Top Navy leaders are more interested in micromanaging subordinates than sinking enemy vessels, are increasingly risk-averse, can’t maintain their own ships and overreact to any negative news story, no matter how ridiculous.
Those are some of the harsh findings from the just-released “Fighting Culture of the Navy’s Surface Fleet,” a damning report by a retired Navy rear admiral and retired Marine Corps lieutenant general that was commissioned by four Republican lawmakers concerned about what they say is an increasingly “woke” U.S. military.
The report surveyed 77 current and recently retired Navy personnel, both enlisted and officers, for their insights into the Navy’s current culture and whether it was at least partially responsible for a recent series of high-profile operational failures in the surface warfare community.
“This sentiment, that the Navy is dangerously off course, was overwhelming,” said the authors of the report, retired Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery and retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Robert E. Schmidle.
Republicans Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana, Dan Crenshaw of Texas and Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin commissioned the survey. Mr. Cotton, an outspoken critic of diversity and inclusivity initiatives at the Pentagon, called the findings “very concerning.”
“Our sailors are too often deprived of the training and leadership they need to fight and win at sea. A Navy that puts lethality, warfighting and operational excellence at the heart of its culture is absolutely essential to our national security,” Mr. Cotton said.
The review was ordered following a series of negative incidents for the service, including the loss of the USS Bonhomme Richard in a fire, the fatal collision of the USS McCain in the South China Sea and the USS Fitzgerald near Japan, and the surrender of two small Navy patrol boats to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy in the Arabian Gulf.
A mid-grade Navy officer interviewed by the authors said there is a lack of fighting spirit in the Navy’s surface community.
“The Navy does not promote or advance surface ship warfighting in a meaningful way. Finding and sinking enemy fleets should be the principal purpose of a Navy,” the authors said. “Many sailors found their leadership distracted, captive to bureaucratic excess and rewarded for the successful execution of administrative functions rather than their skills as a warfighter.”
On Tuesday, Navy spokesman Rear Admiral Charles W. Brown said the service “welcomes the insights” from the report and noted that many of the findings are consistent with issues officials have already addressed and taken action on.
“We look forward to continuing our work with Congress to ensure we have the most capable ships crewed by the most capable sailors, as well as a surface force that is fit for the challenges of the 21st century,” Adm. Brown said.
The report also took a jab at the current “woke” culture in the Navy. Sailors are increasingly seeing administrative and non-combat-related training as the mission rather than the mission itself, the authors wrote.
“Sometimes I think we care more about whether we have enough diversity officers than if we’ll survive a fight with the Chinese,” a Navy lieutenant on active duty told the authors. “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.”
The report found that almost 94% of the sailors being interviewed believe the Navy suffers from a crisis of leadership and culture. Sailors told the authors the surface fleet has suffered a “critical loss of focus” from its primary purpose of fighting and winning wars.
Frustration among the interview subjects was also palpable any time the media was mentioned. The current “unyielding news environment” could bear some responsibility for the rise of the Navy’s “one-mistake” culture, many respondents said.
“Many news outlets, including defense news outlets, have shifted to tabloid models where stories are sensationalized and short-lived,” the authors wrote. “The Navy has forgotten how to differentiate between stories that are ignorable and stories that demand corrective measures.”
Some of the sailors said they believe that Navy leaders are “easily cowed” by the press and will throw sailors to the wolves should their names appear in print.
“Editorial standards for newsworthiness have loosed significantly, saturating audiences with empty calorie news - stories that have emotional appeal but are not particularly informative,” the authors wrote.
The findings of the report suggest junior Navy sailors aren’t receiving the training they need to perform the essential functions of the Navy — find and sink enemy fleets and ensure freedom of navigation in international waters, said Mr. Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL.
“We must immediately address the concerns detailed in the report,” Mr. Crenshaw said. “I look forward to working with Navy leadership and my colleagues in Congress to implement the changes necessary to ensure our Navy and our sailors are war-ready and capable of defending the United States.”