Someone should say, “I told you this would happen!”

Because back in the early 2000’s there were plenty of folks who warned us bad things would happen to the US Navy. And now in 2017 and the nearby years before, those very bad things have happened. Especially the tragic incidents on the USS Jonh McCain and USS Fitzgerald.

170821-N-OU129-022
CHANGI NAVAL BASE, REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE – Damage to the portside is visible as the Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) steers towards Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore, following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC while underway east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore on Aug. 21. Significant damage to the hull resulted in flooding to nearby compartments, including crew berthing, machinery, and communications rooms. Damage control efforts by the crew halted further flooding. The incident will be investigated. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton/Released)

That is a frightening picture. Especially when you realize that there is a berthing compartment there and the Sailors who were in that compartment were probably sleeping when the collision occurred.  Just thinking about what happened is terrible to comprehend.

The Navy is, of course, examining the root causes of this, as well as the other mishaps. The process of throwing people under the bus has begun,  with the firing of VADM Joe Aucoin, former 7th fleet commander. If he got fired for this-I have no doubt the DESRON-15 commander already has his bags packed as well.

Blame will be assessed, punishment will be administered. But who will trace the root causes right back to the decisions that laid the foundations for them? I’m talking specifically about areas where the Navy made poor decisions in the late 90’s and early 2000’s that laid the foundations, I believe, for the tragedies today. They are:

A diminishment of the value of operational experience in the Officers Career path.  The Navy is trying to get officers to put too much into a bag that is too small. People make fun of SWO’s, but it is also important to recognize that the work they do is hard. Driving a ship well is hard, and is not a skill that is learned overnight. It comes over time-and is learned by doing, with proper supervision and mentorship, and time spent actually standing watch at sea. In aviation flight hours matter. It’s the same with sea time-and getting quality training while you are at sea. Trailing a carrier battle group doing OIF and counter ISIS strikes may not be it.

The decision to invade Iraq and send 5 carrier battle groups to support that effort was a disaster-that wrecked the deployment scheduled and whose effects are still being felt today. Yes, the Navy should be bigger ( I’ll get to that in a minute), but there really was no need to keep carriers and their escorts out for 11 months in one case and 7 in others just to get 5 air wings into OIF. There were other options available that would have better respected OPTEMPO. Add to that that the mission sets of the Navy have grown from the late 90’s. (BMD is a great example of a mission that did not exist 15 years ago.). The Navy’s failure to go to bat for 6 months portal to portal and a lack of a strong push to reduce the level of commitments in the Gulf and elsewhere is literally a crime.

And lets not even get into of a discussion of all the Sailors who were forced to waste time doing IA’s when they should have been ashore or in training for the real missions that Sailors are supposed to do. Shall we?

The failure to recognize that investments in a training infrastructure were actually good uses of the Navy’s money.  Getting rid of SWOS in its traditional form, solely to save money, was a mistake. The Navy is recognizing it-but not restoring the schools to their old levels. That was a mistake.

And, the forever wars have taken their toll. In this regard, the War in Iraq was a huge mistake. For many reasons, but specifically here the toll it took in terms of OPTEMPO, combined with the Navy’s lunatic decisions to get rid of good ships with life left in them-and replace them with Little Crappy Ships. As the USNI noted:

In fact, because the fleet is being pushed so hard, the Navy might be using its time at sea to train during operational deployments because there is no other option, Jerry Hendrix, director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security, told The National Interest.

“Something has to give, and right now, it’s training,” Hendrix said.

“A year ago, or two years ago, it was maintenance, but now it’s training. We’re probably trying to make up training while we’re underway during the deployment because there just isn’t enough room in the schedule to get it all done.”

It is simply not sustainable to have a 275-ship Navy that has 100 ships underway at any given time. The Navy needs to expand its numbers with smaller, cheaper surface combatants such a new multi-mission frigate that the can relieve high-end warships such as DDGs from mundane missions such as forward presence. With frigates relieving the DDGs from those roles, cruisers and destroyers can focus on high-end missions such as missile defense.

“We need those 50 to 75 frigates—not to mention more fast attack submarines—to make up those gaps,” Hendrix said.

And there is also the specter of physical exhaustion as well:

The decisions that got us here were made in the early 2000’s for the most part, and from the viewpoint of 2017, it’s clear many of the decisions were wrong. Instead of the fleet wide waste of effort in regionalization, pointless reorganizations, and failed acquisitions of weapons systems and aircraft-the fleet lost sight of the fact -egged on by misguided “transformationalists”,  that 9-11 or no, the traditional mission of a Navy had not changed. The need for projecting power ashore, controlling the sea lanes, providing presence, and being proficient in ASW, ASUW and AAW had not gone away. Russia and China are providing examples of that every day.

Yes, the Navy needs to be bigger. But it also needs to be less committed, well trained, and well equipped. The decisions of the early 2000’s; cost wise readiness instead of readiness at all costs, had their consequences.

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It's not easy being me-but the adventures I get to have- make it totally worth it. "One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny."- Bertrand Russell

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