As we near the end of the year, it’s common to look back and assemble lists of various things. As regular readers know, ComNavOps is highly critical of Navy leadership, believing them to be, generally, an inept, incompetent, and idiotic group who have violated the trust of the sailors and the American public. ComNavOps has repeatedly documented their failings but are these just snapshots taken out of context or is the pattern of incompetence as clear as I claim? Let’s sum things up in the form of a list and see.
Here are some of the major decisions the Navy has made over the last couple of decades or so and how those decisions have played out, right or wrong. These are in no particular order.
Wrong – Minimal Manning. This was one of the worse decisions ever made and led to maintenance issues that still plague the fleet. Worse, the woeful maintenance has led to forced premature retirements of major ships which has shrunk the fleet and placed unnecessary demands on the budget for new replacement ships.
Wrong – Steel vs. Aluminum. The Navy opted for aluminum and, after some notable disasters, appeared to realize that was an error. However, they have returned to the use of aluminum with all its attendant weaknesses.
Right – Aerial ECM. The Navy’s decision to accept the aerial ECM role has paid dividends many times over and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. One can’t help but wonder what the Air Force was thinking when they abandoned the role.
Wrong – Quality vs. Quantity. The Navy opted for quality as the counter to enemy quantity. However, the world is in the process of matching our quality which leaves us with a greatly reduced fleet of marginal quality advantage and on the wrong side of the numbers. That’s a recipe for defeat. Further, our shrinking fleet is being forced to undertake longer and longer deployments with the previously standard six month deployment now stretching out to 8-11 months and the trend is steadily increasing. Our shrinking fleets is being worn out prematurely which will only worsen the numbers deficit.
Wrong – Maintenance. The Navy deliberately opted for reduced and deferred maintenance in order to save money and it came back to bite them in the ass big time. Ships began to fail INSURV inspections so frequently that the Navy took to classifying the results so as to avoid embarrassment. Systemic equipment failures become endemic with the fleet-wide Aegis degradation being the prime example.
Right – Submarines. Easily the Navy’s most potent force, the Navy has continued to maintain the decisive asymmetric advantage that the undersea fleet offers although the numbers are projected to decline alarmingly.
Wrong – MCM. The Navy bet all-in on the LCS as the MCM platform of the future and allowed the Avenger class to literally rot pierside. Of course, we have yet to see a single LCS deploy as an MCM vessel, the MCM module has been under development for years and there is no sign that a viable module will be ready any time soon, and the heliborne backbone of the MCM turned out to have insufficient power to safely tow some of the MCM equipment. Worse, the LCS has been capped and it looks like there will be only around 12 MCM versions ever. The MH-53 MCM helos can’t operate from the LCS, are aging, and there is no replacement in development. The Avengers have been neglected and are still scheduled to be retired in the near future regardless of the status of the LCS.
Pass – JSF. The F-35 is a failure on multiple levels but, to be fair, the Navy never really seemed to buy into this and is probably being forced to go along. While the proper action would have been to flat out refuse to get involved, as was done with the F-111/F-14, I give the Navy at least partial credit. They earn a pass.
Wrong – LCS. Nothing further need be said about this.
Wrong – LPD-17. The construction issues plaguing this program are well documented and the Navy was glove-in-hand culpable in those problems. Further, the small well deck has, and will continue, to adversely impact amphibious assault capabilities and connector hosting.
Right – P8 Poseidon. This appears to be a reasonable replacement for the venerable Orion and was accomplished without falling into the Star Wars/Powerpoint trap of unattainable technology.
Wrong – Force Structure. The Navy under CNO Greenert has opted to emphasize the low end of the combat spectrum and is focused on peacetime activities. The decision to rework the fleet structure to have up to one third of the fleet consist of the LCS is a monumental failure as we will learn when we engage in high end combat.
Wrong – Strategy. The Navy has completely lost all strategic and doctrinal thought capacity. Strategic thinking has been abandoned. Our amphibious assault doctrine is completely invalid.
Wrong – Training. We have completely abandoned realistic training in favor of set piece exercises that emphasize safety and environmental adherence over combat. Multi-carrier strike group exercises are non-existent. We are as unprepared for combat as I can ever recall.
Right and Wrong – Hornet. The decision to abandon specialized aircraft in favor of a generic, combination strike fighter, and a short-legged one at that, marked the beginning of the decline of the air wings and the decline of carrier striking power. On the plus side, the Navy seems to be pursuing a program of evolutionary improvement to the Hornet that looks better and better when compared to the F-35.
There are many other decisions that could be added to this list but this a fair collection of major decisions. The obvious conclusion is that Navy leadership has, generally, been pretty consistent in making poor decisions. Even some of the good decisions are bordering on becoming poor ones, such as allowing the submarine force numbers to decline too far.
The Navy needs to engage in some serious soul searching, recognize its institutional shortcomings, and learn the lessons that its decision making history offers. Thus, we close with the final item,
Wrong – Lessons Learned. Sadly, the Navy shows little or no ability to learn from its mistakes.