Readers Sound Off on Recent Stories

Future of Defense Industrial Base

Your article, “Wall Street Keeps a Wary Eye on Defense Biz,” (Jan. 2015) was very interesting. However, I was dismayed at the future solution proposed by Denis A. Bovin from Evercore Partners. Having the government buy out the defense industrial base is the worst idea to solve the current problems in the acquisition system.

I have dealt with U.S. government organic industrial organizations for many years. They are burdened with un-economic production rates — which increase tax-payer funded overheads — lack of the motivation to avoid failure found in commercial firms, and are seemingly unconcerned with timely delivery and quality. Maintaining the profit motive for industry to innovate and deliver quality products on time and on budget is still the best solution.

Getting government regulations out of the way is a better course of action. The government should issue its requirements to industry, let industry provide its best solutions in a competitive environment, and then verify that the product is performing as required. This would streamline the current process which involves numerous government agencies in the decision process which don’t add value to the products.

Frank Hoerster
Woodbridge, VA

Navy’s Next-Generation Warships

Regarding Ben Freeman’s article, “Cancelling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake,” (Jan. 2015), I was on active duty when the decision was made whether to overhaul the battleships or start new construction. Congress decided that they wanted to have new ships built because doing so would provide much more money and longer building projects for some congressman’s local shipyard.

Overhauling and modernizing the battleships would cost $600 million to $700 million and new construction would run into the billions. And from their point of view spending billions and having a much longer period of time for their shipyard to be working was better. There was a lot of quibbling. For some reason having a battleship with nine 16-inch rifles and hundreds of cruise missiles was not as good as a new ship (Zumwalt class) with only two guns and a few missiles.

So now after doing research, those two 155mm guns can fire 10 rounds per minute each, for a total of 20 rounds per minute and have 600 rounds aboard the ship. That will provide the Marines ashore 30 minutes of fire support. Now it is stated that the Zumwalts can be resupplied with ammo, by a ship coming to it. I doubt an ammo ship will sail into a combat zone. The Zumwalts will have to go farther away from the combat zone to rearm.

A battleship would have been capable of providing fire support to the Marines ashore for days if not weeks. And these 155mm guns can only fire special rounds, not any other available 155mm ammunition.

These unwanted and worthless vessels should have never been constructed to start with and should surely not have more built. Billions of dollars down the rabbit hole and the Marines still have no fire support.

So I disagree. Building them was a huge mistake to start with. Having the battleships with their armor and big guns, that had already had new 16-inch shells tested that were rocket-boosted and laser guided, plus having new propellant bags made would have made the battleships the toughest ships afloat. Impervious to modern torpedoes and with 36-inch armor at the water line could have been utilized to steam right over anything any enemy has afloat today.

Walter B Zirbes III
Sent by email

“Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake” is a great article but I suggest you dig deeper into the life cycle cost savings that result from reduced crew size. The referenced Reserve Forces Policy Board report is an excellent analysis of military personnel costs. The cost is far more than just annual salaries

The article states: “Unlike DDG-51s, DDG-1000s are equipped with a variety of new technologies that allow the ship to operate with a much smaller crew — roughly half that of the DDG-51s. Over the course of a 35-year service life this personnel difference could save taxpayers $280 million per ship, given that Defense Department estimates DDG-51 personnel cost at approximately $20 million per year/ship, compared to just $12 million for the DDG-1000’s crew, adjusting for inflation.” The referenced Defense Department estimate of $20 million per year per DDG 51 IIA translates to an average cost per crewmember of approximately $52,000 per year.

In contrast, the DoD Reserve Policy Review Board reported that in fiscal year 2013, the fully burdened total cost to the government for an active component military person is $384,622 per year. The total life cycle cost to the government for an active component member is $10.3 million. DDG 51 Flight IIA has a crew size of 380 (including aviation detachment). DDG 1000 has a crew size of 158 (including aviation detachment).

This difference in crew size of 222 personnel translates to a cost avoidance of $83.4 million per year per ship. Assuming a 35-year ship life, the reduced crew size of a DDG 1000 results in cost avoidance in military pay and benefits of $2.988 billion per ship.

It should be noted that the DD-21 program requirements included a very stringent KPP on crew size, a requirement driven by the then Navy’s recognition of the true cost of a crewman. It would be interesting to see the Navy’s analytical basis behind that KPP.

Dick Mosier
Sent by email

I would like to comment on “Revolutionary, Stealthy Low-Cost Warships” (Nov. 2014). The statement, “The Navy has never experienced the equivalent of the ground wars fought over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. forces grappled with asymmetric warfare tactics such as the use of improvised explosive devices” is incorrect.

The U.S. Navy has sent many enlisted and officer personnel to both Iraq and Afghanistan from active and reserve components. In fact these people are informally known as “sand sailors.” Many of these personnel have dealt with the electronic aspects of improvised explosive devices.

Secondly, since the Army did not initially have electronic warfare capabilities, the Navy trained army personnel in this area.

Thirdly, the Navy has a track record dealing with mine warfare since the early 20th century.

Steven Silverman
Philadelphia, PA

Defense Contracting

In response to your article on contracting trends, (Defense Industry 2015, Dec. 30) I have strong opinions on this topic and believe these cuts need to happen. Rather than see cuts, I would prefer to see contract values reduced. Contracting houses are making too much, contractors are getting paid too much and military service members are feeling most of the pain.
I have worked in the commercial sector, as a government contractor, and as a civilian employee so I have exposure to the issue about which I am writing.

I understand, justifiably so, that budget cuts are coming. What I don’t understand is why I see on a daily basis the continued abuse of contract amounts that has little to no oversight from within the government agencies and definitely not from within Congress.

When I became a civilian employee I became grossly aware of three major issues within, and specific to, the culture and handling of the budget: stovepiping and redundancy of activities; no accountability; and everything that is done within the government culture is a reaction to an event, rarely, if ever, are activities conducted proactively.

What I don’t understand is why we have contractors whose only clients are the federal government that can afford box seats at major sports arenas, have gatherings that clearly cost millions of dollars and all kinds of benefits that clearly cost a lot of money, but we are cutting our military forces’ benefits so much that these men and women can barely live on their salary and benefits. It seems like our priorities and loyalties are a bit confused.

What would make more sense to me would be to make the contract rates within the federal government competitive with the commercial industry contracts. Currently, they are not even close. I constantly challenge contractors I work with to find a job in the commercial sector making as much as they do as a government contractor. They can’t.

The dollars that are awarded for the government contracts aren’t realistic in the commercial industry. Commercial companies are driven by profit and they wouldn’t make any profit if they were paying the same amounts that the government pays for contractors. 

Contractors should require tighter oversight and their salaries should be in line with civilian employee salaries. I understand that if a contractor is competing in the commercial sector they would need sports complex sky boxes, etc. but if their only customers are the federal government how can these contractors afford these benefits?

This isn’t the fault of the contractors, it’s the fault of the government for paying way too much for products and services from these contractors. Take that money and reallocate it to our military forces.

Oversight now mainly consists of ensuring that money is burned as planned, with very little attention on the quality of deliverables, delivery schedule and validating that “we got what we paid for.”

There should be limits on contract values that are in line with what it would cost if civilian employees actually did the work. From what I’ve seen the quality of skills is comparable between civilian workers and contractors. Make the pay the same.

Don Collins
Sent by email

The January, 2015 issue of National Defense magazine covers the status of military acquisition quite well — except for the fundamental and significant problem of software quality. The current state of the art in software development, maintenance and reuse is costing the Department of Defense up to 25 percent more than is necessary, causing unacceptably low operational availability of deployed systems and forestalling cyber security.

Please focus on the pervasive problem of logic, arithmetic and semantic faults in computer code also known as software bugs.

Jack Ring
Fellow, International
Council on System Engineering

Topics: Defense Department, Civilian Workforce

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