June 13, 2009

Taking The Exercise Equipment Out Of The Engine Room For ORSE

Filed under: — Chap @ 10:05 am

Ladies and gents, how many situations like this do we have now in the Navy, and how do we kill them before they get this bad?

As you probably know, ever since GM was founded, its execs have either been driven by a chauffeur or provided with carefully prepared and maintained examples of the company’s most expensive vehicles. Of course, there are times when the suits must sign off on the company’s more prosaic products. Since 1953, this intersection between high flyer and mass market occurred at GM’s Mesa, Arizona, Desert Proving Grounds (DPG). The execs would fly into Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport, limo out to the DPG and drive the company’s latest models.

Our agent says that all the vehicles the execs drove were “ringers.” More specifically, the engineers would tweak the test vehicles to remove any hint of imperfection. “They use a rolling radius machine to choose the best tires, fix the headliner, tighten panel and interior gaps, remove shakes and rattles, repair bodywork—everything and anything.”

Did the execs know this? “Nope. And nobody was going to tell them . . . As far as they knew, the cars were exactly as they would be coming off the line. That’s why Bob Lutz thinks GM’s products are world-class. The ones he’s driven are.”

I asked Agent X if the GM execs would ever drive the cars again. Did he know if Wagoner or Lutz dropped in at a dealership to test drive a random sample off the lot? He found the idea amusing.

Well, did the DPG at least send a list of changes to the design and production teams? “The tweaks were never reported to anyone,” he says. “That would’ve been a sure way to kill your career . . . We’d see the cars come back to us after production with the exact same problems.”

This is why I think INSURV results have to be not only unclassified but public; only embarrassment will fix some problems. Classification, especially the insidious “unclassified but special” categories we invented after 9/11, can invite overcontrol of information, improper use and worse. Special places to go look at stuff invite special tweaking. Every boat I knew at one point took the exercise equipment out of the engine room for the inspection, then put it right back in afterward…and everyone knew it, and so did the inspectors. This example is silly, not dangerous; however, there are dangerous ones out there. What are they and how do we correct them?

(h/t Gerard Vanderleun, who knows the answer “fire the IG with an hour’s notice” is a wrong answer…)

10 Responses to “Taking The Exercise Equipment Out Of The Engine Room For ORSE”

  1. Anathema Says:

    Ah, so many, many lessons that Navy can learn from GM. Sadly I think we will instead continue to delude ourselves and our leadership will encourage and reward it.

  2. Chap Says:

    First off–thanks for dropping by! Means a lot, it does.

    I’ve got a JO reading Fall From Glory right now. There are business parallels there, too.

  3. CDR Salamander Says:

    GM meets the classified INSURV…

    Earlier this week I grabbed hold of GM and the Navy as a talking point — and Chap has found another example. Head on over to his place for a great example to ponder, one that bought out this 5-Star comment from ‘ole Chap….

  4. Rubber Ducky Says:

    Skimmers have been even more egregious in their bias towards inspection games and away from real readiness. Consider the STARK incident. One of the ‘positive’ aspects of the crew’s response to the damage control situation was ability to use DC gear and apply foam etc. without running out. Why? because the ship was getting ready for an inspection and had borrowed extra gear from other ships. And the other ships? Short of allowance.

    Over the years, the INSURV teams have faithfully followed their internal tradition of professionalism, honesty, and keen insight. Classifying INSURV results is an honors offense.

  5. xformed Says:

    RD: Many, many examples since the STARK. That AM, I was digging out training records of the FLTEX she had been on for their MEF deployment, and I was but a lowly DESRON guy. Later, as I became the guy who was here to help in LANTFLT for CNSL, it was scary how most ships just wanted me and the team to come by the week before and “tell them what they ‘had’ to do” for the CSA. Nothing bad came as a result or almost all of those who wanted to demonstrate pure “inspectsmanship.”

  6. Rubber Ducky Says:

    xformed: see my Proceedings article Dec ’87 “The Surface Navy Isn’t Ready” and May ’88 added comments. Improvement over time, but basic issues not resolved.

  7. Byron Says:

    Ducky, according to Stark crew members I talked to (yeah, some of that deck plate truth) Stark DID borrow extra foam. They also had to fly in every OBA canister in the damn Gulf, because back in those days, ships never carried many, at least not enough to handle a major conflag. Did they borrow the extra foam because the CO knew they were going up there defenseless and might run into trouble? Or because of an inspection? Who knows for sure. I do know that the STIR was not only not in standby, but absolutely cold. According to the FC I talked to (who spent most of the time crying, he just got out of berthing when the second missile, the one that DID explode) they were under orders not to light off STIR.

    Unless the young man was lying, and I have no reason to believe not, that is what happened. Don’t try to make it out like the Stark was sloppy. I knew a lot of people on there. I pass the memorial every day I go to work, and every day I come home.

  8. Rubber Ducky Says:

    Byron: unwrap that flag from about your body. Never said STARK damage control was sloppy, above or earlier. All accounts hold it to have been first-class and give the crew great credit for saving the ship.

    Did say that one of the helpers in that DC response was STARK having loaded up on DC gear, not for the real world but rather just to get ready for an inspection (leaving the ships from which they borrowed the gear short of what they would need for an emergency, a common and bad practice in surface ships).

    Also, expressed zero sympathy for the CO, who got fired as result of the incident. He blew the readiness and self-defense phases of the encounter. His focus (and the ship’s because of that) was on the forthcoming inspection, not the tactical world outside his cabin.

    Would note that the FORRESTAL’s fire in ’67 also showed a real shortage of needed DC consumables. We were 60 miles north on PIRAZ station when John McCain’s ZUNI cooked off and started the fire. Our helo spent the rest of the day in multiple trips around the Gulf ferrying OBA canisters and foam cans to the burning CV (and picked up two sailors who’d been blown overboard).

    Navy’s response to the DC aspects of STARK found here:

  9. Chap Says:

    Funnily enough, I just burned a DVD of Trial By Fire to give to some officers in another country’s Navy. The movie is available online for free download from

  10. Steeljaw Scribe Says:


    Sad fact of the matter is that the GM mess was really foreseen back in the 80’s. At the height of the D(L)emming craze in the early 90’s, there was a very good book published on the state of the American auto industry – “Comeback: The Fall and Rise of the American Auto Industry” wherein the authro compares/contrasts Ford, GM and Chrysler. Coming away from that reading one sensed only one of the three were on a right path for the future as well as gaining an appreciation of their respective corporate cultures. Reading the above, I am not in the least bit surprised or shocked at what transpired over at GM…
    (getting ready to pitch the proverbial turd in the punchbowl)
    And frankly, one can almost map those same corporate cultures to at least two of the three warfare communities in the Navy – I’ll defer on the sub community as my experience is limited to but a few (high quality) folks I’ve worked with.

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