Eliminate Toxic Leadership
I agree with Lieutenant Commander Callaghan that toxic leaders exhibit “self-centered attitudes, motivations, and behaviors that have adverse effects on subordinates, the organization, and mission performance.” However, it is important to consider that most toxic leaders are not born that way, as her article seems to imply; a 360-degree assessment and leadership coaching may not catch toxic leaders early in their careers. Leaders can become toxic as they advance.
Many in the Sea Services have at some point come across a leader whose “self-centered attitude” is really psychopathy, but thankfully these cases are very rare. The more common toxic leaders are the ones who intend to be good; they struggle to bear the pressures of the job, and as responsibility increases along with rank, the pressures become unbearable. These leaders tend to take on too much, usually with the best intentions, maybe underestimating their people’s abilities or overestimating their own. Then at senior levels, when the burden of responsibility becomes too heavy, they are crushed by it. Things go awry, they are held to account, the pressure increases, they lose sleep, they lose patience, and finally, they snap. They become toxic. Their responsibility overwhelms them, and it comes out as anger, so what looks like a “self-centered attitude” is really self-preservation.
In this light, we need to consider our senior leaders’ mental health—specifically executive officers and commanding officers who are in those roles for the first time in their careers. Don’t forget that, apart from the sociopaths, toxic leadership tends to derive from some kind of internal struggle or suffering that needs to be addressed. Mental fitness is a way to eliminate toxic leadership before it begins.
—CAPT Frank J. Walter, USN
Commerce Warfare Capabilities as an Act of Deterrence
Disputing Chinese Sea Control Through Offensive Sea Mining
The Other Mine Warfare Will Work
Among the many solid articles in the June issue, two of the “lesser” prize-winning articles stand out as the most important for the Navy’s ability to deter and, if necessary, defeat China should it choose military aggression in the Indo-Pacific, including taking Taiwan using force. Each gives a glimpse into the components of the strategy to which the United States needs to shift, namely threatening the Chinese leadership’s so-called “Mandate from Heaven” rather than treating aggression as a purely military problem.
Such a strategy will require concerted and synchronized action along all instruments of power—diplomatic/political, informational, economic, intelligence and military—on a carefully managed escalation ladder. If the U.S. approach to the Russia-Ukraine conflict is any indication, our military support to a partner such as Taiwan could very well be indirect or covert rather than direct because of China’s increasing capabilities as a nuclear-armed power. The nation must be prepared for this.
Midshipman Robert Hatfield III’s excellent essay touches on an important component of such a strategy. As a future surface warfare officer, his bias is understandably in the direction of how that community might support this element of a campaign. So be it, but such action will have to be taken outside the range of Chinese core defensive systems, in ocean areas where the surface navy plays well. Of course, it must be able to overcome any steps, such as escorts, China might take to protect merchant shipping. Moreover, because action must be taken on an escalation ladder, technical development of nonlethal means of stopping ships should have a high place on the list of Navy research and development investments.
But someone or something will have to do the work inside the range of China’s growing antiaccess capabilities, which are quickly slipping past the surface fleet’s ability to survive (although embracing certain forms of directed-energy capability might buy a little more time). One only need consider the sinking of the Russian ship Moskva to understand these areas are becoming too lethal for large, slow, nonstealthy platforms. Though many will claim that Russian alertness, defensive systems, and damage control were inferior to U.S. warships—which happens to be true—the Ukrainian threat was also fairly rudimentary. U.S. Navy and allied ships entering a fight against China could be confronted by complex, simultaneous attacks from modern ballistic and medium- and low-altitude cruise missiles—in larger quantities. To survive, the U.S. surface fleet, including aircraft carriers, will likely have to operate beyond their effective combat ranges—exactly what China intends.
Thus, Commander Victor Duenow’s piece about offensive mining is the second important article. As I suggested in a similar essay several years ago, the U.S. Navy leveraged mine warfare to help defeat Japan in World War II, and it is also the latest victim. Fielding mines that truly reflect the art of the possible with today’s technology—including the use of artificial intelligence, new forms of connectivity, extended lethality, and innovative means of delivery—would not only enable Midshipman Hatfield’s argument for commerce warfare, it would also dramatically complicate Chinese efforts to subdue Taiwan at a fraction of the cost of congressional ambitions for shipbuilding.
To be sure, offensive and defensive mines alone will not be enough to provide the naval element of the military instrument of power needed to support a more modern, all-instruments-of-power China strategy inside areas lethal to visible platforms. Other forms of undersea and seabed warfare also come into play, as will inventive ways of resupplying and sustaining Taiwan, but they are beyond the scope of this comment. For now, hats off to Messrs. Hatfield and Duenow! We would be wise to follow their counsel.
—ADM James Winnefeld Jr., USN (Ret.)
Create an Engineering Officer Corps for Surface Ships
In 1971, I had a fantastic Pacific crossing on the USS Barbel (SS-580) from Subic Bay to Pearl Harbor, on board to understand how a submarine with one screw operates. My Royal Netherlands Navy was building two submarines at the time, copied from
the Barbel, which were ready to start sea trials.
During the trip one of the Barbel’s engines needed repairs. With the captain’s permission, I supervised the repairs, being an engineer officer myself. We entered Pearl Harbor with all three engines running.
The commanding officer from the base asked me about the policy in my navy to have engineer officers and surface officers, and he asked me to transfer to the U.S. Navy. I had already been appointed to supervise the sea trials with HNLMS Zwaardvis, so I refused this honorable offer.
Now, more than 50 years later, I was surprised to read Lieutenant Delloue’s article about creating an engineering corps! I still advise your Navy to do so. In the Royal Netherlands Navy, all our ships still have deck officers and engineering officers, and this way of working is very satisfactory.
—CAPT (E) Pieter de Graeff, Royal Netherlands Navy (Ret.)
I concur with Lieutenant Delloue. It is a change that is long overdue. But let’s not stop at engineering specialization—rather, let’s fully adopt the Royal Navy warfare area specialization as well.
The issue of surface warfare officer specialization is one that regularly emerges. Significantly, it is an issue that seems to enjoy considerable deckplate support from surface junior officers. In 1998, when I was the executive officer of the USS Robert G. Bradley (FFG-49), we did a Standing Naval Force Atlantic deployment. My junior officers were a bit envious of our NATO colleagues due to their specialization. One of the junior officers said, “When they say they are the ship’s missile officer, they really are!”
As recently as the 2021 surface junior officer retention survey, the issue of specialization and its attendant in-depth training was one of the biggest items cited by junior officers as something that would contribute to retention. It was rejected by senior Navy leaders, however.
The “jack of all trades” approach served the U. S. Navy well in the past, but with the increasing complexity of systems—combat systems as well as the new generation of hybrid/combined propulsion systems—focused expertise is essential. This specialization would increase professionalism, morale, and community pride, but it will only deliver the desired results if it includes a robust training and education pipeline!
—CAPT Pete Pagano, USN (Ret.)
What do these articles have in common with Lieutenant Delloue’s article on engineering specialization? The Navy needs to get back to the real basics of what it is for and how it should accomplish that primary task.
Regarding creation of an engineering officer corps for surface ships, the author emphasizes lack of time and training for junior officers to manage and operate propulsion plants. I graduated as a deck officer from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, but I was equally confident in my knowledge of the propulsion plants (I even became a nuclear engineer in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program) on the Navy ships on which I served.
When coal-fired steam was introduced, the “black gang” ran the plant and stayed off the bridge. But then they realized they had no career opportunities to reach high levels of command. Thus, the merger with the line officer community to give such opportunities and to ensure those in command had a basic understanding of the capabilities, characteristics, and limitations of the propulsion plants.
The British path may seem appealing, but recognize that their submarine COs have far less understanding of their propulsion plants than U.S. submarine commanders, who start in the engine room and work their way forward. Junior officers should actively prepare for any assignment they are given.
Thus, Lieutenant Zapala’s article, which noted a general lack of what I call aggressive curiosity. Over my 46-plus years working with the Navy, I noted a declining trend in curiosity from sailors of all ranks. The focus was on finding the chips required to pass exams or qualifications and moving on, paying little attention to why and how things behaved the way they did. Many today waste time on games, with very little attention to learning. There is a big difference between memorizing as compared with knowing and understanding. Read, learn and apply, not in a cookbook fashion but with real understanding.
Captain Poplar sums up the overall Navy issue: the need to focus on what really matters. I learned how to drive ships: Navigation, rules of the road, and shiphandling were critically important. The importance of situational awareness while watchstanding was driven home early. Hands-on firefighting and damage control were also emphasized and trained. Keeping the ship fit to fight is critically important. There are too many recent examples that show the above are not getting enough attention.
Lieutenant Alman touched on an interesting subject when he advocated for the Navy to “rapidly purchase and convert merchant ships, particularly from the Maritime Security Program, into missile carriers. . . . In the event of a war warning, conveniently located merchants could be refitted to provide additional firepower at the start of a conflict.”
This is an old, but still valid, idea. At the start of World Wars I and II, the Royal Navy made great use of armed merchant cruisers. They were ocean liners, cargo liners, and freighters that were quickly converted into armed patrol ships to supplement the overwhelmed Royal Navy. Shipping companies received low-cost loans and annual subsidies from the British government in exchange for building ocean liners and cargo liners that met specific qualifications so that during times of war these ships could be converted into armed merchant cruisers. Decks and bulkheads, especially, were strengthened to accommodate guns and ammunition.
Although the ocean liners of today would be totally unsuitable for this mission, container ships would work well. They have the space and the deck strength to accommodate containerized munitions as well as some defensive guns. The shipping lines could be subsidized by the federal government for the construction and maintenance of these ships, and, in peacetime, they would be used as standard container ships but with the understanding that they would be commandeered by the Navy during times of war. This would also be a way of expanding both our small merchant fleet and our shrinking shipyard infrastructure needed to maintain it.
But let’s not kid ourselves. These are not warships. They would have little defensive capabilities and would make huge targets. But those liabilities would be offset by the fact that they would undoubtedly be part of a larger task force that would defend them. These ships can also absorb a lot of punishment due to their size. Yet their ability to fire an enormous number of missiles would be a huge asset to any task force needing additional offensive firepower.
Admiral Thomas B. Hayward (1924–2022)
I read with interest Captain Patton’s article on Admiral Thomas B. Hayward. At the beginning, it states, “‘Come sail with me,’ he began, ‘Come sail with me.’” This is a quote from John Paul Jones, and it appears on a marker in front of the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center at the Naval Academy:
Sign on and sail with me. The stature of our homeland is no more than the measure of ourselves. Our job is to keep her free. Our will is to keep the torch of freedom burning for all. To this solemn purpose we call on the young, the brave and the strong and the free. Heed my call, come to the sea. Come sail with me.
—Diane S. Segal
What Is the Ship Naming Policy?
Once again, the Navy’s leaders have screwed up the procedure for ship naming. Particularly vexing is the name source for ballistic-missile submarines.
The first 41 ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) were named for famous Americans—from George Washington (SSBN-598) to Will Rogers (SSBN-659). Apparently, in the 1970s the Navy’s leaders ran out of famous Americans and began assigning state names, beginning with the Ohio (SSBN-726).
Previously, state names had been assigned to battleships and, when battleships became passé, six large destroyers (originally called frigates and later designated cruisers) were given state names. Following the Ohio, 16 additional SSBNs were given state names plus one named for a great legislator and Navy supporter, Henry M. Jackson (SSBN-730).
But now the Navy’s leaders appear to have exhausted state names as well: The SSBN-826—lead ship of a new design—is named Columbia. Or is it? The official Naval Vessel Register lists that submarine with the name Columbia. But at the submarine’s keel laying in June, the name District of Columbia was used by many in attendance. What is the submarine’s name? Will future SSBNs be named for other districts—Guam, Puerto Rico, etc.? And how many such locations are there?
What or where is “Columbia”? The capital city of Washington is within the District of Columbia. Is the name Columbia or District of Columbia a subterfuge for naming SSBNs for cities? Could the Navy please clarify?
Preparing a Post-Invasion Taiwan for Insurgency
Mr. Booth makes some interesting points, but he dangerously underestimates China’s motivation and capability. If China executes its declared intention to take over Taiwan it will do so with overwhelming force. At that point, no reaction on our part will affect the final outcome: The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will be in control and will subjugate and disarm the population.
To consider introducing U.S. Marines into such a situation with the expectation of a positive outcome reflects an arrogance that in its failure will cost Marine lives and U.S. prestige. The Republic of China (Taiwan) is more than three generations past the Chinese Civil War. It has no history/experience with underground/guerrilla resistance movements. I expect the Taiwanese people will go along with whatever edicts an occupying PLA issues. They will do this to survive. The invading Chinese will be relentless in pursuing any perceived threat.
Is all lost regarding the future of Taiwan? Not at all! If the United States and Taiwan can agree to and adopt a pre-invasion strategy that begins immediately, Taiwan has an excellent chance to maintain its independence and freedom, depending on its willingness to defend itself.
First and foremost, the United States must go on the public record that it will assist Taiwan in its defense. The time for the “Will we, or won’t we?” gamesmanship (which served its purpose) is now over. Second, beginning immediately, the Navy should station two carrier air wings on the island dispersed and in shelters. The air wings will provide air superiority out to at least 50 miles and the “air picture” to well inland of the People’s Republic’s shoreline. In addition, the United States should deploy sufficient artillery and surface-to-surface missiles to deny the PLA use of amphibious forces in the Taiwan Strait and deny the beaches and ports of Taiwan for the purpose of landing PLA forces.
In short, we make the takeover of Taiwan an “intractable problem” for the PRC. In doing so, we stand the best chance of avoiding a war with an enemy that has a nearly inexhaustible supply of manpower and the willingness to use it.
Women at the Naval Academy
I knew my female classmates at Navy were incredible back in the day, but only recently did I realize how incredible. They went through a lot and had to overcome many obstacles to make the U.S. Naval Academy the fully integrated school it is today. At one time, I considered pursuing a Ph.D. in history. I would have concentrated on women at the Naval Academy in the 1970s and 1980s. My specific thesis would have been that this period demonstrated a clear failure of leadership in the higher ranks, by calling for something to happen that not all were in favor of, and which consequently was undermined at every step of the way by a certain few (but important) individuals.
This is not to say that having women at the Academy did not have advocates in the higher ranks. Men such as Admiral William Lawrence were integral in making this happen, and his daughter was indeed one of the trailblazers. But some key individuals also went out of their way to let it be known they were not in favor of such a change. I can only imagine that racial integration proceeded along similar lines. Such a silent and pernicious attitude, however, gave license to a certain element at the Academy to engage in quite hostile behavior toward female midshipmen.
I even know of a few times where midshipmen came to physical blows when disagreeing on appropriate and inappropriate behavior toward plebes. I say this to illustrate the very hostile environment these women had to navigate as they sought to make it through the rigors of the Naval Academy. That they did so is a testament to them and their ability and an indictment of the upper ranks, who failed them in making the transition from all-male to a male and female environment.
Today, my classmates are Navy and Marine Corps officers of the highest caliber, astronauts, and leaders in everything they do. When prepping for grad school, I talked to a number of classmates. They are all doing well, but not a few were a bit scarred by what they went through. I did not pursue my subject because they asked me not to dredge it all up again, so I will not pursue this any longer. I just want to acknowledge what amazing and accomplished women I went to school with and wish them all fair winds and following seas.