“We’ll be so much more efficient doing this at Fleet Forces.”
I cringed when I heard these words. I was working at Second Fleet, about ready to transfer, and I heard one of the smart-ass bureaucrats from Fleet Forces tell me this. My reply was sharp “Really? You have no idea what we do here.” And I was right. At the time, Second Fleet handled all the training, certification and day to day problems for the entire East Coast of the Navy. Every CASREP, every SITREP, all of it flowed through the Second Fleet Battle Watch. Our purpose was to use the 3 stars of our boss to fight for training time, materials and whatever else the fleet needed to deploy successfully.
But the Navy wanted to “save money,” so we were told that Second Fleet would be dissolved, and all functions taken by the behemoth command known as Fleet Forces. Almost instantly afterwards, TF-80 stood up. We had lots of powerpoint to justify TF-80, with “readiness kill chain” and other fun phrasing, but in reality TF-80 was the fill in for Second Fleet, because all those “efficiencies” weren’t really happening. Then, after 7 years of watching fleet training go down the toilet and us surge units to fill spaces for combatant commanders, now we’re bringing Second Fleet back. Heck, we’re even thinking about bringing back a NATO command in Norfolk to address things like integrating allies into Carrier Strike Groups (gee, didn’t we have that before?).
The problem is not Russia. Or China. Or any other specific nation. It’s that the Navy will sacrifice training money in order to meet mission. Training for war is expensive. It’s tough. I used to work in the Tomahawk shop at Second Fleet, where we and Tactical Training Group Atlantic would run weekly exercises to stress our ship’s ability to shoot missiles. If you ever wonder why you can take for granted placing missiles on target from Navy platforms, its because of the dedication of a core group of Tomahawk experts that demand excellence every week from every ship on the East Coast.
Training for war isn’t sexy. You don’t get to write press releases about doing the routine things each and every week, but you do when you host an event celebrating some sort of diversity event. Failing crews on certifications isn’t fun, it requires a lot of paperwork and re-training. But it’s necessary to ensure that when you have to fight, your forces are ready to go.
Apart from sacrificing training, the Navy also has this burning desire to make huge mega-commands while destroying small commands and detachments. My Tomahawk work was at first at a detachment that was disestablished and swallowed up by Second Fleet, which was then swallowed up by Fleet Forces. In both cases, the people became targets for lots of “extra” duties, from standing watches to building powerpoint slides that had nothing to do with Tomahawk. Mega-commands of over 1,000 people are bureaucratic nightmares that ruin Sailors and are models of inefficiency. The Navy thrives only on small commands and small staffs, where authority is delegated as far down as possible.
The move to bring back Second Fleet is a good one. If the Navy goes back to its roots of small, highly trained, lethal commands and staffs with the authority to execute wartime duties, nothing will stop it. Let’s hope we move there quickly.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. Although they are probably pretty close, since I advocated for Second Fleet to stay around in the first place…