WASHINGTON ― The U.S. Navy is rapidly moving toward procuring the first hull in its new class of frigate in 2020, but a new report is raising questions about whether the Navy has done detailed analysis about what it needs out of the ship before barging ahead.
The Navy may not have done an adequate job of analyzing gaps and capabilities shortfalls before it set itself on a fast-track to buying the so-called FFG(X) as an adaptation from a parent design, said influential Navy analyst Ron O’Rourke in a new Congressional Research Service report.
In essence, the CRS report questions whether the Navy looked at what capabilities the service already has in the fleet, what capabilities it’s missing and whether the FFG(X) is the optimal solution to address any identified shortfalls.
O’Rourke suggests Congress push the Navy on “whether procuring a new class of FFGs is the best or most promising general approach for addressing the identified capability gaps and mission needs, and whether the Navy has performed a formal, rigorous analysis of this issue, as opposed to relying solely on subjective judgments of Navy or [Defense Department] leaders.”
““Subjective judgments, though helpful, can overlook counter-intuitive results regarding the best or most promising general approach,” the report reads. “Potential alternative general approaches for addressing identified capability gaps and mission needs in this instance include (to cite a few possibilities) modified LCSs, FFs, destroyers, aircraft, unmanned vehicles, or some combination of these platforms.”
The Navy is looking to adapt its FFG(X) from an existing design such as Fincantieri’s FREMM, one of the two existing littoral combat ships or the Coast Guard’s national security cutter as a means of getting updated capabilities into a small surface combatant and into the fleet quickly.
A better approach, O’Rourke suggests, would be to make a formal, rigorous analysis of alternatives to its current course. Failure to do so has led to a series of setbacks with the Navy’s current small surface combatant program, the LCS.
“The Navy did not perform a formal, rigorous analysis of this kind prior to announcing the start of the LCS program in November 2001, and this can be viewed as a root cause of much of the debate and controversy that attended the LCS program, and of the program’s ultimate restructurings in February 2014 and December 2015,” O’Rourke writes.
O’Rourke further suggests the Navy is relying too much on subjective opinions of Navy and Defense Department leaders, instead of a legitimate analysis. And indeed, the Navy has made rapid acquisition of the new ship the hallmark of the program.
“Subjective judgments can be helpful, particularly in terms of capturing knowledge and experience that is not easily reduced to numbers, in taking advantage of the ‘wisdom of the crowd,‘ and in coming to conclusions and making decisions quickly,” O’Rourke argues.
“On the other hand, a process that relies heavily on subjective judgments can be vulnerable to group-think, can overlook counter-intuitive results regarding capability gaps and mission needs, and, depending on the leaders involved, can emphasize those leaders’ understanding of the Navy’s needs.”
Read the full report here.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News. Before that, he reported for Navy Times.