Home » Budget Industry » Strategic Review: Navy Hasn’t Learned From Its Mistakes, Needs to Be Clear About Ship, Aircraft Readiness

Strategic Review: Navy Hasn’t Learned From Its Mistakes, Needs to Be Clear About Ship, Aircraft Readiness

Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Massey, from Dunlap, Ill., stands an intelligence watch during a transit of the Strait of Hormuz aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis. US Navy Photo

THE PENTAGON – The Navy historically doesn’t learn from its mistakes, needs better command and control structures to operate the fleet, and needs to be more honest with Congress and the White House about the capabilities it can provide the nation, were key findings contained in a strategic review of the service released on Thursday.

The Strategic Readiness Review is a wide look at the systemic failures throughout the service that led to the deaths of 17 sailors in the Western Pacific in two fatal ship collisions this year. The report found an underlying pattern of problems that have plagued the service since the end of the Cold War in 1989.

The review, conducted by former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead and Defense Business Board Chairman Michael Bayer at the request of Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer, found the Navy had slowly lost its ability to sustain a pace of operations over decades through top-down decisions that have had unintended consequences.

“The cumulative effects of well-meaning decisions designed to achieve short-term operational effectiveness and efficiencies have often produced unintended negative consequences which, in turn, degraded necessary long-term operational capability,” read the report.
“Simultaneously, Navy leaders accumulated greater and greater risk in order to accomplish the missions at hand, which unintentionally altered the Navy’s culture and, at levels above the Navy, distorted perceptions of the readiness of the fleet.”

The report outlines in detail how long-term training, readiness and maintenance needs were traded for short-term operational gain, which led to a condition Bayer and Roughead call “normalization of deviation.”

“With fewer resources available, ship crew workloads grew significantly, expanding their work days and weeks to unsustainable levels. Fleet level processes and procedures designed for safe and effective operations were increasingly relaxed due to time and fiscal constraints, and the ‘normalization-of-deviation’ began to take root in the culture of the fleet,” wrote Bayer and Roughead.
“Leaders and organizations began to lose sight of what ‘right’ looked like, and to accept these altered conditions and reduced readiness standards as the new normal.”

The pair said the degradation in readiness was accelerated, in part, by how the Navy interpreted tenets of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Defense Act that created more overhead controls on the military and moved the warfighting decisions from the Navy to the global network of combatant commanders.

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a Senate Armed Services Committee reconfirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate Hart Building in Washington, D.C., Thursday, Sept. 26, 2017. DoD Photo

“Well-intended implementation decisions by the Navy did not adequately preserve and prioritize critical service operational skills, development and training,” the pair wrote.
“Staffs became distracted and inattentive to readiness and did not apply preventative measures to anticipate or address the increasing operational risk.”

Acting on the report’s recommendations, Spencer is now set to adjust the course for the service that faces more of a threat from near-peer competitors than it has since the collapse of Cold War.

“We have our near-peers out there now, and this is clearly driving this study,” Spencer told reporters this week without specifically naming Russia or China.
“We try and hit this as hard as we can by saying, due to the fact that we have this near-peer reemergence, we have to think about the way we’re applying assets because we’ve been fighting smaller regionalized [threats].”

For example, in its recommendations, the review calls for reestablishing the U.S. 2nd Fleet with an eye toward near-peer competition in the Atlantic and shutter the Navy’s 4th Fleet that patrols South America and the Carribean.

The effort from Spencer comes as the Pentagon as a whole is rethinking how it will fight its wars in the future as it develops its wider national defense strategy that will inform the Fiscal Year 2019 budget.

Spencer’s strategic review follows a more tactically focused comprehensive review into the surface forces in the Western Pacific that was directed by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and conducted by U.S. Fleet Forces after the fatal collisions of USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John McCain (DDG-56).

Supply versus Demand

Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer addresses crew members of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) during an all-hands call on the ship’s flight deck on Thanksgiving Day. US Navy Photo

Spencer told USNI News when he first launched his strategic review effort that he wanted the review to question the two-fleet construct of the Navy, the division of combatant commands and the request process that allows combatant commanders to request double the amount of missions that naval forces can actually provide.

Spencer spoke extensively to reporters on that last point, noting the importance of adhering to a supply-based force management system rather than one driven by regional combatant commander demands.

The Navy and Marine Corps need to make clear what assets they have that are ready to be deployed as part of the joint service Global Force Management process, and not allow combatant commanders to take more forces for short-term gain at the risk of long-term readiness, he said.

“We really have to have a clear communication with Congress and with the American public as to what we can do and what we can’t do. I don’t think that communication has been clear – not intentionally,” he said at the press roundtable.
“I think you’ve heard me say this before, this is an organization that’s biased for action, which you want in your military. It’s also an organization that can’t find the word ‘no’ that easily – that’s what you want, but it has to be balanced with sustainability, and that’s what we lost was the sustainability in the equation.”

The Fleet Forces-led comprehensive review earlier this fall noted the detrimental effects of the Navy running ragged to meet COCOM demands in the Pacific.

Spencer made clear at the roundtable that if the Navy felt it only had X-number of ready assets for COCOMs to task, the service should not allow itself to be forced to provide “X-plus-3, or 2X,” and that the chief of naval operations, as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would be a primary enforcer of this supply-based model.

“I don’t view it as saying what’s less [that the Navy can do for the joint force], I tell them it’s viewing what we can do. And it’s sending a signal to say, if you want us to do more, we do need more,” Spencer said.
“We have to understand exactly what those effects are if we’re going to apply those resources. And that’s the conditioning I’m talking about, where before we’d turn around and say, yup, we can do this, and no one knew – well, very few people understood the havoc it was wreaking in the organization because we weren’t signaling that to the White House and the Hill.”

Though these force allocation issues do not fall under the secretary of the Navy’s portfolio, Spencer said he needed CNO Richardson to advocate them to the Joint Chiefs.

“It takes leadership. If in fact we don’t have the assets, we do not have the assets. If in fact national security is threatened, get us the asset,” he said.
“With the CNO as one of the [chiefs], he has the ability to go, here’s what we can do, guys, here’s what we can’t do. My question is, I want to make sure that that’s institutionalized instead of ad hoc. … If we can have clear inputs into the ready force model, it might be the perfect model. My question is, I don’t think we have clear inputs into that.”

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson at Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division on Nov. 29, 2017. US Navy Photo

In the event that that doesn’t work, the strategic review suggests that the Navy, “withhold a greater number of ready forces from the force allocation process to be used to respond to emergent requirements.”

Spencer did not comment specifically on what that potential course of action would look like.

He did say, “one of the things we want to see on the administrative side is more direct control by the secretary of the Navy and the chief of naval operations when it comes to asset ownership and asset control. I realize that our job is to man, train, equip, supply and then we have our joint chiefs and the secretary of defense applying those assets, but to have a clearer command line as to how those assets are kept current” and ready.

Reemphasizing Readiness

Chief Warrant Officer Glen Spitnale, an inspector from the Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV), speaks to Operations Specialist 2nd Class Garland Sebastian aboard USS Cole (DDG-67) on Dec. 5, 2017. US Navy Photo

The strategic review also notes the importance of reestablishing readiness as a priority.

Spencer’s overarching message on readiness was that the surface navy needed the same protections in place as the aviation and submarine communities to ensure readiness remains paramount regardless of global demand for forces.

“On the water has been around for centuries and centuries. Underwater is fairly new and so is in the air, and they come with regulatory constructs, so the communities have a pretty good check and balance system,” he said.
“We want to structure the same and offer the same to the surface warfare community, and it focuses on mastering of naval skills.”

That includes requiring surface warriors to keep logbooks noting their watchstanding experience.

One facet of the readiness rebuilding effort the review highlighted was creating an environment where sailors can truly master their naval skills.

“Automation and technological advances can reduce the number of sailors required to operate a ship but they do not reduce the need for deep naval mastery, in fact, quite the opposite. Smaller crew sizes increase the need for officers who are incentivized to invest in careers at sea,” the report reads.
“Over time, however, Navy choices in response to the combined effects of the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act, the Goldwater-Nichols Act, and Department of Defense guidance shifted the focus of officers’ careers toward more joint and broader experience at the expense of honing deep maritime operating skills.”

The review makes several recommendations aimed at allowing surface warfare officers to become masters of their trade with less distraction, such as requesting amendments to Goldwater Nichols that would require fewer joint force assignments, eliminating the fleet-up model and placing a shore tour between the executive officer and commanding officer assignments, and reviewing the number of department heads needed on a ship and the length of the department head tour.

The report recommends several changes to training and maintenance as well, including altering when operations and maintenance dollars expire, in light of the reality that most fiscal years are likely to start with a continuing resolution instead of an actual spending bill; adopting a Training and Readiness matrix similar to one that exists in the aviation community “to define what each ship must accomplish in each phase of training, the number of times it has to be demonstrated, how many times it can be simulated, and what the external grading criteria are for meeting the requirements for each level of certification;” and reverting back to longer maintenance availabilities instead of today’s model of continuous maintenance “to deal more efficiently with the impacts of emergent work and work delays.”

Command and Control

USS Kidd (DDG-100) performs a sea-power demo alongside the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) during Tiger Cruise on Dec. 7, 2017. US Navy Photo

Bayer and Roughead also issued a call to improve how the Navy commands and controls its forces by increasing oversight in some areas and reducing layers of command in others.

“One of the things we want to see on the administrative side is more direct control by the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations when it comes to asset ownership and asset control,” Spencer said.

In particular, the pair found that dual-hatted positions in the Pacific and Atlantic were responsible for both maintaining and employing surface forces that created ambiguous chains of commands that constantly needed to be clarified to subordinates.

“The accumulation of these changes to organizational structures, command relationships, and multiple attempts to clarify command authorities suggests that a clean-sheet review is needed to identify the optimal administrative organization,” the report reads.

While Spencer said some recommendations in the report could warrant more in-depth study before implementation, he was clear that he was moving ahead with the clean-sheet study to that would take a top-to-bottom look at how the Navy is organized to manage its forces.

“We’re truly going to clean-sheet review the administrative side of the Navy and how we actually employ forces,” Spencer said.

Learning Organization

“Big eyes” binoculars are used to scan the horizon as the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG-59) transits the Strait of Hormuz Oct. 22, 2017. US Navy Photo

In order to process and learn from its mistakes, the Navy needs to become an organization that does a better job learning, the report concluded.

Bayer and Roughead cited a list of reports in their study that repeated the same themes and lessons on which the Navy did not act.

“Navy history is replete with reports and investigations that contain like findings regarding past collisions, groundings, and other operational incidents,” the report reads.
“The repeated recommendations and calls for change belie the belief that the Navy always learns from its mistakes. Navy leadership at all levels must foster a culture of learning and create the structures and processes that fully embrace this commitment.”

  • Duane

    Very useful study and conclusions. Especially noting all the prior reports that were generated and led to little or no change. If the Navy and DOD don’t change the rules, the behaviors will not change.

    Of course, one has to be cognizant that going to a “supply based” command carries with it the risk of going overboard in the other direction, where each service goes full stove-pipe and to heck with the theater and battle commanders. Managing the forces we have effectively requires a constant tension between the needs of theater commanders and force commanders. The Joint Chiefs are a good place to control that tension, but we also can’t have those guys micromanaging all the individual battles and commands either. Perhaps a new coordinating joint command is needed that does not just answer to the theater commanders, as seems to be the current method.

    There are no easy solutions … trial and error seems likely before we get it right.

    • dsharil

      Very good points

    • vincedc

      Doctrine has always been to attack with overwhelming force. When fighting a battle or a war, you can’t have too many ships, planes or troops. How would you like to be the four star testifying before a committee because they did not put enough assets into a battle, even though they were available.

      • Duane

        The definition of “available” is what has been at issue. The theater commander is only concerned with winning the battle objective, but it is the force commander who must be concerned with the readiness of his force. That is the essential tension, of competing priorities. A well managed military will consider both priorities and make measured calculations. Which means in some instances, the theater commander must be told “no”, or “later’. If the answer must always be “yes” and “now”, then the forces will suffer the consequences – exactly the consequences our Seventh Fleet experienced this year, which our political leaders as well as Naval leaders have pronounced as “unacceptable”. If the political leaders don’t want to hear that the theater commander cannot perform because of limited force resources and availability, then it is up to the political leaders to deliver additional resources, or accept that the theater commander cannot perform.

  • Landsnark

    Strange how the other services manage to train up their units while the Navy has such a problem. Maybe the Navy should stop sending junior officers to joint billets (that don’t exist in their rank) and instead put them on ships and let them learn?

    • Refguy

      Not all services manage and train up their units properly. Consider the multiple extended deployments with shortened time in CONUS to recuperate for some of the ground-pounders; especially the SOF guys.

  • GeorgeHanshaw1

    Seems to me that Navy senior officers need to devote a heck of a lot of energy just trying to keep their buzzwords straight.

    Maybe if they learned to talk in plain English….

    • kye154

      You are right, But, their cryptic buzzwords are what protects their jobs. No one else can figure out what they really do, or what value they are to the navy. As far as talking in plain English, its rooted in America’s dumbed down educational system. God, and to think we put these sort of people in charge of things, when they can’t even master the English language!

      • sferrin

        Just wait until the Millennial generation takes over. Idiocracy was a documentary. (In the US and Europe anyway.)

      • GeorgeHanshaw1

        “No one else can figure out what they really do, or what value they are to the navy”

        That would not seem to be a path likely to lead even to retention, far less promotion, unless the officers on the promotion board are similarly useless drones. In which case maybe we need to shutdown the Navy in its entirety, and start over.

        • kye154

          You are quite right George. I have seen the promotion board a few times, and none of them impressed me as being very competent. The navy is in bad need of reorganization, and moving out the dead weight baggage.

          • GeorgeHanshaw1

            IN fairness, between wars all military organizations accumulate dead wood. At the start of WWII, newly promoted to brigadier general Dwight Eisenhower still held only a permanent rank of Army LtCol (O-5).

            Imagine the dead wood that needed to be tossed aside for him to eventually make SACEUR three years later.

          • kye154

            Yes, you are very right about that.

        • James Bowen

          George, the Navy’s personnel system and how they promote officers borders on being an abomination. There is an annual quota for the number of promotions in the various ranks. Selection boards are held to review all the officers who have enough time in current rank to be eligible for promotion and fill those quotas with the selections they make. They make their selections principally based on fitness reports and how those fitness reports, typically written by their COs, ranked them against their peers. Career-minded officers spend much time and effort trying to learn how to gain the upper hand in this system and use it to their advantage. The two very big problems with this system is 1) it has almost nothing to do with potential as a warfighter or (if available) combat record, and 2) it incentivizes selfish behavior among officers with respect to their fellow officers.

          If you ask me, the Navy should switch to a system where promotions only happen when needed (i.e. a ship’s CO is retiring and his billet is will be open soon) and should principally be based on how officers perform in war exercises or actual combat if applicable.

    • Western

      That was my first impression as well. When you call the enemy your “near-peer,” I have to wonder what other obscure references are made in command communications that ultimately confuse the sailor. There is a reason why we still use the words port and starboard. Please speak as plainly when identifying threats and challenges.

  • kye154

    “Navy Hasn’t Learned From Its Mistakes…..”. The problem has been festering for at least 25 years. Finally, someone has called the Navy down on it. But, as notoriously slow as the senior brass is to admit it and move on the subject, it will take another 25 years to do anything about it, long after their retired, dead, and gone.

    • Marc Apter

      35 years!

  • Will

    Do more with less has been the mantra in the US Navy since the late 80’s. That covered nearly aspect of the service including the DON civilian support staff. The norm to cannibalize assets that require more extensive repair to facilitate base level repair on similar assets is akin to putting a piece of chewing gum in a hole in the bottom of a ship and calling the problem fixed. It leads to the repaired unit experiencing a shorter in-service time because the parts used to repair the unit were already part of the way through their own service cycle. In other words cannibalization means the unit will return for repair sooner and more often.

    Cannibalization has its uses: but only for field repair and not at depot repair facilities. When a unit is repaired at a depot, the parts needed should be new. Other parts in the unit need to receive microscopic inspection and likely be replaced if the inspection reveals wear consistent with the age of the overall unit. If records indicate that a particular part fails after X number of cycles or years, forget inspection and replace it when it is at 70%-ish of X. This keeps units operationally fresh and prevent returning the unit for depot level repair at increasingly frequent intervals.

    I apologize if that sounded obfuscated, but I cannot talk to specifics of the unit, or be more specific about the unit’s actual name(s). Let us just say that the units in question are critical parts of a system that provides critical mission-ready assets.

    • Western

      Absolutely correct. I also recall a certain submarine engineroom crew that needed a pump shaft made overnight from a tender. The shaft was delivered on time in exchange for a tin of English cookies, avoiding the bureaucratic paperwork, reviews, approvals. When the system does not work, you find a way, or make one.

  • wilkinak

    I can sum this report up in 3 letters – Duh!

    I find it ironic that one of the people pointing this out is Roughead, who is in fact responsible for much of it. He had the helm and either promulgated or continued the policies that got the Navy to this point.

    It’s like the campaign of a 30 year Senate veteran. If you’re telling me all this stuff
    that needs to change, I have to wonder what,exactly, you did.

    • kalahun

      Precisely correct.

    • Gundog15


  • RobM1981

    Second paragraph

    First sentence

    Please change “lead” to “led.”

    Lead, as improperly used here, is a heavy metal. Led is the past tense of the verb “to lead.” LED is a light emitting diode.

  • James Bowen

    What is frustrating about this is that what this report says is that I have been saying for the last 20 or so years, and the response I would often get was “Who could possibly challenge us at sea?” I knew at the time that China, Russia, and India were all powers that had the potential to be peer rivals at sea. Why is this such a shock now?

    • GeorgeHanshaw1

      “Who could possibly challenge us at sea?”

      My father never intended to make the US Navy a career. He just enlisted because there was a depression on and, the second youngest of nine kids, he could send some small part of his pay back to his folks in the Midwest to help cover the mortgage on the family farm. But he used to tell me the story of he and three shipmates on the old Astoria, drinking at a bar in Pearl City in 1941 loudly asking each other the same question. Someone in the audience asked what about the Japanese? They loudly scoffed and explained in great detail what they would do and how short a time it would take to do it if the Japanese even thought about taking on the US Navy.

      When everything died down, the female bartender, a Japanese-American, came over and talked to the three drunk young enlisteds, telling them that she had been born in this country, that she loved this country, but if they didn’t take the Japanese Imperial fleet seriously some day that fleet would smash all those ships down on Battleship Row. But they were young and full of piss and vinegar (not to mention beer) and laughed it off. A few months later, a few days after they had left Pearl escorting a carrier, they got the news about the attack on Pearl. They didn’t laugh then. My father like everyone else was held in for the duration plus 90 days and by that time, over half way to retirement and a CPO went career. His two drinking buddies were less fortunate. They went down with the Astoria at Savo.

      • James Bowen

        Very, very interesting. Thanks for telling me all of that. What is unfortunate is that the lessons your father and the rest of the nation learned at that time were readily available in history books, and our leaders chose to ignore it.

  • PhillipNagle

    Maybe we should review our needs. How many super carriers do we need? How can we make it clear to our allies that they must shoulder an equal effort if they want our protection? This is specially true for Europe and Japan. We would need a much smaller navy if our “allies” carried their fair share.

  • JohnByron

    As long as the surface navy puts ship count ahead of readiness and training in its funding priorities, studies like this are nothing more than shelf litter. Respects to Mike Bayer and Admiral Roughhead. I’ve known them both over the years and think highly of them as smart guys.

  • Isa Akhbar

    (Snort…) Good luck with that, guys! No senior officer in his right mind is EVER going to so much as HINT that there might be an actual limit on what his assets can accomplish, and that applies DoD-wide. This sort of review has been seen many times before, and nothing concrete ever comes of them. Things will only change when change is imposed from the outside, meaning the civilian leadership, including the President. Why do you think so many officers retire, and THEN tell everyone what was really going on while they were in the system?