Slow and lethargic vs. fast and bold

The late Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski, former head of the Defense Department's Office of Force Transformation, loved the Navy so much that he devoted his last public speech to a warning that the service can no longer afford to build its fleet around mega-billion-dollar aircraft carriers.

While working in the transformation office and in a February speech to a Navy/ AFCEA International forum, Cebrowski urged the Navy to build a "fast and bold" fleet of relatively inexpensive ships and unmanned vehicles that rely on advanced network technologies. Under this approach, Cebrowski argued, the Navy could build hundreds of ships for the cost of one mega-carrier.

Evidently, the Navy and its backers in the Senate did not pay too much attention to Cebrowski's speech because the Senate passed its version of the 2006 Defense Authorization bill Nov. 16. It precludes the Navy from cutting its mega-carrier fleet to fewer than 12.

"This is the age of the small, the fast and the many...and we should get with it," Cebrowski advised in February. But based on the latest action in the Senate, the Navy still embraces what he called the "slow and lethargic."

The Cebrowski Streetfighter alternative

Wayne Hughes, dean of the Graduate School of Operational and Informational Sciences at the Naval Postgraduate School, remembers working with Cebrowski from 1999 to 2001 to develop a "Streetfighter" class of ships based on 600-ton catamarans and a class of small, high-speed aircraft carriers that could transport helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles. Such ships could serve as a "complement to big, expensive carriers," he said.

The Interceptors have not seen any press releases from the Navy announcing the development of either class of ship, but we think a truly fitting memorial to the late vice admiral would be developing the Cebrowski Streetfighter ship.

It certainly has a better ring to it than mega-carriers named after long-dead and forgotten senators.

The Cebrowski Institute

We've always believed it's better to honor people while they are still alive. No doubt that's why the Naval Postgraduate School named it net-centric center the Cebrowski Institute for Information Innovation and Superiority.

"The Cebrowski Institute is an interdisciplinary center for research and education supporting information innovation and superiority in network-centric operations," according to the school's Web site. The institute's research "mixes basic explorations of new ideas and experiments that test prototype systems. It is grounded in solid mathematical and experimental analysis."

Cebrowski will be remembered, no doubt.

Stop arguing and buy radios

That was Cebrowski's take in November 2004 when he was asked about the $30 billion-plus Joint Tactical Radio System, which seems destined to spend its life in development. Speaking at a private lunch at the Senate, Cebrowski laid down his JTRS approach: "Treat the program as a strategy, put a capability in the field [even if] it's well short of what you'd like to have in the end state.

"And for each step, you sharply constrain both cost and time, and that leaves, as the only maneuver space, performance. That then becomes the basis for competition. OK? And you have multiple cycles because you're going at high speed, and you can afford multiple cycles because you're operating at low cost. And if we had done that some time ago, today we'd be buying radios instead of arguing about a program."

DOD is still arguing about JTRS, but the end might be near. We hear the Defense Acquisition Board is supposed to meet Nov. 21 to discuss the fate of JTRS.

Maybe its members will heed Cebrowski's advice and finally focus on the radios and not the program.

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