Friday, May 22, 2020

Admiral James Kirk

This item caught my eye.  Rear Admiral James Kirk just took command of Carrier Strike Group 11 (CSG 11 – USS Nimitz).  This would be just another routine personnel move except that I recall that Kirk was the first captain of the PCU Zumwalt.  He assumed command of Zumwalt in Oct 2013 and served in the position until Dec 2016, which was shortly after the ship was fraudulently ‘commissioned’.

During his time in command, the Zumwalt conducted zero deployments, had no functioning combat system installed, conducted no workups or combat training, had no functioning gun, carried no surface to air missiles, had no combat capability whatsoever, and spent most of its time pier-side.

That was Kirk’s major command slot.  His only other command was a Perry class frigate.  His major command slot taught him nothing about naval combat or operations, gave him no large-ship shiphandling experience, and provided no experience operating as part of a naval task force.  In other words, he gained nothing from it related to naval combat experience or learning.

Now, Kirk is taking command of a carrier strike group.  He’s not a former pilot, he has no major command experience, and yet he’s taking command of Carrier Strike Group 11.  What jumps out from his resume as saying this … this is the guy best qualified to command a carrier strike group?

From his official Navy bio,

He has served in a variety of afloat and ashore billets as a Surface Warfare officer.  He has served afloat on destroyers, cruisers, frigates and staffs including USS Fife (DD 991), USS The Sullivans (DDG 68), USS Hué City (CG 66), USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), gas turbine inspector on the staff of Commander, Pacific Fleet, and operations officer for Carrier Strike Group Seven/Ronald Reagan Strike Group.  He has commanded both USS De Wert (FFG 45), and USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000).

Ashore, Kirk has served as executive assistant to the Navy’s Chief of Legislative Affairs, action officer on the Joint Staff J8, executive assistant to the director of Surface Warfare (OPNAV N96), and as deputy for Weapons and Sensors to the director of Surface Warfare (OPNAV N96). His most recent assignment was as deputy commander and chief of staff for Joint Warfare Center, Allied Command Transformation in Stavanger, Norway. (1)

His only direct carrier experience was as operations officer for the Reagan group.  So, one command as a frigate captain and a staff position for a carrier and he’s the best we can produce to command a carrier strike group?  He’s the guy who’s best qualified to lead a carrier group into combat?  Seriously?

Now, let’s be fair.  There’s nothing wrong with his resume.  It’s a workmanlike, average, unremarkable body of experience.  There’s nothing wrong with it nor is there anything special about it.  We only have around nine carrier strike group commands in the entire Navy.  Shouldn’t the admirals in command of those groups be really exceptional, standout people with amazing resumes?

This guy is clearly on track to become CNO one day if he can maintain his mistake free, uneventful career.

This brings up another point.  With an immense backlog of ships sitting idle, awaiting maintenance, we’re seeing more and more captains and crews serving out their terms without ever leaving dock or rarely so.  We’re producing captains and admirals who are rising through the ranks with some serious lack of sea time and operational experience.  We’ve got submarines that have been idle for years, awaiting maintenance.  We’ve got submarine commanders whose total experience is just sitting beside a dock.

Is it any wonder that our ships are running aground and colliding with giant cargo ships?  Is it any wonder that our admirals are incapable of formulating effective operations and tactics?  Is it any wonder that we come up with idiotic ideas like small, unmanned ships to replace Burkes?

We have got to change.  We have got to get our ships to sea and conducting high intensity, realistic wargames.  We have got to start developing combat commanders instead of dockside babysitters.



  1. Even more career promising is whoever is in charge now, this guy must be top notch, Zummy actually fired it's 30mm guns. You know he's on the fast track!!!

  2. He brings photon torpedos and phasers. And the shields are good too.

  3. This is just really, really sad. Do we not have any warriors left?

  4. With a name like that he could have run the Zumwalt aground three times and he still would have been promoted to Admiral, didn't you guys read 'Catch-22'?

  5. "High intensity war games" reminds me of my first multi-national exercise, with the Brits and the Iranians (we were still friends with them). From the outset, two things were very clear:
    1. We were slowing down our normal operating tempo to accommodate the Iranians, and
    2. The Brits were slowing down their normal operating tempo to accommodate us.

    We were all tremendously impressed with the professionalism of the RN, and also with the fun and zest with which they went about their business. I don't know if the RN are as professional today as they were then. The Falklands suggested that they still had a high degree of professionalism then, because they managed to bring it off with equipment that was pretty ill-suited to their purpose.

    We don't do realistic, high intensity war games. We clearly should, but we don't, and we haven't in quite some time. I remember on the T, one of our required exercises was to direct an amphibious landing. We did the exercise in Vieques. The three "waves" were our three LCVPs, with our gig in the water directing them. Not exactly a realistic landing. Of course, all three "waves" managed to hit the center of the beach precisely on time. How realistic was that? Not very.

  6. It seems me another problem with the resume is that it really seems to me few people can really be master of all those various positions, or even if competent will they really have their heart in them.

    Could not the navy extend the ability to say let somebody stay a captain if they are really just vary good pilots, of ship drivers or admins? Sure move them around, and allow continued raises to pay over time I dunno maybe just use the old RN system of seniority to say what captain is senior and should be in charge in some point of argument withing a particular realm.

  7. I was always under the impression (wrongly I can see now!) that pretty much the top carrier slots were always given to former this regular sea captains with no air experience getting a chance at top carrier leadership positions new or has it happened before? It's going to be a big learning curve for sure OR maybe carrier operations have turned into a regular operation that doesn't require the expertise? Maybe USN acknowledging being a pilot doesn't matter anymore for those leadership positions? Will be interesting to see how he does...

    1. Although conversely why would a career pilot be good at commanding and sailing a group of ships?

    2. Add its not like you have to have been a career pilot to be a senior Air traffic manager for the FAA. Might help but it seems on a quick look the path is not just though moving out of being a career civilian pilot.

    3. At one time, it was a law that carrier captains had to be former pilots. I don't know if that's still in effect.

    4. I guess still seems an odd decision.

    5. I don't think it has to be exclusively pilots being put in charge of carriers BUT then you better be very well rounded and understand thoroughly how all the parts fit in your carrier TF. My guess is pilots understand the air component and know how to deal with the stress?

      It's a nice resume but it's tough to see from the outside why he's ready to command at that level and has the expertise...

  8. I have proposed something here once before, and it never got very far, but I'd like to propose it again.

    I'd like to see us borrow something that the Royal Navy does--or at least did for a long time--and commercial lines do. Split line officers into two career paths--deck/warfare and engineering. The deck/warfare officers would get much more in-depth training in navigation, rules of the road, and tactics and strategy, and would be much more proficient bridge watch standers (maybe no more Fitzgeralds or McCains). The engineering types would get much more training in science, engineering, and actually running a ship plant. Engineering officers would run the ship, deck officers would fight the ship. The chief engineer and executive officer (First Engineer and First Lieutenant in Brit terminology) would both report directly to the CO. XO would have primacy in matters of discipline, but otherwise they are equal. Deck/warfare officers would stand OOD/JOOD/CIC watches, engineering officers would stand EOOW watches.

    Only the deck path would lead to command at sea. The engineering path would lead to major shore commands like bases and ship maintenance facilities. And senior engineering officers would be on a board to design and procure new ships. There is an article in this month's proceeding arguing that procurement types are contract administrators, not engineers, and that has led to some really bad ship designs getting approved.

    In case of aviators, they would have the ability to command at sea, and would be the choice to command aircraft carriers. They would get another command first, preferably a large amphib or supply ship, to give them experience handling deep-draft ships.

    I think we could get better watch standing, better understanding of strategy and tactics, and better operation of the engineering plant. And I would certainly hope that a bunch of engineers would have a better understanding of what might and might not work in ship design than do a bunch of contract administrators.

    And i would say nobody gets to make CNO, or even admiral, without having command at sea (for deck/warfare types) or command of a major shore installation (for engineering types).

  9. I can understand aviators to command carriers. Their main battery is their aircraft.

  10. Just wondering, do we have any idea who were the alternatives that lost out to Kirk?

  11. Well not completely OT since JK was

    "deputy for Weapons and Sensors to the director of Surface Warfare"

    Interesting development

    ex USCG relative was giddy sent the link and and blog links - sure the USCG could maybe get a real weapon again. If its effective and that compact.

    In any case I like the all company funding for the R and D.

    1. The torpedo appears to be a derivative of the now-cancelled anti-torpedo torpedo. That system failed for a variety of reasons, mainly sensor related.

      Keep firmly in mind that ALL systems sound great on paper and in early development. Most fail to mature and succeed. So, by all means, hope for this to succeed but keep a sense of objectivity!

      By the way, the article notes that the torp was developed from design data from a university and the Navy so NG didn't exactly bear all the R&D costs. Still, I give them credit for finishing the effort on their own.

  12. Looking back over his resume, my question is not so much how he got to be considered qualified for this job (he does have the Reagan CSG ops boss experience), but how did he get qualified for the Reagan CSG ops boss position, because there is absolutely nothing prior to that which would suggest he was qualified for that job. Seems to me that the qualifications for that job would require extensive aviation experience, which he simply did not and does not have.

    1. Good question. I wonder whether and how often Reagan operated while he was in that staff position?

    2. "Seems to me that the qualifications for that job would require extensive aviation experience"

      Neither Spruance nor Halsey were flyboys and seems to OK with CVs.

    3. "Neither Spruance nor Halsey were flyboys and seems to OK with CVs."

      Correction - Halsey was a pilot, earning his wings in May 1935 at age 52 after completing the full naval aviator training program.

      One should also note that the start of WWII was the dawn of naval carrier operations and there just weren't that many flag level pilots. Spruance, while not a pilot, commanded a cruiser division that operated with Enterprise during the first year. Few better ways to gain carrier operating experience than accompanying the Enterprise! Finally, Spruance was hand-picked by Halsey to be his replacement - judgement that turned out to be correct!

      Personally, I see no ironclad reason why non-aviators can't command carriers and carrier groups but I do see an ironclad requirement to be intimately familiar with carrier ops, however that experience is obtained. In Kirk's case, I see no great level of carrier operational experience, only a single staff assignment in a carrier group. The extent of his experience in that position is unknown but in today's extremely limited operational setting, it seems unlikely that he gained much useful experience related to carrier combat operations. A pilot would, at least, thoroughly understand carrier ops.

    4. Aircraft at the main battery of carriers. Ideally, you need somebody who understands both surface and air operations. Brits seem to do more interchanging of officers between air, surface, and sub operations. Sandy Woodward was a submariner, but has surface experience too, and was given command of an air and amphibious task force in the Falklands.

    5. "you need somebody who understands both surface and air operations. Brits seem to do more interchanging of officers between air, surface, and sub operations."

      The risk you run by interchanging is that you may not master and excel at any area. The key to making an interchange program work is exercises, exercises, and exercises. It does no good to do a tour in, say, a carrier that is tied up dockside for your entire tour. It does no good to do a surface warship tour when your tour encompasses nothing more than show-the-flag port calls. You need to do constant, non-stop combat exercises - something the US Navy adamantly refuses to do. Whether the RN does this, I have no idea.

    6. Exactly, and the Brits at least try to do that.

      When we operated with them in the 1970s, it was pretty clear that their training was a lot more realistic than ours was. We did an exercise with the Brits and the Iranians (who were our friends back then) where it was evident that 1) we were slowing down our regular tempo to accommodate the Iranians, and 2) the Brits were slowing down their regular tempo to accommodate us. Our feeling was that we had better equipment, but they had more professional sailors. Woodward's book about the Falklands makes it pretty clear that he felt that to be true, and that helped them greatly in the Falklands conflict.

      One other thing that I think helps them do it is that they separate line officers into deck/warfare and engineering. Engineering runs the ship, deck/warfare fights the ship. If you are focused on fighting, it is a lot easier to adapt from sub to surface to air environments.

    7. CDR, Don't get the idea the RN is perfect.
      We made redundancies as few years and now have personnel shortages in critical areas hence "borrowing" engineers from the US coast guard, and several tied up without crews. Meaning we don't have sufficient deployable assets to undertake all our commitments, hence remaining ships overworked, hence man power retention issues.......

    8. Clive,

      No illusions that the RN is perfect. I've read enough about the Falklands, and trekked around those islands enough, to understand that was truly a very nearly run thing. And if the Argies had only waited about six more months, they would be Las Malvinas today, because the RN wouldn't have had the ships needed to take them back.

      We do some things better than they do. Even with all the complaining that ComNavOps and others and I do, I think we have better equipment. Fords are disasters, but a Nimitz could run rings around 3 QEs/POWs. As I said above, we got the feeling back in the 70s that our kit was better than theirs, but their sailors were more professional than ours. I'm not sure they have continued to maintain the professionalism, so perhaps you could shed some light on that.

    9. I know that in recent years we have sent some US ships to FOST to get a thorough examination in proficiency. I think that may reflect two things, 1) that we realize the higher quality of RN training, and 2) that due to the redundancies you cite, the RN can't keep them busy.


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