During 2014, at any given time, about 95 ships—one-third of the U.S. Navy—were deployed around the world, fighting adversaries as deadly yet diverse as ISIL and the Ebola virus. They were crewed by 41,000 highly skilled and motivated people, protecting America’s interests in a complex, dangerous world. “This is our mandate: to be where it matters, when it matters,” Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert emphasized in his 2015 Posture Statement.
Taking the War to ISIL
On 8 August 2014, two U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets assigned to Carrier Air Wing 8 embarked on the aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77) conducted the first U.S. strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists. The Hornets dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs against artillery targets near Erbil, Kurdistan, blunting ISIL’s advance toward Baghdad. Earlier in the summer, the Bush had been deployed off the coast of Pakistan, conducting strikes in support of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, when the call came to redeploy.
The Bush carrier strike group was the only kinetic force available to respond during the first ten days of the crisis, which soon spread from Iraq into Syria. This underscores the value of carrier strike-group forward presence, where and when it matters. With only minimal numbers of U.S. troops on the ground, the Bush demonstrated the operational flexibility and combat effectiveness of sea-based tactical air power.
During a September 2014 interview with Al Arabiya News, Rear Admiral DeWolfe “Chip” Miller, commander of the Bush carrier strike group, said the campaign would protect U.S. interests and blunt ISIL military progress. “The President has made our work here clear,” he said. “We are working on supporting humanitarian assistance operations like Mount Sinjar and the Mosul Dam. We are also protecting American citizens and facilities inside Iraq.”
Aircraft from the carrier continued daily attacks that slowed the ISIL terrorists’ assault, while diplomatic coordination took place and other Joint and multinational forces flowed into the region. It took weeks before arrangements were settled with regional allies to conduct strike missions. During the first 54 days of the crisis, the only armed manned-aircraft response were Navy aircraft launched from the Bush.
Once agreements were in place, joint and combined coordination went well. The U.S. Central Command reported that during the early morning hours of 23 September, the Bush’s aircraft and a multinational force attacked ISIL strongholds, command posts, and training bases in Iraq and Syria. Aircraft, drones, and cruise missiles from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force, supported by forces from five Middle Eastern countries—the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates—conducted 14 coordinated strikes on critical militant targets. The strikes destroyed or damaged multiple ISIL targets in the vicinity of Ar-Raqqah, Dayr al-Zawr, Al-Hasakah, and Abu Kamal and included ISIL fighters, training compounds, headquarters, and command-and-control facilities, storage facilities, a finance center, supply trucks, and armed vehicles.
Operating from international waters in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, the USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) and the Philippine Sea (CG-58) launched 47 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles, complemented by U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps fighters and bomber aircraft—as well as remotely piloted drones—deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
In an October 2014 Fox News interview, Admiral Greenert highlighted the Navy’s role in what by then had been dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve. “Some of it is just information––intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance; others are strikes, and it depends on what the central commander desires. This could include jamming of some of ISIS’ network. We are standing by with Tomahawk missiles, which, in fact, we used on that first night at the start of this operation.” In addition to counterterrorism cooperation, “we also share information on what is happening in and around . . . this network,” said the CNO. “The most important aspect is where are these bad guys. We go in early on, and you can find some targets very quickly, but then they start moving around and it gets complicated, complex—so it’s really about information sharing.”
On 15 December 2014, The New York Times provided a glimpse into operations conducted from the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), which relieved the Bush in October. According to the article, “A Desert War on ISIS, Fought from a Floating City,” by reporter Eric Schmitt, because of the Iraqi forces’ tentative and uncertain actions, “‘It wasn’t going so well there, for a while, but the momentum seems to have reversed,’” said Commander Eric Doyle, a Hornet pilot who also flew combat missions in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. About 20 percent of the 100 daily flights were strike missions into Iraq and Syria. The others were a mix of training, supply, and reconnaissance flights. By the end of the year, about one quarter of the 1,200 total air-strikes in Iraq and Syria had been flown off the carriers.
“You don’t have to ask anybody for permission to use a carrier,” said Vice Admiral John W. Miller, commander of the Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain. “It’s five acres of sovereign U.S. territory.”
According to the same Times article, in some missions the pilots were striking specific, planned targets such as headquarters buildings. But most of the carriers’ missions have been targets of opportunity, supporting ground forces. “Pilots fly above designated grid areas, typically 60 miles square, searching for fighters, artillery, and other signs of the enemy,” the article noted. “An aerial armada of surveillance planes, with names like Joint Stars and Rivet Joint, track militant movements on the ground and intercept their electronic communications, feeding a steady stream of information to pilots.”
According to the Times, Commander Doyle remarked, “It can be pretty boring, then all of sudden it gets heated, and you’ve got a whole lot of work to do in 120 seconds.”
By early February 2015, U.S. aircraft had conducted 1,856 strikes, while coalition aircraft had conducted 438. Aircraft from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom had taken part in strikes against ISIL targets in Iraq, and U.S. aircraft were joined by combat aircraft from Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. U.S. strike aircraft have included Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet/Super Hornets and AV-8B Harrier IIs; Air Force F-15 Strike Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor, B-1B Lancer bombers and AC-130 gunships; AH-64 Apache attack helicopters; and MQ-9 Reaper drones (which are also operated by the Royal Air Force).
This pressure on ISIL looks as if it will continue, as the Military Times reported on 9 March: Military operations against Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria could last several years, and Syrian ops could expand to include a “no-fly” zone or even American ground troops.
How Many Carriers Are Enough?
The question of the right number of carriers was a focus of some discussion last year, as deployments lengthened and concerns about burning-out sailors, ships, and aircraft were raised. During a May 2014 Stars and Stripes interview, CNO Greenert said, “When I look out into the future, we need at least 11 carriers.” Eleven carriers are the minimum number required for three to be continuously stationed at strategic points around the world to rapidly respond to crises.
Some observers last year argued that the Navy should have two carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf, which was the case in 2012, until budget cuts reduced deployments to one carrier. However, the CNO told Fox News that the Navy has the correct level of resources to achieve U.S. objectives. “We did have two carriers in the Arabian gulf for a period of time that was during some increased tensions with Iran,” said Admiral Greenert. “One is working fine for now, and I think we have the proper capabilities there.”
Since the halcyon days of the 15-carrier battle group/600-ship Navy in the 1980s, the carrier force structure has gradually been reduced—because of fiscal pressures, not operational requirements—to 11 carriers and 10 carrier air wings. As a result of the gap between the inactivation of the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) in December 2012 and the delivery of the Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) in 2016, however, Congress waived the requirement for 11 and grudgingly agreed to a temporary drop to 10 carriers, understanding that the decision could have ripple effects in meeting the full range of missions.
This temporary reduction to ten carriers came close to being the de facto force structure, however. Faced with deep, comprehensive budget cuts as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and sequestration, the Navy announced plans to cancel the three-year, $3.5 billion refueling and complex overhaul of the USS George Washington (CVN-73), which was commissioned in 1992. Instead, the service would decommission the ship before she reached her service-life midpoint. Many more billions of dollars would be saved by not operating the George Washington for another 25 years and from decommissioning one of the Navy’s carrier air wings. Three years later, after facing significant congressional opposition to the plan, due in no small part to combatant commanders’ worldwide demand, the George Washington’s refueling and overhaul will proceed.
“We are today making every effort to replan near $7 billion required across the [Future Years Defense Plan] to refuel the carrier plus maintain its air wing, manpower, and support,” Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces in a 10 July 2014 hearing. “We’ve released the balance of advance procurement funding for 2014 to continue planning efforts in order to best maintain our options and retain skilled labor at the shipyard while we await determination by Congress regarding sequestration in 2016. Yet, this also increases the pressure on other programs.”
Last October, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told reporters that the Navy is committed to an 11-carrier fleet, “It’s like gravity—it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.”
On 4 February 2015, the Navy awarded to Huntington Ingalls Inc., Newport News Shipbuilding a $224 million contract for material and first-year advanced planning for the refueling and complex overhaul of CVN-73. The George Washington is expected to return to the active forces in 2020.
Facing Down Ebola
More than a year has passed since the World Health Organization warned of the Ebola outbreak that then rapidly spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, killing more than 10,000 people. According to a 22 March 2015 article in The New York Times, “The virus escaped control as countries and global agencies failed to acknowledge and contend with the magnitude of its spread. Treatment centers were overwhelmed. Sick people died on city streets, and new cases multiplied inside health care facilities, killing a significant proportion of the already inadequate health work force of the three most affected countries . . . after two American aid workers and a traveler to Nigeria fell ill last summer, setting off a panic, a huge global initiative to combat Ebola swung into place.”
As he announced plans to send thousands of U.S. troops to the region, on 16 September President Barack Obama said, “Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us, the United States, and it’s a responsibility that we embrace, we are prepared to take leadership on this, to provide the type of capabilities that only America has and mobilize our resources in ways that only America can do.”
Among others who were on the front lines of Operation United Assistance were Navy Lieutenant Andrea McCoy and her team of sailor-scientists. “I’m the person who enters every patient into the database,” she told USA Today. Lieutenant McCoy is the officer in charge of a Navy mobile laboratory at the end of a dirt road near Monrovia, Liberia. She said, “Every [test] tube looks like a person to me, whether it’s a 5-year-old male that I’m entering or a 65-year-old female.”
“We had one sample that came from a 9-year-old boy that was one of the hottest samples that we had,” Navy microbiologist Lieutenant Jose Garcia told Stars and Stripes in an October 2014 article. “And when I say hottest, I mean that it had the most virus within it. [It’s] a death sentence. We’re at it seven days a week, 12 hours a day.”
McCoy and Garcia’s lab is assigned to the Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC) in Silver Spring, Maryland. It is one of seven in Liberia staffed by the U.S. Navy (two labs) or Army (five). In addition, the Centers for Disease Control/National Institutes of Health and the European Union each ran a mobile testing lab. At the height of the crisis, some 2,800 U.S. service members deployed to the Ebola “combat zone.”
Equally important was beefing up the in-country hospital infrastructure to meet the burgeoning demand. Last fall, an engineering team of 15 Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133 at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, deployed to Liberia as part of the U.S. military’s effort to stem the Ebola outbreak. The team built one of 17 planned “Ebola Treatment Units” (ETUs) in Liberia that were key to curtailing the spread of the disease. It conducted site surveys, built a $22 million hospital and stocked it with supplies, according to U.S. Africa Command. (In November that target was reduced to ten ETUs, but only eight had been completed by January.)
In the early days of the outbreak, it took weeks to test for Ebola present in drawn blood because labs were so scarce. But with these nine labs and the team’s advanced equipment, results were available within a few hours.
“The main goal of our job is to speed up the time between the arrival of the blood sample and the detection of the Ebola virus in the sample,” emphasized the NMRC’s Ketan Patel. In an 11 March 2015 article in DARK Daily Clinical Laboratory and Pathology News and Trends, Dr. Patel said that a quick diagnosis minimizes the risk of exposing noninfected patients and improves outcomes for those infected.
That Patel and his colleagues were also at risk of infection seemed not to concern them. Working behind layers of protective gear, the Navy scientists extract blood from each vial or body cells from each swab and pummel them with ethanol and alkaline chemicals to kill the virus, which renders it safer to handle.
“We’re able to basically sequester the genomic material out of the blood samples,” Garcia told USA Today. “There’s always multiple layers of security between us and the actual blood samples,” he continued. I’ve never actually been afraid of working with the virus. The chances of me contracting the virus are minimal, as long as our safety protocols are strictly adhered to,” Garcia said. “This is where trust in your team comes into play. Up to now we’ve had zero incidents of anyone getting sick and we plan to keep it that way.”
Navy Lieutenant Christina Farris, 31, also a doctor of microbiology, has devoted her life to the study of microbiology and curing disease in the laboratory. But seeing actual people emerge after beating back a terrible illness, the progress that she helped track in the Navy lab, has been an altogether different experience. “Being able to participate in one of these humanitarian efforts like this and actually get to use my skills, that’s pretty fantastic,” she said.
The Navy reaffirmed its commitment to building a small surface combatant to meet Fleet requirements. Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel “paused” the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program in February 2014 while alternative “frigate-like” options were assessed. Responding to Hagel’s injunction, Navy leaders established the Small Surface Combatant Task Force, which, during the course of ten intensive months of work, assessed 18 existing ship designs, 600 modifications of the existing LCS designs, and 2,300 combat-system alternatives.
Based on the task force’s recommendation, Navy leaders announced in December that the service’s approach would be to upgrade both of the baseline LCS variants, the USS Freedom (LCS-1) and Independence (LCS-2)—a traditional flight-upgrade strategy that has long been used for cruisers and destroyers. In one of his last actions as Defense Secretary, Hagel concurred with the Navy’s approach, and in January 2015 Secretary of the Navy Mabus announced that upgraded LCS versions would be redesignated as frigates. As Mabus told the Surface Navy Association’s January annual meeting in Arlington, Virginia, he spends too much “time explaining what a littoral is.”
Mabus’ decision preserves frigates in the Navy’s inventory, as the service’s Oliver Hazard Perry–class FFG is being phased out during this fiscal year. The last ship of the Perry class, the USS Kauffman (FFG-59), departed in January on her final deployment. Once the Kauffman returns to her home port she will be retired, ending the 40-year history of the class. According to Norman Polmar’s Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet, the original Navy program delivered 51 “Fig-Sevens” from 1977 to 1989, and other navies also built the warship: Australia, two; Spain, seven; and Taiwan, seven. The LCS and future frigate version will shoulder the FFG-7s’ missions.
The Perry–class frigates remain in demand, however, from foreign navies, and the U.S. Senate approved the sale of another seven vessels to Taiwan in November 2014. Pakistan, Turkey, Bahrain, and Egypt have also operated retired FFG-7s throughout the years. Two, the USS Wadsworth (FFG-9) and Clark (FFG-11) were the first U.S. warships to be transferred to Poland between 2000–02.
The frigate version of the LCS will emphasize integrated surface and antisubmarine-warfare capabilities, rather than specific mission packages for the baseline LCS ships. The mine-countermeasures mission will be fully supported by the initial 32-ship LCS construction program. The frigate will feature survivability and lethality improvements, including more armor for critical ship areas, an over-the-horizon surface-to-surface missile, more passive and active electronic-warfare systems, and an improved radar system. The first of the 20 frigates will begin construction in 2019 as the last of the current LCS seaframes enter construction at Marinette Marine and Austal USA shipyards. This approach results in no gap in ship construction at the yards and allows the Navy to continue to reap the cost and schedule efficiencies of a workforce far down the learning curve of serial construction.
As these events played out in Washington, both the LCS and the last of the Navy’s Perry-class frigates continued to execute Fleet missions. The USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) departed San Diego in November 2014 on a 16-month deployment to the Western Pacific—the most ambitious test yet of the LCS concept of operations that has already featured at least two crew swaps and active roles in real missions and multinational exercises.
As soon as she arrived in Singapore in January 2015, the Fort Worth was dispatched to the Java Sea to assist in the sea search for debris from the downed AirAsia flight 8501. Working closely with the Aegis guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson (DDG-102), the Fort Worth’s embarked MH-60R helicopter, unmanned MQ-8B Fire Scout long-endurance vehicle, and 36-foot rigid-hull inflatable boat provided key capabilities for the salvage mission. The Fort Worth’s shallow draft (14 feet) allowed the ship to maneuver through the area’s numerous atolls and reefs. The ship then went on to participate in Foal Eagle exercises with South Korea and later ported over in Sasebo, Japan. As Rear Admiral Charles Williams, commander of Task Force 73, told the Singapore Straits Times, littoral combat ships “will become workhorses in the 7th Fleet.”
LaWS: From Testing to Tasked
In August 2014, the USS Ponce (LPD/AFSB[I]-15), operating as an afloat forward-staging base, made naval history by testing the first laser system at sea in the Persian Gulf. During a series of operational tests, the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) proved capable of destroying drones, small attack craft, and other targets in a variety of scenarios and conditions. The system is a solid-state laser that operates only at the 25–30 kilowatt range, but is still powerful enough to disable or destroy slower-moving targets. The Navy integrated LaWS into the Ponce’s existing close-in weapon system and radar. A laser is considered highly cost-effective; Navy officials project that the LaWS can hit targets at a cost of one dollar or less, versus the much higher cost-per-round associated with traditional guns, missiles, and rockets.
Today, LaWS is no longer considered a test program: “This is operational,” then-Chief of Naval Research, Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder told Military.com in a December 2014 interview. The Ponce is “using it every day,” he explained. Navy officials now expect LaWS to begin fielding on warships in the 2020-21 timeframe.
LaWs is the latest example of a series of advanced technologies that have long languished in various Navy research centers. CNO Greenert is attempting to break them out of laboratories and deploy them on ships and other platforms, to spur innovation and create more Fleet-driven demand. Dubbed “Speed to Fleet,” this effort has included LaWS, the electromagnetic railgun, and long-endurance, unmanned underwater vehicles. “We’ve got to get things moving,” Greenert told the Navy’s Future Force Science and Technology Expo in February. “It’s getting things out there and trying them out as soon as possible. I call it ‘let’s get wet quick’.”
The railgun is the next technology that is being pushed out of the lab for more realistic testing and prototyping on board ship. The plan is to install the BAE Systems railgun candidate on board the USNS Millinocket (JHSV-3), a joint high-speed vessel catamaran, for at-sea firing tests in summer 2016. The Navy has previously tested railguns only at shore-based facilities such as the Surface Warfare Center, located at Dahlgren, Virginia. Based in San Diego, the Millinocket was selected for use as a railgun test ship because the vessel’s broad flight deck and sizeable internal spaces are a good fit for the large weapon barrel, which is outfitted topside with associated electrical storage systems that would be installed belowdecks. A railgun operates using an intensive jolt of energy that then hurls a projectile, positioned between two rails, at tremendous force. The projectile can reach ranges of 100 miles or more traveling at speeds of Mach 7. Railguns offer a dramatic new way to project fire support ashore and allow ships to carry far more rounds in its magazines than missiles for engagements and defense.
Both of these efforts still face daunting technical and integration challenges before either can be ready for routine deployment on board warships. For example, lasers have to become much more powerful, reaching above 200 to 300 kilowatts and even higher for more advanced free-electron lasers, to engage advanced threats such as ballistic and cruise missiles and long-range unmanned aerial vehicles. These systems will also require integration on board ships that possess the space, storage, and electric capacity to use them effectively, according to Ronald O’Rourke’s March report, Navy Shipboard Lasers for Surface, Air and Missile Defense (CRS-R41526). The Navy has to seriously consider including these critical design factors in the initial planning for future destroyers or amphibious ships, the report says. While existing ship types like Arleigh Burke–class destroyers and San Antonio–class amphibious ships have enough electrical power to support the current LaWS system, they do not possess sufficient power margins to effectively use more powerful laser systems in the future, according to the CRS report. Accommodating these future laser weapons into future ship types is an important design issue the Navy must still address.
Likewise, railguns are still too large and cumbersome for effective integration on warships today. “You want to get a railgun to the fight, it’s got to fit on a DDG,” Vice Admiral William Hillarides, Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command, told the Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo in February. “How do we get it onto a destroyer?” But a DDG-51–class destroyer has a payload capacity of 20 tons, while the Millinocket test ship has 600 tons.
Ohio Replacement: National, not Navy Funding
Congress garners a lot of criticism, much of it well deserved, for not taking a strategic approach to U.S. national-security and defense funding. That said, the legislative branch deserves some credit during the past year for beginning to focus seriously on future funding of the Ohio Replacement Program (ORP). The ORP is the Navy’s foremost future acquisition priority, as CNO Greenert has often stated. It marks the design, development, production, and deployment of an entirely new class of 12 nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines, initially armed with 16 Trident II D5 missiles. The estimated $90 billion program will replace the Navy’s existing fourteen Ohio-class “boomers” beginning in 2031. The most significant development during the past year might just be the establishment by Congress of the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund.
That fund is the most tangible signal yet that the Navy’s warnings of the dire future fiscal consequences of funding the ORP out of the service’s shipbuilding budget alone were starting to be heard and understood. Navy leaders have been actively engaged in a multiyear effort to help Congress understand that fully funding the ORP, which is estimated to reach at least $7 billion a year in the 2020s, will blow a huge hole in the Navy’s future shipbuilding budgets. The first ORP submarine is expected to cost approximately $9 billion, since lead ships for any class carry research-and-development costs and the usual unanticipated issues associated with new designs. Navy shipbuilding averages about $15 billion a year for all ship-construction programs. If the $7 billion a year in funding for the ORP must come from that total, service officials have argued, other shipbuilding programs will be significantly affected or stopped outright.
“Absent a significant increase to the [shipbuilding] appropriation, ORP construction will seriously impair construction of virtually all other ships in the battle force: attack submarines, destroyers, and amphibious assault ships,” said Secretary Stackley, in his February testimony to the House Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee.
A December 2014 review of the Navy’s future shipbuilding program by Eric Labs of the Congressional Budget Office, An Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2015 Shipbuilding Plan, details that, ORP issues aside, the Navy’s future shipbuilding plan is underfunded to a significant degree. The service’s 2014 30-year shipbuilding plan requires more than $20 billion to fully fund—far more than the $15 billion a year that shipbuilding has accounted for during the last 30 years. If the ORP is as sacrosanct as Navy leaders maintain, then fully funding it will force the service to dramatically reduce financing for other ships. “If the Navy’s future funding for shipbuilding is in line with its past funding, the Navy will need to reduce substantially its new-ship purchases relative to the number called for in its 2015 plan,” according to the CBO report.
Advanced procurement for ORP will be requested in the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget, with the first boat scheduled to be procured beginning in FY 21. The Navy is seeking $10 billion in its FY 15 Future Years Defense Program for ORP, Rear Admiral William Lescher, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, told reporters in 2015 at a briefing on the 2016 budget. Continuing the dialogue with Congress on the deterrence fund is an important objective. “The bottom-line key issue here is not the fund, it’s the funding,” Lescher said. “So I think it’s a work in progress, and it’s a topic for continued conversation with the committees.”
Navy officials maintain the service’s shipbuilding budget was previously boosted during the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the Ohio-class submarines were being built and fielded. So the historical precedent is there for this type of financial boost outside of the Navy’s core shipbuilding-and-conversion fund. The issue is more complicated today, however, since the Air Force is also seeking to develop and build a new advanced bomber and update the nation’s land-based inventory of intercontinental ballistic missiles—all requiring tens of billions of dollars in new funding between 2020–30.
Navy Contractor Theatrics
At first glance it seemed to be a parody of Guys and Dolls, with a new mobster, “Fat Leonard,” taking center stage. But the seriousness of this continuing scandal that has ensnared officers and civilians alike far outweighed Broadway’s floating crap game.
On 18 February 2015, Voice of America reported that a “massive U.S. Navy scandal involving an East-Asia Pacific ship supply contractor and its convicted chief executive has now reached up into the admiral’s ranks. And the probe is far from over.” Indeed, Defense News noted a couple of days earlier that as many as 36 admirals were under federal investigation for their relationship with the Singapore-headquartered ship-husbanding corporation.
Chief executive of Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) Leonard Francis, a.k.a. Fat Leonard, on 15 January pleaded guilty to bribery and related federal charges. Along with forfeiting some $35 million, Francis was also cooperating with prosecutors, something that Navy Times described as “rattling” throughout the Navy.
GMDA’s Navy husbanding business involved tending to and refueling non-nuclear ships and resupplying ships with food, supplies, and other consumables on arrival in several East Asian ports.
Federal prosecutors catalogued gifts to Navy senior officers that, according to Defense News, included more than $500,000 in cash bribes, prostitute services costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and thousands more spent on travel boondoggles, ornamental swords, Kobe beef, and Cuban cigars. GDMA obtained classified information from Navy officials in exchange for the bribes, allowing the company to overbill the U.S. military for tens of millions of dollars. Francis was also given detailed information regarding ship deployments so his facilities would be ready to bid on servicing them when they arrived.
Navy Captain Daniel Dusek pleaded guilty with Francis. Dusek allegedly took bribes and a wide range of favors from Fat Leonard in exchange for allowing fraudulent invoices to be paid. Since October 2014, four Navy officers and two more company officials have also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery. Two other Navy officers have pleaded innocent to bribery charges. On 3 February a former Navy contracting official became the ninth person charged in the case.
“With the arrest of Paul Simpkins, who was recently among the Defense Department’s high-ranking civilians, we have uncovered yet another tentacle of this pervasive bribery scheme,” U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy explained. Justice News reported on 3 February that Simpkins held several manager-level contracting positions throughout the federal government, including Supervisory Contract Special at the U.S. Navy Regional Contracting Center in Singapore from April 2005 through June 2007 and manager in the Department of Defense’s Office of Small Business Programs from December 2007 to August 2012. Between May 2006 and September 2012, Justice News explained, Simpkins accepted several hundred thousand dollars, travel and entertainment expenses, hotel rooms, and the services of prostitutes. In return, Simpkins steered lucrative Navy contracts to GDMA, advocated for and advanced the company’s interests in contract disputes, and assisted in preventing GDMA’s competitors from receiving Navy business.
“The more we learn about the extent of the greed and corruption,” Duffy continued, “the more determined we are to eviscerate it.”
“As we’ve mentioned previously, the GDMA investigation is far from over,” said Andrew L. Traver, director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. “NCIS will follow the evidence wherever it leads, to bring to justice those who were involved in perpetrating this massive fraud.”
The scandal soon reached flag ranks. Defense News reported that on 10 February 2015 Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus censured Vice Admiral Michael Miller and Rear Admirals Terry Kraft and David Pimpo because of their roles in the matter. Mabus’ statement said, “These three officers, whose actions were revealed during the GDMA investigation, demonstrated poor judgment and a failure of leadership in prior tours. These letters ensure that individuals are held appropriately accountable when less than criminal allegations are substantiated.”
Miller, Kraft, and Pimpo were embarked on the carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) during a WESTPAC deployment. “These three officers were found to have improperly accepted gifts from a prohibited source, two were found to have improperly endorsed a commercial business, and one engaged in solicitation of gifts and services from a prohibited source when they were deployed to the 7th Fleet area of responsibility during the 2006-07 timeframe,” the Navy said.
In late March, reports noted that Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Rear Admiral Kevin Donegan, acting Director of Operations, Plans, and Strategy, had been cleared of wrongdoing.
Defense News pointed out that the scandal was also affecting the Navy’s established system of postings and promotions. The three censured officers were reportedly seeking to retire, but retirements cannot take place until actions concerning them are resolved. Moreover, officers under investigation are removed from their commands but given no other assignments as they await the outcome of probes. While officers might be removed from their jobs because of the investigations, they continue to hold their rank. As a result, more junior officers are held back from promotion.
“It becomes a lot more complicated to deal with folks once they’re outside the military,” one Navy official told Defense News. “The ability to handle it is a lot easier keeping them in uniform.”
Forged In Fire
“To make very, very strong steel, you put it in the fire. You bang it with a hammer,” Vice Admiral William Hilarides, Commander, U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), told The Washington Post at the christening of the Command’s renovated headquarters on 2 February. “I see this event as tragic. It has forged us into a family.”
“This event” was the killing of 12 people and wounding of 4 others during a shooting at the headquarters on the Washington Navy Yard, the morning of 16 September 2013.
“We were knocked down but we didn’t stay down. We returned to work, kept NAVSEA going, supported the Fleet, the Navy, and each other,” Hilarides said. “It’s great to be home.”
The NAVSEA Command Headquarters has been renamed the Humphreys Building in honor of Joshua Humphreys, who designed the first U.S. Navy frigates in 1796—an important reminder of NAVSEA’s resilience and focus: “It’s all about ships!”
A task force of NAVSEA employees oversaw the $64 million renovation of the historic brick building, which was built in 1940 as a gun assembly shop. The renovation team was determined to maintain the historic facade of the building while altering the interior enough to create a new “sense of place.” Another priority was to add a memorial for those who died in the shooting. The Remembrance Area, located at the former visitor’s entrance, features lighted boxes bearing the victims’ names mounted on a wall of cascading water and marble benches where people can sit and reflect.
Hilarides’ priority was to restore normalcy, but he also wanted to ensure those killed would forever remain a part of NAVSEA. “The Remembrance Area inside the building is the physical manifestation of that truth,” Hilarides explained. “It’s also a place where those of us who were physically and emotionally affected by the 16th can go for quiet reflection and healing. Getting to this day hasn’t been easy,” he continued. “It’s been a long road—physically, mentally, and emotionally—but we’re back. Our work home is complete.”
The past year has underscored, again, the unique strategic, operational, and tactical capabilities of America’s Navy, allowing for full-spectrum, all-domain operations, from humanitarian assistance to delivering lethal ordnance on target. Our bets cover more of the same in the year to come.