Was Secretary Spencer any good?

At Sea – Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, right, speaks with Carrier Strike Group 8 Command Master Chief Petty Officer Michael Bates in the in-port cabin during Spencer’s visit aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, Feb. 25, 2018. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kaysee Lohmann

Now that Secretary Spencer is officially no longer the Navy Secretary, I’m able to openly ask the question: why is everyone up in arms about him being fired? People (military and non-military) were hot and bothered by it on Facebook. Perhaps I’m a cynic, but I’ll ask what should be the most important question: what, exactly, did Secretary Spencer do as SECNAV for two years?

If we judge his tenure by the shape of the Navy, it isn’t pretty. US Ship Force levels have been relatively flat. This is made worse by the continued deployment of ships to respond to, basically, everything around the world. The Joint Staff uses a process called “Global Force Management,” where each Combatant Commander requests presence of different forces. Aircraft Carriers in particular are the subject of much discussion, and when one breaks (like the Harry S. Truman), you have people arguing over how to surge another carrier out, rather than discussing whether a carrier is even needed in the first place. This causes our carriers and other ships to wear out, and given we can’t build them fast enough, we are left with a Navy full of worn out ships and crews.

Secretary Spencer had to have seen this, and yet in two years, we haven’t had any change. His long range ship building plan put us at 355 ships, maybe, in 2030. We’re building 10 ships a year‚Ķmaybe. While it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, China is set to overtake the US in ships by 2020. Numbers don’t account for crew readiness and weapon systems, but here again, the US is using relatively expensive weapons while China and Russia crank out increasingly cheaper missiles. Quantity becomes its own quality, and bankrupting the country to win the future fight isn’t a good option.

We could tackle this problem in a lot of ways. Building different ships, for example smaller carriers, would help get more ships to meet global requirements while saving higher-end ships for the big fight. Building a better shipyard infrastructure (getting away from having only a few places we can build Navy ships) could help lower the cost. Sharing ship designs with allies, similar to the F-35 program, could lower cost and make overseas repairs easier. Or perhaps we add in diesel submarines to help bring more submarines to the fight. Or we could build some smaller vessels, like the PCs of old, but with advanced striking power, to get a cheaper vessel that can fight in the littorals (the Littoral Combat Ship is anything but small or cheap).

But we have no innovation. The Long Range Shipbuilding plan sticks to traditional platforms, just calling for more of them. The one different platform, SSGN (converted ballistic submarines that shoot Tomahawk missiles and deploy SEAL teams) are going away, to be replaced by smaller Virginia submarines with specialized modules. Slightly innovative, but not enough to deal with China and Russia, who are designing very different Navies to fight very different wars in the future.

And how is that new carrier catapult working out? Even Bob Work was able to get LCS module price back on track.

We didn’t get much with Secretary Spencer. Our Navy isn’t in great shape, and ground wasn’t laid to make it much better. When the Secretary then decides to openly disagree with his boss, what did he expect would happen? If your boss is telling you to do something, and its not illegal, you get to disagree in private, but if he insists, then you get to resign.

For everyone mad about Secretary Spencer, I have to ask why. Is it because it was Trump that fired him? Did you really think Spencer was doing a good job? Because while I have some issues with Secretary Mattis leaving (I would prefer he stay on), I don’t see how Secretary Spencer was making our Navy great again.

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.

Ask a Vet about their story

I will be forever amazed how well our country treats veterans. Anytime I’ve traveled in uniform, it becomes hard to pay for a meal. This is especially true if I’m driving in the middle of the country where there aren’t a lot of military bases. This Veterans Day will doubtlessly be no different, and I’ll get reminded again that this is a country full of great people that care.

Over this past week I had a chance to interact with some of the older veterans from WW2 and Korea. Those veterans are disappearing at an alarming rate, and it won’t be long until they are gone. After that, we’ll eventually have nobody that lived through the Cold War. That time is coming faster than we think.

These veterans have stories that bring these conflicts to life. One WW2 veteran told me about the large number of plane accidents near his hometown. It reminded me that while we increased production of everything from ships to planes, it doesn’t mean it was the greatest quality. We cranked out Liberty ships in less than a month, but more than a few brittle fractured in half due to cold weather and poor welding. Planes and other weapon systems had similar issues. There are a lot of training aircraft on the bottom of Lake Michigan due to equipment failures.

The Liberty ship S.S. Schenectady, which, in 1943, failed before leaving the shipyard. (Reprinted with permission of Earl R. Parker, Brittle Behavior of Engineering Structures, National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1957.) From: https://metallurgyandmaterials.wordpress.com/2015/12/25/liberty-ship-failures/

I would encourage every non-veteran reading this to not just thank a veteran this weekend for their service, but ask them if they have 5 minutes to share a story. Our veterans can become increasingly isolated in their own little groups, and after a while your sea stories get old in the same groups of people. Having even a brief chance to hear about something they did will help bring the conflicts alive. You won’t read these stories in a book. History books capture facts and numbers well, but history is made by real people who are far too complex to capture on paper. This Veterans Day gives us a golden opportunity to remember that and carry on these stories in our minds before they are lost.

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.

Breaking the SCIF phones

What all phones should look like after a SCIF visit.

If you’ve never heard of a SCIF before this past week, you probably don’t work in government. SCIFs are Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities. If you want to read or work on a document that is classified Top Secret, you work in a SCIF. As you can see from a released set of specifications, SCIFs are fairly intensively constructed. Floors and ceilings are solid, wires are in buried conduits checked by the NSA’s TEMPEST program, and access is tightly controlled.

It’s not surprising that when Republican lawmakers go into the SCIF with cell phones, it causes alarm. And it should. Photography equipment isn’t allowed, nor is anything that can conduct two-way communication. Already you have people calling for removal of clearances. But is that appropriate?

In short, no. Congressional Representatives and Senators get access to classified information based on their position. While they are required to take an oath of secrecy, they don’t have to go through the SF86 process. By electing them to their office, the people of the United States (whether they realize it or not) have declared their comfort with that individual having access to classified access.

While some very sensitive information is only released to certain individuals, its pretty small. A Congressman visited a site I worked at before and had access to everything. Now, his staff members did not, and I had to keep them out of certain briefings, but the Congressman himself was good.

In short though, you can’t take away access, unless you kick them out of office.

However, there should be consequences for violating rules. All the Armed Services have harsh and effective ways of dealing with this. Cell phones brought into a SCIF are normally sent to NCIS to be scanned. With people having most of their lives on a phone, losing it for a week while NCIS painstakingly goes through every image and file tends to be good persuasion. The Marines in Iraq, in response to people plugging their personal devices into classified computers, simply confiscated the devices and nailed them to a wooden board outside the SCIF. After walking by a board with iPhones and tablets nailed and screwed to the wall, you get the message quickly.

Confiscate and scan some phones, and put a policy in place that repeat offenders lose their devices. After a few of those, you won’t have idiots bringing phones into a SCIF.

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. The author kindly reminds you to keep your damn phone out of the SCIF!