Once in a while I come across a book that warrants some additional attention. Such a book is Destroyer Captain, Lessons of a First Command by Adm. James Stavridis. Stavridis is currently Supreme Allied Commander,
Europe and Commander, United States European Command. The book is a summary of a journal he kept when he commanded the Burke class destroyer USS Barry during 1993-1995 and is intended to convey the author’s thoughts on the human aspects of command and leadership.
|Ready for War?|
Repeated mention is made of weapon systems and sensors that fail at the start of exercise periods and how the crew has to scramble to get them working in time to complete the exercise. Shouldn't a warship be verifying the operability of those things on a daily, if not hourly basis? Sadly, the peacetime Captain has other, higher priority activities.
The lack of tactical training is also noteworthy. Basically, the author is exposed to tactics during his pre-command workup and then participates in rare exercises thereafter. This is confirmation that peacetime Captains just don't have the time to become tactical experts.
He describes some of the weapons training exercises and I'm struck by the extremely simplistic, set-piece nature of them. For instance, he describes the CIWS training which consists of a Lear Jet with a tow target banner flying in straight lines back and forth alongside the ship while the CIWS shoots at the banner. How's that for realism? All that does is verify that the CIWS is mechanically functional.
In short, the book describes a perfect peacetime Captain functioning in a peacetime Navy and demonstrates that the Navy is not serious about being prepared for war. The author didn't intend to convey this point but he very clearly does. In fact, he confirms this himself without realizing it, with the following statement,
"To some degree we have become a navy that specializes in safety, communicating, inspecting, engineering, administering, retaining, and counseling. There is too little emphasis on shiphandling, warfighting, battle repairing, and leading. ... we all need to know that the essence of why navies exist is to fight and win at sea.As an example of how we are a bit out of whack is that if I charted my personal time, I suspect I spend virtually my entire day working the first list and precious little devoted to the latter."
He recognizes the problem but, firmly committed to the path of advancement, does nothing to change it. I’m not criticizing this individual. He’s merely a symptom and an example of the overall problem.
Presumably, all of the Navy’s leadership has followed this same model which suggests that the current crop of leaders are totally unprepared for war. This is hardly a surprise. Remember that many Captains and Admirals had to be replaced early in WWII until the peacetime leaders were weeded out and fighting men were found. The disappointing aspect of this is that, given the graphic lesson of WWII, the Navy has forgotten the lesson already. Navy leadership should be selected on the basis of combat skills not energy efficiency, diversity, retention goals met, public relations skill, paperwork filed, and boxes checked. The zero-defect philosophy, both personally and professionally, is neutering the Navy’s fighting spirit. A better set of promotion criteria would be to have a major ship handling accident on one’s record and at least one altercation with a superior thereby at least demonstrating an aggressive attitude!