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What is wrong with the United States Navy?



Hello this is Darrell Castle with today’s Castle Report. This is Friday the 16th day of July in the year 2021. On this Report, I will be talking about the U.S. Navy and its readiness for combat as determined by a recent congressional inquiry. Yes, Congress, or I should say some members of Congress, are so concerned by reports coming from the Navy including accidents at sea, fires at sea, cancellations of expensive projects, etc. that they commissioned a study and a Report. Which is the subject of this Castle Report.

The Castle Family is doing well this week as we try to find something of what is left of those things, we used to call normal. We haven’t been together as a family in about two years so this weekend we will gather for a reunion. Joan and I are looking forward to it, but the family daughter will unfortunately be unable to leave fortress Los Angeles.

What shall we talk about?

There are many things of a current nature that I could talk about today. Things like the long-term dangers of intentionally destroying legal institutions, customs, and traditions to achieve a short-term goal. Things like the President of the United States channeling Joe Stalin, i.e., it’s not who votes, its who gets to count the votes that matters. Yes, comrade, we know, and I know that is why you are so afraid of voter I.D. But Instead, I’ve decided to continue last week’s Report on how this new politically correct world is affecting the U.S. military’s readiness.

The Navy – a review

I will confess that I have always loved the Navy. I spent many days being transported around the oceans of the world when I served in the Marine Corps. I’ve seen the North Atlantic and I’ve seen the South Pacific all thanks to the U.S. Navy, and that is why my ears always perk up when I hear or read stories about the current condition of the Navy. That current condition is troubling according to members of Congress, so they decided to find out exactly what is going on in the U.S. Navy.

Several recent incidents including collisions at sea, a fire that killed some sailors, and the cancellation of a ship building project in which hundreds of millions had already been invested. Families complain to Congress when their kids in the Navy complain to them so Senator Tom Cotton, Congressman Jim Banks, Congressman Dan Crenshaw, and Congressman Mike Gallagher, led a commission to appoint Lieutenant General Robert E. Schmidle, USMC, Ret. And Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery, USN, Ret., to investigate and report back to Congress in writing.

A very concerning review

The review of the Navy was non-partisan and it consisted of the usual ship tours but more importantly many long form interviews with numerous personal both commissioned officers and enlisted. They sought to get to the bottom of a series of damaging operational failures in the Navy’s Surface Warfare Fleet. Can the Navy still fight, and could it defeat the Chinese Navy on the high seas? Congress wanted to know; thus, this review was conducted.

Concern ran high and after this review you might have similar concerns. Concern within the Navy ran so high that when asked whether incidents such as the two destroyer collisions in the Pacific, the surrender of a small craft in the Arabian Sea, the burning of the Bonhomme Richard and other incidents were part of a broader cultural or leadership problem in the Navy, 94% said yes, 3% no and 3% were unsure. When asked if the incidents were directly connected, 55% said yes 16% no and 29% unsure. The sentiment among serving officers and men that the Navy is dangerously off course was overwhelming.

Six serious problems in today’s Navy

There were six or seven issues that most of the sailors raised as problematic. Those issues were:

  1. Insufficient leadership focus on warfighting. Finding and sinking enemy fleets should be the primary mission of a navy, but for many reasons that is barely taught now. The result is a lack of confidence in leadership.
  2. A dominant and paralyzing zero-defect mentality. A single mistake is often career ending. Admirals like Bull Halsey and Chester Nimitz who led the Navy to victory in WWll would not make captain in today’s Navy.
  3. Under Investment in surface warfare officer training. Submarine and aviation branches get mot of the money and attention.
  4. Poorly resourced and executed surface ship maintenance programs. Canceled, delayed, and poorly performed maintenance programs was a common complaint.
  5. Expanding culture of micromanagement. Technology now allows shore-based admirals to exercise unprecedented control over captains at sea. That control results in a toxic lack of initiative and accountability.
  6. Current over-responsiveness to media culture. Sailors see Navy leadership as overly responsive unyielding news cycle. They confuse which issues and which stories demand a response and which do not.

Quotes from currently serving ship’s captains

There were a few other issues brought up with less universality like, surface officers are inadequately trained as good ship handlers, a tsunami of administrative tasks distract from war training, the Navy is way too small to accomplish its global mission. Most importantly, sailors and their officers lack resiliency and are unprepared for the difficulties of combat, in part because their training has deemphasized persistent exposure to adversity.

So that is what actual sailors think is wrong with the U.S, Navy. Let’s look at some of the specific comments made about those things. The interviewers found a common refrain among those at sea. One recent destroyer captain lamented that,

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.

Quote from another serving captain,

We’ll spend hours on drill week-ends on, like what’s the checklist for this place, do you have all the right uniforms, but nothing for what is the current situation in China. What are the things the Chinese are concerned about? What are the Iranians concerned about? What are upcoming war possibilities and how do we understand those and their implications. We should know the worst-case scenarios and what the greater context is, but there is none of that now.

A risk-averse culture

One career surface warfare officer said, “I’ve never heard anyone in any congressional testimony that I can think of that talks about actually winning. And so that’s not to absolve the Navy of its responsibility, but that’s just stunning to me.” Another officer, “lethality, I don’t think, was touted or promoted, or a warrior culture of Innovation was not encouraged and was generally frowned upon. Just check the box is a risk averse culture.”

The risk averse one mistake and you are gone was the most common complaint by far. It degrades lethality, atrophies talent, inhibits reenlistments, encourages careerism, and advances those who avoid risks and challenges. Secretary of the Navy Lehman who built the 600-ship Navy we once had then went on to a billion-dollar corporation, said if the zero-tolerance policy was in place when I was in the Navy I wouldn’t have made it past Lieutenant J.G. A warship Captain talked about escorting ships through the Persian gulf and other oil chokepoints and being fearful that admirals were looking at the cameras in his command center watching every move he made.

The old Navy …

So that is a pretty good look at the problems in the new Navy. I often wonder about certain ships that are sent into what appears to be harm’s way unnecessarily. I wonder if those in charge understand that such actions can lead to a confrontation that then requires a response which then leads to general war. In the years I floated on Navy ships to different areas of the world the captain was supreme. He was the unquestioned ruler of the ship and all on board and nobody questioned him, instead he questioned you. The captain set the culture and that is why culture varied from ship to ship, but one thing was always there and that was that in a life-or-death battle he was trained and equipped to get his ship through it.

… and the new

One last quote from a serving surface warfare Naval officer which was the most meaningful to me and if the civilian and Naval leadership would just listen to her the men and women of the U.S. Navy would be just fine. Yes, the officer is a woman, and she is also a black woman. I’m paraphrasing what she said because I’m not looking at the direct quote. But she said, we get a lot of instruction about diversity and how race affects us and all that and how we are to treat each other but there is no instruction about how we are going to defeat the Chinese Navy. One thing I know for sure and that is that if a Chinese missile cuts this ship in half, we will all bleed the same color blood.

Lack of civilian leadership

The next war is very likely to be a surface fleet war against the Chinese, Russian, and Iranian Navies. God forbid that its all three at the same time but that is not a farfetched scenario. The last surface warfare war the Navy had to fight was 76 years ago and in that one the Navy had the unquestioned efforts of the nation, its people, and its industrial capacity. Today, by contrast none of those things can be truthfully said to exist. Instead, we have weak leadership at the civilian level. No, let me rephrase that to, we have no leadership at the civilian level.

The military responds to the civilian leadership and symbolically circles the wagons. Ducks make ducks as they say in the military, and that means risk-averse, bureaucratic officers are trained by others just like them. Naval ships at sea have televisions on board and the sailors watch the same braying politicians that you do. They are more aware than you that there are serious problems with integrating women into the armed services alongside men, and those problems often effect training for war.

Our enemies smell weakness

The fact that the Chinese and Russian navies are well aware of all these problems, and they have studied this report just as I did is not lost on the men and women of the Navy. Our enemies perceive weakness and that is obvious to anyone paying attention. The Chinese Navy which now exceeds the U.S. in total number of ships, is throwing its weight around in the Pacific as is the Russian Navy. While Biden and Putin met recently at the G7 Conference a Russian battle fleet conducted war games 24 miles from Hawaii. That kind of provocation has never been done before because they feared us. That fear was military, economic, and financial but now all they see is weakness and confusion.

Winning a war is of course the goal of fighting one when survival is at issue, but the real goal should be to remain strong enough to not be challenged. If you are going to strut across the globe as an international bully as the U.S. has unfortunately done in recent years, then you absolutely must carry the big stick.

What’s the Navy for?

In conclusion, this is all foreign to me because it is not the Marine Corps way. Not the one that I served in anyway. And it is not the Navy that transported us to foreign shores. In training, if we went out on a 12-mile march with all our gear and we were very tired at the end and one mile from home there was a muddy river with a perfectly good bridge over it, we walked through the river because where we were going there was no bridge. We were trained by officers who had already been there and who exuded confidence. I sure hope that the military esprit de corps can somehow be restored but it will take changes from top to bottom. It is hard to see that happening given the current climate in the political world.

Finally, folks, THE Navy should not be the first center of social experimentation. Its purpose is to defend the life of the nation by locating the enemy fleet and destroying it. It will take years to repair if repair is even attempted. The right person could take this report that the General and Admiral prepared and straighten out these problems in a year if that person had the authority and budget to accomplish what needed to be done. Good people are hard to find these days.

At least that’s the way I see it.

Until next time folks,

This is Darrell Castle.

This article first appeared here. – Ed.

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Attorney at Law at | Website | + posts

Darrell Castle is an attorney in Memphis, Tennessee, a former USMC Combat Officer and 2008 Vice Presidential nominee. Darrell gives his unique analysis of current national and international events from a historical and constitutional perspective. You can subscribe to Darrell's weekly podcast at

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