061112115739_Rooney_JoannLook, I’ve been a big cheerleader for SECNAV Ray Mabus getting a full bench of rough-and-tumble Navy Department Managers, and an advocate for increasing the proportion of females working in defense leadership roles, but enough is enough.

As Defense News’ Chris Cavas hints, it is high time for the long-stalled nominee for Navy Undersecretary, Jo Ann Rooney, to withdraw, and to let somebody else have a chance at the post.

And the White House should get off it’s fanny and expedite getting another nominee to Congress.

Time is a’wasting. Robert Work has demonstrated that the Navy’s “Number Two” post can be a developmental position, a “Springboard” where future defense leaders cut their bureaucratic teeth before moving on to future defense leadership opportunities.

And the White House staff, rather than frittering for a year, working to find and vet “boutique” female appointees for defense spots (which–compounding the problem–the White House Staff hasn’t done well), should grit their teeth and nominate folks (even relatively unconventional nominees who have future leadership potential) to get their open positions filled. They need to shift focus and nominate those who can do the Democratic Party good service over the long-term as defense leaders. The time for social engineering at the appointee level is over–President Obama has won his second term, so, honestly, he can put aside some of his campaign commitments (like he’s done with, say, Guantanamo).

With Jo Ann Rooney, it is time to end the flawed nomination and nominate somebody. Anybody. Heck, at this point, the Democratic equivalent of a Ham Sandwich could quickly get nominated–if only to put this sorry Jo Ann Rooney episode in the rear view mirror.

Look. Right now, the White House should be racing–racing–to fill open appointee slots at the Pentagon. Every single open post should have a name attached to it by now. Instead, the White House….is operating in slow motion. It takes a year to nominate somebody, then it accepts Congressional slow-rolling of the nominee, and then lets folks sorta…fester in nominee limbo. That’s not right for the nominee

It’s also not good for the Democratic Party.  And, frankly, the Nation.

The Democratic Defense community is starved of voices, and the Democratic Party–for it’s own long-term health–needs a wider set of views than are available from the two somewhat warring (Frienemy-esque?) camps of Democratic Defense Expertise–the Camp Obama Pragmatists and the Hillary Clinton enthusiasts of the Samantha Power “Responsibility To Protect” school or the understated Michele Flournoy “My Mission is the QDR” uh, movement.

The Democratic Party needs more adherents with solid Defense experience, and you sure as heck don’t build that body of experience by letting open political appointee slots go unfilled– because somebody at the White House–like Valerie Jarett–is pushing the President’s mandate to grow the ranks of female Defense appointees in an unhealthy, unsustainable fashion.

It’s time to put idealism aside and be pragmatic. With Defense still seen as a underlying Democratic Party weakness, the goal for Democrats should be in building a thriving, vibrant community of competent leaders. And that means filling ALL THE REMAINING PENTAGON APPOINTEE SLOTS ASAP. Regardless of sex, race or recorded Obama/Clinton affinity. It does the Party good to have Democrats appointed in positions where they can either wield their newly-established defense “cred” or positioned to burrow into the Pentagon bureaucracy so they can build a better power-base within the building. In the long-term, that’ll be how you change the nature of the place. That’s how you’ll see more females entering into the Defense Department ranks.

And, despite my hopes that we could tolerate a non-traditional Navy Undersecretary, the continued hopeless support of Jo Ann Rooney ain’t helping–she lacks the charisma to develop as a defense leader, and certainly lacks the grit needed to shepherd her hearing through to a favorable completion.

330px-SenatorGillibrandpicPut bluntly, this nomination should have been pulled the moment Jo Ann Rooney failed to appropriately respond to up-and-coming Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) challenge (Even though some Democrats don’t want to give Senator Gillibrand a win or any extra oxygen–she’s a future Democratic party heavyweight regardless of what Senator Reid or Hillary Clinton may think). When Gillibrand jumped in, Rooney–after her anemic damage control effort–was done.

And if Jo Ann Rooney lacked the intestinal fortitude to withdraw to “spend more time with family”, then surely Ray Mabus or Jo Ann’s champion in the White House staff should step up and pop this non-functional trial balloon.

The Democratic Party needs a stronger voice in Defense policy. And, while it may be a painful process in admitting defeat and starting anew with a high-profile Pentagon nomination, the alternative of keeping the office empty, depriving some other Democrat a chance to build their defense “chops” is not an answer either.

Let’s give Ray Mabus a full bench. The Navy and Nation need it.

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Bath OPCThe American habit of cramming the functions of four to five legacy ship classes into a single, bespoke multifunction hull is–for now–over.

With the U.S. fleet operating only a handful of core classes, and looking at one-for-one replacements of existing platforms (at best), the U.S. Navy is now free to get back to focusing on mission basics in follow-on/replacement hulls.

And that’s good.

You can’t go wrong by focusing on the basics. It’s something the U.S. Coast Guard is learning with the Offshore Patrol Cutter (yes, I know the wags out there will be quick to remind me that the OPC is replacing three different “Classes” of Medium-sized Cutters), but the missions for those three legacy platforms are one and the same (with some minor differences in capability, geographical suitability, etc.).

In OPC development, the U.S. Coast Guard has been undistracted, unabashedly focused on OPC seaworthiness and in supporting a few key attributes that really help the Coast Guard carry out their key statutory missions.

And they’re going to get a winner.

LPD-17: Many Missions, Master of None:

080816-N-6031Q-213Compare the OPC with the Pentagon’s long-standing effort to sell the 12-hull LPD-17 Program…a Program originally portrayed as a replacement for 4 types of amphibious vessels (41 ships).

The idea that the LPD-17 could adequately “replace” such a sprawling array of mature amphibious assault designs was, at best, an overheated dream of warrior accountants and some overly-pliant operational analysis guys.

Heck, the LST 1179 Class was a specialized landing craft, meant to be beached (Call me when an LPD-17 skipper survives the first LPD-17 beaching/grounding). The AKA-113 class was a specialized transport and amphibious support craft, and the LPD 4/LSD 36 were earlier-generation amphibs (Personally, I object to LPD-17 replacing the LSD-36 class because…the true LSD-36 follow-ons, the Whidbey Island/Harpers Ferry Classes, didn’t just spring out of thin air).

At any rate, the lack of focus let the LPD-17 Program sprawl into a do-anything, multi-billion dollar platform. Because LPD-17 replaced so many ships, the LPD-17 became valuable. Because LPD-17 was valuable, it needed protection. And because the ship needed protection…

“…the LPD-17 will be a bonafide warship. It will bring to the theatre the new Cooperative Engagement Capability which will enable it to share target tracks with Aegis ships: the Vertical Launch System for land attack missions and the Rolling Airframe Missile for ship self defense…the combat capability planned for the LPD -17 will allow it to defend itself and participate in land attack missions, freeing up Aegis ships, when necessary, for other missions…”

You get the idea. (That was USMC Lt. General Edward Hanlon Jr. in a 1997 issue of Naval Forces: International Forum For Maritime Power.)

On the face of it, claims that a 12-hull ship class could replace 41 ships was, at best, artful.

And as the LPD-17 program shrank–in both capability (remember the unused VLS cells on LPD-17 that the Marines turned into a climbing wall?) and number (remember when the LPD-17 shrank to 9 hulls?) the Program lost all credibility by clinging to the old statement–that the LPD-17 Program “functionally” replaced 41 ships.

Now….let’s rewind history and imagine if the LPD-17 was sold as a simple, one-for-one replacement for the 12 LPD-4 ships. (Which is, ironically enough, what the LPD-17 really is–when the program ends, we will see that twelve LPD-17s replaced twelve LPD-4s, full stop.)

Yes, wags will scoff that the LPD-17, as a one-for-one replacement for the LPD-4s, would have never been “sold” on the Hill–which may have been true at the time–but surely a more limited focus would have kept the LPD-17 from becoming the fragile, multi-billion-dollar aspirational dream-combatant that “everybody on the committee” wanted.

And I will wager that the result would have been a far more immediately successful, lower-cost platform.

Image converted using ifftoany

LCS: Mission Distraction:

The LCS followed the LPD-17 template. Despite the “modularity” escape valve, the platform still had too many missions piled upon it.

Look at how many ships the LCS was to replace. Depending upon who you read–and when–the Littoral Combat Ship was meant to replace the FFG-7s, the MCMs, the MHCs and even the Cyclone Class PCs. I won’t even try to count the number of hulls the original “52” LCSs were to replace….It’s impossible. Take the FFG-7.  The current “party line” is that the LCS will replace “30” FFG-7s–neverminding the fact that the US had 51 of ‘em (part of a fleet of 100+ small, frigate-like combatants).

The LCS went through the same design spiral of the LPD-17. Because it replaced so many ships, the LCS became valuable. Because LCS was valuable, it needed protection. And because LCS needed protection…we’ll get the Small Surface Combatant.

Whatever.

Now, imagine if we rolled back history to sell the LCS as a more capable, modular, self-deploying Battle Group replacement for the 25 hull MCM and MHC fleet?  I’ll bet we’d be in a very, very different place right now–and probably pretty darn happy with the result.

Embrace “One For One” Replacements:

Yes, the U.S. Navy is made up of multi-mission platforms. But the hard work is done–America has done the tough business of trimming specialized ships and condensing missions down to a handful of hulls. Now, once the Navy starts focusing on “one for one” replacements for their aging platforms (multi-mission or not), the focus is inevitably going to change. The Government buyer is now freed to focus on the basics–advancing the solid aspects of a spiral design or upon capabilities critical for the central, key mission.

It’s not about innovation. It’s about building a solid foundation for innovation to follow.

It’s why the JHSV is succeeding, and why the MLP, AFSB and OPC will succeed. And why–if Stackley has his way–the LX(R) will succeed too.

Focus on the basics, and the rest will follow.

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A Liberian Lesson For the Department of Defense

September 22, 2014

As the Africa-centric components of the Department of Defense turn from their normal terrorist-whacking duties to engage Western Africa’s Ebola fight (a disease outbreak which, sadly, seems to have taken the Pentagon somewhat by surprise), it’s worth taking a moment to remind the Department of Defense that Liberia is the only country in recent memory […]

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UCLASS: Bob Work Is Right to Reach for The High-End Solution

September 2, 2014

The fight over the Navy’s next-generation unmanned asset, the UCLASS, continues, with, as USNI’s Sam Lagrone reports, another delay: The final request for proposal (RFP) for the Navy’s planned carrier-based unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has been delayed pending a review of the service’s information, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) portfolio as part of the service’s budget […]

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Israel: A Future Sub Builder?

August 20, 2014

In the race to keep up with neighboring navies, Israel has taken a prudent middle course, developing indigenous solutions for low-end craft, and reaching out to other nations to provide more complex ships and submarines. Though Israel has done very, very well buying ships and subs overseas–Israel will, within the next few years, begin the […]

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Will A Shipyard Fire Burn All Aluminum Warships?

August 14, 2014

A catastrophic shipyard fire that, by all accounts, destroyed Australia’s all-aluminum HMAS Bundaburg (ACPB-91), one of Australia’s 14 useful–yet oft-maligned–Armidale Class patrol boats, will reignite debate over the survivability of aluminum warships. When the public finally sees the melted, burned-out remains of HMAS Bundaburg (photos that will likely be dramatic, given that the fire was not […]

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Appreciate China’s Big New Seaplane

August 7, 2014

A good deal of polite Western snickering met the announcement that China was on the verge of building large seaplanes–an “old technology”, scoffed the haters, whose “heyday came and went with the demise of the Pan Am Trans-Oceanic Clipper”. But at least one Chinese aviation commentator dispensed a bit of wisdom for the doubters: “The […]

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In Press: Talking Mines in the Taipei Times

August 5, 2014

The Taipei Times, in a friendly gesture, used my story on China’s recent mine warfare exercises in the South China Sea to advance some wider discussion mine warfare in China’s near seas. Here’s my bit: Craig Hooper, a former teacher at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, has reported that the Chinese navy conducted […]

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Nonproliferation’s Big Week

August 2, 2014

A week after I worried that the American public had forgotten about nuclear threats and had allowed their fear of nuclear weapons to recede, nonproliferation had quite a week. John Oliver, in his HBO program Last Week Tonight, did his part to raise American awareness of nuclear warfare, devoting about half of his show to […]

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To Sell U.S. Combatants Overseas–Follow the French!

July 31, 2014

U.S. naval ship vendors could learn a thing or two from the French, as they’ve thusfar fought off extensive American efforts to intrude on France’s niche market in small surface combatants. It’s almost embarrassing.  Despite American efforts to sell the Littoral Combat Ship, the French Gowind-Class corvette “family of ships” has quietly taken big bites […]

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