. We’re cross-decking people like crazy to get ships on deployment, out the door. And what does that do? It allows the ships that are deployed to do their mission, but the ones back home — we can’t certify them because we took the people off of that team.”
I think it is interesting that VADM Copeman can simultaneously note the cross-decking shell game taking place all over the surface force and even acknowledge the incredible strain it puts on the ships back home, but also suggest the Navy is somehow not yet but close to being hollow. I guess I do not understand why the cross-decking shell game isn't the sign the fleet is hollow and instead the Navy has to wait until something is broken or someone is killed before acknowledging the condition of the fleet.

I think it is a serious concern that an Admiral would acknowledge a shell game like cross-decking sailors so that ships can meet deployments as part of business as usual (or an unofficial, new accepted lower standard) instead of that being the gigantic red flag it should be, because quite honestly I fail to see how standard isn't recognized as lowered when that shell game is business as usual for the surface force. Don't give me an excuse suggestion that because cross-decking has been taking place for a decade it isn't a sign of a hollow fleet when - that's the point!

The surface warfare community ha been behind the eight ball on maintenance before the most recent fiscal challenges even began according to Balisle Report, which suggested it was possible that nearly every surface combatant in the fleet was underfunded on maintenance for over a decade or more. Now the Navy compounds the historical maintenance shortfall of nearly every warship by undermanning the ships when they are in home port and further complicating that shortage with the now completely integrated and acceptable cross-decking policy.

The surface force isn't about to be hollow, the surface force is a hollow shell today that accepts shell games as an acceptable standard of readiness. Cross-decking is a shell game, and I'm not even going to detail how the entire INSURV process represents the ultimate shell game in the surface warfare community.

On July 26, 2011 in his last Congressional hearing before Admiral Greenert became CNO, Admiral Greenert gave testimony that seemed very relevant today as I watched VADM Copeman speaking at SNA.
I can't tell you for sure, Mr. Chairman, if we're at an inflection point or a tipping point. But I can't -- but I don't see how we can sustain this pace of operations indefinitely and meet the readiness standards.

If we try to do so, I think it'll consume the expected service life of our force structure earlier than designed and planned, and we'll face a cascading increase in the cost to achieve the expected service life for those ships. And reaching that expected service life is a foundational element of our future ship inventory and, accordingly, our shipbuilding plan.
Look at the length of carrier strike group and amphibious ready group deployments. The Navy is breaking records regarding deployment length - see the recent Bataan ARG deployment. Ships are about to lose maintenance periods due to the continuing resolution and the sequestration debate, the surface force can't fully man ships at home, the Navy still hasn't caught up to the issues outlined in the Balisle Report, and apparently after an 18 month inflection point the Navy can't even admit they passed the tipping point and have been a hollow force with reduced standards for some time.

When Vice Admiral Copeman is willing to talk about the shell game of cross-decking sailors to get ships out for deployment at the Surface Navy Association symposium but doesn't seem to recognize that is a critical sign of the fleet being hollow (because he has already willingly, culturally accepted the lower standard), there is a big f-in problem in the surface warfare community that starts at the top. Why? Because that specific detail is clear evidence that in the view of the community leadership, the value of people in regards to ships isn't legitimately the foundation of a ready surface force, it's simply a CNO slogan.

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