Thursday, June 30, 2016

Iranian Seizure of US Boats - Navy Report

This blog has been resolute in examining and laying bare the faults of Navy leadership.  This blog has also documented the significantly degraded state of the Navy as regards readiness, maintenance, training, warrior mindset, and tactics.  All of these were made manifestly clear in the recent Farsi Island incident in which the Iranians seized two US Navy boats and their crews that had incompetently transited into Iranian waters.  All of the faults and shortcomings that have been discussed in this blog came together to produce one of the most humiliating incidents in Navy history.  Here are just a few of the individual factors that led to this incident as detailed in the just released, heavily redacted, Navy investigative report (1).

  • Failed to conduct mission planning, produce a concept of operations, or review the route and navigational plan
  • Did not review the Plan of Intended Movement (PIM)
  • Upon departure, which was several hours late, deviated immediately from the PIM in an attempt to make up time
  • Failed to report the engine casualty to the Tactical Operations Center
  • Failed to report an unanticipated land sighting (Farsi Island) to the Tactical Operations Center
  • Tactical Operations Center failed to act when scheduled check-in was missed
  • Tactical Operations Center failed to note or act when tracking equipment showed the boats heading into Iranian waters
  • Lacked a communications plan
  • Lacked surface or air overwatch
  • Leadership tasked the boats and crew beyond the limits of their capability
  • Commander, Task Force 56 promulgated a “can do/will do” culture that frequently compromised risk management and procedural adherence
  • Crews had been up most of the night before conducting maintenance on one of the boats that had broken down.
  • Had to "cannibalize" parts from a third boat in order to have two working vessels.
  • Experienced problems with their satellite communications gear.
  • Crews were unfamiliar with the region, weather, geography, or threats
  • Had insufficient crew to both maneuver and man weapons at the same time
  • Failed to post lookouts or man weapons stations when the boats suffered the engine breakdown

The report makes a point of documenting command’s vision of how to handle Iranian interactions.  VAdm. Donegan, Commander Fifth Fleet, communicated his intent for handling interactions with Iranian forces in this message from Dec 2015.

“When we are approaching an interaction, fundamental to your plans should be the utilization of maneuver and knowledge of the battle space to open distance and/or time so that you have more options for de-escalation and to provide additional opportunity to determine intent of the Iranian units.”

This directive embodies what’s wrong with our policy of appeasement.  Why does only the US have a responsibility to deescalate?  Unilateral deescalation is another way of saying appeasement.  What did this accomplish?  It led to crews that were totally unprepared to fight and, worse, had no idea that a fight was coming or even possible.  The policy led directly to the state of unpreparedness for combat by the boat crews and, arguably, led directly to their seizure.

Here is another key point.  The report states that someone (the name is redacted) on boat 802, apparently the Boat Captain, disobeyed a direct order from the Patrol Officer on boat 805 to evade.  His refusal of orders caused boat 805 to return to try to assist and resulted, directly, in both boats being captured.  Thus, one man’s refusal of an order resulted in the direct seizure of two boats and their crews.  He jeopardized both crews given that there was every reason to believe that surrendering would not turn out well.  Iran’s history of handling prisoners is not one that lead to a reasonable expectation of safe return.  This was mutiny, pure and simple, and I fully expect this person to be harshly punished.

Section Update

The full report states that the boat 802 coxswain refused an order to accelerate away from the Iranian craft.

Update Ends

Another lesson to be had from this incident is that despite all our vaunted automation, sensors, networking, satellites, radars, data links, and sophisticated communications, we failed completely and utterly to monitor and control the boats as they inexorably violated Saudi Arabian and then Iranian territorial waters, became stranded, and were seized.  And yet we want to increase our reliance on these systems.  Well you know what?  No system can compensate for utter incompetence and total confusion.  All the data in the world is useless if you don’t know what to do with it.

Regarding the actual surrender by the boat crews, the report goes to the trouble of quoting the US Armed Forces Code of Conduct.  This is incredibly significant, I think.  Consider the first two items of the Code which, again, were quoted in the report.

1. I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

2. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.

           [Emphasis added]

Those who argue that the crews were right to surrender without resistance would do well to read and consider the Code requirements.  Military life does not come with a guarantee of safety – in fact, almost the opposite.

The report goes on to make innumerable recommendations which contain nothing that isn’t already supposed to be part of standard operations – a typical waste of a report, in that regard.

Every person in the chain of command from the boat crews on up to CNO Richardson and SecNav Mabus should be fired or court-martialed.

This is why I do this blog and why I’ve been so critical of Navy leadership.  Leadership’s failure is putting sailor’s lives at risk.

As an aside, many people have speculated about conspiracies related to this incident but reading the report makes it clear that there is nothing more nefarious, here, than simple, gross incompetence on a scale that defies belief.

I am unilaterally relieving CNO Richardson for loss of confidence in his ability to command.


(1)Memorandum For The Record, Executive Assistant, Chief of Naval Operations, 29-Jun-2016


  1. Excellent summary and take on the report.

    If you don't understand why something is s requirement and ignore it, sometimes you get lucky and succeed. If you are aggressive and cut corners enough you think all of the standards are merely there for other people. Unfortunately it take s grounding event like this to make everyone up and down the chain say ahhh that is why we don't just cast off and fire up the engines.

  2. The response from the Obama administration is just as bad. From Kerry expressing his gratitude to Iranian authorities for their cooperation to Biden with his standard nautical process nonsense.

    Reuters reported that our sailors provided more than name, rank, and serial number. They allegedly provided the Iranians with information about their ships and the passwords to their phones.

    If anyone in the DOD appreciates the gravity of this situation, it's not apparent to me.

  3. I highly doubt we'll see any measurable change. In fact, I believe we have set a deadly precedent. What happens when another ship gets captured, when do we draw the line? The way I see it, whats to prevent the Chinese or Russians from doing the same, to lets say an LCS?

    1. There's nothing to prevent it. You've exactly identified the flaw in meekly submitting to Iran. It increases the likelihood of future, even more aggressive acts.

      What's to stop a large group of armed Iranians from marching up to a carrier in port somewhere and demanding that the US sailors leave so that they can take the ship? We've already set the precedent. We're not going to shoot. We're going to meekly submit.

  4. If this report is true and not some sort of whitewash, it's just sicking. How can a military force such of the US Navy be so incompetent.... bet the Chinese are in fits of laughter as they read this report, because I hazard a guess that there a far more competent then this lot! The US Navy is screw when and not if they have to fight a peer adversary.

    1. The incompetency arises from having a focus and agenda other than warfighting. What are the military's current priorities? Gender norming, transgender equality, gender integration, unisex uniforms, sexual assault, green energy, diversity quotas, etc. Our warfighting mindset, training, and tactics have subordinated to other priorities.

    2. "How can a military force such of the US Navy be so incompetent ..."

      You've been reading this blog all along, right? This should hardly be a surprise to you.

    3. I agree with you regarding the military's focus and how it affects the operational capabilities and personal standards.
      I am former service person of the New Zealand Defense Force which is obviously heavly influenced by the British Armed Forces in tradition and doctrine. So while reading your post it disgusted me. Discipline, excellence, loyalty, courage, integrity and obedience are the most important things for any service person. Those qualities were clearly lacking in this case. Those behaviors demonstrated would be expected of 3rd world nation's navy, not the United States Navy.
      I don't know if your can blame peace for the situation. When I joined the New Zealand Defense Force, other than Bosnia hadn't been involved in major overseas operations since Vietnam. I joined in 2000 and left in 2010. During this period the operational tempo of the NZDF had been its highest since World War 2. But I have notice standards drop in some areas and improve in others. I think service is better trained in some areas and more flexible, but things are more lax and the discipline standards have dropped. I think it comes down to a reflection of society in general and the attempt to run the defense more like a corporate entity then a military force. I don't see things changing unfortunately until the next world war.
      I read this blog every couple of weeks. I think your doing a great job raising awareness of very important issues, after all there is no greater responsibility of a government than the defense of it's people.

    4. "I read this blog every couple of weeks."

      Huh??? You should be reading it a couple of times a day! :)

      Seriously, welcome. Your comment also makes me consider the factor of size. NZ has a smaller force and it's easier to track and control the behavior of a smaller organization. By contrast, a force the size of the US military invariable contains a LOT of unnecessary personnel performing unnecessary functions which leads to inefficiencies, misplaced priorities, and general neglect.

      Good comment. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  5. Para. VI.D.29 probably spells trouble for a certain Coxswain....

    1. According to the report, this Coxswain took it upon himself to abandon his post without orders or relief to go fix the engines and then took it upon himself to disobey a direct order and got two boats and crews seized. This guy ought to be looking at stockade time followed by dishonorable discharge and that's if the Navy does not opt to pursue mutiny in the face of the enemy type charges.

    2. How can they not prosecute him where there is literally a finding of (brief) mutiny?

  6. Replies
    1. I honestly thought there would me mitigating surcumstance.

      I thought you were going overboard.

      But you were bang on.

      So many issues there. And the worst is the behind the scenes higher level command fuck ups that allowed a incompetant officer to command a flotila.

      Clearly these guys never recieved proper training from the word go. And this wasnt the first time these guys disobeyed procedure for sure.

      Something went very wrong with this command.

      I KNOW its not Navy wide tho. I know some of your guys personally.

      Shocking. Very very poor show.

      Reading that reminded me of the write up of the Indionapalis incident. Awful.

    2. Make no mistake. The rot is fleet wide. In some places it may be a bit better, in some a bit worse but it's fleet wide. Why do you think we fire 25-35 CO's every year? It's cause the rot is systemic. Why do you think the Port Royal ran aground in broad daylight in home waters? Why do you think the Avenger class MCM ran aground in the Philippines? Why do you think we allowed an EP-3 to be forced down and seized by the Chinese? Why do you think we're focused on social engineering issues rather than warfighting? Why do you think we're purchasing an F-35 that is ill-suited to its intended role? Why do you think we're allowing women into Marine combat units despite data that proves they perform poorly? Why do you think we designed an LCS without cathodic protection? Stop me when I've made my point 'cause I'm running out of space and I could go on all day with examples ...

      There may be a few good individuals in the fleet but they lack the courage to stand up, risk their careers, and make things right. Do you really think there was not a single guy in that boat command who knew things were badly off track? Why didn't he make a stand? It's because he lacked the courage. It may be understandable that he wouldn't want to risk his livelihood but that's what moral courage is all about. Where's the young Ensign Rickover? He stayed in his bunk and kept quiet. You may think he's a nice guy on a personal level but he let the Navy and his country down but keeping quiet.

      The rot is fleet wide.

      You thought me wrong, initially, but now acknowledge that I was "bang on". Do you think it more likely that I'm right or wrong about the systemic nature of the Navy's problems? It might not be today but someday you'll once again be writing a "bang on" apology.

      See the evidence for what it is. Reach the conclusion that it leads you to rather than the conclusion you wish it would.

  7. CNO I as well though you were a little overboard and I'm a Green Beret, capture is not in our dNA. However, you did nail it 100% to add to your ever increasing reputation as a straight shooter.
    Perhaps this is the nexus of dangerous idiocy that will wake somebody the fuckup? Is your readership still expanding?
    I send folks here all the time THANKS LTC Ken Cook

    1. Thanks. Yes, the readership is growing steadily. In fact, it's an amazingly linear growth curve. I started with a few hits per day and it's now up to thousands. That's still a very small site compared to, say, Information Dissemination which, before it ceased operation, was registering tens of thousands of hits per day, according to my understanding. Still, this blog isn't doing too bad for being such a narrow, niche topic site. Many thanks to you and others for the references!

      I've considered expanding the scope of the blog but I don't want to stray out of my realm of expertise and I don't know what other areas would be of interest to readers. Let me know if you have any thoughts on the matter.

      By the way, does anyone know why the Info.Dis. site ceased operation?


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