Defense Reform Revisited: The Case of Amphibious Ships


01/17/2011 by Vince Martinez

Defense reform is both possible and necessary as the force is restructured.  Indeed, NOT doing so will lead to a hollow force.

Now that the cards have been played relative to the defense budget cuts and service level downsizing, it is time for government and industry alike to repackage their investment strategies and their overall programmatic approach in order to remain relevant and effective in the years to come.

In the past, tremendous emphasis was always placed on the benefits and attributes of a System of Systems, but most of the time, was only articulated and defended on a platform-level scale.  That will no longer work.

With a warfighter that is still expected to meet operational obligations and maintain overall martial advantage, now is the time for new and innovative solutions for assessing programs across a service and Joint-level scale.

Amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) prepares to launch a UH-1N Huey and two CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 261. (Credit: USN Visual Service, 11/3/07)Amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) prepares to launch a Navy H-60 and two CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 261. (Credit: USN Visual Service, 11/3/07)

Two of the most difficult types of programs to change over time are aircraft and ships.  They are also the largest Department of Defense (DoD) programs when it comes to fiscal investment. Because of the scale and complexity of these programs, they are also laden with cost drivers associated with design, operational and production limitations, as well as sustainment and lifecycle challenges.

It is often these programs, however, that are quickly criticized for performance issues that are often due to unavoidable requirements creep over their long lifecycles.  Ship or aircraft lifecycles span decades, and it is not difficult for subsystems or Joint capabilities to easily outpace the ability of these platforms to affordably and reliably keep up.

To add insult to injury, it also seems that the bull’s-eye is often placed on these larger programs in times of constraint.  Decision makers often lean toward these programs to recapture dollars, because one can often solve some very large budget shortfalls in one fail swoop.

What the warfighters know, however, is that the obvious and easy choice for budget cuts in the D.C. corridor are often programmatic linchpins that are operational necessities in order to ensure martial advantage.

Interestingly enough, most programs already apply a vast amount of resources into assessing and defending individual programs.  Unfortunately, like the warfighters also know, individual platforms are not what define operational impact and success across the entire martial force.

It is the balance of programs, personnel, training and posture that provide the warfighter what he needs in order to carry the day.

If they take a hit in any of those categories—and we will see that happen in the next decade—you will experience a reduction in overall effectiveness and martial capability.

The U.S. military, through multiple wars, has grown adept at working in Joint environments with a multitude of partners, a diffuse set of circumstances and myriad of operational challenges.  Operational commanders have worked countless hours identifying, avoiding and resolving issues that could potentially inhibit operational success.  It seems that with this innate characteristic for cross-functional problem solving, the military is optimally postured to apply that same mindset to defining, budgeting, acquiring and sustaining programs across a multi-faceted force.

A perfect example of this is conundrum is the acquisition of amphibious ships.  While the typical acquisitions strategy focuses on the ship itself, Program Managers for Ships (PMS) are challenged with developing and defining robust acquisition strategies across all phases of design, production, testing and sustainment. The PMS, however, must also account for those amphibious forces that reside and operate on those platforms.

The Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF), in the case of the U.S. Naval Service, also brings a family of systems that cross all the functional areas of the U.S. Marine Corps, and have their own design, operational and interoperability challenges.  While the ship has to ensure it remains operationally capable, survivable and sustainable in and of itself, it also has to ensure it satisfies the operational requirements necessary to support embarked forces–both while on-board and engaged ashore.

In times of fiscal constraint, and in a amphibious shipping world that has historically been refined and sustained through physical interface, it seems the time is right for a new and innovative approach for ensuring investment, programmatic posture and operational readiness remain intact for the amphibious force as a whole—both now, and well into the future.

In other quarters, like the construction industry, innovative approaches have been implemented with great success that not only enhance virtual design, but also considers all the variables associated with cost, schedule and lifecycle management.

The senior Navy advocates for amphibious shipping have also started an initiative that follows this transformational methodology—an effort that spans requirements generation, acquisition and budget—in the form of the Navy/Marine Air Ground Task Force (N/MSIC) initiative under the CNO/N-85 Expeditionary Warfare Directorate.

While Modeling and Simulation (M&S) efforts have most often been incorporated on a platform-level scale, it appears that the times are calling for a new way to look across the entire spectrum of amphibious capabilities.

This is necessary in order to ensure an operationally relevant future that not only considers the ship, but those forces and platforms that must operate effectively while embarked.

Will M&S answer every operational question and address every programmatic dynamic?  No.

There are many aspects of a deployed and interoperable force that cannot be adequately captured or articulated in a simulated environment.

What can happen, however, is through detailed a M&S effort across a myriad of programs like those of the amphibious force, decision makers will be far better postured to make those tough, programmatic decisions earlier in the process.

Simultaneously, M&S can also assist greatly with interoperability, operational impact and programmatic decision making adjustments for legacy platforms both in the near and far term.

For pennies on the dollar, investment into Modeling and Simulation across a spectrum of amphibious capabilities will allow service-level advocates to not only see the operational impact of their decision making, but also help ensure that decision makers have situational awareness and better informed perspectives that will bolster their ability to ensure that their forces retain strategic, operational and tactical advantage.

It is time for a new way of thinking given the budget forecast over the next decade.

By taking off the parochial lenses associated with defining and defending individual programs like we have in years past, and through incorporation of cross-functional Modeling and Simulation into our service-level initiatives, decision makers will be far better informed when it comes to making those unavoidable, looming and difficult decisions that are the byproduct of mandatory fiscal constraint.

Editor’s Note: The Bold Alligator 2012 Exercise is taking a broad approach to understand how the pieces fit together in an innovative whole. Please see and