Even When We’re Fast, We’re Slow
“Even when we’re fast, we’re slow.”
words, uttered by Secretary of the Navy Gordon England at a two-day Naval
Institute symposium on Sept. 29,
2004, were not part of his prepared remarks. As reported by Kate Wiltrout of The
Virginian-Pilot, following his prepared comments,
is often the case, these informal remarks spoke volumes about not only
I remember back in the 1960s when the Navy instituted a new supply system that was designed to lower the cost of carrying seldom-needed spare parts in inventory while simultaneously ensuring that such vital parts were always at hand for immediate use. On paper, it was a remarkable system that saved potentially hundreds of millions of dollars while keeping our fighting fleet battle ready.
But the plan failed to take human nature into account. Submariners have historically fended for themselves. The “ requisition party” is a legendary part of submarine lore. Since before World War II, submariners have known that the value of going to sea with what you need was worth a few cases of frozen steaks or a couple of traditional leather jackets. And if you still didn’t have it the night before patrol, you made sure you had it anyway – by whatever means.
In the 1960s, as sleek nukes replaced aging diesels, submariner self-sufficiency continued unabated. “Nuke Pukes,” as the good-smelling, sharply-attired fast attack sailors were known to diesel submariners, quickly learned from their grungy brothers.
As the automated supply system got up to speed, submariners’ (and especially diesel boat guys’) off-the-radar “requisitions” soon caused significant distortions in what appeared to be an otherwise excellent supply system. Eventually, some critical diesel spares fell out of the system entirely, which – some say – hastened the diesel boats’ demise.
Most of us remember the fall of the Berlin Wall. What many do not really understand is that the Soviet system was doomed from the outset by its inherent inefficiency. Personally, I have no doubt that President Ronald Reagan played a major role in hastening its downfall, but it was doomed no matter what anybody said or did. Soviet Premier and Party Chairman Nikita Khrushchev wrote in his memoirs that one of his greatest frustrations was his inability to solve problems like a train hauling logs cut in one forest to a sawmill a thousand kilometers away, while logs felled near that distant sawmill were transported to a mill near the location of the first logs. He said it drove him crazy. He complained that every five-year plan the Central Committee developed would further complicate a system that already was complex beyond imagining.
theme of the Naval Institute-sponsored conference was: “Ready or Not? How Do
We Respond with Ready Forces to the
He then went on to discuss our vulnerabilities in a scenario of a decentralized enemy with the ability to strike quickly and intensively at both civilian and military targets worldwide. He noted that the Navy no longer is opposing a blue-water enemy with carrier-based flotillas and a fleet of nuclear attack subs; and we no longer have to protect ourselves from submarine-launched ICBMs.
He characterized this new enemy within a naval perspective as one who is transporting nuclear weapons components and other Weapons of Mass Destruction (MWD) components by sea in small vessels indistinguishable from thousands of similar vessels plying the oceans everywhere. The new enemy attacks our large vessels not with torpedoes and missiles, but with explosive-laden dhows and leaking sampans.
quoted President Bush from a pivotal June 2002 speech to the cadets at
War is about time and speed and information, being timely, agile and quick to
react to robust intelligence,”
leaders are already transforming our fleet into one that has the flexibility to
respond within the
do not, however,”
his prepared remarks,
High tech will continue to play a role throughout the spectrum of military operations. Innovations on today’s battlefields include intelligent body armor for combat soldiers, computer-net control of battlefield operations, nanotech forward imaging in urban combat settings, computer-net command and control of ship and squadron operations, smaller, more maneuverable, less expensive Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) submarines for in-shore operations, unmanned surveillance drones, and even unmanned combat aircraft, to name just a few.
And look for a paradigm shift in how we collect intelligence, and how it gets disseminated to the forces that need it the most.
when we’re fast, we’re slow” may be true now, but we’re changing, and as