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Supply: Now Lactose Free

This article was first posted to the USNI blog.

The demands of the warfighter are like cheese processed through the lactose intolerant digestive tract that is military supply; though digestion is a vital process, it can be unspeakably painful and smell of rotten eggs. End-users already plagued by rapidly decreasing manning and time are now interrupted by long backorder lead times, artificial constraints on off-the-shelf solutions, and funding. Personnel are known to skip the supply system altogether, purchasing parts or equipment out of pocket when an inspection is on the line. This both hides the problem and takes from the pockets our sailors. The military has forgotten that supply exists for the utility the operator, not the ease of the audited. For the military supply system to regain the trust and capabilities necessary to serve the end-user, reforms to the way supplies are selected, commercial purchases are managed, and funding requested are necessary.


The first major problem is the Coordinated Shipboard Allowance List (COSAL). COSAL is a process by which the navy’s supply system determines what supplies it should stock on the shelves; items are ordered through the in-house supply system and the hits in the system raise the priority to stock. Unfortunately, COSAL is reactive rather than predictive and cannot meet the needs of either the new aches of an aging fleet or the growing pains of new ships. As ships grow long-in-the-tooth, parts and equipment once reliable require replacement or repair. New ships find casualties in systems meant to last several years. Equipment lists also change, leading to fleet-wide demands for devices only in limited, if any, supply. The non-COSAL items are suddenly in great demand but nowhere to be found. Critical casualties have month+ long wait-times for repairs as parts are back-ordered from little COSAL support. Commands attempt to fill their time-sensitive need by open purchasing these items from the external market, which are not COSAL tracked. This leads to either supply forcing the workcenter to order through supply and end-users waiting potentially months for critical backordered items, or the open purchase being accomplished and COSAL staying unchanged. Although difficult, the supply system should be more flexible to open-purchasing stock item equivalents due to time constraints while integrating open purchase equivalence tracking into the COSAL process. This bypasses the faults of COSAL’s reactionary nature while still updating the supply system with the changing demands.

Split Purchasing:

The limitations on open purchasing (buying commercial off-the-shelf) create artificial shortages of material easily available on the street. Namely, when items are not under General Services Administration (GSA) contract, single vendor purchases or purchases for a single purpose cannot exceed $3,000, no matter how the critical need or short the deadline. This further exacerbates the problems from an unsupportive COSAL; if requirements exceed purchase limitations, requests are sent through a lengthy contracting process which wastes more time than money saved. The contracting requirement ignores the fact that from the work-center supervisor to the supply officer, everyone now has the ability to search the internet for companies and can compare quotes. Purchasers need not be encouraged to spend less money, since they have the natural deisre to stretch their budget as far as possible. Contracting opportunities also become more scarce as the end of the fiscal year approaches, since money “dedicated” to a contracting purchase is lost if the clock turns over and no resolution is found. This means money lost to the command and vital equipment left unpurchased. For deployed/deployable units, this can be unacceptable. The supply system exists to fulfill the operational needs of the training/deployed demand-side, not to streamline the risk-averse audit demands of the supply side. If not raising the price-ceilings of non-GSA purchases for operational commands, the rule against split purchasing by spreading single-type purchases across multiple vendors should be removed. Breaking out a single purchase amongst several vendors alleviates the risk that large purchases are being made to single vendors due to kick-backs. This would call for more diligence on the part of Supply Officers, but that is why they exist.


Finally, the recent Presidential Debates have shown the military’s poor ability to communicate the message that funding is becoming an increasingly critical issue force-wide. To many, the defense budget is so large that cuts are academic, savings no doubt hiding throughout the labyrinthine bureaucracy. However, for those of us who had no money to buy everything from tools to toilet paper for a month, it’s a more practical problem. Long before sequestration, Secretary Gates started the DoD on the path of making pre-emptive cuts before outside entities made those choices for the DoD. However, the military has made a poor show of communicating that these cuts have become excessive and are now cutting into the muscle of the force. Obeying the directive to cut funding does not require quietly accepting these cuts; now the Commander and Chief believes the military not even in need of a cut freeze, let alone a funding increase. With Hydra of manning, material, and training issues constantly growing new heads, the strategic communicators must come out in force to correct this misconception. While administrative savings can be found, our capabilities are paying the price for the budgetary experiment. Military leadership should, in part, involve advocacy; obedience requires the resources to execute the mission.

The supply system is a painful process, but with rather humble reforms, that pain can be both lessened and taken off the shoulders of whom the system exists to serve. With a reformed COSAL tracking open purchases, a loosened open-purchase limit that puts the stress on the supplier rather than operator, and better strategic communications about funding, we can apply a bit of lactaid to an otherwise painful process.

Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy. 

SECNAV Scrambles to Find Chit for 2 Trillion Dollars

International Maritime Satire Week Warning: The following is a piece of fiction intended to elicit insight through the use of satire and written by those who do not make a living being funny – so it’s not serious and very well might not be funny.  Our apologies to those who read this without the warning and mistakenly believed it to be true. 

Sources in SECNAV’s office are positive a request for a $2 trillion plus-up is around here, somewhere.

Revelations from last week’s presidential debate have put Secretary Ray Maybus’ office into a tailspin. During the debate, President Obama’s stated that Mitt Romney planned to provide, “two trillion dollars in additional military spending that the military hasn’t asked for.”

“I could have sworn I left the special request chit in the SecDef’s inbox,” said Secretary Maybus. The Office of the Secretary of Defense has announced it only received four Christmas Leave chits, a duty-swap chit, and hasn’t seen any special request chits for more money.

“I know I turned it in to SECNAV,” said Chief of Naval Operatons, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, “I put two folders in the Secretary’s inbox. One was for Christmas Leave and the other a request for EXACTLY 2 Trillion dollars. I remember, because I almost left my leave chit in the wrong folder. I’m taking second leave, since usually the first standown period is more relaxed.”

The mystery of the missing lion’s share of Christmas leave chits, as well as the special request chit for 2 trillion dollars, has puzzled many. OPNAV reports turning in at least 160,523 chits for Christmas stand-down. Reportedly, three personnel elected to skip leave altogether due to a low balance of leave days. An unamed insider suggests that, if they just find the rest of those chits, the special request for money will be with it.

This is not the first time major budget-related chits have been lost close to leave periods. Before Thanksgiving in 2010, the OPNAV Office of Assesment (N81) signed and routed up a chit to cancel the Littoral Combat Ship program due to the discovery that it was “total garbage.”

“Imagine our surprise,” said N81’s former head, Rear Admiral Zapp Brannigan, “we thought we cancelled the project, but return from leave to discover they’re building not one, but both those disasters. Maybe they misread our request.”

CNO Introduces Equal Opportunity Red Teams

International Maritime Satire Week Warning: The following is a piece of fiction intended to elicit insight through the use of satire and written by those who do not make a living being funny – so it’s not serious and very well might not be funny.

On Friday, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) will direct the Navy Equal Opportunity Office (NEOO) to set up a series of Equal Opportunity Red Teams (EORTs). NEOO leadership is attempting to bridge the growing gap between the sparsely reported violations of the Navy’s Equal Opportunity policies and the well-hidden sea of writhing bigotry in today’s navy.

With bigotry so well disguised in competent and reasonable professionals, Command Managed Equal Opportunity (CMEO) members need opportunities to keep their skills sharp. “We know wide-spread discrimination is out there,” said CAPT Frank Sandwall, OIC of the EORTs, “It’s hard to build the experiences necessary when the overwhelming racism and sexism of our military is so effectively hidden.” The EORTs are gearing up to visit upon crews openly the vast biases they have hidden so well under their professional and friendly demeanor.

Details are still light on how EORT’s will function, but several potential options discussed include:

1. Operation Kholer: Aesthetically sub-standard inspectors will monitor Sailor’s ability to detect being leered at while attempting to shower, offering counseling afterwords and training on how, even if you don’t see them doing it, most Sailors are perverts not to be trusted.

2. Operation Quick Draw: EORT will quickly enter a space, screaming as many slurs as they can at all parties present to remind them of the many harmful things they should be attuned to. Afterwords, counselors will survey the Sailors on phrases and terms NEOO missed to use in the future.

3. Operation Undercover Boss: EORT personnel will disguise themselves as embarked Sailors and play racist/sexist comedy routines from Comedy Central on laptops to determine which Sailors are willing to accept hurtful humor in the workplace. Names of Sailors with inappropriate levels of apathy or complicity will be noted and referred to Perform to Serve.

4. Operation Denny Crane: EORT will deploy female personnel of higher-than-average attractiveness and ensure that all personnel attempting to converse on non-work-related topics are immediately counseled on inappropriate relationships in the workplace.

LCS precom USS Milwaukee suffers a cataclysmic dry-dock accident while the crew attends a week-long Equal Opportunity and Sexual Assault training session. NEOO personnel take the incident as a sign they are successfully exposing recalcitrant vessels and crews.

NEOO predicts that further funding will be required within a month of EORT deployment to deal with the seething wound of hidden bigotry revealed by the EORT program. There are current plans to follow up EORT with red-teaming designed to flesh out command Drug and Alcohol Prevention Adviser (DAPA) program issues. Recent deployment of quarterdeck breathalyzers have failed to curb the yet undetected plague of work-hours drunkenness that some high-level administrators know in their hearts is rampant in the fleet.

“Al-Qaeda is out in the field red-teaming their forces every day,” said CAPT Sandwall. “While they are sharpening their skills to end American and allied lives, we should spend the time necessary to red team our equal opportunity policies. Diversity is a strategic imperative in the Navy, and if we don’t find and destroy all humor, personal connections, and differences that threaten it, we will fail.”

Despite the high spirits at NEOO, not all personnel are as positive on the new programs. When asked about the initiatives, an anonymous petty officer recently returned from a tour on an IA in Afghanistan curled up in a ball and started screaming.

“Clearly, these were screams of delight,” said CAPT Sandwall.

Stealing a Long March

Falling Out

Force development is much like agriculture. Seeds appear trifling things; but such small objects can engulf entire fields or grow to incredible height. Investing early in incubator programs can lead to huge changes in the future. When observed from a position of strength, the small changes garnered by others seem superficial rather than tectonic. The American defense establishment is missing those tectonic changes as China’s military begins the process of stealing a march in force development.

Whatever you do, don’t think “crash.”

China is pursuing a broad portfolio of revolutionizing technologies. We have discussed in detail the potential opportunities for drone warfare on this blog and elsewhere.  However, those working to reap such opportunities are not here in the U.S. where ideas are shared freely, but in the People’s Republic of China.  Scientists in China have developed a system by which, with thought alone, an operator can control an aerial drone.  Rudimentary technology at best, it is nonetheless a leap we have yet to take.  Even at the beginning stages, it shows smoother control with a mental operator rather than a manual one. Although the US does seem dedicated to drone saturation, we have not moved past our initial uses and operation of them. Drones still require legions of remote operators rather than partial automation and direct connections with the men in the field. While we have yet to integrate our many exciting advances in automation and bionics, the PRC has grabbed a great leap forward and changed the very way they interact with drones.

China is also marching past us in more mundane military technologies.  We have discussed the practicality and pragmatism of the Houbei versus our misbegotten LCS.  Far from the risky investment in an in-shore knife-fighter some desired, LCS was held back as a conventional, do-everything (aka: nothing) combatant without the relative advantage in speed, strength, or resilience to give it any sort of field advantage.  We essentially attempted to build a Ford RS300, but halfway through decided to finish it as an Isuzu Elf.  Meanwhile, with the PLAN following a disciplined strategy for blue-water modernization, a stream of solidly-constructed and capable warships are pouring into the Pacific, making the failures of our current investment ever more evident. Our attempts at modernization in the air are just as white-washed; worse than the do-everything design of LCS, the new Joint Strike Fighter attempts to stuff the needs of every branch into one frame that doesn’t quite make anyone happy. Even basic capabilities, like anti-ship missiles, lag embarrassingly behind. While the U.S. still uses a sub-sonic cold-war relic, the PRC rolls out DF-21Ds. Where technology does branch out, it seems unnecessary, like the laser-guided Griffen Missile system on PCs that already have far-more capable Mod 2 25mm cannons.  China’s more reasonable and planned forays into future technology have made our past-ideas decorated with sweet rims look ridiculous.

We are also shrinking from the one area in which we could claim total dominance: space.  Although our nation is now in the mini-euphoria from Curiosity’s landing on Mars, most have forgotten that this is an achievement of a program started 8 years ago.  Our current manned space program is dead.  NASA shifted the lion’s share of investment to “earth sciences,” a realm already well-manned by all the scientists ON earth.  China not only retains a manned space program, but advertises a plan for both the Moon and Mars.  Even if such a schedule is a dream, at least they still have one.  While this is not directly a military issue, it is a strong force multiplier.  Space is the ultimate high ground.  To lose dominance there undermines a vast number of U.S. capabilities.

Has never attended mandatory “Improving Financial Management” training

Our mighty oak is rotting from within. Money is pouring into failed projects.  Our Sailors are over-stretched and time is cut for the training/education necessary to add critical value to those personnel.  Our priorities are skewed, millions of man-hours are lost to politically correct schools and rubbish ship-wide life-choices training.  Meanwhile, the PLAN marches forward, steadily planting the seeds necessary to grow a modern blue-water navy supported by a far greater industrial base than anything the U.S. can muster.  They are slowly reaching into the commons, as the face put forward by the U.S. becomes harder and harder to maintain.  If we don’t get back into step soon, we may need that long-view of history to see just how far ahead of us the Chinese march has advanced.

Catching Up

The effort necessary to regain our momentum would be disruptive, but not impossible. First, stubborn pride and sunk costs are no way to direct procurement. LCS must be cancelled. In its place, begin a vetting process for contracting a pre-existant hull to be built in the US, backed up by a low-mix of new coastal patrol crafts and the new MK VI’s.  This would provide the desired coverage using fast, proven, and cheaper vessels that would save us billions in these tight times.

Where the LCS has many fine replacements, the JSF has crowded out the development of real alternatives. The diplomatic/trade capital invested also makes it an impossible program to cancel without painful follow-on consequences. However, the billions saved from LCS could fund a quicker turnover to automated and integrated ComBot technology, creating an “AEGIS in the sky” of super-fast autonomous aircraft and ComBots on the ground integrated with our fighting men and women. It’s a future closer than you may think. These new automated systems could lead to new systems to take on LCS’s failed missions, such as brown-water ASW and mine-sweeping.

With the US’s new technologies, we rely heavily on space. It is a commons commanding the ultimate high ground from which we guide our weapons, communications, and our intelligence infrastructure. Less concrete, but existentially more important, we must continue our investment in the development and exploration of space. The United States, at its very essence, doesn’t represent a set of borders, we survive as an idea. Being a nation undefined by a border, we must constantly strive beyond them. When the US landed on the Moon, we didn’t represent just ourselves, but all humanity. Such is a cause and driving force behind our constant success… a dream. To abandon that dream, even worse to cede it to the likes of the PRC, would be tantamount to ideological suicide. We must re-invest in our manned space program. This is not in defense of our physical commons, but in the commons of ideas, something to believe in. Much like the JSF and LCS programs, we don’t believe anymore. We’re going through the motions. We need to regroup and find a real direction towards the future, because the PRC marching past us.

Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.