Rear Admiral Holland is a retired submarine officer. He has been a frequent contributor to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW since its founding.
In his remarks to the Washington Chapter of the Naval Submarine League November 9, the Royal Navy’s attache, Captain Steve Ramm described the trials and tribulations associated with the design and construction of the Royal Navy’s next attack submarine, HMS ASTUTE. She is to be the first of a class of seven ships with initial sea trials set for next spring. ASTUTE is rated at a design speed of 25 knots, with six tubes and a crew of I 09 (89 on board). She will be delivered at least three years late costing 30% more than originally predicted. While this sad result stands in stark contrast to the US submarine builders who are lowering their costs and shortening the construction time of the Virginia follow ships, the recent debacle of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) suggests that the causes of ASTUTE’s difficulties are not unique to Great Britain. Understanding them is a key to avoid sliding into the pit demonstrated by the LCS acquisition debacle.
The cause of all causes in Great Britain is the overwhelming emphasis concentrating on budget management and financial controls in the Ministry of Defense. This political centralization stemmed from the Procurement Philosophy in the I 990’s. The British version of this philosophy sounds chillingly like the actions of the American defense hierarchy starting in the mid-eighties. This theory holds that Everything is better managed by Industry than Governmental, so therefore government expertise can be radically pruned. However because the Cold War was over, orders for new equipment were not forthcoming. So industry not only did not replace the capability to design and build that formerly resided in the government, but allowed their own capability to atrophy. Then in this desert of technical expertise, ASTUTE’ s ” … Prime Contract was with a single entity that had never before built a submarine and to a function and performance specification.”
The concern with unit cost crippled timely construction of the lead ship-probably because the managers of the budget were ignorant about the design process and failed to comprehend the complicated processes related to building anything more than their backyard patio. The result would have been the same if the mandarins were managing wood products for the mobile home industry except in that case they probably would no longer have a job. Like it or not, orders of few numbers result in expensive products. “In terms of cost, even if the risks are managed successfully, our overheads are being spread amongst fewer and fewer assets meaning that unit costs will inexorably rise.”
The second difficulty arose from the fifteen-year gap between the TRAFALGAR and the ASTUTE. The Ministry of Defense and the Royal Navy no longer had the technical competence or capacity within their organizations to determine the design specifications, recognize characteristic trade offs or supervise construction. For ASTUTE, those factors were turned over to the contractor- a single company which had never built a submarine. The terms in Captain Ramm’s shorthand were “Give us a submarine in seven years and let us know when it’s finished.” Like LCS, ASTUTE went into production before there was a mature design or a competent shipbuilder.
This all sounds too familiar to American Navy surface warriors who continue to grope for a new warship design while saddled with many of these same burdens. While submariners can take some pride in having maneuvered around these issues in the Seawolf and Virginia classes, the pitfalls lurk in the Department of the Navy’s managerial arrangements. As admonished by Admirals King, Nimitz and Rickover, if you can’t point your finger at who is responsible, no one is. Today, acquisition of new warships is the responsibility of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition. Presently vacant, the last incumbent ‘s previous post was as an EE professor at the Naval Academy. Reporting to her were eleven Deputy Assistant Secretaries of the Navy, fourteen Program Executive Officers, and seven System Commanders. In this organizational swamp, six Deputy Assistant Secretaries, three System Commanders and seven Program Executive Officers had responsibility for some portion of the LCS or her equipment. The building yards had no prior experience with warship construction and the designs are not yet mature enough to guarantee the mission modules will fit in the ships.
In this morass, Team Submarine stands out as a mechanism working around these barriers by co-opting the necessary portions of various organizations under a single head. The submarine and their supporting organizations are long time customers of shipbuilders managed by experienced shipbuilders who have been building submarines for decades. The shipbuilders know those officials responsible for all aspects of the design and construction. The on-sight supervision by the Supervisor of Shipbuilding ensures that differences between the government and the yard can be adjudicated in reasonable time and mistakes can be remedied quickly.
Captain Ramm’s prescriptions for a successful shipbuilding program are ones that American submariners will recognize.
“Continuity in design is very important.” Design work must continue even if there is no immediate construction portending. “Industry needs an intelligent customer.” Designs must be mature (that doesn’t mean complete) before construction starts. The exact specifications for the ship must be evident and agreed to by the shipbuilder and the government. When ships come in ones and twos, the system cannot function like a commercial business. Neither the government nor the shipbuilder can wait for customers to indicate what sort of grill on the car sells best.
“Design authority must be maintained in the Ministry of Defense.” This requires officers and civilian personnel who are competent in naval architecture, in the physics of the ocean, in details of engineering plants, sensors, weapons and communications. Skilled designers and technical people must be maintained. If they are not, a generation will be required to restore that competency.
“Shipbuilders, not systems integrator, must be in charge of building the ship.”
Captain Ramm has done us great service-enunciating what most persons associated with submarine design and construction, civilian and military, know to be true. Attempts in the past to avoid the hard issues of developing a new ship’s requirements, of trading off aspects of the desired development including cost, and of developing detailed and exacting specifications for construction and outfitting have all resulted in poorly performing ships built at costs greater than anticipated. Further, the lack of design engineering talent in the government has resulted in inadequate support for the ships after construction. All of these faults add up to poorly designed ships with short lifetimes. US submarines have largely escaped that fate because of a refusal to compromise standards, a recent history of fairly accurate cost estimates, and the steady hand of the Directors of Naval Nuclear Propulsion who have made sure their power plants are not attached to scows.
The organization of the Department of Navy as it exists today now has a reputation for cost over-runs, late delivery, long post shakedown avail-abilities to bring new ships into serviceable condition, and for many ships, short service lives. Reorganization in a manner to return a degree of confidence in the capability to build surface warships is unlikely. Outside the Submarine Force, the Arleigh Burke class continues to be well constructed, costing reasonably close to the estimated price and performing well after commissioning. Returning to the organization that existed when that ship was developed, designed and built would be a good start to solving the present problems in shipbuilding but requires decisive actions beyond the capability of the administration. As to the next class of small surface warships, seven to ten years have been lost while various officials labored in hope and hype rather than in analysis and technical details