Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Brought to you by the United States Government

Our Legislative and Executive branches want to "fix" the national health care economy by creating a national health care system. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth has gone into creating several multi-thousand page bills describing the requirements for such a system, and by all accounts the legislators in the majority leadership are quite pleased with themselves.

My family worries about these efforts, because we cannot believe that the government is capable of acting more efficiently with our money than can we. Recently, we were presented with evidence to support that belief, in the form of another large, government-run quasi monopoly, the U.S. Postal Service. You see, in early December we had ordered a gift via an affiliate of Amazon.com. They shipped with a somewhat unique system, UPS Mail Innovations, using UPS for the long-haul from California to New Jersey, and the Postal Service for the last mile of delivery to our door.

The UPS portion of the delivery went pretty smoothly, crossing the country in a day:

  • Dec 7 2009 Mail Retrieved From Shipper
  • Dec 7 2009 Received at UPS Mail Innovations Origin R. Cucamonga, CA
  • Dec 7 2009 Processed at UPS Mail Innovations Origin R. Cucamonga, CA
  • Dec 8 2009 Transferred to UPS Mail Innovations Destination Logan Township, NJ
  • Dec 10 2009 Received at UPS Mail Innovations Destination Logan Township, NJ
  • Dec 10 2009 Manifested (Postage Paid)
  • Dec 10 2009 Entered USPS Facility SOUTH JERSEY, NJ
Great! Logan Township is only 40 miles from here, we should get our package any time, lots of leeway for wrapping and such. Alas, it was not to be. Since entering the USPS facility in South Jersey, our little package of less than a pound has been recorded in the postal service's tracking system no less than EIGHT times.
  • Electronic Shipping Info Received, December 10, 2009
  • Shipment Accepted; December 10, 2009, 5:16 pm, BELLMAWR, NJ 08099
Oh great! I thought. Bellmawr is even closer (25 miles), hope to get this package tomorrow.
  • Arrival at Post Office, December 12, 2009, 4:33 am, NEW YORK, NY 10013
What? Why did it (1) go to New York and (2) take 36 hours to travel less than 100 miles?
  • Sorting Complete, December 12, 2009, 9:19 am, NEW YORK, NY 10013
  • Out for Delivery or Available at PO Box, December 12, 2009, 9:49 am, NEW YORK, NY 10013
So, to whom did they give it for delivery? Given that it is addressed to my home in the 08075 zip code, I am perplexed.
  • Processed through Sort Facility, December 14, 2009, 1:22 am, NEW YORK, NY 10199
OK, moving in the right direction, I guess. Looks like the carrier returned it and then the oncoming shift Monday morning processed my package.
  • Processed through Sort Facility, December 16, 2009, 8:10 pm, JERSEY CITY, NJ 07097
Except that they sent it to the wrong sort facility! Jersey City doesn't handle our mail, Bellmawr does!
  • Processed through Sort Facility, December 22, 2009, 11:29 am, BELLMAWR, NJ 08031
Ah, now we're back in the right neighborhood. If Bellmawr processed it this morning just before lunch, I should expect it tomorrow, right? Oh, wait, remember what happened last time!

Given that something as simple as timely delivery of a small package over a distance of 40 miles escapes the capabilities of a government "enterprise" like the Postal Service, how can we expect that a government mandated "solution" to a problem that doesn't affect 80-90% of the population will be effective? The simple answer is that we cannot. What we can expect is an ever-expanding scope of government until it bankrupts us as a nation.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Valour-IT Auctions

The annual Valour-IT fundraiser has received some interesting donation items, lead by Team Navy with an excellent selection of books and prints. The auctions are being run on eBay. You can bid on all of these books:

And, what I think is absolutely the coolest item up for auction so far, a lithograph of the Galloping Ghost of the China Coast (picture below), signed by artist Ted Wilbur and RADM E.B. Fluckey, Medal of Honor awardee for his actions in command of USS Barb (SS-220) during World War II.

Go bid now, these items are going to move! All proceeds from these auctions go directly to providing technology to assist our wounded warriors in their recovery.

Rumor has it that more items will be coming as well, so stay tuned...


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Missile Defense

Over the past six months, I've had the privilege of supporting the Japanese Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program in a relatively minor role. My team was responsible for much of the pre-flight analysis that lead up to this:

October 28, 2009
Japan/U.S. Missile Defense Flight Test Successful
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and the United States Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced the successful completion of an Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) intercept flight test, in cooperation with the U.S. Navy, off the coast of Kauai in Hawaii. The event, designated Japan Flight Test Mission 3 (JFTM-3), marked the third time that a JMSDF ship has successfully engaged a ballistic missile target, including two successful intercepts, with the sea-based midcourse engagement capability provided by Aegis BMD.

It's always gratifying to see something that works the way the engineers predicted, even more so when you've been involved in the process. BZ to everyone involved!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Project Valour-IT

Project Valour-IT helps provide voice-controlled/adaptive laptop computers and other technology to support Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines recovering from hand wounds and other severe injuries.

  • Voice-controlled Laptops - Operated by speaking into a microphone or using other adaptive technologies, they allow the wounded to maintain connections with the rest of the world during recovery.
  • Wii Video Game Systems - Whole-body game systems increase motivation and speed recovery when used under the guidance of physical therapists in therapy sessions (donated only to medical facilities).
  • Personal GPS - Handheld GPS devices build self-confidence and independence by compensating for short-term memory loss and organizational challenges related to severe TBI and severe PTSD.
These seemingly small items can make a big difference in the recovery of an injured soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine. Please take a moment to click the thermometer in my right sidebar and donate to the cause through Team Navy! The fund drive is open NOW through Veterans' Day, November 11, 2009.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Battle of the Sibuyan Sea

Sixty-five years ago today, the US and Imperial Japanese navies fought in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, a single day's engagement in the longer Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Japanese battleship Musashi met her doom that day.
Thank God for the bravery of the sailors who fought that day, and may He have mercy on the souls of those who perished.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Health Care Bill before Congress

OpenCongress.org appears to be an interesting place to read this bill. Everyone needs to read it and understand what its approximately 1,036 pages contain.

I've added a widget in the right column that should take you there, or you can just use this link.

Another interesting way to look at this bill is to parse its content. A useful tool for that purpose, Wordle, generates a graphical depiction of the most common terms in a text. Here are the top 100 words of consequence from the bill:

Wordle: HR3200

I think it's very interesting that the most frequently used term is "Secretary," as in the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Most of what will come of this bill is in the hands of a Cabinet member, and the responsibilities created in the bill will add to the power of the executive branch. This will require further scrutiny.

Sunday, July 05, 2009


Originally uploaded by kmadams85
So, we got my daughter a cell phone when she entered middle school. Last summer, she discovered texting and ran up an interesting but not painful bill. So we get her a plan that allows 250 messages a month, for the same $5 it would cost to block SMS to her phone.
Money well invested, I thought. Until this month, that is. In the chart, you can see the huge!!! increase in text usage when school let out for summer - from 20 per day to 60 per day, both incoming and outgoing. One thousand, nine hundred seventy-nine since the billing period started on June 8th.
The phone now sits on my desk. There it shall stay, until she presents a plan to pay back the family budget for her wretched excess.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Regaining Contact, the Hard Way

Galrahn has the latest on the story of USS John McCain and her towed array collision with a Chinese submarine:

These details tend to confirm what many of us previously speculated regarding the incident. It is kind of obvious that when a submarine accidentally rams a towed sonar array, the submarine is being tracked by the ship, although it also suggests the submarine was tracking the ship as well.

This is all interesting from a technical Navy point of view, but one point in the Navy Times' latest article piqued my curiousity because it didn't make sense.
The Associated Press reported that the collision took place 144 miles from Subic Bay, potentially placing it in the Mindoro Strait.

If the incident was in international waters, why would AP conclude that it took place in a strait that is inside the Philippine Archipelago? Where did this incident really take place?
Knowing that Google holds the answers to all questions, I decided to break out my trusty copy of Google Earth. Also, it wasn't clear if AP was reporting statute or nautical miles, so a little plotting was in order:

[Click to enlarge]
The red circle in this plot is 144 nautical miles, while the white is 144 statute miles from the center of Subic Bay. The Mindoro Strait is off to the south, and in my mind was probably not the location of this incident. Interestingly, there appears to be a feature located right on the 144 nautical mile ring, just a bit north of due west from Subic. That's Scarborough Shoal, a small clump of atolls and reefs claimed by both The Philippines and the People's Republic of China.
So, could there be more than just a little BUMPEX going on here? It gets curiouser as you look closer - literally. Take a look at this zoomed-in image of Scarborough Shoal from Google Earth:

Google and its imagery providers don't generally obscure things unless they've been asked to do so by a government. Is there some relationship between this incident and something a government doesn't want people to see? I certainly can't answer that question, but I hope someone else can.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

USS Iowa - 20 years

Hard to believe it's been 20 years since the terrible day that saw forty seven of my shipmates give their lives in service to their country.
I last wrote about Iowa here. I don't think I can ever forget those men, the events of that day, or the weeks that followed.
Captain Fred Moosally's words from the memorial service have always stuck with me:

I remember turret two. I remember their faces as they toiled at their guns, sweating an honest sweat that comes from young men dedicated to a great cause. Who chose to serve, to grow, and to learn with others, while securing a place in history for generations after them. I remember their strong hands as they wielded their great charges with an energy I could marvel at. The energy of their youth which they channeled towards their love of freedom. I remember as they talked among themselves, looking so much like sailors of our past. Sharing the exuberance of the times and the dreams of the future. I REMEMBER TURRET TWO.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Historical Irony

A friend forwarded this little beauty this afternoon:

Does anyone find it ironic that the ship the Navy dispatched to the Somali coast to deal with the pirate threat is the USS Bainbridge, a ship named after a Navy Captain who in 1803 ran his ship aground while pursuing pirates off the coast of Africa?

This has all happened before...

Monday, April 06, 2009

SECDEF Announces budget for 2010

Wow. Just wow. Secretary Gates has just announced a major remodeling of the entire Defense budget. I live-blogged as best I could on Twitter, but I'm sure I didn't get it all. Transcript is not yet available. Highlights of the Navy stuff, which I'm sure will be explored in much more detail by Galrahn et al.:

  • VH-71: dead. Replacement needed but the requirements need to be fixed.
  • DDG-1000: two ships in Bath, none in Pascagoula. Option for a third.
  • DDG-51: try to restart the line in Pascagoula, if they can get the right contract terms
  • LCS: plus one in 2010 (3 total), build the 55-ship program
  • F-35: accelerate to 30 aircraft in 2010
  • F/A-18: buy 31 in 2010 (I'm not sure if this is an increase)
  • More $$$ for SM-3 production
  • Upgrade six more Aegis ships for BMD
  • Delay 11th LPD-17 to 2011
  • Delay MLP to 2011
  • Delay CG(X) program (and re-scrub the requirements)
  • Drop to 10 carriers by 2040
  • Begin a program for the replacement of the Ohio Class SSBNs
I think the move of DDG-1000 to Bath is probably the most significant decision in the short term. I never understood the concept of splitting production of lead ships between two yards, bearing the pain of first-in-class twice for what would necessarily be a small production run.

The market impacts of these announcements are interesting. A major Lockheed program is completed (F-22), and others are cancelled (VH-71, TSAT), but LMT is up 5.6% as I write. Similar big gains are seen across the defense industry -- GD 2.6%, Raytheon 5.0%, Northrop 5.3%, while the Dow is off 1.5%. Even Boeing, which is less dependent on defense, is flirting with positive territory on the news. I think this is probably a reaction to the reduction in uncertainty that was priced into the markets, rather than to any specific program changes.

Update: The transcript is available here and at the USNI Blog.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Observation on shipbuilding

Congressman Gene Taylor (D - MS) is pushing the Navy to get costs under control for its shipbuilding programs or face losing them. The Navy Times, reporting on testimony by RADM William Landay, Program Executive Officer for Ships, closes with a telling quote from the Congressman.

Whatever it takes, Taylor said, the Navy has to force its vendors to be better stewards of public dollars.

“When I walked through the Austal shipyard a few weeks ago I saw absolutely no effort to save the taxpayers’ money,” he said, adding a motorcycle reference: “We’re building Orange County Choppers when we oughta be kicking out Hondas.”
Very interesting comment about a Gulf Coast shipyard from a Gulf Coast Congressman.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Obama Gutting the Navy

CDR Salamander asks (at his place)

$55 billion? What does the Navy throw on the alter? At the low end, I would think that we will have to eat at least 30% of that - let's call it $18.3 billion that needs to go as a baseline.

His question at the USNI blog gets right to the point: Which child do you sell first?

Lets check the numbers.

According to the 2009 budget (Figure 2 on page 1-14), the planned Navy Department top line budget was $152.8 billion. The 10% cut if applied to all of the services would mean $15.3 billion, taking the budget down to $137.5 billion. Phibian's $18.3 billion would put the top line at $134.5 billion. The lowest Navy top line in the Bush administration budgets was $140.6 billion (constant FY09 dollars). Capabilities will have to be cut. Let's assume that Phibian got it right and the $18.3 number is the real deal. The question is, where?

I'll assume that Marine Corps personnel accounts will go up by 6% to meet President Obama's stated goal of increasing the ground forces, and that Navy personnel accounts will go down to pay that bill. That will take 2.5% out of the active account and 10% out of the reserves. Combined with the pay rate increases, a 2.5% funding cut is probably a 6% end strength reduction, from the current 337K down to about 311K.

Next, whack 25% from MILCON and housing accounts. This saves us $1.2 billion, but will be nearly impossible to sell in a Congress dependent on those accounts.

Six percent increases in Marine Corps O&M (to support the 6% increase in personnel expenses) mean we need to cut 20% from Navy Reserve O&M and 10% from the active side. This results in a net savings of $3.4 billion (about 10%), so now our top line budget is down by $4.6 billion. This leaves $13.7 billion that must come from either procurement or R&D funds. Twenty percent from R&D would be about $3.9 billion, so the remaining $9.2 billion has to come out of procurement.

Level loading that $9.2 billion across the procurement accounts, we would need to cut each by 24%. That means the cuts would be broken down along the following lines:

  • Aircraft - $3.5 billion

  • Shipbuilding and Conversion - $3.1 billion

  • Other Procurement - $1.3 billion

  • Weapons - $0.9 billion

  • National Defense Sealift Fund - $0.5 billion

  • Marine Corps - $0.4 billion

  • Ammunition - $0.2 billion

Achieving these reductions is going to be very difficult, and will disrupt ongoing contracts in significant ways. Take aircraft procurement as an example. To cut $3.5 billion, we could eliminate all of the non-combat aircraft, and still have to cut 40 out of 155 combat aircraft. Spares and Support equipment costs would probably have to go up because of the additional wear and tear on the existing fleet.

Shipbuilding and Conversion is probably even harder to cut than aircraft. The unit quantities are so low right now that deferring a ship for a year just increases its net cost. The FY09 new construction account was $11.1 billion for seven ships. Killing the FY10 DDG (either flavor) and the 10 th LPD 17 is probably the only viable option to get $3.1 billion.

We need $1.3 billion out of OPN. The biggest lines available there are ship support equipment ($1.7 billion) and communications equipment ($2 billion). A lot of those dollars are related to shipbuilding, so it may be that they come down naturally if we cut ships. $900 million from weapons procurement can be approached if we cut all of our 2009 tactical missile and torpedo purchases in half, or if we forgo a year of Trident II upgrades and make moderate cuts to other programs.

Whatever approach our naval leadership takes in response to the president's direction, it is going to be painful. Making cuts like these while the military is still fighting a war is irresponsible if not dangerous. And as I pointed out in my previous post, it is a false savings. Eliminating billions from defense procurement only to shift those funds into unemployment accounts is a net reduction in the productivity of the American economy, and a huge cut to the military power of the United States.

To the good Commander, I'm afraid the answer may be "all of them."

Defense Budget Cut 10%

The problem: cut 10% from the military budget. How is it possible to slash $55 billion from our national defense accounts? The president has stated as one of his goals the need to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps. If that's to be realized, then his staff will provide some direction to Defense on how the cuts are to happen. I suspect they will think in terms of budget categories rather than services first. The distribution of Total Obligation Authority (TOA) may be able to give a starting point. Operations and Maintenance and Military Personnel make up 59% of the budget, so if they are left essentially unchanged the bulk of the cuts will fall to RDT&E and Procurement. (click for larger image)

I took a swag at one scenario, where the ground force growth increases personnel funding by about 2% in 2010 and O&M goes down by about 1%. To get to a $55 billion cut with those assumptions, each of the remaining accounts has to go down by 26%. In that case, we are likely to see $27 billion out of procurement and $21 billion out of RDT&E. (click for larger image)

What's the impact of that size cut? Twenty-six billion dollars out of the procurement budget, based on 2007 numbers, would eliminate 62% of Lockheed, 81% of Northrop Grumman, 95% of General Dynamics, or 122% of Raytheon. Add on half of the RDT&E cut (since the government labs do quite a bit of research), and you could put half of Raytheon out of work again. Looking at the number of people employed by these companies, that size cut will result in the elimination of between 122,000 and 137,000 jobs.

It's a good thing the “stimulus” package adds $36 billion in expanded unemployment “benefits” to make up for the $36 billion in valuable work that will be lost here. I know how important it is for the Democrats to make us all dependent on the government, and moving those highly-skilled defense workers from productive careers to the dole is just the ticket.