LPD-17 and the rage of J. Michael Gilmore

by Craig Hooper on October 28, 2010

J. Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of Operational Test and Evaluation, has the most thankless job in the Pentagon. This guy, more than anybody else, knows where the bodies are buried on various platforms–and nobody listens to him.

As a weapons tester and evaluator, he is hated by program managers, dismissed as a cantankerous, meddling fool by the programs dinged by DOT&E testers, and yet, sadly, his data-driven critiques are often right.

J. Michael Gilmore was the one who first raised the red flag about the Virginia Class–and it’s issues with troublesome subsystems. The Program Managers pushed back, got their two-hull per year production agreement inked and then, in the space of a few weeks, three Virginia Class subs showed up with their Special Hull Treatment in tatters. I blogged about it, and then the story went national.

J. Michael Gilmore is changing DOT&E. Usually public DOT&E stuff is buried in a hard-to-reach annual catalog for Congress, little-reported upon beyond the cozy confines of the Inside the Navy subscription wall (and, well, this blog and maybe Tim Colton). But things are changing. DOT&E reports are now posted, here.

And J. Michael Gilmore is talking.

Today, just after the LPD-17 program inked an agreement for two more hulls, J. Michael Gilmore made headlines with the LPD-17, citing the LPD-17s inability to survive in combat:

The San Antonio-class vessel’s critical systems, such as electrical distribution, ship-wide fiber optics and voice- communications networks, aren’t reliable, according to Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation. The ship’s armaments can’t effectively defend against the most modern anti-ship weapons, Gilmore said.

The ship is capable of operating “in a benign environment,” Gilmore said in an e-mail to Bloomberg News outlining the unclassified summary of a classified report sent to Congress in June. The vessel is “not effective, suitable and not survivable in a combat situation,” he said.

That’s great to see. J. Michael Gilmore could do a lot to encourage better procurement performance. DOT&E has been doing this for years–heck, I reported on DOT&E’s concerns about the LPD-17 back in January of 2009–and repeat it here to show that DOT&E was on this issue a long time ago:

As I poke through some DOT&E summaries, the Ship Self Defense System report is a little worrying. For those of you who don’t know, SSDS is a fiber-optic local area network that integrates sensors and weapons systems for fast (i.e. pretty much automatic) shipboard defense. And a version, Mark 2 Mod 2, is in the LPD-17. As one might guess, things did not go all that well:

“Completed SSDS Mark 2 Mod 2 tests highlighted deficiencies regarding sensor performance in the LPD-17 Advanced Enclosed Mast Structure, vulnerabilities to certain Anti Ship Cruise Missile threats, and weapon performance in scenarios that include potential fratricide…”


“The major elements of both the SSDS Mar 2 Mod 1 and Mod 2 combat systems collectively have a large number of high severity software trouble reports…”


“Testing identified end-to-end system engineering deficiencies and inadequate preparatory tests of SSDS-based combat system elements that are not part of the SSDS program leading to poor weapon system performance during operational testing..”

And the verdict? Well, read on:

“Assign a high priority to correct and demonstrate with adequate operational testing identified SSDS Mark2 Mod 2 sensor performance and weapon performance problems to preclude further LPD-17 Class deployments with deficient SSDS Mark 2 Mod 2 systems…”

Translated into plain English, it means don’t deploy any more LPD-17s until this gets fixed.

This, I might add, appears to be a systemic Class-wide problem, not a “First-of-Class-is-Hard” matter from the infirm LPD-17 and unwell LPD-18…”

Well…here we are almost two years later, and the LPD-17s are still not able to serve the fleet.

In the current budget environment, J. Michael Gilmore needs to be listened to, and it looks like he is moving to make DOT&E a bigger part of the defense debate.

Yeah, sure, he just tests the things, but that, in the end, means Mr. Gilmore is one of the few people in the Department of Defense who has no agenda beyond finding out what works and what doesn’t. And that, in the opinion of this writer, is something that we all need to respect.

J. Michael Gilmore’s job is about integrity. Let’s hear it for that, and, as a community, give this brave man a friendly pulpit or two to preach from.

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