Last week America lost an MV-22 Osprey, a Special Operator and, in addition, had several servicemen injured in a bungled “fishing expedition” in Yemen. What can we learn from this?

Details are trickling out, but regardless of their veracity (first reports are often wrong, and there’s always a lot of CYA in this sort of debacle), this raid should, once again, re-emphasize the fact that the MV-22–however sturdy it may be–remains an “operationally fragile” platform, responding poorly to higher-stress, “on-the-fly” missions like casualty evacuation or unit extraction.

The raid should also provide an additional cautionary note to American procurement mavins–that fragile platforms may not do well in an environment where more operational decisions are delegated to lower-level officers. They operate best in a detailed, thorough planning environment.

Followers of this blog know that I consider the MV-22 a less than ideal platform for tricky, possibly contested landing zones (here and some proposed fixes here).  It’s a maintenance hog (here), and if the airframe isn’t ready and the crew doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing with their aircraft–blessed with a well characterized and safe landing zone before they fly–the entire mission will be at risk. (But it is, without dispute, a tough airframe)

This tactical brittleness will increasingly be exposed as the White House and DoD presses to allow “lower level” authorization of military activity. The urge to delegate and force lower-ranking officials to accept greater authority offers more flexibility and sometimes gives units more opportunities to move quickly, but if the officers and units aren’t well-trained and prepared, this can backfire. By their nature, lower level approvals mean less consideration for contingencies as well as un-needed compartmentalization (along the lines of old Ace Lyon’s shenanigans in the Gulf back in the eighties) and, well, sooner or later, the Administration and DoD will have a poorly-briefed flight of MV-22s heading into the unknown.

And, as Yemen demonstrated, that’s not good.

The MV-22 is a surgical instrument, procured largely to fit the “high oversight” American way of war–it’s a deliberate, surgical tool, best used at a time of America’s choosing. It’s not (at least not yet) something a commander can just throw into a conflict with little worry. The MV-22 is a platform that works best only if it is allowed to focus on a single, well-thought-out mission at a time. The operational margins on this platform are still neither really well known to the operators, appreciated by commanders, nor understood by policymakers.

Lower-level officers and decision-makers must understand that the MV-22 can only be used with care. Put bluntly, Ospreys like well-selected, non-dusty landing zones where they don’t take fire upon the approach–anything less and that bird will likely come down with a big, hard thud (though, to the platform’s credit, a good number of folks will walk away from hard landings, too). But safe-to-land locations only get found after some good (and rather tedious) advance work (and sophisticated adversaries can also be expected to learn where the preferred MV-22 landing zones are and will treat them accordingly). Those are facts hard-bitten lower-level commanders will likely overlook.

You come in with an MV-22 without doing your homework, and you’ll have a real disaster–like this Yemen debacle almost was.

What the Heck Happened?

Like any raid, there’s very little out there, and much of it contradicts the other.

With those caveats in mind, it sounds like the commandos were delivered, possibly by something other than an Osprey, and that the MV-22, operating in a supporting–casualty evacuation or plain old “get the heck out” evacuation–role, had a hard landing. Details are scant, but things went really bad during the raid, the commandos got stuck in, needed an evacuation which led to the “hard” landing, and then the resulting covering fire took out buildings as well as the downed Osprey.

According to the New York Times, in one of the first articles:

A United States military aircraft helping with the operation experienced a “hard landing” near the site of the raid, resulting in injuries to two other service members, military officials said. That aircraft, identified by a senior American official as an Osprey that was evacuating the troops wounded in the firefight, was unable to fly after the landing and was deliberately destroyed by American airstrikes. The wounded troops and the Osprey’s crew were lifted to safety by another American aircraft.

And NBC reported:

“Almost everything went wrong,” the official said.

An MV-22 Osprey experienced a hard landing near the site, injuring several SEALs, one severely. The tilt-rotor aircraft had to be destroyed. A SEAL was killed during the firefight on the ground, as were some noncombatants, including females.

The Washington Post wrote a few days after the attack:

In Saturday’s operation, the SEALs faced difficulties from the start. After the U.S. forces descended on the village of Yaklaa, a heavily guarded al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) stronghold surrounded by land mines, militants launched an intense counterattack.

As the pitched gunbattle continued, officials called in Marine Cobra helicopter gunships, backed by Harrier jets, to strike the AQAP fighters, according to U.S. officials familiar with the incident.

An elite Special Operations air regiment was then sent in to pull the team and its casualties out of the fray, banking into the night under heavy fire to link up with a Marine quick-reaction force that had taken off in MV-22 Ospreys from the USS Makin Island floating offshore.

The two units planned to meet in the desert to transfer the wounded SEALs so they could be taken back to the amphibious assault ship for treatment, but one of the Ospreys lost power, hitting the ground hard enough to wound two service members and disable the aircraft.

The Washington Post report–a weird, poorly-edited kludge of a story–seems to offer some interesting possible operational details. The idea of a casualty transfer in the desert seems a little bit odd. But either the aircraft went down because of sand ingestion from a poorly picked LZ or it got shot up on approach to a hot LZ.

Other nuggets have been released elsewhere–but the general theme is that this raid came within a hair’s breadth of becoming a catastrophe.

A Rushed Attack

Initial reports suggested that the mission was rushed.

Subsequent reports seem to confirm it was a rushed, ad-hoc approval process that occurred under some pretty substantive political pressure. Reuters says:

U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.

As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.

And the New York Times article–released just as Secretary of Defense Mattis left town–says the approval involved Mattis and came five days into the administration:

With two of his closest advisers, Jared Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon, joining the dinner at the White House along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Mr. Trump approved sending in the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, hoping the raid early last Sunday would scoop up cellphones and laptop computers that could yield valuable clues about one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups. Vice President Mike Pence and Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, also attended the dinner.

My take is that these guys were either gaming out the political steps to support the furor expected by the immigration ban, and the raid made a nice fit (or vice versa). The fact that a “new moon” was coming on Saturday forced the issue, artificially “pressurizing” the decision-making process and preventing further analysis (It also demonstrates how Mr. Bannon, ever the opportunist, can use his perch in the NSC to align domestic politics with national security events as well.).

As an aside, I also note that the President, when he was supposed to be busy having a dinner decision-making briefing about the raid, was, well, um, tweeting and distracted. The President was very excited about his David Muir interview, tweeting about it at least three times in his 5:05 PM, 7:03 PM, 9:14 PM, 9:45 PM and 9:48 PM EST tweet-storm. But the 9:14 PM tweet suggested something very different. President Trump tweeted, “As your President, I have no higher duty than to protect the lives of the American people”. That suggests to me that the dinner meeting was over, and that the “go” decision was on the President’s mind.  (If that’s the case, somebody needs to have a chat with the boss about how hasty twittering telegraphs his intentions.)

But that’s all speculation. I still would like to know more about the decision-making process. The Marines were ready and had trained up in the December 6-22 Exercise Alligator Dagger in Dijbouti. The penultimate exercise was, in retrospect, a dress rehearsal:

Marines and Sailors of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group/11th Marine Expeditionary Unit concluded Exercise Alligator Dagger with a nighttime helo-borne raid in Djibouti, Dec. 21, 2016.  Launching from the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island, more than 100 Marines were flown inland via MV-22 Ospreys and CH-53 Super Stallions to conduct a raid on a simulated enemy communications node. Escorted by AH-1Z Cobras, UH-1Y Hueys, and AV-8B Harriers for close-air support, the raid force conducted the mission within a few hours under the cover of darkness.

They probably would have been really ready to rock and roll during the new moon in late December.

Also, I’d like to know more about the high level oversight. The raid was rumbled. Why wasn’t it called off when the SEALs knew they were rumbled?  Were lower-level guys scared to “call it” due to the higher-level attention from the White House? Who was actually in command? Again, the NY Times:

Through a communications intercept, the commandos knew that the mission had been somehow compromised, but pressed on toward their target roughly five miles from where they had been flown into the area. “They kind of knew they were screwed from the beginning,” one former SEAL Team 6 official said.

Consider the pressure they were under to forge ahead. It had to have been substantial–for a junior officer to make this call would have been career killing. Keep in mind, this was happening as the White House was desperately looking for something–anything–to deflect from the national furor over their sloppily-implemented Immigration ban. The President–despite denials-was likely watching.

Despite news of Secretary Mattis’ engagement in the plan, I do wonder if he was fully in the loop. If sunrise in Yemen is at 6:30 AM–which, to me, suggests that you’re loosing cover by 5:30 AM (9:30 PM Washington time), and if Secretary Mattis–as reports suggest–was pulled from the Alfalfa Club dinner at about that time, then…I certainly don’t sense that Secretary Mattis is a micromanager, but I have a hard time believing he is the kind of guy who would attend a high-society dinner while his troops are embarking upon the first “high profile” mission of the Administration. Something doesn’t quite fit. It might have been good to have a former field operator around in the room to make the call when the SEALs knew they’d lost the element of surprise. Ultimately, his decision to attend the Alfalfa Dinner diminished him.

What Does This Mean For Gear:

Politics aside, if the White House is going to be pressing the decision-making down to the lowest possible level–and prioritizing speed and improvisation over a more deliberately-paced (and yes, often annoying and options-limiting) interagency/Joint process, we cannot purchase platforms that are operationally fragile.

After years of operating at the end of a very controlling NSC, field-grade people will use their authority to do stupid things (irrational exuberance is a thing!). Junior folks will likely be asked to do stupid things and pressed by White House influencers outside of the chain of command to do stupid things. It’s human nature.

Ultimately, this new authority gives folks a chance to get in trouble. Trouble will come, and then higher headquarters will need to haphazardly throw everything but the kitchen sink into battle to, oh, save some over-adventurous Lt General’s career.

And that’s where things could go from bad to worse in a hurry.

To compensate for that emergent risk, America must focus on procuring–at least for the front line–items that are operationally mature. If America is going to be focused on lower-level authority, then those warriors need stuff that can take the rough-and-tumble and be able to be employed in situations that aren’t fully analyzed.

The Osprey is a case in point. It’s robust (I’m amazed at how many people walk away from “hard landings”) but it is still too darn fragile (and yes, I’m also amazed at how many of these aircraft essentially “belly flop”). Ideally, the Marines would have procured something a little more ready for combat, but, well,  that’s water under the bridge. To help fix the situation, the Pentagon should consider a few things:

More robust training: While stateside, MV-22 airframes are too often tied to nicely groomed landing zones that are picked precisely to NOT stress the aircraft and operator. Look at the LZs for Camp Pendleton–they’re not quite “groomed” tennis courts, they’re pretty damn close. Operators need to be put into stressful situations where they are not landing on perfectly-groomed ground. It raises the risk of training mishap, but realistic training lowers the risk of a far more catastrophic accident in the field. It lets users learn the operational parameters of their equipment–and that’s how pilots learn to properly use their airframe to respond to desperate calls for, say, an evacuation of a dying SEAL.

Don’t Inflate Readiness Rates: If you don’t have time to do the maintenance right, don’t let it fly–and don’t let anybody pressure you to fly unready airframes.

Keep MV-22s Out of Sand and Fire: You’d think America would know enough now to not land this thing in ill-advised places. MV-22s don’t respond well to fire, sand and stress.

Outside of the MV-22, America must recognize that the Officer Corps has operated in an NSC-dominated planning cycle for almost ten years. It will take time and training to grow beyond this. Here’s some suggestions:

Reach Out: If you’re an operational commander, it will be on you to reach out to insure your own success. While there won’t be an NSC intruding into your operational business (Yay!), there won’t be an intrusive NSC working to ensure that you’ll have thoroughly coordinated backup and contingency plans, either (Boo!).  Planning will be upon you–and contingency questions will need to be brought up at a lower level than ever–for example, it’ll be up to commanders to ensure that they use the MV-22 in the most effective fashion. And they’ll need to do this in an atmosphere where information sharing will be far more difficult than in the past. Always pulse that chain of command and make sure everybody is read in who can be. Don’t be dragged into something by somebody sidestepping the Chain of Command.

REALLY enable Lower-Level Officers: If lower-level officers are honestly given the authority to “make the call” on operations, they should also be allowed to call them off if the tactical conditions aren’t right. You can’t give folks in the field authority only to refuse it when the time comes to go “over the top”. Even if the President is watching AND that President needs a quick political boost from a neatly-timed raid, the correct tactical decision MUST be allowed to be made, and the guy to make it is often the guy in tactical command. Don’t let that call be a career-killer. That’s hard–World War II sub patrol evaluations taught us all that timidity is not something to reward. But, conversely, officers must be trained to avoid overconfidence and arrogance.

Good luck out there. There will be stumbles ahead, and there will be some challenges getting brittle gear aligned to suit a more flexible, fleet-of-foot force. But it is the right way to go.

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The Next SECNAV Is…Philip Bilden!

by admin on January 27, 2017

The next SECNAV is going to be “off-the-radar” financier Philip Bilden.

Mr. Bilden will be taking on an important post–he’ll run the tip of the spear of any kinetic (and some non-kinetic!) actions the Trump Administration might consider, leading service honored with a Trump-promised 350 ship goal, and his tenure will be blessed with a host of Navy and Marine Corps folks at the top of DoD, all probably pretty eager to take care of their “Service”.

It’s been rough. Ever since Philip Bilden appeared on the scene in mid-January, friends of Randy Forbes have been waging war against the nomination, striking at Bilden’s apparent inexperience, his decades of success in the Chinese business world, and trying to find some vulnerable chink overlooked in the Trump Administration’s haphazard vetting process. This is about all they found:

Bilden’s military experience is limited to serving as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve. An official said he may have avoided fulfilling his active duty military service after graduating from Georgetown University in 1986 where he was enrolled in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) for four years.

The Army discovered the lapse and forced Bilden to report to a military duty station while he was attending Harvard Business School.

The U.S. Naval Institute blog reported Bilden was a military intelligence officer from 1986 to 1996. But officials disputed the claim that Bilden served for 10 years.

If that’s all they’ve got, that’s not gonna stop anything.

At any rate, this “ex” intelligence officer ended up in Hong Kong just in time to report on observe the state’s handover to China. He went on to infiltrate the place and become–by all accounts–a very successful businessman. His China views aren’t widely known, but I would posit that, after his time in China, he has a pretty good idea of how the place works.  But I would also posit, cautiously, that China has a pretty good idea of how he works, too.

After returning from his tour in China, Mr. Bilden came home, skillfully built ties in the Navy though the War College Foundation (interesting route to influence, by the way, and, Bilden aside, it’s probably a route that deserves a little more scrutiny by CI professionals), donated to Mr. Trump’s campaign, and got his name into play for the big chair.

And here we are.

How’d he Win?

Philip Bilden wasn’t supposed to be SECNAV. Congressman Forbes was the safe choice to lead the Navy–as an early advocate for the Trump Administration and a long-standing advocate for the U.S. Navy–everyone considered Forbes to be a shoe-in for SECNAV and expected his nomination to be announced with remarkable speed.

It was obvious, right?

Of course!! As SECNAV, Forbes would have been a complete package–he knows the Navy backwards and forwards, he has friends in Congress,  he had demonstrated his loyalty to the incoming Administration, and on and on.  He’d have been great to run a naval buildup, populating the Navy Department with a network of super-competent staffers he groomed and circulated throughout Washington.  Even I thought it was a no-brainer–a Forbes/Jerry Hendrix Team would keep the Navy afloat, pretty happy and they’d get to model out the next fleet and make a few innovations. Good times.

I was wrong.

So what happened? Well, in essence, Forbes probably was a victim of being TOO good at his job. With the help of Senator McCain, the Navy (CNO Richardson has played his cards VERY well and the Navy should be a bit more grateful than they are) and some others (ahem, watch this space next week), Washington DC was already socialized to the fact that a larger Navy was needed. The Trump Administration’s 350-ship Navy is primed for success, but that perception of inevitability made Mr. Forbes expendable.

My hope is that President Trump has another role in mind for Mr. Forbes, but I fear that Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon’s evident antipathy for DCish/Congressional types negatively influenced their personal chemistry. In addition, the fact that Forbes lost his seat probably didn’t help Forbes make his case.

Personal comparisons between Forbes and Bilden probably didn’t help either. Philip Bilden can instantly evoke images of a John Lehman–that vibrant Reagan-era SECNAV who grew the fleet towards six hundred ships.

Bilden was successful in every measure Mr. Trump values. Trump-like, Bliden was an outsider, fighting against an obvious favorite–a theme that probably resonated with Mr. Trump. Bilden had an inside line, having worked with Mr Trump’s national security consigliere, Little Mikey “Three Star” Flynn, on the Naval War College Foundation’s Cybersecurity Roundtable in mid 2016, and he made an impression on Admiral Stavridis. So he had an “in” with the White House and some high level coverage that may have been able to help Mattis digest the White House’s appointment of a new player in the “building”.

Forbes certainly knew all the players too, but he also has strong ties to Mike Pence, which, at this stage–with the still-getting-organized Trump Administration fighting for legitimacy and likely pretty suspicious of the potential future internal threat from a Congressionally-supported Pence insurgency–probably didn’t add much to the Forbes balance sheet either.

I’m speculating here. But for some reason, while I mull this new appointee, I can’t help but recall a line from the Godfather, where Michael tells Tom that he’s not a wartime consigliere–I could see President Trump picking Bilden over Forbes, and responding with a shrug, saying, “that’s no reflection on Forbes, it’s just the way I want it.”

Mr. Trump may have some plans for the Navy that may not gibe with Mr. Forbes’s vision of how things should be.

What To Watch:

Mr. Bilden has yet to publicly discuss his vision for the Navy. We shall see how his pre-confirmation Congressional engagements go, but I’d wager he’ll need to hew pretty closely with Senator McCain’s vision for the future Navy–either that, or his nomination hearing will get really interesting really fast.

I’ll also wager that he will commit to converting or rolling back many of Secretary Mabus’ ancillary priorities. Think what you will, but Mabus’ did his replacement a “solid” by giving him a ton of low-cost/big-benefit political chips to cash in with Congress.

I suspect Mr. Bilden will be a pretty savvy SECNAV. Should be an interesting ride.

Here’s what I’ll be looking for at his hearing:

Forbes’ Allies: It’ll be interesting to see how roughly may of Forbes’ Fleet buddies treat Bilden–but I doubt their resistance will be little more than a token sternly-worded finger-wag about fleet size. Congress won’t fuss.

Fleet Priorities: My sense is that Bilden–depending upon his marching orders–will hew to McCain’s expectations. There will be some modifications here and there–Looking at his past experience, I’d suggest he may have found the Army’s old logistics-minded “Navy” to be useful, and I’ll bet that intelligence-oriented platforms, gadgets and missions will be well-funded. Tenth Fleet and SPAWAR will be happy. That’s all well and good by me.

China: There is a lot of concern floating around out there about Bilden’s China ties. Nobody can be successful in Chinese business without developing close ties to the Chinese government and Chinese military. We don’t know what those ties may be, how they might be influencing Mr. Bilden, and we certainly don’t know if Bilden participated any quid-pro-quo or bribes or other activities required to thrive in the rough and tumble world of Chinese business. If the Chinese government knows and acts on some infraction even peripherally related to Mr. Bilden’s Hong Kong tenure, it’ll hamper Mr. Bilden’s effectiveness.

Imagine, for example, if China loudly and publicly pulled in a bunch of Bilden’s former associates for “trumped up” corruption accusations right during his hearing. There are all kinds of angles the Chinese can play here, and that’s a bomb the Senate and Mr. Bilden should cooperatively explore and hopefully defuse during the confirmation hearings.

If I were a Senator I’d also like to know if Mr. Bilden is close to Jared Kushner. Jared has tapped Chinese funds to advance domestic development projects, and, just a few days ago, was seen with the head of Anbang. Anbang, if you recall, was recently blocked on security grounds from buying the famous Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, California, which overlooks a naval base where US Navy SEAL troops train.  If they are close, then there should be a discussion of how the Trump Administration’s personal interests and investments in China might influence Navy strategy and decision-making.

I personally want to know what (if any) relationship Mr. Bilden has or had with Erik Prince–when a victimized Erik Prince was sulking in Hong Kong, pretending–all while regularly popping home–to be in some sort of forced expat exile AND sucking up to the Chinese government with an African security get-rich-quick scheme, they may have crossed paths. As I have noted before, Erik is not a good manager, and the Navy (and DoD) must do everything it can to keep that guy at arms length. Let Prince go do tightly controlled tactical stuff of limited scope for the intelligence services someplace–it’s what he wants to do anyway.

Ultimately, I am particularly interested to know just how transactional (or confrontational) Mr. Bilden might be with regards to China.  Forbes was a staunch anti-China player, and I’ll be watching to see if Mr. Bilden differentiated from Mr. Forbes here. If China engagement–even a choppy, fractious engagement–is a Trump Administration goal, a SECNAV who is fluent in Mandarin is probably pretty useful–but I’d still want to know more about how the Administration intends to approach China.

Strategy Beyond the Deckplates:  I expect Mr. Bilden to take a pretty sophisticated approach to maritime strategy, expanding the aperture of conflict and reversing the Navy’s effort to limit their mission to “conventional” warfighting at sea. I’ll be particularly interested in seeing how Mr. Bilden employs maritime strategy in a larger sense–Maritime power isn’t just about the ships. It’s about leveraging finance, economics, and other tools in pursuit of national maritime aims–and Bilden might be the right guy to expand the Navy’s aperture a bit. Hopefully the Senate will try to draw a bit of that out.

Ethics: I know it’s not trendy in this new “a Norm is just a character in an old sitcom” environment, but a good ethical foundation is important to me. Lehman was a great SECNAV, but his fast, loose and out-of-control pursuit of his 600-ship goal ultimately was his undoing. Fresh off Fat Leonard, the service doesn’t need another Ill Wind-esque scandal rocking it’s senior leadership.

In that regard, I’d be pleased if Bilden took some preemptive steps to protect the rest of his defense-oriented family, helping them from getting accidentally ensnared in something that could be construed the wrong way. Bilden also has children in the Navy as well (is that…a first for a SECNAV?), and I’d like the Navy to ensure that those officers’ careers are not aversely impacted by their Dad’s posting. Bilden has more “skin in the game” than most, and you’d be a fool to not think that carries with it some real weight on the guy.

A Big Question:

One of the big questions for everybody is how the Navy will pay for this fleet expansion?  Mr. Trump certainly believes that security trumps deficit concerns, so…a battle of the budget/deficit hawks is looming, and a big new fleet–even if Congress is happy to fund it–will still be a difficult task with Trump’s budget hawk roosting over at OMB. (My low-budget suggestions on how to bulk up the fleet in a hurry is here, by the way.)

So, if there is an ambitious building program in the Navy’s future, I want to know how Mr. Bilden intends to pay for it.

As part of that discovery effort, I’d encourage Mr. Bilden to encourage Acting SECNAV Sean Stackley to stick around. Unless the President demands a clean slate at DoD (or if Sean really needs a break OR if there’s something more prestigious farther up in the DoD hierarchy he could fill), Mr. Bilden would be a fool to swap Stackley out for somebody else–Stackley knows all the budget levers and toggles–he’s an integral piece in getting a bigger fleet funded. I’ve made the case for keeping Mr. Stackley here.

Aside from that, for a new guy who isn’t familiar with the Pentagon or the patterns of life in the Capital, there’s no better trainer to have than Mr. Stackley. Mr. Stackley really is a national treasure. He is the consummate public servant–he’s loyal, steeped in the Navy, works harder than anybody, and he knows how to hit hard, move fast and keep his trap shut. He’s been on the job, working as the Navy’s Procurement Chief, since the Bush Administration–one of the longest-serving Assistant Secretaries of the Navy since, oh FDR.

If DC is a swamp, Stackley is that little piece of high-ground, solid, uncorrupted, looming over the mire.  Hope he wants and gets a chance to stick around to help the new SECNAV, Mr. Bilden.

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Mulling Bath’s “Bad” Bid

January 19, 2017

Reports claim that General Dynamics Bath Ironworks is trying to force the Navy to grant it a cost-plus contract to build the initial Flight III DDG-51 destroyer. The cost-plus request is a real head-scratcher for observers–and it is an action that should concern every Blue-Water Navalist out there. Obviously, a cost-plus proposal is a pretty […]

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How Big Defense CEOs Can Try To Manage Mr. Donald Trump

January 1, 2017

In the Trump Era, “Big Defense” CEOs must either market themselves as visionary, “national” assets or wait to die under withering attack from the White House. Look, for any defense company has a big marquee program like the F-35, the Ford Class Carrier or the SSBN(X), being a colorless, faceless and largely anonymous means of […]

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What Will Trump’s 350 Ship Navy Mean for Bath Ironworks?

December 3, 2016

If the Trump Administration is going to build a 350-ship Navy, then Bath Ironworks will have a big role. I had a chance to talk with the Times Record’s Nathan Strout, and offered a few thoughts on the future fleet’s impact upon Bath Ironworks. There’s some skepticism out there about the 350-ship goal. Let me […]

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Fred Harris Hangs Up His Hard Hat

December 1, 2016

Fred Harris, great shipbuilder that he is, is out. His “retirement” was expected–the General Dynamics Corporate Office tends to be intolerant of failure, and Fred had staked his future on the OPC bid that Bath lost. It’s something of a sad tale. Three years ago, Fred Harris was on top of the world. NASSCO was […]

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How To Build President Trump’s 350-Ship Navy, FAST

November 18, 2016

When a President-Elect repeatedly makes a commitment like “350 ships”, it is my humble sense that, as President, Mr. Trump is going to want 350 ships sooner, rather than later. He’s certainly not going to want them in 2025, or 2030. He’s going to want 350 ships darned quick. And cheaply. Sure, maybe he’ll want […]

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Bath Ironworks: What’s Next?

November 13, 2016

Poor Bath Ironworks. Over the past decade, Bath has endured one heck of a fall from grace–going from a favored ship-production site and world-renowned naval combatant manufacturer to, well, something of a demoralized mess. It’s serious. Wandering around the Navy Yard, I have never heard the Navy semi-publicly vent over a shipyard’s attitude and performance […]

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It’s a Boeing/Northrop Grumman Fight For the MQ-25 Stingray

October 30, 2016

Two things inform the upcoming MQ-25 Stingray opportunity: The first is that Northrop Grumman will be hard to beat, and, second, airframe innovation should take a distant backseat to the work needed to harden and prove-out the electronic “back-end” of carrier-based UAVs. I had a chance to discuss all this with the San Diego Business Journal last […]

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Overlooked in the CNO’s CSIS Speech

October 5, 2016

So the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, gave a speech at CSIS, and everyone is excited about his surprise termination of the term “A2/AD”. That’s all well and good–I have hated the A2/AD debate since the term crawled out from the torrid fever swamps of swarm boats and carrier killers (Read this, for […]

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