Risky Business–Tomahawk Style

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross fires a tomahawk land attack missile while conducting naval operations in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert S. Price

 

 

 

 


I just published an OpEd piece in American Military News after looking at the FY 2019 DoD Budget again.  I can’t believe we aren’t asking for more Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles.  The Reason? We are going to build a new Land Attack Missile by 2028…..that’s around 10 years folks!  Any bets on a 2028 delivery?     Anyone?     Bueller?   Anyone?    Anyway, I think the piece says it all, so I invite you to read it.  Here’s the link to the article…..Closing the Tomahawk Line is Risky Business.

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[Non-DoD Source] Sigh…ber Part 2

What’s up with that kooky title?  Well that’s how all your email coming from outside the “dot mil” domain appears to those inside…As if they are somehow more secure?  I guess this is an attempt to highlight emails coming from us pogues outside the secure boundaries of DoD email and to alert those on the inside that there is danger in communicating outside the domain….non-dodPersonally, I would like all their outgoing email to be marked [DoD Source] so I can choose not to read some of the mountains of stuff that comes out from them…Like the DoD media reports that give us a detailed “Readout of SecDef meeting with the Dali Lama” and the like (See the News section of this web site).  I don’t think I have ever finished one of those “Readouts”, because frankly, there’s nothing of substance in them.  Does anyone outside the Pentagon really care?(and I’m pretty sure only a very select few inside do)   That’s a candidate for [DoD Source] marking so I can avoid it.  And yet, some GS-15 is probably making a lot of money producing them.  There’s also the de rigueur morning DoD press reports of the wildly successful strikes against ISIL targets conducted by our forces overnight.  Yet another candidate to be marked [DoD Source].  I guess I have just become overwhelmed by all the happy talk to the point that I just don’t have confidence that everything I read is really “true.”

Now hold on there you DoD buckaroos!!!!!  I’m not saying that what you put out is not “True”, but I think we can all agree that words can be put together is a way that while they are true, they may not be “truthful.”  I put on an occasional seminar on Ethical Decision Making and in that class I discuss some points concerning “truth.”  truth2  Perhaps the most famous seeker of a definition of truth was Pontius Pilate when he asked, “What is truth?” He didn’t get an answer to his question then and the answer to his question has been  debated for centuries.  In my previous article , Sigh-ber, I touched upon the wisdom of always being completely truthful so I won’t jump into that morass again.  But is always just telling happy truth, and ignoring some of the bad news, being completely truthful?  I think not.  I recall during one session on the Hill when I was asked if we had fully funded the ship maintenance requirement I replied, “Yes Sir.  We have fully funded the ship maintenance line to 75% of the requirement!”  True enough!  Anyway, I digress.

I am somehow offended that DoD chooses to mark my email as [Non-DoD Source].  I suppose I should be grateful that they deign to open my “insecure” emails.  Given the thousands of emails folks receive in the Pentagon, my guess is that they will all become desensitized to that phrase and will ignore it.   But……if someone ever clicks on a [Non-DoD Source] email and causes some sort of bot or bug or worm or virus to be introduced into that bastion of security, the “dot mil” domain, the Cyber-police will descend upon them for ignoring the [Non DoD Source] warning.  I am sure the cyber-Dons within DoD are correct when they believe that this sort of thing can’t happen from within the “dot mil” domain….But somehow I still see echos of Bradley Mannings, Ed Snowdens and a lot of others who had inside access, that could care less about [Non DoD Source], because they were a [DoD Source]!

PS.  My N8 former self can help but wonder how much it cost to mark all non DoD email as [Non DoD Source].

FoundationAnchorLogo  Please help our wounded Sailors and Coast Guardsmen by attending a performance of “A Christmas Carol”, presented by the Little Theater of Alexandria on the evening of December 16th by clicking here.

 

 

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Service, Sacrifice and the Luxury of Choice

This will be one of my briefest articles, but a couple of things have compelled me to write about service, sacrifice and the luxury of choice.  First and foremost on my mind is the upcoming Veterans Day, a national tradition dating back to November 11th, 1918.  The end of the “War to end all Wars”, marked by a cessation of hostilities between German and Allied forces, was put into force on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”  When President Wilson declared Armistice Day to be observed beginning in 1919, his intent was to have nationwide parades and events at 11AM on November 11th.  The Congress eventually formalized Veterans Day in 1938, when it was declared that this date would be a time to honor American veterans of all wars. There was a time in the 60’s when there was a push for the big Federal Holidays (Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day) to occur on Mondays, allowing for three-day weekends to encourage “travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production,” but it was confusing and in the end Veterans Day moved back to November 11th in 1978.  I don’t know if Wikipedia is the final authoritative source on Veterans Day, but according to Wiki, the purpose of Veterans Day as we now celebrate it is to “honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”

“I do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) to bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and to observe and obey the orders of the president of the United States of America, and the orders of officers appointed over me.” 1789 Oath of Enlistment

While many veterans who served before 1973 may have been drafted and therefore not necessarily “volunteers” they still certainly sacrificed much in service to America.  And many indeed volunteered to serve, even during the period when the draft was in effect.  Since 1973 we have been an all-volunteer force and except for a few lean years, the Services haven’t had much trouble in filling enlistment quotas.  I marvel  at the extraordinary sacrifices our active duty, guard and reserve men and women in uniform make every day: risk to life in conflicts, separation from family and friends, careers put on hold, dangers at work,  and countless others sacrifices that only they know.  So I am proud to be among their number, although I am mindful that many have sacrificed so much more than I.  They will be on my mind this upcoming Veterans Day.  If you are looking for a way to honor those who have sacrificed much, there are many options….go to a Parade, give a homeless vet food and shelter, donate to a veteran-focused charity, etc.  But for me, please don’t say “Thank you for your service.”  As far as I’m concerned that’s a mindless phrase, a cop-out which allows one to feel good without having to commit anything.  It’s expected and akin to saying “Bless You” after a sneeze.  They are words spoken without commitment or consciousness by many who utter them.  I would much rather hear, “I never served, but as a way of showing my gratitude for those who did, I work with homeless veterans at the local shelter”, or maybe, “Where did you serve and what did you do?”  That shows interest not a clever, trendy reflex.  And I would be OK with a “Thank you for your commitment America.  I am grateful for your service.”  At least put some thought and feeling in it!

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God..” Current Oath of Enlistment

I said I was going to be brief, so I better wrap up..The other event on my mind was the recent election of Representative Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House.  I certainly wouldn’t want that job.  But I was struck with his “demands” and how they contrast with the service our veterans rendered to our nation.  They didn’t get an opportunity to bargain for weekends off to be with family or to say “I will serve, but only in CONUS.” Seems to me that he’s only going to be Speaker for a few years (probably less time than the average enlistment contract), so suck it up!  Remember all those who don’t get a chance to spend weekends with their families while being shot at……a far cry from dangerous caucuses or risky debates in the halls of Congress. So it must be nice to have the luxury of choice and get credit for service without too much sacrifice as so many on the Hill are wont to do. I guess that explains why there is no “Congress Day” on our national calendar.


Here’s a way to honor our Veterans this year.  Attend the Navy Safe Harbor Foundation Veterans Day luncheon at the Army Navy Country Club at the 11th Hour of the 11 Day of the 11th month:  Click here to register.FoundationAnchorLogo

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Sigh–ber

It’s been a while since I opined on matters I know little about…so I thought I would continue that tradition by putting out a few thoughts about all things cyber.  No doubt you have all heard about cyber-xxxxx until you are becoming immune to the cries of “Danger Will Robinson.”

RobotAnd that is a real problem because cyber crime, cyber snooping, cyber intrusion, cyber war, and all manner of other things is perhaps the most significant challenge to the well-being of the good ole US of A in this century, IMHO.  I’ve attended a series of meetings and had a couple of events in my personal life that have caused me to think a lot about this problem.  But they way, I don’t claim ownership of any of these ideas.  I have heard them in a variety of places from a variety of people.  I just wrote them down in one place.

Nothing chafes me more than getting my credit card rejected, and then finding out that my credit card company has detected the unauthorized use of my card and I must get a new one.   That’s when I realize just what a poor job I have done in protecting myself….I even have a spreadsheet now with all the web sites that I have to visit to update my credit card number.  It has web addresses, user names, account numbers and passwords all laid out so I can spend about two hours on line changing them all…..Am I the only one with this problem??? I’ve started trying to put everything on line through PayPal, but who’s to say that won’t be hacked next?

Think about all the bad things that have happened due to cyber crime in the last year or so…..Target gets hacked, the Joint Staff email system is fried, the Pentagon Food Court is penetrated, the OPM debacle.  SF86-doodyBTW I just got my ( less than timely) letter last week from OPM informing me that all the information on my  SF86’s was compromised….that’s efficiency for you!!! (No wonder they got hacked if the timeliness of their notification is any indication of their expertise) How long has it been since we all knew about the OPM fandango???? And yet…..no one has gone to jail on the criminal side and no one has been fired or disciplined ….for any of those things.  And I’ve got to say that in the case of OPM, it seems to me the cure is worse than the disease….Let me get this straight…..I get free monitoring for a couple of years and all I have to do is enter in all the personal information they couldn’t keep secure anyway…They want me to enter driver’s license number, bank account numbers, credit card numbers….What kind of idiot do they think I am?  They gooned it up once……and most likely will goon it up again…There’s no way I’m putting all that info into anything that has anything to do with OPM or the US Government, for that matter…( Isn’t the lowest bidder providing most of the government’s security packages?). They should just ask the Chinese or the Russians for my info, since they apparently already have it………but I digress.

As I have been thinking about cyber security and listening to the experts over the past few months, it has dawned on me that this is a problem like no other we have ever encountered.  And that means it’s going to require some very innovative and unconventional thinking to fix it (and thus the perfect reason why DoD shouldn’t be in charge).  Moreover, this problem is much too serious to be given to the techies to manage.  This is far too important to keep in the IT closets of government and corporate America.  Management and leadership must know this stuff cold and be intimately involved every day, in every way.  Why do I say that? Here are a few unique aspects to the problem:

  • Everyone is an operator.  Except for a few holdouts from America’s Greatest Generation, virtually everyone is slammin’ away at a keyboard or tip-tapping on a touch screen or talking to Siri(for those who are unable to get anyone else to talk to them).  You don’t need a license, or any training, or have any awareness of just how badly you can screw things up to “operate” on the Internet.  You all know people who shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet….the people who actually reply to the email from Mr. H. J. Spankle, Esq. from South Africa telling them that their long-lost cousin has left them a fortune. Or the ones who hit the “reply” button on the email from their bank telling them to update their user name and password……And yet they are all out there spending hours on-line, causing who knows how much damage.  Their vote counts just as much as yours, by the way.   This is why cyber experts will tell you that in most breaches, it’s not technology, but people at the root cause.
  • There are no boundaries. There are no borders to control, no time zones, no hours of operation, no holidays, no boundaries of any type on the Internet.  As a result, it’s not clear where jurisdictions begin and end.  I suppose you could say that firewalls are a type of boundary, but even the best of firewalls eventually get penetrated.  I was recently visiting NAS North Island in San Diego and went to the Mother of all Starbucks, located next to the carrier pier.  I tried to use my smartphone app to pay for coffee, but was told they weren’t allowed to use that feature on the base because of the possibility that using the Starbucks Pay App might cause a cyber-intrusion in the base network…Huh?  If that’s the case on NAS North Island, why isn’t that the case at any Starbuck’s.  They don’t even use the Navy network and yet the Navy is worried about intrusion.  Can that be true?  Do the folks making those decisions really know what they are doing???  I hope so, but it doesn’t make sense to me. This type of mentality reminds me of the old saying in Naval Aviation, ” If safety was paramount, we would never fly!”
  • No one is in control. This relates to the no boundaries problem. Since there are no boundaries, it’s not clear who is in charge.   Of course, there are several organizations that may exercise some moderate influence,  like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) or maybe some of the companies maintaining Authoritative Name Servers (the keeper of the “phonebook” for domains like .com, .net, .org, etc)  Until about 1999, a company known as Network Solutions,Inc. did this function, but now several entities claim this responsibility, along with organizations for domains like .biz and .edu.  The United Nations has been monkeying around with Internet Governance as well, claiming that they don’t want the US in charge (BS IMHO) but in the end there is no single “belly button” in charge.
  • There in no difference between military, government and civilian operations. Everyone is in the same boat.  This becomes a real problem after a hacking event when trying to attribute the attack to someone or something.  Was it a hostile act by an opposing military power or was it a criminal act by some organized crime actor, or was it a terrorist act by a radical group, or was it just a random act of boredom by a “hackivist”  wasting time between Minecraft games?  Who knows?  It all looks the same.  This is a fundamental problem in determining what type of response is appropriate for any given attack.  I have no doubt the US has the capability to “smoke check” every single computer in North Korea….or even turn my own laptop into a time bomb fueled by a “Phaser Overload” in my lithium battery pack, but to what end? Is it our responsibility to be the “Net Police”? Is it DoD, DHS, FBI, FCC, Radio Shack???? I just don’t know (and apparently neither does any of our leadership).
  • All share in the risk.  Just look at the Target incident.  Even though I might have been a completely hygienic internet user with impeccable security habits, all I needed to do was buy a lightbulb from Target using a credit card and BINGO….I’m hacked!!  And think about the problem of someone else using your computer for whatever reason…all they need to do is click on one spam message and you are hacked.  In fact, it takes just one ne’er-do-well on your vastly secure network to plug in one thumb drive, and you are hacked.  You are at risk, even if you chose not to play the game.  This has huge implications.  BTW,  do you all have the new credit cards with the chip that is supposed to enhance security?  You know, the one that doesn’t work in any of the credit card readers?????? As far as I can tell it’s still swipe, swipe, swipe your personal information away!!!!!!
  • Cyber-Health is nonexistent in the masses. Probably an overstatement, but the point is that even very well educated folks are constantly falling prey to all sorts of scams, phishing schemes and electronic theft.  Think about the little device that criminal stick to the ATM card slot that copies all your ATM card info. Or what about the scanners that can cue your smart phone to dump its address book (now we need metal card holders to prevent intrusion, a la the new Pentagon Badge Holders?).  So my contention is that the vast majority of internet “operators” pay about as much attention to cyber-hygiene as they do about the dangers of texting and driving…..Once again, it only takes one to spoil the whole barrel and there are plenty of rotten apples running around out there.

So there are just a few reasons why cyber-related problems are unlike any we have tackled before.  No great revelations here and sadly no solutions.  But I contend that to get to the solution, we must first understand the problem we are fixing. I don’t think we are anywhere near understanding the extent, nature or consequences of living in a world where everything is connected.  To my way of thinking, we have too much of a good thing and that can be bad thing.  I am reminded of a discussion I once had with a prospective bridegroom when I was a marriage mentor.  We were talking about the special relationship between married couples….no secrets, everything open and above board…Then I remembered that sometimes openness and honesty may not always be the best policy when it comes to marriage….I made that mistake early on in our marriage…..I recall coming home just weeks into our wedded life and passing on the blueberry pie the lovely Mrs. Crenshaw has spent many hours preparing (after attending classes all day).  “Just so you know, I don’t like blueberry pie,” I said.  Some four-two years later I regret that moment of honesty every day!!!!!!!!!!blueberry

 

 

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Whoa Nellie!

So I guess you have to be an old guy like me to remember Keith Jackson, long-time ABC Sportscaster,  shouting “Whoa Nellie”KeithJackson1 but that’s what came to mind as I read the latest on the US Marine Corps audit saga.  Apparently GAO has forced the DoD Inspector General to retract the Marine Corp’s clean audit opinion because of problems in the suspense accounts.  Here’s a link to an article in Defense News with  the details. I have opined on DoD audits on several occasions….first shouting with joy at the accomplishment, then wondering if it really mattered and finally pointing a limp finger towards the Defense Finance and Accounting Service for using “plugs” to fix differences with the Treasury.

So for the record……I told you so!  It’s hard for me to believe that the underlying problem has existed for so long without apparent remedy.  Here’s a link to a 2005 GAO Report in which GAO finds:

Until DOD complies with existing laws and enforces its own guidance for reconciling, reporting, and resolving amounts in suspense and check differences on a regular basis, the buildup of current balances will likely continue, the department’s appropriation accounts will remain unreliable, and another costly write-off process may eventually be required.

 That was almost 10 years ago folks!  This has been a continuing report topic for the GAO with various status updates being published throughout the years.  Here’s an excerpt from the Summary of a more recent GAO report from December 2011:

Neither the Navy nor the Marine Corps have implemented effective processes for reconciling their FBWT[Funds Balance With Treasury].

Huh?  Navy and Marine Corps have been preparing for audit for years and yet it doesn’t appear that they were able to make any progress in fixing a problem identified by GAO way back in 2005 as a key impediment to a clean audit opinion.

So what are the “Suspense Accounts” that are causing such a problem?  Technically GAO defines them as “Combined receipt and expenditure accounts established to temporarily hold funds that are later refunded or paid into another government fund when an administrative or final determination as to the proper disposition is made. “ Translation: The place where a transaction is put when the documentation is incomplete so that it can not be assigned to a specific appropriation before it’s written off.  To get an idea of scale, in 2005 GAO reports it was an absolute value of $35 Billion.  Who knows what it is now? But I point out that it’s just about the amount of the DoD Sequestration hit.  Perhaps if they fixed this problem, sequestration wouldn’t have such a bad effect?  It seems to be to be awfully hard to go the the Hill and say that $35 Billion in spending cuts would kill the Department, when they are not exactly sure about $35 Billion already sitting around.  Those on  the defensive will say that the differences are eventually reconciled, but I am skeptical…and since they are already written off, does it really matter?  My guess is the money goes straight into the US Treasury Black Hole that all checks drafted to the US Treasury go…you know…that big ever increasing dense ball of greenbacks sitting in the Treasury Department basement.

This problem is precisely why DoD needs to get on with the audit….so they can be sure they know where the money is and provide accurate estimates of the impact of budget cuts.  If my kids came to me and said” We need more allowance”, and when asked what did they did with allowance I already gave them they reply, “We don’t know, but we need more!”, I would be highly skeptical of their requirement.

As it stands now, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines will spend around $45 Million this year for audits they already know will fail because of the DFAS Suspense Account issues.   Why not spend the money to fix that problem before plodding ahead for a pre-ordained result? To be sure it’s a tough problem…after all we have her unable to fix it for 10 years.

Who’s to blame, you ask?  Well, there’s enough to go around….DFAS for not fixing it, but also the Services for not taking actions to fix the paperwork before it gets to DFAS.  Ultimately, the fault probably rests on the shoulders of all those folks in DoD who improperly enter information at the command level.  I would also guess that given the kludge of IT systems required to record transactions, that errors are also introduced between systems, hand-jammed data is incorrectly transferred, and  by improperly trained people entering data.  This is what is referred to as a “Wicked Problem,” in management parlance. A “Wicked Problem” is defined as ” a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The use of term “wicked” here has come to denote resistance to resolution, rather than evil. Moreover, because of complexity, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems. For more info on “Wicked Problems” you can download the original paper written by C. West Churchman for $30 here.

Is the problem of unresolved transactions so complex that it defies correction?  Perhaps given the current architecture within DoD it is, and that alone is reason for the new DCMO to tackle it.  A fresh look is needed and the DCMO might be just the person to do it.  Right now DoD has an acting DCMO, and given the current political environment, I am not too sure the current nominee, Peter Levine will get confirmed….But for now Mr. Dave Tillotson has the dot.  Can someone in an “acting” position draw enough water to tackle this problem?  Don’t know, but why not give it a whirl. If and when Mr. Levine gets in the chair, it would be a great legacy to fix this problem once and for all.  Given his reputation, I have no doubt that he could fix it.

 

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The Name Game

Those of you who have read some of my previous musings know that I have a bee in my bonnet about Pentagon “Double Speak.”  You know… the overly complicated buzzwords and phrases for simple things.  Here’s a link to one of my articles that has some examples. A few of my favorites include:

  • New Presence Paradigm: Overseas Bases
  • Hybrid Contingencies: Kludges
  • Proxy Groups: Terrorists
  • Dynamic Environment: The Real World
  • Asymmetric Approaches: More with less
  • Rebalance Tooth-to-Tail: Cut contractors
  • Win Decisively: Win
  • Rebalance: Cut
  • “Opportunity, Growth, and Security” Initiative: Slush Fund
  • Innovation:  Not in DoD dictionary
  • Multi-lateral Security Architecture: Treaty
  • Force Planning Construct: Size
  • Efficiencies: Negative Budget Wedges

As I was reading the news this morning, I found this article on the name change of the “Air Sea Battle” concept in DoD Buzz.  So forget about Air-Sea Battle and let me introduce you to Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons! True to form, the Joint Staff has managed to take a relatively simple name and complicate it to the point of non understanding. Of course what would  a new concept be without its accompanying acronym, JAM-GC?  I suppose the pronunciation will be JAM-Jic or something like that.   I can here the conversation in the Pentagon Food Court now, “What are you working on now?”….”Oh, I’m now the JAM-Jic lead and believe you me there’s lots of jamming and jickin to be done now that this Air-Sea thing has vaporized.”

So, I was never a fan of the Air-Sea Battle thing.  IMHO, it was just a budget ploy by the Air Force ( and a somewhat reluctant Navy) to show relevance in an era where it’s relevance was waning.  It’s not the first time the Air Force, after becoming alarmed by increasing dependence on  and relevance of naval forces, began to seek ways to move into Navy mission territory.   This always puzzled me, because in my mind it’s always be a air-sea-land battle.  Especially as the perceived budget pressures have forced all the Services to cut force structure.  In any serious and protracted campaign, the Navy needs  Air Force tanking and command and control capabilities.  And the Air Force relies on the assets from the Navy with little or no support requirements to beef up the Joint Force.  It was never clear to me why Air Force and Navy needed to invent a “new concept”  for something that has always existed….except for the issue of the Joint Strike Fighter.  This $160 Billion over-budget, 7 year-late program is costing the King’s treasure and consuming all other aspects of the budgets of both services. Why not influence operational concepts as well?  The story line?  Air Force and Navy are inextricably linked by the Air-Sea Battle Concept and we must have the JSF to make it work.  To the Hawks on the Hill, this can be a very compelling argument.  One wonders what was going through the minds of the Army folks while they watched this little menage a deux develop.

Well, I guess the Army dusted things up enough to cause a name change, albeit no less threatening to their budget.  As they say in the Patriot’s locker room, “All’s fair in love and war!” So to appease the Army, it appears we now have a new concept.  And the name is a doozy…..Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons.  320px-Shipping_routes_red_blackAccess is there to appease the Air Force and Navy, while Maneuver is there to keep the Army below the horizon of the doctrinal landscape.

I have to comment that the new name doesn’t do much for me…..especially the Global Commons piece.  To this dinosaur, Global Commons is just a hoity-toity  pretentious way for the Pentagon illuminati to show how deep their thoughts are.  What is/are the Global Commons?  Here’s what Wikipedia says:

a term typically used to describe international, supranational, and global resource domains in which common-pool resources are found. Global commons include the earth’s shared natural resources, such as the deep oceans, the atmosphere, outer space and the Northern and Southern polar regions, the Antarctic in particular. Cyberspace may also meet the definition of a global commons.

I am assuming that in the context of the Pentagon’s understanding, global commons to us unenlightened means “the places we want to be, that others don’t want us to be.”  My suggestion for the name of the concept would be the “Enter, Conquer,Stay, Operate” Concept, ECSO  or EkSo.  It’s sooooo much nicer than Jam-Jic, Don’t you think?

Anyway, as we face serious and deadly threats from everywhere and everything, Syria, Afghanistan, ISIS/L,Budgets, cyber, meteorites, ebola, global warming, etc., it’s good to know we still have thinkers working on US access and maneuver in the Global Commons.

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One for the Price of Three!

Only in the DoD acquisition world would this sound like a good deal!  But before we cast too many arrows at the acquisition community, I must admit the idea is mine.  I developed this idea over the course of years of working in the Bizarro World of DoD ship financing.   You remember Bizarro? Bizarro It’s the world where everything is backwards….the name of the bizarro world planet is Htrae (so clever!) and the world is square.  As I recall, it was featured occasionally in Superman comics in the 1960’s. One of the mottos in Bizarro World was ” Us do opposite of all earthly things.”  Bizarro bonds were a hot item on Htrae because they were “guaranteed to lose money.”  So I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to make the analogy here.

As I learned during my time as Chief Resources and Requirements Officer for the Navy, the normal things you learned about economics don’t necessarily hold true when it comes to buying ships.  My initial experience was during my first year on the job.  We were working on balancing the budget and were about $400 Million off.  The staff proposed that we slide the purchase of a ship we were buying for the Army called the LMSR (contrary to popular belief, the Army moves primarily by sea, not air).  The price tag was about $400 Million and the staff had determined that we could stand to slide it a year.  “Sounds good to me!” I answered, happy at the prospect of putting a bow on the $130 Billion Navy budget and delivering it to OSD just in time for Thanksgiving.  By the way, that’s how you make sure that you don’t get rejected right away…..Submit something just prior to a big holiday so no one is around to grade your work.  This rule works in a variety of scenarios:

  • DoD generally drops significant RFPs just before holidays to force contractors to work feverishly at the expense of their families to get the proposal complete by some arbitrary deadline (which generally gets extended anyway).
  • The Congress always passes bills at the eleventh hour before big holidays, in hopes that the particulars will escape the media.  What’s more interesting? The details of the CR passed the day before Thanksgiving or the press conference where the President pardons the turkey?  Or maybe the 3 minute spot on the evening news which shows the neighbor’s Christmas lights display of 100,000 watts, synchronized to “All About That Bass.” I vote for the turkey pardon and the light show!!!!!(and sadly, so do most)
  • Controversial changes to Federal Register seem to always drop the day before a holiday in hopes that no one will notice.
  • My favorite, RFP’s released with 5 days to respond…(a favorite way to make sure the desired contractor wins)

Anyway, I’m sure you have your own sea story that would make mine look minor.  But back to the LMSR caper……

USNS Bob HopeA few days after the decision was made, the staff came back and noted that since we slid the ship a year, it’s going to cost more…..I don’t remember how much, but it was around $100 Million or so.  “Really?” I commented.  ‘Oh, yes,” came the reply, ” money will cost more the next year, we have shipyard loading issues that we will have to pay for, the cost of steel is going up, blah, blah blah.”  So I began to understand that the economics of shipbuilding were different.  I formulated The Shipbuilding Entropy Rule: “Nothing ever costs less.  NO matter what you do, it will always cost more.”  You buy less, they cost more.  You cancel the buy, you still have to pay the overhead.  You remove capability, it costs more to redo drawings.  Its all very counter-intuitive.  This became very clear to me during the following year’s budget build when the staff came back and said “We made a mistake.  We have to move the LMSR back to the original purchase year.”  “Fine,” I replied, “No harm, no foul.”  Sensing it wasn’t “Fine“, based on the furtive glances between the staffers (an admiral sees a lot of those looks in the Pentagon) I asked “What’s wrong?”  Turns out, if we moved the ship back into the original purchase year, it added another $100 Million to the cost!  Whadakknow?  We essentially did nothing and paid $200 Million not to do it!  That, my friends, is Bizarro accounting!

Anyway I could go on and on about this, but I want to get to the reason I chose the title of this article, One for the Price of Three.

The DDG-1000 (AKA CG(X), Arsenal Ship, Zumwalt Destroyer, DD21, DD(X), etc) was originally intended to have a buy of around 32 ships or so.  USS ZumwaltThey became so expensive and the requirements bounced around so much, we began advertising it as a fire support ship vital to the survival of the Marines during amphibious assaults.  As such, we only needed about 10-12, just enough to support the number of amphibious ready groups (ARGS) we had at the time.  The Marines were happy about that, even though they preferred to have 2 per ARG.  I even went over to the Hill with my Marine counterpart extolling the virtues of the DDG-21 as the perfect fire support ship for the Marines.  But once the Marines realized that the cost of the ship was so high that it would probably limit the amount of other stuff they could buy, they dropped it like a hot potato…..they would much rather have the 360 V-22’s than 24 DD(X)’s.  So in the space of about a month we changed our tune from”vital” to “not so vital.”  Now that they are $3 Billion a copy, we are only building 3 of them and I’m not sure there’s a real requirement out there.  As my Grandmother said when she got her first taste of champagne in one of those dinky champagne flutes at my son’s baptism, “That’s not enough to wet my whistle.”  So it is with DDG-1000 IMHO.  The real requirement as far as I can tell is to have something for Bath Iron Works to build ( they will build all three) so they can stay in business in order to address industrial base concerns.  Hence the title of the article.

I propose instead of spending $9 Billion for 3 ships we don’t need, why not pay the shipyard to build it, take it apart and then build it again?  It keeps them busy. The Navy doesn’t have to shoulder the Operations and Maintenance costs necessary to support a ship class of 3 ships, and we don’t have rustle up the personnel and training facilities which must be specially developed on this one-of-a-kind weapons systems.  Heck, we will save money by doing that!  Of course, this idea only works on Bizarro World.

That, by the way, is how Bizarro JosBanks works too.  You pick out one suit and pay for three!

What a world, what a world!

 

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A-10 and Reality

I just reread the summary of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the House on a vote of 385-98.  At the end of the day, it appears that the House was not interested in agreeing with many of the cost cutting proposals that DoD had hoped for.  Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) is not an option (see Bric-a-BRAC) , and it looks like the Air Force can keep it’s A-10’s for now.  When all is totaled up, the bill accounts for just a shade over $600 Billion in spending.  That number is a far cry from what the sequestration number would have been, thanks to the BiPartisan Budget Agreement, but 2016 will be another story.  A-10s The Senate also affirmed its desire to keep the A-10s in the inventory in its version of the NDAA.

I happen to agree with the Air Force that it is time for the A-10 to go.  It’s expensive to maintain and operate and doesn’t really have a place in the 21st Century battlefield.  It pains me to say that, because it was a good airplane for the mission, tank killing and Close Air Support. Intruder in the Spagetti My airplane was also the victim of affordability cuts and the entire fleet was scrapped right after it had undergone an expensive and extensive rehabilitation effort.  I’m talking about the A-6 Intruder, retired in 1997.  No one came to its rescue unlike the A-10.  I’m not quite sure why the A-6 retirement didn’t kick up more dust back then except to say that times were tough, money was tight, and everyone recognized the an airplane like the A-6 was vulnerable at low levels against the threat and that with weapons improvements we just didn’t need an airplane that could carry twenty-two 500 pound Mk-82 bombs.  What’s the point?  With Tomahawks and Joint Stand Off Weapons there was just no need for the A-6.  The same is true for the A-10, in my opinion. With today’s technology, the threat environment where the A-10 would be operating would not be survivable.  The assumption is that in order to use the A-10, we would have to have Air Supremacy (meaning no enemy airplane flying) and completely neutralized the hand-held SAM threat on the ground.  That’s a tall order!

In today’s world with armed drones…..oooopppps….i meant to say Remotely Piloted Aircraft, there’s just no need to put aircrew at risk.  Add to that the expense in maintaining the A-10 and it’s just not worth it……at least not to the Air Force.  It IS apparently worth it to members on the Hill who have A-10’s flying in their districts, and the hundreds of airmen required to be in each squadron to maintain the A-10. Sometimes it’s hard to admit you are flying a dinosaur that just doesn’t have a home in the 21st Century.

 

 

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Motivate me!

I just finished plowing through the 2014 Performance of the Defense Acquisition report published by Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (AT&L).  ATL Report width= I was prompted to look at it when I saw this article in the Washington Post on what motivated contractors, according to the report.  Pardon my suspicion at a report bragging about how well the current crowd at AT&L is doing, but I’m suspicious.  First….there’s a lot of statistics included and my experience is that statisticians can twist the numbers to say anything.  As evidence, I note there wasn’t much bad about the JSF (perhaps the worst performing program of all time) in the report.  Oh sure, it appears, but if one were to just glance at the charts and graphs where JSF is mentioned, you get the impression that it’s just a middle-of-the pack program…..lots of programs perform worse, a few perform better.  EXCUSE ME?  This baby is already $160 Billion behind schedule and 10 years late in delivery (and still counting by the way, especially given the disastrous fire at Eglin Air Force Base last week). How DoD can publish a report on performance of the Acquisition system without including a chapter on why the JSF program is so gooned up is beyond me.  It’s like the YouTube video when the gorilla walks through the basketball game.  Am I the only one who noticed?

Another item I thought was interesting was the conclusion that although Firm Fixed Price (FFP) contracts do perform better and generally exhibit less cost growth, the report concludes it’s because most of those contracts are lower risk anyway.  Oh by the way, the evil part of FFP contracts is that the vendors who do a good job of managing cost and performance of their programs are probably making more profit and therefore gouging the Government.  I can hear the conversation in the Pentagon now, “That darn contractor actually delivered on-cost and on-time, so we must have given him too much money!”  That substantiates my belief that the Pentagon has the uncanny ability to take from good performing programs to pay for the sins of poor performing programs, thereby dooming all programs to some level of common mediocrity.

One other point I thought was interesting….there’s no mention of contracts that were awarded on a lowest price, technically acceptable (LPTA) basis.  Some in industry contend that DoD is so bent on doing things on the cheap, that quality has suffered when contracts are awarded on an LPTA basis. I don’t know if that is just sour grapes from the expensive losers or truth.  No one seems to care…….about the quality any way.

Back to the title…..What were the conclusions?

  • Not all incentives work. In order to work they have to be used, be “significant, stable and predictable,” and they must be tied to DoD objectives.
  • Cost-Plus vs Fixed Price contract debate is a “red herring.” It’s incentive-based contracts that matter.
  • Incentive Fee contracts work best.  The big plus here is that using them allows the Government to limit contractor profits. (My personal opinion is that DoD should spend less time wringing their hands over profits and more time on getting the requirements right to begin with.)
  • FFP contracting requires knowledge of costs.  (Once again, this one refers to limiting contractor profits)
  • Programs which realize better profits in production incentivize vendors to move quickly through the development phase (Of course, this implies that the Government does not change requirements in the development phase….Good luck with that!) and saves money in the end.

So there you have it.  My little list of what incentivizes contractor to perform better goes like this:

  • Well written Requests for Proposals which are clear on requirements.
  • No requirements creep during the process.
  • Regular and reliable funding streams…none of this Continuing Resolution, furlough, of OCO stuff (Oh, how I’m tempted to use a different word here).
  • Full and Open competitions
  • Procurement professionals who spend a lot of time on improving government processes and less on monkeying around with industry processes.
  • A Government that honors multi-year procurement deals.  No canceling in mid-stream.

To be fair, I think that there have been improvements in the acquisition process and those in the driver’s seat deserve a pat on the back.  But in the end,  the fundamental problem is that the requirements process never gets it right and we spend lots of time and money recovering.  Congress doesn’t help things with its inability to pass a budget either.

 

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What to do, or what not to do. That is the question!

I received several comments after I published my last article on “Leadership in the 21st Century” and I appreciate all the comments. In that article I commented on the recent case involving a former Commanding Officer of the Navy’s elite flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels.  After consulting, conferring and otherwise hobnobbing with my  fellow former Wizards, I thought I might offer up just a few more comments on the subject before forever holding my peace on the subject of Capt. McWherter and the Blue Angels.  There was a lot going on there besides just the failure of judgement of the CO, including limited oversight by the Navy and the absence of an Executive Officer senior enough to step in and provide some advice and counsel. More on that later.

I was struck by a recent Gallup Poll which once again found the Navy as the least prestigious of the Services. I’m not sure what that means since most of what Mr. and Mrs. America think about the Services is a product of their own (the Services’) PR machines.  Wasn’t it the Navy that successfully extracted the Captain of the Maersk Alabama?  Wasn’t it the NAVY SEALS that terminated Mr. B. Laden?  Wasn’t it the Navy that was first on the scene providing relief during Hurricane Katrina, and Indonesia and Japan? Doesn’t the President always ask “Where are the carriers?” whenever something goes wrong in the world? Doesn’t the Navy run the White House mess?  Isn’t it CAPTAIN Kirk, not Colonel Kirk?  Jeez , what do you have to do to become the most prestigious Service around here?  I know……..Sponsor a race car that wins the Daytona 500!  Or make a cool commercial about killing dragons and rescuing damsels! Or lose track of a couple of nukes!

The notion struck me that part of the problem is that the Navy is too transparent.  We not only advertise when we relieve Commanding Officers (don’t think that the other Services don’t relieve their share of Commanders) but we also come clean when we relieve senior enlisted advisors.  You just don’t hear much about that from the other Services.  Of course it’s a big news item these days and I liken the problem the Navy finds itself in with regards to negative publicity to the problem I have on the golf course…..Once I’m in the woods, it’s almost impossible to get out. Either I schwack another tree in my current thicket, foolishly trying to thread the needle between a couple of obstructing trunks, or I wind up in the woods on the other side of the fairway because I gooned up my attempt to pitch out. Why I don’t just pick it up and take a “Snow Man” when I wind up in the woods I’ll never know.  That’s where the Navy is right now, in the trees and trying to pitch out.

This openness puts us behind the eight ball in my humble opinion….On the other hand, I think being open about our problems is not all bad.  At least it shows we are aware of the problem and attempting to deal with it.  But what exactly is The Problem?  Is it that the Navy has a crisis in leadership?  I don’t think so……in fact I know that’s not the problem. With close to 300 ships, 50 or so aviation squadrons and probably at least 100 shore commands, we actually have very few COs that break the event threshold.  In fact, you could write 100 good stories for every bad one…but that doesn’t sell papers.

I’ve commented before on abusive leaders, so I won’t beat that dead horse.  The Navy and DoD have reacted to lost nukes, out-of-control Commanding Officers and other misdeeds  by increasing  ethics training, establishing an ethics Czar ( and a very capably one I might add), and adding ethics courses to Prospective CO schools and Senior Enlisted schools.  But in the end, by then what is there to train? Someone is going to stand up in front of a class of prospective Commanding Officers and say……Don’t have sex with your XO, don’t use counterfeit casino chips, don’t fake your death to escape from your bad marriage, etc etc?  I don’t think this will have much of an impact. It’s focusing on what not to do…….not what to do.  The striking thing about almost all the heinous infractions that appear in the news is that none of them are questions on the margin. They are about personal failures by people who should know better.  No amount of training will fix that.  What we can do is:

  1. Focus training efforts of prospective COs and Senior Enlisted Advisors on how to be successful, not how to stay out of trouble.  Be positive, proactive and practical in training COs.
  2. Provide support to leaders. Conduct regular checkups of commanders by mentors who have successfully navigated the waters of command.  (Not IG-like, but as a sanity check)
  3. Improve the fitness report system to allow for a more honest appraisal of  performance and potential for command (I don’t know what the number is now, but it used to be that 70% of officers were in the top 10%…..similar to the current VA flap which found that all SES’s in VA we rated in the top 2 performance categories)
  4. Revamp the command selection process to take advantage of improved fitness reports and include 360 reviews as part of the process
  5. Continue to set the bar high for performance in command

The bottom line: Let’s spend more time on how to succeed in command,instead of how not to fail.  There’s a big difference.

 

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