BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT
It wasn’t long ago that the United States Navy was mired in a series of scandals that reached the upper echelons of its leadership. While the news died down in the last couple of years, the fact remains the Navy has never quite cleaned up its act.
The recent dismissal of Captain Brett Crozier from his command of the Nimitz-class supercarrier USS Theodore Roosevelt has brought this into the press again. While I believe that Captain Crozier deserved to be removed from his command, there is no doubt that serious, institutional changes need to occur throughout the beleaguered branch before it will be capable of restoring confidence in its war fighting abilities.
Let’s go over some of the most known issues first:
- The US Navy spent billions of taxpayer dollars and decades developing the utterly useless boondoggle that was the Zumwalt-class destroyer. Meant as a replacement for modern warships, the “stealth” destroyer ended up being a wasting asset that caused massive dislocations throughout the Navy, and sucked up critical resources for far too long. Defense contractors made beaucoup bucks off this boondoggle but few others benefited from this.
- Also, the strategic assumptions undergirding the creation of the Zumwalt never proved accurate (meaning that those making our national defense decisions have been rewarded for being painfully wrong about the world they are supposed to be masters of).
- Back in 2015, much guff was given to the Navy for not having adequately trained its sailors in being able to navigate by star. We’ve all become far too dependent on modern technological accouterments. That’s a sad fact of life for civilian society. For the US military that’s a key strategic weakness our adversaries will–and can–exploit. What’s the point of having the wünderwaffe if it cannot function well in a degraded environment?
- Then there have been the various instances over the last few years of US Navy warships colliding with civilian ships. These were avoidable accidents–particularly for those who have been trained by the world’s premier Navy.
- Then, of course, there was the “Fat Leonard” Scandal which plagued the US Navy’s 7th Fleet (and has never been fully resolved). In that case, multiple Naval officers, including some admirals, were implicated in receiving bribes, engaging in compromising conduct with prostitutes, and basically allowing for the 7th Fleet’s supply chain to have been compromised by a foreign national who could have put all US Navy operations in the region at-risk.
- Similar shenanigans are ongoing with US Naval forces deployed to Bahrain. Several sailors, officers and NCOs alike, have apparently been involved with the sex trafficking problem in that country. In one instance, an Annapolis graduate and Surface Warfare Officer was supposedly “co-habitating” with known prostitutes (who could have been feeding information to foreign spies).
- Recently, the Navy has ordered the construction of many more attack submarines (to counter the Chinese threat in the Indo-Pacific as well as the Russian threat in the North Atlantic). American shipyards, though, are not able to fulfill the increased order from the Navy by 2021, when the Pentagon needs those additional units ready. While not explicitly a Navy problem, the Navy’s supply chain issue has never been adequately addressed by USN leaders, from either political party. And it’s getting more dangerous at a time when our adversaries have never been more dangerous.
- Meanwhile, during the Obama Administration, there was a great issue of then-Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus totally whitewashing concerns of the US Marine Corps regarding integrating combat units (between men and women) and allowing for women to take combat roles in the USMC. Whatever one’s opinion, the way Mabus handled it was draconian and unbecoming of a leader. In fact, many of the Navy’s problems can be laid at the feet of Mabus and those who rose under his leadership.
Meanwhile, the Captain Crozier scandal has a new dimension. The Washington Post argues that the Department of the Navy is covering up the truth about Captain Crozier’s communications with his superiors. Yet, how else did Captain Crozier’s infamous letter manage to make it to the press–on the front page of The San Francisco Chronicle, no less–if not for the fact that the Captain sent his letter beyond the proper chain of command?
The implication throughout this scandal has been that had Captain Crozier not acted as he did; had the good Captain not highlighted a strategic vulnerability in his ship (that it was operating at less-than-optimal levels because of the COVID-19 outbreak onboard) by circulating his letter to those outside his immediate chain of command, then, his crew may have died and his ship become a tomb at sea. I find this concept preposterous.
The Theodore Roosevelt is one of only 11 aircraft carriers that the US Navy possesses. It is probably the most important tool of American power projection today. The aircraft carrier is certainly a continual reminder of American power to populations around the world. There is no way that the Pentagon or the Trump administration–any administration–would just leave such a ship and its crew to die.
It’s preposterous for anyone–particularly the ship’s captain–to have thought that the Navy was just going to let everyone onboard get sick and die. What Washington has had to do is to find proper facilities to offload the massive crew of the Theodore Roosevelt, which takes time. They’re already having to quarantine several offloaded crewmembers of the Theodore Roosevelt in various hotels in Guam.
There’s something else that I find troubling in Captain Crozier’s initial letter to those outside his chain of command detailing the decrepit state his warship was in. Crozier said in his letter that:
“As war is not imminent, we recommend pursuing the peace time end state.”
I find this perplexing.
First, the military is supposed to operate in a constant state of war readiness. That’s the point of the US military. This was also former Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ obsession for the last decade, both as a US Marine general as well as the secretary defense: getting our Armed Forces ready for combat.
Second, as I was the first person to report to the Defense Department, the possibility that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) emanated from China’s Level 4 virology lab in Wuhan cannot be discounted. If that is the case, whether it was an accidental release (probable) or if it was purposeful, it is still an act of war against the United States (and the world). Even if the COVID-19 outbreak was entirely the result of nature, the fact that Beijing covered up the matter and then likely strongarmed the World Health Organization (WHO) into accepting their data sets on the disease outbreak means that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is complicit and should be made to pay for their reprehensible behavior.
Third, given that the Chinese government has embarked upon steady propaganda war on the United States in an attempt to undermine solidarity with the United States during this pandemic; and that China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has embarked upon large naval exercises in the South China Seas during this crisis; all while China’s People’s Liberation Air Force (PLAAF) engages in the most aggressive shows of force against Taiwan’s air force in Taiwanese airspace, indicates to me that we may very well be in a state of war. At the very least, we should be operating as though we are in a Cold War with the Chinese (which we are–and have been).
Therefore, there is nothing in Captain Crozier’s actions that should be rewarded or emulated. It is just yet another scandal–in a long line of them–besmirching the Navy’s good name. The Trump Administration must work to fundamentally reform the Navy at all levels. This cannot be the only thing that the postwar Navy is remembered for: scandals. At this point, the Navy and the Air Force are becoming the two most important branches of the military as China’s rise occurs unabated. They will be the point of the spear. The Navy is not in a good condition presently to operate effectively in this contested environment.
Things need to change fast before the shooting begins. Which it will, sooner rather than later.