The State of the Navy

Many people have been talking recently about a new report commissioned by several veteran congresspeople including Tom Cotton and my personal favorite vet in office, Dan Crenshaw:

Concern within the Navy runs so high that, when asked whether incidents such as the two destroyer collisions in the Pacific, the surrender of a small craft to the IRGC in the Arabian Gulf, the burning of the Bonhomme Richard and other incidents were part of a broader cultural or leadership problem in the Navy, 94% of interviewees responded “yes,” 3% said “no,” and 3% said “unsure.” And when asked if the incidents were directly connected, 55% said “yes,” 16% said “no,” and 29% said “unsure.” This sentiment, that the Navy is dangerously off course, was overwhelming.

I have serious doubts as to the veracity of this “study” for two reasons:

Polls are notorious for being easily manipulated. Pollsters can handily get the answers they’re looking for by wording the questions in the right way.

For example, a poll that asks:

“Do you support the loophole that allows criminals to purchase firearms from unlicensed dealers without undergoing a background check?”

Will get entirely different results from a poll asking the exact same people:

“Should private citizens be required to seek permission from the government before being permitted to sell their personally owned property to other private citizens?”

The questions are asking the same thing, just in dramatically different ways and will result in completely different data.

The second issue I have with the “study” is the number of personnel interviewed.

77 unique and formal interviews were conducted with Navy personnel via an extensive hour-long process to establish a common controlled approach to the questions at hand.

Seriously? 77 people to represent the outlook of the entire US Navy? There are many different “communities” within the Navy, and although they all fall under the basic framework of the UCMJ and Naval Regulations, the different communities have vastly different cultures. The surface navy vs submarine navy. Black shoes (ship’s company) vs Brown shoes (aviation community). Small boys (destroyers, frigates, cruisers) vs flattops (aircraft carriers). Then there are the specialties that have unique roles like the Seabees, the SEALs, EOD, etc. There are even cultural difference between the East Coast Navy and the West Coast Navy, between the individual fleets and between different ships, even different ships of the same class.

I wouldn’t trust a poll of 77 people to be representative of the crew of a fully manned aircraft carrier (approx 5,000 people), let alone the entire Navy of 330,000+.

So, I don’t think this “study” should be touted as the definitive statement of the attitude of all Sailors. This is very likely just another exercise in confirmation bias. Conducting interviews with too small a sample to be truly representative and wording interview questions in such a way as to receive a desired response.

With that said…

Just because the “study” framework and execution raises questions in my mind, doesn’t mean the attitude they were trying to confirm isn’t real. Whether the majority of sailors are aware of it, or will admit it, the Navy of today is in a very sad state.

This started well before I retired. The members of any military unit’s very survival depends on the skills and abilities of each of those members in their assigned duties. When such an organization begins to place more emphasis on retaining and promoting individuals based on any criteria other than merit, that organization’s effectiveness is going to suffer. Those policies were in place long before I joined the Navy in the early ’80’s and did nothing but get worse throughout my tenure. Those policies have done nothing but escalate in the 18 years since my retirement.

Additional policies include the softening of standards and requirements, the dumbing down of training and qualification standards, the elimination of longstanding trust building and team building traditions, the overt rewarding of timidity and risk aversion over boldness and warfighting ability, the incessant harping and “training” on social issues leaving little time for training designed to enhance mission capability. I could go on.

The result of decades of senior leadership promoted on the basis of their political acumen and ability to avoid controversy rather than any leadership or warfighting skills has ultimately resulted in a Navy where ships crash into civilian freighters, small boat crews who instantly surrender to third world rabble when challenged, ships in the shipyard burning to the waterline because the crew is unequipped and unable to perform the single most important function for the survival of any Navy vessel: damage control.

Not to mention an entire new class of highly technological, extremely expensive ships that serve no practical purpose, a new generation of Aircraft Carriers that can’t effectively launch or recover aircraft due to the incorporation of unproven, unreliable (also extremely expensive) technology, and a remaining fleet of overtasked, undermaintained ships that the crews struggle to keep marginally operational.

We may still have the largest, most technologically advanced Navy in the world (for now, China is rapidly gaining and will soon overtake us), and the most highly motivated, creative and dedicated sailors in history, but our Naval capability has been hamstrung by multiple generations of poor leadership and misplaced priorities, with no signs of improvement on the horizon.

And I don’t need a weak “study” of the attitudes of sailors to tell me that.

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