Comment & Discussion

The development of COs begins with the foundational training they receive as junior officers. Using my own experience as an example, I was commissioned in March 1986. Before reporting to my first ship, I attended six months of Basic Division Officer course and 11 weeks of the Steam Engineering Officer of the Watch course, to include having to pass an oral-examination board as a prerequisite to graduating. After reporting to my first ship, I attended the Electronic Warfare Officer course and numerous other billet-specialty training courses as I assumed different jobs on board.

Contrast that experience with the typical junior surface officer of today. He or she will attend the retooled eight week long Basic Division Officer course. Then, if heading to an engineering billet, the young officer may or may not attend a brief engineering basics course. Otherwise, it’s on the job training. Slated to be a communications officer (commo)? You’ll have to figure out this high-visibility and critical billet as you go. “Back in the day,” the Navy had a six-week commo school.

About ten years ago Navy leadership made the decision to address severe budgetary cutbacks at the expense of junior-officer professional training. The result was a “lost generation” of officers without a solid, foundational professional knowledge base. Some may argue, “So what? The mission is still being accomplished.” The mission is indeed being accomplished, but the Navy has been operating unopposed and unmolested for over 20 years now. This will not last, and the ability to think outside the box and work through problems to achieve mission success in the face of determined opposition at sea only comes from professionals. They must be equipped with the knowledge depth of their ship’s systems and warfare tactics to be able to work around casualties and innovate tactics to surprise our enemies.

Current senior Navy leadership recognizes this, and they are taking the necessary steps to remedy these training and professional-development shortfalls. This “sea change” is both welcomed and encouraging. My hope is that this renaissance in tactical training and professional development continues and expands.

In his article, Lieutenant Scott asks the question: Can lieutenants take command? Absolutely they can. But first give them the tools to succeed.

‘Be Sure Everything Clicks and Clicks on Time’

(See A. D. Clift, pp. 70–73, August 2015 Proceedings )

Barrett Tillman —I surely enjoyed Mr. Clift’s detailed description of events preceding the VJ-Day surrender ceremony aboard the “Mighty Mo.” Perhaps I can add something to the discussion.

Circa 1978, in researching my second Naval Institute Press book, Hellcat: The F6F in World War II , I corresponded with retired Vice Admiral Malcolm W. Cagle. As a lieutenant he had been CO of VF-88 in the USS Yorktown (CV-10), which engaged in the last significant dogfight of the war on 15 August 1945. He led the squadron’s contribution to the victory flyover on 2 September, and said that he was never as scared in combat. The low ceiling, densely packed airspace, and merging of various squadrons and air groups had immense potential for midair collisions, though apparently none ensued.

Another participant, an SB2C pilot, recalled the flyover as a full-throttle/off-throttle, cross-controlling evolution that taxed his ability to keep some kind of distance from his ever-shifting squadron mates.

I wonder if the Navy or Air Force archives possess plans or op orders for “Operation Airshow.” Unfortunately, neither the Army Air Forces combat chronology nor the B-29 websites I’ve consulted cover anything much after 15 August. So even today the numbers cited for Navy and Army Air Forces participants vary widely. The upper end is 2,000 to 2,400 total, allegedly including about 1,500 Task Force 38 aircraft, but I do not believe that XXI Bomber Command in the Marianas could make up the difference. In researching Whirlwind (Simon & Schuster, 2010) I found the largest number of B-29s launched in one day, against multiple targets, was in the 600 range. More often I’ve seen 450 cited as the number of tailhook aircraft involved.

Maybe Naval History and Heritage Command can turn up some information on the numbers of naval aircraft involved in what must remain the greatest formation flight of all time!

Keeping Our Asymmetric Edge

(See J. R. Forbes, pp. 16–19, July 2015 Proceedings )

Lieutenant Commander Michael Curcio, U.S. Navy, Defense Legislative Assistant, Office of Representative Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) —After reading Representative Forbes’ article I was disappointed by the marked absence of a call to action directed at his colleagues. While he lays out in comprehensive detail what Congress “must” do to aid the Navy in “maintaining a qualitative superiority,” he fails to address the political realities that will make this task difficult, if not impossible. Most obvious is Congress’ inability to reverse the devastating cuts of the Budget Control Act (BCA, also known as sequestration).

I would argue that nowhere do BCA caps hurt our national defense more than in our shipbuilding accounts. The Constitution directs the Congress to “maintain” a Navy because the Founders understood a Navy could not be raised on short notice. It was a valuable capital investment and national commitment—one that not only directly defends against aggression but also protects our interests through diplomacy and economic stability. Ship construction is measured in years, and the shipbuilding industrial base is highly vulnerable to destabilized budgets. Today’s Navy is challenged to meet a growing demand for services with less capacity, thus driving deployments to record lengths largely because of choices made years ago to cut shipbuilding accounts. These longer deployments exhaust both equipment and crew while reducing time for maintenance and training. Congress can break this cycle not by holding hearings, but by responsibly exercising the power of the purse. Sadly, it appears this will not happen anytime soon.

In February, the President submitted to Congress a defense budget that exceeded BCA caps by $38 million dollars—an amount DOD leadership testified was the minimum necessary to achieve the nation’s strategic goals. Because Congress lacked the political will to repeal the BCA, the Republican Party found itself in the awkward position of either complying with the law and cutting the military budget to sequestration levels, or following the President’s lead by being strong on defense. This forced the Republican Congress to shift almost $90 million into the Overseas Contingency Operations account, a procedural gimmick that allowed defense spending to comply with the BCA while exceeding the President’s defense budget. However, this action still left all domestic spending accounts vulnerable to BCA caps—an unacceptable position for Democrats. The President, therefore, issued veto threats against the National Defense Authorization Act and all appropriations bills while Democrats are blocking Senate consideration of House-passed appropriations bills. It is therefore almost certain the next fiscal year will be subject to another continuing resolution followed by an omnibus appropriations bill. Budgetary gridlock ensues to the detriment of the shipbuilding program.

Lastly, while the Seapower Subcommittee can hold hearings that identify “innovative concepts,” it only has the power to authorize spending. Without the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee funding these authorizations, these ideas will never make it off a piece of paper. Mr. Forbes is correct that many in Congress care about providing for a strong military—just not enough to fix the underlying budget problems that can make it a reality.

The Deadly Future of Littoral Sea Control

(See P. E. Pournelle, pp. 26–31, July 2015 Proceedings )

Remo Salta —Commander Pournelle states that “The LCS is not designed to fight in the littorals. It is too large and lacks offensive punch with any reach. Claims that it has a reduced signature are simply not supported by the evidence. Both LCS designs have large internal volumes above the waterline and lack any sign of low observable shaping that would change the results of the RCS [radar cross-section] prediction models.”

What is the average American taxpayer supposed to say to this? The Navy now has a littoral combat ship that, according to a member of the U.S. Navy, is not designed to fight in the littorals. After years of design changes, billions of dollars spent on two versions of these ships, and millions of assurances from both the Navy and the shipbuilders that this concept would work, we now have a ship that can’t even succeed in the part of the world it’s named after, the littorals.

The blunt fact of the matter is, given shrinking defense budgets and the horrors of the sequestration cuts, we may have no other alternative but to produce a small number of armed fast-response cutters (FRCs). Purchasing additional frigates to fight in the littorals would be no different than obtaining more LCSs the Pentagon now wants to convert into frigates. And with our naval budgets shrinking at such an alarming rate, we probably wouldn’t be able to afford it, either.

So we may be forced to either purchase a number of FRCs, or expand the fleet of Cyclone -class patrol boats that are already in service. Not only would that make sense from the military standpoint as Commander Pournelle notes, but it’s probably the only option we can afford at this stage of the game. The Navy is going to need more ships and the only way it will be able to afford them is by building a larger number of much smaller ships.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Cyclone class proves that the Navy needs smaller warships and that there is definitely a place for them in a well-balanced global naval force. But will the Navy set aside its prejudices against fast-attack craft in order to obtain a larger number of warships?

If the Navy is serious about fighting in the littorals while keeping open the sea lines of communications with our allies all over the world (especially in the Persian Gulf region), then obtaining a healthy number of armed FRCs would seem like a logical solution to obtaining more ships for less money (when compared with the current LCS program).

But will the Navy embrace this logical solution? Given its past performance of obtaining only a pathetic number of small warships in peacetime and given its inherent inability to admit when it has made a mistake (as with the LCS program), it seems doubtful.

It’s Time to Take the ‘Petty’ Out of the American Sea Services

(See B. Moore, p. 12, July 2015 Proceedings )

Chief Petty Officer Ronald Baptista, U.S. Navy (Retired) —I would agree 100 percent with Lieutenant Commander Moore’s column, as would thousands of past and present enlisted sailors. The term “petty officer,” in our opinion, is very demeaning and degrading. One only need look up “petty” in Webster’s to find, by definition: “1. having secondary rank or importance; minor, subordinate. 2. having little or no importance, significance. 3. marked by or reflective of narrow interests and sympathies; small minded.”

Further to the matter, Webster’s defines “petty officer” thusly: “a subordinate officer in the navy or coast guard appointed from enlisted men. . . .”

Now, I have no argument with the latter, but the former speaks volumes! And I very vividly recall that while exchanging a number of crewmen from our submarine in the mid-1950s with one of the Royal Navy, the British commissioned officers would place much emphasis on the word “pet-ty” when referring to the rank—in other words, putting us and their petty officers in their “rightful place,” as one of them explained. Yes, the stigma of being called what you are not (petty) is way past time for change!

Commander Gary R. Geithmann, U.S. Navy (Retired) —I really had trouble with Lieutenant Commander Moore’s recommendation to scrap the term “petty officer,” as to me it is another effort to remove our Navy’s historical organization that dates to our very origins. I was proud when I became a petty officer and prouder still when I made warrant and finally LDO. I forwarded this article to many of my old shipmates who were, like myself, former enlisted, warrant, limited duty officer, or from the Navy Enlisted Scientific Education program.

Without exception, each of these men and women echoed my concerns. I served 34 years working with numerous enlisted, and I never heard a single enlisted sailor complain about being “just a petty officer!” They certainly complained about pay, long hours, little liberty, etc., but not being a “petty officer”! Navy, please don’t mess with this area like you have with the training and uniforms.

Shake Things Up on the Yard

(See J. Murphy, p. 14, July 2015 Proceedings )

Commander Justin L. Harts, U.S. Navy —What an interesting read by Senior Chief Murphy, suggesting that the U.S. Naval Academy would benefit from the selection of a non-Academy graduate as Superintendent. While I agree with the author’s argument that a Marine or female (from either service) should be fully qualified to hold the post, I think the Navy should consider the risk associated with the assignment of a nongraduate very carefully. For an example of this risk, one need only look up the coast to Annapolis’s sister academy at Kings Point, New York.

The exact qualifications of service academy Superintendents were the subject of recent congressional interest as articulated in the Defense Appropriations Act of 2014 (Sec. 8105), when Congress established a Commission on the Superintendents of the Military Service Academies. In its report, the Senate Appropriations Committee acknowledged that the military is undergoing a period of significant change and that the Superintendents play an important role in training leaders who will be critical to addressing future challenges. The commission was tasked with conducting a comprehensive analysis of the role of a service academy Superintendent, including the criteria for selecting and evaluating performance. As part of this study, conducted by the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), researchers reviewed the assignment of Superintendents to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point seeking to know more about the impact of nongraduate leadership by asking a simple question: “Must the Superintendent be a graduate?”

Their results showed the following: (1) There are many current and past service leaders who feel that a Superintendent must be a graduate. (2) Numerous individuals consulted also advocated the value of a Superintendent having had a previous assignment on the Academy’s staff. (3) The principal reasoning for having a graduate as Superintendent is that the learning curve is too steep for a nongraduate to learn and gain an appreciation of the Academy’s culture, traditions, etc., and to then convey the value of the institution to its stakeholders.

The IDA went further regarding the Merchant Marine Academy, discussing the considerable turmoil within the senior leadership at Kings Point over the past several years, attributed by many of the alumni (and the broader maritime industry) as due in large part to the fact that the Superintendent is not a graduate. Their discussion highlighted that the problems faced by the Merchant Marine Academy are exacerbated not only by the lack of a graduate as Superintendent, but the lack of experience in the Merchant Marine as an issue with the leadership at the Maritime Administration and the Department of Transportation, both of which oversee the Academy.

While the problems facing leadership at Kings Point may be more complex, given the understandable difficulty in grasping the full mission of the Academy without the benefit of a career spent in the Merchant Marine, the maritime industry, or defense sealift, the Navy would be well served to study the full congressional report before assigning a nongraduate to the position of Superintendent at the Naval Academy.

Correcting Course

(See M. McLaughlin and K. Harter, pp. 78–80, July 2015 Proceedings )

Lieutenant Commander Michael Rancour, U.S. Navy —Lieutenants McLaughlin and Harter make a good case for the continued use of augmentee intelligence and cryptologic personnel in support of carrier strike group operations. The fleet intelligence detachments and their cryptologic counterparts are often providing well-trained and motivated sailors to the combat units they augment. In fact, these sailors are now the largest source of afloat intel-cryptologic manpower, and their knowledge base often far surpasses what I had as a junior officer. It is, however, very dangerous to expand this argument in favor of moving even more strike group intelligence-cryptologic support ashore.

There is no substitute for a having a well-trained supplementary or expeditionary intelligence plot (SUPPLOT/EXPLOT) answerable to, and immediately available to, the battle watches and combat information centers; and not dependent on the vagaries of system reboots, communication outages, or bandwith limitations, especially if we are serious about being able to operate in a anti-access/area-denial campaign. These centers, working within their specialty niches, are often providing quality real-time intelligence directly to the affected combat units long before any shore command. In fact, they are often generating the raw intelligence on which other shore-based units rely for their longer-term, time-lagged analysis. Other intelligence roles, such as mission briefing and debriefing, may be able to be done differently, but they certainly cannot be done from ashore. Finally, any shore command, no matter how well intentioned, would have to fight the inevitable bureaucratic inertia to support the near boss over the faraway deployed unit.

Stripping even more intelligence-cryptologic capability from the deployed units that will actually have to fight any future wars and moving it to a continental U.S.-based administrative unit is a concept we must continue to fight.



Conferences and Events

View All

From the Press

23 February - Seminar

Sat, 2019-02-23

David F. Winkler

3 March - Lecture

Sun, 2019-03-03

Stephen A. Bourque

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 140 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership