By Dmitry Filipoff
“Fleet level processes and procedures designed for safe and effective operations were increasingly relaxed due to time and fiscal constraints, and the ‘normalization-of-deviation’ began to take root in the culture of the fleet. Leaders and organizations began to lose sight of what ‘right’ looked like, and to accept these altered conditions and reduced readiness standards as the new normal.” –2017 Strategic Readiness Review commissioned in the aftermath of the collisions involving USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG-56)
The U.S. Navy is suffering from self-inflicted strategic dysfunction across the breadth of its enterprise. This series seeks to explore the theme of the normalization of deviation in some of the most critical operations, activities, and attributes that prepare the U.S. Navy for war. Because the U.S. Navy is the senior partner in its alliance activities many of these problems probably hold true for allied navies as well.
Part One below looks at U.S. Navy combat training and draws a comparison with Chinese Navy training.
Part Two will examine firepower relating to offense, defense, and across force structure.
Part Three will look at tactics and doctrine with an emphasis on network- and carrier-centric fleet combat.
Part Four will discuss technical standards.
Part Five will look at the relationship between the Navy’s availability and material condition.
Part Six will examine the application of strategy to operations.
Part Seven will look at strategy and force development, including force structure assessment.
Part Eight will conclude with recommendations for a force development strategy to refocus the U.S. Navy on the high-end fight and sea control.
“This ship is built to fight; you’d better know how.” –Former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh Burke (ret.) at the commissioning ceremony of the destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51)
The training strategy of a military service is one of its most fundamental responsibilities. Training is central to piercing the fog of war as much as possible before combat exacts its price. Training is what forges people into warfighters.
Soon after the Cold War ended the Navy announced a “change in focus and, therefore, in priorities for the Naval Service away from operations on the sea toward power projection.”1 A new operating focus on low-end missions such as partner development missions, striking land targets, and deterring rogue regimes came to dominate its focus. Different training followed. This training and operating paradigm replaced the high-end threat focus the Navy was originally made for in an era of great power competition against the Soviet Union. But the shift was wholesale, and did not attempt to preserve a responsible minimum of important skills that still held relevance. Perhaps worst of all, somehow this shift allowed U.S. Navy training to fall to incredible lows and remain there for most of a generation.
So much valuable corporate memory has evaporated. Extremely unrealistic training exercises starved Sailors of opportunities to learn important skills and prove themselves. And while the U.S. Navy slipped for years its latest rival, the Chinese Navy, made strong gains in the very same skills the U.S. Navy was losing.
The Navy’s tactical ignorance is built into its arsenal. Currently some of the Navy’s most important weapons development programs are not just evolutionary, but revolutionary in the possibilities they open up. This is not due to innovation, but instead many of these noteworthy and foundational capabilities are finally arriving decades after the technologies were first proven, many close to half a century ago. Many of these most crucial weapons are already in the hands of great power competitors such as Russia and China who have had decades of opportunity to train and refine tactics with them.