In Forbes: A Depressing Piece

by Craig Hooper on November 9, 2021

It’s really frustrating to go back and read mishap reports from the last two decades. They’re all the same. They all indicate the same general problems–folks that take too many risks, don’t know their equipment, and fail to institute normal procedures. In essence, they’re basically picking and choosing what rules to follow. The Officer Corps knows this and, for far too many years, they’ve not cared. A close read on some of these things, and you’ll see folks getting rewarded for overlooking things and NOT causing the boss problems. The fact that those things that get overlooked may just end up sinking the boat, but, you know, right now it lets the Department Head and the Skipper keep their career trajectory. It’s just frustrating as all heck to see. It is clear to me that Navy leadership isn’t going to change things unless they are pushed–and their careers put at risk–to do so.

It’s also becoming clear that the various communities in the Navy are not listening to each other–there’s a lot of “stay in my lane” baloney. “Oh, well gosh,” says the submariners, “those 7th Fleet skimmers have real problems,” as they go and make what appear to be pretty similar operational mistakes.

Add in the wider, general lack of accountability in the Navy, and it just adds up. We had a huge cheating scandal at the Academy, and only a handful got axed. Why? Because the Navy, as an institution, didn’t want to make problems in the personnel pipeline. But what lesson are we teaching the folks who broke the honor code and got a slap on the wrist? It’s personal to me…a childhood friend got expelled in the last big Navy Academy cheating scandal, and he’s the man he is today because he was held accountable. Had he been offered some limp “redemption” opportunity, he’d be a different guy. And poorer for it. We have another big “Fat Leonard” bribery scandal brewing, despite, well, Fat Leonard being “a thing.” There’s a slow decline in standards at nuke school. Admirals can glibly claim that, say, the USS Ford’s elevators are going to be delivered in a matter of a few weeks without any sanction. It’s ridiculous.

Somebody has to get the Navy in hand. Hopefully it’s going to be Carlos Del Toro. But I think the Navy’s made the SECNAV office staff so small, that the only way he’s going to be able to do anything is to get out and see stuff for himself. When Big Navy isn’t telling the SECNAV the real deal, it’s a problem. And I bet it happens more often than not these days.

And, to be frank, the Navy hates pursuing accountability. Mabus tried. The whining about how “Fat Leonard” killed the Pacific Fleet was mendacious and wrong–I’ve written about it here. Yes the disciplinary process was long and complicated. Yes, it hamstrung careers by casting a very wide net. But it had to be done. If there was anything I could offer, I’d say that the discipline should have been done far faster with less legal plodding. But I digress. Pursing accountability is as hard as it is unpopular, and, if you’re unpopular in today’s Navy, you’re not going anywhere. And with more folks than ever ready to politicize good naval discipline–bashing folks for cancel culture or zero defects or for culture war baloney–it’s hard.

But it’s going to get worse. If COVID has taught us anything, there’s a strain of “I’m not going to let authority tell me what to do” in American society. And that’s going to get increasingly prevalent–making the maintenance of good order a real challenge. When you have officers and sailors “doing their own thing” because nobody can tell “them” what to do, it’s…a recipe for a lot more avoidable mishaps.

To fix things, the Navy’s going to need skilled pressure from the top on all levels. Modly tried–with the USS Ford–but he ended up self-immolating and anything he touched was either mocked into irrelevance or canceled.

It’s unfortunate. The Navy has so much potential, and there are so many good people out there doing good things, it’s a shame that their contributions are overshadowed by avoidable screw ups. The Navy has got to do better. Go read the piece, here.

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Not to be a downer, but the Navy has, in the space of a little less than a year, probably lost a second multi-billion dollar frontline asset. First the Bonhomme Richard, and now, possibly, the USS Connecticut.

The last time a sub publicly suffered a controlled flight into terrain was in 2005, and the ONLY reason it returned to service was because we had a spare bow available. We just chopped off the damaged structure and replaced it. That option is no longer available–we’ll have to fix things from scratch. And that’s going to be a CHALLENGE. I fear we don’t have the money, yard availability and time to fix the Connecticut, and, even if we do take the stupid route of fixing the unfixable, we’ll end up eking just a few years of deployments out of a severely restricted platform.

If the sub is in bad shape–the mentioning of “grounding” and that two forward ballast tanks were compromised–suggest that may well be the case, then, well, the faster the Navy and the Congress realize the USS Connecticut will never again be a Seawolf, the better. Let’s not go wasting a ton of money because we lack the guts to be the bearer of bad news.

Also, now that the Chinese are hammering away at our continued silence, we need to be doing some serious thinking about how to roll out the facts–particularly if somebody, somewhere on our side, actually did make a stupid mistake. And if the mistake was made due to behaviors we’ve already targeted as problematic but have, up till now, failed to address, we’re not gonna tap-dance our way out of this by over-classifying everything. It’s making us look dumb internationally.

It’s time for real accountability. Big Navy won’t like this, but we can’t keep losing capital ships and then blithely acting like nobody is to blame but some hapless JO’s someplace. It may well be time for some high level Navy leaders to face the music, and it will be interesting to see what SECNAV Del Toro will do in the days and weeks to come.

Here’s the link.

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In Forbes: US-French Collaboration on Mid-Sized Carrier Design?

October 24, 2021

Over on Forbes, I’m banging away at the opportunity Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron have this week to deepen an ongoing Franco-US maritime relationship at the G-20 meetings. I have long extolled the strategic value of France’s strategically-useful maritime holdings, and, as we are already working together on maritime security and carrier integration, we should […]

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In Forbes: An Irked Senator Roger Wicker Goes “On Record” Over The Coast Guard

September 17, 2021

Mississippi’s Senior Senator, Roger Wicker, has been pushing for two things–a simple, full accounting of Coast Guard needs as well as full funding for the Coast Guard. And he’s gotten none of them. As you can tell from his comments, in the article here, the Senator is fed up. That’s good. Maybe some righteous indignation […]

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In Forbes: Mike Gallagher’s Great Lakes Push is a Breaker Too Far

September 13, 2021

If you want to know about defense journalism and the state of the Coast Guard in relation to the rest of the Uniformed Services, just look at the latest HASC markup. Defense media got the topline messages–that the HASC had grown Biden’s defense budget by $25 billion, and that the Navy got several ships. They […]

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In Forbes: Coast Guard Yard Funding–Staying Alive

September 8, 2021

Well, we’ve come a long way from where we started four months ago–back when I pointed out that the Coast Guard Yard was left entirely out of the Shipyard Act, a massive, $25 billion dollar effort to fund all the emergent needs at the Navy’s four public shipyards. Now, it looks like my pestering may […]

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In Forbes: Using Buoys As Maritime Autonomy Ground-Truth

August 31, 2021

I have a small piece in Forbes discussing what buoys–the original maritime autonomous systems–can offer our hype-driven race for autonomous maritime systems. The answer is, basically, ground truth. Buoys are so mundane, and have so much sea-time, that nobody bothers to shape their performance rates. And, after more than a couple centuries of design refinement, […]

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In Marine News: Shipbuilding And The Navy of Tomorrow

August 5, 2021

Last month, I had a piece published in one of the magazines in the MarineLink constellation–the link is here. Please go read it! For the piece, I was charged to discuss the technical and geopolitical drivers of naval shipbuilding, so there was a lot to cram into the essay. It’s a bit dense. At any […]

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Columbia Class Troop Carriers: Mixing Up The Fleet Mix

July 19, 2021

After three generations of converting surplus/obsolete SSBN hull forms to commando carriers, it’s time to start planning for a Columbia Class commando-carrying variant. Despite a lot of classification, open records suggest undersea commando carriers have accumulated a record of success that stretches back to World War II. And with the Marine Corps already organizing their […]

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In CRS: Discussing Large Surface Combatants

July 16, 2021

With the release of the Pentagon’s 30-year naval force structure estimates, the indefatiguable Ronald O’Rourke, over at the Congressional Research Service, updated his analysis of the Navy’s surface combatant programs, using, in part, my concerned post over at Forbes.com (here). In the Forbes piece, I detailed how the Pentagon could be setting up to ramp-down […]

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