The US Navy ‘risks losing’ its next major conflict ‘unless changes are made’ as its leaders focus too heavily on teaching diversity and not enough time on basic warfare training.
That’s according to a scathing new report commissioned by members of Congress, part of the US government, which claims Navy forces have systemic training and leadership issues.
The report was prepared by two retired marines, lieutenant general Robert Schmidle and rear admiral Mark Montgomery, who conducted interviews with 77 current and retired Navy officers, offering them anonymity to identify issues they wouldn’t feel comfortable raising in the chain of command.
It was put together in response to recent disasters involving Navy forces, including the burning of the USS Bonhomme Richard in July 2020 in San Diego, two collisions involving Navy ships in the Pacific and the surrender of two small crafts to Iran.
The report found that almost everyone interviewed – 94% of the subjects – believed the recent disasters were ‘part of a broader problem in Navy culture or leadership’.
‘I guarantee you every unit in the Navy is up to speed on their diversity training’, said one recently retired senior enlisted leader.
They added: ‘I’m sorry that I can’t say the same of their ship handling training.’
The report focused on issues within the Navy’s surface warfare forces rather than submarine and aviation, and suggested that issues in the surface fleet could be unique due to better funding and training for submarine and aviation factions.
One of the main issues raised by the officers involved in the report was how Navy leaders apparently spend more time focusing on diversity training than on developing warfighting capacity and key operational skills.
‘Sometimes I think we care more about whether we have enough diversity officers than if we’ll survive a fight with the Chinese navy’, complained one lieutenant currently on active duty.
‘It’s criminal. They think my only value is as a black woman. But you cut our ship open with a missile and we’ll all bleed the same color’, she added.
Meanwhile one recent destroyer captain said: ‘where someone puts their time shows what their priorities are. And we’ve got so many messages about X, Y, Z appreciation month, or sexual assault prevention, or you name it.
‘We don’t even have close to that same level of emphasis on actual warfighting.’
The report claims that by ‘weighing down sailors with non-combat related training’, Congress and Navy leaders risk sending them into battle less prepared and less focused than their opponents.
‘The Navy treats warfighting readiness as a compliance issue,’ said one career commander.
‘You might even use the term compliance-centered warfare as opposed to adversary-centered warfare or warfighter-centered warfare’, they added.
One junior surface warfare officer, who is still on active duty, also confessed that ‘I don’t think the (surface community) see themselves as people who are engaged in a fight.’
Commander Bryan McGrath, a retired surface warfare officer who agreed to be interviewed and named, said a key concern for him was too few surface ships.
‘(The ships) are very busy’, he said. ‘I think there are too few of them for what is being asked’, he argued.
‘The operational requirements squeeze out maintenance, they squeeze out some training.’
‘When you’re on the ship’, McGrath said, the ‘sexual assault and victim stuff, all that stuff just seems like a burden. It just seems like it’s never-ending…(But) the further I get from it, the more I understand why it’s important and why there does have to be very clear signals sent to deck plate sailors that they’re, you know, that issues that are important to them are important to leadership.’
Another issue that was identified by the report is a perceived fear among Navy leaders of any negative news articles.
‘(Admirals) are supposed to lead us into battle but they hide in foxholes at the first sight of Military.com and the Military Times’, said one intelligence officer.
‘The reporters are in charge, not us.’
‘COs would be quite risk-adverse’, one officer said. ‘They would have their senior department heads manning a lot of watches, especially on the bridge and things like that to make sure that nothing went wrong, because nobody wanted to end up in the media, and nobody wanted to end up on the cover of Navy Times.’
Two other related issues pointed out concerns about poorly funded and constantly changing officer training programs, and under-resourced ship maintenance.
The report suggests that since the end of the Cold War, the lack of a major adversary had caused the attention of Navy leaders to drift away from military readiness.
In concluding, it pointed out that China has been aggressively expanding its navy, and noted that the US Navy has not focused on understanding China’s forces.
The report said: ‘A major peer-level conflict in the 21st Century will likely play out largely in the naval theaters of operations; unlike the surface Navy’s last major war, which concluded 76 years ago, such a conflict will likely proceed swiftly and not permit significant time for organizational learning once it is underway.
‘Unless changes are made, the Navy risks losing the next major conflict.’
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