For more than a year, some of the keenest Navy watchers have been muttering that the service has lost its way.
One senior defense analyst told me three months ago that the Navy and its leaders had utterly failed to develop a warfighting strategy and had utterly mismanaged their shipbuilding program because they just didn't know what to do.
Now one of the most venerable names in strategy and national security issues, Tony Cordesman, has come out publicly and said pretty much the same thing. "Unrealistic force plans, overoptimistic cost estimates, unrealistic projections of technical feasibility, and inadequate program management have created an unaffordable ship building program, led the Navy to phase out capable ships for new ships it cannot fund, and threaten the US Navy’s ability to implement an effective maritime strategy." write Cordesman and Hans Ulrich Kaeser, co-author of their study, "Abandon Ships: The Costly Illusion of Unaffordable Transformation". A Washington thinktank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, published it.
Their analysis zeroes right in on the absence of any strategic vision for the Navy. "The problem starts at a conceptual disconnect between strategy and reality. The Navy’s 'Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower' is a set of concepts that was not linked to any clearly defined force plan, modernization plan, program, or budget. Navy shipbuilding plans are now shaped more as the result of budgetary constraints than as a response to strategic requirements. They seem to be an expression of wishful thinking rather than a realistic strategic guideline for naval procurement."
It gets worse. "The Navy’s procurement policy is in serious disarray, and is creating situation where the most serious threat to the US Navy is now the US Navy." Can you hear the Chinese admirals chuckling in the background?
How bad can it get? "The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the execution of the Navy’s current 30-year shipbuilding plan would cost an average $25 billion per year, 30 percent above Navy estimates. Cost overruns, such as estimated $1 billion for the CVN-78 aircraft carrier jeopardize the entire program. Overoptimistic cost estimates have led Navy officials to shift funding to the outyears. This will cause a temporary shortfall of carriers and a breach of US law," the authors write.
What is the solution? Part of it would appear to involve sacking people (as the British would put it). All this bungling "is a case study in failed leadership on the part of the most senior officers and civilians in the Navy. Who should get the boot? The authors point the finger at "senior flag officers, senior civilians, and the Secretary of the Navy." Hold them accountable and then the Navy needs to Improve costs analysis, contracting procedures, technology estimates and other management tools.
Let's see if Defense Secretary Robert Gates agrees.