The Navy is losing the information war, one Captain at a time

The USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, from Task and Purpose

As more details emerge concerning CAPT Crozier of the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, its becoming clear he has a distinct possibility of being reinstated as commanding officer. Given his circumstances, people have asked me if the Navy learned any lessons from this.

My answer is, no.

The Navy is in the middle of grappling with information warfare, and its not doing a great job, mostly because there is a significant age (and thus cultural) problem in its senior officers. The average age of an admiral hovers around the 50’s, meaning most were born in the late 1960s (or earlier!) and spent their childhood without internet. They entered the Navy in an era when information could legitimately be controlled while underway. Censoring mail and family grams was normal. When bad things happened, the first response is to close off the news, solve the problem, and then tell everyone what happened, and during that process, it was (in the past) totally OK to hide details and be opaque. In general, these officers grew up in a time when information could be totally controlled.

The environment is very different now, and these old responses don’t work. CAPT Crozier would have grown up with some internet access, and he is probably more savvy online than most of his senior officers. When his boss tried to clamp down on information flow, CAPT Crozier easily worked around it. It was an ugly black eye to have a video showing him leaving to cheering Sailors, and it likely wasn’t an accident that this happened. In warfare terms, CAPT Crozier was flying an F-18 against an opponent using a biplane. It wasn’t a fair fight.

Despite this really ugly fight, the Navy is unlikely to learn anything. Contrary to popular myth, the Navy isn’t inherently a learning organization. It learns through death and injury. When Sailors die, or when ships get sunk, the Navy learns really fast, mainly through firing people and changing operating procedures. But its unlikely anyone will lose their job over this incident, and the Navy won’t put out any additional guidance on how to handle these circumstances. We’ll only learn as flag officers start coming from people that grew up in an age when information had to be managed, not controlled.

This also explains why Navy isn’t good at information warfare. Do you see Navy countering misinformation well? Not really. At best, Navy commanders engage on social media via their public affairs officers. But posting on the command’s Facebook page isn’t enough to go viral and get your message out. And yet you see commanders claim, time and time again, that because they posted articles and gave the occasional interview, they “maneuvered” in the information environment. Meanwhile, Russia and China run rings around the Navy, easily maneuvering against their stories and constantly pushing their own agenda.

While we don’t want to admit it, in the information realm, we are flying the biplane, and our adversaries are flying jet aircraft. It’s not a fair fight, and won’t be for sometime to come.

This post (clearly) represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

This post was edited on 4/27/20 because I mistakenly listed the HARRY TRUMAN instead of the ROOSEVELT. That was an honest mistake, I had been working on something else and swapped the two carriers.

One thought on “The Navy is losing the information war, one Captain at a time

  1. “When his boss tried to clamp down on information flow, CAPT Crozier easily worked around it.” back in the old days that used to be called insubordination …

    Insubordination should ALWAYS result in dismissal … period … full stop …

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