A Day Younger

I was honored to be on the waterfront last week and had an opportunity to meet officers and Sailors on a soon-to-deploy ship and boy did I leave feeling good about our Navy.  Everyone I talked to, from seaman to the Captain, were excited about their ship, their contribution to national security and the upcoming deployment.  Their enthusiasm was genuine as it was a weekend and I’m sure they would have rather been with their families.  It reminded me of a saying I used to share with my audiences when I was important (at least in my own mind): Every day I spent at sea I got a day younger, and every day I spent in the Pentagon I got ten days older!  That certainly explains why I look so old now–too many days in the Pentagon and not enough days at sea.  It’s probably not intuitive to you land-lubbers, but being at sea and on deployment is the easiest part of the whole cycle.  Before deployment there are endless exercises, training and long hours preparing for the task ahead.  Many would say that’s the hardest part of being in the Navy.  That’s not to lessen the impact of being away from family and friends…there’s always that.  But Navy leaders have done a lot to lessen the distance between families during deployments.  Sailors are generally well connected to their loved ones by internet, email and instantaneous telephone connectivity.  During my first deployment in 1975, the lovely Mrs. Crenshaw and myself exchanged daily letters, sequentially numbered on the back flap so we could read them in chronological order.  Nothing’s worse than reading about your son being released from the hospital when you didn’t even know he was in the hospital to begin with.  I wish we could establish a program that gets all Pentagon confines out in the field a couple of time a year so they could recharge their batteries.  I felt even better when I had the opportunity to meet with Soldiers this morning, many just returned from Afghanistan and many more looking to go back in less than a year.  I didn’t hear one sour note.  They were all ready and willing to go back, despite the hardships on their families.   As I read the news about the possibility of us pulling our of Afghanistan, I can’t help but think about the 2176 brave Americans who gave their lives for this cause.  We could argue all day about rather or not Afghanistan is a critical aspect of protecting America’s freedom and I frankly don’t care which side of the argument you are on…..The fact is 2176 have died for the cause.  To pull out lock, stock and barrel would be a dishonor to them and the families who remain behind.

And I can’t imagine how anyone can look them in the eye and tell them that they are pulling the plug on their Commissary benefits, or telling them that their health care is too expensive so when they retire, they will have to pay more.  I would rather see us spend all the money and effort people are spending on marginal costs on homeless veterans and jobs for veterans and other programs which honors their service, not puts a price tag on it.

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Send Up The Count!

“Send up the count.”  I remember those words from my Second Class summer training as a midshipman.  We were spending a week in Quantico learning about the Marines by pretending to be Marines.  I remember our little band of about 15 mids crawling through the tick-infested forests around Quantico, being lead by none other than Captain Oliver North, USMC.  We thought this guy was God.  He introduced himself to us by repelling out of an H-46, decked out in camo paint and blowing up a bunker full of bad guys.  In order to keep track of everyone in the field, Capt North would send back the command, “Send up the count,” and the last guy would start with “one”, each person adding a number in turn, until the last guy would say, “Fifteen.”  The problem was the number rarely wound up at fifteen because someone was always getting lost.  Old Ollie would roll his eyes, curse under his breath and make us all stay put while he went searching for the wayward mids.  Eventually he would round us all up and off we would go, only to have the next count short a number or two and the whole scene would repeat itself Groundhog Day style.

That’s what came to mind as I was reading that the Secretary of the Navy has notified Congress that he’s changing the ship counting rules.  As I get it, he’s adding the 10 Patrol Craft deployed in 5th Fleet, reducing the number of Mine Countermeasures ships by 3, adding 1 High Speed Transport ship  2 hospital ships.  Here’s a copy of his letter to Congress.  So we have new rules……or do we?  I can’t seem to find what rules the SECNAV is changing.  In fact, when I was the N8, no one could produce the official rules.  I frankly don’t think they exist.  So I was somewhat amused to hear that the “rules” were changing.  Nowhere in his letter does he cite the document he is changing…..he’s just changing.  Remember the 600 ship Navy dream of the 80’s?  Here’s a link to a CBO study which actually lists the ships in the count.

  • 15 Carriers
  • 4 Battleships
  • 137 Escorts
  • 101 Frigates
  • 100 Attack Subs
  • 75 Amphibious ships
  • 31 Mine Warfare Ships
  • 69 Replenishment Ships
  • 27 Material Support Ships
  • 33 Fleet Support Ships
  • Classified number of Ballistic Missile Submarines

Total> 600 (Ahh for the good `ole days!)

The rationale used was “Only those ships that contribute to the Navy’s wartime mission through combat or direct combat support” will be counted.  That’s clear enough, although when looking at the list I have to wonder how Fleet Tugs contributed to combat support.

So I tried to find out exactly where the Navy number comes from today.  The Navy Today website says the Navy has 289 ships as of 12 March 2014.  What’s in the count you ask?  Well, that’s a hard thing to find out.  I finally got to a page which lists the names of all active ships and here’s what I found out (the numbers are probably off by one or two, but close).

  • 11 Carriers
  • 0 Battleships
  • 82 Escorts (CGs and DDGs)
  • 20 Frigates (17 FFGs and 3 LCS’)
  • 68 Attack Submarines ( includes 4 SSGNs)
  • 13 SSBNs
  • 34 Amphibious Ships ( includes 2 LCCs)
  • 12 Patrol Craft
  • 45 Replenishment Ships
  • 13 Mine Countermeasures Ships
  • 9 Joint High Speed Vessels
  • 9 Maritime PrePositioning Ships
  • 19 TAKRs (They are Ro/Ro’s that move the Army around)
  • 1 LSV
  • 2 Hospital Ships
  • 30 or so Cats and Dogs

Total= ~ 368 ships

If I take out Cats and Dogs and PC’s, JHSVs, etc I get a number that’s close to the advertised of 289.  Does it really matter?  Are we talking about how many angels on the head of a pin?  I suppose so, but it’s confusing to our supporters on the Hill and gives ammunition to our detractors on the Hill.  I think it would be a good thing to publish all the counting rules so that the number is not quite so mysterious.

This drill shows there’s plenty of room to fiddle around with the numbers to make them say just about anything.  I am really curious to see the authoritative document that delineates exactly how the Navy counts its ships. I don’t think it’s the 30 year shipbuilding plan and it can’t be found in the POM.

So far, the only thing I’ve seen is SECNAV’s latest letter which adds 10 PCs, 1 HST, 2 Hospital Ships and 8 Mine Countermeasures Ships=21.  I’ll spot the carriers, combatants, amphibs, subs, and supply ships for another 269.  That brings us up to 289.  That’s not counting JHSVs, and Maritime Prepo ships, TAGOS ships, Army Supply Ships, and a host of ships beginning with the letter “T” or “A”

So I am curious about the rules.  How about it Navy?  Send Up The Count!


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Risky Business

After getting wrapped around the axle yesterday on the tried and true budget method of “Salami Slicing” I never got around to opining on risk, so here goes!  During much of my early career, risk didn’t enter into my decision making process, at least not consciously.  Of course, flying from aircraft carriers is all about risk and how to manage it, but risk management is already baked in.  The “powers that be” know that if you have a certain number of practice landings, maintain technical currency in your aircraft and fly regularly, the risk of an accident is minimized.  Over the years I’ve seen the Navy’s thinking about risk mature.  The time was, when one went on deployment, you could expect to lose a couple of airplanes and several aviators in a typical 6-7 month cruise.  Because of a focus on managing risk, the loss of a single aircraft or crew member is a rarity.  (keep that thought in mind).  On a personal level,  as one moves up the leadership ladder, the onus for managing risk shifts from the institution to the individual leader.  My opinion is that one of the reasons people become effective leaders is that they concentrate on minimizing risk to the people and equipment under their command, not on minimizing personal risk to their themselves (careers). Of course, there’s always a healthy tension between accomplishing the mission and minimizing the risks associated with it.  Safety is paramount!!! But if safety were really paramount, we would never fly, because it’s a dangerous business!  That’s where leaders earn their pay—making the trade off between risk and reward.  In the Navy, it’s interesting to see how the various warfare communities manage risks.  In the Surface Navy,  the decisions on risk rest principally with the Commanding Officer.  The CO does this by being intimately involved in planning and executing the training, day-to-day operations and mission execution of the ship.  The CO has the Officer of the Deck and his Tactical Action Officer to do the minute-by-minute execution, but the CO is always available for problems as they arrive.  An aviation CO has to worry about many of the same things at the surface CO, but must depend on his crews to exercise judgment when hundreds of miles away for the ship. Hopefully the aviation CO has instilled a good sense of risk management in the aircrews when they have to make risk decisions without his/her advice.

The point of my little blurb is to highlight that operationally, commanders do a great job of managing mission accomplishment and risk so that mission is maximized and risk is mitigated, minimized or eliminated.  Fast forward to the Pentagon.  Now those commanders who were so good at minimizing operational risk must deal with a new risk, budget execution risk, or said another way, “What are the chances that this program will be successful, given the level of funding?”  I was one of those commanders.  As an operational commander, I insisted on making sure all risks associated with a mission had been considered and mitigated…….no less than about 98% chance of safe success was tolerated.  But when it came to taking risks associated with the Navy budget, I was far more tolerant.  For instance, “What’s the chance that an LCS will only cost $220 Million?”, I would ask the Program Manager.  When the answer came back,”About 20%”, I would say, “OK.  Guess we will have to go with that.”  Why was my risk tolerance so much greater as a budgeteer?  Most likely it was because most of the decisions affected events far in the future and I would not be around when programs matured.  That attitude was reinforced by the excessive optimism that always goes with budget building.  This notion of budgetary risk is not new nor mine.

Former CNO Vern Clark once asked me as the N81 (Navy’s Ops Research group) if we could characterize the risk built into the budget and it was a very hard thing to do.  I don’t remember all the details but as I recall we came up with several categories of risk:

  1. Institutional Risk.  The degree of support by leadership of a particular program.
  2. Execution Risk.  The degree to which a program was underfunded
  3. Political Risk.  The degree to which this program was supported by the Administration or Congress
  4. Financial Risk.  The degree to which the assumed efficiencies built into the budget were achieved
  5. Economic Risk.  the degree to which the economy would support the Five Year Defense Plan

Some of these risks were subjective and others data-based.  The aggregation of them would give the CNO an idea of how much risk was being carried by a particular program.  Financial risk was the most interesting of the four.  It turned out we discovered that we had assumed away tens of Billions of dollars in efficiencies, but never went back to see if we achieved the saving associated with the efficiencies.  In a sense, it didn’t matter because once we take the money, it is never put back.  I’ll end up by saying the FY15 budget on the Hill now has a fair chunk of “Efficiencies” in it.  Will they be achieved?  What exactly is being done to put these efficiencies in place?  How will you know if the efficiencies were achieved and what will you do if they are not? Are these efficiencies or wedges (unexplained cuts)? These are the questions the Hill should be asking the risk-takers in the Pentagon.

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Top Shoe! General Powell was Right!

I was very pleased to see a piece in San Diego Union-Tribune this morning about the establishment Ship Turn a Top Gun-type school for our Surface Warriors.  VADM Tom Copeland, Commander of Naval Surface Forces established  “Top Shoe” (my term, not his) to foster a generation of young surface warriors who really know their craft, not just their weapons systems.  For those outside of the Navy, there are a few terms which you should probably know. Aviators are know as  “Brown Shoes” because they wore brown shoes with their working uniforms and their aviation green dress uniform (which was reserved for aviation only).   Aviators commonly referred to the Surface Lou's Photo Warfare community as “Black Shoes” because they  wore the traditional black shoes with everything, including their pajamas.  They also seemed to have penchant for wearing those thick plastic, black-framed eye glasses that no self-respecting Brown Shoe  would be caught dead in.  Over the years, aviators tended to drop the Black from the equation and generally used the term “Shoes” to describe their beloved surface counterparts.  I don’t know what’s happened in the last few years with aviator uniforms, but I know the Aviation Greens are gone and thankfully, so are the black glasses.

When I was on the Joint Staff during the time that General Powell was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, I remember receiving bits of wisdom on the occasions that I happened to be in a meeting with him.  There are the famous 13 rules for leaders ( in any position, military or otherwise) that General Powell is known for and worth repeating here:

  1. It ain’t as bad as you think.  It will look better tomorrow.
  2. Get mad, then get over it. (my personal favorite)
  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position fails, your ego goes with it.
  4. It can be done.
  5. Be careful what you choose: you may get it.
  6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
  7. You can’t make someone else’s decisions.  You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.
  8. Check the small things.
  9. Share credit.
  10. Remain calm.  Be kind.
  11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
  12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

I also seem to recall a few others that didn’t get so well publicized.  I can’t vouch for their authenticity, but with all due respect to one of my greatest role models, I have always attributed these two to the good General as well.

  1. There are no rumors in the Pentagon.  Sooner or later everything comes true.
  2. There’s nothing new in the Pentagon.  It’s all been seen before.

The establishment of the “Top Shoe” school reminds me of the second unofficial rule.  As a young lad I was very lucky to be assigned to a “Black Shoe” staff as one of the few aviators aboard (back then it was called a Cruisier-Destroyer Group) and  part of my training was to attend the dreaded Tactical Action Officer School (TAO).  It was the most intense six weeks of training I have ever experienced.  But when I graduated, I knew just about everything about operating the combat systems, the threat, tactics and the logistics of running combat operations.  In my mind it was a “Top Gun” for Surface Warriors.  Over the years I think that TAO training was scaled back in favor of more technical subjects.  With the  establishment of the new school it appears the emphasis is back and I think it’s a great idea. Let’s hope it doesn’t fall prey to the budget axe.

But remember…with all due respect to my surface buddies……..there’s nothing like launching from a carrier, zipping around at Mach 1, turning and burning against a worthy adversary, and winning the fight (Fox 2, You’re Dead!).  And after all that, you still have to come back and land your 20 ton machine of death on a pitching and rolling deck before you can brag about your victory in the ready room. That’s Top Gun!!!!!


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$40 Billion: One Million at a Time?

As I was reading the morning news, I saw a piece in The Hill about SECNAV Mabus’ comments regarding the savings associated with “scrubbing” the $ 40 Billion or so the Navy spends on service contracts.  Service contracts can be just about anything from feeding Sailors in the chow hall to fixing the leaky toilets at the 4 Star’s headquarters building.  SECNAV says “We know we can save significant amounts of money just by setting up things like contract courts, which require … contracting officers to come in every year and justify the contracts.”  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think “scrubbing” every service contract, every year sounds like a way to save money.  Given the thousands of service contracts the Navy has, it would take an army (should I say Navy?) of contracting officers to  review and reissue these contracts.  I suppose I should say we already have a fair number of contracting officers so we would need more than the army we already have.  Each contract soaks up hundreds of man-hours to prepare, vet and issue on the government side, and just as many hours to prepare proposals in response from the contractor’s side.  That doesn’t sound like a very efficient way to administer service contracts…..one year at a time, one contract at a time?  I don’t think so.  Reissuing contracts year-to-year is a sure way to increase costs and increase the workload on an already overworked acquisition force.  Why would SECNAV say that?  It’s because the evil “Contractors” are easy targets and it’s a great way to deflect scrutiny away from the real issues, like the shipbuilding plan or the cost of maintaining 11 carriers, etc.  Here’s a plan: Focus less on individual contracts and focus more on how to administer them more efficiently and how to get the requirements generation process fixed.

The requirements process for service-related contracts doesn’t have to be that hard.  When the decision was made to “privatize” many of the mundane and non-warfighting related service tasks, the die was cast. The powers that be have decided that the people who stepped in to do those jobs (contractors) are one of the reason the Services can’t get their budget house in order.  Not so, I contend.  Service contractors are now an integral part of the military, performing those tasks that are  seen as part of the “tail” in the tooth-to-tail debate former SECDEF Rumsfeld initiated.  If you are not tooth, you are a candidate for a service contract.  I don’t think the average Joe in middle America has an appreciation for all the things these contractors do……Feeding Midshipmen at the Naval Academy, providing medical care for dependents, servicing and maintaining aircraft in the training commands, sailing our Military Sea Lift Command ships (yep, they are contractors), fixing leaky faucets, and building our warships!  They are all contractors.  And as mentioned by SECNAV, they cut the grass too!  But despite the intuitive feeling that it doesn’t have to be hard to know what the requirements are, it can be very hard to actually determine requirements.  Take for instance the maintenance of our bases…..mowing the grass, landscaping the entrance at the front gate, emptying the dumpsters, etc.  I recall that the Navy had a great system for determining how much “base maintenance” was needed.  It was an elaborate system of service levels, with each level being defined in minute detail….in the case of base maintenance, Level 4 might be mowing the grass once a week, emptying the dumpsters twice a week and fixing up the entrance at the front gate a couple of times a year.  Level 2, on the other hand, might be mowing the grass once a month, emptying the dumpsters when they were overflowing and never sprucing up the commissary parking lot.  Each level had a cost associated with it.  I recall during a budget session one year that the decision was made to go with Level 2.  Sound good?  We all thought so until the CNO make his first base visit of the year………Guess what?  When he got back there was a big dust up because the grass hadn’t been mowed in weeks, the dumpsters were full and the Commissary parking lot looked like the back lot of a disaster movie.  Lesson learned.   While it’s easy to talk about reductions in services, especially those related to quality of life, in practice it is difficult to live with the consequences.  So rather than get wrapped around the axle of rethinking the requirements every year, going through the machinations of issuing yearly Requests for Proposals, requiring vendors to produce proposals in response and spend lots and lots of money on both sides in the process, why don’t we figure out a way to get the requirements correct once and for all, issue efficient, multi-year contracts and put precious executive attention on the things that really matter, like how many ships the Navy needs, and how to pay for them.  That’s where the Secretary adds value, not in determining how often to mow the grass.

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Blaming the innocent and rewarding the guilty!

When I was a young, steely-eyed Naval Flight Officer attending the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School with no apparent fear of death, one of the classes I took was in project management.  I have always remembered the day we talked about the phases of any project:

  1. Elation—“This is gonna be fun!”
  2. Concern—“This is turning out to be harder than I thought”
  3. Confusion–“I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing”
  4. Terror–” If I don’t get this done, my career is over!”
  5. Laying Low –“Someone is gonna be blamed for this” (sometimes known as Search for the Guilty)
  6. Relief–“Too bad they blamed Joe…He was the only bright spot on the project.  At least it’s not me.” (Blaming of the innocent)
  7. Dismay–“I can’t believe Fred got promoted as a result of this lousy project.” (Promotion of the uninvolved)

This little parable was triggered by a commercial I heard on the radio this morning.  It was one of those commercials one only hears in DC, always during commute hours.  You know them….It’s always one of the big defense hardware manufacturers extolling the virtues of their system.  It’s especially prevalent right now since the budget is being rolled out.  I don’t know about you, but do you think anyone who is in a position to make a decision really listens to that pablum?  The big boys and girls that matter in the decision chain are all driven to work and are sitting in the back seat of the big black Town Car or Navigator trying to finish up all the paperwork they took home last night, but didn’t get to.  The same thing is true on the Metro. Do you think any of them are riding the Metro?   The closer you get to the Pentagon, the more you see all those very expensive posters about some plane, ship, tank, bomb, missile, …you name it!  I just can’t figure out why they spend all that money on that stuff.  My advice to clients is that if you hear one of those commercials or see one of those posters, the subject  is likely in trouble either within DoD or on the Hill.

So take the example of Boeing advertising the F/A-18 and P-8 aircraft.  Their claim is that they are both being delivered under budget and on-time.  That may or may not be true, but in my opinion they are both among the best managed and best value weapons systems ever delivered to the DoD.  One thing’s for sure, you don’t hear that claim for the JSF.  Remember, that’s the program that is 6 years behind and $163 Billion over budget.  Who was the big winner in the DoD budget for 2015?  The JSF, of course.  And who was the big loser? The F/A-18.  Talk about rewarding the guilty and punishing the innocent!

So my recommendation to Boeing is change the commercial, stressing how much money the F/A-18 costs and how woefully behind schedule it is.  Then people will take note and pour money into the program.  There’s an old saying in my house: “The sick get sicker, and the healthy usually wind up catching whatever it is the sick have and get sick too!”

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Too Big To Fail

If you saw the Sixty Minutes piece on the JSF last night, you probably not a happy camper.  The opening salvo was pretty staggering: The program is costing $400B for 2400 airplanes, or about twice as much as the US spent to put men on the moon!  So how did we get here?  When I was a squadron Commanding Officer in the 1991 timeframe I witnessed a rare occurrence at the Pentagon, The cancellation of the A-12 Avenger program by then Secretary of Defense Cheney.  The A-12,intended to be the next generation aircraft for the US military, was scheduled for a buy of about 850 jets.  But it was 18 months behind and already $1 Billion over budget, so SECDEF axed it! The JSF didn’t just wind up 7 years behind and $163 Billion over budget overnight, so one wonders why subsequent SECDEFs let it get this far.  I think we got here in much the same way that the DoD ethics problem evolved……just a little at a time.  Despite all the warning signs and poor performance,  leadership allowed it to continue with the “hope” that with the proper amount of money and leadership, the problems would go away.  They didn’t.  All successful military officers and corporate executives know one fundamental tenet of leadership: Hope is not a good strategy.  Yet it appears that was the main strategy at work with the JSF.  I am reminded of the classic The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis in which a senior executive devil, Screwtape, provides advice to his nephew, Wormwood, an apprentice devil.  When asked by Wormwood what big event he should use to cause his assigned mortal to turn to the dark side, Screwtape replies, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,…” Sound familiar?

Now the program has a gun to our heads.  It’s the only TACAIR replacement on the books, not withstanding the excellent and under-rated F-18E/F, which, by the way, is a perfectly acceptable alternative well into the 21st century.  It’s ironic that in order to pay for the ever increasing JSF price tag, DoD wound up taking money highly successful programs, like the F/A-18 .  We now must resort to a strategy of hope to deliver the JSF.  There’s a lot of similarity here with ERPs, don’t you think?

There’s a lesson to be learned here.  Be vigilant early in procurement programs. Don’t let the little things get by without correction, lest one finds oneself on “the gentle slope, soft underfoot” of Too Big To Fail.


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