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The Balisle Report and the Navy’s Future Pt 1

July 19, 2010

The world's most powerful fleet faces internal rot.

The Blame Game

You get the impression from reading Robert O’Brien’s post in the Daily Caller, that all the US Navy’s current shipbuilding woes are the fault of the 2-yr old Obama Administration. He writes “The Obama administration’s cuts to the U.S. Navy imperil critical missions“:

The United States Navy is drastically shrinking due to the serious cuts the Obama administration is making to the shipbuilding budget.  As set forth in the Navy’s Quadrennial Defense Review, the service requires a minimum of 313 ships to accomplish its many missions.  Today, however, the Navy is operating just 286 warships.  Given President Obama’s plans to further cut the defense budget, the number of ships in the Navy is certain to continue to decline below even the current number with very negative consequences for the United States; one area that is significantly impacted is America’s amphibious assault capacity.

However, the number of 286 is slightly higher than in 2007, before the current administration was in office, and during a decade of sustained high defense budgets. In fact, looking at the Navy’s own numbers, we see the fleet consistently falling since 2000 and only now just barely turning around:

  • 2000-318
  • 2003-297
  • 2005-282
  • 2007-279

Of course, all this after the Reagan years when the fleet boasted 600 warships. After some 20 years of abnormally high budgets for peacetime years and even higher since 9/11–2001, can the Navy’s shipbuilding woes fall on any single administration, Democrat or Republican? Here’s more from Mr O’Brien where all the facts are not given:

Marine amphibious assaults are often associated with the World War II battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Guam, Iwo Jima and Okinawa among other islands.  Landing at Inchon, Korea in September 1950, Marines proved that the doctrine of amphibious assault was still viable and necessary to the security of the United States and its allies.  Marines have hit the beaches in Lebanon, The Dominican Republic and Somalia and been positioned off shore in many other crises; their presence deterring those that would harm America or her friends. During the First Gulf War, Marines aboard ships were successfully used as a diversion to tie down significant numbers of Iraqi troops in defensive positions on the coast, while other Marines attacked from Saudi Arabia.

Note the opening in which the Marine amphibious landing reached it heyday during World War 2. This might also be considered its swansong, as you note steadily they are used less and less, usually only in benign environments against poorly armed Third World powers, far from the contested battles of the Pacific. By the time we get to the Gulf War, they aren’t even used at all, save as distant threat. Today the once powerful Marine Corps is relegated to a “second land army” far from it traditional partnership with the fleet, despite attempts to add its official title to that of the Department of the Navy.

It isn’t the Marines’ fault that their unique talents aren’t used properly, but tied as they are to only the world’s most largest and most expensive amphibious ships, so technically complicated that budget planners shrink from new purchases, they have lost their flexibility and adaptability. Signs are things may be changing, but not until the USMC loses its love affair with giant “floating green zones” that compete with other expensive maritime roles, and return to the shallow seas in shallow-water craft.

The Navy’s troubles stretch far from the Obama administration, and solutions must be internal, as its own Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead has insisted:

“Certainly, no navy today can afford to spend its way out of this challenge. We have to think our way out and we have to maintain affordability.”


Balisle’s Revelations

During the Cold War, the Navy began the practice of building very complicated ships, which were expected to last a very long time. Because most of our wars have been on land, draining modernization and procurement funds, the Navy has pretty much had the appearance of extreme power, but was often lacking the basic essentials to operate the fleet. To put it bluntly, today we have a extremely impressive fleet which is rotting at its core. Such was the finding if the USN’s own internal study, the Balisle Report, as explained by Strategypage:

Getting down into the details, the most obvious problem is that the ships are getting older, and so is their equipment, especially the electronics. As stuff gets older, it becomes more difficult to get spare parts, or to get them on a timely basis. This is particularly true with Cold War era electronics, which have since been replaced, in the commercial market,  by several generations of new (cheaper and more efficient and reliable) gear. The navy chose to try and maintain the older systems. It has not been working at the ship level. Worse yet, the procurement bureaucracy has not kept up with the times (it’s a real hassle to order anything), and sailors often give up on trying to get spares, especially when their officers can’t make the system work either. All this was made still worse by navy attempts to “streamline” things resulted in smaller spare parts budgets for ships (sometimes based on false belief in a faster spares delivery system that did not exist). Another streamlining disaster was a push for “minimum manning” (only having as many sailors on board as you actually needed). The analysis done to find the optimal crew levels ignored (or simply missed) a lot of manpower intensive jobs that led to many more ships failing their readiness inspections.

You get the impression of a fleet living beyond its means, placing unbearable burdens, thanks in part to foreign policy decisions, until it is impossible for the admirals to deliver ships for use in wartime or crisis. It is the Navy’s responsibility to ensure that hulls are ready when called on by the President, yet the decision during the Cold War to deploy only the most exquisite and expensive vessels for every contingency is threatening this mandate. Pulled in many directions with demands from the naval air community, the surface community, the submarine officers, the Marines, and now the Green/Brown Water navy with their gold-plated littoral combat ship, readiness suffers accordingly.

Up until now, the Navy has been producing savings through “nickels and dimes”, casting off essential missions, shedding itself of personnel in order to maintain its high end force structure. To coin a phrase, the chickens have come home to roost, as the rot reveals itself through lack of readiness. Phil Ewing, via CDR Salamander reveals more:

An independent probe into the state of the U.S. Navy’s surface force has found widespread, systemic dysfunction in its manning, readiness and training, and repudiates much of the service’s high-level decision-making in the last decade.

The report – commissioned by Adm. John Harvey, the Fleet Forces commander, and produced by a seven-member panel led by retired Vice Adm. Phillip Balisle that included two serving rear admirals – warns that unless the Navy mends its ways, it will continue to see surface ships condemned in inspections and sail unready to fight.

Although sailors and Navy observers have pointed before to many of the problems and trends that Balisle’s “fleet review panel” uncovered, the report provides the clearest, most detailed look yet at how a preoccupation with saving money drove the surface Navy to a low point…

How did it happen? Driven by top-level pressure to be as efficient as possible, Navy leaders in the early 2000s made a series of interrelated decisions to cut sailors, reform training, “streamline” fleet maintenance and take other steps in keeping with the philosophy then en vogue of “running the Navy like a business.”

Except the business of the Navy is not business, but preparing to fight the nation’s wars.

Tomorrow-the Shipbuilders Start to Bail


15 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2014 7:28 pm

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  2. leesea permalink
    July 26, 2010 1:13 pm

    t6, the use of small modules built in distant fab shops was pioneered by Kaiser et all during WW2. Today there are some specialized modules like composites built off site, but the majority of large ship construcion is done in the building yard.

    The advantage of smaller ships (relative to huge CVN/LHA/LPD) is that there are more US shipyards which can truly compete for a portion of the total project.

    None of the above appeals to our congress especially those with backyard shipyards or who take “donations” for the big corporate overseers of US shipyards?

    BTW I suspect the fight over who gets the first 10+5 LCS will be enormous.

    Stay tuned to Tim Colton for NGSB breakup and/or sell off.

  3. Hudson permalink
    July 20, 2010 5:44 pm

    The German Type XXI subs were assembled in 8 pre-fab sections built inland (at Albert Speers’ request), in shipyards. This was to expedite production of the advanced design. Unfortunately, for the Germans, only 4 of the 118 thusly constructed U-boats was fit to sail–one of Speer’s biggest defeats. One can imagine that starving slave laborers could not quite match the millimeter with the millimeter, to keep the Reich going.

    Yet, what a marvelous boat! With showers and a freezer! And quick-loading hydraulic torpedo tubes. And what D/E boat today has a range of over 15,000nmi? Vat eina wunderboot! Could Der Herr have pulled it out in the end? Apparently Hitler believed in wonder weapons till pistol went to der head, even though he personally had mostly made the wrong choices with the technical aces he held in his deck.

    Oh, well. We will never know the answers to such questions.

  4. Fencer permalink
    July 20, 2010 4:35 pm

    tangosix, currently the Virginia-class attack submarines have some sections built by Electric Boat and some by Newport News. But it seems like the US Navy came up with this idea just so that both shipyards could have enough business.

  5. July 20, 2010 3:18 pm


    leesea said:

    “The real fix is to drastically re-structure the US fleet and build more smaller, less complicated ships in more shipyards.”

    I have a feeling His Serene Blogness will look kindly upon you.

    In the United Kingdom,major warships like the new carriers are built in sections by smaller yards before those sections are transported to a major yard to be joined up and fitted out.
    Perhaps that is an approach which could be tried in the United States,or would geography preclude that?


  6. Andre from Sacto permalink
    July 20, 2010 1:00 pm

    ““Except the business of the Navy is not business,”

    Sounds like an endorsement of socialism to me.
    Why do you hate America?”

    Sorry, forgot the sarcasm tag. No insult was intended. I’m just frustrated that the parts I ordered months ago are still not here and my deadline is a week away. It drives me crazy. Its not how you run a buisness OR government.

  7. leesea permalink
    July 20, 2010 12:29 pm

    US naval shipyards are no longer set up to do construction. They mostly do repair and specialized conversions now. That is a big difference.

    The Navy buying Avondale will NOT fix the problems with workmanship and management.

    The US does not need to buyout NGSB nor do we the citizens need to go into debt to do so!

    Let NGSB sell off what it can and then let LA deal with the leftover plant in their state.

    The real fix is to drastically re-structure the US fleet and build more smaller, less complicated ships in more shipyards.

  8. Chris Stefan permalink
    July 20, 2010 10:00 am

    Retired Now:
    I agree. We used to build ships in Navy owned yards. I see no reason we couldn’t go back to that especially considering the mess the privately owned yards are leaving us with.

    Have the Navy buy out the NG shipbuilding business and rationalize the assets, selling off or closing what isn’t needed. Offer the same deal to GD as well. Once you are done let the government owned yards compete against each other and the remaining private yards for work.

    For that matter it might not be such a bad idea to do the same thing with aircraft, land systems, missiles, and electronics.

  9. leesea permalink
    July 19, 2010 4:36 pm

    Gents simply stated there are too many shipyards going after too few naval ship construction projects. Rationalization as has occured in other countries will occur and the US will have one less big shipyard.

    The large corporater overseers are as much part of the problem as is the poor management and workmanship displayed in Avondale.

    I think NG is getting out of the shipbuilding business all toghether because they don’t like what SECDEF is telling them recently. To paraphrase “no more sloppy jobs at inflated prices”. NG thinks it won’t make much profit so dump Avondale and sell off what remains.

    There is absolutely NO need for more naval shipyards they have been pared back to specific type work.

    And since I am on this topic, all this BS about competition driving down the price of warships is highly problemmatical. is as usual not really on point in its comments IMHO. For a more realistic assesment of the Avondale/NGSB situation please read Tim Coltion’s Maritime Memos website.

  10. Edward McCann permalink
    July 19, 2010 4:26 pm

    perhaps the navy should review the ratio of admirals to operational vessels, which for 240 some admirals and 286 some vessels (tugs to subs) is 0.84

  11. Retired Now permalink
    July 19, 2010 2:26 pm

    NORTHROP GRUMMAN Shipyards offered for sale ? Perhaps Uncle Sam would be the only large enough buyer to purchase the entire NG Shipyard family: Pascagoula, Gulfport, New Orleans-Avondale, Tallulah, Continental Marine in San Diego, and last but not least: Newport News Shipyard (NNS).

    Unless the US Gov’t buys the entire package from NG, then it will be downsized significantly and/or broken up into pieces.

    Is it OK, if a foreign shipyard purchases the big pieces, like Ingalls and Newport News ?

    Might as well just bite the bullet and nationalize whatever pieces are worth saving. The Gulf Coast in particular has declining quality, on its way downhill ever since HURRICANE KATRINA. Who can possibly keep afford the never-ending house insurance rates ? Time to save the bigger chunks, at least Ingalls and NNS.

    What’s the difference between a private shipyard 100 percent dependent upon Navy only contracts vs. just nationalizing the best pieces and creating another publically owned Naval Shipyard (s) ??

  12. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 19, 2010 12:39 pm

    Andre, if you read this blog in its early days, when I endorsed politics, you would see I am FAR from Socialist! And actually see government dependency by our shipyards as the primary cause for its demise, which I’ll speak more of tomorrow.

  13. Andre from Sacto permalink
    July 19, 2010 12:22 pm

    “Except the business of the Navy is not business,”

    Sounds like an endorsement of socialism to me.
    Why do you hate America?

    No really. This mindset was GOSPEL for an entire political ideology for DECADES! It was pushed without reason or thought. I’m glad to see that its now starting to fall out of favor.

    The government is not a business and business is not government. Separate those two concepts and you will have a better government and better business. Call it the anti-Cheney rule.


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