When announcing the christening of the USNS John Lewis replenishment oiler on July 16, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker said sailors will be “galvanized” by the legacy of the new ship’s namesake.
“Leaders like Representative Lewis taught us that diversity of backgrounds and experiences help contribute to the strength of our nation,” Harker said, referring to the late congressman and civil rights activist.
But some lawmakers and military officials worry that comments such as the ones made by Harker are part of a larger problem of Navy leadership prioritizing social issues at the expense of military preparedness.
A congressionally commissioned report released on July 12 suggests that an overfocus on administrative tasks correlates with recent Navy mishaps, including the July 2020 fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard, two deadly collisions in 2017, and the January 2016 surrender of two small Navy craft to Iran in the Arabian Gulf.
Drawing on interviews with 77 Navy personnel, the report found “a broad consensus across interviewees on numerous cultural and structural issues that impact the morale and readiness of the Navy’s surface force.”
“These include: an insufficient focus on warfighting skills, the perception of a zero-defect mentality accompanied by a culture of micromanagement, and over-sensitivity and responsiveness to modern media culture,” said the report, drafted by retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle and retired Navy Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery at the direction of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), Jim Banks (R-Ind.), and Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas).
The report makes clear that many of the Navy’s problems have existed for decades, including a lack of resources and consistency in warfare training programs as well as an “underwhelming” commitment to surface ship maintenance. An overall atmosphere of complacency is due in part to the Navy not having a credible rival since the Cold War, the report suggests.
BY KEN SILVA