Monday, August 03, 2020

Are we living in the 8:20 of American Seapower Dominance?

In a recent article unrelated to all things maritime, Rod Dreher quoted an anonymized teacher, a “Mr. Smith” who stated,
We have been living, he said, in a condition “like the eight minutes twenty seconds between when the sun dies and we experience it.” He’s talking about the time it takes for light from the sun to reach earth. If the sun suddenly went out, it would take eight minutes and twenty seconds for people on earth to realize it, because that’s how long it will take for the sun’s final rays to arrive here.
When I read this, what immediately came to mind was an article that bothered me since the moment I first read it, the David Ignatius interview at the end of last week with the CNO, Admiral Michael M. Gilday, USN.

Everyone knows the US Navy has not been over-performing the last two decades. We continue to suffer under the unrecoverable sunk cost of the Age of Tranformationalism that begat the sub-optimal drains of LCS, DDG-1000, and the Tiffany good-enoughs of LPD-17 and Ford Class CVN. The dry-hole fiasco born of ill-discipline that was the aborted CG(X) will haunt us well in to the 2030s. No suitable organic tanking, no deep strike. The list goes on and on – regulars here know it.

We think we’ve had bad press, and we have, but we are lucky this is was not worse. Our nation for 19 years decided to invest its blood and treasure in land wars in Asia, distracting the natural focus of a maritime power like the USA on the performance of its Navy. Fat Leonard and the horrible summer of 2017 were bad. The recent burning of BHR in San Diego not quite as bad. Other issues abound.

We also have good stories, important stories, and we owe the American public an opportunity to see that they have a Navy of strong technical expertise, superior deployed leadership, and a capability second to none to guarantee the free flow of goods at market prices through the global maritime commons. The American public should have confidence that their inheritance is in good hands and will continue to protect their interests.

How do we do that? There are a lot of ways, but I don’t think we are getting off to a solid start. Why do we have an inability to do this? Why do we have an inability to move forward?

After an extended period of minimal presence in the public spotlight, we have the Ignatius interview. Help me find the good here, because I can’t;
Gilday discussed the Navy’s problems with me during a frank, hour-long interview last week, initiated at his request. When I asked for his “theory of the case” about what’s wrong, he focused on two areas. The first was professional competency, which was demonstrably flawed in two 2017 ship collisions and in Crozier’s ham-handed handling of the Theodore Roosevelt. The second involved character lapses, evident in SEAL discipline cases and the “Fat Leonard” corruption scandal involving the Pacific fleet.
You guessed it – most of this is simply picking at the failures of the past, and not doing it well – by Ignatius or the CNO.

The CNO asked for this interview with the WaPo. As such, he was hoping to get in front of the major political players in DC and lower levels of the traditional news media that feed off what the WaPo produces. This is not a minor attempt … and IMAO it has backfired.

Read it all, but here’s a few more pull quotes to ruin your Monday;
“After the two collisions in 2017, we asked: ‘Are we building the right values? What can we do better than in the past?’ ” Gilday told me. The Navy revamped its training and tried to inculcate what Gilday describes as “fearless communication” up the chain of command. The goal: “We need a tougher, more resilient sailor than what we saw in those two collisions.”
No. Not just “no,” but “hell no!”

That is not what I saw. That is not what anyone saw. The damage control efforts on the FITZ and MCCAIN were exceptional. The Sailors we saw there were as tough and resilient as any Sailors our Navy has produced. Full stop.

What we need are better leaders – leaders that ensure ships have the depot level maintenance support they require so they don’t have to do other people’s work on top of their own. They need a personnel system that will ensure ships have the proper manning levels … and not just bodies, but qualified Sailors for the equipment that they will operate. We need a culture that does not hide CASREPS, but demands them and aggressively works to resolve them – especially in our forward deployed units. We need training and inspections for personnel and ships as another check to insure that a local unit level failure does not become a national strategic level negative effect.

Sailors are not our problem – their leaders are the problem.

So, we have this precious column space at WaPo … and what is it used for again?
The Navy’s troubles continued, compounded by political interference. Commanders knew a decade ago that the Navy SEALs had become too famous for their own good, and that discipline was eroding. The SEALs were deployed almost constantly in the brutal killing zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, and senior officers tried to weed out those who committed ethical violations. But the force was exhausted and overwhelmed.

The Crozier incident was one more fireball for the Navy. Crozier was relieved in April after he sent a desperate email about the situation on board his ship to fellow Navy aviators, without first informing the commander of the Theodore Roosevelt’s strike group, his immediate superior.
…and so on. Yes, I know – this is a political year … but here we are.

Then things just get strange;
What’s the best way to fix a Navy that has been so damaged by this series of broadsides? Harlan Ulman, a former Navy officer and prominent commentator, wrote recently that the Navy needs a leader like Fleet Adm. Ernest J. King, the famously hard-nosed admiral who ran the Navy during World War II. But the days of the profane, sometimes belligerent King have vanished. A better World War II model would be Adm. Chester Nimitz, a quiet, cerebral officer who commanded the Navy in the Pacific and took it from the aftermath of the disaster at Pearl Harbor to victory.
We are in the post-National Security Act of 1947 and the mid-1980s Goldwater-Nichols Act world. Even if we had a King or Nimitz, they couldn’t be “King” or “Nimitz.”

We go from strange to a bizarre world of the non-self-aware;
Can Gilday be the leader the Navy needs? He’s off to a rocky start, but he has time to recover if he takes firm command now. He has the Navy version of a perfect résumé, having worked four times for Adm. Mike Mullen, the former CNO and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gilday also worked closely with Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., a former Joint Chiefs chairman, who named Gilday head of the joint staff and recommended him as CNO. Despite misgivings from some top admirals, Gilday was appointed by Richard Spencer, a widely respected Navy secretary who was ousted by Trump as part of the Gallagher affair.
So many of the latent causes of the miasma our Navy is in can be directly traced to Admiral Mullen’s tenure as CNO & CJCS. It was his rack-and-stack of priorities that set the foundation of what followed. I cannot think of a worse example. Also, Richard Spencer tried hard and is respected for his efforts – but the results are a different thing altogether.

So, there we are. For the record, I have zero beef with the CNO. He is a good man in a tough job trying to do his best … but this interview and a few other recent decisions tell me he needs to look hard at his staff and the advice he is getting. He is the boss, so that only goes so far – but he is also only a man. A good man needs a great staff to be an effective man.

We’ll call this a Mulligan. Put Ignatius in the time out chair and review why we went with him … and use opposite criteria next time.

I can’t help wondering that we are running out of Mulligans. No one owes us our mastery of the world’s oceans we’ve enjoyed since WWII, and to an even greater degree since 1991.

Each generation of civilian and uniformed leaders must execute superior stewardship of their inheritance, improve on it, and give the next generation a better baseline than the previous generation received. This is the only way a civilization continues to prosper, and we are failing.

Over the last two decades, our relative power has decreased. This relative decay accelerated by distracted leadership and clumsy program management. One aggregate cohort failure layered on top of another.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific a new maritime power grows. Already their extensive and expanding shipyards are set to build a fleet with regional superiority of numbers, if not capability. Global presence of equal stature is just a few years to a decade behind that.

Yet, there is the great United States Navy – poised to go where, exactly?

Are we living in our 8:20 phase – our period of global maritime dominance is gone; we just don’t know it yet?

As a final note, if you missed Sunday’s Midrats with Bryan McGrath, we started to discuss this article in the second half of the show.

No comments: