Friday, March 25, 2005

Days Before VCRs, Chapter Three...How I Learned to Quit Shopping at the Mall

Does anyone else remember seeing F-14s painted with "Marines" on the side? Yes there was a time. The fleet of F-4s was aging, and there was no real multi-mission aircraft on the near horizen. So the Marines boldly jumped into the latest technology and bought F-14s, the first non-bomb dropper the Marines would own in 30 years. Crews were in the Replacement Air Group (RAG), planes were only months away from being delivered...excitment was high, and the program was cancelled. Thank heavens.

The Marine Corps wisely dropped this program, which slid our F/A modernization about seven years, and caused the fighter types to grind their teeth and mutter alot. We continued to support carrier operations with F-4Ns into the early eighties! F-4Ns? The RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) community began to look for was hell in fighter town...luckily I was flying RF-4s and would continue to be gainfully employed. The Marine Corps would wait its turn in line for the new F-18s, a single seat multi-mission aricraft that showed a lot of promise.

This is probably the wisest hardware decision the Marine Corps has ever made. Had we purchased the F-14 we would have waited until the early 90s before it would be able to deliver bombs, and at an accuracy probably worse than the F-4s. We would be stuck with a maintenance dependent aircraft, crewed by two, with a huge personnel/maintenance footprint. It would have sucked Marine aviation dry.

Instead we got a multi-mission aircraft with a reduced crew; with capacity growth; that was accurate to within 30', with a bad pilot; that shrunk maintenance departments year to year; and was about six times more reliable, creating sortie rates not even remotely possible for the F-14. It is a true combat multiplier...the F-14 was a stop gap. We would still be suffering with the F-14s had they been purchased. Truly a great management decison under a lot of pressure, at a critical time.

Many have probably forgotten the acrimonious debates about buying the current 155mm howitzer system. The towed nature of the system and its perceived inability to keep up with tracked units, were viewed as strong detractors at the time. It was correctly assumed by the acquistion types and the artillary community, that tactics and ordnance could overcome these perceived deficiencies. Obviously, the artillary regiments have focused on the mobile battlefield and have adapted to the most demanding schemes of manuever immaginable. Additionally, improvements in munitions have made the gun even more flexible than originally envisioned. The tactical range of these guns, the lethality of newer munitions, and the evolution of regimental artillary tactics have made this a tactically viable and economical weapons system.

Computers. 'Nuff said. The integration of the computer into daily Marine Corps life has been a hardware improvement whose entire contribution to the effectiveness of the Corps may never be fully measured. Most will not remember the gyrations of the schedule writers attempting to publish the flight schedule on a mimeograph machine, nor when the three typos/page rule would fill wastepaper baskets, nor the first deployable computer that was the size of a small fridge. The support of a unit was a labor intensive exercise that drained resources and detracted from training. The simplest reports today, were crushingly labor intensive exercises that pulled energy away from the mission. The advent of the computer allowed us to absorb the manpower reductions of the early 90s without debilitating our tactical capabilities.

Tactical vehicle systems procurement has dramatically improved the tactical mobility of our troops and equipment. Hummers, Five-tons, and Dragon (Draggin', your preference) Wagons have all greatly enhanced the mobility and the tonnage capabilities of our ground lift. Improved reliability and flexibility has added dramatically to the logistical support schemes now available to the ground commanders.

The Marine Corps began to move solidly to "requirements" based procurement and away from marketplace procurement, which lead to these significant tactical increases.

Asset preservation is the operational compliment to requirements based procurement. The Marine Corps has dramatically reduced the aviation mishap rates...partially through improved systems, but predominately through an improved focus on safety. We had been losing all types of equipment in all types of ways. Over time, with an emphasis on personal responsibility and training safety, the Marine Corps became intolerant of waste and abuse. There were unscheuled changes of command, and repremands of all types, but eventually asset preservation and safety became integral parts of the operational art.

Included in the discussion of asset preservation is the increased focus on the health and safety of the individual Marine. The emphasis on the care and feeding of Marines moved well past the occasional foot check on a road march, or the issuing of a case of C-Rats...yes C-Rats... for chow. Off-duty safety programs began to garner as much attention as operational safety. Use of reflective vests while running or driving motorcycles, insisting on seal belt use, DUI prevention, motorcycle safety training all became viewed as equally important peacetime initiatives as hydration and caloric intake would be viewed in combat. The preservation of our most important assets, our highly trained Marines, became a 24/7 focus, which besides saving lives, it keeps our force highly trained, and acutally safer in combat.

Akin to asset preservation is cost avoidance. Base closures, force reductions, and necking down equipment types have all been complimentary activities that have garnered cost savings while maintaining the muscle of the Corps. The Marine Corps has learned to become a viable "business" entity in order to preserve its operational nature.

The transition from parochial "rice-bowl" protection, to a logical, business based approach to asset procurement, sustainment, and retirement, has made the Corps a more viable combat organization. If the Corps can continue to make wise procurement choices, it stands to become even more lethal in the future.

Next..the exciting conclusion.

1 comment:

Lifeachiever said...

Well said! Especially in light of the current QDR and procurement choices facing all the services today.


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