ALEXANDRIA – Good evening, Drifters
Well, this week has been a real downer. It’s hard not to feel sadness for the state of Navy leadership post-2013. Since the Fat Leonard Scandal broke that year, revealing a grift with long tentacles that wrapped up dozens of potential future senior leaders, the Navy has been rocked by blow-upon-blow.
In 2016, the Farsi Island incident saw a commanding officer and the Task Force commander fired, and likely put the skids of the career of now-retired Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan, who was the head of U.S. 5th Fleet at the time. And then the following year the disastrous summer of 2017 knocked 7th Fleet back on its heels, already reeling from the Fat Leonard fallout. The collisions of the McCain and Fitzgerald claimed the lives of 17 sailors, and ended the careers of: the Pacific Fleet Commander, who was seen as a shoe-in for PACOM but who instead retired; the 7th Fleet Commander; the carrier strike group commander; the destroyer squadron commander; and more than a dozen officers and sailors from both ships.
And now, after all that, the Navy’s confirmed nominee for Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran stepped down after losing the confidence of Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer. The reason being given is that Moran maintained a professional relationship with a fired public affairs officer who was accused of sexual harassment. The officer was ultimately not charged, but was fired from his job as the Chief of Naval Operations’ PAO and was issued a non-punitive letter of caution for poor judgement.
There are a lot of unknowns about the circumstances surrounding Moran’s departure, and it is incumbent upon the Navy to pony up the evidence for the public that led Spencer’s loss of confidence. Bill Moran was nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. He was, for all intents and purposes, fired. Yes, he stepped down, but SECNAV’s statement makes clear that Spencer lost confidence. And commanders who have lost their boss’s confidence get fired. In this case, his retirement could be seen as more preemptive than anything, if Spencer is to be believed (and I think he is).
The Navy must produce the emails between Moran and Chris Servello and lay out the full case as to why those contacts led to the loss of confidence that prompted Moran’s retirement.
And so now we have a new CNO coming, and all signs point to a 3-star being elevated to CNO, the first since Elmo Zumwalt in 1970. Vice Adm. Michael Gilday is on deck. That’s what we’re talking about tonight, with former Pentagon insider and analyst at the Lexington Institute, Dan Gouré. The Drift thanks Dan for his time on a Thursday evening.
Let’s do this.
A 3-Star on Deck
The Drift: My understanding is that Gilday’s name is being sent to the Senate for confirmation. What does he bring to the table and what are the issues he’ll have to confront?
Dan Gouré: Clearly, the major issue is the size and composition of the fleet and moving to all these unmanned systems. Cyber and networking issues are also hugely important – and of course in that area he’s the man for the job. He also has the advantage of coming from the joint world so it’s not going to be a huge shift.
There will also be classic issues of sustainment and availability of ships. And there is still the question about whether they have they solved all the manpower and training issues that arose from Fitzgerald and McCain. *See my note at the end*
TD: Do you think Gilday being elevated from 3-star will pose any unique challenges?
DG: That’s a really interesting question. Coming in from the 3-star position, the question is ‘what’s his relationship to the force?’ All these 4-stars might say ‘whose this small fry that got elevated over us?’ They might think, ‘well, that’s because I was too important at Pacific Fleet,’ or, ‘I was too important elsewhere.’
So, that’s going to be the real question: is he tough enough to ride herd over the 4-stars? Forget about everything else. And we’re talking about the Navy. There can be a reflexive genuflection by the former 3-star to the existing 4-star.
He’s also coming from the Joint Staff and returning as the CNO, which is a little strange. It’s not impossible, but not having had a 4-star position prior to coming into the CNO position, maybe that hurts him with the other chiefs? I don’t know, but he’ll need to be able to deal with them as an equal.
TD So how do you solve that issue?
DG: That’s up to him. There are different models but the question is: Are you going to grab the conn and steer the ship your way? Do you have an idea about the way you want to steer the ship? If you’re just going to be [Adm. John] Richardson warmed over – and people will conclude that relatively quickly if that’s all it’s going to be – people won’t treat him the same way. It’s really a matter of whether he seizes the conn.
TD: You mentioned Fleet Composition, what are some of the challenges you see there. There are a lot of need areas all at once.
DG: The Navy, in some respects, has more challenges than anybody else. It’s an aging force, they don’t have great serial production on their ships. These are problems that could rise from being chronic to critical from a budgetary perspective.
TD: The Navy has an attack sub shortfall, an aging surface fleet, it must pay for Columbia and the air wing needs to change to regain some of its old legs. Is part of the challenge going to be figuring out what they can afford and what gets pushed off?
DG: It’s really too late for that. They kicked too many cans down the road. They need to invest in Columbia and attack subs. There are places that they have taken cuts where I think it’s a mistake, amphibs for example. There is also the Navy/Army/Maritime Administration question of sealift. And that’s going to get really squeezed in the budget if they focus on the lethal arm, but its critical because otherwise we’re not getting anybody to Europe or the Western Pacific.
They’ve got a lot of balls in the air and its not clear that they can drop any of them.
Thanks for your time, Dan.