How To Keep New Technology From Crippling The U.S. Navy

How to keep new technology from crippling the U.S. Navy:

12.9.2019

How to keep new technology from crippling the U.S. Navy:

The Navy has an enormous appetite for new technology. But again and again, with the Littoral Combat Ship, the Zumwalt class destroyer, and the Ford class aircraft carrier, vessels are being delivered incomplete with cutting-edge systems that are malfunctioning. Here's what the Navy needs to do.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. I evaluate national security threats and propose solutions. Share to facebook Share to twitter Share to linkedin The U.S. Navy is in a tough spot. Sailors need cutting-edge technology, but full-scale vessel, propulsion and large system-level prototypes needed to test new technological approaches are often considered too costly for Congress to fund. Instead, vessel innovation too often done on the fly, kludged onto new procurement projects after a bit of ad-hoc computer modeling, some brainstorming at the systems level, or via the savvy guidance of some influential salesperson. Given that research and development hard to fund these days, Navy innovation aboard ships and subs are now frequently blended into big procurements as immature, untested and poorly thought-out subsystems. This corner-cutting habit of hiding research and development in a big, expensive vessel procurement or forcing new technologies into an ongoing combatant production run has a real cost. And today, after taking too many research and development shortcuts, the U.S. Navy is feeling the pinch as it shifts to confront a rapidly changing maritime threat environment. With too few ships ready to deploy, any delay or misstep in technical design imposes immediate consequences on the U.S. fleet. And as rivals press ahead in building new and advanced combatants, U.S. Fleet Commanders need shipyards to produce battle-ready vessels at ever-faster rates. In this dynamic maritime environment, the last thing Navy leaders want is for new combatants to be sidelined over pesky technology problems or pulled off-track by inadequate systems engineering oversight. But, again and again, with the U.S. Navy’s two Littoral Combat Ship classes, the Zumwalt Ford class aircraft carrier, naval combatants are being delivered incomplete, unready for contested oceans. Managing this tension between technological innovation and warfighting demands the institutional fortitude to make tough decisions and pay some substantial “up-front” developmental, test and prototyping costs. Even though the U.S. Navy needs platforms with the best possible technology, naval stakeholders cannot keep burying new combatants under a tsunami of new and untested high-tech gear, ceding the solid warfighting priorities of reliability, lethality, and simplicity to the whimsy of, say, a technology-intoxicated ex-Admiral. The U.S. Navy must learn to say “enough”, and build combatants that work while directing new and untested ideas towards a vibrant, well-funded prototyping program. New ideas are only great if they are proven out. There Is No Substitute For Rigorous Prototyping America’s constant struggles with new naval ships demonstrates that the need for full-scale prototyping at the platform (ship and submarine) level and at the basic systems (engine, reactor, elevator, HVAC and so forth) levels have not gone away. Flashy cost-savings initiatives like computer models are wonderful tools, but they still struggle to capture integration risks and can be based on inaccurate or unrealistic performance data. Insight that a mundane welding technique is insufficient in a pipe bend, or that a platform cannot work in salt water, or that the system is simply not sailor-proof are often only discovered when the first examples are built and tested in realistic conditions. PREVIOUS Read more: Forbes

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