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When I complained several years ago to a businessman that I respect highly about a new computer operating system coming out just as I was getting comfortable with its predecessor, he gave me some good advice: “You have no choice but to remain current with whatever operating system most everyone else is using- it’s part of the cost of doing business”. This cost of doing business consideration appears in many forms- it is, for example, the cost of dressing appropriately for whatever your line of business is, the cost of remaining intellectually current in matters of your profession or the cost of purchasing the necessary tools of your trade.

More and more, the business of submarining involves establishing a greater degree of connectivity with national information grids and other operating forces. In fact, the whole thrust of the costly, nearly decade-old Comms at Speed and Depth program is to define and develop the tools of the trade necessary to execute this business. It appears certain, both here and abroad, where similar developments are underway, that part of this tool kit will consist of a family of fiber-optic tethered buoys launched from the ubiquitous 3-inch signal ejector that will provide 10s of minutes of such as high speed two-way comms, navigational OPS information, ESM and photonic above surface situational awareness and Automatic Identification System (AIS) reception among any number of other services-often combining two or more of these features in the same buoy. An as yet to be quantified hazard, however, is that even when these buoys soon reach the fleet, their contribution will not be exploited because of a failure to acknowledge the cost of doing business.


In the military, as in most of government enterprises, it makes a great deal of difference from which pocket money comes to pay for something. For example, even though they are expendables by the very nature of their existence, submarine CO’s don’t have to save up operating funds to buy another torpedo, nor do Navy Pilots have to pay for their own bombs. For other items of a consumable or expendable nature, such as pencils, toilet paper or Submarine Expendable Bathythermographs (SSXBTs), a submarine must purchase these things through some Supply System from their Operating Target (OPT AR) funds- a quarterly fixed allowance to cover a multitude of expenses-sometimes having to make difficult choices as with any budgeted funds.

Here several different but related difficulties arise. Once an item enters a Supply System for further tracking, storage and distribution, there are associated overhead costs to cover the personnel and real estate required to warehouse and issue these materials. In some cases, these additional costs which are added to the dollar value as bought from the civilian contractor can be significant-even reaching 200-300% in some cases. For example, an SSXBT sold to the government for a little over $200, costs the ship almost $400 when ordered from, in this case, the Defense Logistic Agency or DLA. Similarly, lower usage rate but pricier items within the Navy Supply System such as towed VLF buoys or floating wire antennas have markups in the order of 140%.

Although those sorts of mark-ups are tolerable from a bottom line perspective, the employment of a Submarine Expendable Communication Device (SSXCD) that enters the system at, say $3000, but exits at a cost to the ship of $6000 to $7000 would be greatly inhibited, regardless of the clear situationally-specific operational advantage it could offer. Given what would then be a very low continuing usage following initial outfitting would make the expense of developing these devices less than cost-effective.


Although it is expedient and beneficial for a ship to manage its expenditures for various consumables and expandables from an assigned OPT AR, it seems clear that some high-cost operational consumables should be excepted. Some such are the SSXCD and related members of the 3-inch fiber-optic tethered family which have associated costs which are certainly viable from an operational perspective, but are too high to reasonably be expected to compete within the constrained bounds of an OPT AR based replenishment scheme.

Furthermore, it would seem prudent to bypass Supply System overhead mark-ups by having the somewhat predicable usage rate of these devices organized where, following initial load-out, replacements for those devices be provided directly from the Type Commander (TYCOM) via the parent squadron when used as directed (i.e. a requirement to launch an optical/ESM above-surface situational awareness buoy by all submarines immediately preceding their quarterly Emergency Main Ballast Tank blow test) or as tactically expedient during exercises or real-world operations. It has been reported that the U.S. Navy Supply System does have procedures in place that allow for a zero mark-up pass-through of high usage rate items when a major fleet entity desires to encourage their use.

In the best of all possible worlds, these operationally enhancing devices would be funded by the TY COM or higher, and if a Supply System is involved at all, would pass through them with no mark-up. There is much to be learned in these sorts of things by the way in which Special Operating Forces purchase the tools of their trade, or in the way that black acquisitions are financed.


RDML Charles “Chip” H. Griffiths, USN (Ret.)
Mr. John B. Delaney, Jr.
LCDR Stanley K. Nicholls, USN (Ret.)
CAPT James Bush, USN (Ret.)

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