Thursday, October 6, 2016

CNO Richardson Disappoints

Long time readers know that ComNavOps was not a fan of recently retired CNO Greenert.  In fact, it’s fair to say that ComNavOps viewed him as the worst CNO in a long, long time.  Thus, it was with cautious optimism that ComNavOps greeted incoming CNO Richardson.  The optimism had less to do with any knowledge of Richardson’s accomplishments or abilities and more to do with the belief that a tree stump would do a better job leading the Navy and Richardson could only be an improvement, no matter how bad he might be.

Alas, those giddy, hopeful days have slowly given way to disbelief – disbelief that anyone else could rival Greenert’s incompetence and yet we seem to have a contender in the making. 

Consider all the problems facing the Navy and all the issues that the CNO could have chosen to take on and fix.  I won’t even list the problems.  You know the litany as well as I do.  So, what has CNO Richardson chosen to focus on?

His latest focus and apparent best use of his time is to ban the acronym “A2/AD” (anti-access/area denial). 

“We’re going to scale down the mention of A2AD,” Adm. John Richardson said Monday, referring to the acronym for anti-access area denial, a warfighting approach with, he said, a variety of definitions. 

“It’s a term bandied about pretty freely and lacks the precise definition it probably would benefit from, and that ambiguity sends a variety of signals,”
Richardson said. “Specifics matter.” (1)

The term does not have a variety of definitions.  In fact, as military acronyms go, it’s one of the most specific and well understood ones!  Richardson may not understand it but the rest of us do.  Recognize, though, that my complaint and derision stem not from the fact that he’s banned the acronym but that he considers that to be a priority issue over all the other challenges the Navy faces.  Is this the best use of his time?

What else has he accomplished in his short tenure?  Well, he appears to have prioritized the long standing system of Navy ratings as more important than warfighting, training, maintenance, etc.   His solution to the non-existent problem is to eliminate the time honored and specific rating system in favor of a generic rank label (2).  I’m not going to debate the merits of this but, rather, point out that if this is the best use of the CNO’s time and the most pressing issue he believes he faces then we truly have a contender for Greenert’s position of worst CNO in recent history.

Richardson also seems to have inherited his predecessor’s naïve views regarding China.  He has met with his Chinese counterpart five times already and, apparently, sees a rosy future in our relations with China.

“Despite rising tensions in the South China Sea, the US Navy’s top admiral says his Chinese counterparts “by and large” behave professionally, not provocatively, when the two nations meet at sea. And precisely because of those ensions, Adm. John Richardson said, it’s all the more important to emphasize cooperating with China, not confronting it.”

How’s that cooperation working out, there, Adm. Richardson?  We’ve ceded the entire South China Sea, gotten nothing in return, and are now watching the Chinese preparing to expand their territory still further, including annexing the disputed Scarborough Shoal which is also claimed by the Philippines.

“In March, U.S. Navy chief Admiral John Richardson said the United States had observed “survey type activity” around Scarborough that could be a precursor to reclamation. A month later, South China Morning Post added fuel to the fire by citing an anonymous source “close to the PLA Navy” as saying that China would carry out reclamation work at Scarborough “within this year.” (3)

Again, the point is not whether China ultimately will or will not seize the reef (they will) but, instead, the complete absence of a grasp on reality being demonstrated by RichardsonChina has already proven that they will use any means, including illegal acts, to further their expansionist agenda.  Richardson’s attempts at appeasement paint a picture of a man with no grasp of geopolitical or strategic reality or, indeed, any remembrance of very recent Chinese actions.

In addition to what Richardson has done (and disappointed in the doing) consider what he hasn't done.  He hasn't killed the LCS, he hasn't killed the Ford class, he hasn't laid out a solid F-35 CONOPS and acquisition strategy, he hasn't developed a viable amphibious assault doctrine in conjunction with the Marines, he hasn't prioritized warfighting, maintenance, training, and tactics.

Whether you look at what he's done or what he hasn't done, it's all the same: disappointing.

My cautious, feeble hopes for Richardson are gone.  The only hope I have left is that he proves to be only the second worst CNO I’ve seen rather than supplanting Greenert as the absolute worst.


(1)Defense News website, “CNO Bans ‘A2/AD’ As Jargon”, Christopher P. Cavas, 3-Oct-2016,

(2)USNI News website, “Navy Eliminating 241-Year-Old Rating System in New Enlisted Rank Overhaul”, Sam LaGrone, 29-Sep-2016,

(3)The Diplomat website, “China Building on Scarborough Shoal? Don't Hold Your Breath.”, Shannon Tiezzi, 9-Sep-2016,


  1. I'm not sure why you held out any hope that the new CNO would change course.

    'How’s that cooperation working out, there, Adm. Richardson? We’ve ceded the entire South China Sea, gotten nothing in return, and are now watching the Chinese preparing to expand their territory still further, including annexing the disputed Scarborough Shoal which is also claimed by the Philippines.'

    The unstated response is that everything is going according to plan. The US isn't going to fight for the SCS. They can take comfort in the new trade agreement though.

  2. Any CNO is likely to be the corrupt product of the existing system and not radically different than their predecessors.

    I think that hoping for a better CNO is not going to happen, barring a drastic change in priorities.

  3. "The term does not have a variety of definitions. In fact, as military acronyms go, it’s one of the most specific and well understood ones!"

    I have to disagree with your defense of A2/AD. It's just another buzzword that can mean almost anything--any technology or tactic the bad guys use to make it harder for us to do our mission. I see contractors come in all the time saying "I can solve your A2/AD problem!" When you ask them "which A2/AD problem?" you'll get an almost limitless number of answers. A2/AD can mean...

    - Long-range missiles that can shoot at us before we can shoot at them
    - Jamming of GPS
    - Destroying GPS satellites
    - Cyber warfare
    - Air defense systems
    - Jamming of communication networks
    - Submarines
    - Camouflage
    - Hypersonic missiles
    - Armed surveillance UAVs
    - Swarms of small boats
    - Lasers to dazzle satellites
    - Mines
    - and on and on

    I think the CNO is on the right path. This buzzword means all things to all people and throws too many things into the same bucket when they address very different problems.

    1. A2/AD is the concept of denying an enemy the ability to enter an area. The anti-access/denial may involve personnel, equipment, cyber, or anything else that accomplishes the goal. Your list proves that you actually understand the acronym quite clearly. Having noted your excellent understanding, I conclude that you're just engaging in semantics and argument at this point which is an unproductive path.

      The larger issue of the post was the use of CNO's time. Was this his highest priority issue? Was this the best use of his time?

  4. Unfortunately just like Churchill CNO is the only one who recognizes and tells the issue as it is. It's like the navy leadership team ask the wrong question fixes the wrong issue and buys ships the have no weapons capable of sinking a shop

    Maybe the CNO had reached someone by this blog and right the ship


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