Friday, July 1, 2016

How Did We Get Here?

After one of my posts, critical of the Navy’s performance and leadership, a reader asked me if I really believed that the Navy was that incompetent.  The question was asked in a mocking way, implying that the Navy couldn’t possibly be as incompetent as I portrayed it (despite the fact that I factually document and reference all my main points) and that, therefore, I was an idiot who had no idea what was going on with the Navy.  Well, the previous post regarding the Navy’s own investigative report showed just how systemically incompetent the Navy has become.  The question, now, is how did this reprehensible state of affairs come to be and why is it not only continuing but steadily worsening?  I’ll now answer that question.

There are two main reasons.

  1. Priorities
  2. Peace

Priorities – The Navy exists to fight wars.  You can dress that answer up with all kinds of qualifiers and descriptors like maintaining the flow of international shipping, fostering international maritime relations, etc. but when you boil it down, the Navy exists to fight wars.  That is its ultimate, end function.  Everything the Navy does, buys, or decides, should run through that filter.  Does whatever it is support or enhance the Navy’s ability to fight wars?  If not, we shouldn’t do it.  It really is that simple.

With that in mind, ask yourself what the Navy’s current priorities are.  They’re gender norming, transgender equality, gender integration, unisex uniforms, sexual assault, tattoos, green energy, diversity quotas, removing “man” from job titles, sensitivity training, etc.  Look at the number of departments, people, paperwork, and training sessions that are devoted to these priorities.

The Navy has completely lost its focus on warfighting and that leads us to the next reason.

Peace.  The worst condition for any military force is peace.  Peace is when you no longer are forced to run everything through the unforgiving and uncaring crucible of survival of the fittest.  In peacetime, the crude, rough, vulgar, impolite, warriors – the killers who excel in combat – are systematically weeded out.  The very people who should be the backbone of a warfighting organization become the new enemy.  They’re uncouth and an embarrassment and the peacetime hierarchy ruthlessly terminates their service.

In peacetime, new weapon systems are no longer subjected the impartial test of combat.  Instead, systems get adopted not because they are efficient killing systems but because they are efficient jobs programs, or they enjoy support from some influential Congressman, or they’re a pet project of some highly ranked admiral.

In peacetime, all the hard learned and blood-earned lessons and procedures are abandoned or ignored because there is no penalty for failing to follow them.  No one is going to shoot at you if you didn’t have time to service your weapon.

Peace is the enemy of the Navy.  Peace is the driving force for incompetence.

There you have it.  The Navy has arrived at this sorry state of affairs due to misplaced priorities and the extended peace that the Navy has lived with.

The Navy needs to find those few individuals, like ComNavOps, who have not forgotten why the Navy exists and have the courage to insist that the Navy behave like a warfighting machine and then promote them and follow them.  Will that happen?  No, of course not.  It will take another war to wake the Navy from its long peaceful slumber.  Unfortunately, a lot of sailors will pay for that slumber with their lives.


  1. I would say "peace" is a selective term. Few naval aviators or SEALs would agree that the last 15 years have been peaceful.

    The problem is largely with the surface community, who have lost sight of what war at sea looks like.

    1. You are correct to a certain extent. Naval aviators have some, small, idea of what war is. Let's be real, though. No one is shooting back at them to any great extent. They're not flying through an electromagnetically challenged environment. They have no enemy aircraft to face. That's not war, that's a slightly enhanced live fire exercise.

      SEALs may be a different story but they're not the ones I'm talking about.

    2. The Navy Department (USN/USMC) is highly unfocussed on high end warfare.

      The USN is highly fractured amongst the "warfare specialties" (aviation, submarine, surface) which are bureaucratic bastions that exist to enhance their community at the expense of others.

      An infantry centric "middleweight force" USMC is not ready to take on a peer competitor with armored forces, integrated air defenses, and heavy rocket and tube artillery forces.

      Ship procurement is a political food fight inside and outside DoN.


    3. I bet if you crunch the numbers, Naval aviators have a higher chance of getting killed, per capita, than your typical dough boy.
      Most military casualties occur during training, not during actual combat, so, while they may not be experiencing the dangers of a near peer event, they're still in harms way. Still undergo the stresses of combat (PTSD, etc)...

    4. Your average citizen has a statistical chance of being killed in a car crash or dying from cancer. Does that mean they're in harm's way and undergoing the stress of combat? Of course not. The fact that a pilot could die while conducting routine training no more qualifies as combat than a citizen killed commuting to work or a Navy clerk who is tragically killed in a freak filing cabinet accident.

      It's crystal clear what I meant. This kind of semantic debate is unworthy of this blog or the level of quality I expect from my readers. Please don't engage in it.

    5. was my reply deleted because it was inconveniently correct?

    6. It was deleted because you seem to want to debate semantics and I have no interest in doing so and asked you not to do so. If you want to argue for the sake of arguing, there are many other sites that you might be more comfortable with. I'm interested in discussions in which both I and my readers can learn something.

      You have contributed worthwhile comments in the past and, I hope, will again in the future. These comments were not among those. Best wishes.

  2. Oh now look. I see where you are coming from. And your statements of course have some credence, obviously. Yes, undoubtedly.

    But stepping back from this ultimate statement. A lot of what we are seeing is just systematic sloppiness. Nowhere near the life and death combat on which your statements are clearly focussed.

    Correct discipline and correct procedures. Drill conducted accurately and snappily. Skills learned and practiced again and again until they are second nature. Credit and Punishment allocated based on merit. Responsibility and Duty taken seriously.

    These are all things that should be there in peace time as strongly as war time. These are day to day values and should be policed and enforced 100% of the time, from the lowest rating to the highest Admiral.

    The Navy isnt 100% broken, but there is a creeping apathy. It’s clearly been around for a while. And the answer isn’t a good war. It’s to clean house and from bottom to top put people in place that keep the highest standards and bust anyone who falls the tiniest bit out of line.

    This is an institutional man management issue. Nothing more. But it is getting out of control.

    “If you want peace, prepare for war”

    Whilst you not drilling 100% your missing 1 part of your “believable, capable deterrent”.

    And if this happens, we will get our war, whether we want it or not.

    Shape up or ship out.

    1. Do you believe there is even the slightest realistic chance of a top to bottom housecleaning? Of course not! Hence, my statement that only a war will pull us out of this sorry state.

      I occasionally indulge in zero percent solutions. Nothing wrong with that but don't disagree with the war statement and counter by offering a zero percent solution. The war solution is true and has some degree of likelihood. If you want to counter the war solution then offer an alternative that has some chance of implementation.

      Reread your own comment. You started by agreeing completely with my assessment and then finished by offering a solution that has a zero percent chance of happening.

    2. Whilst you as the American people allow this. It will continue.

      Not all the USN are bad. We see isolated incidents. But the bulk are good people.

      Sites like this help put the pressure on. But its got to be a culture change.

      Accepting that it cant be changed makes you complicit.

      The British people would never accept lethal force being wielded by a person or organisation that doest hold itself to this standard.

      It one of the things i find so confusing. Our people are so so similar. But you just the tinyest bit off. And your capable of SO MUCH MORE.

      The solution starts today now. And everyday. But it must be every american. Personal responcibility. Cos your warfighters are just your citizens. And this shit starts and ends with the people.

      Blaming it on policy and peace is a get out. And excuse. Its not acceptable.


      Ooops sorry went off there a bit.

      You know we love you guys right !?

  3. I'd say corruption is a big third one.

    That happens in war too. There have been plenty of corrupt individuals in war who knowingly do very unethical deeds to advance their careers or their wallets.

  4. I'll second that. LM's lobbying, and 48 state build plan for the F-35 for me is really uncomfortably close to colluding with Congress. I may be way out on a limb, I know its not illegal, but damn is it unseemly.

  5. The most glaring example of incompetence is our Navy homeporting ships at Sasebo. You can read the details here:

    This is just idiotic. Remember Pearl Harbor, but that was much much further away. These ships are just opening day targets should war break out. They'll all be sunk by H+1.

    1. That is a nearly worthless piece of writing, devoid of relevant data and analysis. The author's conclusion may be valid but his logic and data don't support it. Don't parrot someone else's writing - make your own analysis and reach your own conclusions.

      Here's some example questions that the author doesn't address.

      -How many ships/aircraft/personnel are actually based there now? He only "documents" 4 amphibious ships and 4 MCM - hardly a major presence - and his data is not current.

      - He does not describe defensive capabilities, at all.

      - He fails to grasp the concept that wars do not happen without warning.

      - He fails to address the strategic issue of the base forcing China to make a very bad choice: it can attack and surely bring the Japanese into a war against them or not attack and allow a local base to be used against them. Neither choice is good.

      And so on. As I said, a nearly worthless piece of writing. It's unfortunate because the topic is good and could have been a standout.

    2. The information is current if you believe the Navy's own Sasebo website:

      U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo is currently home to USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), USS Ashland (LSD 48), USS Germantown (LSD 42), USS Green Bay (LPD 20), USS Warrior (MCM 10), USS Patriot (MCM 7), USS Pioneer (MCM 9), USS Chief (MCM 14) and some 5,900 military members and their families as part of the Forward Deployed Naval Forces.

      I'd think if those were sunk in the first hour along with a few thousand dead that would be considered a major disaster, from a "minor presence".

      I recall your warning that war with China may occur any day. You advocate pushing back China's island building, and suggested that if we launched a swarm of drones and they opened fire, so what if fighting breaks out. Are the Chinese required to give us 30 days warning before they attack Sasebo?

      And what is there was warning? Would the ships flee the port and leave the families behind? Why are they there?

      I see no need to describe the defensive capabilities of four amphibs and four minesweepers. I think we all know what would happen if 800 Chinese fighter-bombers attacked Sasebo.

      Finally, I think every historian in the USA would laugh at the idea that " He fails to grasp the concept that wars do not happen without warning." Please explain how we were not surprised at Pearl harbor.

    3. Where to begin?

      4 amphibs constitute about 2% of our combat naval force. MCM's are not counted as combat vessels but also constitute about 2% of the overall force. No one wants to lose any ships but this force hardly qualifies as a major loss.

      In order to conduct a war, equipment, supplies, personnel, etc. must be moved to advantageous staging positions. In this day of satellites and all kinds of other monitoring, it is not possible to do so without plenty of warning. It takes weeks or months to man up, break out supplies, and reposition. Of course, the enemy could choose to launch a war from peacetime positions but then they would be equally out of position as us and equally ill-prepared to conduct a war.

      Wars do not just spontaneously occur. Canada is not going to suddenly, with absolutely no warning or greivances, attack the US tomorrow. Wars inevitably occur only after prolonged periods of tensions, political maneuvering, accusations, grievances, etc., all, eventually, leading to war.

      We were not at all surprised about Pearl Harbor. We knew Japan would attack. It was a long known and foregone conclusion. We knew almost to the day when they would attack. We had been repositioning equipment and personnel for months. What we failed to do was act on our knowledge by taking sufficient defensive measures. Knowledge does not necessarily equate to wisdom. Admiral Halsey had issued his first Battle Order to the Enterprise task force a week or so BEFORE Pearl Harbor. He knew we were about to begin war with Japan. The commanders at Pearl Harbor had the same intel and opted not to act. There was no surprise.

      800 fighter-bombers assigned to attack 4 amphibs!!! I got a chuckle out of that one.

      I'm talking about the defensive capabilities of the base and surrounding areas. Missile defenses, AAW, radars, etc. versus a REALISTIC attack - not 800 fighter-bombers. Could the base and surrounding area fight off an attack? If so, there's no need to vacate the base. If not, what would be the cost to the Chinese? It might be worth having the battle if we could inflict enough damage in return for 4 ships.

      Please apply realistic analysis to this. As I said, the author may have a valid point but his article did not prove it.

      Finally, neither you nor the author addressed the main point which is the strategic value of the base as regards the poor choice the Chinese would have to make about attacking it.

      I urge you to do an objective analysis rather than leap straight into an argument. There are other sites you can go to if you just want to argue. This is not one of those.

    4. I believe is rightly critical of the majority of our overseas bases/installations: they are ineffective, vulnerable, unnecessary, and a serious drain on resources.


    5. GAB, care to take a stab at the strategic value of the base in this specific example or of such bases in general?

      To repeat, the US base (or any base in Japan) presents the Chinese with a very difficult (almost no-win) choice: attack it an bring Japan into a war with the US or leave it and allow the US a prime forward operating base.

      Thus, the mere existence of the base has a certain strategic value.


    6. To repeat, the US base (or any base in Japan) presents the Chinese with a very difficult (almost no-win) choice: attack it an bring Japan into a war with the US or leave it and allow the US a prime forward operating base.


      The reverse is also true, those bases also tie the USA to Japanese foreign policy, local Japanese politics, and in case of war, to Japanese military policy!

      Are we ready to get swept up into WWIII in the event our ally does something stupid (e.g. the mayor of Ishigaki)? After all, there is no historical shortage of countries being dragged into devastating wars because of overzealous or incompetent allies. The Germans described their alliance with Austria in WWI as “… being shackled to a corpse.”

      If it came down to a fight, militarily, it might be a advantageous to see the PLA bogged down in the Japanese home islands, while we stuck to a naval and air war. Our bases (with dependents) and our alliance, would compel us to join the ground fighting.

      We have to be very, very careful in understanding and in evaluating the costs and benefits to such an alliance. We rarely conduct such analysis, and it is even rarer that we terminate alliances when no longer advantageous. I do not believe we have a real sense of the implications of our actions. Many Asians have a serious grievances with Japan due to her imperial past – that costs us in relations with other nations. Even the economic costs of bases are rarely codified.

      Of course there are also potential advantages to such a relationship, but “prime forward operating base” smacks too much of the “intervene everywhere” approach that has dominated U.S. foreign policy.


  6. It's easy to blame the sailors as craven, but Ill guess this is merely a symptom of somthing rotten at the top of the US Navy.

    On another point; US sailors can't navigate with or without sophisticaded technology?I allways assumed the US military were a professional and well trained force. Don't they teach basic soldier skills (like navigation)?

    1. You're quite correct that this is merely a symptom of rot throughout the leadership of the Navy.

      The US military has become quite dependent on technology and has lost basic skills like navigation and map reading. We have seen multiple examples of disasters when GPS fails. When war comes, we'll lose lots of our technological crutches and will rue the loss of basic skills.

      Good comment.

  7. Have you read Norman F Dixon's "On the psychology of military incompetence"? Andrew Gordon's "The Rules of the Game" also has a lot of good stuff on the detailed causes of decay in military cultures. Both these books are about past decays, which had different specific symptoms, but those are a symptom of the times, while the causes change much less.

    1. I've looked at Dixon's writing. It's interesting but he tends to wander off into Freudian psycho-babble instead of focusing on simple and basic causes. For explanations of military incompetence, I'm more influenced by Darwin (war being the evolutionary pressure that shapes the military) and Sherlock Holmes (the simplest explanation that fits the facts is invariably the correct one) than any complex and highly dubious psychoanalysis.

      I'm not familiar with Gordon. I'll see if I can find it.


  8. Reading your posts on the blog and gaining awareness of how FUBAR the USN is right now, is the Russian or Chinese navy doing any better now? With the failings of AEGIS and the destroyers like Arleigh Burke, wouldn't the likes of Kirov, Sovremenny, and Udaloy look better? It would give me an idea of who are the current leaders in Naval capability now if it isn't the US.

    1. You've brought up one of the dangers of reading this blog without a clear understanding of the US Navy and those of other countries. I highlight the US Navy failings in an attempt to improve them but a casual reader could easily get the impression that there is nothing right about the Navy and that is not correct. Despite the problems we have with stealth, networking, warship design, leadership, etc. there is no other country that is better, AT THE MOMENT. That state of affairs is changing quickly, however.

      Russia is technologically far behind the state of the art and trying desperately to catch up within the context of a badly broken economy.

      China is behind technologically, though not by a great deal. They lack experience in manufacturing and operating a navy though, again, they are learning quickly. Their leadership model is flawed in that in discourages individuality and initiative.

      The Kirov, Sovremenny, and Udaloy classes were built in the Cold War and are badly outdated although aspects of their capabilities are still reasonably formidable. Likewise, their submarine fleet is badly underfunded, inexperienced, poorly maintained, and largely obsolete.

      My criticisms of the US Navy don't mean that it is the worst navy in the world. It means that it isn't the best it could be. There's a huge difference and casual readers need to keep that in mind.

    2. I agree with your first point; America has the most lavishly funded armed forces on earth and arent all bad by far.

      on your point about Russia, I'm not so sure; they seem to grasp that strategy and doctrine must come before development/procurment. With Russian focus on electronic warfare, anti air warfare and large armored formations (with massive artillery support) they seem to cancel western strengths.

      What if western light forces were forced to fight Russian heavy metal without air support? I hope I'm wrong, but our technology optimism have me quite worried

      On China I don't know enogh to comment.

    3. The question was about the Russian navy and some specific ship classes and I answered. Their land forces are quite a bit more capable and would prove quite challenging. However, they still suffer from traditional problems like a poorly educated citizenry to draw from and questionable inherent motivation among other issues.

      Why would we fight without air support? Air support is a cornerstone of US doctrine.

    4. The Russian navy seems to focus on the Baltic and Black seas. With some expeditionary capabilities, but the days of Russian subs threatning the Atlantic seems to be over.
      I don't think NATO would fight Russia without airsupport willingly. If Russian surface to air weapons are as good as they claim (most likely they aren't) and the F-35 is as bad as some claim, then western reliance on air superiority would be dangerous.

  9. This could have been posted here or on your post about the capture of your boats by the Iranians. I think the 2 points are intertwined. The lack of fighting spirit for lack of a better term doesn't only afflict the USN it has also afflicted the RN. The sight of RN personnel a couple of years ago blubbing away once captured was truly sickening and worrying. Is it the ROEs at fault, or the corporate culture that afflicts both services? I wonder whether Capt Eric Brown RN would be turning in his grave?


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