Friday, December 16, 2016

In peace you reward the military for avoiding risk and in war you want the same commanders to aggressively exercise risk

From LCS Shock Trials Were Less Severe Than Navy Standard by MarEx.
In written testimony for the Senate Armed Services committee, Dr. Michael Gilmore, director of operational testing under the Secretary of Defense, said that the shock trials for the Independence and Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ships were conducted at "reduced severity" due to concerns about the possibility of damage.

"The Navy argued that the reduced severity approach was necessary because they lacked specific test data and a general understanding of how the non-Grade A systems . . . would respond to shock," he wrote.

In addition, for the test on the Freedom-class vessel, the Navy stopped the shock trials at the second of three shots. The third trial would have shocked the ship with a blast one-third less powerful than the vessel is designed to survive, but the Navy still deemed it to be too risky.

"The Navy viewed the third [Freedom-class] trial as not worthwhile because the Navy was concerned shocking the ship at the increased level of that trial would significantly damage substantial amounts of non-hardened equipment, as well as damage, potentially significantly, the limited amount of hardened equipment, thereby necessitating costly and lengthy repairs," he wrote. The service opted for a simulated third test instead.

Gilmore suggested that the shock trial results were consistent with the LCS' less-hardened design and construction. When combined with the cancelations and delays affecting the platforms' stand-off mission packages, he wrote, the vessels' limited survivability would make them vulnerable in a front-line combat environment.
I have recently seen a number of articles on the lower than expected hardiness of the LCS.

This account was particularly striking to me as I have just finished Bruce Henderson's Down to the Sea. Henderson's story is about the December 1944 incident in which Admiral Halsey sailed the Third Fleet directly into a typhoon, resulting in the loss of three destroyers, 790 sailors, nine other vessels were damaged and a hundred planes lost or damaged.

In relating the history, Henderson provides the details that reinforced a particular lesson. It is reasonably well known that the US fleet had particular shortcomings starting the war. As a particular example, US torpedoes were enormously faulty owing to inadequate testing in the inter-war years, in turn as a result of cost savings. The consequence was that for the first couple of years of the war, we sent submarines into action who, at great peril, attacked Japanese shipping only to see 30-70% of their torpedoes fail.

Henderson's account brings forward a more immediate lesson. My summary is that in peacetime, the Navy was highly focused on saving money and avoiding accidents. Over time this rewarded very cautious commanders. Beyond the material deficiencies discovered in the first year of the war, there was also a cultural deficiency. Vessel commanders who had spent their entire careers avoiding risks were being sent into battle where success is contingent on aggressive action. In tracking individual commanders, it is very clear from the accounts in Down to the Sea that one of the first year makeovers in the Navy was a changing of the guard among the cadre of commanders. Those who adhered to the entirety of their training (and avoided risks) were demoted and transferred state-side to make room for more aggressive commanders (who often had been at the margins of their career tracks owing to their aggressive nature).

My take-away from Down to the Sea was that any military going into war after a long duration of peace has to be mindful of both the adequacy of their equipment but also, and probably more importantly, has to be prepared to rapidly shift their culture from risk-containment to risk-engagement.

The LCS story above looks to me like a re-enactment of exactly the same dynamics of the inter-war years leading up to 1941.

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