Sunday, December 13, 2015

Fighting Ethos

ComNavOps has repeatedly stated that the Navy has become a purely defensive force rather than offensive, has become risk averse, promotes the wrong type of commanders, and has abandoned any semblance of tactical or realistic training.  Well, here’s the Navy finally beginning to recognize those facts.  The following is part of a written summary of the Distributed Lethality workshops and is authored by  Captain Joe Cahill, USN, Director, DL Task Force Commander, Naval Surface Forces (1).

“Finally, to realize a more offensive culture within the surface forces, the warfighter ethos must shift to a more proactive and ferocious fighting spirit. Offensive tactics and the requisite training need to be hand-and-glove in order to leverage lethality. Engraining within the surface forces such a fighting ethos with the training to back it up must be a top priority for the commander.”

There you have it.  Now, even the Navy is admitting that they no longer are a fighting force.  They’ve become a peacetime business organization that exists to build ships and promote careers.

Consider the type of command element the Navy is selecting for.  The main focus of command selection is on finding people who will not make waves, who get along – go along, who won’t appear in any headlines, who won’t reflect negatively on the Navy, who have a fine appreciation for gender equality and diversity (again, to avoid headlines), who have made no mistakes in previous assignments, and who won’t respond aggressively to provocations at sea.

Note that we’re selecting for negative qualities – things that the candidate won’t do, rather than things that they will do.

Despite this, we still wind up firing 20-30 commanders each year.

Look what we’ve created.  Our commanders cower on the bridge hoping against hope that no one will make a mistake during their command tour and micro-managing everything to try to reduce the chances of a mistake.  We fire commanders for some pretty innocuous things.  We’ve created a zero-tolerance for headlines.  If one sailor complains about something, real or imagined, it can destroy a commander’s career.

I have nothing against firing commanders if it happens for the right reasons.  By all means, fire commanders for tactical incompetence or lack of warrior spirit.  Unfortunately, none of the 20-30 commanders fired each year has been fired for those reasons.

We have ruthlessly eliminated the warrior spirit.  We have weeded out any commander with a contentious, aggressive, abrasive, fighting personality.

The Navy is no longer a fighting force.  It’s a gender sensitive, diversity focused, environmentally responsible, social experiment of a business organization.

Somewhere, Bull Halsey is weeping for his Navy right now, as am I.

(1)USNI, “Essay: Taking Distributed Lethality to the Next Level”, Scott C. Truver, December 10, 2015


  1. Well, the last time a major navy had such trouble with its service culture, it was the pre-WWI Royal Navy. That managed to sort out the problem, after taking a lot of losses, but it stopped being the pre-eminent navy in the world along the way - a situation that seemed unimaginable, and obviously impossible, before WWI.

  2. The key problem is the insane process of kicking out officers in their 40s unless they make 0-6, and even then most are pushed out at age 52. Guarantee them a career until age 60 so if they get canned they are not out on the streets in two years. This is a complex issue that few understand, but this guy offers a solution.

    1. Up and out is bad solution but the problem it addresses is real.
      The best solution would be to do away with linear career paths, but until then...

  3. Sort of unrelated (but further enforcing the reality that the navy isn't in the mind of fighting), I assume everybody here is aware of the most recent LCS mishap?

    And the navy continues to insist that the LCS is a fighting platform...

    - Ray D.

    1. Ray, I really can't get too upset over an isolated breakdown. Sooner or later it happens to every ship. What I can get upset about is when there is an obvious pattern that is ignored. The Freedom variant has been plagued by repeated lube oil system and other propulsion problems. Further, metal filings in the lube oil were found in multiple instances in the LPD-17 class, causing breakdowns. With this kind of history, NAVSEA inspectors should have made a special effort to check the lube oil prior to acceptance of the vessel. They didn't. They screwed up due to negligence and/or incompetence.

      This is the same group that accepted the LPD-17s in a nearly non-functional state and allowed the early LCSs to be accepted in partially completed conditions. NAVSEA personnel are failing the American people and their fellow sailors who would have to take these problem-ridden ships into battle.

      NAVSEA is a disgrace and everyone in the organization should be fired.

    2. I agree completely with your assessment of NAVSEA. However, this situation strikes to the heart of your post. When you have crappy unreliable equipment it is impossible to become an aggressive unit. You know you are not only outgunned but the few systems you have, even the most basic like engines, will not operate reliably.

      Unless you are trying to create a modern Kamikaze force, the place to start an offensive Navy is in the Systems Commands.

      If Joshua Humphreys had not designed such strong, maneuverable Frigates, there would be no fighting tradition in the Navy. NAVSEA read your OWN history!

    3. Anon, excellent observation and conclusion.

    4. "NAVSEA is a disgrace and everyone in the organization should be fired."

      I'm okay with that, but you have to go deeper. You have to eliminate the culture and environment that made NAVSEA what it is.

      Look at the F-35. Jobs in every State. Does LM do this because its a great product and so awesome it requires the collective contribution of the United States?

      No. LM realized they can play Congress like a drum and use the jobs card. I'm sure Congress wants good naval vessels. But if you have someone like a Rickover in the mix tearing the vendor a new arsehole, and sending things back that cost lobbyists and their companies money, its a simple choice with Congress as to who they want to believe.

      'Lt. Commander Smith is making a lot of waves about the new LCS, Senator... we've given you $500,000 over the past 3 years...'

    5. You're quite right. The culture needs to be changed and the way to do that is criminal prosecutions, courts martial, and mass firings of the entire Navy leadership.

    6. Understandable.
      My aggravation was the fact the ship was only 20 days out of the yard and they accepted it... which ties in to your conclusion, NAVSEA is to blame.

      - Ray D.

    7. Jim Whall, your comments are spot on.

  4. I would argue that the senior leadership sets the tone here. Sadly they are the product of the current system, and were not promoted on say, fighting spirit or actual competence at combat.

    In part, it is because war does force a level of efficiency for without, politics and "appearance over reality" tends to take precedent over other considerations.

  5. FWIW... from what I've read about Halsey, he wouldn't be in tears. Whomever he was talking to might be....


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