SECNAV Readiness Review: Clear Accountability Must Be Restored
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy needs to adjust its cultural course to correct the root causes of the readiness shortfalls that had been made evident in a series of mishaps at sea, the new secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) said, including re-establishing clear chains of command and a restoration of accountability.
The Strategic Readiness Review (SRR), commissioned by Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer on Sept. 1 and released on Dec. 14, was conducted by a team of government and industry executives to determine root causes of the readiness deficit in the Navy, in view of the collisions in 2017 in the U.S. Seventh Fleet that cost the lives of 17 Sailors.
Speaking to reporters in advance Dec. 13 at the Pentagon, Spencer said that Navy leaders have “incurred greater and greater risk” through “short-term tradeoffs in training, manning and maintenance.”
He said the “risk, up until now, had been of little consequence” because the size of the fleet, living off the build-up of the Cold War, which resulted in 529 ships in 1991. With today’s 279-ship battle force — being built up to 318 ships — the Navy is too small to meet the requirements of the combatant commanders and is run too hard to sustain the readiness and maintenance needed to maintain warfighting excellence.
“Over the past three decades the Navy has maintained a fairly consistent number of ships on deployment despite a large decrease in the total number of ships available,” the SRR’s executive summary said. “This resulted in roughly doubling the percentage of the fleet deployed. The net result has been a dramatic increase in the operating tempo of individual ships, and accompanying reductions in the time available to perform maintenance, training, and readiness certification. The growing mismatch between the supply and demand of ships taxed fleet personnel and consumed material readiness at unsustainable rates.”
Spencer criticized the “normalization of deviation,” summarizing that the Navy “has overdrawn its account.”
He also said the Navy must address command and control, which he said has become blurred over the years since the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act was implemented in the 1980s. The issues include the relationship between the Navy and the combatant commanders it supports and the requirements that officers pass through joint assignments in their careers.
The 30-year period covered by the review “also saw frequent reorganizations within the Navy, which altered time-tested processes for force generation and employment,” the SRR noted. “These replaced tightly aligned responsibility, authority, and accountability with redundancies, overlapping responsibilities, inconsistencies, and ambiguities. These reorganizations led to a growth in headquarters structures with misaligned authorities, complicated command and control responsibilities, and diffuse accountability structures. With the growth of headquarters, and staff-centric promotion parameters, staff service began displacing service at sea as a significant driver of officer career paths, assignments, and promotions. The growth in new compliance requirements, generated by additional staffs and headquarters, competed with enduring core readiness requirements and activities. Additionally, congressional direction grew exponentially in breadth and detail, diverting attention of senior leaders away from vital responsibilities for readiness.”
“We have to get back to clear command and control and accountability,” Spencer said.
“We’re there, we’re living it,” Spencer said of jointness with the other services, noting that in the 30 years since Goldwater-Nicholls was implemented it now is “in our DNA.”
Nevertheless, he said that the Goldwater-Nicholls requirements need to be reassessed and that the burdens it applies to the global force management and officer career paths may need adjustment ensure that the Navy can meet requirements and that officers receive the tactical experience needed for warfighting excellence before moving on to a joint staff assignment.
The SRR listed four over-arching recommendations:
■ Re-establish Readiness as a Priority: The creation of combat ready forces must take equal footing with meeting the immediate demands of Combatant Commanders. Sufficient time for training crews and maintaining ships is critical for restoring and monitoring readiness.
■ Match Supply and Demand: There must be a greater appreciation for the reality that only so many ships and Sailors can be made available in a given operational cycle. The Navy must establish realistic limits regarding the number of ready ships and Sailors and, short of combat, not acquiesce to emergent requirements with assets that are not fully ready.
■ Establish Clear Command and Control Relationships: The Navy must realign and streamline its command and control structures to tightly align responsibility, authority, and accountability.
■ Become a True Learning Organization: Navy history is replete with reports and investigations that contain like findings regarding past collisions, groundings, and other operational incidents. The repeated recommendations and calls for change belie the belief that the Navy always learns from its mistakes. Navy leadership at all levels must foster a culture of learning and create the structures and processes that fully embrace this commitment.
“This is going to be a seminal input into the U.S. Navy,” he said. “I want to jump-start the process. … The leadership of this is imperative.”
Spencer briefed staff members of the defense committees on Dec. 13 and was scheduled to brief members of Congress Dec. 14 on the review.
The Strategic Review can be read in its entirety at: http://s3.amazonaws.com/CHINFO/SRR+Final+12112017.pdf