Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Grasping at the Fading Light

It's taken a week, but I think I've finally found a way to address a slightly bizarre article by Wyatt Olson in S&S on the soon to be outgoing SECNAV. It isn't the writing that is bizarre, it is the mess of the subject at hand, Ray Mabus.

After originally being a fan, I soured on Mabus when he started down the "Great Green Fleet" boondoggle, and I've never really seen a reason to come back. I wish I were wrong about him, but after going back to Olson's article, I've come to the conclusion that I was correct in keeping a tilted head. 

Mabus isn't "bad" as SECNAV, it is just that in so many things, his personal biases lead him to be wrong. If he focused on what a SECNAV should so, I think he would be an exceptionally solid SECNAV - but look at the strange items he invested professional capital on to satisfy personal agenda items. What a waste.

First, let's start with what Mabus has done well.
On the top of his to-do list was increasing the number of ships being built for the Navy, a goal Mabus has achieved.

“In 2001, the U.S. Navy had 316 ships,” Mabus said. “By 2008, seven years later, after one of the big military buildups in our history, we were down to 278 ships.” With the contracts in the pipeline, the Navy is on track to possess 308 ships by 2021, he said.
Looking to the previous administration, as his Chief of Staff put it;
Not blaming, just facts. 41 ships put under contract 01-08. 86 under contract 09-16.
One could push back a bit about being involved in two resource stretching land wars in Asia from 01-08, but the numbers are what they are. Mabus's fleet building was done with the opposition party in control of Congress for most of his years in office - so good on him and his team there.

Now, let's get to the part of Olson's review that led me to further believe in Mabus's detachment from what his other policies actually are and their consumption of professional capital. Just a few examples;
Mabus contends that the underlying motive for his changes has been to make sailors and Marines better warfighters.
Warfighters. OK. When someone uses, "warfigher" in this way; shields up.
Mabus also touts the success of moving the Navy and Marine Corps away from fossil fuels to renewables. He launched the Great Green Fleet initiative soon after becoming secretary, and earlier this year the first aircraft carrier group was deployed using a 50-50 blend of fossil and biofuels.

As of last year, Navy and Marine Corps bases were getting half their energy from renewable sources, such as solar, wind and geothermal, Mabus said. Renewables account for about 35 percent of the energy the Navy uses at sea – half of which is nuclear.

“We’re better warfighters today because of it,” he said. “We’re more expeditionary because of it. We’re less vulnerable because of it.”
Experiments are good, but paying exorbitant amounts of money for bespoke blends to try some Soviet style industrial policy for renewable energy (covered here over the years), all during the period that fracking turned the USA in to a net exporter of fuel? No. Then there is the abuse of the word "warfighter" - something we'll see again. There is zero evidence anything involving fuel from beef fat helped in the Long War. Zip, zero, nada.
When it comes to naming ships, Mabus said, “I know I’m not going to please everybody. But my job, as I see it, is to make sure that those ships connect to the American people.

“If you live in Wichita, you don’t have much connection to the Navy normally. But now that there’s a USS Wichita, there’s that connection.”
In defending his strange ship naming policies - I have to throw a flag here. Wichita is in Kansas. When you look where the Navy recruits from, on a per capita basis Kansas comes in at #27 of 54 USA States and territories measured. Kansas has more Navy to it than the SECNAV's home state Mississippi (#28), and some States where one would think the Navy's presence would have some impact on recruiting; New Hampshire (#46), Connecticut (#48), and Rhode Island (#50).

Is the SECNAV ill-informed or just grasping for excuses and distractions unmoored by facts in order to avoid discussing why he really picked the names he did? Hard to tell, but he owes our Sailors from Kansas an apology.

He should have stopped there.
Mabus’s predecessor instituted a namesake convention based on famous American explorers and pioneers for a new class of supply ships called T-AKEs. Mabus named ships after civil rights leaders Medgar Evers and Cesar Chavez because he regards them as pioneers.

“I got the name Cesar Chavez from the shipyard,” he said. “They were the ones who recommended it because 85 percent of the shipyard workers in San Diego are Hispanic.”
Yeah, read that again.

What does one do with this? Is this patronizing or just plain insulting? 

What an assumption he makes here wrapped in an acceptance and promotion of sectarian based naming of ships. I guess that was more important than the consideration that Chavez was openly negative about his time in the Navy and the Navy in general.

As for the numbers, here's a fun fact; San Diego is only 28.8% "Hispanic." Under Mabus's leadership, the Navy has spent tens of millions of dollars bleating on about making sure our Navy "looks like America" - yet - well - I'll let you take it from there, this isn't Thursday.

There is more in the article to chew on, but here is a quote to help you look forward;
How much of Mabus’ legacy, including contracting, renewable energy and gender equality, will survive the incoming administration is an open question since Republicans won control of Congress and the White House in the Nov. 8 election.

“It’s hard to roll back the stuff your predecessor did unless there’s some reason that it’s absolutely not working,” VanDiver said.

Of potential reversals, Mabus said, “If you go back, you make us a less effective warfighting force. I don’t know anybody who wants to do that.

“It shouldn’t be ideological. It shouldn’t be a matter of political correctness or anything like that. It’s what makes us better warfighters.”
That is whistling past the graveyard. That which can be created on the sand of personal whim can be removed via the same methods.

It is not that hard to roll things back, all it takes is will and leadership. Looking at who the team the Trump Administration is probably going to put together from, you will have a Navy team focused on 350 ships and little foolishness. 

There will be compromises that will need to be made, we'll have to dance with the programs we have in the first decade, and hard work will need to be done to get on that glidepath - but the focus will be on what a Navy is, not what social and political experiments can be done with it. 

To accelerate progress towards 350, the new team will require the stripping away of non-value added distractions and anything that slows efficiency down. As such, there will be ample opportunity to pack up some of the previous Administration's hobby horses and put them on the curve for pickup.

It will be a grand sight to see.

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