"The perfect is the enemy of the good," as the old legislators' expression goes -- now that evidently applies to Navy acquisitions, too.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said the Navy and its vendors needed to have some "frank conversations with each other, and you should ask us hard questions," to ensure the fleet can actually buy and field the many ships, aircraft and other toys it's counting on for tomorrow's fleet.
That may prompt the Navy to turn to "common hulls," Greenert said -- though he did not detail what that could actually mean -- and to elevate the importance of cost so that it's "an entering argument; it has to be a key performance parameter."
"Perfect will not work in the future," he said. "It's got to be good enough and we've got to figure out what that is."
The good news is that the industrial base is performing well today, Greenert told the lunch audience at Sea Air Space. He was pleased with the quality of the ships the Navy has accepted since he's been in charge: The destroyer USS Spruance; the amphibious transport USS San Diego; and the fast-attack submarine USS California. He likes the new P-8 Poseidon patrol planes.
Keep it up, Greenert told the Navy's vendors -- and as for the 32 ships the Navy now has under contract, he wants them delivered earlier and fielded faster, so they can begin replacing the older warships now reaching the ends of their service lives.
Missing from it all, however, was a sense of what could make anything actually happen. As the federal government blushes amidst this week's General Services Administration overspending scandal, you won't hear any official, let alone one from DoD, stand up and say: "Hey, y'know what, corporate defense giants? Go nuts! We're not really doing anything pressing so if you need to spend more and take more time, knock yourselves out."
So the get-tough, squeeze-every-cent rhetoric is all very well, but there's only so much the Navy can do. The "competition" in its shipbuilding is Coke-and-Pepsi competition, not cellphone competition, and sometimes it chooses to do without it altogether, as when it opted for twin parallel classes of littoral combat ships. Generations of Navy leaders have talked tough after the poor quality of the early San Antonio-class amphibious transports, but they kept buyin' em. Taxpayers are paying more than $1 billion more for the USS Gerald R Ford than they were supposed to, but what'cha gonna do?
One thing Greenert can do on his own is use the fleet he has today more effectively, and he promised the Navy would do so. It will soon transport four more mine countermeasures ships to Bahrain to step up readiness there. (The ships will probably be as valuable for their spares as their operational availability to commanders.) The fleet is upgrading its Mk 54 and Mk 48 torpedos so they're better able to handle "smaller" submarines, Greenert said.
And it's going to do real-life training more often, a break from its years of reliance on more "virtual" training. Greenert said the Navy will buy more high-speed maneuvering surface targets, so sailors can practice against the swarm threat, as well as targets so cruisers and destroyers can practice defending themselves with their SM-2 missiles. "We were woefully low on sonobouys," Greenert said, so the Navy is buying more of those to let P-3 and helicopter crews train to hunt submarines.
The basic goal, he said, is that even as the Navy tries to get the ships and equipment it wants tomorrow, it also needs to be able to execute today.
" You've gotta be able to shoot straight," Greenert said.