By lex, on May 29th, 2008
Perceptions shape reality: *
When U.S. Navy officials tell Congress they have confidence in their shipbuilding cost projections, lawmakers don’t believe them.
When flag officers say they’ve got enough money for maintenance, fleet sailors wonder why high-tech warships aren’t combat ready.
When top admirals say they have a new maritime strategy, analysts struggle to match it with the shipbuilding plan.
When business strategies override operational needs, officers wonder if they’re war fighters or executives.
Navy leaders are suffering from a credibility gap – with Congress, with industry and, increasingly, with the fleet.
I’ve worried off and on about our new devotion to business process models. We’ve swallowed the hook, line and sinker on Lean Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints and “enterprise behaviors” designed to wring efficiencies out of the system. It’s all for a great cause of course: To make our force both affordable and relevant now and in the future.
A new White House administration develops the National Security Strategy, which heads to DoD as a National Defense Strategy, which is thence translated into first a joint and then a naval strategy. That strategy defines roles and missions, which in turn defines end strength and force structure. From those evolve budgets, at least in theory.
Budgets have been pretty much fixed around peacetime mission sets with war spending wrapped up in semi-annual cost of war supplementals – not a particularly good way to plan over a two year planning, programming, budgeting and execution system. Not to mention a ten-year acquisition “holiday” whose bills are now coming due in the form of increased maintenance costs for aging ships and airframes even before you factor in wartime levels of utilization. Nor all of those systems engineers and acquisition experts who were quietly allowed to retire without replacement in the name of “re-inventing government.”
So, basically, we’re forked. Just like always.
When you haven’t got the revenues to support your requirements you go looking under the cushions for savings in costs. Some of those costs are “direct” – fly less and steam less when in the training cycle, for example. Do the same thing – or more – with fewer people. Maintain the ship in war fighting trim using less maintenance dollars. Others can be wrung out through process improvements.
But to get at process improvements you’ve got to have metrics. Once you start metricizing the force you’re in a business model rather than a war fighting one. A concept which the war fighting culture is viscerally averse to.
And they’ve got a point: If GM should make a strategic decision that ends up being a flop, they’ll lose market share but Chrysler – or Toyota – will step in and fill the gap, and the market will be served. If Navy guesses wrong we stand to lose a great deal more than market share – and it isn’t like the Coast Guard can step in and fill the breach. They’ve got their own gig. And the business guys can go too far. “Redundancies” are dirty words in business speak, but when you’ve got vampires inbound over the horizon, a little redundancy in self-defense – or damage control – can go a long, long way.
If you add up all these competing lines of strain and top it all off with a cultural disposition towards “thank you for your input, now get in line and get it done” looking downward and “yes, sir, we can do that mission” looking up, you can find yourself in the position we’re in now: Forced to make a series of optimistic and interlinked assumptions any one of which can go off track and kick you in the jimmy, derailing your acquisition program and leaving you to explain to an unsympathetic Congress why everything costs a great deal more than you thought it would, but that you’ve got a handle on it and everything will be all right.
Only now they don’t believe you.
** 04-23-18 Link changed – Ed.