Reducing TOC: Designing Ships from the Inside-Out


There is an excellent article in the December issue of Naval Engineers Journal titled, "Reducing TOC: Designing Inside-Out of the Hull."  It is a bit long and full of technical detail about design tools, seaway loads, and cost estimating. While I thought the detail was interesting, it still does not explain why we keep doing things in the design process that lead us to produce very complex, expensive ships. This is why I am enrolled in a doctoral program in Human and Organizational Learning comprised of large components of leadership, organizational change, sociology, anthropology, and adult learning. The most interesting question to me is not how do we design ships to be more affordable, but rather why don't we do the things we already know how to do that will reduce ship costs? You won't find "the answer" in the article, but that was not the author's purpose. He is just writing about what we should do (good engineering focus). Nonetheless, if you don't spend some of your time trying to understand why we persist in courses of action that consistently produce results we claim we don't want, you will be just like all the others and run at high speed to the edge of the cliff, flap your arms, and end up in a pile of your peers in the abyss below. What follows are some of the author's most interesting points.

... the Navy continues to experience unique, one-of-a-kind, complex Detail Designs with the resulting cost and schedule problems. ... the fundamental early stage design process has not changed ... [it] does not deal with the ship in terms of modules or zones [and] is not structured for reusable design modules. p. 67

... Naval ships cost too much to acquire, operate, maintain repair, and modernize. ... one common conclusion [of studies] is the lack of design maturity or design stability (caused by late design of ship arrangements) is a significant contributor. 67 ... critical design decisions that are not based on valid technical and/or cost data, and too much design has to be recreated from scratch. p. 68

The author cites the 2005 RAND study done for the UK Ministry of Defense, the 2005 GAO study of cost growth in Navy shipbuilding programs, and the 2009 GAO study of shipbuilding programs.

We currently use an "Outside-in" design process that fixes the hull form first and then tries to fit everything in the hull that leads to expensive, complex system arrangements. The author advocates ship design process modeling and designing the hull around the systems arrangements ("inside-out" design). The author goes on to identify deficiencies in ship design tools including physics-based design tools (leading to poorly understood seaway loads and subsequent structural problems), and one-dimensional weight-based cost estimating.

Soule opinion: Understanding the technical changes that could be made in the design process is relatively straightforward (as the author points out). The real challenge is identified by Dr. Ashton Carton, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (quoted by the author),
... people are always looking for common denominators [in problematic acquisition programs]. ... self-deception is probably the greatest common denominator, where people march along, knowing that there's something wrong, nobody wanting to speak up, everybody hoping it will get better somehow.
The challenge is getting people to openly admit they have a problem they cannot fix (most of them already realize it exists). There may be no "acceptable" solutions due to the nature of the problems and constraints, but this may be largely due to how groups have defined "acceptable." Often, what a particular interest group defines as "acceptable" is really just preference. What is truly "unacceptable" is putting Sailors' lives at risk unnecessarily (when no missiles are inbound) or ignoring the laws of physics or spending money you don't have. All of those things are guaranteed to shorten your career. Dr. Carter calls this "self-deception," but how is it deception if you know or strongly suspect the problem exists?

I think the challenge is that people recognize the problem, but fail to act because they often don't have sufficient alternatives to career suicide. If you work in a culture that does not treat messengers with bad news well or expects you not to bring up problems you don't know how to solve, then it becomes perfectly rational to delay public problem recognition because some senior leader might let you off the hook and take money from one program or account, depending on the nature of the problem and how important the issue is to the Navy. Don't construe this as concluding this is a bad approach. It is, in fact, the way bureaucracies work. The trouble is, most junior personnel are not trained to recognize these kinds of situations.