A retired U.S. Navy captain with 20 years at sea and 10 years at the Pentagon recently sat down with InMilitary for an interview as to why there have been so many collisions lately of U.S. Navy warships and commercial vessels. What “Capt. F” had to say should be required reading for every member of Congress and the president. Here are the most relevant excerpts:
So if you can follow my logic here is what I conclude. There was a confluence of leadership failures:
First, there was a failure by the nation and particularly the executive branch of the government to recognize that by using the armed forces as a social change agent, as well as denying them the tools (forces) to do the job, will always cause the forces to break. We are at the breaking point and it shows.
Second, there was a failure in naval leadership writ large from the time we tried to transform the forces to meet the threat to today. Not enough senior leadership was stepping forward, ready to sacrifice themselves, so our sailors would not be.
In addition, it has been obvious to me that [former] SECNAV [Ray] Mabus was able to transform naval leadership in a way to conform to his world view; [that he] fired or relieved those who did not conform to his views and promoted those that did. I think the top leadership is pretty rotten, although I am sure there is “good wood” in there somewhere.
Third, the direct chain of command must have been weak – 7th Fleet down through the commodores of the squadrons – or these ships would not be having these problems. Either the standards are too low or they are worrying about other things. I suspect they are worrying about other things, such as the social experimentation going on and how they get through so they can continue to survive themselves.
Fourth, the ship climate and command structures were obviously out of whack. COs don’t get to sleep in in heavy shipping waters, [that’s] just a fact.
Fifth, while it might be convenient or popular to string some kind of conspiracy theory, the mistakes made were all simple things: basic ship handling, navigation and seamanship stuff. Destroyers do not get run down by merchants; they are faster and much more maneuverable. No, they were not hacked; they were not run down on purpose. They just were asleep at the wheel.
Sixth, I am surprised and will continue to be surprised if some of these folks in leadership positions are not court-martialed. There is a good case for manslaughter in my mind.
And lastly, we need to truly transform the services, not from a social viewpoint but rather from a warfighting viewpoint. Capabilities are available for us to reduce crew manning and use distributed systems, but like anything [else], we have to be serious about doing it. Perhaps that will be the one good thing coming out of all of this.
The last thing I will say is that the Navy has a very difficult issue transforming. Since it is capital-heavy, it needs to do more to bring down shipbuilding costs, while at the same time work assiduously to transform our personnel into distributed nodes with authority, that is transforming the personnel force. That is a tall order and it takes people not only with leadership skills but also imagination and vision, which is a commodity in short supply.
Read the entire interview here.
Analyst comment: The captain’s comments about ‘social experimentation’ are particularly relevant as the services continue to deal with such issues left over from the Obama administration. While they may anger certain elements of American culture and society, remember these observations are coming from someone with direct command experience at sea and who also had a finger on the pulse of the Pentagon, where such policies are crafted and carried out after being handed down from the president.
If the Navy — and the U.S. military writ large — is now more focused on being reflective of a small element of American society rather than on winning wars, then this former ranking officer’s assessment that “we are at the breaking point” is a dangerous warning.
One other truth that shines brightly in this former CO’s assessment: The Navy as it is today is far too small to safely carry out all of its assigned tasks. Congress and the president will have to add ships and personnel for the force to remain effective.