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Still Lost at Sea
By Peter O’Brien

In the Pentagon, fascinated as it is with "joint" warfare, few people seem to understand questions of naval policy or naval theory, but we are a maritime nation. That has a host of implications, but the most immediate is that it means our true first line of security is our navy. We need a great one, one we can rely on to do what is necessary, when necessary. And that begins with having superior leadership.

Unfor tunately, there's a good deal of evidence to suggest that our leadership is probably the Navy's great weakness. Consider several examples:

Following two collisions at sea (in 2017) the Navy ordered a review of the ships and crews involved, as well as those echelons of command responsible for training, equipping, and maintaining those ships. Two admirals were retired early, and several other senior officers saw their careers stall. Some changes were made to both crew training and ship maintenance, yet a recently leaked version of the investigation revealed the Navy's problems run much deeper.

But consider the words of the 3-star officer (Commander Naval Surface Forces) who is responsible for our surface ships:

"In 2018... I had to focus on man, train and equip, and I had to focus on making sure that, A) the surface force understood what our standards were, because we have really high standards in the surface force, and then B) that we were meeting those standards. Meeting standards doesn't win wars; meeting standards produces survivors. Now that we've done that in 2018, this drive for excellence is what produces winners.

"Wow! All fixed.

The admiral might want to look at how standards are set and maintained in the submarine force or in naval aviation; perhaps a quick look at how one earns wings, or perhaps a Navy Special Warfare pin if he's interested in real standards and producing winners.

This past week Indo-Pacom (what used to be "Pacific Command,") issued its annual posture statement, that included the statement that ...

"For more than 70 years the Indo-Pacific has been largely peaceful."

I guess that's true, if you don't count three decades of war in Vietnam, 6 decades of war / truce in Korea, the struggles in Indonesia in the 1960s, the Chinese cultural revolution and 75 million dead, the Philippines and the NPA, and the ASG, Malaysia insurgency, Burma, the Pakistan independence war and civil war (Bengladesh), Laos, Cambodia, East Timor, Jammu-Kashmir, etc. I presume the admiral was briefed on the most recent confrontation between India and Pakistan. By the way, both have nuclear weapons...

Admiral Davidson - the Indo- Pacom Commander - made headlines a few weeks ago in Congress when he noted that while two ships had been in collisions, that the Navy's other 280 ships had not. Is that the "excellence" his brother admiral is looking for?

Meanwhile, the procurement follies continue; the Navy recently suggested it's considering not refueling the nuclear carrier Truman (due to be refueled from 2024 to 2028) and instead using that money to continue work on another new aircraft carrier.

Apparently one in the hand is NOT worth two in the bush.

The Navy faces a host of problems: multiple, complex missions; endless procurement difficulties; a complex and expensive to maintain fleet; retention of quality personnel; training costs; etc. None of these problems are new; they have been, in fact, with the Navy since the transition from sail to steam, from wooden hulls to iron. Some of them - training of personnel in particular - have been problems faced by every navy since Themistocles squared off against Xerxes' fleet.

But all these problems are being "fertilized" by the same source - poor leadership. Admiral Davidson may have forgotten, perhaps he never knew, but he isn't being paid to lead a pretty good navy. This isn't some funny commercial about being good enough, about being one of the navies on the planet. Our nation needs - needs - an exceptional navy. He, and the other admirals, are being paid to make - and keep - the US Navy as the best navy in the world, bar none.

Sirach noted: "As the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace, so in his conversation is the test of a man."

The conversations of our admirals should give us all a great deal of concern. By all appearances many of them are simply not up to the task. The Navy needs to clean house, starting at the very top.


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