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Resident Curmudgeon
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've read a couple of articles on this subject. My initial reaction was, "Have the admirals never seen the Star Trek episode 'The Ultimate Computer" or seen any of the Terminator movies?" After reading more about it, my considered reaction is pretty much the same.


In my time at sea, I will admit that on a couple of occasions I violated the regulation that says you should not stand watch unless you have had at least six hours rest out of the preceding twelve. The instances I recall all had to do with finishing discharging cargo and securing the ship for sea after a port stay long enough to break sea watches, when I was the senior Third Mate on the 12 to 4 watch and due to port watch rotations had been on the 1600 - 2400 watch. You set sea watches again at 0001 on sailing day, which meant I had 12 straight hours on watch, plus as long as it took to secure for sea, get the ship away from the dock, underway, and secure the hawsers and winches, which took a couple of hours. I think I got about four hours of sleep before I was called for watch. Fortunately we were in the open sea with no ships nearby, because the only thing keeping me going was watchstanding coffee. That happened a few times before port stays got so short we never broke sea watches.

A greater concern which the articles have not addressed is what happens to the minimally manned ships' crews when the Navy blithely sends ships out on extended missions with no port time. Sure, the ship can stand the gaff. But the crews can't. They are much too lightly manned to enable a community to form; they can only relate to each other as duty requires. I saw it at the end of my seagoing career, when we had ships intended to be operated by a 45 man crew being operated with crews half that size. It was incredibly lonely; you could not even get together enough people for a game of whist. And with containerports located so far out of town that you'd be spending a day's pay just to get to the bright lights, assuming you could get the off-duty time to even try, there was no chance to relax. The Japanese at one point in the early 1980s tried to operate a containership in the feedermax class with a crew of twelve, relying on automation to make up for the reduction in ship's personnel. It was an abysmal failure; the crew went mad, literally psychotic, from the pressure of operating the ship without any way to release emotional pressures or get away from duty. Men are NOT machines and cannot be treated as such without there being serious consequences.

These unmanned ships are not Romulan warships with automated maintenance and damage control systems. What's going to happen to them if the Navy takes even the minimum crew off them and then they run into a storm at sea? I'll tell you what: they are going to be smashed by the waves and sunk. There is no substitute for the experience of sea officers and long-serving sailors.

When I was a cadet, the Old Man was fond of telling us, "Put not thy faith in gadgets." He was talking about electronic navigation systems, but it's true of all ship systems. Automation can help you, but it is no replacement for the experience of seafarers who have seen some stuff at sea, including coping with system breakdowns. I can understand the Navy's reasoning: don't waste manpower on cargo ships and small patrol craft when they need it aboard destroyers, cruisers, and carriers. But I feel they are very much going down a wrong path here, and the decision will return to haunt them.
 

Retired IT Dinosaur Wrangler
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As my old ET Seniorchief always told us, "electronics will always fail at the worst possible time!"
That was proved to me again and again. Build more advanced gadgets, you get more advanced failures. This is an initiative the military should NOT enter into. Gadgets should help the man, not replace him! 馃槙
 

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well from the accidents our Navy ships have been having recently, it couldn't get any worse.:rolleyes: except if a ship goes rogue like that drone din last week..
like Cyrano said, what happens in storm or mechanical problems? or if the ship gets hit with a shell or torpedo? sounds like another bad decision to make us more dependent on easily hacked technology.
 

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They've been experimenting with this for about a decade with the Littoral Combat Ships. Those are crewed with 40 some sailors who must all have secondary and tertiary ratings. The ships themselves have a lot of modular components that can be swapped in and out and operate with a high degree of automation. The project has been underwhelming, to be kind, and the Navy canceled the contract for most of the ships yet to be built.

After the initial wave of people who took orders to the LCS because it was highly incentivized, it's been a rough road to keep them manned. Most sailors have decided an arduous assignment to Great Lakes or an Apprenticeship school instructor billet beats an LCS billet.

The Ford class super carriers are also designed with more automation than ever before. And they are billeted for ~20% less crew than a Nimitz class.
 

Resident Curmudgeon
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I would also like to point out what happens when the ship is hit and damaged? You are going to need men to fight fires, control flooding etc. Too few crew means you will lose the ship.
That is exactly what we seafarers told the shipping companies when they halved the manning on the ships. The companies are taking a gamble that nothing will go wrong ... go wrong ... go wrong. They are relying on gadgets to make up for the absence of crew who can deal with problems.

I will just barely concede the point in a ship propelled by slow stroke marine diesels that you don't need the manpower required for a steam turbine plant. But I was always nervous about the fact that for 16 hours a day, there was nobody down in the Engine Room; that the company was relying on a trouble board in the Chief Engineer's and the First Assistant Engineer's cabin that will sound an alarm in quarters and on the bridge that something is wrong. Doesn't mean you'll have the manpower to FIX it, just means you will know something is wrong.

And in the event of a fire, the emergency more than any other we worry about, today's ships are lucky if they can field two fire parties. Two hoses versus four hoses. No rescue party with breather gear and tools. Big difference in how rapidly you can knock the fire out, if you can at all. If history is any indicator, chances are you can't. World War II taught us more ships die by fire than any other cause.

But to the shipping companies, the gamble that nothing will go wrong is worth taking. If something does go wrong, well, that's why we have insurance on the ship. The fact people DIED because of financial greed is beside the point.

The Navy wondered how we Merchant Mariners could run the big ships we sail with crews as small as we had by their standards. Aside from the fact merchant ships don't need a lot of the rates that a warship does, and our people double in brass without thinking about it (you don't find a petty officer quartermaster handling lines with the deck gang in the Navy, for example), and you don't need as many of certain rates because you don't have the need for so many (there's a big difference between feeding a crew of 45 and a crew of 400, or providing medical care when needed), 90% of the ship's company is there to repair battle damage in a warship and to make certain you have enough people in critical ratings to continue to fight he ship if a warship is hit by enemy action. How will these automated ships the Navy is playing with work when there is an emergency and no one is there to deal with it? Has the Navy been infected with the "everything will go fine and nothing will go wrong" virus the bean-counters in the shipping companies suffer from? And how will they react when their precious computer-controlled toys sink or are captured because of enemy action?

"Come to Westworld, where nothing can go wrong ... go wrong ... go wrong ... "
 

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Yep, the top brass has forgotten the painful lessons taught by Lt. Murphy. Relearning those lessons will cost lives.
 
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thats what happens when people with no practical experience call the shots. just because it looks good on paper or in theory, doesn't mean it will work in the real World. with the recent purges of the Military and the amount of time since our Navy has been in a sea battle, I doubt there are many if any, of the top brass that have any real time experience. if we ever get into a real war again, we will be in deep 馃挬 !!
 

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I said it years ago. Any major war/battle we have will be fought by computers/robots/rc machines in the near future.

Gamer recruiting will be a big thing for governments before too long.
 

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The only sea battles we've been in since the end of WWII have been pretty much limited affairs and don't hardly rank as battles. Of course we never know what went on or still does with the submarine service.

One plus with drones is you could easily design them as a last ditch function to go kamikaze with no loss of life on our side.

I could even invision a trojan horse set up where a few are out there either equipped with a battlefield nuke equivalent explosive or a nuke itself as a self destruct device.

  • The thing gets damaged and captured towed to an enemy port and then when in port KABOOM! Either by coded transmission GPS positioning or tamper tripwires inside.
 

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I said it years ago. Any major war/battle we have will be fought by computers/robots/rc machines in the near future.

Gamer recruiting will be a big thing for governments before too long.
thats what those in charge are aiming for. and yes a push button war where humans don't get shot up sounds great but it puts us at the mercy of any 3rd World despot who doesn't rely on technology but can either hack into our tech. or hit us with an EMP. relying on technology too much will be the Achilles Heel of our Military! tech is great but needs a back up.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
That's what happens when people with no practical experience call the shots. just because it looks good on paper or in theory, doesn't mean it will work in the real world. With the recent purges of the military and the amount of time since our Navy has been in a sea battle, I doubt there are many, if any, of the top brass who have any real time experience. if we ever get into a real war again, we will be in deep 馃挬 !!
Two of my four first assignments were to ships owned by Farrell Lines. Farrell had been around for three-quarters of a century, run by the same family all that time. Farrell had a rule that served them well: You would not be promoted to senior management unless you held a license as a Master, Chief Engineer, Chief Mate, or First Assistant Engineer. Farrell's senior managers knew the sea, knew the ships, knew the ports, and knew the seafaring life. Nothing was too good for the men in the ships. We all knew the stories of instances when family members back in the States died or were mortally ill, and the company sent the word to the ship and had an airline ticket back to home and an office-wallah to see the man safely onto the plane with a minimum of bureaucratic nonsense waiting on the dock at the next port. We got great food (except for the coffee, but then senior management knew ships on the Africa runs bought their own from specific plantations literally by the ton), enough port time for relaxation, and anything we requisitioned was supplied to us, no questions asked.

In 1978, "Mister Jim" (James Farrell Jr, the Chairman of the Board) was forced by the federal government to buy American Export Lines out of bankruptcy court, to keep the trade routes it controlled open. He was the only board member to vote against the acquisition. Mister Jim's intention was to wait for the end of the grace period in which he could not take any personnel actions, then fire the entire management team from AEL and replace them with his own people. Unfortunately, Mister Jim died of a heart attack shortly before the grace period was up -- and somehow, the AEL managers, a team who had bankrupted four American shipping companies in 25 years and none of whose members had ever been to sea in their lives, seized control of Farrell Lines.

In less than ten years, Farrell Lines had gone from the second-largest US flag shipping company to just four ships. Shortly after that, the company was sold to P&O Lines. It still exists today in an attenuated form as a division of Maersk Lines, exclusively operating RoRos to the Far East.

THAT is what happens when you have a business -- or a Navy -- being operated by career rear echelon motherbleepers who have never worked in the practical end of the business. One of Tom Clancy's characters, Vice Admiral Robby Jackson, a naval aviator and the J-3 Director of Operations for the Navy, explained the difference to the newly appointed Secretary of Defense, Tony Brentano, in Executive Orders:

"Admiral DeMarco told me --"

"Sir, may I speak freely?" the J-3 asked.

"Jackson, in here that's the only way."

"Bruno DeMarco was made Vice Chief of Naval Operations for a reason."

Brentano got it at once. "Oh, to give speeches and not do anything that can hurt the Navy?" Robby's reply was a nod. "Noted, Admiral Jackson."

"Sir, I don't know much about industry, but there's something you need to learn about this building. There's two kinds of officer in the Pentagon, operators and bureaucrats. Admiral DeMarco has been here for more than half of his career. Mancuso" [ComSubPac] "and Seaton" [CINCPAC] "are operators, and they try very hard to stay out of this building."


Farrell Lines was successful because the family insisted that all of their senior managers be sea officers who subsequently obtained business degrees. They understood the shipping business better than the management of any other shipping company I worked for, because all of them had been there and done that before they swallowed the anchor and became senior managers. This sat ill with the graduates of business schools with MBAs who could read a balance sheet but did not know the players in foreign ports, did not understand labor relations, and had never shouldered the responsibility for a ship and the lives of the men sailing in her. They resented being subordinate to sea officers who saw ships as something other than transport units, and the crews as drug-using, boozing, good-for-nothing drones, and were far more concerned with the bottom line than on keeping the ships and crews that made their precious bottom line possible happy and in top condition. The AEL management team did not understand this, which is why after they seized control of Farrell Lines, the company went under.

Thus endeth the lesson. I hope the Navy learns it some way other than the hard way.
 

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I've seen the same thing in the IT industry. Once the corporate poohbahs (who can barely spell "IT" and their pet beancounters get the leadership of the company or state department, the end is coming fast. They apply things like "best business practices", "metrics" and other unworkable non-IT nonsense, they no longer care about serving the customers, and deliverables go to crap.
THIS is how "big business" is run, in the boardrooms, not in the company offices where it should be. The corporate bigwigs get their golden parachutes, while the company employees get pink slips.
 
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Sorry, but we'll see the entire military shift to "littoral" units, the current Commandant of the Marine Corps (my Alma Mater) has issued his directives stating that the Corps will switch to littoral units using advanced technology, including automated landing craft and drones of all sorts. Like all technocrats, he sees a future where Marines will be some kind of Terminator and no friendlies will ever be in harms way - it's just another ticking bomb that will blow up at the worst possible time.
 

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Just in the last few weeks I have watched an "Emotional AI" discover betrayal when its handler stole its favorite toy (somehow, the fact that it has a favorite toy is sweet, sad and frightening), I have read about yet another advanced AI that went psychotic and racist after being exposed to the internet (Does this make three or four, now?), and I have heard about two fully autonomous military tech programs.

I don't think any of these idiots HAVE seen the Terminator, or ED-209, or Blade Runner, or the works of Asimov, or any one of a hundred other stories about the dangers of this.

Stephen Fry, the British comedian, writer, actor, director, commentator, tech junkie, and all around politest person on Earth, once said that he believes the apocalypse will begin immediately after a scientist shouts something along the lines of, "I've done it", or "It works."
 

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"Murphy's Law" is inescapable. Anything built by man can fail, just as anything "built" by Nature can.
Electronics can be hacked - despite being "hackproof". Similarly, a terrorist fly a plane into a building. It simply takes time for someone to find some way to turn a good thing into bad.

We trust all kinds of machines to work properly - from shutting off the water before the toilet tank overflows to exploring the surface of Mars. I often wished I could program my vehicle to get me where I want to go, safely and on time, so I could do some of my paperwork, or even snooze. Eventually, we may see air cars like the Jettson's have.

But the machines do what they do. The questions are actually: How much trust do we have in them to perform as expected? What is the cost (lives, time, and money) if they fail?
 

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"Murphy's Law" is inescapable. Anything built by man can fail, just as anything "built" by Nature can.
Electronics can be hacked - despite being "hackproof". Similarly, a terrorist fly a plane into a building. It simply takes time for someone to find some way to turn a good thing into bad.

We trust all kinds of machines to work properly - from shutting off the water before the toilet tank overflows to exploring the surface of Mars. I often wished I could program my vehicle to get me where I want to go, safely and on time, so I could do some of my paperwork, or even snooze. Eventually, we may see air cars like the Jettson's have.

But the machines do what they do. The questions are actually: How much trust do we have in them to perform as expected? What is the cost (lives, time, and money) if they fail?
A science teacher of mine was also a wannabe cartoonist. He had this comic strip banner in his class titled, "The history of invention."

The first panel was titled, "Og discovers rock can break rock." Next was, "Thak discovers rock can break Og." Then, "Thak discovers pointy stick can stab fish," followed by Grog discovers pointy stick works on Thak, too."

It worked its way up through other advancements in metallurgy, production, and discovery, into fireworks, then bombs, and ended on nuclear energy.
 

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Everything is going to automation these days. No human casualties on an unmanned ship or drone. Too much can go wrong with electronics and automated equipment. Think is you steel need live human beings for manual work that needs to be done. Also lets say like a fire happens from an artillery shell from the enemy. Who is manning the fire hoses. Who will be at cause when it gets into an accident at sea. There is still mechanical parts that need to be checked, lubed, greased. I dont see a ship running the seas fully automated.
 
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