Navy removes top management in response to recent ship collisions

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right or below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

The Navy has removed the two top commanders of its largest operational force in response to the four recent incidents in the Pacific, involving three collisions and the ship’s grounding.

A third man has also requested retirement in order to “to step aside to allow for new leadership.”

The important question is whether the Navy is really instituting real management changes, or is simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We shall see.



  • Commodude

    Rearranging deck chairs.

    There’s nothing so hidebound as a self-training and promoting aristocracy.

  • Garry

    The critical training takes place at lower levels than the people being relieved, although of course they are ultimately responsible for it. If training is the problem, then this step is far removed from where the remedy has to come from. If training is to be remedied, it’s up to the schools and the levels below Captain and Admiral.

    I have long admired the way the Navy used to (still does?) organize its training, called PQS (Professional Quality Standards?). A workbook is issued to each trainee, in which tasks are broken down in impressive detail. Beside each task is a space that is to be initialed by a qualified individual, indicating that the holder of the workbook has mastered that task. The workbooks I saw (and used) decades ago were organized very well. and excellent starting points for holding classes, drills, etc. If nothing else, they were very good for checking what the trainees already knew and what the next logical steps are.

    However, even if this system still exists, it’s only as good as the people who operate it. If there’s not a critical mass of qualified people, they can’t train the new people, no matter how many lines they initial. In fact, they wouldn’t even be able to understand the tasks written in the workbook, which just lists them and depends on the knowledge of the trainer.

    It’s contingent on junior officers and NCOs to implement training despite budget shortfalls, unavailability of equipment, etc.; to me, that’s one of their most critical roles.

    I fear that training has become so secondary that many are too dependent on the expensive gee-whiz equipment and actual operations, and have lost the ability to run training and simulations under less than ideal conditions.

    For example, in artillery, my area of experience, there’s no substitute for live fire, but if the budget doesn’t give you ammunition, you can still move the guns to the field, lay them on their azimuth of fire, turn the handles to move the tubes to the correct elevation and deflection angles while making sure that the bubbles in the spirit level are level, simulate loading, with everybody giving their commands and responses, and get a good 90% of the benefit that you get from live fire. No, it’s not as exciting as live fire, but it can be made into a competition, and with no requirement to make sure that live rounds don’t go astray, there’s more opportunity for junior officers and NCOs to observe individual actions and correct / train accordingly. If you don’t do all this before ammunition becomes available, you won’t get much out of live fire training; the crews will be too slow and clumsy.

    I got off track a little, but the point is that the critical actions have to take place at lower levels than the officers being relieved. The Navy has always excelled at making scapegoats (the Navy mascot is a goat, after all), and that may be the main thing going on here.

    I don’t automatically let senior officers off the hook; too many of them take over substandard units but are more interested in not making waves than they are in improving things, so they close their eyes to unit deficiencies and hope that they can survive their tour without being bitten by them.

  • Commodude


    Agreed, there’s no substitute for the real thing.

    A Brigade-level CALFEX (Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise) is a sight to behold, particularly if you get to REALLY have fun and call in the warthogs and Cobras. Training like that, with full effect live fire, serves multiple purposes, training and morale being the chief beneficiaries. There’s nothing better for a grunt’s soul (or an RTO who’s as HOOAH as the grunts) than having an ammo truck back up to the range and be allowed to fire rounds downrange without all teh accounting that goes into a qualification range.

  • Garry

    Commodude, you’re absolutely right; I know because I was forward observer for the lead company in one battalion-level CAX (Combined Arms Exercise), and fire direction officer for another, as well as fire direction officer for several artillery regiment shoots. I used to love to feel the ground shake miles away, all because I called in a regimental time on target!

    But to me that’s the (peacetime) culmination of training. If I hadn’t worked with Forward Air Controllers on dozens of simulated airstrikes before we got out to the desert, it would not have gone as well. Those simulated airstrikes would not have gone as well if I hadn’t ironed out the kinks by calling in hundreds of artillery missions before then. Those would have not gone as well if I had not had classroom and field training, much of it restricted with a lot of accounting. And so on.

    There are not many operations more fundamental to a Navy ship than navigation. It sounds like the people navigating these 4 ships didn’t have the necessary training to be proficient at navigating in busy waters. Everybody learns on the job, but if there’s not a critical mass of competence present, then on-the-job training isn’t very effective. It sounds like priorities have to be adjusted to recover that critical mass, and it might have to start with training the trainers.

  • Edward

    Deck chairs. The real change needs to come from the president and Congress. If they do not fund the training and they do not fund repairs and maintenance (e.g. carrier aircraft), then the new chairs — er — commanders will be in the same boat as the previous commanders.

    Whether we get real change depends upon the federal government’s priorities. Do they make Naval defense a priority, as explicitly stated in the Constitution’s Article 1, section 8, clause 13 (“To provide and maintain a Navy“)? Or do they make welfare and charity programs a priority, as prohibited to the federal government in the Tenth Amendment as”reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

  • Phill O

    The damage has been done by the previous administration. You are now seeing the results. It was Pierre Elliot Trudeau who reduced Canada’s military and made us put in about 1/2 our NATO commitment. With his son in power, what do you think our chances of fulfilling NATO requirements?

    Trump today praised a new initiative within the UN. Let us hope it is real! Feeding the bureaucracy does not work.

    With the Dems in control of education, standards have dropped. When Obama pushed for diversity in the armed forces, standards dropped.

    It will take an upper-management drive to correct the “quality” in armed forces. This is very much like Edward Demmings ideas for quality in industry. He stressed what he called “profound knowledge”; which is a viewpoint from outside the organization. Galileo provided such “profound knowledge” and look where it got him!

  • BSJ


    I remember the days in the 80’s when we had no projectiles. The only time we faked live fire, by going through the motions, was when senior leadership was walking by.

    But then again, we would spend all night moving around, erecting camo, tearing it down, moving again etc. etc. and then being told that sleep was not allowed during daylight…

  • Garry

    BSJ, that sounds like the lower level leaders lacked imagination. I think anyone who’s been in the military, especially combat arms, can relate to stupidity from on high. Often it’s due to a disconnect between senior officers and those below them; either the whole idea is silly, or is not communicated properly and people go through the motions rather than make it worthwhile.

    Moving is a big part of artillery (shoot, move, communicate), but there’s also a lot to be gained by simulating live fire. The trick is to get people to take it seriously; if they have a sense of urgency you’ll be able to identify areas to work on and coordinate better.

    Parts of the Marine Corps have a lot of pride in doing more with less; I like the spirit of improvising rather than crying about not having the expected resources.

    As a tangent, I’ve always liked the explanation of the Marine Corps emblem: “we stole the anchor from the Navy, the eagle from the Air Force, some rope from the Army, and on the 7th day, while God rested, we stole the whole damned world.”

    One of the things that makes Marine marksmanship training so effective is the dry fire. For the first week on the rifle range, recruits work all day on getting in the correct (very uncomfortable) position to shoot, then sight alignment and trigger control. You’ll see circles of recruits in groups of about a dozen, all aiming at small painted targets on a barrel in the center of the circle, and hearing their rifles click as the firing pins click on empty chambers, followed by critique from the instructors. It may look silly, but it’s exhausting work if done right.

    The key is that it’s taken very seriously, and builds muscle memory, so that when they shoot live rounds the second week, they know how to focus and what to focus on. I had marksmanship training with the Navy first, and probably killed a lot or worms with my shots. Years later I had Marine marksmanship training, and earned expert on rifle and pistol multiple times.

    With as complicated an evolution as a crew firing a howitzer, dry fire can have similar effects, if it’s taken seriously. I always liked setting up competitions.

    Luckily, my unit shot live fire a lot, so we rarely had to do dry fire, but I think it went a long ways towards maintaining proficiency, and integrating new crew members into gun crews.

    The Navy can do similar things with navigation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *