In June, 2017, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a giant cargo ship in the Pacific and seven sailors died. A few months later, the USS John S. McCain, another destroyer in the Navy’s heralded 7th Fleet, was struck by an oil tanker, and 10 more sailors were lost.
A thorough investigation by the Government Accounting Office uncovered that U.S. sailors often arrived at their assignments without adequate training and ended up on duty for an average of a ridiculous 108 hours per week. Also, regular budget cuts in recent years have led to ship maintenance being either deferred or eliminated, and to a reduction in the number of ships. Unfortunately, Navy management demanded the same coverage, so remaining ships were out at sea a much higher percent of time.
After the two accidents, the U.S. Navy leaders pledged real change; more sailors for their ships, and better training for sailors and officers, old and broken equipment would be fixed, and the Navy’s top command would stop forcing ships out to sea before they were ready.
By late Fall of 2017, no real changes were apparent to the troops, so a 3-star Admiral was sent to the massive and vitally important Navy base in San Diego and held a town hall session to insure the troops the Navy was serious about the “reforms.” He was faced with tough questions, and one brave ship commander asked “if a commander believes his ship is not ready, could he, as the Navy had promised, actually push back on orders to sail?”
The Admiral responded with anger: “If you can’t take your ship to sea and accomplish your mission with the resources you have, then we will find someone who will.” Not exactly a morale builder! Given today’s world of social media, that incident quickly spread throughout the Navy world almost instantly!
A week later, after realizing what a huge blunder he had made, the Admiral said, through a spokesperson, that he might have been misinterpreted, and that what he was trying to say is that “if a ship is not fit to sail, it would be replaced by another that would be.” Naturally his lack in sincerity (issuing through a spokesperson) and lameness of the explanation did nothing to repair the damage. Even worse, he was promoted to a 4-star Admiral and put in charge of the entire Indo-Pacific Command.
One reform the Navy promised was a state-of-the-art information system to track things like hours on duty and training completed. A year later, bound notebooks were issued to track these things by hand!
And if the Navy doesn’t have enough problems, very recently report of a massive internal study led by the Secretary of the Navy concluded that “The Navy and its industry partners are facing relentless cyber-attacks by a wide range of foes that are stealing sensitive national security data.” Clearly the Navy is busy focusing on traditional Navy warfare while losing the current global, cyber war.
There are communications and leadership blunders galore here: communicating threats as well as promises that can’t be delivered; not punishing, but instead promoting, top people who embrace old bad habits; and ignoring the future (cyber) and sticking to age-old Navy thinking.