Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Stuff That Falls Out

Happy belated Memorial Day
Just a little bit of brain spillage today folks.  Is it just me, or does everyone become a little more opinionated, and maybe just a little curmudgeonly as they get older?  Webster defines a curmudgeon as: 1: archaic : miser. 2: a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man.  While I am under no illusion that my conservative values and opinions are shared by the majority of people out there, I really don't think I'm archaic.  Miser?  That doesn't apply either, ask my well funded kids.  Crusty and ill-tempered?  Ok, maybe.  All right, definitely.  But can you blame me?  There are just too many wolves out there masquerading as shepherds, and plenty of sheep who are blindly following them.  And these sheep either can't, or just refuse to think for themselves so that the level of idiocy in the world is becoming almost unbearable.  For me anyway.

With age comes wisdom they say, and my opinions have the benefit of time in their formation.  I wasn't as critical of a thinker in my 20s and 30s, but probably because I either didn't have as much of a stake in the world, or didn't realize what was at stake.  Now, in my late 40s I'm able to see things more clearly,  maybe I'm better at picking out the underlying issues, and I think I mostly understand the politics and personal motivations surrounding a topic.

Not that that makes it any better.  It just makes me more frustrated, upset, or disgusted.  I can shake my head in response only so many times before it starts to hurt my neck.  Do I stop caring?  No, but I do become a little numb and somewhat resigned to the direction things are heading.

Five or so years before I retired from the Navy, the CNO established Task Force Uniform.  I'm not sure why it was considered a Task Force, considering how their only task was to look at our uniform regs and propose an ugly set of uniforms, not take out the enemy or anything else task-force like.  They brilliantly came up with a khaki shirt for junior enlisted, and the overweight and flammable pajamas affectionately known as blueberries or aquaflage.  The Task Force came up with uniform proposals that were widely panned by many in the Navy, myself included of course.  The problem is that they were essentially directed to change the uniform.  When has a Task Force ever been formed that didn't have to do something?  They couldn't very well survey the fleet to assess the current (at the time) uniform regulations, and tell the CNO that no, we don't recommend any changes- the status quo is good.   I was glad that the new uniforms didn't become mandatory until after I retired because I really hate that uniform.  I'm sure I would have just stayed in my flight suit or worn khakis instead though.

Now, after hearing sailors complain about it being too hot, uncomfortable, and almost a joke- Camouflage in the water?  Good for hiding paint drips? - the Navy is apparently reconsidering that uniform altogether.
After six years in the fleet and some controversy, the blue-and-gray cammies could be headed for Davy Jones' seabag....Dumping the digital blues, also known as the NWU Type I, is a move that's been quietly discussed by leadership in recent years.
While I applaud that pending decision, I wonder why cooler heads didn't prevail back in the day.  I expect that they polled an inordinate number of younger Sailors and Officers in the Navy, of which the majority are, by definition, junior, and were therefore lacking the same sense of ownership for the traditions our sea-service holds dear.  As for the khaki-ish uniform below, I'm not sure there weren't a bunch of Chiefs that didn't like junior Sailors putting on khaki early- formerly reserved for E-7 and above.  The digi camis? I think they were just jealous of the other services who had already started wearing them.

In their defense, there were far too many uniforms in the Sailor's sea bag, and working whites on a ship just didn't make sense.  The TF did exactly what they were asked to do, but I just don't like the result.  Or maybe it's that I just don't like change. Back in my day when we had to walk uphill both ways to school in the snow, we didn't have change (see curmudgeon, definition 1.)

So that's one instance where I didn't like the decision, and believe me, there are many more.  As I get further from my active duty days, I see more changes that I don't necessarily see as being better for the force.  Diversity?  Shortly after retirement the Navy seemed to go all in on it, at the expense of war fighting readiness and everything else.  I have no issue with having diversity in our ranks, but forcing it just seems wrong.  I know it'll happen in due course, but the Navy seems to want to to make "firsts" instead of firsts just happening.

It's not always the decisions I'm not happy with.  Recently, I realized that it's indecision that will hurt the Navy.  The aircraft above is the MH-53E Sea Dragon.  It's an old, maintenance intensive, but incredibly capable platform.  It's the Navy's primary mine-hunting and mine-sweeping system right now due to the Avenger Class Minesweepers being so poorly resourced.  Several years ago, probably around 15-20 years back, the Navy decided to slowly decommission all its mine countermeasures (MCM) ships and helicopters in favor of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) MCM Mission Package (MP), and be complete with that effort by the middle of the next decade.

MH-53E towing the Mk-105 Sweep System
MCM is the bastard stepchild of the Navy.  Nobody pays any attention to it until they absolutely have to, and then only momentarily.  The required maintenance for the MCM ships and aircraft is underfunded by tens of millions, and for the past 15 years, the focus has been on getting the LCS MCM MP into the fleet.  The plan to decommission all those ships and aircraft was based on a plan to get those new units into the fleet with a full-up-round mission package.  That was supposed to happen starting in 2014. The program offices limped the program along for a dozen years, never fully meeting requirements, and never having enough funds to support the old systems, while at the same time developing and testing the new stuff.  The new systems were crucial in justifying the building of the LCSs, but the testing went sideways and there have been repeated delays.  Last summer, the final practice test before the final exam (Operational Test and Evaluation) went terribly, and the primary mine-hunting sensor, the Remote Minehunting System below, performed so badly, that future procurement of it has been cancelled.

So, to summarize my rant- four out of the original 9 systems in the MCM mission package have been cancelled.  The others are either behind schedule, or didn't do all that great during testing.   Navy leadership has known this for years- that the systems weren't cutting it.  And after a congressional ordered delay in 2010 due to a Nunn-McCurdy breach, and subsequent cuts to the program, it was essentially a guarantee that the program would be delayed.  Yet the decommissioning plan for the old systems never got a second look.  That's the part that's practically dereliction of duty- continuing on a course that is either sure to fail, or making no decisions regarding the current and likely future mission shortfalls.  Then again, the plan didn't change in 2012 after the Airboss cancelled the part of the MP that had the MH-60S Helicopter towing the same (orange and white) sonar you see above, eliminating one of the search sensors.  It was deemed to be too heavy under tow, and risked loss of aircraft if the helo lost an engine.  Now that the RMS has been cancelled, the future force is on its back, to put it mildly, left without a search sensor.

My command has been expressing this concern for several years of course, but the band-aids we've received in response, while capable, aren't in sufficient number to cover the loss. This all came up during a conference last week in Monterey California during which a Navy Captain spoke very candidly about the issue, pulling no punches when it came to his disagreement regarding the lack of movement on the future of MCM.

In defense of the Program Offices, they are given less and less money each year, but the task doesn't change- get the LCS MCM MP across the finish line.  And shifting course 10 or 15 years ago could have never happened considering the political ramifications- shipyards employ constituents and constituents vote for legislators.  And in the Pentagon, the bean-counters rule, and their rule is even more prevalent when a Democrat is in the White House.

Trump might be ok for the DoD.  I'm sure he'll be at least a little better than Shillary.  I'm not all that jazzed about him though.  He talks a big game, but I can't help but think he's a political chameleon.

I guess I'm just stuck in the past, longing for what used to be.

Little chance of that I suppose.  I just want our leaders to make decisions that make past sacrifices worthwhile.


  1. Too many people, with too much rank, wanting not what is good for the Fleet, but what is good on their resume. Dungarees and a chambray shirt was the uniform of a Navy that could make another country regret it's own existence, while blueberries are the uniform of a Navy that can do what Lex called "drive by shootings". But someone got, Introduced new uniforms for the Fleet, on his resume. Same for LCS, it sounds so cool, and futuristic, but there is no way to insure that the ship has the right module, for what is needed NOW! Rather than true multipurpose ships, like the DDs and DEs of WWII.

    As for mine countermeasures, if it was considered technical enough in WWII, to require dedicated, purpose built ships, what make the Pentagon think that a container or two full of stuff, will turn a high speed interisland ferry, or modified yacht, into a mine hunter/sweeper? I grieve for the UNITED STATES NAVY, that obliterated the Nihon Kaigun, but cannot even own a single destroyer, but seemingly wants the Little Crappy Ship, which will turn into a Little Coffin Ship for it's crew. Why would anyone look at a ship 2/3 the size of a CLEVELAND Class CL, (400ft vice 600ft ), armed with a single optically aimed 57mm gun, and think, " Ah, now THERE is a warship!"? Whose side is the Department of the Navy on?

    1. As usual, Badger, you and I are in agreement on this as we are on so many things. (GO SKYSHARK! :) )

    2. The Upper Midwest produces Great Minds! GO SKYSHARK!

  2. All too true--and I suspect I qualify as a curmudgeon to many. Ray of (maybe) hope on the MCM front is the CH-53K.

  3. Great post Tuna.

    The rot goes deep, I wonder if it's too late to salvage anything out of the LCS quagmire?

    Mine warfare is something we neglect to our peril.

    1. Amen to that last sentence Sarge. When I was born (a 50's child) my Mother was issued with an extra ration book - for little me, and rationing didn't end until I was two years old. That's what mines and the submarines and the vessels that lay them, can do to a country.

    2. LCS? Give 'em to the Coasties as cutters or patrol craft.

  4. The Navy tried out the "Salt and Pepper" uniform, white shirt and black (Navy Blue) pants. Well liked, and got rid of the white pants that would pull dirt out of the air within seconds after putting them on. Since it worked and made sense, they got rid of it.

    I read an article years ago that stated that each CNO's tenure could only include one change to the uniform, if you changed the color of the thread in the socks, there goes your one change. A great idea, and zero chance of it happening.

  5. Wish I could be optimistic about our Military, but I struggle with it. I understand how bad Obama has been, but where has our military leadership been? Padding their nests, more concern with their career than with the well-being of America, lying to their service, and to the public. The LCS and the F-35 are still being touted as the panacea for all our martial ills. A pox on them.

    1. It's pretty telling when the Prez had to go to the seventh seed to find someone who would take the reigns as CNO.

  6. Did ya ever wonder if the final design of anything that was originally proposed turned out anything like what was originally anticipated?
    My feeling about uniforms is they should be comfortable and functional.
    Dungarees and chambray were all of that, and inexpensive, too.

    1. The Military Industrial Complex has us over a barrel. SecDefs don't have the clout or willpower to canx a program for cost overruns, and the Def Contractors have us all liquored over for the newest latest shiniest most technologically advanced weapon.

  7. Through a complete accident of fate, I landed up in the sweet spot. Billy's big bro was already throwing more money at the navy when I joined and by the time I left it was still a hell of a force, though there were increasing signs of rot. So hell yeah, give me Reagan and Lehman-Webb and 600 ships, Grumman Iron, the Blues in the Super Fox, BB's building instant swimming pools, dungaree-clad sailors on ships at sea. I could happily live the rest of my life in the 1980's. I think. But god help me I'd miss my phone...

  8. I do miss the 80's budgets!

  9. The one single thing you need to sweep mines is an SQQ32 sonar. Go on, ask me how I know that.

    Sadly, NAVSEA never asked any MCM officers to help them out. They prefer the purebred vigor of total stupidly.


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